Table of Contents
At the moment, things are quiet for the club. We have no special projects underway. We are still pursuing a site for an RMC base camp, but nothing has jelled as yet. The trail crews have left. Only the camps keep busy now. Please see reports elsewhere in this newsletter to learn all that was accomplished during the summer.
In the few months I have been president, and while there were no major issues, I have spent most of my energies tightening up the administration of the clubs activities and routinizing reporting from each of the committees. A major step forward in this effort was actually accomplished before I became president a manual for use by the board (and available for anyone to peruse) of the various activities and responsibilities of board members as well as past board policy decisions. This excellent document had been proposed by Doug Mayer many years ago and finally implemented by Judy Hudson this last summer. It will go a long way in bringing new board members up to speed in the complexities of club activities and in helping us all remember our past decisions so we are not revisiting already settled issues quite so often.
I have also followed the mandate given by a majority at our last annual meeting to address the issue of the frequent over-flow of parking at the Appalachia trail head on Route 2. I have met with George Pozzuto and Don Muise of the Forest Service. Hopefully by the time of my next letter to you, I will have further information on the subject. Needless to say, it is a very complicated issue and not easy to solve.
We have two short-term committees at work on building existing club activities. One is focussed on the possibility of expanding our web site and is chaired by our webmaster and board member, Jeff Smith, assisted by new board members Jamie Maddock and Al Sochard. Among other ideas, they are looking into the pros and cons, as well as the costs, of making our web site secure so we could accept credit card payments for membership dues and for merchandise.
The second committee has been asked to brainstorm varying our traditional hikes to appeal to and serve different groups, such as children, slower hikers, very fast hikers, and so forth. This committee will also consider ways to increase volunteer work on the trails, from increasing attendance at the present work parties to instituting a system of trail adopters. The committee is chaired by Matt Schomburg, who has been running the work trips this past year, and John Eusden, who has been Trips Co-chair with Jack Stewart. Our new board members, Jamie Maddock and Al Sochard, are helping them.
Please see the introduction of new board members Al Sochard, Jamie Maddock, and Marie Beringer elsewhere in this Newsletter. We are so glad to have them on board!
Returning board members, who will have another three-year term, are John Eusden, who will continue as Trips Co-chair with Jack Stewart; Michele Cormier, who will continue as club Treasurer; and Jeff Smith, who will continue as Camps Co-chair with Bill Arnold and Matt Schomburg.
I am happy to say all members of the board are very active and each has at least one assigned role. We are also using many non-board members to fill essential roles in the running of the club. We are determined to avoid burn-out of any one person so the club can remain a volunteer-led organization. Any member who wishes to take part in our projects, please let me know. We would welcome your participation.
Michele Cormier has produced an income statement for the end of the third quarter and a brief explanation of some of the elements in it which you can read elsewhere in this newsletter. Even though we did not hire a fall trail crew this year, we are still experiencing a short-fall in our net income. The board will examine our revenue and expenses in our January meeting, at which time we will set our budget for 2004. Since not all our revenues are in for 2003, it is premature to take any steps now. However, if any of you have not yet sent in your annual dues or wish to make an additional contribution for the year, please do so. We would greatly appreciate it!
Regards to you all,
A preliminary hike to Gray Knob to inspect the study plots and to meet the Knob's caretaker frequently solicits the comment from him, "I heard about the Antioch group." We can only hope that previous caretakers have passed on good words regarding Antioch.
Antioch's Alpine Flora field study, conceived and directed by Dr. Rick Van de Poll, has been an annual endeavor since the late 1980's. The weeklong class has focused on permanent plots in the Gray Knob area as well as plant communities on and around Mount Adams and Mount Jefferson. The alpine zone offers a unique opportunity to view plant community distribution on a small scale relative to snow cover, wind, elevation, fog, and atmospheric moisture. The class focuses on plant identification, recognizing plant distribution based on the previously mentioned abiotic factors, and implementing sampling procedures in sometimes less than ideal conditions.
For some students, this is their first introduction to the White Mountains; for others it is their first time above treeline. For some of the more avid hikers, it is frequently an opportunity to delve into the alpine plant life and the ecology of high mountain ecosystems. For the seasoned winter climber, it is an opportunity to connect the variations in snow cover they are so familiar with to the distribution of plants such as those in the heath family that require the protection that snow has to offer.
