RMC Newsletter - Winter 2005-2006

Table of Contents

President's Letter
By Jamie Maddock

"Hello from Randolph! It's been a windy fall here in RMC country. In late September, an especially dramatic storm came through with winds over 100 mph on the summits and over 60 mph in the valley. This has made some extra work for our volunteers and our fall trail crew..."

Reports from Committees
By Doug Mayer, Al Hudson, Al Sochard and Michele Cormier

Trails Report, RMC Archivist News, Camps News, Treasurer's Report, and RMC Trails: Then and Now.

Anna Bemis Stearns
By Judith Maddock Hudson

"Anna was a member of the RMC beginning in 1920. Between 1939 and 1969, she served 13 years on the Board, with 6 years as secretary, 2 years as vice-president and in 1956-58 two as president. Tom Barrow recounted that during the 1940s, when labor for clearing trails was scarce, Anna and his father took charge of clearing the Beechwood Way..."

Logging on the Northern Peaks, 1865-1912
By Judith Maddock Hudson

"The 1892 completion of the Boston & Maine railroad through Randolph Valley made timber harvesting on the Presidentials a reality. First intimations of this appear in 1895 when the AMC purchased, for $400, a strip of land 600 feet wide around the waterfalls on Snyder Brook..."

On Finishing the Four Thousand Footers
By Will Strayhorn

"Emerging from the trees onto Signal Ridge on Mt. Carrigan I caught my first glance of the summit. As I climbed along the beautiful ridge, I looked at the magnificent mountains and the bright blue sky. In the distance a cloud floated lazily along the horizon..."

Living in Bear Country -- On and Off the Trail
By Doug Mayer

One of the seven LNT principles is to “Respect Wildlife.” One of the most important means we have of respecting wildlife is keeping our food sources separate from their food.

Tales from the Trails: Paul and the Bear Cub
By Kathy Tremblay

"This past summer, Paul was on an early evening run along Pasture Path, when, from the corner of his eye, he saw a small bear cub skitter up a tree as fast as he could climb..."

White Mountains 4000-Footer Quiz
By Jack Stewart

Scoured by Wind or Buried by Snow
By Kelly Towle

"Alpine zones are places of intensity and drama, of fierce winds, harsh snows, and rough terrain. But they can be places of subtlety as well, where a slight shift in topography can lead to an array of differences in plant life."

Spending a Winter at 4370'
By Derek "Storm" Schott

"I was lucky enough to spend a winter at RMC's Gray Knob cabin last year -- working 11 days on and 3 days off from November through April. Several people have asked me what it is like to spend a winter in an unheated cabin on the side of a mountain in northernmost New Hampshire..."

Letters to the RMC
By Michael Field and Chuck Wooster

"The last thing I expected to see while wandering on the internet was my own picture. But there I am, on the front page of the Winter 2004-2005 RMC Newsletter, Mountain Hut Hosts Sounds of Music, carrying part of a pump organ."

President's Letter

Hello from Randolph! It's been a windy fall here in RMC country. In late September, an especially dramatic storm came through with winds over 100 mph on the summits and over 60 mph in the valley. This has made some extra work for our volunteers and our fall trail crew clearing the trails, but RMC is fortunate to have the funds on hand to field just such a seasonal crew. This brings me around to the main project ahead of the club for the next couple of years: creating a permanent valley base camp for our trail crews and caretakers.

The proposed RMC trail crew and caretaker camp. Illustration by Tim Sappington.Former president Mary Brown has led the club and board through a very worthwhile and thorough process of identifying the club's long term needs for trail crew and caretaker housing. By now, you should have received a package with our case statement as well as plans for the new base camp. If you missed it, complete information is available via the RMC web site at www.randolphmountainclub.org.

The club needs this building. It will enable us to hire and retain the high quality caretakers and trail crews that we must have to maintain our trails and camps. It is a major step forward for RMC and will more than repay what we put into it.

Over the past several decades, RMC has become more and more of a year-round organization. The proposed rustic, simple building will allow us to support our employees throughout the year, since it will also provide housing on days-off for our fall, winter and spring caretakers, as well as space for our fall trail crew.

With the base camp package mailed to you, you received our plea for a contribution. So far, we have raised half of the $300,000 required, but we need your help to finish this fund raising effort. We need to raise the entire sum before we start construction on a building that will do the job for years to come.

Newest RMC Board members Samarjit Shankar and Blake Strayhorn at a recent Board meeting. Photo by Doug Mayer.The Anna B. Stearns Foundation has issued a fabulous challenge to our membership: for each new dollar that we raise, they will give us two more, up to a total of $100,000. With this offer in place, I am confident that we can raise $50,000 from our members -- the amount that we need to reach our goal of $300,000 by this spring. This will allow us to break ground next fall, and have RMC housing ready for use when the trail crews and caretakers arrive for the 2007 summer season. Our membership has always come through in the past, and we hope it will again. As always, thank you for supporting RMC!

With this timetable in mind, we will shortly be deciding on the type of construction to be used for the building. Once this is done, we will start lining up contractors. We have already begun the permit process with the town and state.

Operating the base camp will require some additional income to cover increased expenses. To fund these costs, the RMC board will be re-examining membership dues and camps fees. The board will be extremely careful to make sure that the base camp will not strain our finances. We will make certain that we continue doing all the great work we've recently accomplished!

We have several other projects now in progress. New RMC board member Blake Strayhorn is developing several new shirts and hats. Keep an eye out for them on our web site. Our Trails Stewardship committee is working to protect RMC's trails for the long term. And, most recently, the US Forest Service has renewed the club's Special Use Permit for Gray Knob, Crag Camp, the Log Cabin and the Perch, for the next ten years.

It is a real honor to be asked to work with so many great people who are willing to volunteer their time and energy to make all these things happen! They make my job as President easy. The RMC has always been a small club where members and friends just dig in and make things happen. I hope you will join us in making this new venture succeed. It is this cooperative spirit that makes RMC such a fun and dynamic club for so many of us!

Jamie Maddock
RMC President

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Anna Bemis Stearns
By Judith Maddock Hudson

The Anna B. Stearns Charitable Foundation has promised a large gift - as much as $100,000 in a challenge grant - to the Randolph Mountain Club's base camp project. Who was Anna B., and why has her foundation decided to support us?

For seventy years, Anna B. Stearns was one of Randolph's more colorful residents. Bostonian and patrician to the core, she talked with a distinctive Brahmin drawl and drove her Mercedes fiercely. My father, recounting a terrifying journey with her, remembered that as her car screeched around a corner, seemingly on two wheels, she said, "Don't worry, Stephen, it's got to tip far more than that before it goes over." Gordon Lowe replaced the clutch in her Mercedes on a regular basis. She was a hardy hiker, walking and snowshoeing well into her eighties. On an RMC climb, she would always leave the summit first, complaining that she was too slow. We rarely saw her short of the trail head.

Anna was born in 1895 and raised in Dedham, Massachusetts. Her father, Harris B. Stearns, was a wealthy Massachusetts banker and stockbroker. She graduated from Vassar College in 1918. I remember her scornful comments about her classmates after she had attended her 50th reunion - "Hardly any of them could even walk!"

Anna came to Randolph in August 1920 (this is the year in which the names of the Stearns family first appeared on the membership list of the RMC). The family, as far as I can tell, stayed at the Ravine House throughout the 1920s, and Anna became one of the adventurous younger hikers in the community. She met my parents in the mid-1920s, and their subsequent friendship spanned many decades.

Panorama illustration of the Northern Presidentials from Lookout Ledge. The back of the new RMC map features four illustrations by Tim Sappington, complete with peak identifications.In 1929, Anna's father decided to build a summer home in Randolph. My parents had purchased an open pasture to the west of Bowman, a lot with about 20 acres of land. My father also bought for $100 an adjacent lot of about 18 acres to the east, reselling it to Stearns. (This was Mr. Stearns' idea, as he felt that because he was known to be very wealthy, he would be asked to pay more.) Stearns engaged John Boothman to build him a spacious house, which was ready for occupancy in the summer of 1931. The family spent summers in their new home, moving to hotels in Boston or South Carolina during the colder months. Harris Stearns died a few years after building his Randolph "cottage," but Anna and her semi-invalid mother returned to summer in Randolph each year. After her mother's death in the 1940s, Anna spent May through October in Randolph and the rest of the year in an apartment on Beacon Hill.

