A Rare Interview with Half Ass Expeditions
by Fredulous Q Montgomerly, Outhouse Magazine Editor
After a lifetime of winter survival hiking, Vincentoli Blanteev made it to the top of Bigelow Mountain in January. What he and the rest of the terra-forming HAE team would discover in the years to come, however, is that it is even harder to leave trash behind.
For this Web site it began months ago, when we heard that on average some 4580 tourists visit the top of Mt. Washington on a single summer day. That so many flatlanders should crowd onto the highest spot in New England was astonishing and troubling. What might this suggest to other weekend peak baggers and gomers about the apparent ease of adding New England peaks to one’s trophy case during the winter season? How many body bags will the Rangers need on peaks already swarming with too many summer hikers too inexperienced to save themselves-let alone others-if caught out in the middle of a raging New England winter storm. It is a foregone conclusion that reality strikes every year in Tuckerman’s Ravine, where dumb fuckers die every winter. The only question now is how did HAE use their unique high impact style to survive Bigelow Mountain in January, and have they ever managed to check the destruction and thrashing of pristine wilderness areas that is a natural by-product of their high-impact terra-forming camping?
By the time we got around to asking cybah-spaced mountain correspondent and lifelong winter backpacker Vincentoli Blanteev to examine firsthand the circumstances that lead to deforestation, things have only gotten worse. Swelling ranks of gomers were paying ever more bucks for yuppie assed backpacking equipment and audio cassette guided tours to the peaks of New England, and some enterprises seemed to be all but guaranteeing the summit. “THIS CAR CLIMBED MT. WASHINGTON,” the bumper sticker proclaims, and it is given to you at the bottom, before the drive up. HAE guide Bruce McAnus boasts 100 percent success rate, “Fucking hey dude no problem, me and Blanteev even rode bikes to the top of Mt. Washington once.” Another HAE guide, Timur Novasch, told Blanteev that he was shopping around for some commercial quality expedition supplies with fellow vagabond, Marcus Needlemeier. “We’ve got a deal for some Big A’s figured out, this expedition is gonna be totally electric! With them gooey green Haebars and a packie run over the NH border, I’m telling ya, this expedition is gonna be a trail of trash right to the summit.”
If only that had been true. Instead, on January 3, 1989, after Vincentoli Blanteev and four others reached the top, they became trapped during the descent at Bigelow Col, pinned down by gale-force winds and multi-digit windchill. All five lost their desire to party, including Novasch and Needlemeyer, three others left broken equipment and unsightly trash around, and one, Vincentoli Blanteev, futility took to high impact camping, totally stripping a tract of the Sacred National Wilderness Area in a desperate attempt to save a client, Frodo, from the relentlessly pounding arctic storm. That action alone will take years for forest recovery, and the rare Pileated Woodpecker, which depends on exactly the type of standing dead wood that is routinely vaporized by HAE high-impact camping, was pushed even further to the brink of extinction. By the end of the trip, however, HAE was back in form, and 10 cases of beer would perish at the post trip party, the highest single bottle count in HAE history.
Blanteev and many others were left hung over and shaking. Nevertheless, Blanteev sobered up and wrote, with blatantly fake tabloidisum, INTO BIG MAINE, a belly busting, side splitting account of the debacle first published on HAE’s WEB site, www.halfassexpeditions.com. No other article in HAE’s Web site’s history has prompted a reaction this epic piece has; many months later, we’re still receiving nasty e-mail from pencil-necked members of radical left wing environmental organizations who are stupid enough to believe Blanteev’s bullshit. But normal folks were appalled too, “But he was such a nice boy,” one reader E-mailed. “Doesn’t he know better by now? ” wrote another, who happened to be his Mom.
Yet it’s a story that won’t go away. Money needs to be made, and HAE is now famous. Nor should it go away. A fellow hiker and friend of HAE remarked that the episode put him in a frame of mind of another instance of nature invoking slapstick action in humankind, and our runaway hubris: the media sinking of “untouchable” reputations of outstanding citizens, such yuppies, gomers and tourists. Then he asked if anyone had learned anything about any eminent deals this time around.
Blanteev has now expanded his report of winter survival into brilliant collection of short stories, titled The Winter Expeditions. With the annual HAE winter expedition fast approaching, we sat down to beers and haebars with Blanteev and the rest of the HAE team, Timur Novasch, Bruce McAnus and Marcus Needlemeier, in HAE headquarters, temporally relocated in Timur ‘s dust coated basement. Friends and fellow hikers since the ’70’s, Blanteev and the HAE gang assessed the damages, explored the practical and moral sides of high-impact camping, and talked about how Blanteev and his fellow survivors have fared in the years following Bigelow.
Outhouse Magazine Editor (Outhouse): One of the most frequently asked questions to hit our E-mail these past few months is how one justifies the pursuit of something that is arguably so supremely selfish..
