April 12, 2011

The Art of Living Simply: A Backcountry Trip Report, Part I

"Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them."


Perhaps this post should be titled, "The Art of Simply Living".  Either way, the message is the same.  I am pleased to report that the Woods Hippie ski tribe plucked the finest of fruits during a recent extended excursion into the wilds of northern Vermont's backcountry.  In a fitting tribute to Thoreau's notion of economy (please read Walden if you have not already), we resided in a simple cabin with Spartan accomodation and our souls were enriched by tending to our most basic physical needs of food and shelter while living for days on end on skis and snowshoes.  We lived and breathed the ski lifestyle for a few ephemeral days, and, with the cares of a grinding civilization temporarily behind us, our thoughts were able to circle around to the direction of the wind, the condition of the fire in the woodstove, the tilt of windblown icicles on the high-mountain spruce, the interplay of sunlight and shadow on freshly-fallen snow, and...so as not to sound too erudite...the level of beer in the keg.  Replace the Gore-Tex with leather, skis with muskets, and fresh powder stashes with bison and we could have just as easily been a band of spirited mountain men in the pre-colonial past...both scenarios boil down to men thriving in wild pursuit of adventure in equally wild places.

The cabin was at once an incongruity and an extension of the mountainside...an incongruity in that such a crude structure should not reside in Gaia's temple; an extension in that its simplicity somehow just fit in with the woods, a permissible excursion of man's modest need for shelter in a cold place.  In many ways our small cabin was a modern version of Thoreau's; a shelter that serves to grow the spirit of wilderness travelers without unduly imparting itself on the experience.  Except, as Thoreau ultimately discovered, the cabin was so magically simple that we couldn't help but make it the centerpiece of our excursion.

Thoreau harvested beans and we harvested powder.  Other than that, not much else differed.
Kindling still needed to be split in 2011 as in 1845.

The crew was mixed this year with two seasoned vets and two cabin rookies, though the cabin rookies were no strangers to the outdoor lifestyle.  Johnny G. jumped into the fray with a fierce head cold and shone through by tending the fire and providing some rich venison stew.  Jamie joined the party with a 5-gallon keg of Trapps Golden Lager (hauled over a mile from the trailhead by Marquis de Richmond, I must add) and a home-grown ham dinner.  Marquis and I toasted the third successful installment of the cabin trip and lamented the absence of one of the founding triumvirate.  Everyone found a sheer delight in the remarkable late season snow conditions; late season by calendar only...Mother Nature gripped us in the full force of mid-winter with below-zero nighttime lows and howling daytime winds choked with copious orographic snow.

The woodstove stood as the silent sentinel over the day's activities; a source of heat and purified water and a catalyst for conversation.

The day's explorations unfolded with minimal forethought; we suited up and stepped into our skis and snowshoes and struck off on the high mountain trails, guided by the occasional marker until our search for powder and trees found us navigating the woodlands by map, compass, and dead reckoning.  After two years of teasing us with variable snow conditions, Ullr finally blessed us with shin-deep pow on top of a gracious base.  Skis and 'shoes expedited travel, but the base was firm enough to prevent postholing on late night latrine runs...

Johnny G. gettin' his.

By late afternoon on the second day, all parties converged at the cabin.  With woodstove blazing and night falling, the temperatures on either side of the thin wooden walls made their respective shifts, and our attention turned from skis and trees to cold beer and hot food.  The non-campers and spouses out there might ask, "What do you do on those camping trips?"  Jamie succinctly offered, "Mostly burping and farting..."

In all reality, a ski cabin trip is an age-old tradition in the vein of deer camps and fishing lodges.  I won't even attempt an explanation.  Those who know, know.  Those who don't, don't.

Marquis gettin' his.

Then he got an idea.  An awful idea.  The Grinch got a wonderful, *awful* idea!
Looks like all the Whos in Whoville will get their presents this Christmas...

Stay tuned for Part II, hopefully I'll figure out how to embed Johnny's sick GoPro footage.


  1. Nice report! The beer keg clearly added a special dimension to your experience that Thoreau missed out on. And I really like the Jet Sled stoke in the last picture.

  2. Very nicely written, Thoreau Jr. Dad

  3. Thanks y'all. Hard to believe winter is done, at least here in CT.