Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Long Walk charges through

Last Friday, while I was in the midst of kneading bread dough for my cook day, several campers bearing the distinctive blue and gray of Camp Pasquaney burst into the Galehead. It was Long Walk, our annual six-day hiking expedition for the oldest boys, who seize the chance to prove their endurance and deepen their friendships.

I led the Long Walk for two years as a counselor at Pasquaney, and it has always been my favorite part of camp. The energy the group builds is palpable upon its return to camp, when the hikers sing about their adventures to the “stay-at-homes.” This year’s Long Walk seemed particularly cohesive from my outsider’s perspective. The boys were bursting to tell me about their itinerary (an ambitious and glorious walk, it covered over five days the Franconias, the Willey Range, Zealand and the Bonds, the entirety of the Presidential Range, and Galehead and Garfield) and, most remarkably in a group of 15 and 16 year olds, not one seemed isolated or hesitant to speak up.

I asked George, another croo member at Galehead, to finish kneading my bread while I accompanied a group to the summit of Galehead, where we cheered, or in camp lingo, railroaded, the peak. Upon our return, George and Hillary, the Assistant Hutmaster, emerged from the hut with a fresh batch of chococolate chip cookies. The boys fell upon them ravenously. For me, it was a poignant moment. Pasquaney and the huts, both of which I love, share a lot in common—the emphasis on respect and responsibility, sense of history, and appreciation for the outdoors—so to see people from both institutions mingling was wonderful.

The Long Walk is a curious event, unlike any other summer camp expedition that I have ever heard of in that it is devoted entirely to day hiking rather than backpacking. This is possible because Pasquaney owns a campsite along Nancy Brook, just south of Crawford Notch. The mileage, too, is unique: the Long Walk tends to cover 70-80 miles over its five day adventure. Twice its has exceeded 100 miles.

Originally, the Long Walk was just that: a long walk from Pasquaney, on the east shore of Newfound Lake, to one mountain in the Whites (Washington, Lafayette, and Chocorua were popular destinations) and back again. When camp purchased the Nancy campsite, however, the expedition became a good deal more challenging than those early roadwalks, though it perhaps lost some of its bucolic charm.

Over the past few years, numbers have become a concern as Pasquanians have grown more aware of our impact on the mountains. The Long Walk has traditionally included twenty or so campers and four or five counselors. It is now illegal to hike in wilderness areas in groups greater than ten, however, and the practice is generally frowned upon in any context. In their book Wilderness Ethics, Laura and Guy Waterman point out that much of the point in hiking is to get away hubbub and noise; to some, hiking in large groups is disrespectful to those who seek solitude.

The Long Walk has adjusted its behavior in response to these issues. Now, instead of hiking in one long line, it splits into three or four smaller groups. The expedition rarely gathers together, and when it does, it is only at deserted summits or down the trail from peaks with other hikers. From my position at the back of pack, where I usually hiked on Long Walk, I had an interesting perspective on the reactions of passers-by (Will Kryder, this year’s leader, had a similar experience). Hikers generally made one of two comments to me: “What a well-behaved group!” or “Is that all of you?” The fine behavior of our campers does tend to win over all but the crustiest of the outdoors crowd.

The Long Walk toes a fine line between developing camaraderie among its members and treading softly for the sake of the fragile trails and fellow hikers. A smaller walk will never be popular among counselors and campers—it would mean less participation—but the idea should at least be revisited from time to time if Pasquaney is serious about its environmental values. As the Watermans conclude, “the caring steward of the backcounty will want to leave that mountain stillness, the serenity of the wild, undisturbed for the benefit of others…and also for the sake of the woods and hills themselves.”

Pictures: This year's Long Walk in front of Galehead Hut, the 2005 Long Walk Council atop Mt. Adams, dusk from the hut roof.

1 comment:

John said...

Thank you for this summary. My son is at camp for the first time and this is a good description to help the parents outside understand.