Our plant community studies build on work that Lawrence Bliss completed in the 1960's on Mount Washington and the recent work done by Charlie Cogbill and Dan Sperduto. By the end of the week, students can readily distinguish Diapensia communities and their windswept environment, snowbank communities and their associated deep snow / late melt conditions, heath / rush communities and their snow cover / better drained soils requirements, and all the myriad other combinations. Students quickly learn that it only takes a small change in the microclimate to affect a change in the associated plants.
All our time is not devoted to science. Evening discussions center on wilderness ethics, hiker impact, and alpine stewardship. The week seldom passes without the group experiencing an event such as cell phone use on the summit of Mount Adams, or a group of hikers trampling off trail and through plants that have been our focus of attention.
Does the information we have collected over the years point to any changes? Due to the limited data it is difficult to analyze any long-term trends. In the short term, there have been some noticeable changes, some of which are related to the proximity of the plots to Lowe's Path, and others to well-intentioned grad students conducting plot work.
In a plot located within inches of the trail, yearly data shows a reduction in vascular plant coverage and relocation of loose rocks. In one plot just off the Knob, new rocks have mysteriously appeared with the only possible explanation being that a cairn was dismantled and thrown inadvertently into one of the permanent plots. An increase in vascular plants in a third plot may be related to the closing of a dog leg trail with brush. A lesson we have learned over the years is how much of an impact we have while conducting these weeklong visits. Kneeling on a "Thermarest" in bilberry is not enough to protect these plots. Fortunately the site is recovering, albeit it has required a number of years without observation.
This observation has forced us to consider a change in protocol. From now on we will not be sampling the historic sites annually. Rather we have located other sites that not only have the plant community characteristics we want but more importantly have easy access and lots of rocks to step on. The discussion is ongoing as to whether permanent plots are appropriate or not and whether random plots merely spread out the impact.
One can't help but come away with a greater appreciation and respect for the alpine zone after a week of sunsets at the Quay and an extended period above treeline. That can be seen in the following statements students have included in their final papers.
"Ethics while traveling in the alpine area was an important focus of this course. The importance of protecting this environment was reinforced as time spent on hands and knees learning how fragile the ecosystem supporting the communities truly is."
"Though bug bitten, wet and wind blown, we were certainly enlightened from the experience."
"It is not enough to study alpine communities, but to promote stewardship and the enjoyment of them as well."
"Focusing just on two plots of such a small size helped us to grasp some of the complexity of the interrelationships at work and to appreciate the adaptations plants have developed to survive this harsh environment."
"This experience (final presentation) for me was a fitting conclusion to a week of learning about the delicate balance of life in the rugged and stark beauty of the Presidential Range. My hope is that I am able to continue this learning process in years to come and that I can share this knowledge and deep appreciation fully with other travelers above treeline."
The first mountain camp in the northern Presidentials was built to facilitate the work of trailbuilding. At a meeting of the AMC on May 10, 1876, William Gray Nowell reported on improvements that his department planned to make, among them that:
By the 21st of July, 1876, Nowell and Charles Lowe completed the construction of a bark shelter, approximately on the site of the current Log Cabin, a little more than 3 kilometers up the new path they had cut to the summit of Mt. Adams. A temporary structure, known variously as the AMC Camp, Mt. Adams Camp, or Lowes Camp, was maintained at this location for the next dozen years until it burned in 1887 or 1888.
Building, 1888-1910. Nowell reported to the AMC in 1888 that a replacement camp with dimensions of 4 by 6 meters, facing SW, had been framed, and would be finished during the summer of 1889 as a closed camp, logged up on all sides, roofed with cedar shingles painted red. Thus was born the Log Cabin, at an altitude of 3,250 feet, the first permanent camp on the north slopes. Although camps were always unlocked and accessible to any hiker, their construction and maintenance were the responsibility of private parties who had received permission to build them from the Berlin Mills Company, which owned the land. The Log Cabin served as Nowells private camp over the next 25 or 30 summers.
