Thursday, December 12, 2013

Man Camp

The Taber Wall in the morning.

I am not manly.  I have owned two pairs of rec-specs.  I have never carved a dead animal and eaten it.  When I talk to girls, I have to look at the floor or put a cardboard box on my head in order to form a sentence.  I lived in Boulder, CO for two whole weeks once.  I own an iPod nano.  I feel a warm place in my heart whenever I bail off of a scary climb.  I was on the Junior Varsity cross country team.  I would not buy a pair of yoga pants, but I would probably keep them were I gifted a pair.

Kevin and Doug prep the wagons.

Out west, they've got this thing called the Alpine Mentors.  Steve House invented it as far as I can tell and it's a program in which young climbers cut their teeth with badass alpinists.  I live in New England, though.  All we've got over here is Man Camp.  This year, Man Camp took place on Katahdin.

Doug Millen, Bayard Russell, and Kevin Mahoney (men who need no introduction in our little wintry world) are, all told, pretty manly.  And so was our objective: a week of climbing on Katahdin: the Big K.  I've never been to Katahdin before, and I always wrote it off as an objective due to its long drive, approach, and rules.  Men apparently don't worry as much about that type of crap though.

Roaring Brook.
We started ferrying loads up to Chimney Pond, and a day later we four stood underneath the Taber wall (Taberwand): the most fearsome wall within 20 miles of Millenocket.  We were very excited.  Kevin and Doug started up an alluring smear up the middle.  Bayard headed towards a crack system out left.  I belayed him.  I've known Bayard for some time now and we've become regular climbing partners, but we'd never climbed a proper winter route together.  If the guy treated alpine climbing any differently than safe, sunny sport climbing, he didn't show it, though: after committing to a steinpull above a sloping ledge he was airborne, hurtling onto a number one camalot.  The man had been working like a dog all summer and fall on an addition to the house he shares with his wonderful wife, Anne.  I doubt he got more than one climbing day.  He charged upwards like a banshee releasted from hell.  After a few moves, he fell again.  When it was clear he was all right, I started giggling uncontrollably.   We were enjoying ourselves.

Crossing the pond.  Getting excited.

Russell Jr. forging new "Scottish" terrain.
Following Bayard.  I did not do well. 
Kevin (leading) and Doug on the alluring smear.  (Photo by Bayard)

Elsewhere on the Taberwand, Kevin Mahoney was leading a goddamn man-camp seminar.  The seminar taught me that, sometimes, you have to attach your pack to your waist, take off your hardshell jacket, and crawl up a tricky, rimed up chimney in your long underwear.  This all terrified me.  I was busy following Bayard's pitch, hanging in space, trying to get hexcentrics and pitons out of horribly iced up cracks.  Kevin was inspired by Bayard's wingers.  Soon, he reached the ice.  This was not climbable, so Kevin downclimbed as close as he could to his last piece (a miniature spectre called the "Terrier") and jumped off.  Tobin Sorenson would have winced.  Doug kept his cool.

Kevin about to top out on the Cilley-Barber.

The next day Kevin and I soloed the Cilley-Barber.  We did this quickly, though not as quickly as if Kevin had been alone.  He broke trail the whole way.  I felt guilty until I remembered that Kevin and Ben Gilmore broke trail for Steve House, Mark Twight, and Scott Backes on Denali once.  In 2 hours we reached the summit, and before lunch we were back at the ranger station.  Ranger Rob was not as mad as he might have been, so it worked out well.  It was cold, blowing, and alpine.  I felt like I was in Alaska, except we were napping in the cabin by noon.  On the way down, we saw Bayard and Doug cruising ice on the Pamola Ice cliffs.  It was pretty neat to have the mountain entirely to ourselves.  It was cold.

You can see Bayard and Doug on the leftmost smear, if you look closely enough.  NECLIMBS would probably judge the ice "OUT."  

A better shot of Doug on Pamola by Bayard.  Despite the climb being "OUT" of condition they seemed to manage okay.

It was time for a return to the Taberwand.

Bayard and the wall.  Not as rime-y.

Kevin and Bayard getting ready.

We woke up and I was exhausted.  Keeping up with these guys was difficult.  Kevin and Bayard and I started back towards the South Basin.  The sun came up and while it was pretty, it worried us too.  We traversed towards a lovely looking mixed line, which Kevin led.  We angled towards a smear that looked promising.  Bayard tiptoed out on a snow-covered slab.  He tapped the ice.  Kevin and I looked at each other.  A fog rolled over our little wall and things began falling down.  Mahoney tried to gain the ice.  This was my first time belaying Kevin.  This was scary.

"I wanna vomit!" I told Bayard.
"That's why I'm hiding in the cave!"

Kevin scratched around and told me his "whipper contingency plan."  I looked at the spectre and rattly pin between the M.O.G. and our belay.  I still wanted to vomit.  Bayard snapped a photo of me and giggled.

Kevin, happy to be in the mountains.

Mahoney again.

Kevin leading the first pitch to gain the ice.  Photo by Bayard.

Bayard following.

Russell on the slab.  This was harder than it looks!  The fog coming in destroyed the ice in a matter of minutes.

The pair ran off to find a shorter mixed climb and I gladly left them, my feet heavy as lead, tromping across the south basin by myself.  A jangle of pins pricked my attention and I whirled around in the fog in time to see Kevin take one last whipper.  These guys had given the thing a hell of an effort.

Doug had soup and whiskey waiting for me when I got back, as well as a knowing smile.  Later the four of us lashed all our kit on our packs and stumbled down to Roaring Brook.  The next day we limped home, trailing sleds in cold rain on gravel roads.  Kevin, ever going for broke, rode a bike sans brakes on slush for miles to retrieve our parked van.  It had been one hell of a trip.

Man Camp was over.  My crampons and new picks were shot.  It was time to drink some beer.


  1. Awesome post. Really wish I was there. But I don't know that might have been weird.