RMC Newsletter - Summer 2010


Table of Contents

President's Letter
By Michele Cormier

"2010 is an historic year for the club. We are busy organizing all kinds of events to celebrate 100 years of existence. One of our proudest moments will take place this summer when we complete the historic renovation of the Perch."

Reports from Committees
By Randy Meiklejohn, Mike Micucci, Cristin Bailey, Pete Antos-Ketcham, and Sally Manikian

From the Editor, RMC Trails Report, and RMC Camps Report.

Trail Crew and Caretaker Reunion
By Doug Mayer

"This coming August 6th-8th, the RMC will be presenting a once-in-a-lifetime reunion of its past trail crews and caretakers, as part of the club’s centennial celebration. The weekend promises to be a unique and lively gathering..."

"The RMC 100"
By Randy Meiklejohn

"Are you long since done with the AMC Four-Thousand Footer List? Both summer and winter? And your dog has finished the list too? Already checked off your visits to every RMC and AMC hut in the White Mountains?"

Winter Caretaker's Journal
By Juliane Hudson

"I really can't believe another winter, another 5 months have already passed. I'm still not sure if it's 2009 or 2010. It's hard to leave and it will be so strange to not hike in next Monday or next November. I can't imagine finding another job or place I've enjoyed as much as this one."

The Most Fortunate Guests
By Annie Jacobs

"These small plants are why we are here in the White Mountains Presidential Range, why we hiked with huge packs up through hardwood forest and then spruce and fir, why we are now where few trees grow. Imagine being one of these alpine plants, adapted over multitudes of generations to survive the harshest conditions..."

The Best Way to Enjoy our Centennial Summer? Volunteer!
By Sarah Gallop

"There are RMC events planned throughout July and August that will showcase our history, cause us to revel in the present, and inspire us to ensure that the RMC has another 100 successful years. We believe the most meaningful way for you to experience these activities is to get involved..."

President's Letter

Dave Salisbury, winner of a copy of Judy Hudson's brand-new book "Peaks & Paths" in the raffle at the May 1 RMC fundraiser held at Libby's Bistro. E. Tucker photo.2010 is an historic year for the club. We are busy organizing all kinds of events to celebrate 100 years of existence. One of our proudest moments will take place this summer when we complete the historic renovation of the Perch. The planning stages involved funding, permitting, more planning, and now we are ready for the implementation stage. It’s hard to believe how much time it takes to see a project through from idea to completion. We started talking about this in January 2009, when we met with Jody Carton from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) regarding an association between the RMC and the ATC. This opened the door to funding for a major rehabilitation project via the ATC, since the Perch is a major campsite for through hikers. A committee of Al Sochard, Paul Cormier and Mike Pelchat did the initial planning and prepared a checklist for completion of this type of project. Along with Pete Antos-Ketcham and Sally Manikian, the committee submitted a proposal to the Forest Service for a permit to proceed. Since the Perch is a historically significant structure, the Club is focusing on a plan to improve the foundation, replace the lower courses of logs which were showing serious signs of decay, and install a new roof with longer overhangs to protect the new sill logs.

Thanks to Federal Stimulus money ($16,000) plus a Repair/Rehab grant from the National Park Service ($6,200) we will be able to provide needed repairs to the Perch, which was last rebuilt in 1948. Yes, the last time this project was undertaken was by Jack Stewart. Those are some huge boots to fill. I believe the cost that time was considerably less than this time round. The ATC will administer the grant, for which they take an agreed-upon percentage, but we feel it is worth it when dealing with the complexities of spending federal stimulus money. We will be working with Matt Stevens of the ATC who will assist us in the invoicing, coordinating and complying with government strictures.

On the ground, we have acquired the logs from Betty Lauppé with the assistance of Auvie Kension who has hauled them to the landing zone in his field. Storm Schott will coordinate with the AMC airlifts to piggyback on their fly days and get logs, tools and other materials up to the site by helicopter in June.

Former field supervisor Dan Rubchinuk has agreed to serve as our on-site foreman. He will be in charge of raising the shelter with jacks, supporting it with cribbing, removing the damaged lower tiers of logs, overseeing the installation of a new dry laid stone foundation, replacing the bottom courses of logs and then lowering the structure back onto the new foundation. Al Sochard will be organizing volunteers to go up to the site on weekends to provide the heavy lifting and perform tasks that Dan has prepared throughout the week.

