Sunday, June 17, 2007

Finding Red Rock Pond

I was out of the hut at 9:30 this morning, heading down the Twin Brook Trail towards 13 Falls. No sign of Aaron the caretaker, so I took a left onto the Franconia Brook Trail and began counting the stream crossings. My destination: Red Rock Pond, a tiny body of water deep within a northwestern ravine of Guyot.

My first solo backpack followed Franconia Brook, thanks to my mother’s high school graduation present to me, a tent. At the first possible opportunity in late May, I headed into the heart of the Pemigewasset, to 13 Falls. The wetness of the spring was unavoidable and alarming. I ran into a young couple both before and after they tried to cross over Franconia Brooks to the Lincoln Brook Trail. Their chipper enthusiasm dissolved during the interim; apparently they were unable to get across, and the man developed hypothermia in the attempt. I did make it to the campsite, where the rush of water was deafening, but the experience left a mark.

Today, however, the streams were easily passable. After the third crossing, which was Red Rock Brook, I began looking for an old railroad grade the Guyot caretaker told me was the easiest way to ascend along the brook. It didn’t appear, however, and I headed into the brush, which was thick but passable. After a hot half mile, the railroad grade appeared out of the woods on the right bank. Here and there, a slight path seemed to appear—the western ravines of Guyot have seen their share of bushwhackers. At one point, I found a tiny small cairn.

Eventually, I was back in the trees. It was difficult figuring out which way to go when the tributaries appeared, but I kept to the left—as close to the northern spur of Guyot as possible. The last stream I followed was entirely dry, making the hike a good deal easier because I could keep to the rocky bed. The trees slowly turned from deciduous to coniferous.

In the floor of the ravine, the pond opened up before me, about an acre large. The slopes around it are quite steep, with dramatic slides reaching quite close to the pond. The pond itself did not seem to have an outlet, though I could hear water rushing in. I ate lunch and poked around. Certainly plenty of hikers have visited the pond before; some reeds were matted down as if slept on (possibly by a moose), and a pair of charred logs lay by the shore.

After lunch, I circled to the far side of the pond and began working my way up the slope towards the longest of the slides. At about 45 or 50 degrees steep, the slide had plenty of loose rock and also exposed bedrock. I kept to the latter, trusting it not to move. I climbed several hundred feet very quickly (it took me an hour to climb from the pond to the Twinway, an ascent of about 1500 feet). Needless to say, views of the ravine and out to the Pemi were superb.

At the top of the slide, the woods were extremely thick. The bushwhacking was slow and the slope quite steep. Gradually it moderated, however, and after about twenty minutes, I emerged onto the Twinway. I was back at Galehead at 3:30, much more quickly than I had expected. The hike simply wasn’t all that long, and though it was difficult, the bushwhacking was considerably easier than I had expected. I’m looking forward to Hawthorne Falls, my next destination.

Galehead turns 75

This summer is Galehead’s 75th anniversary—in a couple of weekends, our hut will be inundated with old hutmen. They’ll have plenty of stories for us (and particularly for hut girls, it often seems), about packing well over a hundred pounds up the Gale River Trail in the days before flies—helicopter supply runs at the beginning of the summer—and women in the huts. The OH, as they’re known, tend to come from the same mold, much the same as current staffers, who tend to be young liberal art student New Englanders.

The huts themselves have not changed much at the core—the same spirit of hard work, hospitality, and hijinks pervades them, which makes it easy for old OH and current croo to connect. It’s interesting to think that 75 years ago, though, the landscape around Galehead was totally different. The Sanders-Young company was still hard at work logging in the upper reaches of the Pemigewassett, as they would be until 1948, when they finally sold the land to the White Mountain National Forest. Early hutmen must have seen the bare earth littered with slash everywhere, scored by logging roads etched into mountainsides. When I take guests out to for my program on landscape observation and deduction, they point out the lines of fast-growing deciduous trees (White Birch, usually) that colonized the old roads on South Twin. In one hundred years they’ll be gone, but for now, they remain a distinctive characteristic of the Pemi.

Were the old hutmen sympathetic to the loggers, or did they resent their destructive labor in the wilderness? The AMC has from its start been a conservation organization; indeed, JE Henry, the original “wood-butcher” who first colonized these woods with saw wielding Quebecois and Irishmen, was a galvanizing figure for the environmental movement around the turn of the century. The Weeks Act, which created National Forests (some 40 years after the founding of the AMC), owed its passage in no small part to JE’s rapacious pursuit of profit via clearcut. I suspect the early hutmen admired the loggers for their work ethic, even while they deplored the removal of the trees for the damage done to the wild, adventurous spirit of these valleys.

Galehead actually had its own fine grove of timber itself in the early 30s. An enormous stand of virgin conifers stood atop this ridge, which figured in Joe Dodge’s choice of this site beneath South Twin. The hurricane of 1938 hit hard up here, though, taking out all the old trees. The loss had a silver lining, however: Galehead’s magnificent view, 360 degrees from the roof.
Pictures: The scars of old logging roads on the side of South Twin; Galehead below cirrus clouds.

First weeks at Galehead Hut

Up at Galehead, we're spoiled with sunsets.Croo members are: Erin Robson, the Hutmaster, Hilary Gerardi, the Assistant Hutmaster (Assmaster), and George Heinrichs and Amelia Harman, first-year croo. I'm the naturalist. RD Jenkinson, whom I worked with at Mizpah last fall, is also in some of these pictures. Here we are on the summit of South Twin, with our BFD (Blanket Folding Display) clothes on.George and Amelia.The Assmaster.

Venus above Mt. Garfield.

The price of protection

Here is a letter of mine that AMC Outdoors included in its current issue:

“In his article “What is Wilderness,” Ed Winchester noted the positive economic impact wilderness areas can have on surrounding “gateway” towns. The boon has two sides, however. One needs only to look at the sprawling, consumptive mess of North Conway to see that outdoor recreational tourism is accompanied by plenty of negatives. The high property values Winchester seems to laud do more than displace locals—they encourage the fragmentation and development of land adjacent to reserves.

William Cronon questioned in The Trouble with Wilderness whether the existence of wilderness makes it for us easier to justify degrading unprotected land. This may well be the case in North Conway, and perhaps for other lands blighted by sprawl and heavy industry.”

If you’ve read my own piece Wilderness Expands in New England, which I posted on Gulliver’s Nest a couple of months ago (and appeared in The North Star Monthly), you’ll know I favor designating more wilderness areas around the country. Unfortunately, AMC Outdoors has a habit of publishing opinion pieces as feature stories and conveniently leaving out the counterpoints—which need to be addressed. The argument for wilderness is stronger for acknowledging its risks and challenges than ignoring them.

Picture: Galehead Mountain on a foggy evening.