"How I long for the life of a caretaker": Further reflections on a season at Garfield Ridge Campsite

Just over two months have passed since my departure from the White Mountains. I’ve now fully adjusted to late night library sessions and never-ending term papers. How I long for the life of a caretaker. Going to bed when the sunsets and rising just as it crests over South Twin Mountain, a nonpareil. My day would usually begin with a cup of coffee before assembling the radio to make the 6:45 call down to 13 Falls. 13 Falls is tucked too far into the Pemi-Valley to broadcast out on the Mt. Washington repeater. Therefore, the Garfield caretaker has to radio down via line of sight on channel two and see if 13 Falls has any messages for the outside world. In addition to having the same days off, Steph and I did a lot of trail work together, so I always looked forward to our brief morning conversations. After checking in with Steph, I would head back to the tent and complete the campsite finance sheet from the night before and listen to the weather forecast.

During the weather forecast I would try and guess all the variables: peak gust, yesterday’s high and low, current temperature, and check to see if there was an inversion on Washington. Between my observations of changing cloud formations, books on weather, and details obtained from the weather discussion, I would try to predict the local Garfield forecast. I was notoriously inaccurate. After weather I would head back to radio rock and bask in the sunlight-overlooking South Twin Mountain, Galehead Hut, and the Bonds. On a clear day, from the Garfield overlook you can even see the Tri-Pyramids. Anyone who has been to the Garfield Ridge Campsite is familiar with this special spot. I know of many guests who would spend the majority of their time at the campsite basking in the rock’s awe-inspiring view. After a few moments on the rock my Motorola radio would spring to life, “WYF711 this is 6-0 Sally (or Mike, Ryan, Beau) with shelters morning radio call.” From here the caretakers would radio back west to east starting with 6-2 Kinsman Pond and ending with 6-9 Speck Pond. Hearing the voices of my fellow caretakers always put a smile on my face.

A caretaker’s day is traditionally filled with composting, performing campsite maintenance, or trail maintenance. Caretakers are afforded an extreme amount of individual responsibility to plan their work schedule. 13 Falls and Garfield also have the additional responsibility of carrying composting bark from Galehead hut down to the 13 Falls campsite. This task is unique to 13 Falls because of its location in “wilderness,” the highest level of protection afforded to a piece of land by the federal government. Motorized transportation is not allowed in wilderness and this includes helicopters. Thus when the composting bark is delivered to the various campsites it cannot be directly dropped at 13 Falls, instead it is deposited at Galehead Hut and carried from there. On a bark carrying day I would take off on the Garfield Ridge Trail towards Galehead to meet Steph. The Galehead crew was always nice enough to offer me some delicious lemonade and/or breakfast leftovers. After a quick snack, Steph and I would begin loading up the 50 pound bark bags. Steph has a pack board upon which the sacks are easy to attach. I however use my Osprey Crescent backpack. The thing is a monster and after a few humorous minutes of punching, slamming, pulling, prying, whatever we can think of, we would be able to maneuver the bag into my 85-liter pack. From there it was a quick jaunt down to 13 Falls and a refreshing dip in the river. Then back up to Garfield for dinner and registration.

A major part of the backcountry caretaker’s job is education. We are a vast source of knowledge on topics from trails recommendations/descriptions to the seven principle of leave no trace (LNT), and everything in between. I’ve also been known to teach a few classes on knot tying and pass along a few good backcountry dinner recipes. When the college orientation groups come through in late August I would challenge the groups to see who could rig the best tarp. Some of the platforms at Garfield are a bit tricky for tarping as well. It was cool to see the strategies the groups would use to attack the challenge. I was always happy to offer my advice and fix a few rain inviting mistakes. There is one educational moment in particular I remember quite vividly. A father who was taking his son and friends backpacking for the first time asked me to deliver a talk to them on LNT. I thought it was really special to see a father taking the initiative to open a discussion for his son and his friends on wilderness ethics and was especially impressed with the kid’s openness to participate. We all gathered around the caretaker’s tent one evening and had a great back and fourth discussion on the seven principles over some tea. It was incredible to see these kids showing that even on their first backpacking trip they could make an intimate connection with the land and offer profound insights on the importance of the seven principles.

-Eli Lieberman

Garfield Caretaker ‘10