Table of Contents
Weekly hikes, volunteer work trips, the crew and caretaker reunion, Owls Head Trail relocation, the Tea, Picnic, Annual Meeting, the website, the new Peaks and Paths and the Centennial Celebration; brushing, blazing, water bars, rock stairs, stepping stones, paver rocks, causeways, rock cribbing, retaining walls, turnpikes, trail relocations, bleeders, dips, and maintenance; greeting visitors, rescuing hikers, clearing blow-downs, maintaining the camps, renovating the Perch, composting high-elevation back-country waste --
Where does all this energy come from? Who does all this work?
The Randolph Mountain Club is extremely fortunate to have dedicated crews and a fantastic group of volunteers who all came together this past year to accomplish an incredible amount of work in a short period of time. To all of you who have shared in this effort, thank you for your commitment and for sustaining the now century-old vision of the clubs pathmaker founders.
In my first message as President of the RMC, Ive outlined this past years accomplishments to remind all of us of what goes on behind the scenes in the day to day operations of the club, behind the activities that I sometimes take for granted, as I jump on a trail for a quick hike or participate in club events.
Volunteer board members have always been key to the clubs success, and this year we acknowledge the contributions of three who are stepping down. Lydia Goetze served as the clubs secretary, a time-consuming board position, and as newsletter editor. Jim Baldwin was invaluable in keeping an eye on the clubs past history and accomplishments as we moved towards new projects and priorities. And Blake Strayhorn was instrumental in our summer trips, and in keeping our merchandise well stocked and organized.
Our new board members are: Bill Arnold, lifelong RMC member, former caretaker, board member and vice president, and Randolph search and rescue leader; Barb Phinney, longtime summer resident, former TWA flight attendant, licensed massage therapist and involved community volunteer in Milton, MA; and Jim Shannon, a seasonal resident of Raycrest, president of the National Fire Protection Association and former Massachusetts Attorney General. Thanks to Bill, Barb and Jim for their willingness to serve the club.
For 2010-11, projects and priorities include cooperation with the Randolph Community Forest Commission on the design of the trailhead and parking area on Randolph Hill Road; working with local property owners on proposed easements to protect trail corridors crossing their land; and identifying supplemental funding sources for financing the maintenance of our trail system.
An additional goal of the board
is to expand our membership, to increase support for our trail
and camp operations, as well as to strengthen our relationship
with the entire Randolph community. As 2010 comes to a close,
I hope you will consider inviting good friends to become members,
or perhaps opening the door of the RMC to those special folks
with a gift membership to the club.
There are many conventional ways to measure the health and vibrancy of an organization: its membership rolls, financial balance sheet and the number of dedicated volunteers all come to mind. This past August 7th, however, I realized another that might even be more important: the heartfelt bonds that form between an organization and its alumni.
Two years ago, with the RMCs 100th birthday looming, several of us schemed the idea of a reunion for past trail crew and caretakers. But, we wondered, would we get more than a few dozen folks? After all, we RMC alums are a busy, energetic lotand have scattered to the wind, from Alaska to Mexico, Europe to Antarctica. Did others feel the same connection to these peaks that those of us who lived here enjoyed? We had no idea.
The answer turned out to be an enthusiastic, Yes! Over the winter, a small and informal email list grew to include 180 names, as old RMCers searched through address books and made phone calls. By August, our little get-together had turned into a full-scale reunion with 150 old caretakers, trail crew and friends. Dozens more sent regrets.
And so, on a brilliant August afternoon, in honor of the RMCs 100th, we all gathered. Attendees came from as far south as Florida, as far west as Californiaand many from the immediate area. All had the Randolph Mountain Club to thank for launching a life spent in these mountains.
The specifics are easy enough to recount: a cornucopia of a potluck, with tasty entrées courtesy of Liz Jackson at Libbys Bistro and a stunning centennial cake from Jenna Bowman and the White Mountain Café. Tents, tables and chairs for 150, a round of RMC Jeopardy courtesy of Al Sochard, and the bluegrass of noted fiddler Patrick Ross and his band Hot Flannel playing after dinner.
More important than any of those details, however, was the sentiment of the weekend. At the potluck gathering on Friday night, I witnessed two caretakers who had not seen each other in many years, meeting again a half-century later. ( is that you? Incredible!) Many heads were turned towards the familiar peaks and King Ravine to the south, with countless stories overheard. I remember one time, when seemed to be the official opening clause of the evening!
Clearly, our little club has forged something remarkablea sense of stewardship for our mountains, paths and camps, a deep and lifelong caring that lives within each of us, no matter where we go or what we do. The RMC is a special organization, and many people care deeply for it.
