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Claybrook Mountain Lodge
March, 2017

March came in like a lion and it stayed that way. We had wind, cold, and snow--all the stuff of mid-winter instead of early spring. It looks like we won’t see green grass for a few weeks yet. Solid crust has allowed the deer to move more easily and ticks will be falling from their hosts onto a lot of snow. Hopefully mortality in deer and moose won’t be as bad as it looked earlier. Evening Grosbeaks have been at the feeders and Bohemian Waxwings on the apple trees all winter in small numbers, but there, none the less. Lots of scavengers have polished off most of the deer remains that I placed in the maples.

Cousin Marilyn called to say a predator had gotten into her chicken house and killed six hens in daylight. I drove down and checked out the tracks that revealed a mink got under the front door. She has a solid door to close at night and an inner door that isn’t tight enough to keep small predators out. During the day, Marilyn sometimes opens the outer door for better ventilation when it is not too cold. It appeared the mink got under the inner door and was shut in at night. Marilyn called a trapper and while waiting for him she lost another three hens. I drove down with crates and brought her seventeen survivors back to our chicken house. We now have a flock of thirty-one (with one of the homeliest roosters I have ever seen). The trapper came and not only caught a mink but a weasel also. Since we moved the old hens here, a skunk has taken up residence under the lodge. He has circled the chicken house at night several times but hasn’t been able to get in. In addition to that I found fresh racoon and fox tracks on the hill behind the lodge. I guess they are all getting hungry and eager for spring. I don’t dare to let the birds out even on a nice day. I took the dead birds from Marilyn and replenished the bait in the maples but after several days nothing has carried them off. Another mystery to ponder.

Roger and Jillian Herrigal with family and friends arrived for the first weekend in March. Their numbers were reduced by flu, and Ron Joseph became sick soon after he arrived to join them. My trails were not groomed, but with the solid surface, we could ski, snowshoe or hike almost anywhere. The greatest obstacle was the cold. We took a van tour to the “Big Eddy” and hiked up to the foot of Long Falls on the canoe portage trail. The crust made hiking dangerous and a cold stiff wind dampened our enthusiasm cutting short the hike. It is a good thing the van has a strong heater.

Following the Herrigals, Ginette Beaudoin brought her ski group. I shuttled them with the van and skied with them here and on Huts and Trails from Monday to Friday. Conditions were icy, but groomers for Huts and Trails had equipment that created a granular surface. Ginette led the group on the first day to Poplar Falls hut from Long Falls Dam Road. I drove the van across the Carriage Road and parked at the Resq base, then skied to the hut from the south to meet them. The skiing was very fast and we walked some of the down hills for safety reasons. The week before there were two skiers injured on Hut Trails who had to be brought out in a rescue toboggan behind a snowmobile. We all got through the first day and enjoyed Pat’s fabulous dinner looking forward to the next morning. Tuesday was cloudy and bitter cold as we took the van to a trail crossing south of the Flagstaff hut. Ginette led the group north from there while I parked the van at the Flagstaff parking lot and skied back to meet the group. I was surprised to get to the Jerome Brook crossing without meeting the group since it was more than the halfway point, and they had some long downhill runs to speed them along. It was another half hour and I was nearly to a yurt that Huts and Trails maintains when I met Ginette and part of the group. They were all chilled after a rest in the yurt and the long downhill didn’t help warm them.

Ginette said that someone had fallen losing a ski and the rest of the group was behind her looking for the stray ski that had shot into the woods and quickly disappeared. When I got near the yurt I found some packs and skis with no one around. Soon after I met Kate Bredin on foot just below the yurt. Her friend, Anne Varner was the one who lost a ski and she was injured in the fall so they helped her back to the yurt and fired up the wood stove to keep her warm. When I got to the yurt Anne was wrapped up in clothing on the floor and unable to use her injured left arm. With hypothermia and the danger in trying to walk her out to the road crossing with a significant injury, I decided to radio the Resq Base in Carrabassett Valley and activate a back-country rescue team. I have been doing back country rescues for many years, but this was the first time I was on the receiving end of it. Radio reception was excellent and in a few minutes the team was on its way.

It was fortunate that the accident happened near the yurt or it would have been much more complicated. We got clothing under Anne to insulate her from the cold floor and added more on top. The wood fire got hot enough to be comfortable and I did a more thorough evaluation. Anne was part of a group from New Brunswick who came with Ginette for the first time last year. We had to figure out all the logistics of guiding the Resq crew in and gathering the rest of our group now split into two. Richard Elliot skied to the road with those who had remained behind and met the Resq crew.

While the crew was on its way in to us he hitched a ride to the van and brought it to the staging area where he waited with Anne’s husband Nick to go to the hospital. Kate and another New Brunswick woman, Carolyn, continued on the trail to join Ginette’s group waiting at the Flagstaff Hut. In the meantime, the Resq crew with sled and toboggan arrived at the yurt. My Tuesday night shift partner, Chip Eames, was the Paramedic riding in with Alan Stewart, a fireman/first responder from Kingfield. I gave Chip the pertinent information while he evaluated Anne and we were ready to transport. My intention was to ski behind the toboggan on the way out but Alan had not only prepared the sled for Anne, he had packed my skis and gear into the toboggan in a way that made Anne more secure. I got a seat on the snowmobile for a smooth safe ride to the waiting ambulance. Firemen gave Richard and Nick a ride to the lodge where they took Richard’s car to follow the ambulance to the hospital.

Kate and the others skied to the Flagstaff hut and I was free to take the van back to the hut parking lot and ski in from there. By the time we got everyone together and back out to the parking lot it had begun to rain causing black ice patches. At the top of the “mountain” I was unable to keep the van from sliding where ever the road slanted. I tried keeping the right side wheels against the snowbank but even that was too dangerous to attempt the descent. I finally went to the last resort, tire chains on the rear wheels. I am not familiar with the intricacies of tire chains, having little experience in their use. I had enough traction to make the down hill but in a short distance one chain flopped off sideways and sheared a brake line. We parked the van as far to the right as we could and I jogged while the group walked down the hill. When I got to the lodge Richard, Nick and Anne had returned from the hospital. Anne had a broken arm with a sling to support but didn’t need a cast. Richard went into action again and we both took a vehicle to retrieve the last of our skiers.

It was a very interesting day that would have been much more difficult without the excellent efforts of local first responders. I have to thank Ginette for her leadership skills in keeping the group safe and the “New Brunswickers” for their strenuous efforts and common sense thinking to make smooth an otherwise rough situation. Without Richard filling in where ever needed it would have been a difficult day and every member of the group kept a positive attitude. We had some other pleasant days of skiing after that with no more mishaps. On our last day out we split the group with Ginette skiing along Sandy Stream and I skied on the snowmobile trail toward Carrabassett Valley with the rest. I enjoyed the day near the lodge with a campfire to warm us at lunch.

The last half of March was quiet with no guests at the lodge. It is the time I usually take to tap the maples. With my snowmobile broken down and Pat and I being worn out from so many busy days in a row, I decided not to tap. It was a good decision since we both came down with flu and were pretty much down for the rest of the month. At the end of the month snow still covered the top of the picnic table in the front yard and we were loading the furnace with wood as if it was January instead of March. I am looking forward to some warm sunny spring days.

                                        “Gang Warily”,
                                             Greg and Pat

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