VIVACIOUS & INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: TEACHER, HIKER, MOUNTAIN CLIMBER

Annie “Cricket” Mackovjak tells an amazing story.  She has lived through some great adventures, and has come out of them carrying only the benevolent scars of memory.  Read about this first part of her life journey and see if you don’t agree with me that she must be protected by a very competent guardian angel.

Annie’s story will appear in this blog in two parts.  This first part describes her adventures up to her marriage to Jim Mackovjak in December of 1978.  The second section lists the highlights of her life after moving to Gustavus.

Annie Osgood Mackovjak was born on December 5, 1948, in Lincoln, Maine.  The family home was in Prentiss, a town so small that some people in Maine didn’t know where to find it.  Annie grew up on Maple Grove Farm, a dairy and potato farm.  Annie’s brother tapped maple trees from their farm for Christmas gifts.  A neighboring family tapped the trees for syrup to make their living, using horses to provide labor, doing things the old-fashioned way.

In the 20s and 30s the family sold lots of apples, sending them by train to Boston.  They no longer harvested the orchard by the time Annie came along.  However, her mother still made lots of applesauce.  These days, her brother still lives on the farm, and the deer eat more of the apples than the humans do.

Annie has always loved being outside, and when she was young she was given the nickname of “Cricket,” as they chirped every night in the summer.  (This nickname actually came back to her twice later in her life.)  She earned the nickname from her mom, though she spent many hours outside with her dad, helping with feeding and milking the cattle, getting in the hay, and digging potatoes.  When she was six or seven she had a pony that she rode a great deal.  She didn’t have a bicycle until she reached eighth grade.  Very often after school her dad would have her pony saddled and waiting in the stable so she could ride.

When she was ten, her dad got a sleigh on skis.  They lived on a side road with little traffic, so she could take her brother on rides in the winter.

Annie drove the family tractor starting at about age nine.  She drove the fields to pick up rocks and she also helped with haying.  The family had approximately 600 acres, some in forest, but enough for cattle to graze and to raise oats for them to eat.  They also planted fields of potatoes.  Annie would ride her pony, accompanied by a border collie, to round up the cows and bring them in.  She loved to ride, and one time actually tried riding a pig.  However, she says horses are better.  The farm also had chickens.  One Sunday afternoon when she was outside, she heard a great deal of squawking coming from the chicken coop.  When she went to investigate, she discovered that a scrawny, hungry fox had broken into the pen.  Annie killed the fox.  She says she doesn’t remember what she hit him with, but it was something hard enough to do the job.  She also remembers seeing black bear sitting in the field of oats, raking in the grain.

Annie attended a one-room school from first through fourth grades.  Then a new school district was formed, and she was bused to school in Springfield, Maine.  Annie liked the new school as she could play sports, such as basketball, volleyball, and softball.

She attended St. Joseph’s Academy in Portland, Maine.  This academy was an all-girl Catholic boarding school.  (Now that school has been combined with another and a new school has been built called the Maine Girls’ Academy, but it is no longer a boarding school.)  At that school there were no sports offered, and physical education classes consisted of lessons in such athletic activities as swimming, tennis, or ballet.

When she was a high school freshman, her “big sister” was called Cricket, which reminded Annie that she had shared that name for a long time.  Every Sunday morning she would write home and sign her letter “Cricket.”

One time Annie’s grandfather came to visit and brought a big box of chocolates.  She was in “Seventh Heaven Dorm,” and after lights out, she and two of her friends gathered in the large bathroom and ate all the chocolates.  Of course, their transgression was discovered.  The next morning a nun met them to arrange punishments.  Annie’s was to attend a 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. class in Latin, and another from 9:00 to 10:00 at night, for one month.  Annie continued taking Latin as a class after she completed her month of punishment.  The extra classes paid off later, as Annie took the national Latin exam and got a 96%.

Annie’s aunt and uncle in California gave her a trip to California as a graduation present.  This trip took her further from home than she had ever been before.  She was there for six weeks, and then couldn’t get home because there was an airline strike.  She had to take the bus, which followed the old Route 66, from Los Angeles to Maine.  She made an interesting observation on this trip:  She says that after she crossed the Mississippi, people didn’t have much patience; jostled other passengers and were rude in general.  On the western side of the river, people seemed to be more helpful and accepting.

From 1966 to 1970, Annie went to college at St. Joseph’s in Maine.  She had a full tuition scholarship.  Her degree was in English with a minor in history. Continue reading

THE PEDDLER’S PITCH: CLIMBING QUESTIONS FOR ANNIE MACKOVJAK

After I finished the article on Annie, I realized I had more questions about the climbs she made.  Perhaps some of you do, too.  So, for this column, I will do something a bit different.  I’ve asked Annie four  questions about the climb.  Read on to learn her answers.  After you have read them, if you have further questions, please send them in the comments section at the end of this column, and I will get answers from Annie and print them here, as well.