In addition, there will be a general removal of hazard trees at the site, with an emphasis on improving air flow around the building. A new metal roof will also be installed once the building project is complete.

Here’s your chance to be a part of the volunteer crew; let Al know if you’re interested in assisting and he’ll schedule you in. We are hoping to accomplish most of the work in the month of July, but there may be spillover projects at various times throughout the summer. We wel- come volunteers at all times.

Michele Cormier
RMC President

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Trail Crew and Caretaker Reunion
by Doug Mayer

This coming August 6th-8th, the RMC will be presenting a once-in-a-lifetime reunion of its past trail crews and caretakers, as part of the club’s centennial celebration. The weekend promises to be a unique and lively gathering, and we expect that it will prove memorable for all involved. Early response to the reunion has been strong, and we expect this to be one of the highlights of the RMC’s summer of centennial events.

Caretaker reunion at Crag, August 2001. Back row: Roz Stever, Cammie Campbell, Chris Campbell, Bill Arnold, Sherri Fabre, Doug Mayer; front row: Aaron Parcak, Eric Scharnberg, Mike Micucci.The final outline of the weekend is still in the works, but much has been settled. Here’s what’s been planned to date:

Friday evening, August 5: arrive in Randolph, settle into accommodations.

Saturday, August 6, 5 pm - 8 pm: Potluck dinner at Stearns Lodge
Libby’s Bistro will be catering the entree portion of this dinner gathering. Attendees are encouraged to bring a side dish or dessert to share, but this is entirely optional. The club will have a large party tent on hand, in the event of inclement weather. There will be a nominal charge of $25, to defray the cost of the dinner and the tent.

Saturday, August 6, 8 pm - 11 pm: Bluegrass with Hot Flannel
For a gathering of trail crew and caretaker alumni , there may be no better band than the critically acclaimed New England bluegrass band Hot Flannel. Featuring award-winning fiddler Patrick Ross, the band plays throughout the Northeast, and has even hiked to Madison Hut to play at the annual Augustfest mountain bash. The lively group includes electric and acoustic violin, electric and acoustic guitar, upright bass and drums. Bring your dancing shoes, or just relax in the corner and listen to some great music. For more details on Hot Flannel, and a chance to listen to them in concert, see http://www.myspace.com/hotflannelvt.

Sunday, August 7, 9 am- mid afternoon: Alumni trails and camps projects.
As part of the weekend’s festivities, attendees will have an opportunity to give back to RMC by participating in some light trail work and camps projects. The Camps Committee is planning a composting and/ or site rehabilitation projects at both Crag and Log Cabin. On the Trails front, Trails Co-Chairs Mike Micucci and Cristin Bailey have planned a fun project, banging together cedar and tamarack bog bridges at the start of the Howker Ridge Trail.

Plenty of “down time” has been built into the weekend schedule, so attendees can hike with old friends, visit, or just take in their favorite old haunts on the RMC network and in

During Friday and Saturday, former RMC caretaker Steve Chase and current Camps Chair Sally Manikian are planning to record your reminiscences. Watch for more information on this memorable and important endeavor.

For those traveling from outside the Randolph area, Dan and Edith Tucker have graciously offered use of the Jones Cottage and the adjacent field. Used as a trail crew and caretaker home during the summers of 2001 through 2007, the “JC” features three showers with hot water, bathrooms and cooking facilities. Guests can camp in the field. For those would like sleeping accommodations that are a bit less reminiscent of the trail crew and caretaker lifestyle, Randolphians will be opening their houses to reunion attendees.

As part of the reunion plans, the RMC has been building an email list of past trail crew and caretakers. Already, we have more than 160 addresses! If you are a past trail crew or caretaker member, and have not yet received information on the reunion, please email reunion organizer Doug Mayer, for more information.

Because many RMC’ers and Randolphians have close associations with past trail crew and caretakers, all reunion events are open to all who would like to attend. We hope to see you there! If you have plans to visit the Randolph area this summer, we hope you’ll consider scheduling your travels to coincide with this weekend of activities. If you would like to attend or help organize the reunion, please email Doug Mayer. Registration for the dinner is required, so we can be sure to have plenty of great food on hand.

