Rick's Journal

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Newfoundland Expedition, August 2011, Part X

Heading for the summit!
 This post is going to have a lot of pictures.  However, I won't make them all full sized, since you can click on the pictures and go to a full sized slide show of each of them in massive detail, so I will let you check most of them out that way.   So click away and enjoy!
Saying goodbye to Ranger Harold!

Okay, on with the show!

Today we started with breakfast, and packing up our backpacks for the climb and overnight on Gros Morne mountain.   Abigail was feeling a lot better, getting good sleep, and the trip was a go for her too, which had been a concern and factor as to whether we all went up or some stayed and some went.   We were doing our dishes and packing the truck when the green park services pickup truck rolled into the kitchen shelter parking area and Ranger Harold Snow hopped out.   He was the ranger that took us on the hike to Bakers Brook Falls, to see the big moose up close, and told us stories about living around the park that we loved.   He told us where to go to take some good pictures up on the mountain, and to bring warm clothes, his final pieces of advice. We said our goodbyes and then we headed out.
The map at the trailhead.

Gros Morne Mountain, from the trail.
We stopped by the Visitor's Center and picked up our backcountry passes.  The ranger there told us that we have to be on the lookout for a bull moose that was hanging around the pond near the camping area and to give him a wide berth and not bother him.   The reports were indicating that the rut was starting a bit early and he seemed aggressive, and they didn't want to have to interfere with him due to a bad interaction between the moose and people.  Which we understood and agreed with, of course.

We have to ascend the steepest
part of the mountain in "The Gully"
which is viewed behind me.

The boardwalks were great
in some sections along the way.
At the same time, some of us where checking our email and Facebook accounts and found out there was an earthquake in the DC/Baltimore area, so that was pretty unique too!   We didn't feel it up in Newfoundland, though.

The rangers also told us that if the top of the mountain was shrouded in fog or clouds, or the wind picked up too much, that we should not try to ascend because of the dangers of low visibility, cold, hyperthermia and injury.   The weather looked sunny and great, so we were excited, but she explained that it could turn very quickly, and that at night the clouds descend as well and that we should make sure we were at the campsites before dark.  

A small pond at the base of the
mountain.  We are about to leave
most of the trees behind at this point.
Eventually, we headed out and up to the trailhead, shouldered our packs and headed up.   It was fairly evident in the first fifteen minutes that most of the group was going to be moving a lot faster than I was, so I stayed at the end of the line and they sprinted off ahead of me.   My pack wasn't really that heavy, since we were just going for one night, and it wasn't anywhere near as heavy as it was just a few weeks ago when I led the Adirondack Expedition back in New York!  Still, it seemed to get heavier in proportion to the climb.

At the last stop before
heading up, up up!
Looking at this view, I can only say
'This is why we came all this way!'
The trail up was good, with lots of wooden stairs and wooden boardwalks at times, as well as fairly clear  paths heading up through the woodlands to get to the base of the mountain.   There were a few places to stop and rest, and I caught up with the group at those times, and took some pictures and checked in with everyone.   There were a lot of people heading back down the mountain, who had already been up early and hiked it up and back already.   Most of them looked very sore and tired.
The lichens that grow on
the rocky scree on the

One kid who was about thirteen or so looked like he had been crying on the way down, and gave me a baleful glare like I was the one who had tricked him into going up the mountain.   His mom looked pretty guilty and didn't even look me in the eyes.   Others were in great shape and all, but were still pretty happy when I told them they were pretty close to the trailhead.

Stopping to admire the view in the
I stopped along the way and took pictures and a little video of blueberries, partridgeberries, snowberries and bunchberries.   I thought it was a good way to stop for a very brief break and take videos of the trail, the view, etc.   However, when I got home and then downloaded the video, I could hear how out of breath I actually was!   Anyway, I am not sure how much of it I will use, but we'll see!

A good sized cow moose, browsing
near the Gully trail.
We reached the last trail resting point and saw our way up the Gully, which was a long, rocky gorge that goes straight up the mountain.   It looked intense and I felt a certain sense of foreboding and excitement at the same time.   Everyone else looked well rested and ready.  We took a few pictures and then shouldered our packs and headed up.  

At times, the Gully trail seemed to
go pretty much straight up!
When we got to the bottom of the gully, there was yet another sign warning us to not attempt the climb unless we could see clearly and the weather was good.  We went up, since we had fairly clear skies and a nice breeze.    By the time I got a quarter of the way up, I could see Ben and Abigail moving through the narrows, where the trail was partially obscured by brush and small trees.