Anna was a member of the RMC beginning in 1920. Between 1939 and 1969, she served 13 years on the Board, with 6 years as secretary, 2 years as vice-president and in 1956-58 two as president. Tom Barrow recounted that during the 1940s, when labor for clearing trails was scarce, Anna and his father took charge of clearing the Beechwood Way. (Louis F. Cutter had invented an "adopt-a-trail" scheme to solve the World War II labor crisis.) She was also camps chair for two years in 1960 and 1961.

As a major contributor to all of the RMC's building projects over the years, she established a personal foundation in 1951 that was further endowed by her considerable fortune upon her death at the age of 94. The Stearns Foundation, subsequently honoring Anna's desire to support projects in northern New Hampshire, has donated substantial grants to the Nature Conservancy to purchase and support the Green Hills reservation in North Conway, for Randolph's Community Forest, and now to the RMC for its base camp.

In her later years, Anna was one of a group of inveterate older climbers that included my mother, Charlotte Maddock, Nora Joensson, Miggy Arnold Woodard, Kay Billings, Louise Baldwin, and Barbara Wilson (the baby of the group). In 1969 (when Anna was in her mid-seventies), she and my mother hiked in June up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to view the alpine flowers. On the way down, crossing a snowfield, as my mother described in our family logbook: "Almost fell in when a snow bridge broke, & Anna lost her cane in a torrent under the snow." On a "perfect day" that same September they climbed down through Mahoosuc Notch and up Mahoosuc Arms: "Final mile unpleasant because of recent logging. Encountered some difficulty in finding trail's emergence on Success Pond Road. Very relieved when the car was spotted. Celebrated this feat by drinking sherry." And in October, with Barbara Wilson, they climbed North and Middle Moat: "Missed turn and came out on road leading to Bartlett, added about 5 miles to circuit...Annoying but taken in good stride by all."

Many current RMC members never knew Anna B. Stearns. However, her long association with Randolph and the RMC set the stage for the generous gift by her foundation to the base camp project.

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Logging on the Northern Peaks, 1865-1912
By Judith Maddock Hudson

Throughout nineteenth-century New England, lumber and wood products were in heavy demand. Huge conifers, mostly pine, were felled to serve as ship's masts; pine and spruce were often cut as the settlers cleared land, providing building materials. As the century progressed, enormous log drives on larger rivers transported timber to the mills for processing. Lumbering was first concentrated near the more accessible southern forests where saw mills manufactured building lumber, clapboards and shingles, and other factories processed bark for the tanning industry, made barrel staves, and, after the 1870's, processed pulp into paper.

Madison and Adams in winter, with snow showing extent of logging, c 1905. Photo by G. F. Moore. Doug Mayer Archive.Northern New Hampshire's shallow, rocky rivers, less satisfactory arteries for log drives, lessened the initial impact of the lumberman's axe upon the northern White Mountains. The cities' appetite for wood products, however, continued to grow. By mid-century, the railroads were beginning to spread north through the river valleys, offering cheap transport to the lumberman. The first tracks laid by the Atlantic & St. Lawrence railroad reached Gorham along the Androscoggin River in 1851. In southern New Hampshire, trains brought portable steam-driven saw mills that facilitated clear-cutting of the forests. The pace of railroad expansion accelerated, sparked by the tremendous success of rail transport during the Civil War.1

By the end of the Civil War, wood products were more in demand than ever, and the lumber barons were clamoring for access to northern forest land. The bulk of the White Mountain forests had been held in public domain by the state of New Hampshire. Lobbied intensely by the lumber industry to sell the state's lands, in 1867 Governor Harriman and the legislature saw this short term windfall as a painless way to benefit public education by establishing a "literary fund" from its profits.2 The lumber barons were quick to harvest their lands, bringing rapid deforestation to large tracts of land, especially on the lower slopes. Resistance was slow to be organized, but by 1881 a conservationist initiative had convinced the NH legislature to establish a forestry commission. Joseph B. Walker, an ardent proponent of sustainable timbering and chairman of the new commission, addressed the problems created by the wholesale lumbering in a talk before the New Hampshire Fish and Game League in April, 1883. The state, he felt, had squandered its valuable resources:

And the state itself, I regret to say, has done her full share in the sad destruction [of our forests]...by selling to lumber operators in 1867 the whole body of her very valuable timber lands lying in the three counties of Carroll, Grafton, and Coös, according to the deeds of conveyance, 172,000 acres more or less.3

"The Curse of the Mountains," sketch from 1907 by George Flagg. Flagg Archive.The first deed, dated October 17, 1867, was for $500, and conveyed lands "within a circular area six miles in diameter, of which the centre is Tip-Top House." Following subsequent sales in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, the total revenue for the sale amounted to $25,000, a price of 14.5 cents per acre. Walker continued:

The only consolation to be derived from this extraordinary transaction is, that the state thereby secured itself against further folly in this direction by the sale of its last forest acre.

Walker was already warning the state about the problems caused by wholesale clearcutting: the deleterious effects it had on soil fertility, maintenance of steady river flows, the impact of erosion, and the damage done to the summer resort trade. He called for legislative penalties for criminal or careless firesetting, for improving existing areas, and for purchasing denuded areas to become public lands.

If the legislature, which has wasted hundreds and thousands of dollars in useless talk about crows and woodchucks, would turn its attention to the condition and interests of the forests, and establish a state department of forestry in the agricultural college, it would confer a benefit upon its landed interest far surpassing any as yet rendered it.4

As the various lumber companies developed lumber operations that could be serviced by rail, their axes were coming ever closer to the Randolph Valley, especially to the north. Cutting during the winter of 1883 severely damaged early pathmaker Eugene Cook's recent trail from Randolph Hill to the Ice Gulch.5 There is certain evidence that the lower Presidential slopes had experienced logging periodically during the 1870s and 80s. G. H. Scudder, in January 1884, had photographed a "logging road at Cold Brook" and "the deserted Camp Thunder on the Mt Adams Path."6 In 1885 G. W. & N. W. Libbey of Whitefield bought property northwest of Randolph, and moved a portable saw mill into the Pond of Safety area.7 On the eastern slopes the Osgood Trail from the Glen House was obliterated by lumber operations in 1887.8

Damage from fire on the Carter Range, 1898. Photo by G. F. Moore. Doug Mayer Archive.Fire was a constant danger in clear-cut tracts where piles of tinder-dry slash could be ignited by sparks from wood-fired locomotives. On July 7, 1886, Cook's niece Marian Pychowska was hiking just off the Davis Path when, as she later noted in a letter to her friend Isabella Stone:

Earlier in the day we had noticed the smoke that rose from behind Mt. Franklin. Now it had filled Crawford Notch and drifted way round to Conway, while great yellow-brown volumes rolled up from the increasing fire, making the southern landscape all lurid, the air about us being still clear.9

The fire she saw that day was the first of two disastrous blazes in "New Zealand" valley: in 1886, 12,000 acres were burned when a spark ignited the slash; in 1903, during a very dry spring, another 10,000 acres was consumed.10 There was no way to extinguish the fires other than wait for a good rain. Closer to Randolph, the crest of Pine Mountain burned more than once between 1897 and 1903; huge fires, most ignited by locomotives, raged on the Carter Range and through much of the Wild River drainage. George N. Cross, in his diary from 1898, witnessed the latter fire from Randolph:

July 16: All day great volumes of smoke have been rolling up from a mighty forest fire on the other side of the Carters in the great wilderness. Tonight there is a lurid light above the tree tops. Only rain will extinguish this fire...

July 17: The fire on the Carters is said to be in the Wild River region. It has blazed up again today.

