Stations of Life’s Journey

2017: Newsletter # 5

It’s been a momentous week at Camp Pemigewassett. No, there haven’t been any further floods (although it did rain a little bit more.) No victory on Tecumseh Day (yet! – and despite the fact that we did very nicely against Camp Moosilauke last weekend!) And no announcement of a Pulitzer Prize for the Bean Soup editorial staff (although Dan Reed and Wes Eifler did scribe some wonderful celebratory limericks for the annual Birthday Banquet.) No, instead, roughly eighty first-session campers said goodbye to us last Monday morning, while eighty second-sessioners arrived on Tuesday to start their own 2017 seasons. It’s especially gratifying when parents retrieving their sons report that their boy’s first words after a crushing hug were, “I’m definitely coming back for seven weeks next year.” It’s equally buoying to see returning veterans bouncing out of their cars and running over to old friends, taking exactly 2.5 seconds to fall into the kind of excited jabber you couldn’t interrupt with an air-raid siren. Session Two is off to an energetic and happy start, with our June arrivals very clearly getting a second wind from last Tuesday’s reinforcements. It doesn’t hurt, naturally, that the aforementioned Tecumseh Day is coming up this Friday. The annual showdown with our archrivals of the past 108 years never fails to get the Pemi engine running at peak RPMs.

Also most definitely revving up the week, though, have been the returns of the two major expeditions we mount every summer – the Allagash Canoe Trip and Pemi West. Both groups rolled back into camp on Friday: Pemi West at 9:30 P.M. and the Allagash van on the stroke of midnight. There are many ways for a boy to extend himself at Pemi, whether he’s a special devotee of athletics, the arts and music, nature, or the trip program. Nothing we do with our fifteen-year-olds, however, offers quite the challenge embodied in the sixty-to-seventy-mile, five-day paddle down the Allagash River through the untamed wilderness of northern Maine. Yet, exciting and demanding as this inland voyage may be, it has to take a second seat to the exacting, life-altering mountain leadership program that is Pemi West. Every year, eight to twelve Pemi veterans aged sixteen or seventeen (sometimes with interested boys or girls who haven’t been with us in Wentworth) set out for Washington State’s Olympic National Park for three and a half weeks of wilderness backpacking, mountaineering, and rock-climbing. The program unquestionably builds on skills and interests acquired at Pemi East (with many participants having in fact cut their teeth on wilderness adventure up on the Allagash!), but advanced training in Wilderness First Aid, glacier travel, and various other skills required in mountaineering and rock climbing make the course as personally groundbreaking as it is exciting. Participants learn to assess their capabilities relative to challenges of multiple sorts, make wise decisions and carry them out with determination and good judgment, and, perhaps most important of all, cultivate a selfless and supportive group ethic that makes for collective success on the trail and, for many years to come, elsewhere as well. The Allagash boys come back to Pemi as leaders of their fellow campers. The Pemi West crew come back as all but assistant counselors and, as often as not, become our very best cabin counselors in subsequent years.

Allagash Trip

2017 Allagash trip

2017 Allagash trip

This year’s Allagash trip was led by veteran Pemi trip counselors Harry Morris and Nick Davini. Under their skilled guidance, Brodie Fisher, Teddy Foley, Miles Schiff Stein, Frank Applebaum, Eli Barlow, Scott Cook, Nathan King, Elliot Muffett, Suraj Khakee, and Owen Lee left camp a week ago Monday, just as the sun was rising across the mist-filled valley. Harry and Nick had decided this year to bypass the sometimes wind-bound Allagash lakes and return to the river section of the waterway, which consists of a 63-mile paddle from Churchill Dam to the Village of Allagash. Including the out and back drives of nearly 500 miles each, the group spent five days away from camp, one more than usual for this outing. They paddled each day from about 8 AM to 3:30 or 4:00 PM, giving them plenty of time on the river as well as allowing them to relax at the excellent campsites that grace that stretch of the waterway. As in past year’s, the group saw multiple moose, over a dozen bald eagles, and lots of other wildlife not typically seen here in New Hampshire. The boys, report Harry and Nick, were absolutely excellent this year. They had been in training for three weeks, paddling on our pond on a daily basis, learning the various strokes required for a demanding river passage, learning how to deal with and recover from capsizing, and trying out the skills of portaging. They had also been on two preparatory river trips, such that when they finally hit the Allagash, they were practiced and confident, and thus able to appreciate all the more the magnificently wild setting through which they travelled. Harry and Nick were especially impressed with everyone’s willingness to lend a helping hand to others when the need arose. A tight-knit group even before they left, they returned sun-bronzed and happy, bonded together even more closely through the rigors, and the pleasures, of the trip.

Pemi West

This year’s Pemi West group was comprised of Pemi veterans Dash Slamowitz, Sam Beesley, Pierce Haley, Jackson Morrell, Reed O’Brien, Will Adams, George Cook, Nolan Katcher, and Andrew Kanovsky. Under the experienced guidance of Pemi West Director Dave Robb and his co-instructors Tim Heltzel and Regan Narin, they quickly learned everything they needed to know about organizing their 40-50-pound packs for ease of carrying and quick access to crucial gear; planning, provisioning, and cooking their meals; setting realistic goals for the day’s travel; situating their campsites; moving across glaciers with ropes on their harnesses, crampons on their boots, and ice axes in their hands; glissading and self-arresting after falls; and scores of other skills and necessities for backcountry travel. Once they had mastered the basics and repeated them enough for them to become reflexes and routines, each participant took his turn as leader of the day, assuming total responsibility for everything from determining wake-up time and their optimal route to deciding upon their final destination. Dave, Tim, and Regan were always in the wings, shadowing the group, but Pemi’s “mountain leadership” program required exactly that of all the boys in turn: leadership, with all of the challenges, opportunities, uncertainties, doubts, realizations, and rewards that being a leader involves. In the wonderful talk they gave to the entire Pemi East community this past Sunday evening, they spoke eloquently about the self-knowledge that comes from being in charge of a group you care about and having to decide, in the moment, what the best way might be to work with a number of other strong-minded individuals in order to achieve an important goal. There were also 24-hour solos, when each participant became his own Thoreau on Walden Pond and had a chance truly to digest what he had gone through on this mountain odyssey, how it was all changing him, how different the coming months and years might promise to be as a result.