RMC’s caretakers and trail crews share a unique bond. It’s a heartfelt, powerful connection to our mountains that transcends generations. The reunion this August should prove to be a remarkable coming together of mountain staff representing nearly 70 years of stewardship. Whether you were a caretaker, a trail worker, or are simply an interested, active RMC’er, we hope to see you there!

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“The RMC 100”
by Randy Meiklejohn

Are you long since done with the AMC Four-Thousand Footer List? Both summer and winter? And your dog has finished the list too? Already checked off your visits to every RMC and AMC hut in the White Mountains? Or maybe you’re just on the lookout for some different short walks—just pining, so to speak, for a new day-hike destination? Search no more, Randolph Mountain Club members: we bring you the ultimate local hiking event, the challenge of a lifetime: “The RMC 100”.

Members who frequent the Trails page of the club website, or who are mathematical savants, will already know that the RMC is responsible for approximately one hundred miles of trails on the Northern Presidentials and the Crescent Range. This fact captured the attention of the special committee charged with finding interesting ways for us to observe the centennial together in summer 2010, and prompted the question: how could we celebrate our very own 100 miles at our 100-year anniversary? Hiking every trail end to end was, predictably enough, the starting point of our answer, and so this centennial project was born. Like many of this year’s special events, it’s just a new way to enjoy one of the good old things we’ve done together for so long.

What’s the best way to hike these hundred very specific miles? If you have at least started the 4000-footers, you’ll be familiar with the AMC’s list of qualifying peaks and with the straightforward steps in the process: find the trail, proceed to the summit, descend, and check the mountain “done”. Perhaps you make note of the date, your hiking companions, and the weather. Hiking one hundred miles of trails, however, is different: it’s as much about how you go as it is about where you get to on any given day. Some careful planning of trips is required, especially for those who actually intend to complete the entire list. And as exciting as it will be to watch certain members at their most competitive, dashing out after supper to run up the Wood Path and down the EZ Way in order to scratch two more trails (and 1.9 miles) from the list, it should be said up front that the RMC 100 is not primarily a competition for only some people to win. Many of us would need years to complete it, and many with no intention of ever finishing might join in for the opportunity to discover just one trail they’ve never walked. The real challenge of this project is for us to all to get out on the trails, and to stay—or become—acquainted with them and with fellow RMC members. It’s also a way to make a real connection to those folks in RMC archive photographs; if they could look at photos of us hiking, do you think they would see past the funny clothing and recognize that we’re doing exactly what they enjoyed?

Example of "RMC 100" booklet trail diagrams, for Amphibrach and Spur Trail.  Each trail is a vertical bar, with total mileage at the top of the bar and with most intersecting trails indicated.  Here, for a July 4 walk to Crag Camp, the hiker has filled in the entire Amphibrach bar, and the Spur Trail bar only as far as Crag.  The upper Spur Trail remains blank for now.To get everyone off to a good start this summer, the club will offer two trips specially designated as “RMC 100” trips, and will offer pocket-sized booklets meant for recording trails as they are hiked. Michele Cormier will lead the first trip on July 6, and I will lead the second one on August 19, to destinations yet to be determined but sure to include interesting combinations of RMC trail mileage. The booklet, an enlarged excerpt of which is shown on this page, has been designed specifically for this centennial event, and shows each trail as a separate vertical bar at a scale of one inch to a mile, indicating also the start point, end point and junctions with other trails. The idea of the bar format is to let hikers mark the trails they have completed and see which ones remain, on five pages with the trails grouped geographically. As this filled-out example shows, many hikes will cover part, but not all, of a longer trail, and so the format in the booklet will help hikers keep track of which sections of a trail have been completed. Some of our longer trails, such as the Randolph Path, might make easy and interesting hikes from end to end, even in either direction; some—is everyone thinking of the Link already?—might be better enjoyed in segments connecting other trails.

The question “what do I get when I’m done?” has already been raised, of course, and deserves more thought before the summer. On the one hand, the club could bestow upon mileage-finishers (how about: “centipedes”?) a special patch or shirt, or could recognize them by name at the annual meeting or on the website. On the other hand, what if the question were “what does the club get when you’re done?” Think about what you might find out after traveling all those trails; would you be willing to write something to share with the board and the trail crew, or to contribute to the newsletter or the website? The centennial committee is open to your suggestions for recognition for our trailrunning champions, and just think about all the different champions we’re likely to hear from: “did them all in two weeks”, “did them all already, over the past fifty years”, “did them all before I was ten”, or “after I was seventy”!

