What I learned from teenagers: A LNT weekend with Phillips Academy’s Outdoor Pursuits program

Cato teaching the important principle of how to minimize campfire impacts
 Last week I had this conversation with more than a few people:

Me:  “I’m spending this weekend leading a Leave No Trace Trainer course with high school students. Two of the students are serving as my co-instructors”

Doubter: “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

Me:  “Not a doubt in my mind. These kids are on it.

The Leave No Trace (LNT) framework promotes training, educating and inspiring others, and one way this is accomplished is through encouraging Trainer educators to continue to lead. (What is a ‘Trainer’? Someone who has completed a 16-hour Trainer course). Last May I co-instructed a Leave No Trace Trainer course with a group of students from Phillips Academy Andover’s OutdoorPursuits (OP) program, and this past November weekend, two of the students I led in May served as my co-instructors.

This partnership and unique educational set-up is partly due to myself. As an alumni of Phillips Academy, as well as of OP, I wanted to give back to the experience and program that had given me so much confidence and validation. A discussion with Mark Cutler, the current director, led to the inclusion of the LNT Trainer course into their ‘Sense of Place’ course, which is wild blend of experiential learning, OP principles, and history and philosophy.

Rebecca, one of the student co-instructors,  facilitating a discussion on teaching styles           

Outdoor Pursuits (OP), formerly known as Search and Rescue, turns 50 years old this year and is also famous for being founded by Josh Miner, the same outdoorsman who went on to found Hurricane Island Outward Bound. OP includes many of the expeditionary learning principles of Outward Bound (and the National Outdoor Leadership School), and has that similar mix of team building, self-driven learning, and the opportunity and space for personal reflection.

When I was an Andover student, (and it wasn’t all that long ago, a mere 15 years), the technological world was much different. There was no email. There was no texting. I had no cell phone, and my computer, a first generation laptop, was the size and weight of the concise Oxford dictionary. Cameras used film and videotapes. For all these reasons, the OP experience has become all the more precious. The need for time away from technology has been fairly well discussed across the landscape, but I invoke it now because it was so apparent to me when I led these students, students who were not so different from me, but yet so different in so many other ways.

In leading the Trainer course this weekend, the one of the opening actions are discussing group agreements. How do we want to interact? How do we want to experience the course? What is it that we can do to make this a better weekend for all? One that stuck out was ‘Leave PA behind.’

We spent the next two days wandering through the ethics of Leave No Trace. We discussed simple scenarios and complex personal ethics. We wrestled with impacts in the backcountry, and what it felt like to still see those impacts on their campus. The students, as to be expected, were articulate, engaged, and curious. And, of course, still teenagers, the kind that threw snowballs and acted a little silly during games of UNO.

The closing circle, after each student had given their presentations on the seven LNT principles, was one of deep reflection. Students applied their learning and experiences to their lives moving forward. Some of it applies to functional things like trip planning and backcountry travel, but some applies to the nuances of interpersonal communication and education.

Rebecca and Owen, my two co-instructors, shone early on in the course as they led parts of the classroom portion. They continued to shine throughout as they modeled excellent feedback, supported participants, and were willing to be vulnerable and share their own challenges and ‘teachable moments.' I myself valued my time with the students, as they were inspiring, creative, and totally engaged with the ethics of Leave No Trace.

The girls in the group, ready to head home from Zealand.
On a more personal note, throughout my career in natural resources, in my stewardship of wild places, I have become thankful for the seed of validation that came from Search and Rescue (S and R)/ OP and my time at Phillips Academy. What I learned was confidence, in my choices and in my being, and the importance of time spent in wild places to cultivating self and spirit. What I strive to give back, as I lead current OP students, is that same unexpected validation that it’s ok to follow a different path, to give them the tools that create the ‘I’.

It is pretty straightforward (and very difficult to resist) to draw a line connecting my S and R experience to my gravitational pull to work in the woods and live in a rural area, to directly connect the Sanctuary to the White Mountains, to connect my first weekend backpack to Moosilaukee to the months I lives in the backcountry. The problem is that doing so suggests a simple narrative, easily translatable but, also, highly simplified. Doing so fails to acknowledge the myriad of pulls and decisions and disruptions that have affected my life’s course. The role that S and R had in that narrative thread is that it was one part of a long series of experiences that continue to inform my life and work.

But, had it not been there, my life would be lessened.


Trail maps and hand-inked artwork for Mt Jasper

As described in this blog before, Mt Jasper is a small unassuming summit located in the Northern NH City of Berlin. While the 200 acre parcel it sits on has been owned by the City, it has remained largely undeveloped.

In the past few years, AMC has helped coordinate a large stewardship effort, from parking lots to trails to community planning, and the most recent milestone in this effort is a set of signs and maps.

