RMC Newsletter - Summer 2004

Table of Contents

President's Letter
By Mary Brown

"The issue of a permanent basecamp to house the RMC’s trail crews and caretakers is once again on the front burner. The club has been offered land in the valley on which to build its own facility. This opens up the possibility for the club to take a huge step."

Reports from Committees
By Jeff Smith, Doug Mayer and Michele Cormier

Camps Report, Web Site News, Trails Report, and Treasurer's Report.

A History of the RMC Camps: Part 2
By Judith Maddock Hudson

"Crag Camp, the favorite haunt of many Randolphians, had received ongoing repairs through the years: a new floor, window repair, a front porch, several new roofs. By the early 1990's the original structure had become decrepit, and the Board voted to replace the existing structure."

Mountain Weather of the Northern Presidentials
By Steve Bailey

"There’s something different about the weather in RMC country. Winds blow harder, snows fall deeper, and temperatures drop farther..."

Alpine Flora Below Treeline
By Tim Stetter

"Twinflower fruit emerges as a sticky nutlet with hooked bristles: a perfect parcel for grabbing hold of birds and mammals. Through feather and fur, Twinflower has managed to spread throughout the entire boreal region of the North."

Mount Adams
By Will Strayhorn

"While looking out on the magnificent mountains, I noted how wonderful they were. As I stood there, hunger rumbled in my stomach, and the wind blew hard on my face..."

Randolph's Greatest Storm
By Jack Stewart

"The next morning dawned clear and I have never forgotten the sight of Howker Ridge on Mt. Madison; on large sections all the trees were lying flat..."

RMC Archivist News
By Al Hudson

"Last year I completed an inventory of holdings and organized everything in marked locations so that items could be easily found. Since the collection is not easily accessible, I have started to make transcriptions of early documents and to scan historical photographs."

When Stewardship Means Doing Less
By Doug Mayer

"On some fundamental level, the club seems to understand that stewardship is more than just keeping a cabin staffed and tidy, or a trail well blazed, brushed, and drained—that it’s an experience we’re trying to protect, and sometimes that means doing less in lieu of doing a lot."

President's Letter

The issue of a permanent basecamp to house the RMC’s trail crews and caretakers is once again on the front burner. The club has been offered land in the valley on which to build its own facility. This opens up the possibility for the club to take a huge step. To lay out for you the issues we now must resolve, I would like to start at the beginning of the story.

In “the good old days,” meaning the 1960’s and 1970’s, the RMC was able to keep its paths clear of brush and blow-downs by hiring a few teenagers from the town to work for a month or two each summer. But times have changed and pursuing the club’s mission “to further enjoyment of the Randolph area through…trail development and maintenance…” has grown more complicated. Many more people are hiking on our trails and in all seasons, greatly increasing wear and setting up conditions for erosion to further the damage. There are no longer enough interested teenagers from Randolph available to fill out our trail crew. Over the years, in response to increasing usage, the RMC has increased the size of its trail crew and hired experienced workers. At this point, we have two paid crews each summer, one of which is composed of experienced trail workers, working for two months with heavy equipment and chainsaws to repair trail as well as to clear blow-downs. These crews are young people who come from many different places, often outside the immediate area, and need a place to spend the nights and store their clothes and rest on their days off.

The RMC camps have also seen changing times and increased usage. The first summer caretaker was hired in 1946. The number was increased to two in 1963. Meanwhile, winter use of Gray Knob grew. By 1971 a weekend winter caretaker was hired. The first full-time winter caretaker was hired in 1976. Now the club tries to have at least one caretaker at the camps every night of the year. These employees are often from some distance away from Randolph and also need a place to rest on their days off. Again, this effort is part of our mission: “To promote the enjoyment of the Randolph area through…upkeep of camps and shelters…”

Fall rime ice coats everything in its way along Lowe's Path. Photo by Sherri Fabre.Providing housing for the trail crews and the caretakers has been an issue for a long time, ever since we have not found enough young people from Randolph or the immediate area to fill all the positions. For years the RMC housed these young people as best it could, spending much volunteer energy trying to find available beds. The crew members were scattered in different locations. It was difficult to attract the best from the pool of applicants when all the other clubs were guaranteeing reliable housing. Crew morale suffered from their scattered locations. Coordination was extremely difficult.

A temporary solution emerged almost ten years ago, when RMC paid to house one of the crews at AMC's Camp Dodge facility. However, the AMC reclaimed the space for their own uses and that option ceased to exist in 2001. Luckily, Dan and Edith Tucker stepped up with a most generous offer: the trail crews could use the Jones Cottage, on the Tuckers’ property, as a base. It had a kitchen and bathrooms and one bedroom for the field supervisor. The club gladly accepted this offer and easily raised money to buy tents and build tent platforms for crew members’ housing. This arrangement has worked so well that crew morale is way up and we are now able to better retain members from one year to the next – and, incidentally, that means we get more benefit from our training – and coordination is naturally much easier. However, the Tuckers have made it clear to the club that this is not a permanent arrangement and they have asked the club to seek a long term solution.

In the summer of 2002, when David McMurtrie made known his interest in selling his Bowman Base Camp on Route 2 across from Lowe’s gas station, we hoped we had found the answer. The board followed up with an analysis of the structure and negotiations with the owner. Unfortunately, the structure was so deteriorated that it would not have been prudent for the club to buy it at the non-negotiable asking price of $150,000. By January of 2003, club president Mike Pelchat was able to inform members that the prospects for purchase of the McMurtrie property were poor. In that month, the board decided not to proceed further. Subsequently the McMurtries have withdrawn the property from the market.

The experience of those months, however, helped the board to sharpen its thinking about the club’s future needs. When the Bowman possibility fell through, the board charged the Bowman Base Camp Committee, renamed the Valley Home Search Committee, to look at other options and more carefully define the club’s needs, as club president Mike Pelchat wrote in his column in the May 2003 Newsletter. The Committee made a report at the Annual Meeting in 2003 in which it reviewed this history and described its plans.

In that same report, mention was made of another generous offer by the Tuckers, to donate to the club a parcel of land at the edge of their property near the Goetze Workshop. Recently, engineering studies have been completed and have concluded the land is definitely buildable and is suitable for our purposes. The board has just met and decided to tell the Tuckers we accept their offer and want to go on to the next step. We understand the offer holds only if the club in fact uses the land to build housing for its trail crews and caretakers. We also know that building such a facility will be expensive and will require funds to be raised both for its construction and for its maintenance. So when I say “go on to the next step,” I mean the next step of exploration.