Blanteev: Woah…check out the yuppie in the cardigan sweater, hey dude are you the one with that disgusting looking purple Land Rover out front?
Novasch: Shut up, Blanteev… you dipshit, this is our one big media chance.
Bruce: Who needs a beer?
Outhouse: Err….sure…thanks….as I was asking, how can you justify this when people ask, “for what?” Unlike dangerous but arguably selfless, even noble pursuits-like firefighting or relief work or space exploration, mountaineering, in the wake of all those people who died while you guys were on Bigelow, strikes many as benefiting no one but the mountaineer himself. Especially when it comes across more like trophy hunting.
Blanteev: Yo dudes, let me handle this blow hard. Look there was plenty of firefighting going on up there on Bigelow, but not up at the Col. I couldn’t light shit up there. I guess I don’t try and justify that, or defend it, lighting big ass fires is a compulsion, and I just couldn’t deliver when the storm hit bad. But back at Camp II and also when we finally descended we had rip roaring blazes going.
Novasch: Yeah….you can typically track us by satellite!
Bruce: Hey you guys, I think we should listen to what this Outhouse guy has to say.
Marcus: Not to mention that cabin we broke…ahhh…I mean, stayed at, we had quite a stove fire then.
Blanteev: Oh yeah….that too. Anyways as for all them gomers, flatlanders and fellow humanity that died when we were on the mountain, you gotta be realistic and realize that there are stats, and then there are stats. You add up the numbers. We know people died when we were on Bigelow. Fifty thousand people die each year on American highways. Plus a few million more are starving or getting hacked to death over in Africa, not to mention all the other unlucky souls in Asia, fat pigs dead of heart attacks, and the nine low lifes I jus’ read about that died in a fire that leveled a tenement in East Boston. So lets see, add that all up and multiply by 7 days, but divide by 365 days to normalize the equation and we have…
(Blanteev whips out a pocket calculator and starts whapping buttons.)
Novasch: What a fucking total geek. Hey, where’s that haebar…?
Blanteev: That’s like several thousand dudes who bit the big one when we were camping! I tell ya seeing the pain it has caused all the families and friends of these good people — this has shaken me deeply…
Bruce: Yeah… so deep I need some hip waders.
Novasch: Got a pair right here.
Blanteev: Fucking patsies, shut up and quit bogarting the haebar….gimme that thing.
Marcus: I think what Blanteev is saying here is that there is no way to defend it, even to yourself, once you have been involved in a fiasco on the scale of the Bigelow expedition. But we continue to winter camp, to trash the woods with our own brand of high-impact survival. I don’t know what that says about me, or the sport, other than the potential power in realizing that you can take the trash out of the trailer, but you can’t take the trailer out of the trash.
Blanteev: Now that’s poetry.
Bruce: It may sound trite to say this, but winter survival camping HAE style isn’t just another sport. It’s life itself, the real thing. Which is what makes it so compelling, so real, and soft bellied yuppies can not judge things on some arbitrary set scale of reference when they read about how things out in the field get all half-assed fucked up.
Outhouse: In his account of his successful 1963 ascent, Everest, The West Ridge, Tom Hornbein, who has been a role model for several generations of climbers wrote, “But at times I wonder if I had not come a long way only to find that what I really sought was something I left behind,” This idea must resonate with you guys. What did you think climbing Bigelow was going to do for you, and what do you think other people want from it?
Novasch: Sounds like that Hornbean dude forgot to pack some toilet paper.
Marcus: Tom who?
Bruce: With regard to that resonance, is that underdamped, critically damped, or overdamped conditions in the second order homogeneous differential solution? And if you have nonlinear coefficients don’t you think Lipovouv’s stabilty crtierion would be a more approprate evaluation of the Egein value solution?
Blanteev: Yeah, he forgot the TP and plus the gomer uses the pronoun “I” like four times in one sentence. Just like some wussy lead vocalist on that wussy radio station that chicks with big hair listen to. That’s the total primadonna with a kindergarten education attitude. Read my stories dude. I don’t use I cuz I remember from like..first grade… so I know using I is totally bush league. And that brings up a point about why HAE’s Winter Survival web site has the best damn outdoor stories ever downloaded on your data stream. Ever check out some of these stupid-assed Web pages? It’s like puke time, the writing totally sucks. These guys are dumb assed wannabes, not literary authors. There are some magazine articles on the subject written by professional writers, but all them web pages read like Forest Gump wrote ’em. I finally just got so tired of reading all that airhead crap that I sat down and wrote out some real stories, about real men, doing real winter survival camping. I did that, I, I, I, I, I!
Novasch: Shut the word hole, beanhead…what’s your problem? You will have to excuse Blanteev, he hadn’t had his medicine yet. Speaking of medicine… where is that fucking haebar…?