2017 Pemi West group

2017 Pemi West group

It was all such a daunting prospect, for starters. Two and a half weeks in the backcountry, carrying everything you need, save for what you will unpack from the back of a friendly llama at the resupply ten or twelve days in! Sam Beesley’s remarks on Sunday were especially revealing. The first several days on the trail, he literally wasn’t sure he could make it. Though a seasoned distance runner, he had never encountered anything this taxing. His thoughts were all about how infernally heavy his pack was, how he had made a mistake ever signing on for this, how slogging through two more weeks seemed a complete impossibility. Even as he wrestled with these doubts, though, he could imagine another Sam, a future Sam, who might look back on all this with a profound sense of pride, pleasure, and accomplishment. Mile by mile, day by day, the self-doubting boy in the woods somehow became the proven and joyous traveler through the wild, and Sam’s personal prognostications solidified into a reality. “As we all finished the last three miles of the trip by ourselves, I realized that I wanted to stay longer. And as we camped in the front country and as we got further and further from the Park and deeper into civilization, I missed the wilderness more and more. I missed the quietness of it, the solitude and feeling of self-sufficiency that comes with spending weeks in the woods. The need to get back to the natural world was not one I had ever felt before. I’m pretty sure the Sam who was first counting down the days till the end of the trip would find the Sam who wished the trip would never end was kind of insane. But I guess you don’t know how good you’ve got it until it’s over.” It’s hard to know how better the philosophical and personal payoffs of a rigorous mountain adventure might be expressed. Everyone in the Lodge knew that they were witness to lives that had been irrevocably enhanced, even transformed. Oh, the lucky ones (this year’s Allagashers among them) for whom the Olympic Range might be next summer’s play- and proving ground alike!

Distance Swim

Distance swim

Distance swimmer

Many Pemi West participants have indeed first worked up an appetite for the rigors of extended wilderness travel on the Allagash waterway. Pemi is not unique in believing that boys and girls thrive best when they are introduced to appropriate challenges at just the appropriate age, but we do try to structure many things at camp in a way that allows our boys to match being satisfied with things they’ve already mastered with the boldness needed to take on things they’ve not yet tried. Historically, one of the most dependable building blocks of self-validation and confidence has been the “distance swim,” the half-mile, staff-escorted swim that qualifies a boy to take out a boat on his own or with a fellow camper. Hard as it may be to believe, some boys arrive at camp never having swum in anything other than a pool – or perhaps in the wave-tumbled shallows of the ocean shore. The prospect of swimming the equivalent of 30 to 35 pool lengths when you can’t even see the bottom (let alone count on being able to touch it if you tire) can be extremely daunting to an eight-, eleven-, or even fourteen-year-old. It hardly matters that staff members are just feet ahead in a rowboat, with their life-saving tube at the ready. You still feel very much alone (and I am remembering the feeling distinctly, almost with a chill, as I write this sixty years after my own first distance swim!) You wonder whether you have it in you to move past the first fifty yards – to the second – to the tenth – to the fifteenth. But, as the chilly waters seem almost to warm with your extended effort and the float that is your destination grows from the apparent dimensions of a Lego spied across an amphitheater to a sofa cushion viewed from the coffee table, you get that giddy feeling that you’re going to make it. Maybe your biggest worry now, in fact, is that, when you pull yourself up, arm-weary, onto the float, your smile will be so broad and crazy that your counselor will be forced to chuckle at your extravagant pleasure. “Of course I could manage,” you’ll want to say. “Never the slightest doubt! (And boy, are my arms exhausted!)” You look forward to the cheer of acknowledgement in the mess hall that night – even though you’ll blush when you hear it. Playing Frisbee running bases that evening, you’ll pause to recall what you’ve managed to do – and that silly smile may bloom once again. That night, after taps, as your counselor starts to read the next chapter of Treasure Island, you’ll think quietly to yourself, “Maybe I’m more like Jim Hawkins than I thought.” These are the little steps, of body and mind, that mark so distinctly our progress as we grow up, get stronger, believe in ourselves.

We’ll close by looking at the Distance Swim from a slightly different angle –a perspective offered by former Director Tom Reed, Sr., who left us in 2010. What follows is a transcription of a recording made in May of that year. It speaks, as we have spoken above, to the way boys can rise to challenges in a fashion that changes them forever for the better. But is also speaks to the incalculable satisfaction that can be derived from creating an atmosphere in which that change can happen. The boy may swim, but the giddy smile may belong as much to his counselor as to him. (Ask Kim Bradshaw who, just this past week, watched with delight as Jon Ciglar and Kieran Klasfeld, with whom she had been working for three summers, finally waded ashore after managing The Big Swim.) Somehow, inevitably, we are all in the water together. 

(Tom usually told this story at the last meeting of staff training week, the night before the campers arrived.) 

With regard to why we’re all here tonight, and for the remaining seven weeks of the season, it’s become customary for me to speak a little bit because of my long experience at Pemi myself. Some people may be here to make a huge salary. Don’t expect that to be the case. Others will come for a variety of reasons, but I want to explain, in a short story of what happened at Pemi one summer not too long ago, why we really are all here, every one of us. 

We had a camper I’ll call Matthew who was with us for two or three summers about twenty or twenty-five years ago. He was one of these appealing but somewhat ineffectual kids who really couldn’t do much that was likely to impress other campers, or even some of the staff. He was put in the Junior Camp, the only new kid in his cabin, and like all the other Juniors started out learning occupations (as we call the morning activities) including swimming. At Pemi, all campers must swim the half mile from the Senior Beach to the Junior Beach before they’re allowed to take boats out by themselves, as opposed to going out with a counselor. Well, so Matthew started out on this swimming program along with some other kids, and he wasn’t making much progress, and he and other people in the Junior Camp surely noticed that he wasn’t making much progress in other areas either. He didn’t seem to make new friends, he didn’t seem to get much better in tennis, or any activities like that. Meanwhile, all of the other Juniors, as usual, were making progress, sometimes immense progress, in other areas. So Matthew often seemed to be adrift, kind of a, oh, I don’t know how to describe him, in this sea of activity around him. 

