Summer 2010: Newsletter #5

We wish you could all have been here this morning as another spectacular summer day dawned on Lower Baker. It was hard to imagine Pemi looking any more beautiful than it did last night after Taps, with a just-past-full moon washing the grounds in its velvet light. But shortly before Reveille this A.M., as we looked down on the pond from the hilltop, vertical wraiths of mist drifted down the still water on the slightest of breezes, translucent with the rising sun. Five or six feet in height, they could have been pilgrims wending their tranquil way towards some holy site. As it was, they vanished silently with the sun’s rising heat just as the boys broke from their cabins and charged into the lake for their Polar Bears. A mystical moment while it endured, and all the more so for its fleeting tenure.

As many of you know, our annual competition against Camp Tecumseh is renewed this Friday, and much of our energy this week has been going into preparations for that august day. Given the breadth of Pemi’s program, though, we haven’t abandoned music, art, nature, or trips. As we write, Jack Davini, Matt Fazekas, and Caleb Tempro are practicing piano in the Lodge, Dottie Reed is immersed in yet another Dyeing Wooly Critters occupation, and Deb Kure is enthralling yet another gaggle of our youngest campers in Junior Environmental Exploration. The Lake Tent and Lower Six have just trundled out of camp for a day trip up Mt. Cube (2800 feet), and three overnights involving Juniors and Lowers will be summiting Mts. Cube , Cardigan (3200 feet), and Carrigain (4700 feet) as well. (Now there’s an alliterative array!) What better time, in fact, to scribe a newsletter about our Trip Program?

Pemi has always tried to offer campers activities they can’t necessarily pursue at home, and our prime location amidst New Hampshire’s White Mountains lets us offer a range of wilderness experiences that might be hard to come by during a boy’s school year. Our hiking options range from day jaunts on local peaks (like Cube!) to extended backpacking trips in the Franconia or Presidential Ranges, and even as far away as Mt. Katahdin, in Northern Maine. Among the highlights for older boys are overnight stays at the high mountain huts run by the Appalachian Mountain Club, located at or above tree-line in spectacular alpine settings. Many a Pemi boy has consolidated his love for the high peaks at these rustic hostelries, watching the sunset with his mates following a hearty and delicious meal, then ducking back to the hut for a game of cards and a cup of hot chocolate before lights out. Outings closer to home include overnights at the Adirondack shelter on Pemi Hill directly behind camp (there’s one tonight for Upper Two!), or a paddle by canoe or kayak across the lake for supper at one of our sylvan cook-out spots (two tonight, for Junior One and Lower One!) We also run a number of paddling trips on local rivers, but the capstone of the Pemi canoeing program is the annual trip to the Allagash Waterway in Maine, where eight or ten of our seniors spend four days on remote and unspoiled lakes and rivers where they’re more likely to see moose grazing on the flora along the shore than encounter fellow travelers of a human sort.

We think that the trip program represents a crucial aspect of the broad Pemi program. Boys learn to reap the rewards of sustained effort in what can sometimes be demanding conditions. They learn the benefits of advanced planning as they organize gear and supplies for what can be days away from civilization. They learn a different kind of teamwork than they witness on the athletic field, including collective decision making skills and a sense of responsibility for the welfare and happiness of the entire group. And they also learn to appreciate both the power and the fragility of their natural environment, becoming wiser and more ecologically responsible in the process. Year after year, Pemi alumni tell us that the time they spent in the White Mountains was one of the most life-enhancing components of their camp experience.

This has all been pretty abstract. Let’s dip into specifics with accounts of recent Pemi outings penned by the participants themselves. First comes the record of Upper Four’s overnight at Greenleaf Hut in Week Three, as recalled by Abby Reed, Co-head of the Junior Camp who leapt at the chance to go on what is one of the very best of our mountain offerings. The second comes from Lake Tent denizens Mason Challinor, Teddy Gales, and Nick Barber, recently back from that banner Allagash expedition mentioned above. Abby’s account is fairly straightforward. The other is, well, rather Bean Soup, filtered through the inventive brains of some of our oldest and most spirited campers. Enjoy!