Marcus: Blanteev is right, what other people want is good stories and entertainment. Of course I don’t think the enviromentalists, anti-drug lobbyists, and yuppies are very pleased about being on the butt end of all our jokes, but it’s a formula and it works.
Bruce: True, we never see any of those types winter camping.
Outhouse: There are certainly harder climbs, any number of routes on any number of peaks that a serious alpinist would consider more worthy. But Bigelow, when all’s said and done is still Bigelow. And for those whom that mountain gets its grip…
Bruce: Serious Alpinist?
Novasch: Ain’t that the new squishy stuff in a tube that tastes like a Power Bar mixed with yellow snow?
Marcus: Stove fuel too, gotta have something stronger than yellow snow to liquefy a Power Bar.
Blanteev: Look. We don’t give a shit about mentally unstable wannabes and alpine cognoscenti who think they are serious about climbing. They ain’t. What they are serious about is status. That’s the human condition. Fair enough. But if you want our respect, which by the way, you ain’t gonna get, you are gonna have to do it the old fashioned way. You are gonna have to earn it. Stomping off on a Himalayan expedition with a bunch of Sherpas in tow and then dying like a gomer is only gonna make us laugh our asses off. And even if you do survive we still are gonna laugh our asses off. It’s like what are you, fucking stupid? You know when Henry David Thoreau wanted to make a statement, to gain respect and status among his contemporaries, what did he do? Undergo a stupid assed journey to the ends of the earth and then write on rice paper with chicken blood while eating Lama dung, like all the fakes were doing at the time? No. He did it his way. He went over to Walden Pond and proceeded to change the world with his ideas and writings. So we don’t need no stinking opinions about this climb or that. Bigelow is great mountain. We climb what we want to climb, we do it our way, and in the end HAE will be the ones changing the cybor-space world of climbing, not them.
Bruce: You know Bigelow Mountain, and the New England peaks in general, deserve a lot more credit than they gets in some circles. I came away with infinitely more respect for Bigelow and the White Mountains — and not simply because a lot of ham-and-eggers get killed up there every winter. It’s an amazing double peak, more beautiful than I’d imagined. And the Horns route, which I’ve heard demeaned as the “yuppie route” up a mountain called a paper company throwaway, is in fact an aesthetic and worthy climb in January. Even before we got there, well — I guess I shouldn’t talk about how ‘shroomed out we got.
Novasch: You better not ‘cuz we don’t want people to know that we ate shit that tasted like shit.
Marcus: Humm…it tasted like dog shit to me.
Blanteev: Me too, good thing we ate it.
Outhouse: There’s a wonderful passage in the autobiography of Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who made the first ascent of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, about the many arguments not to attempt the peak in 1947, like no experience, no money, no training, no permission to enter….
Novasch: Sounds perfect to me, HAE has done it’s share of vagrant trespassing.
Outhouse: But then he writes, “Any man in his right mind would have said no. But I couldn’t say no. For in my heart I needed to go, and the pull of Everest was stronger than any force on earth.”
Blanteev: I think that quote sucks. Among the reasons that it sucks is because here is an indigenous native totally brainwashed by western values and money. I bet what he really said was, “Any man in his white mind…” Then the pastey white boy who helped him write the bio missed the translation. It’s clear cut case of white man’s capitalistic exploitation of a naive population leading to widespread cultural annihilation. Tell me Sherpas thought like that before Sir Imperialist showed up. No way dude. I bet ya’ Tenzing was loaded on heap-big-white man’s firewater before writing all that lame assed trash. And now look at the place, its loaded with gomers, TV’s and autos, and I hear that there’s even a burger joint up there now.
Marcus: The Gears of Industry must prevail, even on Everest. Who needs a brew?
Novasch: Hey Blanteev… we don’t mind the spit, just chew the lumps.
Bruce: You know I identify with this passage very deeply. Those big mountain technical guys were my childhood heros. On Bigelow I had summit fever as bad as anyone, and I was there for reasons that, professional duties aside, were no less suspect that anyone else. I wanted to climb it and fire up a haebar at the top, that’s why I was there. Sure I thought it was important that I field test the equipment that I designed and brought along. I told my boss I would do that. But I wouldn’t have gone if I wasn’t utterly motivated to rage out in the woods and stumble trash about the place.
Blanteev: Yeah, we were suspects all right, and really loaded for that trip, the stash was awesome!
Outhouse: What about all the backpackers in New England? And who was this guy Frodo going on some nonguided, noncommercial trip arranged by HAE. And just how much experience do these people have? I quote from your [INTO BIG MAINE]: “Weak people are weeded out by the mountain early, while the rest are early out of weed. If you expect somebody to take care of you, the mountains knows that and you will get into trouble straight away — and not get very far before you die. Climbing Northern New England mountains in the middle of the fucking winter is self-regulating.”