In the following two or three years 2 J. Raynor Edmands constructed three birchbark camps in Cascade Ravine as bases for his trailmaking activities: Cascade Camp at about 2,900 feet, just above the First Cascade on the south side of the river; Cliff Shelter part way up the ravine (a camp that was only used for a few years); and the Perch at about 4,300 feet near the Randolph Path.
In 1899 Charles Cutler Torrey and George Foot Moore commissioned John Boothman to have a log cabin built on Nowell Ridge at about 3,200 feet, a little below and to the west of Chandler Fall near the crossing of Spur Brook by the Randolph Path. Spur Cabin, as it was named, was constructed during the winter of 1899-1900 and used by the Torreys as they cut the beginnings of the Spur Trail from the Randolph Path as far as the Cabin and other paths on Nowell Ridge. The first entry in the Spur Cabin Register was made by Elliot B. Torrey on Tuesday, June 19th, 1900:
Nancy Torrey Frueh, C. C. Torreys daughter, described the camp as follows: 4
Spur Cabins logbooks, signed by both overnight and transient visitors, present a lively picture of activities at the new camp. A large number of hiking parties from the Mountain View House stopped by, sometimes spending the night. The Torrey and Moore families made steady use of the cabin. C. C. Torrey scouted and built the Spur Path, opening it to the public on June 11, 1902, when Torrey wrote, Spur Path now ready for public use; furnished with all necessary signs and cairns, throughout its whole length. There are accounts of climbs to Mt. Washington and back; parties of women alone who were only occasionally impeded by their long skirts; a hilarious account from September 21, 1905, of Mrs. Mary H. Moore who climbed onto the table to get away from a weazel, was rescued by the menfolk, and came down from the table in the course of the afternoon. Visits back and forth to Edmands and Nowells camps occurred frequently. A couple spent their honeymoon; youngsters returned each summer, their improved handwriting a visible sign of their increasing maturity.
On September 5, 1901, Mary H. Moore writes that their party went through the wood to the knob above Montevideo. 5 During 1903 and 1904, Torrey and Moore report spotting and cutting a path from the Upper Crag to the bare knob on Nowells Ridge. By the late summer of 1905, the Edward Y. Hincks and Charles Stearns families completed Gray Knob cabin near the knob at an altitude of about 4,300 feet. C. C. Torrey reported that Mr. and Mrs. Hincks spent their first night in the new cabin on August 28, 1905, and in subsequent years the families at Gray Knob and Spur Cabin shared various mountain adventures.
The last of the high cabins, Crag Camp, was built at 4,200 feet by John Boothman for Nelson Harvey Smith in the winter of 1909-10. The Spur Cabin crowd were not pleased by the new construction at one of their favorite viewpoints, the Upper Crag. On July 24, 1910, Charles Torrey mourns the desecration, ...[from Gray Knob] on across the head of the valley, to see what had happened at the Upper Crag. (Havent had such a heartache since Pine Mt. burned over - and this is worse). Crag was a more luxurious structure than the other camps, with a stone fireplace, a water tower and shower. More bunkspace was added, and an organ under the west window of the main room, so you could make sweet music while gazing out towards Jefferson. (There was also a great, scratchy wind-up phonograph on which we played our favorite Doin the Raccoon ad nauseum). 6
The era of camp building came to a close with the passage of the Weeks Act in 1911 which established the White Mountain National Forest, although the owners were allowed to maintain their existing cabins in the National Forest. Nelson Smith was able to negotiate a lease for the Crag site through 1939 7, and presumably the Hincks, Torreys, Moores and William Nowell did the same. J. Raynor Edmands died in 1910, and ownership of his camps passed to his niece, Mrs. Southard, who in 1912 transferred control of Cascade Camp to the RMC, to be held by the club so long as the club should keep it in repair 8. The Club thoroughly repaired the camp that year under Mr. Bloods supervision. In 1921 or 1922, control of the Perch similarly passed from Edmands estate to the RMC which saw to its repair with the help of Irving Crosby.