On the summit, it was surprisingly
flat and very cold.
The trail started to close in on the sides as I approached the narrows, and I stopped to take a little video of the 'trail'.  It was basically laughable, as it was virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the rock shards all along the gully and mountaintop.   This kind of rock mix is created when the surface rock is frozen and refrozen until it breaks into smaller and smaller, sharp edged rocks called 'scree'.   They were jagged and sharp, and many were large and tilted and shifted on almost every step.   You had to really pick your way along and head up, up up, and I wanted to try to record what it was like to hike this trail, the views and everything.  
Abigail, Rick (me), Japhy, Nicole and Ben.  
We made it, and after celebrating for about three minutes
we had to quickly change our wet clothes and put on
wool sweaters, hats and layers!

I finished recording and then I heard a noise of something moving through the brush.   I turned and looked behind me and there was a moose, browsing on alders and spruce saplings, seemingly oblivious of my presence.  I was a little closer than I would have liked, because I couldn't really run away very easily on the sharp rocks, should she charge me, but I sensed that she was fine with me being there.   In any event, she didn't seem to indicate that she saw me except by the motion of her ears moving backwards from time to time, listening to my slight and quiet movements.   She moved into thicker brush and I began climbing again.
The view to the north on the northern edge of Gros Morne mountain!

When I started walking down this
wooden stairway down the mountain,
I felt a lot like Po on Kung Fu Panda!
My knees and ankles were saying
'My Arch Nemesis: Stairs!'
I guess I will skip ahead to the part where we made it to the top, and we were all on the summit and took a picture!   When I got there, Ben had already taken a video of some Arctic Ptarmigans, and Japhy had gotten some good pictures of an Arctic Hare, and they were bundled up with wool sweaters, hats, and lots of warm layers and jackets.   I was so hot I didn't know if I would do that just yet, but three minutes later, the wind was so steady and strong and cold, I broke out my sweater!  

The mountaintop trail!
The top of the summit was covered with broken rocks, lichen, tiny windswept willows, alders and native berry shrubs.   It was flat and looked like it was just about to snow.  The cloud ceiling was literally a hundred feet above us, and the cold air was filled with moisture from the massive oceanic bay of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence to the west.   The sun was beginning to set, and the light was thick with every color of the spectrum.   The warm, wet air pushed up the mountain and fjords, and we could see the air turn into clouds right before our eyes, as it condensed.   It was awesome!

Where the mountain air turned to
clouds before our eyes!
The top of the mountain had long stretches of rocky paths through the barrens, and also some boardwalks, which were mercy on my sore ankles and knees!   I was wearing some hiking boots that I used for hunting last year, and they really didn't feel that great.   We went along the path to the edge of mountain on the far side, and saw a view that there was just no words to express how amazing and beautiful it was.   We loved it, despite the cold wind.  
This was a great, great moment, standing here!

We took a lot of pictures, and just stood there, seeing a landscape that was virtually unchanged for centuries.   It took my breath away.   I saw waterfalls coming off of the distant cliffs, and inaccessible ponds and rivers and streams that beckoned my imagination for probably the next three weeks at least.

There were a lot of photos taken
at this spot!
The sun began to sink down lower and lower, and we still had three or four kilometers to get to our campsite, so we reluctantly pulled ourselves away and began to move down the trail down the back side of the mountain.   I saw what I think were caribou tracks and moose tracks and moose droppings, too.  I found a ptarmigan feather that was so white and pure, it startled me.  It was a wing feather, one of the primaries, and it had a black stripe on it and some grey speckling close to the quill.  It was almost exactly like a ruffed grouse primary, except it was so white!   I felt so good just to see it and hold it in my hand!   There were a few other feathers around, breast feathers and such, so I thought maybe a falcon or an eagle had a snack on this bird, but maybe it got away....

Abigail captured me lumbering
along the trail.  She was slow
because she was taking lots of pics.
I was slow because I was slow!
The view looking East...
Abigail poses in front of the pond
near our campsite.
Then came the stairs.   It was like a temple, only it was going down, down down.   Seriously, it was amazing and scary, all at the same time.   And I will tell you one thing about stairs after climbing the Gully:   Going down hurts!   I guess I am going to sound like I am too old to be hiking the mountains, but I am just keepin' it real, people!   The stairs were just a little too tall, so each step dropped you down far enough that your thighs got an amazing workout, or just about killed you, depending on your age, I guess!