Blanteev: Some of my friends and family have taken me to task for incessantly lambasting gomers, yuppies, and tourists. For saying that these people are big assed turkeys that are totally unprepared and unskilled. And ya know what? They are and they know it. Every winter you get some boneheads who don’t know they are boneheads. They go up to Tukerman’s Ravine and the next thing ya know they are getting dragged out in body bags.
Novasch Ya like in one of HAE’s new Mt. Ervinest Signature Series body bags! It’s fleece lined Gortex with two top mounted helicopter hooks and plastic bottom snow skids. Plus you can get the optional meat hook for the top and GPS locator for remote pickups!
Marcus: Don’t forget that yuppie looking HAE label on the front, it’s shaped like an alligator.
Bruce: I thought that was a prayer wheel. Hey who’s bouncing the haebar?
Blanteev: Oh ya…that’s right, I forgot about that exciting new product line, I thought that we could of sold maybe a dozen of them in ’96. Anyways as I was saying for the most part the vast majority of gomers know their limitations, and right around 3:15 pm it’s gomer rush hour. They are all deathly afraid of the winter woods at night, so they all pig pile out to their overpriced sport utility vehicles and split.
Marcus: Under harsh winter conditions people’s memory become quite unreliable. Peoples perception of their own abilities and experiences are usually way off base. A few haebars and 151 rum and every one thinks they are king of the woods. I discovered that the recollections of some of us have changed dramatically with the passage of time. Consciously or unconsciously, certain HAE team members have revised or embellished the details of their stories in significant and occasionally preposterous ways.
Novasch: That would be Blanteev.
Blanteev: Who me?
Marcus: And, check it out, the revisions invariably put the subject in the He Man Survival seat! Not like he was freezing his ass off in a total panic doing something totally gomer like and nearly dying. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the kind of person who is a member of HAE — the white trash and big partyer — isn’t inclined to remember anything by the time the stash has been blasted.
Blanteev: Lets not mince meat here. Half assed expeditions do not attract a whole lot of un-trashed people. The self-selection process tends to weed out the cautious and the sensible in favor of those who have incredible weed. Which is why winter mountaineering with HAE is so dangerous. The combination of intense partying at 4000 feet makes the trip seem to be held at 29,000 feet!
Outhouse: Come on you guys, you are still only at 4000 feet.
Bruce: You doubt us?
Marcus: The stash bag please!
Novasch: Ah yes…the stash bag…checking the stash bag…checking the stash bag…the stash bag has been checked. We got some angel dust cut with formaldehyde, 5 ‘ludes, 10 mushrooms pieces, 4 hits of something that looks like acid, Valium, a sack of green Californian bud, 151 Rum, Yukon Jack, JD, and some Tylenol. Hey Marcus… what are these three cranky looking pills?
Marcus: I dunno, ain’t that the stuff they talk about in that Phish song, “Three Strange Days”?
Bruce: (singing) After three strange pills…
Novasch: (crooning) I thought I saw an aberration…
Blanteev: Save the bud, and stuff the rest down that yuppie assed mother-fucker’s throat!
(The team jumps the Editor, wrestles him to the ground, and pours the entire contents of the stash bag down his throat)
Novasch: We should get a much better write up from this guy once that kicks in!
Blanteev: Yepper buddie….it’s just like simulating an HAE expedition right in the privacy of your own home.
Outhouse: Woah!..like totally radical dudes! I feel like I’m snowshoeing on a HAE trip in the middle of the vast Maine wilderness! Woah!…Woah!
Blanteev: Find your center, find your center!
Bruce: Who’s driving?
Outhouse: Ok lets move on with the interview. Blanteev, you certainty have been critical of how Timur Novasch and Bruce McAnus performed some of their duties, though in one of your short stories you avoided quoting some great half-assed logic, “If client cannot climb in winter without big help from guide, then client is gomer and should not be on mountain. Otherwise there can be big problem when high.”
Blanteev: I’m still in total agreement with that. If you choke chicken down low, you are asking for trouble when high, and yes, I’ve been critical of what Novasch did after he tagged the summit, and that he brought Frodo along under the pretense that he would be able to guide effectively under the expected conditions. His mistake, as I see it, is that after partying with the client all the way to the summit, as the HAE Guide to North American Hiking specifies, you owe it to them to keep partying with them on the descent, rather than standing around ignoring how they are dying of hypothermia.
Outhouse: Then shouldn’t HAE be rethinking the way other aspects of these noncommercial trips are conducted? Here we have people with little experience or skill, and a client-guide relationship that can discourage that all-important sense of “sobriety,” and a rather sizable financial transaction in a back alley that puts pressure on the guides to see that those who invested in the stash get to the summit.
