Sunday, June 17, 2007

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.

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