RMC Newsletter - Winter 2009-2010

Table of Contents

President's Letter
By Michele Cormier

"2010 brings the Randolph Mountain Club to the verge of a new century. We will celebrate the past 100 years all summer long in 2010. Our active and imaginative Centennial Committee has planned all kind of events and activities for next summer."

Reports from Committees
By Mike Micucci, Sally Manikian, and Curtis Moore

RMC Trails Report, RMC Camps Report, End of Season Thank You.

RMC to Celebrate Its Centennial in 2010
By Judy Hudson

"The festivities will kick off on Sunday, July 4, at the traditional tea with the scheduled release of Judy Hudson's history: Peaks & Paths—A Century of the Randolph Mountain Club. Judy will be signing copies for all who purchase them, and some special historical flourishes may be added to the conventional tea protocol."

A Young Man Becomes a Proud Father... Still Looking for a Caterpillar
By Guy Stever

"Perhaps the strongest memories I have of Crag are the people who trooped through my life in those two years. The vast majority were wonderful and interesting people..."

Woman, Alone
By Roz Stever

"I was certain that I was going to hate caretaking my first night at Crag as the summer caretaker. I was freezing and terrified of the following night – the one I would be spending without the comfort of my father to provide me with entertainment, encouragement, and general good spirits."

Beyond Mixing the Pile: the Active Composting System of the Batch-Bin Privy
By Pete Antos-Ketcham and Sally Manikian

"Building upon decades of experience, and trial and error, the batch-bin composting system was specially adapted to the challenges of a cold, wet, short composting season..."

President's Letter

On August 8, the Randolph Mountain Club held its 99th Annual Meeting. It was an opportunity to thank the membership, the caretakers and crew, the volunteers and the board for all the work they do to make this club a success.

Keith Dempster and Randy Meiklejohn, new RMC Board members. M. Cormier photo.We bid farewell to 3 members of our board who have served with willingness and great skill. Jamie Maddock, our president for 2 years, guided us through building Stearns Lodge – the fundraising, bidding, construction, dedication and finally the occupancy phases of the entire project. Al Sochard was in charge of camps, coordinating personnel and later chairing the committee. Bill Parlett was a director for 3 years, and served as treasurer. We will miss all your special skills and we know we will continue to see you all in volunteer roles in the future.

New to the board are Pete Antos-Ketcham, Keith Dempster and Randy Meiklejohn. These names are all familiar to us in the Randolph Mountain Club, Pete for his past history of volunteering with toilet projects and various camps and trails work days, Keith and Randy as fond and frequent summer participants in Club activities.

Pete is the Director of Stewardship and the Facilities Manager for the Green Mountain Club. He has 16 years of experience in visitor education and trail and overnight site management along the AT/Long Trail in VT and NH. Pete is the principal author of the ATC’s manual on backcountry sanitation. He served as winter caretaker at Gray Knob off and on since 1997 with 2 full winter seasons in 1998 and 2000. He lives in Starksboro, VT. As Camps co-chair, Pete will work with the Perch restoration committee as they tackle that project for 2010.

Pete Antos-Ketcham, new Board member, Crag caretaker winter 1998-99, 2000-01. Photo courtesy P. Ketcham.Keith spent his childhood summers growing up in Randolph alongside his brothers and Meiklejohn cousins. After some summers away on Cape Cod, he returned to Randolph in the summers beginning in the 1980’s. Today he and Jim Olson spend increasing portions of each year in Randolph. At his winter home in Key West, FL, Keith serves on the board of the local performing arts center and chairs the board of a chamber music organization. His past professional career has been in industrial sales and marketing communications. Keith now chairs the RMC weekly hikes committee.

Randy is a lifelong summer resident and RMC member. Many of you see Randy and his wife Diane when they come up to visit Randy’s parents, Jim and Meg Meiklejohn. Randy provides valuable perspective at a transition point as year-round residents take a more active role in Club operations and leadership. Randy is a practicing architect in Boston and is chairman of the Conservation Commission at his home in Brookline, MA. We hope to see him take an active role in communications for the Club.

We are excited to welcome such talent to our board. Thanks for volunteering!