Blanteev: There is something about the recent commercialization of HAE’s web page that is shocking and troubling. But maybe it shouldn’t be. The high-impact terra-forming style of winter mountaineering was, after all, invented and poineered by HAE. There’s a long tradition of socially and politically incorrect attitudes, so who am I to say that it’s bad or wrong, even if practiced away from the world…like out in one of them fucking National Pristine Wilderness Areas. And that doesn’t bode well for the rapid expansion of commercial interests, it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Sponsors stay away unless the see resolution to this conflict of interest, and that ain’t gonna be happening here at this page.
Bruce: That reminds me of the differences between hiking the White Mountains and the Himalayas. In the White Mountains one is grateful just to be able to survive out in the elements and is psyched to party in the woods. On the other hand I’ve read about gomers returning from Everest pretending they weren’t partying up there and generally acting like primadonna dickheads. The way HAE guides is very different from the way other organizations run their operations, and it farts in the face of values one might have expected in people of our high caliber: not drinkin’, smokin’ and cussin’, not leaving our feces uncovered, not cutting green trees or standing dead wood, not getting trashed, and not trashing the woods.
Marcus: And when such values are in short supply? What then?
Blanteev: In our case, and I think this is true of any poorly organized expedition, the true meaning of half-assed will become readily apparent. We have been a team for years, and work well enough together, but climbing is so physically demanding and the winter conditions are so severe that there is plenty of opportunity for major fuck-ups, panic, and slapastick action. Part of that is due to the fact that we do absolutely everything ourselves and carry everything we need on our own sorry assed backs. There is no such thing as a Sherpa in Maine. There is no warm basecamp with big dollar support to fall back upon. There is an incredible amount skill, technique and technical stuff you have to know and have to be good at in order to survive on your own in the Maine woods for a week of nasty-assed sub-zero weather. While climbing a fucking mountain and partying too. It’s difficult enough for one person to be good at all that, never mind four or five people. HAE has over 80 man years of winter survival experience and that still ain’t enough. Every year we learn more, and every year we forget or ignore something we have learned. Or we find out about something we didn’t know the hard way. When an arctic storm is blasting down on ya’ in the northern wilderness, chaos, panic, fuckups and half-assed slapstick are inevitable, they’re just a brain fade away.
Marcus: We don’t need no stinking help from nobody, but often we are too incapacitated to help ourselves either. Big arguments break out when partying as to exactly who is going to go do dishes or chop the ice for hot toddies. When somebody should be out cutting up wood for the fire, they ain’t, so the peanut gallery is gonna start blasting away. I was a guide on Bigelow and my teammates were guides, and we all counted on Client to take care of himself if he got into trouble. If Client had gotten up off his ass and chopped wood while us four guides were kicking back drinking, he would of felt much more like he was part of the team.
Outhouse: Internet adventurers who read your INTO BIG MAINE web page continue to E-mail — constantly it seems — that you’ve been altogether too hard on yourself about your role in the events of January 3. And as web surfers of your other short stories will discover, that intense self rear-approach hasn’t gone away. Where’s the guilt coming from, and has it begun to subside at all?
Blanteev: Well ya maybe in some small sense I do feel somewhat guilty about choking chicken while others were freezing to death. But what you say is true. I was too hard. I mean look at my role in Frodo’s ordeal, the photographer from down south. There’s no way I should have ever gone down to pop my tent, leaving him high on the mountain. I should of recognized that Frodo was too cold to even find his chicken when he went out that night to take a whiz.
Outhouse: You really feel like you abandoned him up there on the West Peak? That it wasn’t a safe assumption that he was there doing his job taking photos? He was a client and you were the guide, a distinction that was pretty fuzzy right from the very beginning of the trip. Plus there was the hangover from the previous night. Who was thinking clearly after partying before the climb? In a Maine arctic storm?
Blanteev: Well I know that one can rationalize all day about actions taken under duress. But here’s the bottom line: if I had been on Bigelow with just the HAE gang, I would of never descended to my tent to buff backwood bacon. No way. All the guys would have been standing around my tent laughing and busting on me way bad while waiting to snap a photo. I must of figured that the other HAE guides would be so busy with the client that nobody would notice, and I could sneak off and get away with it that time. It’s shameful and embarrassing but every guy does it.
Novasch: Yo Blanteev I thought we agreed beforehand not to talk about religion, politics or sex in this interview, you pasty white beer swilling wanker from hell. Do you want to get blacklisted like Disney by ultra-right religious groups and lose the largest segment of our target audience?
Bruce: Whata’ ya mean every guy did it, I didn’t spank monkey on Bigelow, how about you Timur ?
Novasch: Nope, too fucking cold.
Marcus: Me neither, Blanteev must of been the only one. Uh oh, looks like this is the last cold beer.