On July 30, Cross pasted into his diary an account from the Boston Herald, dated July 28, 1898:

...The heavy rains have quenched the great forest fires which...have been raging over the crest of Mt. Moriah...During the seven [actually 12 or 13] days the fires burned they have swept over at least 3000 acres and done thousands of dollars damage. Most of the territory is controlled by the Hastings Lumber Company.11

Pine Mountain and the Carters in winter, showing effects of logging and fire, early 1900's. Photo by G. F. Moore. Doug Mayer Archive.The 1892 completion of the Boston & Maine railroad through Randolph Valley made timber harvesting on the Presidentials a reality. First intimations of this appear in 1895 when the AMC purchased, for $400, a strip of land 600 feet wide around the waterfalls on Snyder Brook, as reported by the Trustees of Real Estate:

We were led to make this purchase because of information, suddenly received in the month of January, that Mr. Watson had begun the cutting of his timber, and that, without immediate action on our part, the beauty of the surroundings of the Madison Path would be largely, if not altogether, destroyed.12

The first major inroads on the Northern Peaks began on the western branch of the Israel River up into Jefferson Notch. On Louis Cutter's 1898 blueprint-map, a railroad spur extended to above the 1800-foot level, with camps around 1500 and 1800 feet. By 1906 (on a revision of the Cutter map) logging roads had climbed high up into Castle Ravine and across the Lowe's Path, obliterating most of the lower section of Edmands' original Israel Ridge Path.

Louis Cutter recalled the pillaging:

It was not a clean cut: spruce mainly was desired, and many of the hardwood trees were left standing. The lower slopes...were (to outward appearance) but little altered, though they lost their sprinkling of black spires. But on the middle slopes the growth was...almost pure spruce, and in these places the ground was denuded. On the steep upper slopes...it was deemed necessary to cut clean, worthless and valuable trees together, in order to extricate the few logs of commercial value and roll them down to the logging roads.13

Logging road into King Ravine in winter, c 1905. Photo by G. F. Moore. Doug Mayer Archive.As Randolph's hotel guests and cottagers returned for their vacations, the cutting on the slopes was more apparent each summer. Trails were often severely disrupted, and the only access for walkers was on the lumberman's roads. In 1903 Edmands, distressed by the obliteration of his trails, relocated from Randolph to Bretton Woods, where he continued his work as a pathmaker. Cutter was forced to revise his 1898 map constantly, annotating the copy that was posted at the Ravine House. A comment from 1904 read, "the Link and Israel Ridge and Castle paths are said to be impassable."

The Spur Cabin Register14 for August 21, 1905 contains Charles C. Torrey's account of an exploratory hike he and his 73-year-old father Joseph made to locate Edmands' original Israel Ridge Path.

J. Torrey and C.C. Torrey started in at Bowman Station, intending to see whether anything could be made out of the Edmands path (spoiled by lumbering in 1903-04). Found it almost completely ruined. Left Bowman at 7:50, and crashed & crawled through miles of slash and debris, reaching Cascade Camp at 10 o’clock.

During the summer of 1905, perhaps as a consequence of this excursion, Torrey mapped the extent of the lumbering, indicating the logging by red crosshatching on a sketch map of the Northern Peaks. The following summer he negotiated with Mr. Williams and Mr. Moynahan of the Berlin Mills Company, and succeeded in creating a "reservation" that was to protect Spur Cabin from the loggers' axes:

September 22. C.C. Torrey arrived at 9 AM, with Mr. Williams, the Surveyor of the Berlin Mills Co. Ran a line around the Cabin; starting at a point on The Canyon Falls path, six rods below the Chandler Falls junction, going straight up the mountain; then turning to the West and running just below the cliffs; then turning again at a right angle and coming down through the point where the “Shelf Path” crosses the first little water-way. Also ran lines around Chandler and Canyon Falls, making a small “Forest reserve of the B.M. Co.” at each place. “Lunch” with the lumbermen, on the logging road just built at the head of Canyon fall. Two logging roads already extending from that point more than half way to the Cabin reservation. Consultation with Mr. Moynahan. Heavy rain. Down with Mr. Williams (on the run) at 12:30.

September 25. Mrs. M.H. Moore, Misses Alice Bell and Mary Bell, A.H. Moore and C.C. Torrey arrived at the Cabin at noon. Lumbermen cutting in the neighborhood of our spring. CCT had another interview with Mr. Moynahan, who promised to withdraw his men from the work on this side of Spur Brook tomorrow noon, while waiting for further word from the negotiations pending. Work about the Cabin.

September 26. More cutting of spruces above the spring. All but MHM went across to Gray Knob and down Lowe’s Path. CCT came down Spur Trail, and did a little more surveying on the new cut-off above the brook. All met at the Cabin for lunch. “This is the last tree,” said one of the loggers of a spruce which came down at about 11:30.

Despite this agreement with the loggers, the lumbering continued for the next few years in the surrounding area. Torrey wrote on September 16, 1908:

September 16. ... spent most of the forenoon clearing out the upper path westward, including a great pile of logs and slash left by the lumbermen [Torrey includes a short comment in a Semitic script].

Although an intense campaign to save the White Mountain forests had begun as far back as the early 1880's, progress was frustratingly slow. The first Forestry Commission had produced a 100-page report in 1883 detailing its investigation and recommendations. A second commission appointed in 1889 recommended legislation in 1891. By 1893 the state legislature had passed a forestry law which supported (but seemingly did not enforce) conservative forest management that would produce sustainable harvests.15

Much of the agenda at the AMC's 1893 annual field meeting in Jefferson was devoted to the logging threat, with presentations by Joseph Walker, Dartmouth professor Colby of the second forest commission, Edmands, geologist C. H. Hitchcock of Dartmouth, and Laban Watson, who reported that in Randolph "only good timber had been cut and fires had been kept out."16 AMC members worked to influence the US Congress to enact laws that would protect the forest. Edmands, part of this group, brought influential men to his mountain camps, hoping to persuade them to help. A major collective step was the founding of the Society for the Protection of NH Forests in 1901, which helped spearhead the campaign at both state and national levels.

Bills were introduced into Congress, but failed to win support, often not even reaching the floor for a vote. Meanwhile, the devastating cutting and fires continued. In 1902, the AMC's Trustees for Real Estate reported:

The paths...and the attractiveness of this whole region are threatened seriously by the large lumber operations begun on the slopes of Mts. Jefferson and Adams. Members of the Board have visited Berlin, and the lumber camps upon the mountains, in each of the months of September, October and November. We are also represented in all three of the bodies which are trying against heavy odds to have something upon Mts. Adams and Madison saved from speedy destruction.17

Mt. Jefferson from Bowman, showing logging on Emerald Tongue, c 1905. Photo by G. F. Moore. Doug Mayer Archive.By the following year (1903) the same Trustees sensed "a change in public opinion" in support of a National Reservation on the Presidential Range.18 Congressional action, however, was still years away, and by the time legislative action was taken, largely because of Massachusetts congressman and Lancaster NH native John Weeks' skillful maneuvering, most of the virgin timber on the Presidentials had been destroyed.

Eventually in 1911 Congress passed the Weeks Act, creating the first eastern national forests in the White Mountains and Appalachia. Boundaries for the complete White Mountain National Forest reservation were drawn, and the first purchases, some 37,000 acres, were made in 1911. About 272,000 acres had been acquired by 1916.19

Before the Weeks Act had been signed into law, the Northern Peaks trail system had been greatly reduced. As shown on Cutter's 1908 map, large segments of major trails (the Link, Castle Ravine, Israel Ridge, Castle paths) had vanished, along with many branch paths. Piles of slash made fire a constant threat. The original pathmakers were no longer active. Hunt had died in 1903, Peek in 1905. Charles Lowe, who had become the proprietor of the Mount Crescent House, died in 1907. Cook was over seventy, his sister Lucia was also aging, and his niece Marian had become a nun. The very existence of the trail network was profoundly threatened.

In the spring of 1910, following Edmands’ death, Laban Watson’s son-in-law, Randolph Selectman John H. Boothman, "proposed and urged the formation of some agency to put the paths in order."20 The Randolph Mountain Club was founded that August, "its object to promote the enjoyment of Randolph’s forests and mountains; its first task to restore the trails." Its first president was Gray Knob’s owner, the theologian Edward Y. Hincks. Its officers and 131 members, many already active in the AMC, were for the most part summer residents, either guests at the hotels or owners of vacation cottages that had recently sprung up in the valley and on the hill.