2010 brings the Randolph Mountain Club to the verge of a new century. We will celebrate the past 100 years all summer long in 2010. Our active and imaginative Centennial Committee has planned all kind of events and activities for next summer. You will find details elsewhere in this newsletter. I hope very much that you can be here and participate in many events. If you would like to help with the planning or assist in any of the activities, please contact Al or Judy Hudson, Randy Meiklejohn, or Doug Mayer as listed in the accompanying article about the Centennial. As you know, the RMC is an all volunteer organization and we really count on each and every one of you to make our Club a success!

Michele Cormier
RMC President

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Reports from Committees...

RMC Trails Report
By Mike Micucci

2009 Trail Crew during basic maintenance training - Ben Lieberson, Deva Stetekee, Spencer Eusden, Fiona Jensen, Liz Pfeffer, Jo Stansfield, Caitlin Johnson. Missing: Curtis Moore, Benzo Harris. C. Bailey photo.In late summer, Trails co-chair Mike Micucci decided that RMC trails needed a fall crew if at all possible. During the budget process a fall crew had been eliminated due to cash flow concerns. A surprise donation from a club member, plus a larger than anticipated surplus in the new tools line item, plus $14,000 in federal stimulus money opened the door to a fall crew. Immediately two of this summer’s crew stepped up and a member of the 2008 crew jumped on board. During the all too short fall season, this hardworking and experienced crew – Johanna Stansfield, Benzo Harris and Chris Carlson -- began a major project on the Howker Ridge, quarrying rock and installing the first of many drainage systems on the sadly neglected trail. This talented and energetic crew also wrapped up some work on Lowe’s Path before moving on to school and other jobs.

Benzo Harris doing rock work on Lowe's Path. C. Bailey photo.The preceding summer season was equally successful. New Trails co-chairs Mike Micucci and Cristin Bailey put together a great crew and held it together through challenges during their first season. Both are quick to point out that, but for the experience of field supervisor Curtis Moore and the energy, enthusiasm and talent of the summer crew, the season could have gone quite differently. Thanks to everyone involved for making this transition year so enjoyable!

Going forward, there are indications that many of the 2009 crew hope to return in 2010. Mike has already roughed in the calendar for next year and will be actively soliciting hosts for Sunday crew dinners and volunteers to lead and participate in the popular and enjoyable work trips. We are also considering a Trail Adopter Program. If you have a favorite trail, consider becoming a steward. A few hours each season would likely be enough to keep the brush from reclaiming your trail. Drop Mike or Cristin an email if you want to learn more about this project.

The award of $14,000 federal stimulus money to the RMC means that our crew will be partially funded for next season’s work on Howker Ridge. This wild and wonderful trail has not seen any erosion control work in all its years, and much as Inlook Trail was transformed this past season, so too will the Howker Ridge Trail be rebuilt.

As many of you may know, the role of our Trail Crew is to improve trails in order to preserve and protect them, not simply to make walking them easier. During the last one hundred years, our trails have been loved to death. The effect of boots on ground is to compact and erode the soil making for an ugly, eroded path through the woods. The task of our Trail Crew is to drain the water from the trails and retain the soils and the walking surfaces of our historic and beloved trails. This, then will be the end result of the Centennial project on Howker Ridge -- an improved trail that can be enjoyed for another 100 years!

In another important development, the RMC has signed an agreement to become the official custodian of the Gulfside portion of the Appalachian Trail between Madison Hut and Edmands Col. This provides increased visibility for the Club and opens doors to additional funding for camps and possibly feeder trail work.  This trail requires little in the way of maintenance, since it is constructed of rock with no drainage issues.  With some periodic cairning and some new signs, we participate in a very important piece of the New England trail network.

RMC Camps Report
By Sally Manikian

Gray Knob in winter. Juliane Hudson (winter caretaker 2008-2009) photo.The morning I sat down to write this Report (Sept 19), there was an inch of rime ice on the summit of Mt Washington. Red leaves have begun to pave the trails (and clog our drainages). There are available parking spots at Appalachia again. Winter is coming.