Now, here’s where the story really starts. I think he must have become afraid of swimming somewhere else, because he was a very slow learner in the water, and while the other boys made rapid progress, he hardly made any progress at all. And he hated it. He would sometimes hide, and the counselors would have to come and find him, and almost drag him out to the swimming area. And they hated themselves for that, and he hated them too, I suppose, for that. But he made slow progress through the season. First it was swimming from dock to dock, then around the Junior swimming area, and finally to the Junior Point and back – quite a short distance, but significant psychologically in this case, I think.

And then comes the end of the summer, or nearing the end of the summer, with two days left to go, and Matthew still hasn’t swum his distance. He’s the only boy who hasn’t, and everybody in camp knows that. So what do the counselors do? Should they start him out on that swim, with the knowledge of what a huge thing it would be for him if he made it; or what an awful thing it would be if he tried and failed, with no time left to repeat. But they decided to do it, and just two days before the end of the season.  

I remember I was in the office with Holly Gardner, our secretary, working, when a little Junior ran by the open window and yelled in at us: “Matthew’s swimming his distance!”

Well, the sound of those words still sends a chill up and down my back. So Holly and I ran out onto the porch of the Lodge and, sure enough, there was Matthew in the water about fifty yards out, with a row boat ahead of him with two counselors in it, one rowing – you could hear the creaking of the oars – and the other holding a bamboo pole out over Matthew’s head (just off the stern of the boat) so that Matthew could grab that any time he wanted to for help. And there was a third counselor, Brad Saffer, the head of the swimming program in the Junior Camp that year, who, very unusually, was swimming in the water with Matthew, singing songs, mostly Gilbert and Sullivan songs, because Brad had starred in the show the night before and was going to again that night. And you could see the arms of Matthew rising laboriously above the water, and hear occasional conversation.  

As I say, Holly Gardner and I were working, and we came out and we saw this apparition, and we watched for a couple of minutes. And suddenly, unexpectedly, there was utter silence, and out of this silence, from across the water, came this little boy’s voice saying, “I’m gonna make it!” 

Well, I don’t know if I ever heard more thrilling words in my life to this day – except perhaps when [my wife] Betsy said “I do!” And Holly felt the same way. We both began to cry, and by this time, about half the camp was along the shore, watching Matthew make progress. And this is really significant, because with only a couple of days left in the season, boys who were good friends were much more likely to play tennis with each other, or some kind of activity like that, than to watch an eight-year-old boy swim in the lake. But there they were.  

Holly and I ran down to the Senior Beach, and by that time probably two thirds of the camp was there. And as Matthew came out of the water, the campers ran out to meet him, to shake his hand, and pat his back, and rub his hair and so on. And I wish you could have seen Matthew’s face, which really resembled the rising sun. I don’t think there was a person there who didn’t know what Matthew must have been thinking: “I did it! I did it all, every stroke of the way, all by myself.” (He wasn’t, of course, old enough yet to appreciate the full contributions the counselors had made.) And Matthew’s face also said, “If I can do something this hard, at which I wanted to give up, at which I had to work so hard all summer, and do it all by myself, then there may be nothing in life ahead of me which will be too hard for me to do.” Now if any of you who are or will be parents consider the full impact of this, you’ll know how important that was. I think the word “miracle” is not too strong to describe it. And then that night in the Mess Hall, Matthew had perhaps the longest, loudest cheer in Pemi’s history.

So that really is why we’re all here. Every one of you can do something somewhat like that for one of our campers; and if you can, do it. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic, like Matthew’s story. Any little improvement here or there can work as a minor to a major miracle in a boy’s life. So we’re delighted to have you all here, and we’ll be working together on this and other important projects all summer. Thank you, and good night!

Baker Pond. The Allagash. The glacier-clad peaks of the distant Olympics. Crucial stations, all of them, on a life’s journey of growing confidence and consequence.

(Tune in next week for an account of Tecumseh Day 2017, penned by our storied Athletic Director, Charlie Malcolm.)

–TRJR

Alumni Magazine – 2016 Preview

Welcome to the June Edition of the Pemi Alumni Newsletter, giving you a glimpse of the summer ahead. It’s been a busy, active off-season for Pemi, and the details follow. Enjoy!

Facility Update

IMG_0278

New hearth, and communal area around fireplace

Work on Pemi’s facility begins immediately after closing day in August, and this past year, Reed Harrigan and his Buildings and Grounds team began the project of restoring the Senior Cabins.

Re-pouring the fireplace hearth, updating the interior of the cabins with fresh bunks and shelves, refinishing the historic floors, adding necessary electric updates, and power washing the exterior brought new life to these iconic structures. Inside, we re-configured the bunks to allow additional space around the fire-place, creating a communal area for each cabin to use during the evenings.

Many of the electrical lines around Pemi have been buried, enhancing our natural views throughout camp. In Junior Camp, the cabin porches received an additional banister to aid in drying bathing suits and towels, and an upgrade on their bunk beds. B&G also converted the Junior Lodge Porch to be the center of the Waterskiing World, with specific storage areas for skis and wakeboards, and lifejackets.

This spring, the team devoted time to improving the Small Dining Room in the Mess Hall; replacing the ceiling and electrical work, and adding new bathrooms for our visitors and female staff members off the back. The trained eye will also noticed new shingled roofs on the library and Senior Lodge.

As you can see, it’s been an incredible busy year for Reed and his team. We are so so thankful for their energy in maintaining the facility, making it one of the best in New England!

Enrollment Update

Over the winter, wonderful enrollment leaves Pemi primed up for the 2016 season. Of those able to return this summer, 82% chose to do so, a spectacular statement to the fun had on the shores of Lower Baker in 2015.

For 2016, we have 85 boys for the Full Session, and 86 for each 1st and 2nd session, totaling 257 boys. Seventy-six campers will enjoy their first summer at Pemi, approximately 29% of the camper population, whereas fifty-five boys will be in the fifth or more summer, or 21%. We love that ratio, allowing our savvy veterans the chance to spread the Pemi love to a new era of boys. We are also thrilled that we have sixty-eight legacy campers this summer. In addition to Pemi traditions, it is beautiful to see camping as a family tradition for so many.