The RMC began the process of reopening trails with both volunteer labor from Club members, and hired woodsmen paid from members’ dues. Charles Torrey wrote on August 24, 1910:

Up via Randolph Path, with Elmer Wilson (of Gorham). Hot. Got Wilson started, at Cold Brook, in his work of clearing out and repairing the path (first work of the Randolph Mt. Club); then came up to the Cabin with supplies. Down again, after lunch, to join Wilson.

Logging operations, August 1905. Sketch map by Charles C. Torrey. Torrey Archive, RMC Archive.By 1911 most of the major paths had been cleared. The RMC took over many trails in the Randolph area, clearing them annually; by 1912 Cutter estimated that the Club controlled 40 miles of trail.21 The new Club was already significant enough to receive notice in a Boston Evening Transcript column on July 6, 1912, entitled "The Mountaineer" (only a portion is quoted here):

The Randolph Mountain Club...further reports the clearing of the paths on the northern peaks and ridges of the Presidential Range...Writes Mr.[Eldredge] Blood, "I have had a good crew at work all last week, the Mountain View, Mount Crescent and Ravine Houses each furnishing men"...Work has been begun the present week on the link between Lowe's Path and Cascade Path, impassable for seven or eight years on account of the lumbering. This was a graded path built about 1892 by J. Rayner Edmands. The lumbering has left an enormous amount of slash in the path, treetops thrown one on another like jackstraws, so that the clearing of it will be a very heavy piece of work. Mr. Cutter states that the ungraded extension of the link to the Castellated Ridge is ruined by the lumbering and probably it could not now be traced.22

The Randolph Mountain Club was operating at full steam.

Many thanks to Carol and Eric Sandin for allowing me to reprint George Flagg's great sketch, "The Curse of the Mountains." I am actively seeking any additional comments, corrections, anecdotal materials, or relevant photographs that my readers might have. Please contact me at 111 Amherst Road, Pelham, MA 01002; (413)256-6950; or by E-mail.

Judith Hudson has been coming to Randolph since the age of four or five. Her parents, the Drs. Stephen and Charlotte Maddock, first visited Randolph in 1923 or 1924 at the invitation of the Cutter family. Active members of the RMC, Judy and her husband Al have served in a variety of RMC jobs, including the presidency. Al is currently the Club’s Archivist, and Judy is working on a history of the RMC.


1 My account here is drawn from the introductions of two works: C. Francis Belcher, Logging Railroads of the White Mountains, Boston: AMC, 1980 and David Dobbs & Richard Ober, The Northern Forest, White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 1995. A volume by Iris Baird, Looking Out for Our Forests, just published in 2005 by Baird Backwoods Construction Publications of Lancaster, NH, has improved the accuracy of my chronology.

2 Belcher, p. 4.

3 Joseph B. Walker, The Forests of New Hampshire, Manchester, April 5, 1883, pp. 15-16.

4 Walker, 1883, p. 29 footnote.

5 Cook wrote of this in the AMC's journal: "New Paths in Randolph," Appalachia: 4; 86 (Dec 1884).

6 Published as the frontispiece to volume 3 of Appalachia in April 1884.

7 RMC, Guide to the Cultural and Natural History of the Four Soldiers Path, "Local Logging History".

8 Francis Blake, "Path from the Glen House to Mt. Madison," Appalachia: 7; 87 (Feb 1893).

9 Mountain Summers, ed. by Peter Rowan and June Hammond Rowan, Gorham, NH: Gulfside Press, 1995, p.252.

10 Belcher, pp. 98-103. Belcher carefully researched the year of the first Zealand fire, which is often placed in 1888, and determined from newspaper accounts that it occurred in 1886, though he gives the start of the fire as "Wednesday, July 8." Marian writes on "Wednesday, July 7," and this is probably correct.

11 The Building of Burnbrae: The Randolph, NH Diaries of George N. Cross, 1897-1899. Randolph History Project, 2005, pp. 38-9, 47.

12 Trustees of Real Estate report, Appalachia: 8; 76 (1896). The AMC donated this property to the White Mountain National Forest in 1937.

13 Cutter, "The Randolph Mountain Club," in George N. Cross, Randolph Old and New, Randolph, NH: Town of Randolph, 1924, p. 177-8.

14 This, and all subsequent passages from the Spur Cabin's logbook are taken from the RMC's publication, Spur Cabin Registers 1900-1915, Randolph Mountain Club Archive, 2004.

15 Joseph B. Walker, The White Mountain Region, Address to the American Forestry Association at Plymouth, NH, August 24, 1894, pp 9-11.

16 Appalachia: 7;182-3 (December 1893).

17 Appalachia: 10;197 (May 1903).

18 Appalachia: 10; 326 (1904).

19 Frederick W. Kilbourne, Chronicles of the White Mountains, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916, pp. 386-401.

20 Cutter, "The RMC," in Randolph Old and New, p.179.

21 Cutter, "The RMC," p.182. The trails were within 5 miles of the Ravine House. The AMC cleared 34 miles, and another 35 were maintained by individuals or hotels.

22 Thanks to Edith Tucker for contributing this old clipping to the RMC's archive!

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On Finishing the Four Thousand Footers
By Will Strayhorn

The Strayhorns on the Airline. From left: Will, Dell, Thomas and Blake. Front row: Henry and Howdy. Photo courtesy of Blake Strayhorn.Emerging from the trees onto Signal Ridge on Mt. Carrigan I caught my first glance of the summit. As I climbed along the beautiful ridge, I looked at the magnificent mountains and the bright blue sky. In the distance a cloud floated lazily along the horizon. Because of the spectacular views, we had saved Mt. Carrigan for the last mountain on my family's quest to hike New Hampshire's 48, 4000 footers. I was glad we were finishing on such a marvelous mountain on a dazzling day. I paused and looked on both sides of the ridge, over to the surrounding mountains. Suddenly, I wasn’t tired any more. I felt energized and ready to go. We kept hiking and we went back into the woods, through the towering trees and old rocks, and quickly ascended the rest of the mountain to the top. We then made a sharp turn to the right and saw the fire tower high up on the top of Carrigan.

We quickly climbed up to the top and pulled out drinks and food. A gentle breeze kept away the black flies and cooled the sweat on my shirt, and a small bird sang its loud song as if in celebration of our accomplishment. We had finished the 4000 footers! I looked around and saw many of the mountains we had climbed over the past few years. I saw the spectacular mountains of Lincoln, Lafayette, Liberty, and Flume sitting up on Franconia ridge. I saw the rocky summit of Garfield across the valley and thought back to when I had finished it the year before. I then began to think of all the other mountains I had hiked and all the great times I had had hiking them with my family. I thought of mountains like Tecumseh and Waumbek that I had hiked on days with rain pouring down on us, just to get them out of the way, and I thought of mountains like Adams and Madison that I had hiked on brilliant days without a cloud in the sky. I was now really proud to have hiked Owl's Head, the mountain with the worst reputation, which we had finished just a few days earlier. I saw the miniature trees on all the surrounding mountains, and the rocky tops of mountains far away. With this spectacular view, I was glad we had saved Carrigan for last.

After completing our goal, I couldn’t believe we were through. Then I realized we weren’t. There were still many goals we could set in the Whites. We could hike them again, or in winter, at night, in 8 days, or in another new way. We could even start hiking a new set of mountains, like the 100 highest, or the 4000 footers in New England.

We finished lunch and stayed on top for an hour, and then we started down, this time with all of the 4000 footers under our belts. After swimming in the river at the bottom, I got into the car, excited about finishing, and being able to start again. We were far from through.

Will Strayhorn is in the 8th grade in Raleigh, NC. He believes he and his younger brother, Thomas, are the only two kids in their school who have hiked all 48 of NH's 4000 foot mountains.

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Reports from Committees...