And with winter on the way, it’s a good thing we had a productive work season at the Camps this summer. The work log is extensive: annual oiling of the floors at both cabins, staining and sealing the outside shingles, doing minor rehabilitation at the impacted areas around the camps, and plugging away at the new composting system at Crag (see article elsewhere in the newsletter). Jamie Trombley (Crag) and Hunter Hague (Gray Knob) were a perfect working pair, Jamie thriving in visitor outreach and education, and Hunter taking to work projects with gusto, and even having a guest spot on the RMC Trail Crew for the day.

This fall, we welcomed back Arianna Johnson and Kaia (her bubbly, and fiercely independent Alaskan Malamute) for most of September. Covering Gray Knob in late September into October was Beau Etter-Garette, a native of Conway and most recently employed by the AMC Backcountry Campsite program at the remote and rugged Speck Pond Campsite in Maine. Beau has earned a reputation this summer for being the happiest caretaker out there, so we hope his contagious good attitude continues once he gets to us!

For the winter, the RMC camps will be again in the capable hands of Mike Foster and Juliane Hudson, our winter caretakers from the previous winter. Both of them spent the summer in the woods, Mike in the heart of the Pemi Wilderness at 13 Falls and Julianne in the beautiful Kinsman range at Kinsman Pond campsite.

Pete Antos-Ketcham has joined the RMC Board, and will be serving as co-chair for the RMC Camps along with me. He brings a wealth of experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm to the table (and the outhouse!). During the winter, we’ll be working on lining up projects for the coming summer: the continuing toilet upgrade project and other construction projects.

As always, the RMC Camps offer the most challenging winter backcountry facility location in the Whites—so strap on your crampons and compress your -20 degree down sleeping bag, and scale Lowe’s Path!

End of Season Thank You
from Curtis Moore, Field Supervisor

Another great RMC season has come to a close….the caretakers worked hard on the composting systems and greeting guests. The trail crew toiled in the muck to improve our trail system. Thanks to all those who volunteered to make this a successful and smooth season. Of course, the volunteers making up the Board go a long way toward maintaining the quality Randolph expects.

Miss Muffet (Gail Scott) just before her attack of arachnophobia at the 2009 Charades. E. Tucker photo.As usual, we had many volunteers on our brushing trips, which maintain our trails at the most basic and critical level. Special thanks to Dave Salisbury, Cristin Bailey, Doug Mayer, and Mike Micucci. A few T.C. siblings, including Riley Eusden and Chris Jensen, also helped out.

Thank you, Paul Cormier, for planing some future cutting boards and lending the tools to make them smooth. Thanks, Steve Hartman, for lending tools and assistance with axe heads. The Arnolds once again made quite a food display for our orientation lunch…vegan options even! Dave Salisbury was a big player in the RMC once again from his ‘care and feeding’ of tools to a Griphoist instruction day, and helping out with Griphoist cleaning. The crew members who participated were infinitely grateful for that additional training to help maintain of one of our more useful and expensive tools.

We also had a number of camps volunteers who helped build drying racks early in the season, led by new Camps chair Sally Manikian, former Camps chair Al Sochard, Paul Cormier, and others.

Around Stearns Lodge, Cathy Goodwin came early in the season to bring plant donations and improve upon our flower garden. Kate Allen donated another Serviceberry shrub with compost. Val Stori and Doug Mayer made a big contribution in the form of a vegetable garden. The crew enjoyed peas, lettuce, beans, and tomatoes sprouting from the newly imported soil within a protective fence. Hopefully this can be perpetuated season to season.

We thank Sarah Gallop for encouraging the crew to participate in the Charades this year. Thank you, Edith and Dan, for the use of your porch for internet and for mowing the softball field for us to play AMC’s trail crew. (We won for a second year in a row.) Thank you to all the sponsors who fed the trail crew and caretakers at the benefit dinner at Libby’s. Unfortunately we were called away for an emergency, but we enjoyed the brief moments we had there. Thank you to Camp Dodge and the cook there, Sarah, for welcoming us to their Friday night BBQ’s week after week.

It was truly a great season and it couldn’t have taken off without the efforts you all have put in. I’m sure I’ve omitted some people and was unaware of the help of others. Thanks to all who have committed to RMC and have made it the fantastic club it is today. A lot of this year’s crew hope to come back.