Can anyone guess what this is?   
The bottom line is, I made it.  But the next thing we saw on the trail was moose droppings.   A big, whopping pile of it, and it was fresh.   Remember the warnings from the Rangers?   Despite the pain, my memory was still alive and kicking, and I knew we had to be careful and aware.   I caught up with Abigail, and then we saw it.  A huge black shape in the brush at the northern edge of the pond.   It was big.   It looked like two moose!   I could hear it move and it sounded like ten large trees were breaking under it's massive hooves.   We both froze, and then we tried to get a picture, but it was too dark.  There was no way to get a good shot, but we tried.   And I was hoping my zoom would let me get a glimpse of it's rack of antlers.

No deal.   We moved very quietly, stealthily down the trail to the other side of the lake and met up with the rest of the group.   We set up our tents, and started our dinner.   I think it was burritos, with refried beans that were dehydrated, and lots of cheese and salsa.   It cooked quickly, but with four ravenous hikers staring at it, the pot took forever to boil.   Then we had cookies, and it was good!

Our small camp on the
edge of the pond, behind
the Eastern edge of Gros
Morne Mountain.
However, the wind began to howl, and it was freezing.   I had changed my clothes as soon as we stopped hiking, but that cold was cutting in deep.   We cleaned up and I dove for the tent and my warm sleeping bag.   I loved that thing, seriously!   It felt so good to be curled up and feel my own body heat radiate around me, relaxing my muscles.   I was sleeping in my little tent, nestled in the ancient mountains of Newfoundland, dreaming in this ancient land, surrounded by wildlife that seemed to have no fear of us, and the strength of the mighty stones!  

It was a long, good day.   I thought for a moment or two about the sharp hooves of a bull moose taking a disliking to finding a tent near the shore of his pond at the beginning of the rut, but maybe the burritos were a good call?   We didn't have any problems, and I was too tired to care!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On the Lookout for Teaching Materials: The life of a wilderness skills instructor.

This milkweed grew it's whole, six
month life in view of this country road.
Now it will live in our barn for a while
and then maybe for a few years
as a necklace or bracelet for a young
person's first natural fiber cordage.

 So, last week, I was driving down some back roads through the Catskill mountains, on my way to teach cordage with natural fibers to about 25 fourth graders, when I noticed some long, white plants clustered in clumps along a guard rail.   There was a good shoulder and room to pull over, so I did.

I put my flashers on and hopped out to take a look.   The plants were milkweed, and they had been dead since November, and slowly decaying and going back to the soil.   The surrounding grasses and plants had also died, and the little snow that we had this winter had pushed it down close to the ground, but the milkweed's white stalks had many that were still standing.   This is due mostly to the strong fibers contained in the bark of the stalk, that helps keep them upright through all kinds of weather throughout the plant's short life.   It also makes the plant valuable to anyone in a wilderness survival situation, or who loves natural fibers!

The whiteness of the milkweed stalks stand out
from the browns and tans of the other
roadside vegetation, even at highway speeds,
if you are on the lookout for them!
I collected as many as I could, gathering the ones that were upright or laying sideways but not directly on the ground, as the ones on the ground are usually too far decayed to be used for cordage.  Also, stalks with large dark grey splotches, or black ones, are almost always rotted under the bark to the point where the fibers just crumble and break.   One of my instructors, Tim Brown, told me that he only gathered the white stalks because they were be best, most silky fibers of any milkweed he gathered, and he stopped wasting time on the grey ones because it just saved time sorting.   I think he is right, because it's the same thing that Sam Thayer says about gathering acorns.   You don't want to just gather every single acorn that you see and then have to sort them later, but instead sort as you gather, so you save that extra step and can then process only the best!   It makes sense, doesn't it?

The back of my car, with assorted timber framing
and program gear, now with my collection
of several roadside stops of milkweed.
I got as many as I could carry and put them in the back of my car, and continued on my way.   They were a little wet, so I had to make sure that they were dried out when I got home and spread them apart to dry in the barn.  I have bundled them up too soon in the past, when they were a little wet, and the whole bundle got really moldy and were ruined, wasting all of that time, effort and fibers!

Once they are dried, I usually bundle them in clusters of thirty stalks or so, enough to give each kid a couple of stalks to make a necklace or bracelet as they are learning to process and twist the fibers into a nice reverse wrap.

