Pemi 101 – The Pemi Hill Shelter

The Pemi Hill Shelter is an Adirondack-style structure that sits on Pemi’s property roughly two-thirds of a mile above the Junior Camp. This shelter provides cover overhead and is walled on three sides to protect occupants from the elements. Ten yards from the open side of the building, which faces eastward, is a campfire circle essential for cooking meals and for providing a central place for the group to congregate.

Over the years, Pemi has utilized the Pemi Hill Shelter in different ways, most notably as an overnight hike destination for individual cabins. The group traditionally departed after supper, climbed in the early evening hours armed with sleeping bags and a change of clothes, and enjoyed a night in the great outdoors. Led by the cabin counselor, and possibly the cabin’s Assistant Counselor, these hikes aided in developing cabin unity and gave the boys a chance to practice their camping skills.

Campers and staff have documented many of these Pemi Hill trips in Bean Soup articles. Click the links to read about Lower 7’s trip in 1988, or Junior 2’s outing in 1998.

History of the Pemi Hill Shelter

In the earliest days of Pemi (from 1908 into the 1920’s), boys climbed Pemi Hill for similar reasons, but experienced a very different landscape – pastoral rather than forested. In fact, cattle grazed on the slopes above the camp in the 1910’s, and the clanking of cowbells could be heard in the cabins after Taps and before Reveille. In the 1920’s, the first Pemi Hill Shelter was constructed near the spring where the cattle drank. Over the decades since, white pine, white and yellow birch, and various other trees overtook the pasture, creating the wooded landscape familiar to us today.

In the summer of 1962, Al Fauver, former Director and owner, began the project to create a new shelter on Pemi Hill. Charlie Ladd, Pemi’s longtime maintenance man and carpenter, was the builder and led trip counselors Wes Ackley and Roger Spragg and a few campers as the building team. Others (including Board President Tom Reed, Jr.) aided the efforts by carrying up all the posts, lumber, hardware, and roofing materials needed to complete construction.

In 1963, Al charged his son Fred Fauver (current Board member) and trip leader Paul Lewis with locating the old spring and rebuilding it into a useable water source for the shelter. After an all-day search, Fred and Paul had not uncovered the old spring, but they did find a wet spot at the base of a ledge not far from the shelter. After digging it out, they found a growing pool of water and erected a stone dam and beehive roof to protect the water source from debris. The best water in the world still flows from that pipe.

(To read more about the history of the Pemi Hill Shelter, be in touch to secure your copy of Pemi’s History Book – Camp Pemigewassett The First 100 Years!)

The Pemi Hill Shelter today

In planning for the 2017 season, Pemi’s trip staff developed a new (but also old!) system to provide the 8-11-year-old Juniors campers with an engaging, safe, and memorable Pemi Hill experience. Now, the specially-trained trip counselors lead the Junior overnights, aided by the cabin counselor, so that the younger boys learn more about the trip program and develop their camping and outdoor skills.

In the morning, the trip counselor outlines the trip and what to expect, giving the boys a packing list. Later that day, a check verifies that each boy has essential gear, including rugged footwear, a rain jacket, water bottles, a toothbrush, and the food that has been organized in the kitchen. On the ascent, each boy is given a turn to lead the group, learning how to set the pace. The counselors talk about the plant and animal species to be found along the way, features of the landscape, and first aid protocol. Some of the boys take this time to share something they learned in a nature occupation with their peers.

Upon arrival, the boys drop their packs and head to the Pemi Hill Spring to fill their water bottles. Once camp is set up, the boys explore the hillside and use a topographic map to study the land. They also learn to tie useful knots. This safe, unstructured time in the woods provides an ideal opportunity for camper development and growth.

An offseason trip to the shelter during the Family Winter Weekend in 2016!

The boys gather good firewood to cook dinner over the fire. The trip counselor demonstrates how to arrange the wood in the fire pit and talks about regulations and safety relating to controlled fires in the wilds. Other items covered are the principles of Leave-No-Trace camping, which reduces the impact we have on the natural areas in which we camp and hike. After dessert, the boys relax and read a book before falling asleep in the shelter (now equipped with mosquito netting as an appreciated latter-day improvement!). No clanging of cowbells now, though; only peaceful slumber.

Boys rise early at the Pemi Hill Shelter; the extra elevation allows the sun to peek over Mount Carr a bit earlier than the counselors might hope. After a quick breakfast over the fire, the group packs up their supplies and heads back to camp in time for their morning occupations – happy, well-fed, and a bit wiser in the ways of the wilderness.

Check out the detailed description of two 2017 Pemi Hill trips by clicking here. Stay tuned to the Pemi Blog for our next Pemi 101!

–Kenny Moore

Take a hike!

Finalizing your plans for the upcoming holiday weekend? Why not take advantage of the extra time and anticipated gorgeous weather to get outside and take a hike!