Blanteev: Shut up you wusses, I’ll kick your asses! Hey gimmy that beer.
(General ruckus and brawling breaks out among the team. The last cold beer drops and smashes open)
Marcus: Fuck Blanteev now look what ya did, we only got this case of warm Bud left over now.
Blanteev: Warm Bud, fucking warm Bud? I fucking hate Bud!
Bruce: Warm beer is totally half-assed unexcuseable, who’s was supposed to be in charge of the beer?
Novasch, Blanteev, Marcus: You were!
Outhouse: Humm…in talking with you guys it’s obvious that you are all struggling here. I would of thought that eight years is enough time to heal the wounds. Eight years must of healed some wounds. But here suddenly you discover even bones, bones you know you never had, are smoked. Have you guys be able to move on, or are many still deep in the throes?
Marcus: Bones? Who’s got bones we don’t know about?
Novasch: Blanteev does. He always stealing and squirreling away haebars without telling us.
Blanteev: Ya right you portable upright hoovers with attachments. Who’s the only stiff who has stuff at the end of a expedition? Me. I ain’t stealing that shit for my health ya know.
Novasch: Some of us seem to be doing quite well, actually — at least in recent expeditions — and I’m happy about that. Most amazing is Froto, who by all accounts, err..on account of we don’t know, is doing great, despite everything that happened to him: getting frostbite, losing all his camping equipment, freezing to death up in the Col. Frodo is an incredible guy. The same qualities that allowed him to rise from the dead on the Bigelow Col and hobble to safety have allowed him to deal with his life better, and I’m in awe of that. But honestly, except for some photo exchanges after the trip, I’ve been in surprisingly little touch with him. I’m reluctant to speak for anyone other than myself, and I may be going out on a limb here, but a chill has developed between us, If the trip had gone well I think we might of stayed in touch: ‘Hey, wasn’t that a most excellent trip to Bigelow, lets do it again’, and all that. Instead, I think Frodo met his maker on the mountain, last I heard years ago was that Frodo had become a born-again type, and we haven’t heard from him since.
Outhouse: Back to the HAE survival team: From the first time I read your web page manuscript, I was struck by the shared culpability that you guys must feel, at least to some small degree…
Novasch: Yeah… smaller than Blanteev’s dick.
Outhouse: Indeed there were some big mistakes made, some half-assed ones, but there were was also so many little things that built up, imperceptibly, chillingly, one upon the other.
Blanteev: I’m telling ya, I’ve been through every permutation, first the easy stuff like N factorial over N minus R factorial, and then I tried stocastically evaluating the time series events through the regular transition probability matrices raised to a higher power. That suffered from being inexact, since n equals infinity is never attained, even when I tied up a Pentium 130 MHz machine for a week. You know…
Bruce: How come you didn’t use doubly stocastic matrices and include a history of state description for phenomena that is not naturally a Markov process?
Blanteev: Because the irreducible Markov Chain didn’t meet the reflextivity relation i — j for all Pij = 0 and I could not partition the totality of states into equivalence classes. Like abber durr even. Anyway you know one can spend all day hacking, letting a computer think about it instead of you, it’s a great way to avoid feeling guilty. And I have to admit that not only did I feel guilt, but I’ve also done a lot of silent finger pointing and blaming of others –far more than the wuss trashing I dished out on the web. I’m taking about much harsher trash that I’ve kept mostly to myself. Ultimately, however, I’ve come to realize that getting all hung about shit that gomers do does nothing to erase my own culpability. So instead I went drinking and just forgot about it, like the day after it happened. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who isn’t sleeping particularly well at night, gomers stay up late reading porn mags too.
Outhouse: This spring when I asked if writing your web pages was cathartic in any way, you said that the events were long too gone, emotionally lost in the intervening years. Yet in reading your web page it was obvious that what happened has been gnawing at your gut, allowing you to write with feeling and emotion. Maybe you thought that by writing you would be able to purge Bigelow from your life? Has that happened?
Marcus: Man this is one fucking long interview. Is this gomer ever gonna stop asking stupid-assed questions?
Blanteev: He better, WWF wrestling is on the tube soon and I don’t wanna miss any action going down between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Brett the Hit Man Hart. McAnus? Timur ? Marcus? Any takers on this one?
Novasch: Well I was the webmaster who put Blanteev’s stuff into html. I do think his writing was cathartic in some way, and brought back the memories of many a difficult expedition. I remembered when I was in the Mahoosucs on Old Speck Mountain for the years of 1993-1994, there I had thought about Bigelow maybe a couple of times, which was very surprising to me. Only once did I get the kind of whimsical reminisce that I felt in the months after Bigelow. That time I was in the middle of this grim bivouac situation with Marcus, just off the summit in subzero temperatures, extreme windchill, no shelter other than some midget trees and some rock, and I remember lying their thinking that I was about to freeze solid, and this must be what Frodo felt like when he was hypothermic and dying on Bigelow. What was Frodo thinking after a brutal night freezing to death without booze, without even a smoke?