Stay tuned to the RMC website and the Weekly for updated information on the special club trips. We may be able to offer a print-it-yourself version of the booklet on the website, but copies will also be distributed free at the hikes and at the Fourth of July Tea, where we will launch the RMC 100 project along with the entire season of centennial events. See you there!

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The Best Way to Enjoy our Centennial Summer? Volunteer!
by Sarah Gallop

We’re going to have a great summer.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in Randolph 24/7 or if you’ll only be up for a week or on weekends. There are RMC events planned throughout July and August that will showcase our history, cause us to revel in the present, and inspire us to ensure that the RMC has another 100 successful years. We believe the most meaningful way for you to experience these activities is to get involved, along with your fellow community members.

And besides, WE NEED VOLUNTEERS! Please take a look at the listing of events below and let me know what you’d like to work on. There are so many choices.

- We’re engaged in an oral history project that will result in a CD of stories and accounts of our beloved community, past and present. We need volunteers to be interviewed and to do the interviewing. We’re using the Story Corps model of collecting the oral histories, and we’re certain that it will be an exciting process and a memorable product.

- The old tradition of the Rendezvous, where we gather at a pre-selected spot for lunch having arrived via different, inventive routes, will be reinvigorated this summer on July 17. Would you like to help bring back this unique event? The Rendezvous co-chairs would welcome your support.

- There will be RMC work trips on July 31st and on other days. Maybe you’ve always thought you do trail work, but never volunteered for a trip. Here’s your invitation!

- Perhaps you’d like to lead your Charades this summer? There will be a Centennial theme to the Annual Picnic and Charades on August 21st at Mossy Glen.

- Of course, there is always the need for leaders of our regular hiking trips on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These are fun outings that build camaraderie and might take you someplace where you haven’t been in a while.

If you’d like to volunteer, (and we hope you will) please contact me, and I’ll connect you with the right person.

No matter what, with such a fun and busy summer planned, you’ll want to be sure to be in the communications loop. We are publishing a new RMC Directory for our Centennial Summer, so please take the time to e-mail updates to your summer/winter mailing address, phone number, and e-mail address to: info@randolphmountainclub.org.

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Reports from Committees...

From the Editor

As of spring 2010 I have taken on the job of RMC newsletter editor, held until recently by Lydia Goetze, whom I will thank her on everyone’s behalf for her work in writing, editing and in encouraging members and others to send their varied and interesting contributions. Readers should find that the look of the newsletter will not change much, and I hope also that the content will continue to reflect the diversity of our members’ experiences, to connect to the club’s past, and to help shape its future. Please consider yourselves invited to share your reminiscences, your ideas and your point of view about Randolph, the RMC and the mountains, especially in this centennial year. You may e-mail written materials, photographs or artwork to me at the address below. For the winter and summer issues, submissions are due around October 1 and April 1 respectively. Thanks –

Randy Meiklejohn / newsletter@randolphmountainclub.org

RMC Trails Report
by Mike Micucci and Cristin Bailey

Little did we know, when we agreed to be trails co-chairs, just how much the position involved. Hardly a day goes by without something fun, important, exciting, far-reaching, challenging or historic taking place.

So far this year, we’ve hired another crew of amazing individuals to do the critically important trail work that all of our members and visitors to the Northern Peaks appreciate. We’ll have a talented and motivated Field Supervisor, Ben Lieberson from our trail crew, to lead the summer’s projects and coordinate our volunteers and work with camps. The 2010 trail crew consists of Benzo Harris and Duncan Lennon, returning for a 3rd year; Caitlin Johnson, Deva Steketee, and Liz Pfeffer for year 2 and Andrew Gagnon, Matt Zane and Alex Leich for their first year. Matt is coming over from AMC, and Andrew spent last season on trail crew at Baxter State Park. The crew moves in the first of June, begins orientation on the second and patrolling starts on the 3rd. Also, the crew will do some rock work and grip hoist training at the Perch as a cooperative effort with the Perch renovation project.