Too old to use the Log Cabin, Nowell transferred his use rights to Charles Lowes son Thaddeus, and the RMC purchased them during the early 1920's. Charles Stearns, who had shared Log Cabin rights, donated his interest to the Club, and the building was extensively repaired in 1922-3 under the RMCs new ownership with Irving Crosbys supervision. In 1927 a landslide triggered by torrential rainfall swept away Cascade Camp, which was never rebuilt. By the winter of 1929-30, Spur Cabin had sadly deteriorated, and because neither the Moore nor the Torrey families felt they could spare the funds, the Forest Service determined that it would have to be destroyed, and it was burned.
Crag and Gray Knob, the remaining private cabins, continued to be used by families and their friends until the late 1930's. The early stories collected in the RMCs Remembrances of Crag Camp, 1909-1993 retell a few of the adventures of Crags early guests.
The hurricane of 1938 blew away the Perch. In 1939, upon expiration of Smiths land lease, Crag Camp was given to the RMC. At about the same time, the Hincks family gave Gray Knob to the Town of Randolph which arranged for the RMC to run the camp, paying an annual fee to the Club for its maintenance 9. Up through World War II the remaining camps (Crag, Gray Knob and the Log Cabin), while kept in repair by the RMC, had no direct supervision, and the facilities began to suffer from abuse as well as normal wear and tear.
Caretakers, 1946-1980. By the summer of 1946, the RMC Board felt it necessary to hire a summer caretaker at Crag. The Forest Service would not allow the RMC to charge a fee for the camp. Lacking a means of paying the caretaker, the camp operation was turned over to the Appalachian Mountain Club which installed Norman Adams as caretaker during July and August. The AMC charged $1 for adults and 50 cents for children (though RMC adult members got a special, 75 cent, rate). New toilets were built by the AMC, though the cost of $150 was paid by the RMC. The AMC operated Crag that summer at a loss, and was unwilling to continue unless they could assume ownership of the camp.
In 1947 the Board came up with a different solution: a caretaker hired and supervised by the RMC to run both Crag and Gray Knob, with expenses shared by the Club and the town. The Forest Service still would not allow the RMC to charge even a modest fee, so the Board asked for donations from users. These averaged about $1 per person per night, and just about covered the expenses. Klaus Goetze managed to hire two college students he had taught at Phillips Exeter Academy: Edward Martin (in July) and Otis Pease (in August). Mrs. Elizabeth Hilles, as Camps Chair, supervised their work.
The issue of fees at the camps persisted until 1963, when the Forest Service finally granted the Club permission to charge users. The fee for Crag and Gray Knob was set at $1 per night. 1963 was the first summer to see caretakers at both camps: Bill Arnold and Peter Bowers each received $20 a week.
The situation at the camps remained much the same for most of the next decade. Two caretakers were hired each summer; and they handled routine maintenance (directed by a Board-designated Camps Chair). More extensive repairs were completed by volunteers, often with work parties to accomplish more complex projects, such as the rebuilding of Crags porch. Beginning in 1962, the overcrowding of the facilities by large groups from private summer camps became an issue. Letters, setting out some basic rules for camp use, and asking for contributions to pay for their campers overnight stays, were sent annually to camp directors. By 1965, this annual letter included a request to limit all groups to 10 individuals. In 1964, Gray Knob was extensively rebuilt, receiving new windows, cabinets, and insulation. The need to be able to communicate between valley and mountain became apparent, and in 1967 Hersh and Daphne Cross presented the camps with a walkie-talkie set.
Winter usage of Gray Knob increased rapidly, and by the fall of 1971 Jeff Bean was authorized to caretake the camp on weekends (for a salary of $5 per week-end) and during Christmas and spring vacation (for $20 per week). Weekend caretaking sufficed for a few years, but by 1975 it was evident that the caretaker more than paid for him/herself: $438 had been collected in 1975, more than double the previous years take. In the fall of 1976, Mike Johnson was hired as the Clubs first full-time winter caretaker at a salary of $66 per week. A caretaker was hired for each of the next few seasons: among them Mike Pelchat, Paul Flanagan, Mike Pratt, Jeff Tirey, Pete Wallace and John Tremblay. A challenging existence, the job attracted adventurous winter climbers. Paul Flanagan was killed climbing in Huntingtons Ravine in February 1979, and the next year Jeff Tirey miraculously survived a fall of about 1,000 feet while ice climbing in the Great Gully on a suddenly warm Easter Sunday. Winter usage increased, creating a new set of priorities for the RMCs camp maintenance.