Editor’s note: And many thanks to Curtis Moore, an especially competent and helpful supervisor who worked gracefully not only with Trail Crew/Caretakers, but also with Board volunteers for a successful and happy season in spite of one of the wettest summers on record.

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RMC to Celebrate Its Centennial in 2010
By Judy Hudson

The summer of 2010 marks the centennial of the Randolph Mountain Club. A special committee is at work devising a series of events to observe this milestone. Seven weeks of events—beginning with the Fourth of July tea and ending with the picnic and charades on August 21—are being planned in an effort to include as many members during July and August as possible. Make note of the dates and plan to be there!

The festivities will kick off on Sunday, July 4, at the traditional tea with the scheduled release of Judy Hudson's history: Peaks & Paths—A Century of the Randolph Mountain Club. Judy will be signing copies for all who purchase them, and some special historical flourishes may be added to the conventional tea protocol.

Hiking in proper attier (1880s?).  Photo RMC archive, Blood collection.A reunion of trail crews and caretakers will occur on the weekend of August 6-7. Reunioners will be able to set up tents and use the Jones Cottage as the focus for their activities. Some activities will focus on the crews, such as a volunteer work project, but other events open to the community will occur. Saturday night a potluck meal for all will be held, possibly followed by a band or other entertainment.

On August 14th, the annual meeting is scheduled at the Town Hall, and will include a birthday party with festive atmosphere and cake for all. A traditional picnic at Mossy Glen, on Saturday, August 21, will close the celebration with charades and rounds.

Some customary RMC summer activities will have a centennial theme—trips, work parties, and the Gourmet Hike. Reclaiming the original concept of the Rendezvous, a special event will occur on Saturday, July 17th. Participants will converge on an announced site at noon, with the challenge to find the most unusual—or perhaps the longest—way to reach the site. Walkers will be encouraged to don historic costumes from various eras—is there a lady who could wear Mrs. Nowell's gray flannel bathing costume from the late 1870s? The 1880s-1890s long skirts for women and jackets and ties for men? Bloomers and middy blouses? Or the knickers of the 20s and 30s? The short shorts of the 1940s? Prizes will be awarded in both apparel and pathsmanship categories.

Other special ideas for events may include: celebrating the repair/reconstruction of the Perch; an evening reenacting historic charades; an overnight with an historical bent; kids' hike with a hot-dog roast; slideshow presentation by Judy Hudson.

Several summer-long challenges are being considered: a patch (100 miles at 100 years) for people who walk all of the RMC's trails (a task that may take more than a year to complete); a run to Crag with individuals signing in with their times and an end-of-summer award to fastest times in various age groups. And don't forget to buy your centennial T-shirt!

2010 will be a very special and exciting summer in Randolph. We hope that everyone will participate in the many offerings over the seven-week period. We will need help in pulling it all off, though. Please volunteer to head up a specific activity, help for an event, or join our committee. We'd love to have you with us! Check the website for updates!


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A Young Man Becomes a Proud Father... Still Looking for a Caterpillar
By Guy Stever

"One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small….Tell ‘em a hookah smoking caterpillar has given you the call….Just ask Alice….”

With the words of Gracie Slick and Jefferson Airplane pounding in my brain, I take one step, then another, and yet another….on past Sunset Rock (now overgrown)….take a left hand turn….a right hand turn….and look up. There it is….Crag Camp….the real one….the OLD one.

After two summers on the trail crew, I was privileged enough to spend two idyllic summers of my life as the caretaker of Crag Camp -- and those were the good old days when Dave Nichols (my colleague at Gray Knob) and I could spend days alone with no people tromping through disturbing the peace.

Perhaps the strongest memories I have of Crag are the people who trooped through my life in those two years. The vast majority were wonderful and interesting people. I remember a man named Jarel (I always wondered if he was related to Superman) who was a photographer and was fascinating to talk to. A few weeks after his stay, I received a package in the mail that contained a gorgeous signed photograph of the ravine taken from Crag.

There was the usual assortment of Randolphians and all “their sisters and their cousins and their aunts” (never any Pirates from Penzance, though). There were the day-trippers and the multiple night stays to converse with in the evening, and the assorted friends who stopped by for a visit and a few mean games of Casino. There were the camp groups (with no size limit back then) most of whom were good -- in fact I started working for one of them (Camp Kabeyun) the year after I left Crag.