We are now beginning to research the feasibility of the RMC undertaking such a project. The Valley Home Search Committee – once again renamed as the Basecamp Committee - is now charged with coming up with a detailed list of requirements and the cost of embodying these in a structure. We will be talking with members to get their ideas. We will discuss the project at this year’s Annual Meeting, so I hope many of you will be able to attend. We are at the early stages of planning and all is open for discussion and in-put.

Let me share with you now some high points of the tentative program the Basecamp Committee has developed so far. Hopefully, you will contribute your feed-back and ideas to help us refine this draft: “A portion of the building should be unheated and a portion heated. There will be a separate space…for the Field Supervisor in the summer and winter caretaker on his or her days off. This is the heated space…Trail crew and [summer] caretakers would continue to live in their own tents, scattered appropriately around the property…crew kitchen and bathrooms…laundry area…woodstove in large community room…quiet room for reading, writing, and e-mail…”

In order to have something concrete to work with, the Basecamp Committee approached Tim Sappington, a local architect, who agreed to donate his time to draw up preliminary sketches so the committee could see how its program ideas would shape an actual building. These sketches have been very helpful but are entirely preliminary. They do not mean the club has settled on a design. After all, we have not yet even decided to go ahead with a building. Feed-back from the membership will be a critical part of this project. You can contact the board through the links on our website, www.randolphmountainclub.org. Also, please feel free to approach any member of the board about this subject. We look forward to hearing from you.

And, remember, we will discuss a possible basecamp at the Annual Meeting on Saturday, August 14 at 7:30 in the Randolph Town Hall. Please come.

The summer activities schedule is as follows:

The Tea will be on Sunday, July 4, at 3 pm at the Kenyons’ barn on Randolph Hill Road.

The Gourmet Hike will take place on Thursday, August 5, leader to be announced.

The Annual Meeting will be on Saturday, August 14, at 7:30 pm in the Town Hall. After a business meeting, there will be a talk by Dyk Eusden on the geology of the White Mountains.

The Picnic and Charades will be on Saturday, August 21, at noon in Mossy Glen. In case of rain, they will be held at the Beringer barn on Randolph Hill Road.

Organized trips will take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout July and August. They will be announced in the Randolph Weekly, available in boxes around Randolph, and on our website through a secure link. To access the latter, contact the webmaster at www.randolphmountainclub.org to get a password (for members only). If you would like to lead a trip, please contact John Eusden or Jack Stewart to volunteer. They hope to schedule a variety of trips, including canoe trips, camping trips, family hikes, and fast hikes and slow hikes.

At last year’s Annual Meeting, a majority of those present voted that the club “address the issue” of over-flow parking at the Appalachia trail head on Rte 2. I met with George Pozzuto and Don Muise of the Forest Service to discuss the situation. They were entirely aware of the problem. They pointed out that other trail heads have even more over-flow. But the solution is very difficult because so many levels of government and different departments have jurisdiction over different pieces of the puzzle. They did say that protests from the public are much more likely to be listened to than suggestions from them. I then brought the issue before the board. They unanimously voted not to pursue the matter, feeling that it was not part of the the club’s mandate to engage in advocacy. However, interested individual members should write to Don Muise at the Forest Service to see what lines to pursue. He can be reached at the Andoscoggin District Forest Service office, Glen Road, Gorham, NH 03581.

Thank you to all those that have sent in their dues and thank you for your contributions. We have had a good response so far to our mailing and urge the rest of you to respond soon.

I look forward to seeing many of you this summer.

Mary Brown, President

Back to Top

A History of the RMC Camps:
Part 2
By Judith Maddock Hudson

Rebuilding the Original Camps

The Lean-to at The Perch. Photo by Jeff Smith.The Perch, 1948. During the early summer of 1948, the RMC constructed an open-faced Adirondack-style log shelter on the site of Edmands’ old birchbark structure at the Perch. The new shelter was erected as a memorial to Louis F. Cutter, the famed mapmaker, summer resident of Randolph since 1885 (when he created a contour map of Mt. Adams while still a civil engineering student at MIT), and long-time RMC activist who had died in June, 1945, a few days short of his eighty-first birthday 1. John H. Boothman was consulted about costs 2, but the project was organized by Klaus Goetze, with materials for the floor and the roof packed up by volunteers. Cutting the logs and the actual carpentry was done by Freeman Holden, who camped at the site during construction 3. Completed on July 14th, the shelter cost about $818, all of which was raised in memorial contributions for Cutter. A wooden plaque to honor Cutter was commissioned from Roy Woodard and mounted in the shelter.

The Perch became a favorite spot for campers seeking the solitude of the high peaks. As backpacking became a popular activity and increasingly more hikers walked the Appalachian Trail, bootleg tenting sites dotted the landscape. To provide a supervised alternative for tenters, the RMC built four tent platforms above the Perch in August, 1980, using memorial funds honoring Ben Campbell, former trailcrew member and 1976 caretaker at Crag Camp, who had been killed in a climbing accident in Scotland in May of 1980. A large volunteer group of Ben’s RMC and AMC friends, including helicopter pilot Joe Brigham, built the new platforms, while Jack Boothman, Sandy Harris and Wayne Parker worked on repairing the underpinnings of the shelter itself. The platforms were again rebuilt in the summer of 2002.

Interior of the Log Cabin, 1964 or 1965. Photo by Chris Goetze.The Log Cabin, 1985. By the 1980's, all of the RMC camps were showing their age. In worst condition was the Log Cabin, which had not had a major overhaul since 1923. The structure had been used mostly by hunters or by climbers in the late or early seasons and was in dilapidated condition, despite the almost annual work parties to repair windows, the roof, and rechink the walls. Planning began in 1983, and was finally brought to fruition under the direction of Bert Dempster in the summer of 1985. Styled after an Alaska trapper’s cabin, today’s open shelter is the latest building on the oldest site in the Northern Peaks. Builders Joe Gill, Jack Corbett, and Jeff Burke cut logs on the site, volunteers carried other construction materials, and the structure was completed for $3,926, principally supported by contributions honoring one of Randolph’s best known outdoorsmen and favorite hoteliers, Jack Boothman, who died in 1983.

Gray Knob, 1989. Gray Knob, given by the Hincks family to the Town of Randolph in 1939 4, was maintained for years by the RMC. Repairs were made in July, 1958 to the basic structure:

In July Freeman Holden...and his son Baxter took up residence in Gray Knob. They replaced the rotten supports, rebuilt the porch, installed three new windows and a new stove, made a wonderful mouseproof, and fixed up the toilet. At the same time, 50 lbs. of oakum were transported up and a volunteer party spent a day and a half chinking the many air vents between the timbers, a condition which had given Gray Knob the reputation of being all too well ventilated. Now it is so no more. In the evening the whole chinking party repaired to Crag Camp for a square dance. The fine organ of Crag furnished the music 5.