Since Mt Jasper is both a beautiful natural area as well as being of archaeological significance, the interpretive signs describe the natural and cultural history of the area through combining information about hardwood forests and glaciation with Abenaki phrases and beadwork; these signs are located along the trail, ending with a remarkable painting at the summit which depicts the valley without the City in it.

Artist Mike Eastman (L) and business partner Andre Belanger (R).
At the base of the trail is a beautiful map that is focused on the history and significance of the summit for the Abenaki culture. (Abenaki? Step back in time to a New Hampshire that is un-colonized, and you will find the Abenaki).

What is absolutely remarkable about these signs is that they are all drawn.....by hand. The lettering, the borders, and each painting were done painstakingly by local artist (and Abenaki himself) Mike Eastman. Once the images and signs were completed, local signmaker and artist Andre Belanger transformed them into the digital versions that were then turned into the signs themselves.

Sign installed at the summit of Mt Jasper, after the ELC students cleared the view.

This summer, the Enriched Learning Center (ELC) in Berlin, a strong and constant partner in this project, installed all four signs along the trail, as well as clearing a small view for the sign at the summit. The ELC is an alternative learning program for behavioral and at-risk youth. Students perform community service around the City, including working on trails, community gardens, and even in people's homes. For this project, special props go out to Keith (the expert hole-digger) and John (who carried signs and posts up and down the mountain more than once).

Trail map by Larry Garland, AMC cartographer
Last but not least, AMC cartographer Larry Garland created a wonderful community trail map, that shows the trails maintained on the summit. The blue trail was constructed by the Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG) program in 2011, and the yellow trail was constructed by the ELC and the AMC Trail Crew in 2013. The yellow trail project was done in partnership with the White Mtn Ridgerunner snowmobile club, who improved their snowmobile trail to make it welcoming to hikers and walkers.

Since undertaking this project in 2009, the wealth of community support for these simple developments of trails and signs has been incredible. After five years of development, the focus now is on maintenance and support of long-term stewardship of the summit and the infrastructure.



Rock Work Advanced Skills Training will be offered the weekend of the Adopter Appreciation BBQ, September 13-14, 2014.  This workshop will be open to all AMC volunteers, regardless of program.
You will join experienced leaders to learn the fundamentals of safely moving rock, trail stabilization and treadway protection.  We plan to do some trail work off the Mount Washington Auto Road. Weather permitting we will do some rock work on the upper section of the Nelson Crag Trail as it goes over Ball Crag.  This section of trail needs work to harden the treadway and provide definition with rock structures like rock steps, scree wall and rock rubbling.  There are also some cairns in the area that need rebuilding as well.

Depending on the weather we will decide upon the appropriate location for the training session which will be held rain or shine.  Lower on the mountain, rock work done in the 1970's could use rebuilding to improve the treadway and drainage on the Madison Gulf Trail as it approaches Lowe's Bald Spot.

Tools, hardhats and all the equipment will be available.  Bring work boots, gloves and appropriate clothes.

Meet Saturday morning at 8:00am at Camp Dodge for Safety discussion and briefing on the work.  Breakfast and Trail Lunches available. 

We will drive up the Auto Road to the work site and return for the BBQ by 3-4:00pm.  Overnight accommodations and meals are available at Camp Dodge, during this 2-day Rock Work Session. 

To register, please contact Brendan Taylor at btaylor@outdoors.org for a registration packet. 

White Mountain Adopt-A-Trail program needs your help to fill a void of backlogged trailwork – all while enjoying stunning vistas from the alpine zone on Mt. Washington!


The ephemerality of all things: Or, where DID the Great Gulf Shelters go?

The White Mountains are full of things that have come and gone: trails, railroads, and even entire towns
(Hastings for example, which is now known as the Wild River Wilderness). Of particular interest to the campsite program are backcountry shelters, cabins, and camps.

For our own project proposals, and also in constantly seeking to educate ourselves about the history of the campsites we steward, we often dig deeper into the stories behind sites. This is how we discovered that there were not one, not two, but at least four Imp shelters, and how we parsed out the history of the when and where the current alignment of Guyot campsite came from.

Recently we dove into the mystery of the Great Gulf shelters. Earlier this season, our comrades who helm AMC Outdoors asked a simple question: ‘when did the Great Gulf shelter get removed and why?’

The easy answer we prepared was this: ‘sometime after 1976 but before 1980, the shelters were removed.’

Wait a minute. ShelterS? Yes, the Great Gulf was host to three (actually, four) different shelters, located in two different places, all removed and built at different times and different ways.

The first was built in 1909. (see photo above). It was of the classic early-White Mountain shelters, a mix of the trees found nearby that could be moved and shaped by hand. The next was built in 1927 (it is unclear to us whether it replaced the 1909 one), at more or less the same location. This one is a big one, resembling a logging camp cookhouse or bunkhouse, and was described as fitting 22. In 1927, this was the only recorded shelter in the Great Gulf.