During early winter, Mike signed the paperwork whereby the RMC is now the proud papa of a significant section of the Gulfside Trail, the route of the Appalachian Trail between Madison Hut and Mount Jefferson. Equally important, we’ve been forced to close the popular Owl’s Head Trail and now must look for alternatives to access the inspiring views from that summit. Additionally, new tents have been purchased for crew housing at Stearns Lodge, a grant application has been submitted to the NH Bureau of trails for much needed repair work on the Diagonal, Bridge repairs to Sanders Bridge and Memorial Bridge due to damage from fallen trees, preparation for the arrival of the crew and orientation scheduling, meetings with our partners at the U.S.Forest Service to discuss our short and long term goals, answering routine emailed questions from visitors to the region, and on and on.

Hardly time to get out and hike and ski – or so you might think, but Mike at least has managed to get out on average 3 days each week – which makes life in Randolph so special. All of the membership that lives somewhere else should envy us who manage to live here year ‘round!

Notable trail work projects for the 2010 season include replacement of the ladders on Spur Trail and cleaning up some work on Lowe’s Path. For these projects, we will make use of funding received through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). We will also be making improvements to the Howker Ridge Trail, using funding from ARRA and also from gifts to the club made in memory of Mr. Frederick Otto. The RMC is especially grateful to the friends and family of Mr. Otto for making this special project possible.

By the time you get this, we’ll also know if we’ve been successful in our quest for a NH Trails grant to do work on the Diagonal.

In addition to these special projects, we’ll have the usual brushing, blazing, drainage cleaning, sign replacement and volunteer work trips. One of these volunteer weekends we hope to get all of the bog bridges replaced at Randolph East on August 7--more on that in the Crew and Caretakers Reunion article in this issue.

Which reminds us-- in addition to doing lots of work on trails, we’re all looking forward to celebrating our Centennial in every way we can. Here’s hoping you can make it for some part of the celebration!

Mike Foster at the Crag Camp outhouse, March 6, 2010.  A three-day snowstorm had left six feet of snow at the camps, bringing the snow stake to 116" (almost ten feet).  Mike is standing on a snow stair in a trench dug down to an access door behind the outhouse, whose roof peak is just visible behind his head.  S. Manikian photo.Happy trails!

RMC Camps Report
by Pete Antos-Ketcham and Sally Manikian

You know it’s a good winter at the Camps when the snow stake tops off at over 10 feet. While the snow ebbed and flowed throughout much of the winter, a major final nor’easter slammed Randolph and the peaks with 5-7 feet of snow in early March. It was about that time that Crag Camp’s outhouse was buried! The Camps were in the capable hands of Juliane Hudson and Mike Foster for the second time, building on their skills and experience. Juliane honed her skills on the Swiss Bob on the steep slopes and snapped some amazing photos, and Mike once again topped all 4,000-footers in his days off (as well as picking up telemark skiing and rebuilding the radio solar array in his days on). In April and May, the Camps will be staffed by John Szalewicz (a long time RMC fill- in, as well as worked for the AMC and GMC) and Ryan Smith (coming to us from the AMC Backcountry Campsites Program and, more recently, from Waterville Valley). They will be swapping week on, week off.

Looking ahead to the summer, we are excited to have Hunter Hague returning for a second season as a senior caretaker. Hunter spent the spring in Utah in an internship learning sustainable construction, and those skills will certainly transfer to our two major capital projects this summer. We are still in the process of interviewing and reviewing candidates for the second caretaking position, and aim to have it staffed before this issue of the newsletter is mailed.

As for capital projects this season, we are conducting a historic renovation of the Perch Shelter. This project will be overseen by a crew of two technical supervisors with support from the caretakers, Field Supervisor, and volunteers. The work will consist of replacing the bottom courses of logs, rebuilding the rock foundation, and replacing the roof. This project is funded by ARRA, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

To continue to upgrade the composting toilet systems, we received funding from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund, of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Thanks to these two grants, we will be able to make significant improvements to our facilities, and continue to uphold our high standards of stewardship for our alpine areas.

With two major capital projects, an experienced staff, and the Centennial celebrations, this is shaping up to be a fantastic summer. Come spend part of it with us at the Camps!