Caretaker Ed Walsh ('00-'01) in front of Gray Knob. Photo by Jeff Smith.Freeman Holden was again the master carpenter when additional work in 1964 added new windows, cabinetry, and insulation, as well as shingling over the exterior vertical logs. Peggy Grant organized caretakers Jon Frueh and Chris Campbell to transport fresh steaks and other delicacies she had purchased to keep the resident carpenters happy. Nancy Frueh, then RMC President, recalls having fetched two urgently needed bundles (70 pounds) of shingles in Berlin (instead of attending the Picnic). She carried them herself as far as Pentadoi: “You ask how I managed to carry 70 lbs. to Pentadoi. It was a matter of sheer determination, punctuated by words that I had learned while working on a primitive farm in Vermont one summer during WWII, now growled at whatever wildlife happened to show up along the Amphibrach.” 6 As winter usage increased, the camp was even more thoroughly insulated in 1980 and reroofed in 1982.

By 1986 it became clear that Gray Knob’s underlying structure was rotten, and the RMC Board began planning. At the 1987 annual meeting in August, the membership voted to proceed with the cabin’s reconstruction. Construction was delayed until the summer of 1989, when the cabin was completely rebuilt, following a plan by former winter caretaker Jeff Tirey that echoed the design of the original cabin. The old structure was demolished on April 8-9, and the remains burned on April 15. An initial helicopter flight transported building materials on April 24, and construction began on May 14. Builders were John Tremblay, Peter Rowan, Peter Wallace and Albie Pokrob. The camp was constructed for a cost of $63,806. In a special campaign, the RMC raised $79,543 for the project, 7 including contributions to the memory of Ruth Dexter Cutter, Jonathan Frueh, Timothy Frueh, Caroline Hincks, Herbert Malcolm, Timothy Muehl, Margaret Arnold Woodard, and Davis Woodruff. The camp was dedicated on the 29th of August.

The new Crag Camp in 2002. Photo by Tony Kantarowski.Crag Camp, 1993. Crag Camp, the favorite haunt of many Randolphians, had received ongoing repairs through the years: a new floor, window repair, a front porch, several new roofs. By the early 1990's the original structure had become decrepit, and the Board voted to replace the existing structure. Planning and a fundraising campaign were begun after the members voted approval in August 1991. The old camp hosted its last overnight guests on April 3, 1993; the party of twenty tore apart the building the next morning, saving anything still useable. The debris was burned on April 8th, and only the stone chimney still stood. 8 The new cabin was moved back from the former perch at the brink of King’s. Designed by Tim Sappington and Jeff Tirey, the plan departed completely from the design of the original cabin. A large communal space with a dramatic view of the Ravine, a caretaker’s room, bunkrooms, and front and back porches combine to create a welcome haven for hikers. Once again a small pump organ (the third such instrument) graces the premises.

The builders, who lived under tarps on the site during the summer of 1993, were John Tremblay, Albie Pokrob, Peter Rowan, Patrick Hackett and Roland Tellier. The total cost, $84,402, was largely defrayed by almost $80,000 in contributions raised from members, foundations, and other friends of Crag. Dedicated on July 9, 1994, a new plaque was installed to recognize major donors and honor the memory of R. Ammi Cutter, James Nichols, Leigh and Mary Thornton Page, and Charles C. Torrey, the builder of the Spur Trail. An old plaque that commemorated Nelson Smith’s 1939 donation of his cabin to the Club was retrieved from the walls of a trophy collector, and it, too, now hangs in a place of honor.

Of Toilets and Trash

The Outhouse Years. The camps were all equipped with outhouses. Crag’s was perched precariously on the edge of the Ravine, with a spectacular view (known as “the lights of Berlin” in the old days). Porcupines consumed much of the Perch toilet on an annual basis. The state of the outhouses has been a major preoccupation of RMC Boards, beginning with the first RMC minutes I’ve seen from 1946 detailing the cost (not to exceed $150) of a replacement at Crag. For many years the facilities were a major point of discussion between the Forest Service and the Club. In 1971 the Forest Service decreed that all camps should have portable pit toilets. Following a design by Bliss Woodruff, modular plywood outhouses were built and hauled up the mountain, the total installation costing $981. Theoretically the new structures could be dismantled so as to be easily portable. This new system depended on the creation of new pits, the digging of which was a Herculean labor at best, and at worst resulted in the recurrent striking of ledge just beneath the surface. A constant refrain in Board minutes is the cry that “the outhouses need to be moved.” Resourceful caretakers and Camps Chairs devised an alternative, albeit unadvertised, method: dig a hole necessarily shallower than practical for relocating the outhouse, move the contents of the current hole to the new location, and create new space at the old site. (The workers tried to make the job tolerable by smoking really horrible cigars that covered the aroma.)

The Bio-Sun toilet at The Perch. Photo by Jeff Smith.Composting. By 1981 the Forest Service ruled that composting toilets should be installed, a caveat that had President Judy Hudson trailing behind several macho AMC crew members as she spent a substantial part of the 1982 summer inspecting the facilities the AMC had installed. We also surveyed facilities at Forest Service shelters, where we observed that their pit toilets were in far worse shape than ours. We were worried about feasibility. The RMC cabins, unlike the AMC sites where composting toilets were in use, were all located at higher altitudes and on north-facing slopes. Would composting work in these locations? Gray Knob’s major accumulation came from winter usage, when a composter would not function. After much study, the Board decided to launch a pilot project at Crag Camp, because the usage was mostly in the summer months.

A thermophilic, batch composting system was selected for Crag Camp and finally put into operation during the summer of 1984. 9 The system proved satisfactory for a few years, but required well trained labor, continual attention, and large volumes of wood chips that had to be hauled up the mountain. Male visitors were finally asked not to urinate in the toilet, but instead to use the nearby woods. As Crag Camp became increasingly popular on a year-round basis during the 1980's, the composter was eventually overwhelmed by usage. 10

In 1989, with the rebuilding of Gray Knob, a Shasta bin toilet was installed to replace the pit toilet. The Shasta dehydrated solids while draining untreated blackwater onto the soil surface. Within a few years, the toilet was nearing capacity: the system was not adequately dehydrating the solids, and the toilet was serving only as a collection and storage system. During the winter, the mound of waste inside the toilet grew to unmanageable heights. The Club was facing the prospect of routinely flying out untreated solids, an expensive and intrusive option.