Here’s what I asked her:

  1.  Were you ever scared during your climbs?  “There were times I got worried, but very rarely scared.  I was scared when I was awakened and thought a crevasse was going to open and swallow me when the ice groaned and cracked deep below my tent on Denali.  Also, fear gripped me when the first climber on my rope team fell into a crevasse and I hoped we’d be able to hold him from not going too far.  Luckily, we did, though we had to do a real crevasse rescue to get him out.  Otherwise, I was most scared rock climbing.  I never did it very much but it was always free climbing, and I was always afraid I was going to fall and break bones, whether I was 10 feet up or 25 inches.  I always thought of a friend who was a Swiss mountain guide.  He fell in the Alps and broke 15 bones in his feet.  He had to walk 5 miles out after that happened.  I don’t know how he did it
  2. Was it hard to learn how to walk in snowshoes?  I don’t remember anyone having any trouble using snowshoes.  Although some of the people could ski well, we used the snowshoes to have a level playing field with all the expedition members.  Snowshoes were also a help for crevasses as, at that time, the snowshoes were longer and would more easily help wedge a climber into the sides of the crevasse, preventing a deep fall.  I remember reading about a McKinley climb in the early 80s with Jim Wickwire.  His climbing partner fell into a crevasse.  The fellow was lodged head down and Jim could not get him out.
  3. Did you use ropes, pitons, or other climbing gear at all while climbing the mountain?  We were always roped up on the mountain — lower down for the possibility of crevasses and higher up, where it was steeper, for falls.  There was a fixed line on Denali’s Headwall from about 15,500 feet to the ridge at 16,200 feet.  We would use our jumars (mechanical ascenders attaching us to the fixed line) to go up that one 45 to 50 degree section, the steepest part of the climb.  Then, hiking from 16,200 feet to the bowl at 17,200 feet was the most dramatic part of the climb because the ridge occasionally narrows to perhaps 2 to 3 feet across, and drops off dramatically on both sides.  You are totally exposed and many climbers have lost gear here, which has tumbled down to the Peters Glacier far below.  I’ve read that there are now fixed lines around Washburn’s Thumb on the ridge.  We always had our ice axe, as well.  We practiced doing belays, self-arrests, and crevasse rescues before every climb.

Did you have to rappel from anything during the climb?  No, we didn’t do any rappels on Denali or Aconcagua.  The only rappels I’ve done have been totally for fun and practice, both off cliffs and into crevasses.

Okay, readers, now it’s your turn.  If you have further climbing questions for Annie, please post them at the bottom of this article.  Hoping to hear from some of you.

VIVACIOUS AND INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: PART II

Annie and Jim — a playful moment

After Annie and Jim got married in Maine, they returned to Talkeetna to run dogs.  Later in January they drove the 800 miles from Talkeetna to Haines to catch the ferry to Juneau.  They had a little yellow VW bug which Annie had bought brand new in Anchorage in 1972.  Annie had driven about every road possible in the area at that time.  Jim had hit a moose with it near Talkeetna so he had to put in a Plexiglas windshield with a plywood frame.

They drove toward Tok during a big snowstorm.  Jim was wearing his Arctic parka and Annie was wrapped in a down sleeping bag to stay warm.  On their feet they wore “Bunny” boots (vapor barrier boots made for the military to stay warm in extreme cold) so their feet were toasty.  The snow blew and drifted.  They would have to gain speed on the bare stretches of road in order to bust through the drifts.  On one straight stretch where it was hard to tell where the road ran, they actually went off the road, throwing up snow all around them so they couldn’t see anything.  Amazingly, there were no trees; only a few low bushes, so they ended up almost back on the road.  Luckily, another car came along within an hour and helped push them back on the highway.

In Canada, several miles beyond Dezadeash, they traveled in a line of three cars following the plow truck.  As they gained elevation, the visibility became almost zero and the snow got so deep that the plow had to turn around.  Fortunately, they had enough money to get a room at the Dezadeash Lodge for the night.

The original cabin

Finally they arrived in Gustavus.  They left their little bug in Juneau and flew home.  Fred Rose picked them up at the airport and gave them a ride to Four Corners.  No one lived on Wilson Road or at Rink Creek in the winter then, so they had not plowed the road.  Annie and Jim had to walk carrying packs all the way home through the snow.  Leaving Four Corners at 4:00 p.m., they finally made it to their cabin at 7:00 p.m.  It was a clear moonlit night, so they were able to navigate easily, though slowly,  through the 16 inches of snow.  Jim had to do a return trip that night to get more of their gear and food supplies.

Gustavus had less than 100 residents during the winter then, and the mail plane only came twice a week, making for a big social gathering at the post office while awaiting the mail.  They started clearing more land and building a big shop.  Annie spent a lot of time taking out stumps with shovel, axe, and mattock.  The wood for the building came from DeRosier’s sawmill at Excursion Inlet.  Sometimes he brought the wood over on a barge, and Jim and Annie walked the planks out to the barge to unload it at the boat harbor.  Once Jim went to Excursion Inlet in his skiff and pulled a raft of lumber home, going about 3 knots..

Annie and Jim interrupted their building with trips into Glacier Bay, hikes around the Point and up Excursion Ridge, visits from Maine friends, and Continue reading