And then there were “the others.” There was a time when I rounded that last corner in the trail and looked up….to discover that some ***** had a fifteen foot (or so it seemed at the time) bonfire roaring in the front yard -- twenty feet or so away from the all-wood cabin. The argument that ensued was not pretty, but I finally prevailed when I threatened to bring in Smokey the Bear and call the Forest Service on my walkie–talkie. It was a good thing he didn’t call my bluff as those were the days long before the caretakers were equipped with radios.

Then there was the young boy who arrived at Crag during the afternoon. He said he had hiked up from the valley but that his parents and younger sister had gone over to ride the Cog up Washington and then hike across the range to Crag. Well five o’clock rolled around and no family -- but the clouds had set in in good shape. Seven, eight, nine, ten o’clock and still no family. Finally, at eleven o’clock, Dave and I left Crag and headed up the Spur to find them. We stumbled and bumbled along in the thick clouds with our flashlights playing all over the place like light sabers. We stopped at Thunderstorm to take care of nature and Dave asked if I heard a tinkling bell. I thought he’d finally lost it and made some off-color remark. But he persisted and sure enough, somewhere out there in the clouds we both could hear the tinkle of a dog’s bell -- but there were no flashlights or people. We started yelling and listening, and finally from somewhere out there in the night we heard a response. We finally found the trio. They had only lightweight jackets on, no emergency gear, no flashlights -- basically nothing. It turns out that they had been going from cairn to cairn in the dark. The father swore that he had done the Edmands Path before and clearly remembered that it was just a couple hours max from Washington to Crag. The more he talked, the more dumbfounded Dave and I became. We gave them water and candy bars, and began the long trudge back to Crag and a happy reunion with the son. The family may have said thank-you that night, but I clearly remember that they left for the valley the next day without even so much as a “good-bye.” Thank God they were not the norm.

Stevers: Guy (Crag 1966, '67) and Roz (Crag 2001, '02).  G. Stever photo.Then there was the weird (and, at the time, scary)….To quote the opening line from Snoopy’s on-going novel, “It was a dark and stormy night…” and I was all alone at Crag. A thunderstorm raged outside the door and the lightning lit up the heavily socked-in clouds outside. I had the Coleman lantern running and was trying to read a book when all of a sudden there was this blood-curdling howling outside the front door. Every hair on my body stood on end. I inched over to the window and there, as I could see quite clearly in the flashes of the lightning, was this large yellow dog howling at whatever -- there certainly was no moon that night. I admit that the passage of time may have embellished this story in my mind, but we weren’t talking one of Paris Hilton’s portable puppies here. Rather, we were looking at something out of a Jack London novel. After what seemed like an eternity, he stopped and sauntered off into the woods. The thunderstorm abated and the dog never came back, but I lay in my sleeping bag whimpering all night. I don’t know if someone shot old Yella or not, but I never saw him again, though I did see paw prints on the Spur Trail for about a week.

Then there was the stupid….Back in those days, the hut men were expected to attend the RMC Annual Meeting and climb back up after it was over. God knows whatever possessed me (I was no longer in high school after all), but there was this outhouse door that needed to be packed up to replace the one up there. I decided that the cool of the evening would be a grand time to lug this puppy up to Crag. The lower Amphibrach was deceptively easy. However, once past first crossing and on the way to Pentadoi I began to get hung up in trees that I couldn’t see in the dark -- sometimes winding up on my derriere as the tree limb snapped me backwards. Did I bother to stop and change the load or leave it there for the next day? Of course not.... I was young and male. The Spur Trail presented even bigger wrinkles. Sometimes I would get take a big step up onto a rock only to have the door sharply stop my ascent when it ran into a limb and left me struggling to keep my balance. The door finally made it.