1. Reports of the Councillors, 1876, Appalachia, p. 56. I have used these annual reports to document activities in the northern Presidentials for the period 1876 1900.
2. 1892 is the date Louis F. Cutter gives in his chapter on the RMC in George N. Cross Randolph Old and New, 1890 is the date given in the 1998 edition of Randolph Paths.
3. Registers from Spur Cabin for the years 1900 1915 have been generously donated to the RMCs Archive by Nancy Torrey Frueh, and have been an invaluable source for this article.
4. In Gone but not Forgotten, her account of Spur Cabin written for the Randolph Foundations Mountain View.
5. Montevideo, as located on the Louis F. Cutter 1917 map, was a viewpoint at about 4,100 feet to the east of Lowes Path, about ¼ mile below Gray Knob; it is overgrown today.
6. Personal communication, Nancy T. Frueh, September 26, 2003.
7. About Crag Camp, Remembrances of Crag Camp, p. 3.
8. Louis F. Cutter, The Randolph Mountain Club, in Randolph Old and New, p. 186.
9. The Town of Randolph voted to surrender the towns ownership of Gray Knob to the RMC in March, 1990.
Notes from the
The story of the camps will continue in the next newsletter. I am grateful for the considerable feedback I have received so far, especially from Nancy Frueh, and 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.
Our summer caretakers, Jenny Cleary and Nathan Robinson, did an excellent job this year. They showed a lot of initiative and with minimal supervision completed a large number of projects at the camps. We were very lucky to have such hard-working and motivated caretakers this summer. Our Field Supervisor, Zach Gayne, also deserves a big thank you for the time he invested into the camps. His efforts and his dedication to the club were greatly appreciated.
Matt Cittadini took care of the camps this past fall with no problems at all. Thanks Matt! A new winter caretaker, Adam Hale, has moved into Gray Knob the first week of November.
A new educational display is now hanging on the walls of Crag Camp! Its an Alpine Stewardship display funded by a grant from The Waterman Fund (www.watermanfund.org). Our goal is to educate hikers about how to protect the alpine zone as they hike and explore this fragile ecosystem. Please see the related article elsewhere in this newsletter for more information.
We currently have 15 trail signs up for bid at our Trail Sign Auction. The auction ends December 15th, 2003 at 9:00 am. Remember, this time its a silent auction good luck!
Be sure to visit the site in the near future. We may be adding the convenience of online credit cards transactions to the site very soon! Renewing your RMC membership could be as easy as a couple of clicks of your mouse!
RMC Base Camp Committee
The RMC's recently formed base camp committee is charged with seeking a resolution to one of the longest running challenges the club has had in caring out its mission - finding permanent housing for RMC's trail crews and caretakers on their days off.
Long gone are the days when we can count on hiring all of our summer employees locally. In order to continue to attract and retain a good trail crew, we need to offer housing. All other clubs already do so - even much smaller clubs like the Wonalancet Out Door Club. This year we were able to attract back all the members of last year's crew because their experience with the tents and the Jones Cottage had been so positive. This made the trails work this summer particularly effective. However, the Tuckers have asked us to find a permanent such base for the RMC's crews, as they cannot promise us the use of the Jones Cottage and their land for the long run.
The Committee anticipates and welcomes input from members concerning the base camp concept and expects to undertake a feasibility study on financing alternatives.
Several long time RMC members have been recruited to assist in this effort. On the Base Camp Committee are two former RMC Presidents, Ben Phinney and Jeff Tirey, former caretaker and longtime RMC member Guy Stever, RMC members Neal Brodien and John Scarinza, and Trails Chair Doug Mayer. Current RMC Trail Crew members Laura Conchelos and Dan Rubchinuk are providing their advice as well.
The summer of 2003 should go down in the RMC trails annals as one of the most efficient seasons ever thanks to senior crew made up of entirely returning members. Even our SCA crew, which normally consists of three first-year trail workers, had in its ranks returning RMC'ers Roz Stever and Rachel Hestrin.