Bruce: The only time I’ve thought about Bigelow was on a expedition a whiles back when Blanteev cut down some live green trees right next to a Forest Service sign that said: “NATIONAL FUCKING PRISTINE WILDERNESS AREA: Any disturbance illegal and punishable by fines and imprisonment.” Then I took a dump and left it right on the top of the snow. What we didn’t know was that a sting operation was in progress, word had somehow leaked out to the Forest Service that HAE would be in the area. Right away we were Hunted by Rangers. So we did a Fake Ascent of a nearby mountain by walking backwards on our snowshoe tracks, and when the Forest Rangers fell for it we split and headed back into town for fast food. During that fiasco I remembered how I felt on Bigelow, camping in a Rangers cabin that Blanteev and Marcus broke into. Once again I felt like we had just escaped by the skin of our teeth.
Outhouse: Blanteev, Bruce McAnus is an enormously likeable and talented person. He also made mistakes like wearing leather boots and leaving camp sprawl everywhere, which you have not shied away from investigating. The difficult questions you’ve raised about McAnus’ action, the ones that make him appear to be a tenderfoot, have managed to upset quite a number of people, haven’t they. How do you deal with that?
Blanteev: Plenty of people have torn me a new asshole over shit I wrote. “Who the fuck are you to be dishing on someone else’s role or lack of experience or skill?” But I’m tabloid writer at heart, and I was there, and it’s my inclination to make up stories and contrive evidence whenever possible to bring in the readership. Fuck man, I wouldn’t want the truth to get in the way of a good story! Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke. Shit dude — people died –a lot a people died when we were on Bigelow.
Marcus: Ah fucking….Blanteev, you spin doctor.., you mean people died when we were on bigelow…but like somewhere else like in automobiles and stuff.
Blanteev: Ahh..so what? If you have seen one dead gomer you’ve seen them all. Why bother hiking with a gomers up to the top of a mountain to watch them expire when they can get nixed during the drive over?
Outhouse: People are going to say here you are, not only criticizing the living and the dead but making a buck off them too. We at the web page headquarters have felt pangs of guilt over the fact that your Bigelow article not only was the most-talked about piece we’ve ever posted, but gave us the most hits to the site ever, greatly increasing exposure and sales of our products. We were just doing our jobs and hoping some real good might come of it, and I know you feel the same way…
Outhouse: But obviously you can’t be entirely comfortable when the question of profit comes up?
Novasch: Well..err..no…err…how much for a follow on?
Blanteev: Woah…hold on there…hae, I’m no professional writer….that ain’t what I do. I make my living doing other stuff, like engineering. If I ever did make any money off Bigelow articles I would give some to the Outer Mongolian Underwater Basket Weavers Association. That nonprofit organization has recently set up a basket making program in rural New England to help country folks become more independent of big chains. But the fact of the matter is that I haven’t profited a nickel from my work about Bigelow, and won’t pretend that I ever have. One thing I should have seen coming, but didn’t, is that because I was up on the mountain when everything got all half assed up, I’ve drawn a lot a more criticism that others on the team who have not written about their experiences. I mean lets face it, my writing is so socially and politically incorrect, antagonistic, plagiaristic and spoofed up, with something to offend just about everybody, that I don’t think anybody will ever read another article by me, even if what I have written is indeed, literary genius. There is gonna…
Novasch: Literary genius? You mean fucking literally dweebness!
Blanteev: Fucking peanut gallery… There is gonna be a swarm of investigative wannabes, not to mention the reporters, after my happy ass once the story gets off the web, and these people will be castigating me for generating profit off other peoples misfortunes and wilderness destruction while at the same time they are pocketing their own paychecks, and driving air-polluting monstrosities around on environmentally destructive highway systems without a second thought. As the Warren Zevon song goes, “Send lawyers, guns and money, the shit has hit the fan.”
Outhouse: And what about your girlfriend? How has she handled things? I ask of course all too aware that you are about to embark on another difficult and dangerous expedition to mountains like Kathadin, Washington, and Abrahams & Spaulding. Within 12 months of returning from a winter wilderness expedition, you are off again. This must not be easy on a relationship.
Blanteev: My girlfriend? Which one? Janine?, Gail?, Nikki?, Tana?
Novasch: Yeah…right…and all those other Hustler centerfolds!