Then there was the aesthetic…. Back in the old days before the EPA, Superfund, Greenpeace and environmental issues, Crag’s outhouse was perched on the edge of King Ravine with a SPECTACULAR view across the ravine and up into the Mahoosucs. The outhouse was renowned among climbing aficionados and the view was a frequent topic of discussion -- it truly was a King’s throne that invited great moments of profound thoughts about the nature of the universe (those were cosmic days back in the sixties). Unfortunately (thank heavens it was after I left) the Forest Service decided that the King’s Throne was polluting the waters at the bottom of King Ravine by x parts per something and so the best view in the mountains was abandoned to fall over into the ravine.

Then there was the testosterone…. Like any generation, mine was full of brave (and, in retrospect, foolhardy) attempts to get to Crag as fast as one could, or carry the most weight to Crag or get down to the valley as fast as one could. My specialty was going down -- really fast. During the summer of 1967, I practiced for my assault on the record books -- plotting the best line down the New Spur, taking bone-headed leaps from point A to point B, and trying to avoid becoming a tree-hugger before it became a fashionable concept. Then, on my twentieth birthday -- August 25th -- stopwatch in hand, on a cool and peerless day I launched myself down the Spur Trail. Now here memory, age, and ego blur the story. I believe I made it down in twenty minutes and five seconds -- but to the new Route 2. My understanding is that Johnny Stevens made it to the old Route 2 in twenty minutes. In any event, I concede the record to Johnny (and anyone else who has been dumb enough to pull that stunt). Right now, I’m not sure I could make the first twenty-five feet down the trail in twenty minutes -- oh age! oh human frailty!

But by far the most enjoyable trip I ever made to Crag was one I made thirty-four years later on a cold, rainy, miserable Memorial Day with substantial patches of snow still on the ground past Pentadoi. That was the day that I helped to pack in our daughter Rosalind to begin her first summer as caretaker at Crag. That was a record-breaking summer as Cammee Campbell was the caretaker at Gray Knob. That was the first all female crew at the huts and it was the first time that the daughters of two former caretakers served as caretakers themselves. And that really is my most favorite memory of Crag -- even if it wasn’t the real Crag.

I never did wind up seeing that hookah-smoking caterpillar in either one of my two summers at Crag. But who knows? Maybe when I make it back one more time, all those ghosts of the past will flood out to join me -- including the caterpillar.

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Woman, Alone
By Roz Stever

…walking alone […] has enormous spiritual, cultural, and political resonance. It has been a major part of meditation, prayer, and religious exploration. It has been a mode of contemplation and composition from Aristotle’s peripatetics to the roaming poets of New York and Paris. It has supplied writers, artists, political theorists and others with the encounters and experiences that inspired their work, as well as the space in which to imagine it and it is impossible to know what would have become of many of the great male minds had they been unable to move alone through the world. Picture Aristotle confined to the house, Muir in full skirts. Even in times when women could walk by day, the night – the melancholic, poetic, intoxicating carnival of city lights – was likely to be off limits to them, unless they became “women of the night.” If walking is a primary cultural act and a crucial way of being in the world, those who have been unable to walk out as far as their feet would take them have been denied not merely exercise or recreation but a vast portion of their humanity. – Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust

M. Micucci photo.I was certain that I was going to hate caretaking my first night at Crag as the summer caretaker. I was freezing and terrified of the following night – the one I would be spending without the comfort of my father to provide me with entertainment, encouragement, and general good spirits. I wasn’t a stranger to being alone as an only child, but I had realized that I maybe wasn’t prepared to be as alone as I was going to find myself. As with summer camp and college, it took about three hours alone in this new environment before my conviction that I would hate it dissolved. I resolved to clean the cabin. This adventure warmed me up, introduced me to my new space, and became a daily habit – the morning cleaning, usually with few if any guests around. I was stuck in a cloud for a few days that first week, the weather was cold and wet, and I cleaned the cabin a lot, even though I hadn’t had any visitors yet. I’ll never forget my first visitors for enduring the cold wet with me, and reminding me that my job was, in fact, totally enviable. They were Tony and Laurie and they were up from Boston. I realized as the three of us drank bottomless cups of tea and cocoa that they had to go back to the city, but I - I had all summer in the woods and could wait for perfect weather to go out on mountain adventures.