Our campers come to us from 25 states, in 129 separate communities, and 8 different countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Venezuela, France, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Papua New Guinea. We have more than 10 boys coming to Pemi from at least 8 states, including New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, California, and Vermont.

The Senior Lodge before and after

The before and after shots of the Senior Lodge Roof!

Pemi West

It has been a banner year for Pemi West enrollment too, with a total of 14 participants heading to Olympic National Park for their 4.5 week outdoor adventure. This will be the first time in ten years that we have a co-ed trip and  two groups participating at the same time.

Pemi West participants now begin and end their journey in New Hampshire, arriving a few days before the boys to become certified in Wilderness First Aid. They then fly together to Seattle, where Dave Robb, Pemi West Director, is on site to pick them up. We are very excited to reinstitute rock climbing into the Pemi West curriculum this summer.

In 2014, we added a Counselor Apprentice Program for Pemi West participants, offering a two-week option for those interested in experiencing Pemi life from the staff perspective. We have 8 participants in the program this year, who will be capably guided by veteran Staff member, Sam Seymour.

Pemi Board Update

Camp Pemigewassett is governed by a Board of Directors, charged with the general oversight of the operation of Pemi, both programmatic and fiscal, ensuring that camp fulfills its mission.

Pemi’s Mission – See further specifics here

Since 1908, Camp Pemigewassett’s abiding mission has been to inspire and support boys aged 8 to 15 as they find their own distinctive paths in becoming self-reliant, caring, and successful young men with a passion for all that they do.

The group is comprised of up to 11 members, representing both of Pemi’s founding families (including the fourth generation of owners) and non-family members. Current board members include: Tom Reed (President), Fred Seebeck (Vice-President), Allyson Fauver (Treasurer), Penelope Reed Doob, Peter Fauver, Fred Fauver, Jameson Fauver, Dan Reed, Roger McEniry, and Greg Bowes.

New interior of Senior 2

New interior of Senior 2

Board members serve three-year terms, with the possibility of serving up to three terms before cycling off. They meet six times annually, twice in person, and four times telephonically addressing large, big picture topics and strategic issues. Work is also done through a variety of sub-committees addressing specific strategic areas, including Governance, Recruitment, Scholarships, and Capital Improvements.

A number of recent projects, including the refurbishment of the Senior Cabins, the extension of the Senior Lodge, and the new staff house, are examples of Pemi’s Five Year Capital Improvement Plan. This plan, crafted by the board, is strategically identifying ways to maintain and improve the physical plant long into the future.

Staff Profile – Henry Pohlman

Almost every summer there are a few former campers who return to Pemi after years away to serve in the counselor ranks for the first time. This summer, after five summers away from the shores of Lower Baker, Henry Pohlman is back, and we are thrilled to have him. 

Pohlman Cousins

Neal, Carl, and Henry Pohlman

Henry’s first summer was in 2006, as an 11 year old in Lower 2 with Jack Bierwirth as his counselor. Pemi was not a new concept to Henry, as his father John attended camp in the late 70’s and served on the staff in the early 80’s. In fact, John’s brothers Bill and Bruce also spent time at Pemi, following in their fathers’ footsteps, Jim Pohlman, who was the family’s first connection with Pemi. Dock Nick recruited Jim through an Oberlin College connection; Jim attended Oberlin and played tennis for the Yeoman.

Henry’s cousins (Bill’s sons), Neal and Carl also attended Pemi as campers in the 2000’s, adding to the impressive tally of summers under the Pohlman family name, Thirty-four summers now in total for this 3-generation Pemi family.

Henry is a rising Senior at Denison College in Ohio, double majoring in Biology and Neuroscience. After taking a Neuroscience class during his Sophomore year, Henry became fascinated with the field, finding the many intriguing parallels with other sciences; psychology, biology, chemistry and even philosophy. This next semester, Henry will participate in a directed study in neuroscience focused on public outreach. “I’ll be designing a series of presentations over the semester tailored to different communities, such as the neuroscience of aging to a retirement community, or concussions to high schools coaches. I’m very excited to undergo this project, as presenting is one of my greatest academic joys.”

Denison Soccer

Seeing the field

Beyond the classroom, Henry is a member of the Mens’ Soccer team at Denison. Next season, he will be one of the captains, hoping to lead the Big Red to the NCAA Tournament. Henry, a defensive midfielder, guided Denison to a 13-3-1 record in 2015, consistent placing in the top 25 national rankings.  He is also a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity serving as the philanthropy chair.

This summer, Henry is excited to coach soccer and to help out on the waterfront. He can’t wait to hike again in the White Mountains, with a newfound appreciation for these experiences. “As a camper, I did not give the hikes we went on nearly enough credit, one of the coolest places to go hiking in the country.” One of his most memorable moments was a day hike up Mt. Washington, experiencing the infamous wind on the summit, and great camaraderie with his fellow cabin mates.

U4 '09

Upper 4 in 2009

Henry also fondly remembers his 2009 Upper 4 Cabin, led by his counselor Sam Seymour. Henry remembers Sam as always in a good mood, making sure that every camper got the most out of every day. “As a counselor, I’m hoping to emulate that same mentality, and push my campers to not waste a day, because looking back, the summer does fly by.”

Stay tuned to the first newsletter of the 2016 summer, which will include more details on all of Pemi’s 2016 staff.

As always, we encourage our extended Alumni family to swing by to see Pemi firsthand, should your travel plans point you towards the shores of Lower Baker. We’d love to stay connected in person, or virtually, and I invite all Alumni to actively participate in our growing Alumni network. Please submit Alumni Notes, attend Alumni Events, and help connect us to ‘lost’ Alumni.

Interested in being featured in the fall’s newsletter? Let me know! Have personal or professional news to share? E-mail me, and you will be included in the Winter release of Alumni News.

Good luck, long life, and joy!

Kenny Moore

Pemi West News

Evan, wearing green, during the 2014 Pemi West Trip

Evan pictured on the left with the 2014 Pemi West group.

For the past three years, Evan Jewett served as Director of the Pemi West Program, our 4 week wilderness skills and leadership program in Olympic National Park. Evan first began his career with Pemi in 2010 as Head of the Woodshop. In his role as Pemi West Director, he brought a wealth of backpacking knowledge and leadership skills training to the program. Earlier this fall, Evan decided to step down from his position to explore other opportunities. We want to thank him for his years of most effective service and wish him the very best in his future endeavors.