In 1994, the RMC, with the assistance of caretaker Paul Lachapelle, evaluated possible waste management options for its facilities, and finally settled on a continuous composting toilet. Selection of a properly sized composter was critical, since ambient air temperatures allow composting only between May and September. For the remaining months the device would function essentially as a containment device. In 1995 a Bio Sun toilet was installed at Crag, and subsequently two other Bio Suns were put in at the Perch (1997) and Gray Knob (1999). The costs were considerable, averaging $12,000 each (many of the camps had been built for less!). 11

Crag’s Bio Sun worked at first, but was soon plagued with breakdowns. Liquids began to climb in the composter because the solar-powered turbine failed to vaporize enough liquid up the exhaust stack. Aerobic composting was minimal. The following summer, the RMC adopted a “Beyond the Bin” liquid treatment system that had been devised by
the AMC and the Forest Service. Liquids flow out of the composter into a 55-gallon plastic drum and are then filtered through alternating layers of activated charcoal and gravel. The same design was used at the Perch and Gray Knob. In 1999 a further refinement was added: a galvanized screen drying rack which enabled the caretakers to isolate the end product and “finish” it on the rack. Older composted material is removed from the composter, dried for 2-3 weeks, and then buried in the woods, 200 feet or more from the cabin. The Bio Sun composter is still not maintenance-free. Frequent inspections and servicing are required, and the liquid filter has a tendency to clog up.

Trash. Trash has always accumulated wherever people camp or picnic. Marian Pychowska wrote in 1885 that she found the vicinity of Madison Spring “so littered with cans, old shoes, etc., etc., of last year’s campers, that we looked for more attractive quarters.” 12 In the “old days” (before plastic) food scraps and paper were burned in campfires or woodstoves inside the cabins; empty cans were thrown into a can pit. At Crag, the pit at the edge of King’s became the perfect, never-to-be-filled cavity. As late as 1958, Brian Underhill, when describing the short route from the floor of the Ravine up the slide, reports “The top of the slide is almost right below Crag, just a few hundred feet away. You can throw cans at it and hit it with no trouble at all. We used to rope off down there into the heaps of cans.” 13 When open fires were prohibited by the Forest Service, paper, plastic, and even garbage were thrown into the can pits.

As early as 1961, with trash pits overflowing, the Board wondered how to dig new pits - would the Forest Service let us use dynamite?

Eventually RMC caretakers packed down accumulated trash for disposal in the valley. 14 By 1971 the Forest Service decided that all old trash pits needed to be closed and emptied. Caretakers devoted much of the summer to emptying the pits and carrying down the old mattresses and other detritus that had built up under the camps. To finish the job, on September 1, 1970 a dedicated RMC volunteer work force of 23 (plus two dogs) climbed the mountain in rain and hail. A group of wet campers at the Perch joined in, later writing “The line of people descending with their burdens, all ages and sizes, was akin to a funeral procession in a way; to a demonstration in another way; and more so than these, it was like our silent marches and work in the Society of Friends. A purpose and answering devotion to it. So we congratulate you.” 15 In all, at the end of the day 37 large bags of garbage and trash had been hauled off the mountain, filling the garbage truck and one pick-up, as Gordon Lowe reported.

The trash problem was largely solved in the early 1970's by a “Carry In - Carry Out” policy, vigorously promoted by the AMC and the Forest Service. By 1975 the problem had gradually diminished although not been completely eliminated by the Carry In - Carry Out policy. Caretakers now are responsible for seeing that campers remove their own trash, part of a coordinated campaign by mountain organizations which is known as “Leave No Trace.”

An anti-litter campaign, it should be noted, is not really a new concept. The indomitable hiker Hazel de Berard described the founding, early in the 20th century, of “The Egg Shell Rescue League.” Members were enjoined to remove “any fragment of eggshells, cigarette stubs, orange peel, empty boxes, tinfoil, or any other refuse left by uncivilized man...” 16 RMC members have perpetuated this custom. As a child, I remember my mother’s having picked up scraps of paper and candy wrappers as she hiked; many of us still do so.

Al Hudson at the new Log Cabin in 1985. Photo by Judy Hudson.I am actively seeking any additional comments, corrections, anecdotal materials, or relevant photographs that my readers might have. Please contact me at 111 Amherst Road, Pelham, MA 01002; (413) 256-6950; or by E-mail.

Judith Hudson has been coming to Randolph since the age of four or five; her parents, the Drs. Stephen and Charlotte Maddock, first visited Randolph in 1923 or 1924 at the invitation of the Cutter family. Active members of the RMC, Judy and her husband Al have served in a variety of RMC jobs, including the presidency. Al is currently the Club’s Archivist, and Judy is working on a history of the RMC.


1 See Cutter’s obituary by Frank H. Burt in Appalachia:25;523-5 (1945).

2 Excerpts from the RMC Directors’ meeting on August 29, 1947 cite an estimate of $500 for the Perch’s restoration, given by John Boothman, Sr.

3 Klaus Goetze, “The Randolph Mountain Club Camps,” Appalachia:32;275 (December 1958). Goetze carried many loads himself, according to Jack Stewart who also lugged 8-foot boards up the Randolph Path.

4 Forest Service land leases for private camps expired in 1939, and their builders were no longer allowed to own cabins within the National Forest. Ownership by the town or the Club gave the public access to the facilities.

5 “The Randolph Mountain Club Camps,” Appalachia:32;275 (December 1958). The organ was a new instrument that had been transported up to Crag by Chris Goetze, Brian Underhill, and Mike Field in August 1957. See Appalachia:32;119 (June 1958). See the photo on p.16.

6 Personal communication, 28 September 2003.

7 The balance left in Gray Knob’s account was used in 1993 for the rebuilding of Crag Camp.

8 See Doug Mayer’s “The Demolition and Burning of Crag Camp,” and his dramatic photographs in the RMC’s Remembrances of Crag Camp, 1909-1993,pp. 92—97.

9 For much of this information, I am indebted to Paul Lachapelle, Doug Mayer and Anne Tomaso for their paper, “Randolph Mountain Club Bio Sun Continuous Composter Chapter for Appalachian Trails Conference,” [n.d.]

10 In 1977, there had been 2,272 overnight visitors at the RMC camps; by 1995, that number, at 4,923, had more than doubled. These figures are low as they don’t include considerable usage by day hikers.

11 In addition to traditional Club sources (dues, camp fees, and donations) grants were received from the Appalachian Trail Conference, the Davis Conservation Foundation, and the Reavis Foundation.

12 In a letter to Isabella Stone, July 30, 1885, quoted by Laura and Guy Waterman in Forest and Crag, AMC, Boston: 1989, p. 284.

13 “Improvements at Crag Camp,” Appalachia: 32;120 (June 1958).

14 One caretaker, who shall remain anonymous, stowed the week’s camp fees in the garbage bag along with his load of trash, hauled it down the mountain, left the bag unopened, slept late, and awoke to find that his father had already disposed of the bag in the morning’s trash collection. Father and son failed to find the bag in the town dump.