Drying the stalks in the barn so they don't get moldy.
(Note:   Be sure to take the seed pod heads off of the stalks if you can, because they will explode in silky seed whiteness everywhere if they stay in the back of your car and dry out because your car gets hot.   I have come back to my car to find it covered in fluff that is very hard to get out because it clings to everything, and the silk filaments break easily and are not good to breathe.   Don't learn the hard way like me!   Also, in these photos, the stalks and pods were wet from rain, so I didn't have to worry about that, but you might not realize that in the photos, hence this important tip!)

Close-up of my milkweed stalks.
As I was gathering at my next stop, I thought about the time needed to gather and prepare all of these materials for our programs.   It adds up!   We gather dogbane, arrow shafts, atlatl dart shafts, mullein stalks, goldenrod, horseweed and even some swamp milkweed from time to time, all through the fall, winter and early spring.   We gather certain grasses for tinder, or for insulation demonstrations, and grass mats.   We clean, bundle and prepare them, storing them in our barn or staff cabins so we can run programs all year round.

It doesn't stop there, though.  We also look out for cedar, poplar, cottonwood or basswood logs for spoon blanks, bow drill sets, coal burned bowls, hand drill fire boards or animal carving.   These we have to select the straightest sections without knots, and cut them to the right lengths, as well as split them into smaller sections and then dry them both in the sun and wind, and then place them up in the high spots in the barn to fully season and dry.   It takes a long time to cut up 100 bow drill sets in rough sections!

My milkweed bundles, all tied up
and a random bundle of dogbane!
The silky silver white fibers of milkweed!
One of the main reasons I wanted to post about this topic is to point out to instructors and mentors that these gatherings take time, and unfortunately, you can't just go out and buy cordage fibers or bundles of milkweed at the store, and you have to do it at the right time and plan ahead...   There is a value to these things that you have to be sure to add to your fees as you work, and make sure you understand this as you build your business, so you don't work for free and get burned out.   It seems simple to understand, but if you aren't familiar with running a business, it is easy to forget or let it slip through the cracks.   Likewise, it sometimes is the business manager who gets 20 classes signed up, but unfortunately forgets to make sure that you actually have enough milkweed/dogbane/bow drill kits, etc to run the program!   In those times, you have to scramble and think fast, and do what you can to make do, but in the long run, to preserve sanity, you have to make sure you plan that time in your seasonal schedule for that kind of gathering!

When you find the seed pods on the stalks, be sure
to scatter them around sothey can find a good home
and grow more milkweed!
Remember also, that kids are going to be doing the carving or processing, and we want to have good results, so be sure to discard the junky stuff so you don't make a third grader try carving a spoon out of a piece of wood with six knots in it!   Save those pieces for your staff!   (Ha ha, just kidding!)   The survivalist part of myself always thinks that someone will be able to make something cool out of interesting materials, but unfortunately, it often means you will have a box of mostly un-useable chunks in a year or two.  Throw them in the fire and move on to the good stuff, people!   I have a story one time where I was going to a home school group to teach cordage and fire making, and my staff assured me they had plenty of wood and bundles of milkweed for the class, and when we got there, you guessed it!   We had three bundles of crumbly fibers that were useless, and the box of cedar wood for bow drill sets was pure Knot City.   Bad for carving bow drills and fireboards.   Very bad.

So, we were lucky to go to a local feed store/landscaping supplies, and bought a cedar fence post that had almost no knots.   We sawed it up, and it worked out.  We had to pay about $30 or so, but it was worth it to pull the workshop off!

My bundles, safely stored in our barn until
we need them for our school programs,
summer camps or apprentice program.
The cordage was harder.   We found some raffia fibers at a craft store (Michael's, I think it was) and used that, but we also were able to strip off some green tree fibers from some basswood shoots that were growing on a roadside tree, and we cut a few off and brought them to the camp and let the kids peel their own and then twist it up, and they loved it.   However, while I can celebrate the fact that we made do and were successful, it it is also true that I was sweating bullets and working hard to solve the problem, rather than spending that time connecting to kids and parents and relaxing before the program and getting our group plan together.   It is good to have things run smooth, and good preparation will help your programs have less stress, less effort and great results.

It's all about the details, right?   If we take care of the little things, we will be on our way!

Anyway, with this warmer winter and less snow, you should be able to see the roadside weeds pretty easy in some places, and you can be on the lookout for milkweed and other plants for your own practice, crafts and programs.   Good luck and happy gathering!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Newfoundland Expedition, August 2011, Part lX

The Sunrise at Berry Hill Campground,
Gros Morne, Western Newfoundland

Our Camp, complete with tarps for the
morning rain
 Well, this day started off in a massive windstorm that woke me up early and allowed me to see the most spectacular sunrise I have seen in some time.  I mean, it rivaled desert sunrises, and mountain sunrises and more!   See for yourself, but it was unbelievable!    The wind shook the trees and the sky changed several times in the fifteen minutes or so that I watched, standing in the cold wind at about five thirty in the morning.