Trails Report
By Doug Mayer

Rachel cleaning a waterbar. Illustration by Joan Darlington.RMC’s activities on its paths this past summer were as varied as one could possibly imagine, and including the opening of an entirely relocated trail, the replacement of a bridge, two major erosion-control projects, along with all the usual efforts-- including brushing, blazing, cairn reconstruction, and drainage cleaning.

Our season did not start auspiciously. Dramatic spring flooding damaged or destroyed 11 bridges in the White Mountains, including two on RMC trails: the Caroline Cutter Stevens Bridge on Randolph Path over Snyder Brook and the Peeko Folsom Bridge on Bee Line, over Carlton Brook.

RMC responded quickly. The Bee Line bridge was rebuilt in early May, by RMC Trails Co-Chair Dave Salisbury. Though the bridge was totally destroyed, it was a simple design, with a short span and solid abutments.

The Stevens Bridge, however, was another story. The two, 800 pound stringers were washed one-quarter mile downstream, and the east abutment was totally destroyed. In this case, RMC responded by installing large step stones across Snyder Brook in early June. The club decided to take this step and then encourage member and hikers at large to contact us with their opinion of the step stones.

So far, no complaints have been received. At this point, it is likely that the club will not rebuild the bridge, which would cost many thousands of dollars to accomplish. Step stones, while not as reliable, create dramatically less impact, keep the crossing relatively pristine and, of course, aren’t prone to washing downstream!

During times of very high water, this crossing may not be possible -- however, several options exist for reaching Route 2 on each side of the brook. As always, we welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

In early June, volunteers tackled a major project, and cleared the new route for the Vyron D. Lowe Trail during National Trails Day. More than a dozen workers cut and hauled brush, giving RMC’s trail crew a significant head start on the project. The trail was officially opened a few weeks later. We hope you have a chance to enjoy the new Vyron D. Lowe, which features a more graded course, switchbacks in steeper sections and several sections of especially pleasant woods.

Join the fun! RMC's Fourth Annual Winter Square Dance will be at 7 PM on February 4, 2006, at the Town Hall.Our 2005 field season was marked by erosion projects on the lower reaches of Randolph Path, the Mount Crescent Trail and Crescent Ridge Trail. Fifty percent of the cost of the former project was funded by a US Forest Service contract, while 80% of the work on Mount Crescent was funded by a grant from the State of New Hampshire’s Recreation Trails Program. Photos of the trail crew and work can be viewed on the RMC web site by clicking on the “Trails Info” link and then “Trail Crew Projects.”

Volunteers continue to play a key role in the maintenance of RMC’s trails, overseeing our trail crews in conjunction with the Field Supervisor, planning projects, and carrying out work trips throughout the summer. Thanks go to Matt Schomburg for his tireless efforts, organizing another fine series of brushing work trips, and thanks to volunteer leaders Mary Krueger, Al Sochard, Irene Garvey, Gail Wigler, Dave Salisbury, and Matt Schomburg.

Looking ahead, RMC has just received news that a grant application to the Recreation Trails Program was approved, for two years of work on many of the shorter paths within Randolph, including Bee Line, Diagonal, Wood Path, Pasture Path and EZ Way. During the summers of 2006 and 2007, one of our two trail crews will spend 7 weeks on this effort.

Finally, 2005 marked two, ten year anniversaries for RMC’s trails: the addition of a second trail crew and our association with the national Student Conservation Association, based in Charlestown, New Hampshire. Looking at our accomplishments in the past decade, it’s clear that this upgrading of our efforts has been an excellent change for the club. The RMC is now able to accomplish annual patrolling, twice-annual drainage cleaning, brushing, blazing and at least two erosion-control efforts each summer-- one on the National Forest, and one on the trails to the north on private lands or the Randolph Community Forest. Our association with SCA has enabled us to recruit excellent workers both locally and from farther afield, at an affordable cost. SCA trail crew members receive room and board from RMC, and a weekly stipend. Many of our SCA crew members have gone on to spend several years on the trail crew, or serve as caretakers at our camps.

RMC is always on the lookout for future members of our trail crew. If you know someone who might be interested, please have him or her contact us via the RMC web site. The minimum age for trail crew is 18. Younger volunteers are welcome for a week, but cannot operate power tools or heavy equipment.

RMC Archivist News
By Al Hudson

During the winter of 2005 your archivist was kept pretty busy assisting the editors of the new edition of Randolph Paths to bring that project to its successful completion. And, as mentioned in the last issue of the Newsletter, finished work on compiling, editing and producing two works that should be of interest to our readership: Guy Waterman's An Outline of Trail Development in the White Mountains, 1840-1980 (RMC Archive, 2005); The Building of Burnbrae: The Randolph, NH Diaries of George N. Cross, 1897-1899 (Randolph History Project, 2005).

During the summer of 2005 I continued some old projects (scanning photos and other materials made available by Marian Davis Woodruff and Edith Tucker) and started some new ones. In the latter category are memorabilia of George and Ernest Cross in the Ted May Archive. Among other things, the May Archive contains brochures and other information about two of Randolph's early 20th century idealistic summer communities, "Burnbrae Glen Camp" and "Sorgenfrei Bungalow Colony".

On another front, Louis A. and Ann Cutter, have allowed me to begin scanning materials from their Cutter Archive. This collection includes several of Louis F. Cutter's original surveyor notebooks upon which his early maps of the northern Presidentials were based. And, what will probably be the focus of my major project for winter 2006, a set of 5 notebooks of watercolors of 242 plants made in the Randolph area 1895-1900 rendered by Mary Perkins Osgood (who became Mrs. Louis F. Cutter in 1901).

The watercolors, which I have already scanned, are beautifully rendered, and contain information on place and location, and most record systematic nomenclature. Judy Hudson, who has more botanical knowledge than I have, is assisting in clarifying the nomenclatural information (which is problematic in some cases due to changing styles of reference and varietal variability) and providing common names; a need to decipher Mary Osgood's handwriting makes Judy's task more challenging. Accurate representation of so many Randolph area plants from a century ago should prove of interest to local and regional botanists. The work on this project, including one or more introductory essays, should be completed by June 2006.

Next summer. In the summer of 2006 I will, once again, bring my scanning equipment to Randolph. I invite anyone who would like to give materials to the RMC or allow them to be scanned, to get in touch with me to discuss details or arrange a scanning session. I can be reached by email; Randolph phone [603-466-5509]; winter phone [413-256-6950]; winter address [111 Amherst Road/Pelham, MA 01002].

Publications available. The following publications of the RMC Archive are available:

Randolph in Appalachia: The First Hundred Years. A Chronological Annotated Listing of Selected Articles and Reports Related to Randolph and the Northern Presidential Paths and Camps from the AMC Journal (Vol 1, June 1876 - Vol 41, June 1976), RMC Archive, 2004

Spur Cabin Registers, 1900-1915. RMC Archive, 2004

An Outline of Trail Development in the White Mountains, with 15 Maps. Guy Waterman, RMC Archive, 2005

Camps News
By Al Sochard

Field Supervisor Dan Rubchinuk and Trail Crew member Chris Fithian begin construction of the new composting toilet at the Log Cabin. Photo by Al Sochard.The RMC camps had a busy summer and were well cared for by our two caretakers, Justin Ross and Sondra Berner. Many comments were received regarding the friendliness and helpfulness of both caretakers -- both scored a 10!

This summer was catch-up time in composting at the three upper camps. A major project for the Log Cabin privy was completed this September. At the end of the summer, Field Supervisor Dan Rubchinuk, trail crew member Chris Fithian and our caretaker Justin prepared a site for a new, composting toilet. Later, the following weekend, volunteers packed up all the materials. Green Mountain Club privy builder extraordinaire Pete Antos-Ketcham, a former RMC winter caretaker and now Education Coordinator and Facilities Manager for GMC, led the all-volunteer crew. Paul Cormier was essential in preparing the materials, and did a great job of building steps into the privy with just the materials at hand. A heartfelt thanks to the many volunteers who helped that day by carrying up the loads of materials – they include: Paul and Michelle Cormier, Mike Pelchat, Diane Holmes, Todd Moore, Irene Garvey, Ryan Harvey, Jamie and Jim Maddock, Lewis Baldwin and Pete and Katie Antos-Ketcham. A special "Thank You" goes to the three strong hikers who happened by when it was time to actually pick up and carry the old privy 75 feet. (A warning: watch out if someone asks you to help carry a privy -- they may mean it!)