Our senior crew, with a combined 13 years of prior trails experience, performed miracles on the upper reaches of the Kelton Trail. That effort, which concludes a two-year contract with the US Forest Service, consisted largely of stabilizing sections of steep sidehill. Due to years of wear and tear from passing hikers, the trail bed was eroding away and literally slumping down the hillside. (See related article, The Paradoxes of Trail Work).
Our SCA crew also wrapped up another two-year effort, following up on substantial work last year on the Ice Gulch Path. The crew installed bog bridges, waterbars, ditches, rock steps and rock stairs on Peboamauk Fall Loop and Cook Path. This project was substantially funded by a grant from the State of New Hampshires Recreation Trails Program.
Along with the routine miles of brushing on a myriad of paths, our crews also accomplished a number of other tasks, including erosion control work on Castleview Loop, recairning of the upper section of Castle Ravine Trail, construction of additional bog bridges on the lower section of Owls Head Trail, and relocating and adding a short switchback to a section of Diagonal.
Along with this regular agenda of work, RMCs trails efforts were thrown a curveball in the spring with the collapse of the old, 26 foot long tree trunk that formed the underlying support for the otherwise new Caroline Cutter Stevens bridge across Snyder Brook, at the junction of Randolph Path, Brookside and Inlook Trail. To meet new US Forest service bridge standards, two new 800 pound fabricated, treated stringers were used to repair the bridge. The work was accomplished by Dave Salisbury and Russ Miller of Carter Notch Construction. The heavy beams were hauled to the site by the combined efforts of RMCs two trail crews with the generous support of the Androscoggin District US Forest Service trail crew. Longtime RMC member and former President Jeff Tirey donated his engineering service, to determine the exact specifications of the new beams.
Maintaining over 100 miles of trails sometimes feels like a daunting task for a small organization like RMC. But time and again, volunteers step up and give their time and energy. Thanks this season to work trip leaders Mary Krueger, Sally Micucci, Aaron Parcak, Al Sochard, signmakers Tami Hartley and Regina Ferreria, cartographers Jon Hall and Dennis Pednault, Trails Assistants Matt Schomburg and Al Sochard, and Dan and Edith Tucker for their continuing generosity in allowing RMCs trail crews and caretakers to use the Jones Cottage on Durand Road. Amalia May, granddaughter of Randolph's Bill and Beverly May, graciously volunteered several days of her time this summer and assisted the RMC crew in their efforts.
Later this winter, the RMC will be putting the finishing touches on an interpretive guide to the new Four Soldiers Path. The booklet, funded by a grant from the State of New Hampshires Bureau of Trails, will be available at no cost to the public. As soon as its available, well post the news on the RMC web site.
Comments, suggestions and ideas of all manner are always welcome! You can email your trails chair through the RMC web site.
At the time of this writing, we are 9 months into 2003. Even though we do our best to estimate income and expenses when we prepare our annual budget, it is often impossible to accurately forecast what will happen as the year progresses. Based on our experience in prior years, it looks as if we will come pretty close to target by year-end. Compared to last year at this time, our gross profit is right in line. Our total gross profit by the end of the year will probably reach budget expectations because camps earnings are high in the fall and winter, and because we do not receive all our grant income until later in the fall.
On the expense side, there have been a number of overages which we didnt anticipate when we prepared out budget last January. In Administration, our expanded newsletter cost $2,200 more than budgeted, and we had to pay $1,500 more than budgeted for insurance due to a nation-wide increase in insurance costs. In Special Projects, the unanticipated loss of the Caroline Cutter Stevens Bridge on the Inlook trail cost the club over $4,500 to replace. Fortunately, most of this cost has been offset with one very generous contribution and a board decision to fund $2,500 of the expense out of the Trails Reserve Fund.
Mountain Club Jeopardy
1. The number of Randolph Mountain Club trails intersected by the Appalachian Trail in the Northern Presidentials is:
2. Which Randolph Mountain Club trail crosses a region burned over in Randolph's most significant forest fire of the 20th Century?