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The Most Fortunate Guests
by Annie Jacobs

“Alpine azalea is . . . able to withstand water loss from frozen soils, enduring on the highest and most wind-exposed slopes. The mats rise only a quarter of an inch high, a dwarf among dwarves. They are so low and so compact that in spite of the wind they do not even quiver.”
                -Ann Zwinger, from Land Above the Trees: A Guide to American Alpine Tundra

All week we peel Gore-Tex raingear layers on and off, but we manage to miss any major rain. None of the notorious thunder or hailstorms reach us, and the wind is mild. One day white clouds pass in and out and swallow us so that we can’t see the trail ahead, then open to reveal grand views like that of the Great Gulf—a ravine so wide and deep that it pulls at me. Another day, low clouds linger, and our hair and clothes carry water droplets. And that day the plants are stars. Without the backdrop of mountain peaks and valleys, when the scaled layers of mountain are hidden, and in dim lighting tiny alpine plants—some with pink, yellow, and white flowers—and pale lichens stand out as focal points in a muted painting.

These small plants are why we are here in the White Mountains Presidential Range, why we hiked with huge packs up through hardwood forest and then spruce and fir, why we are now where few trees grow. Imagine being one of these alpine plants, adapted over multitudes of generations to survive the harshest conditions—wind whipping, subzero temperatures, intense ultra violet radiation, persistent fog, harsh raindrops, hail. If New England winters are for hardy humans, New England’s alpine zone is just that for plants year round; all but the weather-savvy avoid it. And they don’t need to peel Gore-tex on or off—they are built just right for every day of the year.

On our first venture on Lowe’s Path, past our base camp at Gray Knob, we meet these sturdy organisms: I squat down to study rounded clumps of Diapensia—emerald green and smooth as a mini golf course. I pat the air above them. My eyes focus in. These guys are tiny, I think. The pictures in my field guide made them look like any old plant. But here, they are squat, miniature shrubs with evergreen leaves that are shorter than my pinky fingernail. They cling to the sides and valleys of rocks that are gray, green, lime with lichen. On one rock, water sits in a crevice, clear as an empty tide pool, catching sunlight on its still surface. This is a land of bonsai-like smallness. A child’s imagination would make it a fairyland. I look up from the Diapensia, up from the tide pool, and see that all around me things go on like this— miniscule emerald plants and lime-gray rocks. I realize that we are most fortunate guests.

Diapensia.  Tim Sappington drawing.Laura Alexander, our spirited instructor, leads us further up Lowe’s Path and points out variety in plant and rock. Altitude, geology, and exposure combine to create microhabitats, neighboring locations with unique growing conditions. So around every corner (or rock face) is an entirely new environment with plants that are the best adapted for just that place. We break into teams of two, and each team chooses two adjacent plots with different plant assemblages or communities; we will look at the microhabitat conditions that foster the differences.

My project partner Carla and I don’t jump to claim our study plots—we agree that each option Laura offers will be fascinating. We end up with the spot I first squatted in, with the tide pool. Laura is excited because, when she was a student in 2000, this was her spot. She’s eager to see how things might have changed or not changed in eight years. Carla and I take our first measurements, and trot down to Gray Knob in the evening air; we are lit with enthusiasm for discovery. Over five days, we will identify plants and twice daily record air temperature, soil temperature, wind speed, and wind direction -- factors that, among countless others, influence microhabitat conditions.

Our first plot sits on the leeward, eastern side of a ridge, and is bordered by a large rock. We know this is leeward by looking around at the few trees that grow nearby. All of their branches point eastward, away from the wind, because no branches can survive such strong prevailing winds as occur here. Our 1.5 square meter plot appears to be sheltered by the rock border, but in fact the rock might help funnel wind straight through the site. Looking at our weather data from now and that from 2000, this spot seems to be in a wind chute, with currents flushing in from various directions, attesting to the power of physical structure. Several patches of bare dirt with no plants suggest a history of dramatic winds and damaging freeze-thaw action.