1927 Great Gulf Shelter (photo courtesy of Ben English)
Fast forward to 1959, when the next shelter was built (if you’re keeping count, this means that there are now two shelters in the Great Gulf). This one was built across from the larger one, and was similar in design to the current Ethan Pond shelter. It had vertical logs and an open front, and could fit 10.

By 1969 there were three Great Gulf Shelters: in the decade after the 1959 shelter, one arose at the Bluff, an area about 3.2 miles from Dolly Copp.

In 1964, the Wilderness Act was passed. The Great Gulf Wilderness was created along with the Act. We can only assume (but have not confirmed) that the third shelter, near the Bluff, was constructed before 1964.

By 1972, we were down to two shelters, the 1959 Ethan Pond-Style shelter and the one at the Bluff. These two shelters were around in 1976, but not by 1980.

Hand-drawn construction sketch of the current Imp shelter, built by AMC Trail Crew
How do we analyse this information regarding the sudden appearance of three shelters? Some of it can be traced by the trends of backcountry construction, which in broad strokes can be defined by this: shelters built by trampers/ early pioneers, shelters built by trail crews/ CCC crews (1930-1980), shelters removed in favor of platforms in the early 1970s, and shelters repaired/ replaced from the 1970s until today.

We acknowledge that in this particular example, these shelters were located in a federally designated Wilderness area, and thus are governed by an array of management techniques to foster that intangible sense of wild-ness. However, the story of the Great Gulf shelters are similar to the stories of so many other shelters that have come and gone across the Forest, from Cascade Camp to Nauman Springs. (extra points for anyone who can name where those two were located). 

But HOW do we figure things like this out? And who is the ‘we’? Fortunately for the AMC Trails department, in addition to having our superb AMC archivist Becky Fullerton in Boston, we also have a slew of White Mountain history buffs who are archives in their own right. One of them lives right down the hill from us, the great Ben English. Ben and I (Sally) were the ones who dove into the primary sources we had at hand, which were White Mountain Guides, Appalachia journals, and Ben’s personal collection of photos. Within a few days, Ben and I (with the aid of Mike Dickerman) had quickly found the above information, and relayed it back to Boston for our publications folks.

I share this with you now as a brief linear tale of how shelters have come and gone, and the style and format they arose with. We build shelters now with beautifully crafted pre-fabricated logs, and we are also in the business of repairing our shelters that were built by Trail Crew in the 1970s and 1980s. Today our shelters still serve a purpose, structurally and experientially, even though many people prefer to use tents. AMC has a fleet of 18 campsites in the White and Mahoosuc Mountains, and of those 18 only 10 of them have shelters. 100 years ago, the landscape of the backcountry was very different.

And thus, we honor and recognize the ephemerality of all things.


Life through the lens of a caretaker

Chris Moody, a first year caretaker, has spent the summer in the field with his 35 mm camera. The results, that he shared with us as a caretaking photo-essay, are extraordinary. These are not photo-shopped, and many rely on photography techniques like double and long-exposures.

This selection of photos will resonate with all of us who have spent time in these mountains: cloudy ridgelines, clear reflective ponds (that one will make you look a few times), the beckoning cairn (beckoning in a whimsical way in Chris' photo), the vast green heart of the Pemi Wilderness, and of course spectacular sunsets that each have a unique defining characteristic. These photos also come with names, some of simple geography (e.g. Franconia, and Bondcliff) and some of expression (e.g.follow me and my hand, and realities). These are, also, photos that Chris has been compulsively taking from the very beginning, taking his camera with him into our overnight field visits during caretaker training.

As the West Rotator, Chris moved among Kinsman Pond, Liberty Springs, and Garfield Ridge over the course of his 10-11 day stints in the field; being car-less, he traveled that rotation as a pure rotation, traversing the Franconia ridgeline from Liberty to Garfield. Appropriately, along with his 35mm camera, he uses an external frame pack and can often be found composting human waste while wearing a 1970s polyester shirt.

As a photographer, he has few words, but wrote these to describe what it means to be a caretaker, and what these photos are to him.

as a caretaker you are given freedom and responsibility to protect, serve, and embellish the land as you choose so long you follow the simple guide lines of leaving no trace and making sure everyone else is aware of these life practices as well. you wake up and you hike, you wake up and you record the weather, you wake up and you explore your world, you walk amongst the storms and let it rain down on you, you hope the bear let's you be like you let it be, you sit amongst the disappearing sun, you be you! the freedom allows for your own personal interpretation and you make it what you want it, like life. everyone lives it differently and that's the beauty of the job; here is how i live it alone, with friends, and with the gods: 

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