A. King Ravine Trail
3. Under normal conditions of stream flow, over which waterfall does the greatest volume of water pass per minute?
A. Peboamauk Fall
4. Which Randolph Mountain Club Trail has the greatest net difference in elevation above sea level between its termini?
A. Israel Ridge Path
5. Which Randolph Mountain Club camp or cabin site was the first to have an artificial shelter built on it?
A. The Perch
6. What is the ranking of the Randolph Mountain Club among trail-maintaining organizations in the White Mountains in total mileage of trails maintained?
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe, on August 29. The author is the niece of RMC Trails Chair Doug Mayer. The article was written as an assignment for a summer journalism class.
Working for a trail crew isn't exactly the most glamorous summer job. Sure, putting in 40-plus-hour weeks in the woods of northern New Hampshire, through heat, rain, mud, and mosquitoes might get you a tan. But it will leave some pretty impressive bruises, scrapes, and bug bites as well.
No matter. This summer's Randolph Mountain Club first-year crew knew what to expect when they signed up for 10 weeks of hard labor.
''I like the hard, physical work a lot,'' says Rachel Hestrin, who will be a junior at California-Berkeley. ''I like being tired at the end of the day.'' It is Hestrin's second season on the crew, and she is joined by Roz Stever, a senior at Simmons College, and Maggie Worthen, a sophomore at Smith College, both first timers. All three belong to the Student Conservation Association, a national organization through which they found themselves in the White Mountains. While Hestrin, Stever, and Worthen aren't the only women working trails this summer, they form a rare group. Doug Mayer, who has been the RMC trails chair for the past 10 years, can't remember another all-female crew anywhere in the White Mountains during his time.
''Historically, trail crew has been heavily male dominated,'' says Mayer, who is in charge of hiring workers, though in recent summers it has been more balanced. ''I hope for a 50-50 crew each year. This year, the women applicants for the SCA slots totally outshined the male applicants. It wasn't even close.''
Looking back on her first trail work experience as a high school student, Hestrin remembers how quickly she lost interest in school when she realized what alternative careers in the wilderness existed. ''I wanted to live on a farm,'' she recalls, noting how her body missed the physical work when she was cooped up in class.
She hasn't had much trouble with a lack of activity recently. The crew works Monday through Friday, usually from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although depending on the current project, they may not arrive back at camp until after dark. Sometimes they spend days camped out in the woods. The crew participates in a range of projects, all aimed at maintaining the trails in the region of the White Mountains that the RMC oversees. On the easy days they brush out trails, clearing them of overgrown bushes, branches, and ferns. A more challenging assignment consists of constructing wooden water bars to prevent trail erosion, or building cairns, rock piles that mark a path for hikers. Recently, the women teamed up with RMC's senior trail crew to carry 700-pound beams, called stringers, to where a bridge had collapsed.
And the adventures don't end on the trails. One night a bear found its way into their quarters and did some damage to both the compost and the clean rolls of toilet paper.
But in addition to their daily trials and tribulations on the trails, the women have had to face another obstacle. Working beside the largely male senior crew, the three have struggled with the realization that they simply may not be built to carry the same weight or work as efficiently as the men.
However, over the past weeks, those differences have become more insignificant.
''As the summer has progressed, I've discovered that I can move the same rocks and pack the same things that the guys can,'' says Stever. ''It's just that we all have to figure out how to move a certain amount of weight with what our bodies have to offer us by way of brute force.''
There is little doubt that the women are pushing their bodies to the limit. A cut across Stever's shin and a bag of frozen peas serving as an ice pack tells the story of her most recent injury. Worthen, who has twisted her ankle multiple times in the past few days, unwraps her Ace bandage to discover that the day's hiking has increased the swelling. She remembers aloud that she had to wrap it in duct tape earlier in the week because there were no bandages.
Despite these often painful setbacks, all three women agree that the experience on the crew has been distinct and rewarding. They emphasize the teamwork involved makes it special. Plus, there's the added incentive of a freezer stocked with Ben & Jerry's ice cream, courtesy of Mayer.
When the crews are not camping out, their residence is humble yet comfortable: each member has her own tent, a semi-permanent structure that is 10 feet by 12 feet and wired with electricity. The first-year and senior crews also share a small house, the Jones Cottage, where such necessities as bathrooms, a refrigerator, and a television are located. But there is still a sense of being in the wilderness, as each day's project brings the group to another isolated location in the woods and a new adventure with new challenges begins.