After an extensive search, we are excited to introduce Dave Robb as the next Pemi West Director. Dave’s Pemi experience began in 2011, when he served as an instructor for the Pemi West Program. His involvement in the camping world began earlier as a Rock Climbing instructor at Kingsley Pines in Raymond, ME. Later, Dave served as both the Teen Leadership Instructor and Adventure Director, supervising and training the Adventure staff.

Dave Robb, Pemi West's New Director

Dave Robb, Pemi West’s New Director

Dave was also part of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Sonoran Year Course, spending 135 days backpacking, sailing, and rock climbing, among other activities. Following this, Dave decided to pursue a career in teaching leadership and wilderness skills. That pursuit led Dave to Evergreen State College, where he earned his BA in Outdoor Education and Adventure Leadership. At Evergreen, he was instrumental in establishing the new Outdoor Program, designing and implementing lesson plans pertaining to life in the backcountry. He also served as the Program Coordinator for the Challenge Course, planning, constructing, and developing the High and Low Ropes Courses

In 2013, Dave served as a National Crew Leader for the Student Conservation Association (SCA), overseeing a team on a 30-day conservation project. His interest in trail maintenance and other outdoor related community service projects will be put to excellent use with Pemi West. Dave currently is an instructor for the High Trails Outdoor Science School in Big Bear California, where he teaches outdoor science classes and plans large group activities.

The Pemi West crew in 2011, with Dave in orange coat, nearby a friendly llama! Llama’s are frequently used in Olympic National Park to resupply groups in the backcountry.

“I am very excited to be the new Director of Pemi West. It feels great to be part of a fantastic wilderness leadership program, with a rich history and large potential for growth. Olympic National Park is one of my favorite places on Earth, and I can’t wait to be immersed in the massive trees, and steep alpine of that incredible wilderness. To guide young adults through this paradise, while covering leadership, backpacking and mountaineering, natural history, and conservation service, is a privilege. I look forward to the adventure ahead.”

For the 2015 participants, we are confident that Dave’s leadership will make for an incredible program. Further information regarding the trip will be forthcoming from both Dave and me. If you have any questions, please be in touch. For now, we are delighted to welcome Dave back to the Pemi family, and we look forward to his leadership of Pemi West.

Kenny Moore
Assistant Director

Summer 2014: Newsletter #1

Rock Band on Junior Point

Rock Band on Junior Point

It’s 3:40 Monday afternoon, and we have just finished the last of the four daily instructional periods we call “occupations.” It is 84 degrees in Wentworth under partly cloudy skies, just warm enough that the thought of jumping into the lake for Free Swim (5PM) is most attractive. At the same time, there is a moderate northwest breeze coursing down the pond, and Olivia Walsh’s sailing class (Andre Altherr, Emmanuel Abbey, Jack O’Connor, Thomas Moore, Will Leslie, and Alex Marshman) has had plenty of wind in their sails to get their Lasers and Sunfishes bubbling briskly along. Overall, seventy separate sections of instruction have been offered today, covering everything from soccer and baseball – through Journal Making and Dragonflies – to Plaster Worlds, Chihuly, and Rock Band. Nate Kraus and the boys of Lower Seven will soon be headed across the lake to the Pine Forest for an al fresco supper, while Will Clare, Idrissa Bangura, and their Upper Four charges will be paddling to the “Flat Rock Café” for the same. Meanwhile, Bean Soup mavens Dan Reed and Harry Eifler have retreated to their editorial offices, sorting out the last spices before ladling up their first serving of Pemi’s comical “food for thought” at 7:45. The 2014 season is well underway!

Veterans and new campers

Cabin group with veterans and new boys

It was wonderful seeing those of you who drove your sons to camp on Saturday. The longer we do this, the more established and rewarding our partnership with you good folks seems to become. Reviews of our recently-modified arrival schedule—with veteran campers rolling in during the morning and new boys in the afternoon—continue to be highly positive. Perhaps the best part of it follows from Danny’s lunchtime invitation to the old boys to play a substantial role in welcoming and orienting the first-time campers in the afternoon. It’s also great hearing longtime camp parents like Tripp and Robin Jones speaking to the new moms and dads about the rigors and rewards of leaving their boys in the middle of the New Hampshire woods for three and a half or seven weeks. One relatively novel but charming experience for one of your correspondents—who was joined by his daughter in escorting the New York/Stamford bus up to camp—was witnessing two dozen coach-riding campers beginning to chant “Pemi, Pemi” as soon as they spied the waters of Lower Baker through the quickly-passing trees. Pemigewassett is never alive until the boys get here, and it is simply incredible how spontaneously and completely they can bring it back to life within seconds of their arrival.

At 7:45 on what was shaping up to be a perfect summer evening, two hundred and fifty of us joined the odd pesky mosquito around the campfire circle and waited expectantly as the veteran denizens of the Lake Tent – Hugh Jones, Will Jones, and Will Katcher (do you see any pattern in the names?) – lit the fire and wished one and all a happy and successful season. Speaking for all the other Seniors, they offered to help anybody reach that goal in any way they could, whereupon the inaugural campfire of the season moved ahead with all the pace and vigor of the Pemi Kid himself. The show kicked off with a best-ever performance by chanteur Robert Loeser, who soon had us spell-bound as he belted out Newley and Bricusse’s “Feelin’ Good” from The Roar of the Greasepaint and the Smell of the Crowd. In between his soulful phrases, you could have heard a pin drop – even on the sandy beach.

Next up was Alex Goldman, familiar to all veterans from last summer’s rendition of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold – most memorable, perhaps, when Alex added to Neil’s “and I’m growin’ old” the wry caveat “even though I’m only ten.” This year, at an august eleven, Master Goldman delivered himself of an extremely finished cover of The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” that would certainly have brought the house down if we hadn’t been outdoors. Alex was followed by Junior Two counselor Wesley Eifler, one of whose winter projects had been to memorize the winningly grim Robert Service poem, “The Cremation of Sam Magee.” Adding immeasurably to the chilling effect of Wesley’s recitation was the thick billow of smoke wafting his way from the camp fire, very much akin to Service’s “greasy smoke in an inky cloak” that “went streaking down the sky” as the titular character cooked.