A few weeks after RMC alums had departed, those of us left in town pondered the enormous reservoir of goodwill for the club that was so in evidence that day. How, we wondered, could we allow alumni to lend a hand, despite their distance from Randolph? And so, we are now in the process for forming an informal alumni group, to allow RMC alumni to share their skills and energy in carrying out the mission of the club. More information will be coming in the ensuing months.
As for me, my one regret was being busy throughout the day, and not having a chance to visit with old friends. Late in the evening, as I walked down the Jones Cottage drive towards my car, I turned to take in the scene. A classic late-summer day had turned into a clear, brisk evening. Valley fog had rolled in over the Tuckers field. Stars shone brightly and the August night sky illuminated Madison and Adams. Closer to home, the sounds of bluegrass and Patrick Ross fiddle filled the air. A dozen or so danced on, under the tent. This, I thought, is a day Ill remember all my life.
The reunion would not have been so successful were it not for the help of over a dozen volunteers. especially Kate Allen, Bill Arnold, Steve Chase, Laura Conchelos, Dan and Abi Healey, Rachel Hestrin, Curtis Moore, Al Sochard, and Dan and Edith Tucker. Thank you! RMC alumni who are not on our alumni email list can drop a note anytime to Doug Mayer to be added.
The National Conservation Training Center is the primary training facility for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Part of the mission of the NCTC is to collect and preserve the artifacts, documents and stories of the Service and the American conservation movement. For the past decade, the NCTC has collected hundreds of oral histories from professionals across the spectrum of the conservation community. Backcountry caretaking and trail maintenance work in the White Mountain National Forest constitute important pieces of the interwoven web of conservation in America. With these points in mind, the unique opportunity to conduct interviews with members of the gathered group of past RMC employees at the Centennial was too good to miss.
For more than half a century, young people have been calling places like Crag Camp, Emerald Bluff, the Cliffside, Gray Knob, and the Spur Trail home. They have walked and worked the hundred miles of RMC paths, their hard work and skill evident, in many cases, decades later. We have stepped out onto the deck at Crag on a crisp morning to the glory of the headwall of King Ravine; lit cigars as the first step of digging out the Gray Knob outhouse; headed up to Edmands Col at night in the rain to find lost hikers; weathered 35° F cold spells snug inside Gray Knob; and sat in the caretakers seat above the Quay to watch the pink and blue hues of a White Mountain twilight. A legacy of stories about this life on paths and ridges around Randolph has been collected through a variety of ways in the past, including daily logbooks, personal journals, and the occasional small publication. This heritage includes a vocabulary of places and experiences unique to this small cohort of people.
Formal oral histories have never been used to engage this special group of individuals and garner from them some of the stories of their lives and work on the paths and in the camps. To many, their experiences working for the RMC were formative ones that would help guide important decisions such as career and way of life.
Working with the support of the USDA Forest Service national historian, Service historian Dr. Mark Madison and I (Gray Knob 81, 82, 90, trail crew 87) conducted a series of seventeen interviews over a two-day period in August 2010. We spoke with past caretakers and trail crew members from the 1950s to the present, including Frank Guttmann, Rolf Goetze and Michael Field; Bill Arnold and Peter Bowers; Tad Pfeffer and Woody Canaday; Alan Eusden, Elizabeth and Ginger Beringer; Steve Chase and John Tremblay; Doug Mayer and Jonathan Gourley; and Sally Manikian and Dan Healey. The interviews were conducted using a consistent set of questions, although each conversation was allowed to develop organically, based on the memories and focus of each individual. We conducted both single and dual interviews. We have found that interviewing two people from similar time periods at once can often help bring back additional memories that enrich the stories.
Each interview indicated the power of place in Randolph, experiences molded by the Club personalities of the times, and motivated by the cultural mores of each decade. Early caretakers were always young men, often from Phillips Academy in Exeter, and it took many years before a woman was allowed to use a chainsaw. Many had their favorite spots, and all knew literally every foot of their favorite paths. Speed records both up and down from the camps were discussed, as was Tad Pfeffers epic 200+ pound garbage run down from Crag, working a forty-foot beam into place with a helicopter, and the definition of the Grunt & Strain Lumber Corps. It was nearly unanimous that the Perch Brook, as it emerges from the rocks at the top of Cascade Ravine was the best water source, and the Gray Knob riot was documented with eyewitness accounts. The interviews indicate an evolution of the club as both a resource manager and an employer.
They also reflected the changes in attitudes of camp visitors over the decades. Many more stories exist only as memories with the folks who have worked for the RMC; each story and memory viewed and recalled through our personal perspectives. Hopefully we can pursue this project further in the future to build this history.