Camps Co-Chair Al Sochard helps with the final touches on the new composting toilet at the Log Cabin. Photo by Mike Pelchat.The Camps Committee completed some clearing of the views at Crag this fall. We plan on clearing around the Log Cabin later this fall. In both cases, the clearing will keep the buildings in better shape, by improving the airflow around the structures and removing dampness. Next year, we plan to replace the roof on the Log Cabin. Keep an eye out for a volunteer weekend to accomplish that task.

Our fall caretaker, Monica Goncze from Sandown NH, had a very busy season. Thanks to plenty of great hiking weather, we have had lots of guests at the camps.

Now, though, winter is here and our winter caretakers have taken over. This winter we have two caretakers rotating on a week on, one week off schedule. Chris Fithian, our spring caretaker from this past year and a member of our summer trail crew, will work opposite Ryan Harvey, who has been working for the Forest Service. Ryan, a graduate of Paul Smith's college in upstate New York, wrote his thesis on the impacts of climate change in the alpine zone. He has worked previously for the Mount Washington Observatory, and, right before settling in at Gray Knob, was sent by the Forest Service to assist in hurricane relief work on the Gulf coast. Chris, an exceptionally strong backcountry skier who enjoys jump-turning his way down any and all ravines, most recently worked on AMC's fall trail crew. We welcome Ryan to RMC and welcome Chris back home! Make this your winter to visit our camps twice and meet both of these superb caretakers.

Treasurer's Report
By Michele Cormier

Under "Income," the biggest variance is in trail grant income of $15,394 which we will receive after the close of trail work. Camps use has been strong this fall and should come in at budget.

On the "Expense" side, inventory purchases are extremely high, due to the cost of re-printing Randolph Paths and the RMC new map. This was a budgeted expense, and the cost came in under budget. Trails expense will probably end the year under budget, and we still plan to field a fall trail crew.

We are very optimistic that the year will end with the Club in a strong cash position to repay a portion of the Randolph Foundation loan and fully fund our reserves. To date (Sept. 30) we have received $150,000 in pledges towards construction of the new base camp and have received $4,060 in contributions.

RMC Trails: Then and Now

Kit Kuntze, book designer for the new edition of Randolph Paths, former President Mary Brown and Treasurer Michele Cormier enjoy a laugh at the RMC Tea this past summer. Photo by Doug Mayer.1932: $500 annual budget for hired labor
2005: $25,005.71 annual budget for hired labor

1932: 90% of trails budget for hired labor
2005: 83% of trails budget for hired labor

1932: Cost per mile of trail for hired labor: $5.63
2005: Cost per mile of trail for hired labor: $227.27

1932: Hired labor patrolled 62 of 67 miles of trails
2005: Hired labor patrolled 110 of 110 miles of trails, volunteers brushed 10 miles of trails.

1932: Wages: $3.00 to $3.50 per day
2005: Wages: $7.10 to $8.50 per hour

1932: Days of volunteer labor: 37
2005: Days of volunteer labor: 235*

*Includes Student Conservation Association trail crew members, who receive housing from RMC, and a food stipend.

1932 data courtesy of "RMC Trail Crew Costs," by Louis Cutter, Appalachia, June 1933, page 486.

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Living in Bear Country -- On and Off the Trail
By Doug Mayer

The bear-proof container used by the RMC trail crew, being packed up Mount Crescent by crew member Cody Sayer, with Rachel Biggs. Photo by Chris Fithian.In all of its work, RMC strives to minimize its impact in the backcountry, keeping the area as pristine as possible for native residents and for the next visitors. Our trail crews and caretakers receive “Leave No Trace” training during orientation, and we’re constantly on the lookout for new and innovative ways to reduce our impact on the land.

One of the seven LNT principles is to “Respect Wildlife.” One of the most important means we have of respecting wildlife is keeping our food sources separate from their food. Human foodstuffs are many times more calorie-dense when compared to wild food consumed by bears. For that reason, it just takes a single “find” for a bear to realize the enormous value of seeking out our Pop-tarts and Powerbars. This, in turn, leads to bears altering their natural routines and becoming “problem bears”-- though the writer Edward Abbey is quick to point out, “There are no problem bears-- just problem people.” Bears, after all, are just doing what comes naturally. It's our job to keep our food away from them.

Over the years, our trail crews have had periodic visits from neighborhood bruins, both at the Jones Cottage and while camped in the backcountry. This summer was no exception, as one bear went so far as to break through the window of a vehicle parked at the AMC’s pack house for Madison Hut. The large adult bear broke one of the car’s windows and climbed into the driver’s seat -- all for a bag of trail mix. Though dramatic, such “car clouting” is actually not uncommon.

Historically, when camped in the woods, RMC’s crews have hung their food in bags, suspended from branches. The LNT standards for hanging food is to get it at least 4 feet away from the tree trunk and 10 feet off the ground-- not an easy task here in the east where most trees have angled branches which may not be especially sturdy 4 feet away from the trunk.

The length bears will go to get their paws on food! Photo courtesy of Leave No Trace, Inc.Many new alternatives for keeping food bear-proof now exist, however. Sturdy, plastic bear canisters are becoming popular with backpackers. Relatively lightweight, a hiker’s food can be stored securely without going through the hassle and risk of hanging food.

This past summer, RMC experimented with a new strategy for bear-proofing our food and trash: a product called the “Critter Can,” which is available in a number of sizes ranging from 20 to 95 gallons. Critter Cans are also very affordable ranging in price from $45 to $150. The plastic Critter Cans feature a tight fitting, screw-on lid that’s both bear and rodent proof. The garbage can size is a sensible, affordable solution for homeowners who live in bear country and have faced challenges keeping animals out of the trash.

This summer, the cans were put to the test by several bears visiting the RMC crew. Not in one case were the cans successfully opened-- happily keeping our food from quickly becoming the bear’s food, and enabling the RMC trail crews to do their part to help keep our bears wild.

For more information on Critter Cans, see their web site.

For information on backpacking-sized bear canisters, see the excellent National Park Service web site on the topic.

More information on Leave No Trace in RMC country can be found on our web site.

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Tales from the Trails: Paul and the Bear Cub
Edited by Kathy Tremblay

This particular "Tale from the Trail," from Randolph's Paul Cormier, is not as much a tale from the trail as it is a reminder from the trail.

This past summer, Paul was on an early evening run along Pasture Path, when, from the corner of his eye, he saw a small bear cub skitter up a tree as fast as he could climb.

Thinking that this was an interesting little show of nature, Paul stopped to watch. From the corner of his other eye, he saw another movement. Turning to look, he saw a larger bear – evidently Mama Bear – that “hopped” (as Paul recalls) between him and her baby, got down on all fours, and “woofed.”

At this point in the story, it would be exciting to say that upon seeing Mama Bear down on all fours and staring at Paul, that Paul also got down on all fours and woofed, staring right back at the bear in true Samurai wrestler style. Then, legend would later recall that Paul and Mama Bear had quite a tussle, with Paul “wrassling” Mama Bear off the trail – sparing the cub, of course.

Truth, however, must prevail, no matter how mundane. Instead of a face-off, Paul slowly and calmly (“calmly” -- this is key) backed away – talking to the bear in reassuring tones all along – and circled far back from the trail, thus giving Mama Bear and her cub as much space as they needed to reunite.

The moral of this story is, of course, a real-life example of the importance of avoiding getting between a mother bear and her cub.

Do you have a story – humorous or otherwise – from RMC's trails? Contact Kathy Tremblay and your story may be featured in the next newsletter! You can reach Kathy by email. We look forward to your tale.

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White Mountains 4000-Footer Quiz
By Jack Stewart
For answers, see bottom of page.