Wesley was followed by campfire regular Eli Brennan, who varied his customary tales from the Greek and Roman pantheon with an admirably succinct narrative about – as far as we could tell – the Egyptian sun-god, Ra. Eli was so succinct is was hard to tell. In any case, he quickly yielded the stage to staff members Max Livingstone-Peters, Maggie Boomgaarden, and Joey Gish who, to the dulcet strains of Max’s guitar and Joey’s fiddle, offered a spirited version of a longtime Pemi favorite, “Wagon Wheel.” Neither the Old Crow Medicine Show nor the song’s first Pemi performer, Christian Ruf, could have done a better job. Since we’re usually long on guitarists but short on fiddlers, it’s especially nice to have Joey with us this summer. When he’s not out leading overnight trips, we look forward to hearing many more tunes like this night’s “Lazy John,” a traditional old-time fiddle tune that Joey delivered with a singular briskness that suggested the handle “lazy” could never be fairly attached to Mr. Gish.

Nate's annual campfire act

Nate’s annual campfire act

Ezra Nugiel returned to the Pemi soundstage with a particularly finished cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” From his debut as one of our smallest Juniors, Ezra has performed with ever-increasing energy and assurance, and it’s clear this summer will see him adding to his past triumphs. Speaking of acts of long standing, Nate Blumenthal once again dazzled the crowd with his rare capacity to lick his own elbow – instantaneously inspiring scores of wannabe elbow lickers, whose efforts we’ll be sure to keep track of for your sake. And, longest-standing of all, Larry Davis cast off his urban sophistication and assumed the manner and accent of a Down East ironist, telling the wonderful tale of an aspirant hunter’s “Beginner’s Luck.” One Pemi West participant was heard to say, “I’ve heard Larry do that story for nine years now, and it never gets old!”  There are lots of forms of community, but listening as a group to a master story-teller working his magical way through a familiar tale is one of the best.

CampfireArms

Singing the Campfire Song

The evening ended, of course, with everyone rising from their seats, casting their arms over their neighbors’ shoulders, and joining together in singing Doc Reed’s moving “Campfire Song.” As we look forward to making the 2014 season one of the best ever, its timeless words equip us with the question and concerns that will keep our eyes on the prize for the next seven weeks: “I wonder if anyone’s better for anything I’ve done or said.”

Pemi West send-off

Pemi West send-off

Highlights of other sorts? No sooner had the first boys arrived on Saturday than the first Frisbee-Running-Bases and Roofball games formed up and took fire. Their excitement and energy has rivaled anything we have seen telecast from Brazil. By Sunday morning, as well, a dam had been constructed in the stream by the Lodge – in preparation for the “Pink Polar Bears” of those boys for whom 65 degree lake water is not sufficiently bracing. And finally, right after the Sunday Noon meal, this year’s Pemi West Participants left the messhall and ran through a “tunnel” of raised arms (the whole camp community’s) on the way to their van and Logan airport beyond. It was wonderful having Nick Bertrand, Ben Chaimberg, Matt Kanovsky, Zach Leeds, Will McNear, and Jackson Seniff with us for six days as they completed a Wilderness First Aid course and prepared for the trip. It will be even more wonderful to welcome them back in just under four weeks, after what is sure to be a life-changing experience.

Well, swim call is just about to blow (ably played by Atilla Petho, our first-ever bugler from Budapest.) We will restrain ourselves from suggesting that, on a day as warm as this, his summons to the waterfront will be a true Hungarian Rhapsody. (Well, we tried!) But it does feel like time to sign off for now. Until next week! We wish you all a healthy and happy Fourth of July.

                                                          ~ Tom and Danny

Wish you were here...?

Wish you were here…?

2012 Summer Newsletter: #7

As we sit in the Pemi “West Wing” this morning of August 6th, the truck from E&R Laundry is filling up with green camper bags and pink staff bags for the last laundering run of the summer. Hard to believe that the next time these Pemi shorts and T-shirts, these Smartwool and Champion socks, these Manchester United and Barcelona jerseys go in the wash  . . . it will likely be in your very own Maytags and Kenmores!

Time may be flying, but it’s a beautiful day in this little valley (after some much-needed rain last night) and, as always with “Pemi Week” stanzas, it will be filled to the brim with varied (and sometimes frenzied) activity. Lowers and Seniors are down at the beach locked into the Divisional Swimming Championships, in which almost every camper participates (many, we’d bet, secretly imagining themselves to be the next Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte.) Uppers are working through the middle rounds of their Tennis Tournament, and select Seniors will soon be out on the lake for the opening races of their Sailing Championship, taking advantage of the brisk north-westerly breeze that often accompanies clearing weather up here. Meanwhile, there’s a Junior Soccer Tournament unfolding as well, with all of Doc Nick’s wonders assigned to three teams for a spirited round-robin competition that begot thunderous applause when it was announced in the mess hall this morning. (Who, we wonder, will be today’s Clint Dempseys and Lionel Messis and Tim Howards?)

Grand Opening of the 2012 Art Show

This afternoon, Uppers and Juniors will don their jammers and head to the waterfront, many Lowers and Seniors will move to the tennis courts, other Lowers and Seniors will head to the soccer pitch, and the preliminary races of the Windsurfing Championship will get underway on the white-capped lake. Meanwhile, Deb Pannell, Dottie Reed, and Harry McGregor will have finished the installation in our Library of the Annual Pemigewassett Art Show – and then host the gala opening, complete with cornucopial cheese platter, fresh fruit, and delicious sparkling punch. (Everyone gets firsts. For seconds, you have to answer some searching trivia questions about the items on display!) Then, after an early supper, the G&S cast trundles down to the Lodge for the dress rehearsal of Pirates of Penzance, while Ryan Fauver hosts the rest of the camp in the Mess Hall for the second of this season’s Vaudeville Shows. Did we say we were busy this week?

Did we say we were busy last week? Advanced Caving Trip to Schoharie, New York, with Zach Leeds, Dan Bivona, Harry Cooke, Alex Baskin, Dylan O’Keefe, TH Pearson, Sompy Somp, Max Von Passchen, and Dan Reiff marveling at their subterranean adventures.