It’s afternoon in plot one during a blustery spell, and Carla and I can feel the chill and strength of the wind. We can tell that one could grow here only if they were crouched low and tight and had a knack for holding onto water when the wind slices in. This is where Diapensia thrives, with its cushiony growth and its thick, needle-like leaves that prevent water loss and sunburn. We find other compact plants, like mountain cranberry and alpine azalea. The azalea seems a Diapensia look-alike, until we notice that it is even more petite, with dark, leathery leaves. Then there is bog bilberry with larger, rounder leaves and longer stems, and purple crowberry with lots of fine needles growing along a thin stem, like legs on a centipede. The bilberry and crowberry grow out and up, and sometimes layer over the squatter species. For them, long, bendy stems are adapted to withstand the wind. Diapensia might be the hardiest, but each plant here has a way to deal with the conditions. Even the balsam fir that grows alongside and into our plot is flattened out in horizontal mats, a ground-creeping tree.

In 2000 Laura and another student, Brad Daniels, classified plot one as a Diapensia community. Comparing their data with ours shows that it was similar then to now, except for a few key differences that surprise Carla and me. Purple crowberry— the millipede plant—has expanded significantly, from sixteen percent cover to thirty-two percent cover. Likewise, bog bilberry has expanded from just over one percent to seven percent. The horizontal balsam fir has stretched longer and now covers five percent of the plot, up from only a quarter of a percent. Even with observer differences to consider, these changes seem dramatic.

Change happens, even in this small-scale world that looks like it could be static and stationary. Over eight years, plot one has become increasingly abundant with plants other than the stout Diapensia. We wonder, might this be alpine succession? Might Diapensia have set down roots in this harsh location, only to make it easier for other species to move in?

Plot two sits below plot one—according to Daniels it is forty centimeters lower. Our measurements show that the air here is consistently warmer than at plot one—likely due to less wind, as it is more nestled and sheltered by rock—but the soils are consistently cooler. The soil might be kept cool by a thicker ground cover; the plants grow lush, with no exposed soil. Here Diapensia covers less ground and crowberry dominates, along with horizontal fir. The major change from 2000 is the growth in bog bilberry, from less than one percent to six percent. Mountain cranberry and purple crowberry have also expanded range. Again, we see that eight years is enough for community composition to change, and that bilberry and crowberry like to stretch, and we are awed by the influence of variety in structure and topography.

It’s now our last day hike in the alpine zone, and we’ve decided at last to pull off our rain gear and stash it in our packs. In fact, classmate Andrew has declared that he will not be putting it on again—he’s tired of the on and off. The rest of us follow suit, but I keep my rain pants on. We joke that that’s our insurance policy—once all the gear is away, it will start to rain. But finally I’m too hot and off go the pants. On the walk back to the Lodge, we traverse across Mt. Adams on the Gray Knob trail. A few of us are bringing up the rear, slowly navigating slick rocks, when we hear a long and busy bird song—the complex trill of the winter wren—in the distance. We kneel occasionally to snap photos of Labrador tea and other flowers in bloom.

We will hike down from this world tomorrow, and I feel no need to rush. But thunder rumbles, and, suddenly, we pick up a no-nonsense pace. Laura pulls on her rain jacket. Carla and I just put up with the light shower. It seeps a little into my polypro moisture-wicking shirt, wets my hair. Yesterday when it was all fog, Laura pointed out that it’s good for us to experience a little bit of what the alpine plants deal with. We begin to grasp the purpose of their refined adaptations to a harsh and varied climate. It reminds us how vulnerable we are here, how hardy they are. Later, around the dinner table in the Lodge, I’m in my wool sweater, warm and dry.

Each summer, students in Antioch University New England’s Environmental Studies graduate program visit the Mt. Adams vicinity to study alpine plants and their microhabitats. Annie Jacobs participated in this program during the summer of 2008. By detailed long-term studies such as these, ecologists observe patterns and their disruption and try to understand what change is normal and what changes may be significant and how.

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Winter Caretaker’s Journal
by Juliane Hudson

Juliane Hudson’s journal entries and photographs from winter 2009-10 appear on the RMC website. Below is her last entry of the winter season, from April 5-12, 2010.

Winter 2010, from inside Gray Knob.  Juliane Hudson photo.My final week caretaking at Gray Knob! Goodbyes started with the hike in. It felt just a little ridiculous switching from my crocs to mountaineering boots and then entirely awkward hiking on the rocky, muddy trail at the bottom. I was blown away by how much snow had melted during the last week. And it had just disappeared instead of turning into the usual, massive, spring ice flows. The Great Snowdrift against Gray Knob was gone and there was bare ground where warm sun and wind hits best. The time of an arctic world was quite clearly over.