15 Hudson Log Book 1, p.22-24 (September 1, 1970).

16 “Memories of Randolph,” Appalachia:31;196 (December 1956). A drawing accompanies her description.

Back to Top

Mountain Weather of the Northern Presidentials
By Steve Bailey

There’s something different about the weather in RMC country. Winds blow harder, snows fall deeper, and temperatures drop farther.

Forced upslope, moist air condenses and falls as precipitation, often in prodigious amounts. Photo by Rene Cote, courtesy of the Mount Washington Observatory.The explanation is quite simple: the rugged relief around Randolph represents one of the few obstacles to weather systems passing from west to east. As a result, winds are regularly churned into gales as air gets pressed through notches and squeezed over crags. Winds and moisture conspire to produce deep snows and soaking rains, and this conspiracy is no theory! In mountain ranges the world round, moisture, forced upslope by the wind, cools, condenses, and falls leaving more prodigious amounts of precipitation on windward slopes than on leeward slopes.

Moisture-laden easterly winds off the Atlantic Ocean often deliver the heaviest precipitation totals when they collide with east-facing slopes in the White Mountains. Randolph, whose valley opens to the east, has the weather records to prove it. On November 23, 1943, a snowstorm dropped 56" of snow in 24 hours on Randolph, which stands as a New Hampshire single snowstorm record. This past December, Randolph again topped the state’s list of snowfall totals, recording 38" of white stuff after just digging out from a separate nor’easter a week earlier.

In addition to snow, temperatures tend to fall in RMC country too. Indeed, the coldest temperature recorded in town was –30°F (February 1943) and the coldest on
Mount Washington –47°F (January 1934). The town of Randolph sits in a corridor where cool air pools on clear, windless nights. Since heat stored at the earth’s surface is released at night, valley floors become “frost pockets” when there are no clouds to trap the released heat, particularly if snow covers the valleys, cooling the air around it. The irony of this phenomenon is that areas situated slightly above the valley floor—areas like Randolph Hill or The Log Cabin—will record markedly higher temperatures, which is why the phenomenon is called a temperature inversion. Take a hike upslope or downslope on a cloudless and windless night in winter and feel the difference.

During the summer, temperatures on RMC trails tend to be cooler for other reasons too. The northernmost counties of New Hampshire and Vermont are said to be as cloudy as the Olympic Range in Washington, which is due in large part to the Green and White Mountains’ effect on the weather. One of the highest populated areas in the Northeast, Randolph is further deprived of warm air by its elevation; indeed, as air rises, it cools about 3°F for every 1000 feet. Thus, all other conditions being the same, folks on Randolph Hill can experience temperatures 6°F colder than folks near the seacoast, simply because the air is slightly thinner. Of course, even though Randolph no longer has an official weather station, everyone knows that it’s really windy in the valley sometimes! Again, this is due to the surrounding mountains. The strong and sometimes gusty winds keep the town, especially the treeless areas, cooler by way of convection. They also help with the black flies.

Mountains turn moisture and air into clouds and winds. Photo by Tom Seidel, courtesy of the Mount Washington Observatory.While thermometers, anemometers, and barometers all bear testimony to Randolph’s unique weather, so do the town’s surrounding natural features. A hike into Ice Gulch or up to the Ice Caves in King’s Ravine attests to the colder air and less intense light in the North Country. The subalpine spruce and fir along the Kelton Trail give clues as to the annual snowfall levels. “Lichen lines” along their tree trunks indicate how deep snow accumulates in average winters. Since lichen cannot live without at least some light (even in winter), it does not grow under a certain average snow line, where there is no light in winter. Hence, the telltale lichen lines.

Higher up the mountainsides, angular rocks betray the process of frost wedging, where cyclical freezing and thawing of water within larger rocks has split them into blocky, smaller ones. Similarly, the presence of felsenmeer (German for “sea of rock”) testifies to the imperceptible movement of entire mountainsides—the result of thousands of years of frost wedging. The strange shapes the felsenmeer sometimes assumes (circle or polygon) are not the handiwork of aliens but rather the result of frost wedging influenced by local topography. And the seemingly out-of-place stand of krummholtz (small alpine trees) reveals a spot where some lucky seed found just enough shelter from wind, cold, and snow to thrive.

These natural features and the climatic conditions that engender them are worth a closer look, especially since they’re visible from the trail or from home. But, although weather is easy to observe, it’s not easy to predict, so leave the forecasting to experts. In the inimitable words of Yogi Berra, “Prediction is difficult, especially when it comes to the future.”

Though written by Steve Bailey, this article was largely informed by the thoughtful work of Peter Marchand and Jack Stewart. Steve Bailey is an RMC member, former Mount Washington Observer, and former White Mountain Wilderness Ranger. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and enjoys witnessing temperature inversions first-hand while running in the Flatirons.

1 Noble McClintock observed Randolph weather from his home just east of Lowe’s Store from 1940 to 1949. He served as a cooperative weather observer for the Weather Bureau. Today, unofficial records are kept by Bill Arnold from his house on Randolph Hill, as well as by Jack Stewart from his summer home on Randolph Hill (when he’s there).

Back to Top

RMC Archivist News
By Al Hudson

Since taking over as archivist in the fall of 2002, I have been busy. Although we do not yet have a permanent home for the archive, one that would allow folks to consult it with ease, it is currently safely and dryly housed in the basement of Gail Scott's house on Randolph Hill. Last year I completed an inventory of holdings and organized everything in marked locations so that items could be easily found. Since the collection is not easily accessible, I have started to make transcriptions of early documents and to scan historical photographs. Several projects that have been completed and should be made generally available are Spur Cabin Registers, 1900-1915 (with map, photos, transcriptions, and editor's appendices; c. 100pp); Randolph in Appalachia, 1876-1959 (an annotated listing of articles and reports relevant to Randolph that have appeared in AMC's journal Appalachia; 18pp); Excerpts from Gray Knob Log Books, 1906-37, 1955-1989. Over the next few years I will be making new collections of excerpts from the collection of RMC hut logbooks. 

An invitation to bring your goodies to Randolph for scanning. While preserving (and eventually microfilming) the collections that we already have in the archive, I am also attempting to add new materials, such as maps, log books, diaries, photos, etc. I am particularly interested in finding out what kind of material people have in their personal collections. Even if folks are not ready to make contributions to the archive, it would be very valuable to know what's out there. I'm hoping that Newsletter readers who have something of interest will contact me. In addition, next summer I will be bringing equipment that will allow me to scan and digitally save photographs and maps, and even rare documents if they are not to long. So, bring your treasures or inventories to Randolph and get in touch with me to arrange a scanning session. I can be reached in a variety of ways: e-mail;  winter phone [413-256-6950]; Randolph phone [603-466-5509]; winter address [111 Amherst Road/Pelham, MA 01002].