First from Abby: On July 14, 2010, the first-session members of Upper Four (plus a few lucky staff tag-ons) embarked upon the Old Bridle Path, a trail snaking up into the Franconia Range of the White Mountains. Our destination was the Greenleaf Appalachian Mountain Club Hut, a high-altitude hostel perched on the shoulder of Mt. Lafayette (5,260 ft.). Encouraged by the prospect of good company and a hearty, home-cooked meal at the hut, we began hiking in the early afternoon, led by U-4 counselor Sam Seymour. Following him were campers Brendon Armitage, Sam Davitt, Max Livingstone-Peters, Danny Murphy, Ben Nicholas, Carl Pohlman, Zach Popkin, and Nate Williams, as well as BUNACer Nick Ridley (counselor of many of the boys during the 2009 summer) and me. As we gained altitude, the warm deciduous forest gave way to the smaller flora of the slightly chillier subalpine zone. Our collective breath was taken away by the first real view, on a rocky outcrop affording a spectacular panorama of the ridgeline we were to traverse the following day. Although the very top of the ridge was shrouded in clouds, the view gave us a real sense of the altitude we had gained and the ground we would cover come tomorrow.

After one more hour of steady hiking, we emerged from the alpine treeline into a rocky clearing commanded by the sturdy Greenleaf Hut. While certainly not luxurious—no hot showers or turn-down service here—Greenleaf is spacious, clean, and comfortable, boasting a large kitchen/dining area with four long tables and spectacular views of mile-high Mt. Lafayette. Flanking this communal space are three rustic but comfortable bunkrooms (each bunk with a pillow and three wool blankets) and two basic bathrooms, complete with composting toilets and cold running water. Not bad for an inn so high that it’s literally in the clouds!

After claiming their bunks, the Pemi boys offered their assistance to the hut Croo and set the tables for dinner. Afterwards, we headed back outside to listen to the hut naturalist explain the ins-and-outs of maintaining a high-altitude hostelry. Among the hut’s distinctive features are its solar panels, wind turbine, and composting toilets, all of which decrease the hut’s reliance on propane. As the naturalist explained measures taken to deter an over-inquisitive black bear from the hut’s compost heap, we all appreciated the challenges posed by running an altitudinous B&B far from the conventional comforts of civilization.

By 6 o’clock, our stomachs were starting to grumble and we gratefully sat down to a hearty dinner prepared by the Croo chef. Along with the other hut patrons, we feasted on curried lentil soup, salad with homemade dressing, bread fresh from the oven, honey-baked ham, rice, and veggies. A quick rain shower passed through as we ate, but the sun came out just in time for dessert (fudge bars), bringing a vibrant rainbow with it. After dinner, several of our group walked to a nearby rocky lookout to watch the sun set over the valley, and many took advantage of the hut’s small retail shop to purchase synthetic Greenleaf t-shirts as souvenirs (and as extra layers for the next day’s breezy summits). After playing a few card games and writing a group entry in the hut log book, we headed to bed, pleasantly full and sleepy.

We woke at 6:30 the following morning to a song performed by a Croo member, and sat down at 7 to a hearty breakfast. Afterwards, two of the Croo performed a silly but informative skit instructing us in the proper way to fold our wool blankets in preparation for the next patron. The weather was sunny and clear, and after packing up our gear, we began the day’s hike. The first mile was a rocky scramble up the shoulder of Lafayette, and we were rewarded for our efforts with a spectacular 360-degree view of the White Mountains from the summit, including the verdant Pemigewassett Wilderness to the east. After snapping a few photos, we continued on our way along the Franconia Ridge, which, as it coincides with the Appalachian Trail, afforded us a chance to chat in passing with thru-hikers and casual “goofers” alike. As the morning progressed, the trail led us into and above fleecy white clouds, and we summitted Mt. Lincoln and Little Haystack in quick succession.

Then, after hiking a solid five miles, we found ourselves at the top of Mt. Liberty. With yet another 360-degree view unfolding around us, we sat down together and enjoyed a traditional trail lunch of pepperoni, cheese, crackers, carrots, raisins, and cookies. With an entertaining story from Nick Ridley to send us on our way, we embarked on the last segment of the trip, a challenging 2.5 mile downhill stretch that brought us back down into the valley. We returned to camp proud of our efforts, with memories of great views, great weather, and great company to sustain us throughout the winter months.

Now for Mason, Teddy, and Nick’s account of the Allagsh trip, led by Pemi veteran staff members Andy Kirk and Noble Macfarlane:

Maine… the final frontier…  This is the voyage of the canoe trip: Pemi.  Our 5-day mission, to explore new waterways, to seek out new wildlife, to boldly go where few campers have gone before.

