Mount Surprise Scout 2

Forest Foam

An irregular chunk of hard foam found on the forest floor. Note the green moss growing on it.

Today I decided to explore more of the lower elevations on the north slope of Mount Surprise just one gully east of the camp I discovered a few days ago.

On this trip I parked my truck on a pull-off from Route 2 in Shelburne just east of the Town and Country Motor Inn. Then I walked perhaps 100-yards uphill on an abandoned ski slope to the Portland Maine to Montreal Canada natural gas pipeline. This underground pipeline is a wide swath through the north country kept clear of trees and vegetation by mechanical cutting done every several years. Electrical powerlines also follow much of its length.

During the 1970’s I lived nearby as a teenager and frequently walked along the pipeline.  Instead of cutting off the vegetation using machines and manpower, the pipeline company would spray chemicals from aircraft. In the course of one day all the green leaves would be dead and a bitter, pungent smell hung in the air. Agent Orange? A likely choice.

Conditions:

  • Temperature 60 to 70 degrees F
  • Partly sunny
  • Deciduous leaves still coming out
  • Black flies and mosquitoes becoming more bothersome
  • Forest cover: semi-sparse, perhaps at 25%..  Areas of conifers and intermittent conifer trees provide some cover.

Human Contact

  • Old campsites
  • Hunters baiting area from last Fall hunting season
  • Low flying military aircraft
Local Maps

Local maps are like gold. While topographic maps put out by government and maps made by organizations like the Appalachian Mountain Club are all well and good, local knowledge applied to local maps can be a valuable resource not to be overlooked. Here I have come upon a snowmobile club map posted along their trail system.

In many places the pipeline makes for easier travel than attempting to negotiate the thick jungle-like forest that grows in the Great North Woods and so the right-of-way is often walked upon by hunters and driven by all terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. The pipeline does travel through swamps that a person would have difficulties getting through in summer (though in winter these areas would be frozen over) and under streams that may not be fordable during periods of high water.

Where the ski slope intersects the pipeline is this sign posted by a snowmobile club. Besides my love of maps, maps made by the locals for areas they are intimate with can yield valuable information that is missing from maps put out by government agencies (such as USGS topographic maps) or large private organizations such as the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Locally made maps can be worth much more than gold: they can mean survival itself, so when you come upon such a map be sure to document it for future reference by taking a picture or obtaining a copy for yourself.

Once on the pipeline I walked west for about 1/4-mile to a point where I would find the second gulley I knew about.

Natural Gas Pipeline

The Portland Maine to Montreal Canada natural gas pipeline. A wide swath cut through the forest. Rugged going, but easier than walking through the jungle-like forest. However, here I am exposed.

As you can see in the picture, walking on the pipeline creates an exposed position.  The town of Gorham is straight ahead about 3/4 of a mile, the Town and Country Motor Inn is just to my right and down hill through a thin layer of trees. At any moment someone walking on the opposite slope of a hill could suddenly appear. An aircraft could easily see you from above. Or even someone located on a nearby hill or mountain looking down.

At a point along the pipeline I thought advantageous, I took a 90-degree turn to the left and merged into the forest where I soon encountered a small gulley running parallel to the one I explored a few days before.

Walking up this gully, which apparently was also once a road of sorts, perhaps for the farm that was on this hill during the 1800’s, I came upon the east end of a low stone wall that went west several hundred yards before petering out.

stone wall

A low stonewall built by a farmer in the 1800’s. I was here when I first heard the firewood harvesters located about 1/2-mile downhill near the pipeline.

Upon reaching the stonewall, I heard the distinct sounds of a truck on the pipeline right of way and the closing of its door.  Then an ATV, the whine of a chainsaw, and a dog barking.

What this means is this: had I been walking down the pipeline at that time, these people would have suddenly driven up and saw me.

That area is often used by firewood thieves to harvest trees in the age old method of hit and run.  Drive into the forest just off the road, saw down a couple hardwood trees and throw the logs in back of a pickup truck.  Done.

Firewood is expensive.  Let the other guy grow it on his property, then take it for free.

Just downhill from the stonewall I saw what appeared to be a yellow colored boulder that stood out. Upon investigation I discovered this to be a chunk of hard foam, which I recognized as likely being from one of those hunting targets that can be purchased for archery practice.

Many hunters hunt with bow and arrow and someone likely carried a foam target in the shape of a deer or bear to use for ranging their stand. Finding this foam meant there was likely yet another hunting camp nearby.

arrow shaft

Another encampment area. I am holding an arrow shaft that I found nearby. In front of me is the fire pit and several chunks of hard foam.

And there is was – just few yards uphill from the stonewall is another camping spot. This one sports the end of a metal culvert being used as a fire ring. It was likely stolen from a pile of culverts that are being stored along the pipeline right of way below. In the fire ring are the ubiquitous beer cans (don’t you feel safe during hunting season?).