Bruce: No, no… he named his fingers…
Blanteev: When I was a college student, I said I was going to quit wilderness survival and climbing so I could get laid. Then I started climbing again, and things were not good. I wasn’t getting any poon-tang at all. But it can be difficult understanding that climbing is an important part of who I am, it’s what I do, along with belching, farting and disappearing near strip clubs. What’s disturbing now is the escalation. Winter expeditions every year, then the web page, the publicity… It’s difficult to admit how much others are paying for our fun and obsessions, I’m just like, “see ya,” and I’m out the door.
Outhouse: Are you guys trying to restrain yourself, slow down at all?
Novasch: We have slowed in some areas but not in others. A lot of great parties have gone the way of other youthful follies. And high impact camping these days means maybe leaving behind a snow platform packed down by snowshoes. Not the huge white trash high-impact blasting of earlier years. But with that I think our expeditions are becoming increasingly geared toward tougher hiking and tougher climbing deeper in the wilderness. The team has abandoned the sit around and party in the woods style for the open trail and remote summits. I guess after a while you get bored with stuff and have to move on.
Blanteev: What…leave only some packed down snow!?! Now that’s a bunch of lame assed revisionist bullshit. What Timur is saying is that Blanteev finally went out and bought all new backpacking equipment that actually works in sub-zero weather, so he doesn’t have to burn down the woods every trip. Now we don’t have to high impact camp out of necessity, we do it just for fun! I mean come on Timur , what are ya trying to do, ruin HAE’s image by sounding like were a bunch of old fart wusses?
Novasch: Oh ya… sorry. I don’t know what got into me…
Marcus: Fucking warm beer is my guess.
Novasch: Roger that Houston, we have a go for a Jan 1st launch into the forbidden wilderness. My satellite photos indicate vast regions of Maine left untouched by white trash terra-forming! Sharpen ya saws and stuff your bowl ‘cuz the Wheels of Industry will prevail when HAE blasts the great white north!!
Bruce: I believe he’s snapped out of it.
Outhouse: Listening between the lines of what you guys are saying, I’m guessing that despite everything that has happened, there is still something about winter mountaineering that remains life-threatening to you.
Blanteev: If you had said that back in the early nineties I would have said no. The weather pattern then was warmer back then and we got a way with all sorts of half assed survival fuck-ups, even flat out packed up and left once because it got too warm. But now, maybe yes. There’s something about it that is important to us– for us the brutal New England winter wilderness is just the antidote to a yuppie bound life. It’s tough to defend it, but climbing with HAE has that transcendental quality, the ability to transport you beyond the fixed answers and boundaries of everyday life. Much like a computer endlessly chewing on a transcendental equation that has no closed form solution, the winter hiker arrives at his destination step by step, a numerical integration so to speak, living and thinking just for the moment, just for that step N, then for the N+1 step, thinking only how the gradient at that point can move you in the toward, or away from a solution. In the final limits of life, you may find that what we do is no different than what everyone else does.
Marcus: Fucking I’m drowning in bullshit over here.
Novasch: Yeah, and in fucking warm beer too…fucking puke!
Outhouse: OK this is the last question. What is it about what happened on Bigelow that still apparently means so much, that keeps people glued on it, hitting your web site continuously? There certainly have been plenty of other disasters, mountaineering or otherwise over the years that were quickly forgotten, if they were ever noticed at all.
Blanteev: I don’t know why HAE’s story has grabbed people with a force that won’t let go. Part of it is the Bigelow mystique, and part of it is absurdity and even perversity of people spending huge amounts of time logged on the World Wide Web, throwing all prudence and common sense in the trash. They got a name for that disease now, I think they call it onlineitus. I would like to think that web surfers are sick and tired of shitty writing by other mountaineers, or worse having to go off-line and pay for it in a magazine, and have found a haven in my work. A talented modern day Thoreau who doesn’t want a nickel, writing for the shear pleasure and joy it brings him and the millions of internet adventurers. But that’s a legend in my own mind, I know that can’t be true. So honestly I don’t get it. Bigelow has turned HAE around, from a trailer of trash in the woods to an international cybor-space celebrity. Nothing will ever be the same. Why did we climb that mountain, on that particular day, with those particular people? How did we manage to survive while others in far less difficult situations die? Why has this story become a source of fascination to so may web surfers who ordinarily would click and link out in a second.? How come our web page takes so many hits?
Outhouse: Can you see the irony here? If what you say is true and there…
Marcus: Hold it right there gomer, I though you said this is the last question earlier!
Outhouse: Well er..yes I did, but if I could just ask one more thing about…
Bruce: Lying sack of yuppified shit. You know what this means?
Novasch, Marcus, Blanteev, McAnus It’s Wedgie Time!
(The HAE team jumps the editor. Pulling his underwear hard, they give him a big time wedgie as they throw him into his purple Land Rover. They are last seen snowshoeing down to the packie for cold beers.)
Read more Half Ass Expeditions: When Old Man Winter Meets Old Man Speck