The annual trip to Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine (details below). Uppers 1 and 2 overnighting at Greenleaf Hut in the spectacular Franconia Range on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Florian Dietl, Daniel Bowes, Max Pagnucco, Charlie and Will Parsons, Julian Hernandez-Webster, and Hugh Grier joining staff members Peter Siegenthaler, Juan Gallardo, and Dan Reed for a spectacular traverse of the Presidential Range, staying at the recently renovated Madison Springs Hut. Richie Carchia, Owen Fried, Jack Wright, Alex Sheikh, Johnny Seebeck, Jamie Zusi, and Greg Nacheff tri-summiting Mt. Tripyramid on a (yes!) three-day. Simultaneously, some thirty miles west of them, Hugh Gray, Ben Chaimberg, Nate Blumenthal, Charlie Scott, Nat Healy, Patrick Sullivan, Jamie Nicholas, and Colin Alcus summiting Mt. Moosilauke on the same schedule. The entire Junior Camp on an afternoon field trip to the Science Center of New Hampshire on Squam Lake. A second geology field trip to Crawford Notch just west of the Presidentials (details below). The entire Lower camp headed off to Lebanon, NH for a pizza dinner followed by a viewing of Ice Age IV. (Remember? Before climate change?) The entire Upper Camp traveling to Manchester to take in an AA league baseball game (details below). The entire Senior Camp hosting the lasses from Camp Merriwood for an afternoon of sports, a barbecue on the beach, and a brief evening of what we are assured is still called “dancing.” The same lads, the next day, heading south for Hanover Day, with supper at that much-favored bistro “Everything but Anchovies” and a screening of Dark Knight Rising. All terrific fun, and great ways to side-step any possible feelings of let-down after our magnificent day against Tecumseh at the end of Week Five. By the time Saturday rolled around, with the annual Brad Jones Day and the thirtieth iteration of Games Day, everyone was ready for a sleep-in and an afternoon “at home.” Add to Saturday’s activities an evening showing of How to Train Your Dragon and Pemi Week was well off and running.

Now for some of the “details” promised above. First, we hear from Jamie Andrews who, together with Ben Walsh, led the trip up Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. They were joined on this always-memorable jaunt by Nathaniel Kaplan, Thompson Bain, Alex Baskin, Spencer Cain, Dan Reiff, Andreas Sheikh, Ben Stone, and TH Pearson (many of whom had just returned from caving!)

Mount Katahdin, a wilderness monolith at the end of the AT in Maine, is an arduous climb. It has tough bouldering sections, and long stretches of exposed trail making its traverse particularly dangerous in inclement weather. Due to these factors, Pemi’s group headed off any storm danger by starting our hike at seven AM, ascending the AT Hunt trail. With a cooling morning drizzle pattering on our heads, we quickly climbed the first few miles until we reached the aforementioned bouldering section. Without tree cover, a dragon’s spine of stone stretched out upon the ridge ahead of us. We adopted a slower pace, and eventually passed through the “gateway,” onto the flat terrace near the top of Katahdin. The weather cleared some, with the mountains behind us looking like islands jutting through a sea of clouds. Covering the last mile and a half through the flatter alpine zone, the Pemi boys made it to the top just in time to eat lunch and witness a group of thru-hikers complete their trek. With beards to their chests and 2,100 miles at their backs, the trekkers yelped and yodeled like the proverbial “Happy Wanderer,” celebrating their final ascension. We turned to head down after a hearty meal of crackers, ‘roni, and cheese, with the sun becoming fully uncovered for the first time in the day. We had heard of potential thunderstorms in the later afternoon, so we booked it down over the sharp ridge-top and back into tree cover. Feet sore from 10.4 miles and smiles wide from surprise trip-candy, we made it back to camp around four PM, ate delicious pepperoni-potato chowder, and drifted to sleep in our tents.

A truly memorable day! Now, here’s Deb Kure, super-mega-ultra-dynamic Associate Head of our Nature Program, who led last week the second of 2012’s outings to Mt. Willard (taking Athletic Director Charlie Malcolm along as a reward for his teams’ acceptable performance against Tecumseh. How cool is it, by the way, that any camp’s storied AD is the first to line up for a geologically-oriented Nature Trip?)

Crawford Notch

What? There’s a nine-mile, perfectly symmetrical U-shaped glacial valley in our White Mountains? One which campers are likely to see in their future geology textbooks? Time to pack a trail supper, load up the van, and hit the road!

Twice a summer in recent years, we’ve ventured out to “take a closer look” at Crawford Notch. Driving there via Franconia Notch and driving back over the Kancamagus Highway provides an ideal geology field trip route. Campers of all ages and interests have enjoyed the 1.6-mile walk to the cliff summit of Mt. Willard, at the north end of the Notch. The final approach is a memorable tree-arched path, with The View opening a little more with each step, until you’re on the edge of the precipice face-to-face with a glacier-bulldozed trough so symmetrical that it looks like a giant forested skateboard half-pipe. The Presidential Range forms the east wall of the Notch – with Mt. Washington sometimes visible in to the northeast – and the Willey Range forms the west wall. Weaker Conway granite allowed the more-than-one-mile-thick Continental ice sheet to gouge and scour a U-shaped valley, in between the resistant volcanic igneous and metamorphic rock of the ranges, 13,000 years ago. Seeing this natural wonder – and beginning to understand the prodigious forces and protracted time scale that led to its creation – is always something of a scientific and a spiritual education.

Great to have campers who consistently realize the artistic and scientific majesty of this view – and to be able to introduce them to the adventure and excitement of a field-based science!

And now for a national-pastime-oriented word from Danny, who spear-headed the Upper trip to Manchester – and is rumored to have thrown out the first pitch (although details of the deed have proven hard to come by!)

This past Thursday, August 2, the Upper Division campers asked their counselors to “take them out to the ballgame” and the counselors took them literally by putting the boys onto a Pemi bus and heading to the big city, Manchester, NH, to watch the Manchester Fisher Cats “play ball.” The ride to the Queen City was a smooth one, and the boys arrived in plenty of time to enjoy an all-you-can-eat feast at a guest tent in the stadium, featuring burgers, sausage, chicken, salad, and cookies – with an abundance of drink, as well.

