Greg Shute’s Must-have Items for Wilderness Adventure Trips
Chewonki Vice President Greg Shute is a Maine Guide, lifelong naturalist, and the veteran leader of too many wilderness trips to count. We rely on him to know what to do in any backcountry situation, and he always comes through.
Looking ahead to the summer season at Chewonki and dozen-plus unique wilderness adventures his staff has planned, we asked Shute what items he considers “indispensable” for any expedition into remote territory.
“I have a little waterproof bag,” says Shute. “It goes with me everywhere. It’s got matches; a spare compass; a space blanket; a couple of granola bars; and an emergency windproof lighter.”
The lighter would often languish untouched in the bottom of Shute’s bag for years. Then last month, as he was leading a group of Maine Coast Semester 60 students out of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on skis, messy, frigid weather blew in. During a brief break in the skiing, one of his co-leaders found that her ski binding was coated in hard ice, making it impossible to snap on.
Shute reached for his bag of tricks. “A windproof lighter is like a tiny blowtorch,” he says. “It melted the ice right away.”
Shute always carries one other item with him in the wild, something even more precious, for personal reasons, than his bag of tricks: a crooked knife. This versatile tool has been a favorite of Maine’s native people for generations.
Alfred Matoush, a Cree guide who co-led two Mistassini Canoe Trips with Shute in the 1980s, and who was an important influence on him, made the traditional knife for Shute using a file he heated and shaped over their campfire. Matoush, who passed away in 2004, was wise about weather, wildlife, plants, paddles, canoes–and knives. Shute says his crooked knife allows him to shave dry wood from the inside of trees even after a week of rain, to start a fire on a wet night.
How long does it take to earn your cred as a seasoned outdoor veteran? Shute says every mistake is an education. Two of his own stand out in his memory.
As a junior high school student, Shute and a gang of pals decided to climb Mount Katahdin. They camped overnight outside Baxter State Park and got up early the next day to begin the hike. The only liquid they brought along to drink? A 64-ounce bottle of Pepsi to share. (*Editor’s note: Okay, remember this was the 1970s. And you’ve got to admire Shute’s transparency.) “I got so dehydrated,” Shute chuckles ruefully. “I had terrible cramps all the way down.” Lesson: always carry plenty of water.
But the most common lesson of outdoorsmanship in New England–be prepared for the weather to change–occurred on a beautiful 70-degree May day in New Hampshire. Shute and his wife set forth in T-shirts with their new baby, Kyle, strapped to his mother’s back. After summiting Mount Whiteface, they were starting their descent when dark clouds rolled in and pelted them with sleet. Lesson: always tuck a raincoat into your backpack.
“It didn’t seem to bother Kyle at the time,” says Shute, “but he still likes remind us of it now and then.” Lesson learned.