Back to Top

Reports from Committees ....

Camps Report
By Jeff Smith

It was a slow winter this year at the RMC camps. We had a lot of rain in November, lots of snow in early December, bitter cold in January, and then a mix of warm and cold in February and March. The inconsistent weather plus the lack of substantial snowfall during the first three months of 2004 added up to a decrease in the number of overnight guests at Crag Camp and Gray Knob.

“Thank you” to our recent caretakers. Last year, Matt Cittadini finished the summer season with the senior trail crew and then spent two months caretaking at Gray Knob. Adam Hale was our brave winter caretaker this year, spending over five months in the mountains. Dan Rubchinuk, our 2004 Field Supervisor, is currently the spring caretaker. For the upcoming summer season, Matt McEttrick (2002 & 2003 senior trail crew) will be switching jobs to become the Gray Knob caretaker, and newcomer Jeremy Loeb will be at Crag Camp.

A special thanks goes out to the fill-in caretakers from the past few seasons: Chris Campbell, Cammee Campbell, Pete Ketcham, Al Sochard, and Tracy Blanchard. Everyone knows that summertime is a great time to visit an RMC shelter, but why not consider a trip during the spring or fall seasons? There are fewer bugs, cool temperatures, beautiful snow-peaked mountains in the spring, and amazing foliage colors in the fall. Best of all, the cabins rarely fill to capacity during the spring and fall, and there is a good chance that, if you hike up on a weekday, you’ll be the only one there! (Of course the caretaker will be there, but the extra company will be welcomed!)
Overnight fees will remain affordable this year at $5.00 per person per night at the Log Cabin, the Perch, and the tent platforms, and $10.00 per person per night at Gray Knob and Crag Camp. [Webmaster's Note: Overnight fees in 2011 are now $13 a night for Gray Knob and Crag Camp, $7 for the Log Cabin and The Perch.]

Web Site
By Jeff Smith

More and more people are joining the club, renewing their memberships, and ordering RMC merchandise online through our web site — these three  aspects of the site are becoming very popular features. From November 1, 2003, to March 31, 2004, $655.50 worth of merchandise and memberships had been ordered through the web site. Not a bad start! If you do encounter any problems during the ordering process, please report them to the Webmaster (webmaster@randolphmountainclub.org).

Another trail sign auction will begin in June. You can view retired trail signs and read details about each sign via a link on the web site home page. It will be a silent auction again, so be sure to drop by and place a bid.

Trails Report
By Doug Mayer

This summer, RMC’s trail work will take place on a wide variety of paths, representative of the range of hiking opportunities we have on our network of trails. Our two crews will start in early June with two weeks of patrolling, during which winter’s blowdowns will be cut from the paths and all our waterbars and ditches cleaned.
Following patrolling, one crew will work on the lower reaches of the Israel Ridge Path and replace two wooden ladders higher on the trail. Then, later in the season, this crew will shift to repairs needed on the first mile of the Randolph Path. For these projects, RMC will receive partial reimbursement from the U.S. Forest Service.
A second crew will begin the first of a two-year project on the Mount Crescent and Crescent Ridge Trails in the Randolph Community Forest. This work is funded in part by a grant from the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails.

Both crews will also take care of routine brushing and blazing on our paths, as needed.

Where you going with that door? RMC board member Matt Schomburg begins a slow and laborious hike up to Gray Knob with a new door for the cabin. Photo by Devon Witherell.This year, our trails work will be led by Field Supervisor Dan Rubchinuk, who will also oversee the efforts of our camps caretakers. Dan has three years of experience with RMC and was on our 2002 fall trail crew, which constructed the new Four Soldiers and Underhill Paths. Other returning crew members include Rachel Hestrin, Laura Conchelos (niece of Randolph’s Dave and Dodie Willcox), and Randolph’s Roz Stever. Aaron Parcak returns for a record sixth year with the trail crew. All told, RMC’s trail crew members will have 16 seasons of experience!

One major change we’ve made this year is the elimination of the “first-year” and “senior” trail crew designations. Instead, we will simply have two crews consisting of crew members with a variety of levels of experience. We’ve made this change to bring our newer crew members more quickly up to speed on necessary trail skills. Now, each crew will perform all levels of trail work — whether it be basic maintenance like brushing or blazing, or advanced work like building a rock staircase.

Your club is currently exploring the possibility of building an “accessible” trail somewhere in town. "Accessible” trails feature gentle grades, even and stable footing, and are usually about three feet wide. They are designed for hikers with vision, balance, or mobility impairment, but these trails can also be enjoyed by all hikers—even very young children who might not yet be capable of tackling more traditional paths.

This past fall, the RMC board established an accessible trails committee of Chris Lake, Doug Mayer, Matt Schomburg, Al Sochard, and Sarah Tupick. Over the winter, the committee met with Peter Jensen, a regional expert on the design of such paths. During the summer, we hope to explore several possible routes for a short, half-mile or less, accessible path in the area.

In July, RMC will release a free, interpretive guide to the new Four Soldiers Path. The guide is being written with help from more than a dozen RMC members and is overseen by local interpretive experts Dave Thurlow and Clare Long. Copies of the free booklet will be available at the July 4 Tea. Funding for the project was provided by an educational grant from the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails.

A number of volunteers have been hard at work during the past few months. Tami Hartley and Regina Ferreria have been busily stenciling more than 60 new trail signs, which the Brockett family has been painting. Al Sochard has been updating our trail crew handbook, Matt Schomburg has arranged the summer work trips, and Jon Hall is working away on improvements to the next edition of the RMC map which will be out in the spring of 2005.

A word of thanks is in order to the fine group of these and other members and friends who support our paths with their financial donations or time. In a small club such as RMC, such collective support is imperative. Together, we are stewards of one of the best networks of paths to be found anywhere. I hope you can find plenty of time this hiking season to enjoy them.

Treasurer's Report
By Michele Cormier

The Randolph Mountain Club finances are very strong beginning the year 2004. At this point in the year, we should be about one-quarter of the way through our budget. Naturally, the Club experiences seasonal fluctuation; for example, camps income suffers from mud season and then is very strong in the summer and fall. We had a very busy winter, but the cold in December and January of this past winter reduced revenues compared to last year. Likewise, we will have very little expenditure for trails until the trail crews get to work, shortly. This is a good position at this time of year, since the summer is when we see large outlays of cash for trail crew projects.

This spring, we have seen tremendous revenue from dues and general contributions, which were anticipated. This puts the club in a position to set aside money into our savings account for later use. I would like to personally thank everyone who has been so generous in their contributions and prompt response to our dues appeal this spring. It is due to the goodness of all of you that RMC is able to do all that we do.