Worthen remembers her initial motivation for joining the crew. ''I wanted to do something different,'' she recalls. Mission accomplished.
"Ten years ago the job of the Trail Crew was to make passage through the mountains easier for the people who hiked. Now the main concern of the Trail Crew is to lessen the impact on the environment that great numbers of people make." 1971 trail crew leader quote in Forest and Crag by Guy and Laura Waterman.
Trail work can be quite a paradoxical undertaking. We pour labor and, sometimes, man-made materials into modifying a path - with the goal of protecting a natural experience. But waterbars, rock staircases, and bog bridges by their very nature remove ones attention from the natural setting, and remind the tramper of a prior human intrusion.
It is, in some senses, a bargain. History has shown us it will be a net gain for the natural world. Thin mountain soils will be protected and plants kept firmly rooted in place for decades to come. The sight of heavily eroded trails reminds us that the trade off is well worth it. In exchange, though, we trade a more wild experience for an incrementally more manicured one.
Nonetheless, in performing trail work, we can constantly work to minimize the impacts of our intrusions. This is why the best trail work is that which preserves the underlying resource while also minimizing aesthetic impacts. Trail crews can easily forget this objective as they muscle their way through constructing a staircase that will impress. The RMC Trail Crews goal, when repairing a trail, however, is to build rock staircases that blend seamlessly into the trail and drainages that take advantage of natural twists and turns in the topography.
Trail work can be damaging to the immediate area. Quarrying boulders for steps and then rolling them across the ground injures vegetation. Cutting "sidehill" can be unsightly until the scar heals. Here, too, there are opportunities to mitigate the impact. For example, this past season, RMCs crews used their skylining skills to move large boulders through the air on rugged wire cables, thereby avoiding damage to underlying vegetation. (Or, to use the creative jargon of the trail crew, We make rocks fly).
There is a final paradox. A lot of trail work, such as building rock steps or creating a stable treadway on steep-sloped sidehill, has the unintended consequence of making the trail less challenging. Many hikers think this outcome is the actual intent, believing that the goal of trail work is to make a trail easier to travel. Nothing could be further from the truth. The erosion control work practiced by all modern trail crews is all about protecting the underlying natural resource with as minimal human intrusion as possible.
Such are our tradeoffs as we contemplate trail work projects. RMC's 2003 season was no exception. This past year, our senior trail crew wrapped up a two-year project on the Kelton Trail. As part of their efforts, long sections of level path were cut into the steep sidehill between the Upper Inlook and Brookside. As a result, sections of the trail that were literally washing away are now stable. But, the trail is less challenging and, for the coming year or two, a fresh scar exists.
In short time, the scars will heal and trail workers will curse the newly sprouting hobblebush. But this section of the Kelton Trail will remain easier to travel. For those on the path, a small part of the wildness will have gone missing. Some will thank the crews for eliminating what was most certainly an ankle-contorting experience. Others will miss the adventure of clinging from one fir to the next.
Not all of RMC's paths require such work. Indeed, moss still roots firmly to the footing along little-traveled routes like Cliffway and Cabin-Cascades. But on our more popular trails, these are the trade-offs we must make if we are to protect the paths we all hold so dear.
Answers to RMC Jeopardy
1. D. Howker Ridge Trail, Watson Path, Lowe's Path, Great Gully Trail, Israel Ridge Path, Randolph Path, Edmands Col Cutoff, and Cornice (8).
2. B. Kelton Trail, east and south of Dome Rock in the area burned by the Gordon Ridge Fire of 1921.
3. C. Coldbrook has a larger flow than Moose Brook, Snyder Brook, or Bumpus Brook.
4. D. Lowe's Path starts at 1400 ft. (Lowe's Store) and ends at summit of Mt. Adams (5800 ft.), a climb of 4400 feet.
5. D. Log Cabin site (before 1890). Perch (1892), Gray Knob (1906), Crag Camp (1909) [Randolph Paths].
6. A. WMNF is first, AMC second, RMC third. [AMC Guides].