Star date 7/19/10: Captain Andrew Tiberius Kirk leads an inexperienced crew of 10 into the Maine Wilderness.  After discovering that a U-Haul trailer nullifies the ability to achieve warp speed, the crew began a grueling journey into the unknown.  Ten hours, several bacon, egg, and cheese bagels, and a posse of five-dollar foot longs later, the crew had arrived in what can only be described as Moose Country.  Chief Navigator Andy Kradjel’s intense desire to see “meese” drove him into an uncharacteristic fit of anxiety, which ironically prevented him from seeing the first four moose the crew actually  encountered.  After a meal of herbivoric food made by resident Vulcan Noble MacFarlane, the crew fell asleep.

Star date 7/20/10: The crew awoke the next morning and promptly put into the river.  Chief Navigator Kradjel, overcome with excitement, was no match for the foot-tall rocks of the Chase Rapids.  After turning the canoe back over, Andy and his damp companion were able to catch up with the rest of the crew and join them at Long Lake.  One hour into the trek across the lake the crew spotted their first moose of the day.  Resident dare devils Ritter and Levi managed to get within ten feet of the beast before returning to the rest of the group.  That evening the crew replenished their bodies with the delicacy known as mac and cheese and quickly returned to their resting pads for some much needed sleep.

Star date 7/21/10

The crew awoke to the scent of boiled oats and dehydrated fruits.  After a quick packing check the crew was off for their longest trek of the journey – 24 miles.  The day began with a rhythm of both excitement and good cheer as four more moose were spotted along the riverbanks.   But the good cheer would come to an end when a torrential rainstorm dumped gallons of water on what would have been dry clothes.  But all was not lost for the rain soon stopped and after a meal of oversized burritos, the crew returned to their quarters for some R and R.

Star date 7/22/10

The fourth day of the trip started as an extremely uneventful day for the crew only encountering one moose and going over very few rapids.  The men were getting restless and needed some fun, luckily a water fall and countless hours of swimming revitalized the crew enough to get to the final campsite where they are like kings and played hours of Frisbee.

Star date 7/23/10

The men of Pemi finally reached the end of the river at 8:30am that day and began the long journey home.

All in all it was an unforgettable trip.  Final count 11 moose, 9 bald eagles and 2 rabbits.  Thank you Andy and Noble for this amazing experience.

Finally, let me confess that I leapt at the chance to drive one of yesterday’s trips to the trailhead – at the base of Mt. Carrigain in the middle of the Pemigewassett Wilderness. Amidst the preparations for Tecumseh, it didn’t “fill,” but we decided to send it anyway. As a result, the staff/camper ration was remarkable – basically 1 to 1, as Trip Leader Hester Tittman, AC Matt Casey, and former staff member Dan Reed teamed up to supervise Tommy Witkop, Nick Bertrand, and Sparky Brown. The ride to the trail lasted over an hour and a half, as we wound our way over the shoulder of Mt. Moosilauke, the gorgeous Kancamagus Highway, and the Bear Notch Road before heading North into Crawford Notch and west up the Sawyer River. No sooner had seatbelts been buckled than Sparky proposed a word-guessing game that kept us all rapt until we rumbled across a backcountry bridge into the parking lot. You may know it. I didn’t. Someone comes up with a word (say, “elephant” — no proper nouns) and reveals its first letter (“e”) and the others attempt to guess what it is. “Is it a purple vegetable?” If the “word-holder” can say “No, it’s not an eggplant,” he’s safe. If he can’t think of a purple vegetable, ANY purple vegetable, beginning with an “e” – and others can – one of the guessers says “Contact,” and then counts to three. On three, if anyone else in the group of guessers also says (in this case) “eggplant,” the word-holder has to reveal another letter of the word. And so it goes, until the word is guessed – and the guesser comes up with the next challenge.

Maybe you had to be there, but the energy and laughter and merriment that filled the van for 90 minutes were amazing, and time honestly flew. It’s hard to recall a time that more fully epitomized the cliché “Fun for young and old.” I have to say that, once everyone had hopped out of their seats and shouldered their packs and started up the road towards the trailhead, it was all I could do not to lock the van and tramp right off into the cool woods along with them, ill-prepared as I would have been. On the best of trips, the rapport we had enjoyed begins to develop a day or so in, as logged miles and rest stops and meals shared around a campfire begin to work their magic. This time, it was all there from the start. Given the majesty of the mountain they’re climbing today – set in the very center of a mammoth circle of 4000-foot peaks – it’s hard to imagine the heights of camaraderie they will achieve. We should all be so fortunate. More mystical moments – the lasting stuff of life-long memories.

— Tom Reed, Jr.

27 July 2010

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