The board has been strict in controlling expenses and keeping them within budgetary limits. With good controls in place, I anticipate the Club to meet its budget expectations and, hopefully, be able to put extra revenues into reserves for future projects.

Back to Top

Mount Adams
By Will Strayhorn

Will Strayhorn in the White Mountains - with brother Thomas close behind! Photo by Blake Strayhorn.As I scrambled up onto the final boulder, a huge gust of wind blew and stung my face. I was on the top of Mount Adams in the White Mountains. “Mount Adams is the second tallest mountain in New Hampshire, and I’m standing on the top!” I thought as I scanned the skyline.

While looking out on the magnificent mountains, I noted how wonderful they were. As I stood there, hunger rumbled in my stomach, and the wind blew hard on my face. I found a smooth rock and sat down. The ancient rocks sat there, like they had for many centuries, and, for the first time, I was seeing them. Among these rocks, I saw  needle-size wildflowers with white flower petals that were trying so hard to live in the harsh environment. When I looked up, I realized how amazing the view was. As I stood half a mile above tree line, I could see into Maine, Canada, Vermont, and almost to the Atlantic Ocean, through the crisp blue sky.

Suddenly the wind stopped and the temperature rose a few degrees. The black flies took this chance and came out to bite my family and me before the wind started back up. The small bites of the swarm of black flies itched, and I was glad when the wind started back up and they left. I rested my sore feet on a boulder as the wind whistled over the rocks. I could smell the fresh mountain air, the smell of lunches, and the smell of sap it carried along.

All of this was especially breathtaking because I had to climb 4,500 feet to get to all of this. Everything was peaceful as I sat and listened to the sound of the blowing wind and voices of people on the mountain. The sweat on my clothes had cooled in the 50-degree weather and hard winds, and my shirt was sticking to my skin, which gave me a satisfied feeling. I took a deep breath and a small fly flew to my tongue. I spit the insect out and thought about the wonderful experience I was having.

This is an experience that I will always remember. It was astonishing up on the top of the mountain, and looking out on all the other mountains near where I was. I love hiking, especially on clear days. This was a great experience for me, and it was special because I was able to do this with my family. Going to the mountains to hike is something I plan to do for the rest of my life.

RMC member Will Strayhorn is in 6th grade in Raleigh, North Carolina. He has climbed 28 of New Hampshire’s 4,000 footers and hopes to complete the list in the next 2 to 3 years.

Back to Top

Randolph's Greatest Storm
By Jack Stewart

It had been 117 years since New England was hit directly by a major hurricane. Most of the time, such storms moved north offshore past Cape Hatteras before veering out to sea. The Weather Bureau had come to believe that hurricanes never hit New England. Alas the experts were proved wrong on Wednesday, September 21, 1938 when a strong category 3 hurricane (names were applied beginning in 1950) continued due north at an accelerating speed following a trough of low pressure near the coast. High pressure over the ocean prevented a seaward turn. Traveling at 70 mph, the 120 mph winds smashed without warning into Long Island and proceeded north and northwest up the Connecticut valley and across Vermont into Canada. A pool of cold air to the west allowed the hurricane to maintain its intensity much farther inland than usual. The fast forward speed enhanced the wind velocities and storm surges east of the track (Blue Hill Observatory near Boston 186 mph, Mt. Washington 157 mph), and reduced them to the west. Except for flooding rains, most of the 600+ fatalities and 400+ million (1938) dollars damage occurred east of the track.

I, age 11, was with my parents at our summer cottage on Randolph Hill. My father, an astronomer and physicist, was a self-taught "weather fan." He realized on that fateful morning that something unusual was impending. The uncharacteristically high temperature (mid 60's), fitful gusts of wind from the east and squally bursts of rain with very small drops convinced him that the hurricane, which he had heard mentioned on the radio news, was headed our way. Conditions worsened steadily through the day and the barometer fell precipitously. He began to worry about the safety of our house, especially when my mother, resting with a minor ailment, was fascinated as she watched the windowpane over her bed bowing in and out with the wind gusts (not a wise observation). He succeeded in closing and securing the shutters on the east and south windows that the wind hit unimpeded, blowing across a large open meadow. The noise was overwhelming, screaming and rattling and roaring through the trees behind the house. I was both scared and fascinated. My father estimated the peak wind gusts to be around 90 mph. The worst was over by around 8 p.m. as the barometer bottomed out at 29.02 inches and the diminishing wind shifted to the southwest as the storm center passed about 100 miles to our west. Fortunately our house suffered no damage, but the region was left without power for several days.

The next morning dawned clear and I have never forgotten the sight of Howker Ridge on Mt. Madison; on large sections all the trees were lying flat. The damage to the White Mountain forests was appalling, especially in areas like the Pemigewasset Wilderness nearer to the path of the storm center. Many trails were so badly damaged that they were never reopened, including the RMC's Cascade Ravine Trail. The old birch-bark Perch was destroyed (replaced in 1948 by an open front log shelter). The Forest Service closed large sections of forest for several years because of high fire danger in the slash; luckily there were no serious fires.

We were scheduled to leave Randolph on September 22 so that my father could meet his first classes at Princeton. We delayed a day and had to drive west to Burlington Vermont before we could find an open route south to New Jersey via the Hudson Valley.

Back to Top

When Stewardship Means Doing Less
By Doug Mayer

“For every complex problem there is a simple solution. And it’s always wrong.” —H.L .Mencken

Writing in the preface to a new edition of Forest and Crag, Laura Waterman observed that we are on the cusp of a new era in the history of the White Mountains: “The age of exploration in the nineteenth century has receded into the past, as has the age of trail-building in the twentieth. The age of stewardship has dawned with the new millennium.”

Stewardship is traditionally thought of as the tending, or managing of a property. As RMC, we’re stewards of our fine trails and cabins. But, if that were all we were stewards of, we would pave our trails, build our shelters from cinder blocks, and call it a day. From my trails perspective, this would certainly make my life a lot easier!

Thankfully, our choices are not so simple. In fact, I prefer to think of RMC as stewards of an experience—one in which the predominate concern is maintaining a sense of wildness. Seen in this light, the day-to-day decisions made by the RMC become infinitely more interesting.

Back in 1992, when we were rebuilding Crag Camp, I had just returned from a backcountry ski trip through the network of Tenth Mountain Division cabins in Colorado. Inside the remote cabins, solar power charged batteries that ran electric lights during the evening. The cabins were safer, for there was no risk of fire from gaslights. Wasn’t this a stunning idea for Crag ? I broached the topic, and was dissuaded by other RMC members. It’s not that one choice was right and another wrong, but that one preserved an experience that RMC members had cherished for generations—and the other altered it. Since those days, I have spent countless long nights, huddled beneath the soft glow of a sputtering lantern at our camps. I wouldn’t trade those memories for all the solar panels in Colorado.