The next step in the project is to transcribe the interviews. These transcriptions will then be sent to each interviewee for a review and edit. Once approved, the final transcripts will be shared with the RMC, USDA Forest Service, and be included in the oral history collection at the National Conservation Training Center. A publication may also result. Please feel free to contact me for more information on the project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RMC Camps Report
Summer is the busy season for backcountry work, and the RMC Camps received significant upgrades and improvements this season. Most notable was the Perch renovation project. This effort was years in the planning, from initial conversations with agency partners, to securing funding, to the airlift of May 2010. The result is an improved structure that will endure for many years to come. The project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, administered by the National Park Services Appalachian Trail Park Office and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. See project supervisor Dan Healeys article and photographs on the opposite page.
The other major camps project this season was the final phase of the composting toilet rehabilitation. This involved the construction of work platforms behind the toilet buildings at Gray Knob and the Perch. These platforms were built by summer caretaker Hunter Hague with Field Supervisor Ben Lieberson, and by fall caretakers Mary Myers and Sam Brakeley. The ground is extraordinarily uneven behind both of these outhouses, and now our caretakers have someplace safe and secure to stand and work while they are mixing waste and producing batches of compost. This project was funded by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund, of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.
Summer is also the season for the Randolph zeitgeist, even more so this year with the Centennial celebrations and the Trail Crew and Caretaker reunions. Our caretakers worked tirelessly with the Perch renovation crew, and also made it to important social events such as the Reunion and the end-of-season summer crew Bash. Hunter Hague returned to Gray Knob for a second summer, and was an extraordinary caretaker. Crag Camp was staffed by Jenny Baxter, our southern girl from Tennessee.
This fall the camps were staffed by Mary Myers and Sam Brakeley. Mary decided to try a season at the RMC after meeting a caretaker in the spring, and her most recent job was on an organic farm in Vermont. Sam had worked for the RMC before, as a fill-in caretaker for two weeks in 2008.
The fall is quickly turning into winter, with winter caretakers Ryan Smith (who had worked for us this spring at Gray Knob) and Garrett Gorenski (coming to us from the AMC Campsite department, where he has worked for the past two summers, as well as experience teaching English in South Korea) on deck to take the helm at the camps.
Looking ahead to next year, it is never too early to start thinking about working as a caretaker. In January and February, we start the process of hiring the summer caretakers for 2011.
For reasons unknown, King Ravine was the site of several rescues this season. Our caretakers went on numerous litter carries, and Sam was critical in assisting a hiker who was airlifted from Gray Knob after suffering a heart attack. This serves as a reminder that our caretakers, in addition to being stewards, are also key first responders to backcountry emergencies.
People here in the North Country are trying to read signs about what kind of winter we might have: Long? Hard? Cold? Warm? Wet? Judging by the activity of the red squirrels in my own backyard, I would argue its going to be a cold and snowy one. Lets hope so, because thats a good winter for the Camps.
With over 100 miles of trails, the RMC trail system offers a degree of diversity that appeals to many. This is common knowledge among long time members and a fact that is appreciated by thousands of visitors every year. From the solitude of Cascade Ravine to the challenge of the Great Gully to the accessibility of the Bluffway and the Pasture Path, RMC trails suit every mood, interest and ability.
Since Ive become trails co-chair, I walk along our trails and ever more appreciate that diversity but I consider it with an added dimension. I still enjoy the views from Dome Rock and Scar Loop. I love scrambling through Ice Gulch and I sincerely feel like Im meditating when Im walking along the Diagonal, but now I consider how a trail fits into the system overall. Who might a particular trail appeal to? Is this trail still relevant, and how much use does it get?
Consider the Diagonal, a path that I have walked, skied, snowshoed and run on; a path on which my 5 year-old has battled the evil empire with light saber sticks collected along the way. Heres a trail that appeals to many and draws one into its embrace, yet it was crying out for help. The middle section would suck your footwear off of your feet; it would soak you to the knees and drop you to the ground faster than Isaac Newton could have predicted. Clearly, we needed to do something but not in our usual way.
A trail crew sweatshirt from few years ago was printed with the words, Preservation through Destruction. Our crew would normally move into an area, rip up rocks, knock down trees and drag them into place. Theyd pile up wood scree, dig trenches and generally operate like the Army Corps or Seabees might. With consideration for the appeal of this trail, those that would likely use it and with respect for the landowners, the Diagonal project begun this fall would be different. Preserving the look and feel of the trail would be critically important. We wanted to do the work so that no one would notice. Therefore, gently peeling back moss when replacing a bog bridge and moving thirty-foot logs using skylines became the norm. Flagging, which ordinarily indicates what to do on a project, now clearly stated what not to do: do not drop material here, due to the sensitive nature of the ground cover.