Pemi’s trip program, one of our four core program areas, offers Pemi boys a variety of trip options from day hikes, to overnight trips, to AMC Hut adventures. For each trip, Pemi’s trip counselors work with the boys to pack all the necessary items in order to be prepared. Many of you are familiar with Pemi’s packing list, which includes a backpacker’s equipment list on the bottom.

Rob Verger, a former Pemi camper, counselor, and trip counselor, recently authored an article in Popular Science, that provided seven essential tips for a successful day-trip. You can find the full article by clicking here. Over many years, hiking countless trails in New Hampshire, Rob shares the following tips:

  1. Be nice to your feet
  2. Dress the part
  3. Layer up
  4. Stay hydrated and energized
  5. Expect the unexpected
  6. Include the finish touches
  7. Don’t forget a backpack

One or more of these will surely jog the memory of many Pemi Alumni. Perhaps you remember a Pemi hike where the unexpected happened, or when you needed to dig into your pack to pull out your raincoat? We welcome your stories and memories in the comment section below!

Rob finishes his article with the following closing, we agree entirely!

Having everything you need on your back for a day outside gives you an independent feeling. And that feeling is even better when you’re enjoying it while eating cheese and pepperoni on a breathtaking summit.

White Mountain trips at Pemi

Upper 2 on the summit of South Twin. July, 2008.

A Pemi day has a great, busy rhythm to it. But one of the most rewarding parts of the camp season comes when that routine is replaced by a trip into the mountains, whether it be a quick scramble up to the bald, brisk summit of Pemi’s neighbor, Mt. Cube, or a four-day trip through the Franconia Range.

Pemi has a long tradition of taking trips into the woods—the Appalachian Trail even cuts through a corner of camp property—and it’s always been one of my favorite parts of the camp experience. I can still clearly picture sitting on the warm rocks of a White Mountain summit on a Pemi trip, taking a sip from a water bottle and refueling with cheese and crackers. As both a camper and later, a trip counselor, I hiked up countless White Mountain trails.

Mountains in the Whites offer striking environmental contrasts. At the lower altitudes, just a few minutes away from the trailhead, the forests are quiet and stream-filled, and clusters of Goose Foot Maples line the trail. From there the trail usually steepens, and the group might become quieter as the climbing begins up a packed-dirt and rocky trail. As you gain altitude, the trees generally transition from deciduous to coniferous, and just below the tree line, the trees are usually compact, sturdy little evergreens. Then there are the summits and ridgelines of the Whites: these are breezy places where on a sunny day in the summer everything is warm and wide open and expansive: if the visibility it good, you can see for miles, with rolling mountain ranges receding into the distance. And when it’s windy or stormy on these ridges, you feel grateful you packed a bomb-proof jacket.

Things change on trips. Far from the comforts of camp, Pemi boys are challenged on the trails, and are spurred out of their daily routines into a new world. Boys on trips find themselves tested, in a good way. You carry your own water, and learn to take care of the needs of your body. If it’s raining, you use your rain jacket, and cover your pack with a pack fly, or line it with trash bags, or both. You learn the importance of keeping your sleeping back dry. At night, the trip counselor and the assistant counselor cook food over a WhisperLite stove, which produces a comforting little roar and an efficient blue flame. Dinner might be macaroni and cheese with tuna, which I think is delicious (but hunger is the best sauce). At night, you sleep in a tent, just a sleeping bag and pad and tent floor between you and the earth. Breakfast might be instant oatmeal, eaten quickly before hitting the trail.

With all these changes in routine and environment, hiking trips can be some of the most memorable experiences a boy will have during a season at camp: while days at Pemi blur together happily, trips have a way of drawing out the day and becoming bigger, more luminous experiences. Conversations on the trail and jokes over supper become all the more memorable, because there are no other distractions. Even your thoughts might seem stronger, more focused, in the woods and on the trail.

I have plenty of vivid images in my head from Pemi trips: dipping a Nalgene bottle into a cold stream and then dropping an iodine tablet in it to purify the water; eating dinner out of a plastic cup and then later eating oatmeal out of the same cup the next morning. Or, as a counselor, waiting until all the campers are in their tents at bedtime, and then making the rounds once more, double-checking that the tents are pitched properly and will stay dry in a storm, tightening the stays and stakes, saying goodnight to each group of kids.

Then there’s perhaps the sweetest part of the trip: emerging out of the woods and then hopping in the van or bus to go back to Pemi, and stopping on the way back for rare treat: candy and a soda. Rolling back over that bridge, coming back into Pemi, even just from a day trip, might be the best feeling of all: it’s a feeling of coming home after an adventure.

My experiences on trips with Pemi were incredibly formative in producing who I am today. What memories do you have? If you went on trips as a camper at Pemi, or led them as a counselor, what was the experience like?

Rob Verger