As game time approached, the boys settled into their seats, directly behind home plate, to enjoy the contest. The Pemi lads showed their enthusiasm throughout, chanting the names of the Fisher Cats batters, starting a “wave,” and screaming in glee at every hit, of which there were many, as the game turned into a slugfest between the home team and the Erie Sea Wolves. In total, 31 hits were banged out in the eventual 9-7 Erie victory. A fun time was had by all, and we look forward to a return date in 2013!

And this brings us right up to yesterday. One of the highlights of Sunday morning was our weekly Meeting being focused on Pemi West, our mountain leadership program based in Washington State. Three of this year’s participants – “students” Dan Fulham and Nathan Tempro and staffer Dan Reed – treated the entire camp to a spectacular slideshow of their trip, accompanying their inspiring images with some riveting words about how well this kind of challenge can paradoxically forge both team-work and independent, individual growth in those lucky enough to be a part of it. We’ll be in touch this fall about 2013’s edition of PW, which will be open to motivated and adventurous16-, 17-, 18-year-olds, male or female, Pemi alums or not. Suffice it to say, though, that more than a few eyes were opened Sunday morning to the allure of this exciting wilderness adventure with a distinctive “Pemi stamp.”

That takes us close to our word limit (a coy way of saying it’s almost time for lunch – and we do get excited about lunch these days, given Stacey’s cuisine.) We’ll close with an extremely fresh bit of news coming from Zach Barnard, who teams with Henry Eisenhart (whose birthday is today!) as one of our two fine division heads in the Junior Camp. This treats the latest installment in our Big Guy/Little Guy mentoring initiative.

Senior and Junior buddies gather for s’mores

Yesterday evening, the Juniors and Seniors gathered around the newly created Junior Campfire Circle. Situated right on Junior Point, the circle overlooks the lake, sheltered from gusts of wind by the plants along the stream. Every Junior was paired with a Senior buddy, and to the tune of three or four s’mores each, the campers had a great time finding marshmallow roasting sticks and getting their hands and faces sticky. Everyone then quieted down and gathered around the fire together, Seniors sitting with their respective buddies. The counselors asked questions such as “What types of things do you do here that you don’t do at home?” and “What advice can you give to each other for the last week of camp?” The introspection and concern, as well as the thoughtfulness and maturity in so many of the answers, was awesome. We had a great time together, and we’re all looking forward to being together once again, next year!

We’ll close with that. Tune in next week for this year’s final missive, complete with Clive Bean’s annual review of our Gilbert and Sullivan production. Until then!

— Tom and Danny

Mountain leadership in Olympic NP: Pemi West

PemiWest

The Pemi West group in 2006 in Olympic National Park. From left to right, back row: Christina Demetro, Daniel Pfeffer, Duncan Fisher, Jamie Andrews, Tim Billo, Emily Blackmer, and Hayley Daniell. Front row: Matt DeCaro, Corey Fauver, Anne Carman.

In 1997, when I was 18, I traveled out to Crested Butte, Colorado, to take part in Pemi West’s inaugural season. We had a base camp at 10,000 feet in the Maroon Bells, and spent almost a month living in the mountains. I still have vivid images in my mind from that summer—the tall conifers that surrounded the base camp, the fields of wildflowers we hiked through, the drama of the vast, snowy mountains that were our home. And the Pemi spirit, so distinctive in New Hampshire, was with us out in the Rockies.

The next summer, after my first year of college, I returned to Pemi in New Hampshire and worked as a trip counselor for the summer in the White Mountains. (We’ll have more about the trip program at Pemi in New Hampshire in a forthcoming item here.) Then, in the summer of 1999, I traveled back out to Colorado to work as a staff trip leader for Pemi West, co-leading a group with Scott Morgan.

Pemi West in 2006.

Pemi West in 2006.

My two summers out in Colorado built upon a love of hiking and the outdoors that I’d been nurturing for a long time, and vastly improved my technical skills and sense of confidence and independence in the wilderness, to boot. In college, I was a Mountain Club guide, and later, the president of the Mountain Club, and the fact that I arrived at Middlebury and felt ready to tackle anything in the outdoors has a lot to do with my training both at Pemi West and with Pemi in New Hampshire.

Since 2005, Pemi West has been located in Olympic National Park in Washington State. When I asked Pemi West Director Tim Billo to tell me some about the current program, he wrote:

“This setting offers all the challenge and beauty of Colorado, but also offers a superior wilderness experience. With one million contiguous acres of federally designated wilderness, Olympic National Park is one of the largest road-less areas in the Lower 48. It offers an unparalleled trail system, as well as extremely remote and challenging off-trail travel. Though the elevations are less lofty than Colorado, the Olympic Mountains have all the characteristics of some of the world’s highest peaks, including some of the largest ice fields in the Lower 48. Lower elevations have the added advantage of eliminating time spent for acclimatization. Pemi West is a great place to join your old Pemi friends on an adventure that will teach you how to become completely self-sufficient in any rugged mountain wilderness. The trip traverses some of the many distinct ecosystems that Olympic National Park encompasses, from temperate rainforest, to ocean beach, to alpine meadow, and glaciated peaks. Glacier travel is an awesome bonus experience in the Olympics that was not available in Colorado. Navigating the rivers of ice on Olympus, while roped to your teammates, is an unforgettable experience, and a skill needed for mountaineering in all of the world’s great ranges. To prevent the need for returning to civilization, and to lighten packs for a day or two, Pemi West in the Olympics also takes advantage of a backcountry re-supply by llama.”

(That last detail makes me jealous. We didn’t have llamas in Colorado.)

Find more information on the features and history of Pemi West, and information on how to apply. (Note that this year’s program is a two-week course, as opposed to the usual three weeks. The shorter course will cover all of the same skills in a more compact, but equally intense wilderness experience.)

The ranks of Pemi West alumni are constantly getting bigger, and there is usually a good number of people who participate in Pemi West as a camper or leader and then migrate back to Pemi in New Hampshire, their teeth cut on the bigger mountains out west. Some have moved on to work for other organizations, or have led gnarly personal trips of their own. If you’ve been a part of Pemi West, either in Colorado or Washington, what was the experience like? Did you come back to Pemi in New Hampshire and join the trip program, or was it “just” a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you?

Rob Verger