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: 


Maine Teens Tout Experience on Trails

I am Abraham Steinberger and I volunteer in the Maine Woods volunteer trail crew for ten days in late July. I had no experience with trail work before my stint as a volunteer but that did not matter at all. Everything that my fellow crew volunteers or my team leaders expected me to do I had been taught previously. So I never had to guess at my task and I felt confident in everything I did. Amazingly rewarding, trail work has caught me by surprise. I thought that one would just kind of work on the trail then feel good about it. In reality I have rarely felt as accomplished as I did after setting all of the stones in the water bar, or brushing out a stretch of trail. For me, all of the frustrations of working with heavy stones or hobble bush are the inconveniences when compared with the successful glow one experiences when they have finished a job on the trail. As a side note, trail crew got to swim everyday except during thunderstorms, which was great.

The first day that I walked to Camp Dodge and saw who I assumed to be my tent mate, I was fairly shy but after saying a few words we found out we were fairly similar. He was musical, athletic and his fro was out of the roof, quite literally.  We walked for a while and then moved outside to start talking to our other prospective trail crew mates. We found a small field to play Frisbee on with two other people. Whilst we were tossing around the disc we talked about everything from sports to previous outdoors experience. We ended up migrating from the field to the main building and started to get to know each other better. We left the next day for Camp Hodge in Maine; after a 6 hour car ride we arrived at the beautiful camp site. Walking down you could see mountains surrounding the clearest glacial pond imaginable, pines all around; everything was beautiful. We started our trail work the next day and it was some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. After you finish you can just turn around and view everything you just did.
-David Cohen

These 10 days have shown me that trail work is equal parts exhausting and uplifting. There’s no doubt that it is, in fact work and therefore tiring, but the trail part of the job- the woods, the weather, the sky, combines with the thrill of teamwork to make it all worth your while and then some. I had never done trail work before so I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be strong enough, or that would hold the team back, but there is absolutely a job for anyone who wants to help. Even better there’s room to expand your skills, I never would have thought I could have any part in moving giant rocks but with help and encouragement I did and that’s a really good feeling. I was lucky to have an amazing group of fun, hardworking people, which made the experience even better. The demands of trail work make your feel stronger in body and sound in spirit which is a reward for the work your give.
-Julia Seaman


So....what IS the hardest part of being a caretaker?

Caretakers are often asked what the hardest part of their job is. So, what IS the hardest part? It's not
the weather, it's not the trailwork, it's something...a little more intangible. 

Caretakers live in the remote backcountry for four to six months, living in the field for 10-11 days at a time. In short, this translates to about 7 nights out of the woods in a month. During that time, they experience all weather (snow to sleet to sun to rain to snow again), they work in the dirt and mud, they compost human waste and they rebuild trail. At the beginning and the end of every day, they interact with and manage the flow of visitors that come through and stay at AMC's 9 backcountry sties staffed with caretakers.

But the hardest part? It's this intangible feeling, that all of them experience to a different extent while in the woods. Bobby Haran, one of our second year caretakers, composed this recent essay/ spoken word about how he describes that intangible feeling. Bobby is stationed at Imp Campsite, and also shared one of his glorious sunset photos from Imp. 

 Bobby opened up this piece by saying that he's often asked what the hardest part of the job is. This piece, composed for our midsummer/ midseason all-caretaker get-together, is how he answered it:  

It would happen while you were hiking in, although I’m sure the foundation of it would begin long before, while you were packing your food, saying your goodbyes, and driving to the trail.

But the thoughts, or more the feeling, wouldn’t come until you hit the trail, your feet moving swiftly up that path you’d come to love, hate, then love again.

Like I said, it wasn’t a thought, so much as a feeling, something ineffable brought on by the knowledge that in 11 days you would be back. To you, it would feel like the blink of an eye, like barely a day had passed. It would shock you that anything could change that fast.

But it could.

Because what was a blink to you would be almost two weeks for the rest of the world.

And two weeks is a long time.

In that time, memories would be made, events happened, news –both bad and good- pass by, fears would be admitted and conquered, and ultimately, the world would just keep on spinning. Without even skipping a beat at your absence. 

You would think about your brother. How many times had something good, or bad, or exciting, or memorable, or hell anything happened in his life, where he’d reached for his phone, a smile of anticipation on his face, excited to tell his brother something in the way that only a brother can. Merely to have his smile fade realizing you were nowhere near a phone.

Would he even remember what the news was when you got out? Or would it just slip away as another memory you missed out on.

You would think about your parents. Were they worried, concerned? Did they miss that weekly phone call? Did dad recover from his surgery? Where were we moving now? Sometimes you’d come out, and their whole life had changed. They’d be picking up, moving to another city, another apartment, and the only way you found out was as a passing after thought from your mom, like it was old news. Well, I guess it was. It happened over a week ago. You just weren’t around.

You would think about your girlfriend. Hell, I can’t even explain how much you would think about your girlfriend. Trying to live on two texts a day because your phone wasn’t meant to last that long. Trying to fit everything important into 160 characters is damn near impossible. So you think about all of your life that she was missing out on and just didn’t understand, and all of hers that was equally a mystery to you.

And then you would quickly try to stop thinking about your girlfriend. Because all of the parts of her life, that life you used to be a big part of, that you would never hear about as they were lost to the sands of time, were insurmountable. You just hoped she was good at waiting.

It’s this time warp you see. It’s coming out of the woods, expecting it all to be the same, because no time should have passed, but it did. It’s big news, turning to just news, turning to, “oh, I thought everyone knew by now”. No, they didn’t. It’s not just missing out on the memories, and stories, and events. It’s not even hearing about them because by the time you’re out, they’re long since forgotten.

So you think about this, you feel it, understand it, and let it wash over you. And after all that, as you’re nearing the top of the mountain on your pack in, the obvious and unstoppable question bubbles to the forefront of your consciousness.

Is it worth it?

And to answer that question, you stop thinking about all of their memories, and start thinking about all of your own.

You think about the first time you caught the sunrise from the bench at Garfield, or that first glorious sunset at Imp. You think about that moose and it’s calf you saw stroll quietly through your site like you weren’t even there. You think of your first bushwhack to Redrock Pond, the impossibly beautiful and secluded spot nestled between those slides. You think about the joy of running into another caretaker randomly, and lazy evenings watching cribbage at the no-tell. You think about watching the sky turn dark over Ethan Pond during training, that first blow down you took out solo, and of course, your first compost run.

You think about the people met: fellow caretakers and even those just met for a night as they passed through on the trail. You think of the peace and happiness of enjoying the quiet of your tent after a long day, and then at midsummer last year when a caretaker danced himself into frenzy.

And before you’re even done with this, you’re sitting on your porch smiling, because the answer is clear. You wouldn’t trade your memories for theirs in a thousand years.

Because this job is worth it all. 

--Bobby Haran, Imp Caretaker 2014

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