(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.
The White Mountains are full of things that have come and
gone: trails, railroads, and even entire towns
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
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
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
|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
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,
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
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
And thus, we honor and recognize the ephemerality of all
Labels: AMC Outdoors, Backcountry Campsites Projects