1. The number of 4000 ft. peaks within the town of Randolph is:

A. 3
B. 2
C. 1
D. Zero

2. Which White Mountain body of water is closest (as the crow flies) to a 4000 foot summit?

A. Star Lake
B. Lake of the Clouds
C. The larger Carter Lake
D. Kinsman Pond

3. Which 4000 footer requires the longest up and back round trip hike by trail from a roadside trailhead?

A. Owl’s Head
B. West Bond
C. Isolation
D. Whiteface

4. How many 4000+ foot summits in NH are truly above tree line (not in scrub) with unobstructed views in all directions?

A. 15
B. 12
C.  8
D. 22

5. What is the largest number of 4000+ foot summits that you could attain in a single hike starting from a highway trailhead without going back to the starting point or any other highway trailhead?

A. 20
B. 12
C.   6
D. 10

6. The Appalachian Trail passes over how many 4000+ foot White Mountain summits (as opposed to slabbing around them)?

A. 10
B. 24
C. 15
D. 20

7. How many 4000+ foot peaks are there in New Hampshire lying to the north and west of the Appalachian Trail (to your right as you head south on the Trail)?

A.  9
B. 12
C. 15
D. 18

8. The shortest distance by trail between two adjoining official 4000+ foot summits is

A. 0.8 mile
B. 1.4 miles
C. 1.3 miles
D. 1.0 mile

9. The shortest distance by trail from a highway trailhead to a 4000+ foot summit is to:

A. Mt. Jefferson
B. Mt. Tecumseh
C. Mt. Jackson
D. Mt. Hale

10. The smallest elevation gain from a highway trailhead to a 4000+ foot summit is to:

A. Mt. Jefferson
B. Mt. Tecumseh
C. Mt. Jackson
D. Mt. Hale

11. The largest number of peaks over 4000 feet (out of a possible 47) which could be seen from one of them (assuming no trees in the way) would be from:

A. Mt. Hancock (main N peak)
B. Mt. Jefferson
C. Mt. Carrigan
D. Mt. Lafayette

12. The smallest number of peaks over 4000 feet (out of a possible 47) which could be seen from one of them (assuming no trees in the way) would be from

A. Mt. Madison
B. Cannon Mtn.
C. South Carter
D. Zealand Mtn.

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Scoured by Wind or Buried by Snow:
The Story of Two Alpine Plant Communities on Mount Adams
By Kelly Towle

Alpine zones are places of intensity and drama, of fierce winds, harsh snows, and rough terrain. But they can be places of subtlety as well, where a slight shift in topography can lead to an array of differences in plant life. Groups of plant species that are commonly found together are known as “communities” and the structure of these communities is determined by environmental factors such as moisture, elevation, drainage, wind, soil type and quality, and snow cover. These factors vary in their significance depending on the location of the communities.

Labrador Tea. Illustration by Tim Sappington.Alpine plant communities are largely governed by climate conditions. In our Northern Presidentials, factors such as snow cover, temperature, wind, and moisture level play important roles in determining which plants grow in certain places. These factors change according to elevation—the higher up Mount Adams or Mount Madison you climb, the more temperatures drop and wind speeds increase. They may also be different on different sides of the range, as north-facing slopes will receive harsher winds and southerly slopes will be exposed to more sunlight. Below the alpine zone, drier sites are typically host to red spruce, sheep laurel, and Lapland rosebay. Moist areas with limited drainage and late-melting snowpacks are usually inhabited by mats of sphagnum moss as well as bog bilberry, sheep laurel and black spruce. It is important to remember that some species will be found in multiple different communities and that gradients exist as one community transitions to the next. Above the alpine zone, the larger trees and shrubs eventually drop out and members of the sedge and rush families become dominant. Plants that grow in dense mats, such as diapensia and alpine azalea, also have many advantages at higher elevations where climate conditions can be severe.

It seems logical that a plant community at 2,000 feet is different than one at 5,000 feet, or that a community on the north slope of Mt. Adams differs from one on its south slope; but what about different communities that appear side by side? I recently studied such a situation on the north slope of Mt. Adams as part of a course on Alpine Flora with Antioch New England Graduate School in Keene, New Hampshire. These two plant communities are just off Lowe’s Path, a few hundred feet from the Quay. The first community is covered in low sweet blueberry and also has significant amounts of bog bilberry and Labrador tea. The second site lies just 1.5 meters west of the first. Diapensia is the primary species here and is sometimes accompanied by alpine azalea, which has a similar growth pattern. Bog bilberry is still present but is less prevalent.

What makes these communities different? The plants are responding to subtle environmental changes that humans may not even notice. Because these two sites are at the same elevation, we can eliminate elevation and its corresponding factors of temperature and moisture level as responsible for the difference. They are also both situated on the north slope of the mountain, so they are both receiving approximately the same amount of sun.

Let’s consider the plants themselves. Low sweet blueberry, bog bilberry and Labrador tea are all members of the heath family. The blueberry and bilberry are usually less than 1 foot tall; Labrador tea is often taller than 1 foot. In the winter, their height would make them vulnerable to the high winds that make the Whites such an extreme environment. In order to survive, they need to spend winter beneath a blanket of snow for protection. Although these plants do not require very nutrient-rich soils, some soil development is necessary for their growth. Diapensia and alpine azalea, on the other hand, lie close to the ground in tight mats. This strategy allows them to withstand the high winds but they cannot survive the winter if buried beneath the snow. Diapensia prefers to grow on rocky areas with shallow soils, as deeper soils can actually limit root growth.

Diapensia. Illustration by Tim Sappington.Site 1 (low sweet blueberry and Labrador tea) and Site 2 (diapensia and alpine azalea) have different needs for the survival during the harsh mountain winters. But how are those different needs being met when they are so close together? Let’s look at some of the environmental factors that are affecting the two sites in different ways. Wind is an important factor to plant communities in the White Mountains. In the winter, these winds typically come from the north-northwest. These two sites are located on the north slope of Mt. Adams, which would seem to indicate that wind would be affecting them both equally. There are clues at the sites, however, that dispute that logic. Trees can be an excellent indication of wind direction. As the winds barrel over them, the trees end up being stripped of branches in the direction that the wind is coming from. The wind also pushes them down so that they end up leaning away from where the wind blows. Several small trees near these sites show that the wind here is actually coming out of the west instead of from the north. Now the question becomes, why is the wind coming from the west instead of from the north? The main reason that winds in the mountains are so strong is the funnel effect that the mountains have on the wind. As the winds come down from the north-northwest, they are being pushed and squeezed through the mountains, which increases their speeds and alters their directions. As the winter winds come from the north, they are deflected by Mt. Jefferson and the Castellated Ridge and some end up being pushed to the west, across Mt. Adams and these two sites. Site 2, being slightly further to the west, gets scoured by these winds. In the winter, these winds pick snow off Site 2 and deposit it not too far away, on Site 1. This snow buries the low sweet blueberry and Labrador tea on Site 1, ensuring its winter survival. If the winds did not scour Site 2 but instead left that site buried beneath the snow, the diapensia and alpine azalea currently found there would not be able to survive the winter months. Westerly winds may also play a role in the spring and summer, as these winds may be picking up soil from Site 2 and dropping that on Site 1. While diapensia and alpine azalea may prefer rocky areas, heaths need some soil development in order to grow.

As we climb on and around the RMC paths that wend their way above treeline, we constantly adjust to changes in the local environment. We put on warm hats and windbreakers when temperatures drop, reach for sunglasses and extra water when the sun bears down in the summer. Plants are also responding to these cues, as well as many others that we don’t notice, by growing in specific locations that are best suited to their requirements. Those cues can be dramatic changes in temperatures or soil quality or smaller, subtler differences in how wind affects the area. On your next hike in the alpine zone of the Northern Presidentials, pay attention to the changes in plant communities that you observe and consider what the plants are experiencing that you may not even notice.

Kelly Towle is currently working toward her Master's degree in Environmental Studies and science teacher certification at Antioch New England Graduate School in Keene, New Hampshire. She spent a week at Gray Knob in July as part of a course on Alpine Flora that provided the background for this article.