Scattered all over the area are bits of that hard yellow foam material, some of it sprouting a good growth of moss which indicates it has likely been here several years. The beer cans are also substantially faded.

Taking Cover

As I investigated the old hunting camp, suddenly  3 large, low flying military aircraft appeared just above the forest treetops, on their way to the Gorham NH airport.  Just in front of me, hanging from the trees, you can just make out yards of old camouflage fabric crumbling with age but still serviceable.

Suddenly and with little warning three large cargo type military aircraft passed nearly directly above me, about 100-feet above the ground.  In a line and about 5-seconds apart, the noise was deafening.  Fumbling for my camera, I took a picture but the camera was too slow to get the scene in time, so all that was captured in the photo was the forest canopy.

The rural Gorham NH airport is located in line with the direction the aircraft flew and about 2-miles away.  That must have been where the aircraft were headed to land.  From time to time the military uses these mountains for exercises and over the years I have seen aircraft in the skies and troops on the ground.

Later back home I did some research, the aircraft I saw may have been C-27j Spartans.  I had a good look at their underbellies.

C-27j Spartans

Could these planes have been C-27j Spartans?

I ducked underneath a tree from the direct sight of the planes.

Was I seen?  Difficult to know.  It is still early spring here in the Great North Woods and only perhaps 250% of the forest canopy has leaf cover.

Just ahead of me attached to several trees were many yards of old, crumbling camouflage fabric that the hunters had attached years ago.  As an experiment I decided to see what I could do with it.

old camouflage netting

Old, crumbling camouflage netting left by hunters at this campsite. Gives me an idea!

The trees had grown right into the fabric, so using my knife  I cut off whatever lengths I could.  A portion of the netting tended to crumble into almost dust but enough remained to use.

By placing the netting around parts of my backpack that would accept it, and sticking the stems of various bits of vegetation into the netting, it was apparent that with work a serviceable ghillie suit could be made.

The vegetation I used consisted primarily of:

  • Leaves from a beech tree.
  • Dry dead leaves from the forest floor.
  • Blueberry bushes.
Camoflauge attempt

15-minutes of quick work adding foliage into the netting. Note covered vs non-covered areas on my person. In the second photo I am laying behind a large tree with only torso and backpack showing.

I discovered the blueberry bushes worked the best in camouflaging features on my body and gear.  I think it has something to do with the 3-dimensional depth of these shrubs and their myriad of tiny green leaves.  In addition, the blueberry bushes did not quickly wither as did the beech leaves.  This has promise and deserves further experimentation.

 

Ghillie Backpack

My ghillied-up backpack with boonie hat placed on top. The blueberry bushes seemed to give the best results.

I then followed the old stonewall west to its end several hundred yards from its beginning.  Huge pine trees 3-feet thick and probably 100-feet tall show how long ago this land was a farmers field.

Then I headed south, toward the location of the hunters bear baiting station I discovered on a previous outing.  I wanted to see if anything had changed and, sure enough, the bear had been back digging in the bait stump.

Bear Bait Station

Re-visiting the bear baiting station. Bears have dug further into the stump and moved the salt block.

Continuing south another couple hundred yards I cut a logging road that was built in the early 1980’s.  Weeds growing on the road show it has not been used by vehicular traffic for quite some time.

Exposed Logging Road

On the edge of a logging road, looking down toward where I had heard woodcutting activity and a dog an hour earlier. It would be easy to be seen by someone while crossing this open space.

From this road I turned back and bushwhacked back down the mountain and toward the abandoned ski slope and my truck.

Upon arriving at the truck, I drove to the Gorham airport hoping I could get some pictures of the large military transport planes that had buzzed me several hours earlier.  Alas, the rural airport was empty of planes.  Signs prohibiting trespass stopped me from getting this picture.

Rural Airport

After I came off the mountain, I paid a visit to the Gorham airport hoping to get a picture of the military aircraft that had flown directly over me. Alas, the large propeller driven planes had departed. Note the red circle I drew on the picture. The white dot is the bell tower of the Gorham Town Hall sticking above trees, in the foreground an orange airport windsock. Behind these, on the mountainside is where I have been scouting.  It’s no wonder low flying aircraft have flown over me while exploring this area!

I hadn’t really though about it before, and I learned something:

If your area of operations is in line with a nearby airport, you may very well experience low flying aircraft buzzing your position!  Even a rural, rarely used airport can host military traffic.

Key takeaways:

  • Avoid open exposed areas: even if an easy open area is available, you are better off traveling through thick vegetation to remain unseen.
  • Human castoffs can often be re-purposed into valuable gear.
  • Local maps made by local people can provide additional information not available from other sources.
  • When making a ghillie suit, choice of vegetation is a key component.
  • Avoid travel through areas in direct line with nearby airports.  If you must, go through the area quickly and with a maximum of cover.

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