In a strange twist of fate, the Gray Knob caretaker decided to leave her job for a more lucrative rafting position, and Cammee Campbell was hired to take her place. This made us the first all female staff for the RMC camps during the summer, but it also meant that the daughters of consecutive caretakers from the 1960s were caretaking together. Thus, I spent an awful lot of time my first summer thinking about what it meant for me to be caretaking as a woman, and how my position differed from my father’s. I was young and fairly naïve, but I read the news and watched movies. I knew exactly what sort of vulnerable position I was in: a young, trusting woman alone in a mountain camp. But my naïveté kept me mostly unafraid. Bad things wouldn’t happen to anybody in these mountains. And yet, when my grandmother Bunny gave me pepper spray to carry with me, I did. Everyday, everywhere. I never carried pepper spray in the city. Caretaking, I only experienced fear at night. Walking back to Crag from the Perch or from dinner with Cammee, the slightest rustle of leaves started my heart racing. The many times I ran into Spruce grouse walking between the camps, I would have to stop myself from nearly fainting. I got to the point that I would walk around the cabin at night to try to teach myself not to fear – after all, having read the logs of past caretakers and visitors to Crag, night hikes seemed like something of a rite of passage. And yet, I still couldn’t enjoy them alone.

I have since figured out the source of my various fears of night at Crag. Unlike my father and his fear of the giant wolf dog during a thundershower, my fears were of an entirely human nature. Everything I had ever read and seen suggested that as a woman, the night was a frightening time to venture out. Alone as a woman should be frightening, but especially alone at night. This wasn’t some sort of Victorian era fear; it was real, fueled in part by the fact that some of my friends still participated in take back the night walks. And there I was, at times utterly alone and totally vulnerable, caretaking Crag. Whatever danger I was actually ever in during my time caretaking, I’ll never know. But, by seizing the opportunity to caretake, I gained a vitally important experience to the rest of my life. Sure, I barely qualified as a fully formed adult, but it was my time at Crag that laid the groundwork for my studies of landscape art, and formed the foundation of my confidence. I was free to meander about by day or night, occasionally afraid, but always dreaming, thinking, or just meditating on my surroundings. Considering my experience of the real and imagined dangers of caretaking as woman, I’ve often wondered if I had a daughter, would I allow or even encourage her to caretake? I think I’d have to consider this, again from Rebecca Solnit: “There’s a massive history of writers, poets, musicians, philosophers, physicists working out their ideas while walking, and so making places to walk is making places to dream, imagine, and create, a relation to the shaping of others that is perhaps more direct than any other medium. Virginia Woolf thought up her novel To the Lighthouse ‘in a great, involuntary rush’ while walking around Tavistock Square.” Could I possibly deny a daughter my experience? Would I, perhaps, deny the world another To the Lighthouse? Certainly not!

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Beyond Mixing the Pile: the Active Composting System of the Batch-Bin Privy
By Pete Antos-Ketcham and Sally Manikian

If the primary responsibility of a Trail Crew is to address erosion control, the primary responsibility of a Caretaker is to address human waste. This is for a simple reason: people have to go somewhere. The RMC composts human waste (rather than continuing to use the older "pit" toilets), since composting ensures that the pathogens, bacteria, and other nasty bits are safely killed off and won't contaminate water sources or affect vegetation.

Hunter Hague and Jamie Trombley (2009 caretakers) working the batch-bin composting system.  S. Manikian photo.Yet, in the White Mountains, composting human waste is difficult for the same reasons growing a garden is difficult: the conditions are generally pretty wet and cold. When the ambient outdoor temperature is around 55-65 degrees F, you need to find another way to heat the composting pile. 

Building upon decades of experience, and trial and error, the batch-bin composting system was specially adapted to the challenges of a cold, wet, short composting season. The principle is one of creating a self-insulating compost pile, reliant on active decomposition thanks to aerobic bacteria attracted to bark mulch. (For more information on the specific science of the batch-bin, visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Backcountry Sanitation Manual, available at their website: www.appalachiantrail.org). This system is also used by the USFS, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s campsites and shelters, and the Green Mountain Club. 

In fact, we use it already at the Log Cabin! (Who remembers that project from 2005?) We also used some of the insights from the system already in use at the other three RMC camps, notably in the liquid separator that drains excess liquid from the waste to further promote decomposition. 