The last stint of any caretaking season is always a strange one. I hike in with a mental list of things I haven't done that I had meant to, aware of the countdown of days and suddenly trying to fit it all in. Preventing regrets. This last stint was no different although the weather didn't completely cooperate. Monday through Friday blurred together into one long day of gray, misty and rainy weather with no visitors. I did take advantage of the one sunny morning to take care of all those branches that were broken by people and their backpacks, forcing their way through the treetops all March when we walked on 9 to 10 feet of snow. Amputating tree limbs and digits in a t-shirt, it was warm and the air smelled like firs and spruces. This was brushing for the trees' benefit (a clean cut at a "joint" is healthier than a torn or snapped branch) and not for hikers' comfort. Many of these branches were broken on purpose which is unfortunate as the vast majority of the time they are far above our heads. All it takes is a little patience and flexibility to push aside the branches that cross your path or to push through them. The trees and plants don't need the extra struggle to survive. The once protective blanket of snow is now frozen to the needled branches, consolidating and ripping branches off the trees on its way to the ground. It looks terrible. The torture rack for trees! And snowfields are creeping down slope, mowing buried trees down in slow motion. It must be a tough time of year for the unlucky, but summer is in sight.

That sunny afternoon, I wandered over to the Perch to update RMC on its findability. The trail is slowly emerging but the snow is still very deep over there. The Perch is also, still, extremely difficult to find, later proven by some guests who were delighted to end up at Gray Knob. I dug down to the stream in hopes of toting back liters and liters of that most delicious water, another goodbye and celebration. But after digging down several feet I could hear the... roar... of the once stream, then soon broke through and regretted it. I envisioned bad things happening; a small person could fall in and be swept down this steep mountainside under the snowpack, trapped. I was happy to step back and stay, solidly on this still-deep snow. Happy not to be there when it starts thinning and you posthole through. I didn't even bother filling my water bottles, it was snow melt anyways, not Perch water. Clouds sped in and took away all visibility, which left a dizzying world of white sky, ground and just my white tracks to follow. I walked back in a rainsleet
downpour that lasted just until I made it to GK, soaked.

From Gray Knob.  Juliane Hudson photo.Friday came around extra rainy and temperatures were expected to drop. So I spent the day inside, waiting for people to come. Looking for that first sign of movement, color and noise to come walking down the path. Those giddy, nervous moments between seeing/hearing someone and when the door opens. I was just about to give up, who would choose to hike up in the rain? But then two AMC shelters caretakers from last summer, Matt and Cuppa Joe, showed up! And then time sped way up. Cuppa Joe made the most yummy breakfast! Chess, scrabble, cards and Matt crushed me at checkers. I never would have expected it but it cleared completely Saturday afternoon. So, Matt and I walked up to Adams 4 surrounded by white rime and blue skies. Goodbye Adams.

Saturday night, co-caretaker Mike and Caitlin came up with good food and company. Caitlin is incredibly gifted at talking with caretakers who can be strange, quiet and sometimes grouchy. It was a caretaker party. And even though I was tired (it is hard switching from days of solitude to company) I absolutely loved it! So, so happy. I couldn't have asked for a better ending to the season, except to trade the rain for sunshine. Everyone slowly hiked out Sunday. They even helped hike out some of my accumulated stuff. Last round of chores and NHPR's Folk Show in front of Jotul. Final evening radio call with Sally on the working base radio thanks to Mike. I was a little sad that I couldn't say goodbye to Bill, the one constant voice every dark, solitary, cold evening. With his, "How's Gray Knob? Anybody around? I'm ready for weather. Have a good night." But it was a good night anyway.

I really can't believe another winter, another 5 months have already passed. I'm still not sure if it's 2009 or 2010. It's hard to leave and it will be so strange to not hike in next Monday or next November. I can't imagine finding another job or place I've enjoyed as much as this one. I'll have to find some other way to get my sunny, rime-covered fix next winter. I'll miss standing at the Quay, looking down at the town lights and up at the constellations. My favorite mug that goes "thunk", Jotul, Monday caretaker switches, the glow-in-the-dark stars above the caretaker bed and so much more. Wintery Gray Knob feels like my home and I'm already homesick. But it's melting away and spring has my feet itching to hike miles upon miles. Time for something different. Thanks RMC and happy 100th!

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