Additionally, the types of structures used would be new to RMC trail work and in some ways unique. A method called turnpiking was to be used. In this process, a box is built out of rock or native timber, filled with coarsely crushed rock and covered with either native soils or special driveway mix so that the treadway will with time, look like it belongs quite unlike the RMCs ubiquitous and often slippery bog bridges. Through this new process, a section of the Diagonal will have 20 fewer bog bridges and a treadway that elevates your boot sole above the muck yet appears totally natural.
Other projects wrapped up by the Fall crew: Thirty bog bridges have been located at Randolph East on the Howker Ridge Trail and the Randolph Path. A leg-breaking ladder on the Spur Trail has been replaced by a 13-step staircase, and, after much hard work by Dave Govatski, Sarah Walsh and others, the Owls Head trail has been re-opened. A lot of work accomplished in 6 weeks, huh?
In the summer of 2010, I was invited by the RMC to undertake a challenging and rewarding construction project, with the help of good friend Aaron Parcak. The lean-to at the Perch was falling over. The sills were rotting into the ground, soil was piled against the back wall, and the floor system was melting into the duff. The bank under one wall was falling apart, sending the building slowly creeping down the mountainside, completely racked.
I took on the job for a few reasons. It was sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, living at the Perch and doing a major renovation to an historic structure. It would mesh many skills Ive built up in the last decade as well as force me to learn new ones. I would be able to reconnect with the Randolph community after years of being away. And, of course, there was the vanity of leaving my mark.
In May, the club used a helicopter to fly in tools, lumber for a new floor, logs for new sills, and timbers to use as cribbing for jacking the structure. In July, Aaron and I started the project with a long, long weekend of packing tools, food, camping gear, and other essentials. Between the two of us, we carried more than 500 pounds over nine pack trips. Fortunately we were helped a lot by volunteer Mike Pelchat, who was apparently looking for some exercise
The plan was to build a new stone foundation, replace the bottom courses of logs, and build a new floor. The first thought was for Aaron to build the foundation while I did the log work in a separate staging area. Hunter would float around and help us both. We quickly learned this would not work. Each effort required all hands - and brains - on deck.
We began by dismantling the floor, salvaging what we could from the old boards, as they would be handy for bracing and jacking the building. We were then able to winch the building back into square and start some solid cribbing for the jacking. Chris Fithian volunteered for the first few days, and with his help, we started to slowly jack things up.
We wanted to give the building a solid footing, but also keep it simple as to keep within the budget and provide plenty of airflow under the floor. Simple did not happen; air flow and within budget did. Aaron began the excavation, digging down to find something solid for our footings. He went four feet before he found something other than bread-loaf-size stones and trash. It turns out that the lean-to was built on fill and debris from the last structure on the site. We found birch bark, tarpaper, and hundreds of spoons, forks and knives. Yes, the old birch bark hut of the Perch was built on spoons! More likely the packrats had an affinity for cutlery. From complete boy scout mess kits to modern Lexan sporks, there were literally hundreds of eating utensils.
With the new chasm we created came a change in plans. We were now undermining our original cribbing, and simple stone foundation piers were not going to cut it. At this point we had to slow down, step back, and change the approach. Multi-tasking was out of the question. We all needed to focus on the massive wall required to reinforce the newly blown-out bank.
We finished the foundation wall at the end of our first ten-day stint. After a four-day break in the valley, we headed back up for log work. The new challenge was to move 1000-pound logs up hill, elevate them into place, scribe, and notch them. Slow and precise movements with our winch, carefully calculated peavey moves, and a few heave-hos were all part of the process, as well as careful route planning and intricate belay systems. Moving the 16-foot logs within the parameters of our site felt like trying to drag a 1000-pound canoe up a spiral staircase. Aaron and I spent one day moving one log!
Hunter joined us again for the more glorious scribing and notching. Though all new to the process, we felt like we succeeded in making sound and beautiful joinery. With only days left, we still had to lower the building into place and build a new floor system. We notched the floor joists into the giant base logs. We also replaced posts on each side of the opening to the lean-to and some rotted logs in the back wall. Linseed oil on everything sealed the deal.
The newly renovated Perch lean-to can now return to collecting memoriesand spoons.
What do you see and learn on the RMC 100? Turns out that the same hundred miles is a different experience for each hiker, as our first three finishers show us in their own words and pictures.
- I learned the
fun of going on hikes that do more than just go up to a destination
and back down.