We here at the RMC Camps (Pete Antos-Ketcham and Sally Manikian) turned our new Board member enthusiasm to bringing higher standards of composting across the White Mountain National Forest to Crag, Gray Knob, and the Perch. We've had less than satisfactory results from the current toilet setup, and saw an opportunity to further the RMC's promotion of backcountry ethics. Moreover, the adaptations that were necessary were more of a retrofit than a full overhaul; this made it a simpler project to undertake. 

We started with Crag Camp, the easiest one to adapt, largely because the stable, flat terrain behind the outhouse meant we didn’t have to construct work platforms. The steep, ledgy drop-offs behind Gray Knob and The Perch call for construction of a workspace big enough for a 210 gallon plastic bin, a person, and the swing of their shovel.

Our next step was to assemble the materials, starting with the 210 gallon plastic bins from Terracon Plastics. The cylindrical plastic composting bin we purchased was originally designed for aquaculture and has been successfully used by the Green Mountain Club for composting. It weighs about 45 pounds, is four feet in diameter and 2.5 feet high, and is covered with a custom-fabricated wooden lid. The lid vents moisture but keeps out rain, vermin, and curious guests.

“Where am I sending these?” asked Joe, our salesperson at Terracon. “Randolph, New Hampshire.” That got his curiosity. Then he wanted to know what the bins would be used for. “Composting human waste at high elevation backcountry camps.” Now he was really interested, and particularly excited once he found out how the tanks were going to get there -- by helicopter.

With the bins on the way to Randolph, Derek Schott began building the lids for the bins, Field Supervisor Curtis Moore assembled the materials for the drying racks, and winter caretaker Mike Foster spent an evening around the bark pile with Sally Manikian, bagging seventy-two 50 pound bags of bark mulch. Things started to come together, and the loose ends got tied on the historic weekend of July 13-14.

With the enthusiastic volunteerism that he is known for, Al Sochard rallied a group of friends from the hiker community for a volunteer work day on July 13. They carried lumber, built the drying racks, and traveled up to Crag to enjoy the view and a few cold (adult) beverages. Drying racks are the last stage in the composting process where the composted sewage is allowed to further decompose and dry for six months to a year. After the material has sufficiently aged and dried, the mixture of humus and bark is sifted to capture bark chips that can be reused in the next run. Screening also catches any chunks of material that escaped decomposition. These can be broken up and placed in the next run. Finally after drying is completed, some of the finished compost is recycled into the next compost run, which helps inoculate it with beneficial organisms. The rest is scattered thinly over selected spreading sites in the woods.

The day broke rainy and cold on July 14. But 50 pound bags of bark mulch and hundreds of hundreds of gallons of human waste do not wait for rain. Jamie Trombley and Hunter Hague, the two summer caretakers, picked up their spades and mixed, chopped, and stirred their way through the first batch-bin composting run at the RMC Camps. A “run” is where accumulated wastes are thoroughly mixed with enough additional hardwood bark, and recycled compost if available, to soak up excess liquid. The material is completely mixed, broken up and aerated with a turning fork, and the bin is almost full. This results in a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of approximately 30:1 by weight, which is optimum for the composting process.

Over the summer, we filled the three bins at Crag Camp, where we monitored temperatures and turned the pile once the temps dropped below 100 degrees F. During the run, no new wastes are added to the compost bin, and the pile is turned every four to five days. Waste breakdown occurs as local soil bacteria and fungi proliferate in the compost. Human pathogen destruction results from temperatures higher than 90 degrees F (32 degrees C), competition with hardy local microorganisms, and from processes such as oxidation (exposure to air) and antibiosis (antibiotics produced by microorganisms), intrinsic to rapid aerobic decomposition. Next spring, we’ll crack open the bins again, and see our first batch of humus.

On a personal note, to see such a dream go from a set of conversations that Pete and I (Sally) had over the phone, via email, and in person, to actually taking place in front of my eyes…..I welled up a bit with emotion. This is something Pete has wanted to see happen since his days as an RMC Caretaker in the late 90’s. He feels very fortunate to be able to work with the Club to make this dream a reality.

As Sally described it at the RMC annual meeting, we are now proudly “turning poo into dirt.”

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