Japhy gets ready for breakfast
I got pretty cold, so I finished up my photos and video taking, and went back to sleep in the tent.   Abigail was snoring away, (she had complained about a sore throat for some time) and was out cold, and Ben got up and took a few pictures, but went back to sleep, and Nicole was asleep too.  

It didn't take long for the rain storm to start.   It was amazing.   The rain and the wind combined to pound the tent and lift the tarp up as high as it would go, like a sail, and then it would slam down as hard as it could, flattening the fiberglass tent poles and tent rain fly as far as it would go.   Then it would rain hard, and water would start to collect on the flattened tarp, and as it rose again, it would fly off and splash out by Ben's side of the tent, with about a half a gallon of water poured instantly on the soft ground near his corner.
Ben searches for a cup of tea

Abigail crashes out in the tent
Reading through the storm
I woke up at one point and checked the tarp, which had broken through one of the grommets by Ben's corner, and went out and tied it back up in my bare feet.   It was refreshing and cold, but I got it tied up and went back to sleep again.   I know a lot of you morning people will hate me for being able to do that, but it is something I have been able to do all of my life, so deal with it!   (Trista, on the other hand, is the opposite.  If she is up, she's up, for good, all day.)

Ben loads the woodstove in the
Berry Hill Campground Kitchen Shelter
Anyway, it got light but it was hard to tell through the thick clouds and driving rain.   The entire campground pretty much cleared out by ten o'clock, and Abigail and I read on and off as we lay and listened to the rain and the wind crashing around.   It was a great storm.

When we did get up, we went out to the kitchen shelter to make breakfast.   Ben got the stove going there, to warm up, dry our wet things and we made pancakes, I think, with Hawk Circle Maple Syrup, which turned out really good.   We also made some eggs, and a few other things.   Hot chocolate, tea and even a little oatmeal too, I think, if I remember right.   We took some showers, and chatted with Ranger Harold while we lounged, as we were in no hurry to rush out and see the sights in the rain.

The "After Breakfast, Wait out the Storm"
Card Game!
We also at this point, made a plan about our next few days.   Seeing as we didn't have much time left, we wanted to get out into the backcountry, but the Long Range Traverse still seemed daunting for Abigail and her sore throat, and so we decided to inquire about the Gros Morne Mountain hike and overnight.   However, we needed to check in at the Visitor's Center, to check email, and see what the weather was going to be for the next day or so.

The weather turned out to look good for the next day or so, and the hike seemed like a go, if we could get Abigail healthy.   So we left the Visitor Center and went a few miles away to the Bonne Bay Health Centre in Norris Point.  

I had heard a few things about the Canadian Health Care system, so I was kind of excited to see it up close and personal.  First of all, it was in a beautiful building, very accessible and state of the art, and not really "hospitally', if you know what I mean.   Lots of yellows, oranges and reds in various pastels, maybe even a little purple or violet, if I remember right!
At the Bonne Bay Health Center
in Norris Point

The Hallway to Intensive Care
Gros Morne Mountain in the Distance:
Yeah, we're goin' there!
So, we went in, and signed in, and Abigail got seen by a nurse, and the we had to wait for about twenty minutes (Oh, yeah, that Socialist Healthcare sucks!   You have to wait, and wait and wait!), which was about the same amount of time we usually wait for Javi's appointments back in New York.  During that time, I walked around, popped into the cafeteria and got a sandwich and chatted with the nurses and staff about their hospital, and how they liked it in western Newfoundland.   My mom is a nurse, so I just talked for a bit and everyone was really friendly and sharing about their stories, and asking about our adventures.  During that time, Abigail was seen by a doctor, prescribed some meds and was ready to roll.  So we headed to a pharmacy, got some stuff and headed back to the campground....

The After Dinner Scrabble
Game Board
That night, we made some awesome fish and veggies, with rice.  Oh, man, it was good!   And we played Scrabble, and had tea and just had a good time.   And slept like kings!   And I was thinking about the stuff I needed to pack in my backpack for our food for the trip, and clothing, and gear and all that.

 I have to admit, I heard all the talk about the steep ascent, and I was a little nervous.  But I told my body, I am going anyway, so deal with it, and get me up there!   It is going to be a trip!