Further Reading

Bliss, L.C. “Alpine Plant Communities of the Presidential Range.” Ecology 44(4), Oct. 1963, pp. 678-697.

Sperduto, D. and Cogbill, C.V. “Alpine and Subalpine Vegetation of the White Mountains, New Hampshire.” New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory, Sept. 1999.

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Spending a Winter at 4370'
By Derek "Storm" Schott

I was lucky enough to spend a winter at RMC's Gray Knob cabin last year -- working 11 days on and 3 days off from November through April.

Several people have asked me what it is like to spend a winter in an unheated cabin on the side of a mountain in northernmost New Hampshire. During my time at Gray Knob, I kept a journal of my time spent at Gray Knob or, as I called it, 4,370. Here are a few excerpts that I thought RMC readers might enjoy.

“Wednesday, December 8, 2004: I did get my first sub-zero day this stint (-7F), but that was tolerable. I was in my sleeping bag pretty early that night. I only had sunshine one day this week (not on the actual cabin but in the sky), but that one day was wonderful. I had waist deep snow in Edmands Col, Ice above tree line, rime ice at Thunderstorm Junction, and my crampons and snowshoes back at the 'Knob.’ ”

“Wednesday, December 22, 2004: I am over at Crag Camp at the normal radio call time, and since I have my portable I decide to just hang out and do the radio call from there. When my page comes through, I go out to the porch to call and go to turn on my radio. Strange, it is already on... and the battery is dead. I must have accidentally turned it on during one of my unscheduled rests while skiing — that is, a fall.

Gray Knob with an early mantle of snow. Photo by Sherri Fabre.Oh man! I start to hustle back to Gray Knob in a bit of a rush when I get paged a second time, which is abnormal. So I decide to run. I make it back in record time, grab the radio breathlessly and make the call. I get the normal greeting, and then I'm asked to stand by for a second for a message. I decide to gather everyone inside by the radio and turn it up, and I am glad I did, because over the radio waves comes a wonderful version of We Wish you a Merry Christmas from carolers down in the valley. That was a great surprise! (Note to self, double check portable radio batteries before going out.)”

“Thursday, January 6, 2005: Two amusing events this past week. First, a slightly funny but potentially dangerous event: a couple of guys showed up at Gray Knob sharing a pair of crampons. Imagine slide, stick, slide, stick. Then there was an Australian bloke visiting whose favorite expression was unprintable. He used it a lot. He went out the back door for something and put on his boots without tying them. He came back in the door and I hear the door slam, then I hear his favorite word -- and then I hear the sound of a melon being dropped. He had apparently closed all four ends of his laces in the door and tried to walk. The melon dropping was actually his head hitting the wall.”

“New Year's Eve was a grand time. It was the first time in 7 or 8 years that I actually made it to midnight. RMC trail crew alumni Dan, Laura, and Curtis all came to help ring in the New Year, share chili, drink adult beverages and beat me at Scrabble. Laura, being the only girl, had to kiss us all when the New Year rolled around.”

“The next day we turned into the Gray Knob Humane Society, providing shelter for the lost dogs of the Presidential Range. A local day hiker lost her dog, Callie, while hiking in the area. Luckily, a couple of my guests found her, but it was too late to get the dog down to the valley for the night. Barbara Arnold quickly located the owner and she came up the next day to pick up her dog, bearing cookies and brownies for me -- and big bone for my dog, Gecko. Gecko enjoyed having a friend over for the night, even if she did get kicked off of her own dog bed.”

“Friday, January 21, 2005: A high of 48 degrees this stint and a low of -22. The sun is edging closer to Gray Knob. Gecko and I enjoyed a little sun bathing one day. With a high of 48 this stint, I had to open up windows and doors because it was warmer out than in! It was great though. I got some mopping done and a lot of frozen things thawed. The Summit of Washington recorded a 53 difference in temps in 24 hours.”

“Wednesday, February 2, 2005: Fourteen straight days of sub-zero weather.” What's it like to live with the inconveniences of the sub-arctic-like conditions? Here are a few examples:

I like to do my writing with pencils. I like my pencils sharp. The only problem is that when it is below 10 degrees you have to thaw the pencils out to sharpen them.

I enjoy my morning coffee hot. So imagine my surprise when it would freeze to my beard as I drank it. When I was making coffee last week, I spilled the boiling water that froze with a loud crackle immediately upon hitting the counter.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005: Over 40" of new snow this stint! 33" in one storm. To put this into perspective, you have to know that we received only 47" from November first until now.”

“I saw my first snow fleas of the season, got sun burnt and spent 12 hours above tree line. During my romping around I saw a sight that one would not expect during February: a couple of hikers clad only in crampons and boots. At 10 pm, on the summit of Adams, it was 48 degrees with a light wind.”

“Wednesday, March 16, 2005: Happy Birthday to me! I lit a fire for myself -- at 3pm, as well. That is right: the firewood miser, the grumpy bearded guy, broke down with less than 20 days to go and lit a fire in the afternoon. There, I said it.”

For those of you who wonder what life is like at Gray Knob in winter, I hope that these excerpts from my diary have given you a glimpse into that life -- and convinced any of you crazy enough to consider caretaking to reconsider!

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Letters to the RMC...

Dear RMC,

Hauling the organ to Crag, August 17, 1957. From left to right: Brian Underhill, Chris Goetze, and Mike Field (Crag Caretaker, '57 & '58). Photographer unknown, photo courtesy of Lydia Goetze.The last thing I expected to see while wandering on the internet was my own picture. But there I am, on the front page of the Winter 2004-2005 RMC Newsletter, Mountain Hut Hosts Sounds of Music, carrying part of a pump organ.

When I was working at Crag Camp in the summer of 1957, I heard from Chris Goetze and Brian Underhill, the trail crew, that there used to be an organ at Crag some time in the distant past. When my mother remarked that we didn't really need our pump organ at home anymore, I knew immediately what to do. My brother and sister disassembled it and drove it over to Randolph, where Brian, Chris and I met them. The date was August 17, 1957. We loaded it on the pack frames, about 60 or 70 pounds each. When we were loaded, my brother took the picture with my camera. We took other pictures on the hike up, but you have the picture that best tells the story.

We were accustomed to the weight, but the loads were more awkward than usual. It took 3 hours to come up. The stops were to retie the loads more than rest ourselves. We were successful in assembling the organ, even though we were not the ones that took it apart.

Yes, once in a while on a nice day, we would roll it out onto the porch, so everyone in King Ravine could benefit.

I don't know, but I suspect it succumbed to winter campers desperate for dry firewood. It was no longer there by the mid-1970's. I was very happy to see that there is a new one.

Michael T. Field

Dear RMC:

Just a quick note to let you know how much my father, nephews, wife, and I enjoyed our trip to Crag Camp in August. I hadn't been to Crag since it was rebuilt, and I confess I was somewhat nervous about this visit. The old Crag had such a cozy "favorite old shirt" feeling that I was afraid to find lacking this time. But I must say that the RMC did a fabulous job with the project! The new building manages to be both new and old at the same time -- combining the best of both.

I also wanted to say how impressed I was with the bilingual alpine education display, which the RMC produced with a grant from the Guy Waterman Alpine Stewardship Fund. As some RMC members might be aware, the alpine display was the first project supported by the Waterman Fund. As President of the Fund, I had wanted to see the display for several years now. It was great to see it in such a prominent position, and to see other guests reading and enjoying its photos, illustrations and interpretive text.

I don't know any French, but I'm sure having this information available in two languages will go a long way towards educating the full spectrum of Crag's visitors. On top of that, it was very nice looking display. (You could be excused for thinking that the primary goal was to make the wall look good!)

Thanks to all of you at the RMC for your great work. It won't take 15 years between visits next time.

Chuck Wooster
Guy Waterman Alpine Stewardship Fund

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Answers to White Mountains 4000-Footer Quiz: (For further information see Steven Smith and Mike Dickerman, The 4000 Footers of the White Mountains and The AMC White Mountain Guide 27th Edition, 2003.

1. D

2. D

3. A

4. B

5. A

6. C

7. A

8. A

9. D

10. C

11. C

12. A

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