We make other seemingly mundane choices that have real and long-lasting consequences. For example, I recently read a letter to the editor in another club’s newsletter, which praised new, plastic, rectangular blazes. They’re easier to see than paint blazes and last much longer. There’s less work for trail crews, and hikers are safer! What could be wrong with that?

But, imagine for a moment the Castle Ravine Trail with three or four such changes—perhaps a trail crew–built rock staircase the length of the headwall, a plastic blaze every 30 yards, a bridge at every river crossing to assure safe passage over the rapids. Suddenly, it’s not the Castle Ravine Trail we know. It’s safer. It’s easier to maintain. But much of the challenge is gone, and the experience is clearly different.

Certainly, our decisions don’t always come down on the side of preserving a wild experience, no matter what the cost. For example, the trail work this last year on Kelton Trail modified a steep, sidehill section of path into a gentler, flatter walk. We made the tradeoff to protect the resource, for soil was literally washing away before our eyes.
In an exchange of e-mails  on this topic, recent White Mountain trail worker Dan Murphy wrote me the following:

… it is of supreme importance to remember that once “progress” is made there is no going back. Once solar lights are installed, returning to oil lamps would be very unlikely. Each small decision to “modernize,” “improve,” or “expand” should be painstakingly thought out. Oftentimes not enough deliberation is given to such decisions. Dedicated communities with intimate knowledge of an area must make these choices. I hope that our mountain clubs can be communities capable of fulfilling this role.

Dan’s phrase, “dedicated community with intimate knowledge of an area” struck a chord with me when I first read it. To me, that describes RMC perfectly. And, I believe the club is sincere in its efforts to fulfill its role as thoughtful steward.

One of the things that drew me to RMC fifteen years ago, is the same sensibility that holds me close to the club today. On some fundamental level, the club seems to understand that stewardship is more than just keeping a cabin staffed and tidy, or a trail well blazed, brushed, and drained—that it’s an experience we’re trying to protect, and sometimes that means doing less in lieu of doing a lot.

Doug Mayer is trail chair for RMC and on the board of directors of the Guy Waterman Alpine Stewardship Fund. He would like to thank Dan Murphy for his thoughts on this topic. Dan recently completed a one-year, Watson Fellowship, considering the social and environmental impacts of trails and trails maintenance around the world.

Back to Top

Alpine Flora Below Treeline
By Tim Stetter

Over four days in July 2003, our class from Antioch New England Graduate School commandeered the Gray Knob Shelter. Our aim, under the leadership of Dick Fortin: to study plants of the alpine zone. We had read and researched, brought charts, maps, field guides, calculators, rulers, and sampling equipment - all geared around “Alpine Flora,” the title of our course. The plant that captivated me most, however, thrives not in the alpine, but in forests below the alpine. I actually stumbled across it a fir-cone’s throw from Gray Knob. For the first sunrise, I wobbled towards the rocky overlook called The Quay. Along the trail, beneath spruce and Douglas-fir, my eyes detected something popping out of the mat of green: tiny pairs of pink flowers. Bending down, I instantly recognized the plant, even though I had only seen it in drawings and photographs. It was Linnaea borealis, the Twinflower. Perhaps you have seen it?

Twinflower is an evergreen, perennial member of the Honeysuckle family. In the White Mountains, this plant inhabits the cool Spruce-Fir forests (where I found it), but apparently reaches into the krummholz (where I did not). Twinflower hugs the ground, a growth form called “trailing” or “creeping.” The trailing stems are the source for another, much older, name: K’ela H’lia, which to the Dena’ina people of present-day Alaska means “mouse’s rope.”

These stems sport opposite leaves, a reliable characteristic of the Honeysuckle family. Twinflower’s leaves measure one to three centimeters long, are short-stalked, and marked by a few shallow teeth at their tips. The green of its leaves matches those of associated plants, including Starflower (Trientalis borealis), Goldthread (Coptis groenlandica), and Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense).

From June through August, Twinflower blooms by sending up flower stalks from the stem. Termed “peduncles,” these stalks split in two near the top, resembling uppercase Y’s. From each tip of the Y dangles a bell-like flower colored pink and white. This pair of flowers reminds us of the plant’s common name. Look closely: the five petals sparkle as if dusted with fine glitter. The inside of the flower features pink venation and a yellow patch, perhaps a landmark to aid pollinators. Under magnification, the inside reveals itself as a tangled mess of cottony hairs, like an unravelled cotton swab or the fuzzy seed-head of thistle.

Twinflower fruit emerges as a sticky nutlet with hooked bristles: a perfect parcel for grabbing hold of birds and mammals. Through feather and fur, Twinflower has managed to spread throughout the entire boreal region of the North. Essentially, Twinflower ranges across North America, including boreal forests and bogs of Canada, the Sierra Nevada, Rockies, and Appalachian Mountains; across the Atlantic with landings in Greenland and Iceland; through the arctic region of Europe, including northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland; across the former Soviet Union; and back over the Bering Strait to Alaska. This expansive geographical range is called “circumpolar” or “circumboreal.” Twinflower’s aptly chosen species-name, borealis, means “northern” or “of the north,” which in turn descends from Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind.

Twinflower’s genus-name, Linnaea, pays tribute to the Swedish botanist Linnaeus (1707-1778), who created the modern system of scientific classification. Among all the plants he knew, Linnaeus had a special fondness for Twinflower. The cover of his book Flora Lapponica includes the plant in bloom. One portrait presents Linnaeus dressed in traditional Lapland tunic, holding Twinflower in his right hand. Linnaeus’s teacher, Jan Frederik Gronovius, took notice and named Linnaea borealis in his student’s honor. Linnaeus himself self-humorously reveals the story: “Linnaea was named by the celebrated Gronovius and is a plant of Lapland, lowly, insignificant and disregarded, flowering but a brief space - from Linnaeus who resembles it.”

The story of Twinflower goes on and on. The first to discover the plant in California was none other than John Muir. The Algonquins made Twinflower tea for pain relief during pregnancy. Twinflower, being a Honeysuckle, is fragrant beyond belief; people claim to locate it by scent alone. As for me, even though I fell in love with a sub-alpine plant, I passed my Alpine Flora class. (Dick, thanks for your understanding and patience!) I just hope to return someday soon to where the Twinflower grows.

Tim Stetter recently earned his masters degree in Environmental Studies from Antioch New England Graduate School. A writer and environmental educator, Tim lives with his wife on the shoreline of Oneida Lake in upstate New York, where they race to keep up with an overly ambitious heirloom-vegetable garden.

Back to Top