The North Country Men’s Club broke new ground in 1985 when it took its first winter camping trip. Although the trip, a brief overnight to Wallface Lean-to along the Indian Pass Trail via Upper Works off Route 28, was actually made after the vernal solstice, it started an annual tradition rivaled only by the NCMC’s particpation in the Adirondack Canoe Classic.
There are no trip reports from the NCMC’s early winter sojourns, but Jack recently found a copy of a letter that Tommy sent to him and Billy in 1987 that included some details of that first trip in 1985, as well as an abbreviated account of the 1986 trip. The letter was apparently written just before the 1987 trip, which ended up being the aborted trip to Puffer Pond. On that occasion, rain turned the three NCMC founders back to the trailhead after only a couple of hours, and they repaired to a hotel room in North Creek to drink beer and watch basketball on television. The next day was clear and they took a day ski into Camp Santanoni.
There are still a number of gaps in the history of winter camping by the NCMC, but Jack’s discovery of the old letter 15 years after it was sent at least pinpoints the year of the first trip. Below are excerpts from the letter that Jack found:
February 27, 1987
Dear Billy, Jack:
I think the timing of our third “winter” camping trip is interesting.
As you recall, the first trip to Newcomb in 1985 was, according to the calendar, made entirely within the confines of spring. The weather was appropriately spring-like. It was sunny, calm and warm.
The prime beneficiary of this gift from Jupiter was Jack, whose clothing and gear would not have been adequate for the harsher conditions we could have encountered (No cotton beyond this point!).
If Jack had been in PBS’s “Last Place on Earth,” he would have been one of the English guys freezing to death wearing a cotton jacket and sitting huddled in a flannel sleeping bag inside a canvas tent.
Yes, the gods were smiling in 1985 upon us and our lone pair of snowshoes, which were a bit too rounded in style and not genuine rawhide. I think Billy should consider dismantling his snowshoe rocker and strapping the seat and back to his Herman’s Survivors.
But back to our story. The weather was perfect in 1985, figuratively for myself and Billy, and literally for Jack, for “getting our feet wet” in the ways of camping on snow. Confident that “winter” camping was, as Ralph would say, “a mere bag of shells,” we drove resolutely to Newcomb in 1986 in early March, ready to tackle winter in winter, rather than during the spring, when the winter isn’t as severe.
I recall it being sunny in the parking lot, and I recall three pairs of snowshoes and one pair of skis. I also recall it being approximately 6 degrees and I recall the snow being quite deep.
We made it to the same lean-to (Wallface) and did a good job of keeping the internal fires going. I seem to recall Billy’s stove not getting going when the going got tough. We made it clear to those skiers who came along after dark that they could stay if they wanted, but it would be pretty crowded, and they could probably find an empty lean-to not too far ahead, and they staggered off with glazed eyes and apparently lived to hope we might come upon their lean-to some cold night.
As the faulty thermometer (must have been Jack’s) dropped to 25 or so below zero, we bravely climbed into our bags and, men that we are, silently suffered …
You get what you pay for and the rewards of the trip were ample. The woods in winter are pretty tough to beat for providing what you’re looking for in the Adirondacks.
Anyway, now winter camp ’87 looms. And it comes on the edge. I’m sure I don’t watch The Weather Channel as assiduously as Billy, but I know that March 21 marks the retreat of winter and the advance of spring. It means we won’t have an official winter trip, but we may encounter wintry conditions. Or it may be like ’85 (I hope so for Jack’s sake!).
As usual, I’m ready to play the cards I’m dealt. Unless I get a new backpack before the trip, I won’t be able to carry much, but otherwise I’ll do my best to secure the congeniality award.
I’ve had my snowshoes on three times this year and have gone x-country a half dozen times. It’s not Killington, but it is a workout.
I do have a couple of questions. Where? What about Queer Lake or some other new destination along Route 28? I presume we don’t have to think about water, so our options are wide open. Tents or lean-to? What about heading up some relatively easy mountain and getting some kind of view? Are Conor and Dylan coming? How about them Giants? Can we fit all our stuff in the Blazer? Does Kemp really think he has a shot at the whole enchilada? Is Colin Fletcher still alive?
On the equipment front, I’m anxious to try my new flashlight, which I believe is the best to come along since the Durabeam, although I don’t think it’s as easy to hold in the mouth. Otherwise I have no new equipment to field test, although I may borrow a full-length Thermarest.
Perhaps Billy could get to Albany, assuming we plan to meet there, early enough Friday for me to clean his clock on the local indoor tennis court.
Good day, Hoseheads,
Gallery: Winter Camp 1986