Category Archives: Pine Island alumni

Hiking Alone Around Vermont

Carson Peck spent six summers as a camper at Pine Island. In the summer of 2016 he took part in our Expedition Camp program, a leadership training program that teaches boys how to plan for (and successfully complete) extended hiking and canoe trips.  The following summer, Carson embarked on his own adventure on Vermont’s Long Trail.  He shared his story with us in the latest edition of The Pine Needle:

I was lying awake on the cold wooden floor of the cabin when I heard my watch alarm go off. It was 3:00 in the morning, and I was camping at the base of Jay Peak, Vermont, only 12 miles south of the Canadian border. I sat up in my sleeping bag and the piercing cold of the night air immediately struck my body. Groggily, I began to search my surroundings for the gear I had left out the night before. This process was a familiar one; at that point in my trip, I was comfortable repacking my hiking pack in the pitch dark. As I laced my boots and stepped out into the vacant night, a soft “good luck” from my shelter-mate inside the cabin brought a grin to my face. I set off with my headlamp at 3:14 am to conquer the final 3,858 vertical feet of my trip, 1.2 miles up the trail.

That wakeup happened on the last day of my 19-day solo hiking trip this past summer. To me, the Vermont Long Trail is a monster; stretching 276 miles from Williamstown, Massachusetts to the U.S.-Canada Border traversing all of the tallest peaks in the state of Vermont. I was a “thru-hiker”: someone who completes an entire trail in a single stretch or season. Never before had I planned such a long or challenging trip, let alone attempt one. Organizing and executing my own solo adventure was thrilling to me, and as I walked up the steep, rocky southern slope of Jay Peak in the dark, I thought about when I had done this same sunrise hike with the Expedition Camp almost exactly a year ago.

Taking on the steep incline at 3:00 in the morning, I realized how much I truly owed to six years at Pine Island. Had I not conquered Mt. Bigelow as an 11-year-old, summited Mount Washington for the first time, or taken on the White Mountains of New Hampshire with some of my closest friends on a number of different PIC trips, I would not have found the strength or the confidence to haul my pack up the rocks that morning. I had learned to appreciate watery oatmeal, cold mornings, and wet feet, and I embraced the refreshing solitude that Vermont offered.

Above all, this past summer it was passion that drove me to walk for longer than I ever had before – a fierce passion combined with a love for the outdoors. All of this I attribute to Pine Island: six weeks for six summers on that island gave me the profound zeal I maintain for hiking. And as I stared into the soft golden horizon beyond Jay Peak that morning, shivering in my wool socks, I caught myself remembering about heading back to Great Pond, napping deeply in the back of a rented van packed with slumbering Pine Islanders.

Gracious Living at 6,288 Feet – continued

The following is the continuation of an historic trip report by Montague G. Ball, Jr.  In case you missed it, the beginning of the story can be found here.

…To begin with, the temperature dropped steadily. On a bright, sunny August morning the temperature at the parking lot had been a comfortable 78 degrees. Two hours later, at the foot of Tuckerman’s, Dave Carman’s pocket thermometer registered 55. Secondly, Jeff Kilbreth (who had suffered from car sickness en route) was again feeling ill. Note his less-than-perky expression at far right. Thirdly, out of the tree line I began to grasp the extent to which I had badly underestimated the size of Mount Washington. It is enormous! And fourthly, after taking the group picture, I took time to read the sign on which John Timken was leaning. It warned: “Stop! The weather ahead can be the worst in North America. Many have died on this mountain—even in the summer. Turn back now if weather is inclement.”

1965.  From left to right: Howard Ferguson, Coly Hoyt, John Timkin, John Goodhue, Jeff Kilbreth, and Dave Carmen on their way up Mt. Washington

1965. From left to right: Howard Ferguson, Coly Hoyt, John Timkin, John Goodhue, Jeff Kilbreth, and Dave Carmen on their way up Mt. Washington

Well, no one was in favor of turning back—and, besides, the weather wasn’t inclement—yet. But in another hour fog rolled in; the wind rose; temperature dropped another ten degrees. I forget how long it took us to climb Tuckerman’s, but it seemed forever. Worse, we couldn’t see but a few feet ahead of us, met nobody coming down the mountain who could give us bearings, and by this time Dave Carman was carrying Jeff’s pack as well as his own. Although the trail was well marked, I was scared to death that we would get lost—and I was exhausted as darkness began to set in. Darkness? At five o’clock on an August afternoon? Not possible, I thought. Meanwhile, we were passing crosses— marking exactly where people had died in the ascent. And then it started to drizzle…

At that point a miracle occurred. The fog cleared for a moment, and dead ahead of us stood the Mount Washington Summit House. Built of granite and opened in 1915, this hotel had for half a century survived the highest winds (231 m.p.h) and lowest temperatures (minus 59) ever recorded in North America. It beckoned; we nearly fell through the door. Sitting on benches at the far end of the lobby, no one had the strength to speak, much less move. But as heat surged around us, I knew that I was going to find a way to stay—at which point, my vision focused squarely on the front desk manager. When I was able to get my legs under me, I staggered over to reception and inquired whether any rooms were available. His answer: “Are you kidding? Look at the weather! Nobody in his right mind comes up here in this stuff. Sure, lots of rooms. How many do you need?”

I whimpered, “Will you take a check?” I didn’t care what it would cost. “Sure,” he replied. Then he noticed Dave Carman and the five boys and added, “But here’s a better deal. For half the price, I can put you guys in our bunk room. Uppers and lowers, but you still get sheets, blankets, towels, and hot showers. You’ll have the place to yourselves; nobody else has made a reservation. Dinner and breakfast included.” Following the longest hot showers in Summit House history, we gorged on an enormous hamburger steak dinner, checked the weather station (37 degrees, 78 m.p.h. winds), then called home (collect) from the highest pay phone in eastern North America. By nine o’clock we were all fast asleep—snug, warm, and dry, but the wind howling outside. So, we awoke in the morning with the strangest feeling—that something was wrong, there wasn’t a sound! A gorgeous, absolutely still day—a great start to the week ahead in which we walked from Mount Washington to Crawford Notch in perfect weather, not a drop of rain.

And Tim Holbrook? Returning to camp, I got exactly what I expected— Tim, at the top of his voice: “Ball, what’s this I hear? You lead a Pine Island trip to the top of Mount Washington—and check in to a hotel!” And then, with a big laugh, “I like a man who lands on his feet.” Well, that was a generous perspective to offer a counselor who had been woefully unprepared and ill equipped (except for his checkbook). As director for twenty years I sent many trips to the White Mountains, and I made sure all were better prepared than mine was. Even so, it was great fun—including the crawl out of Tuckerman’s (if only in retrospect). And gracious living at 6,288 feet? Absolutely a goal achieved!

Montague G. Ball was a counselor for many years and Director from 1978- 1989.

Pine Needle preview

In classic Needle style, Monte Ball writes about his first excursion to the Presidential Range – the 1965 Senior Whites trip.  You can read the full article in the upcoming edition of the Needle, scheduled to be released in early February.  The following is a preview.

Gracious Living at 6,288 Feet—an Historic trip report by Montague G. Ball, Jr.

Although never a camper on the scale of a Kasper, a Nagler, or a Swan, I remember taking some great trips at Pine Island—including Mount Bigelow with Jack Lord, Old Speck with Peter Houck and Bill Rummel, and several war canoe cruises down the Kennebec with Ken Howe, Al Hipp, Tommy Sat- terfield, and Cammie Arrington. But my most memorable excursion was the 1965 Senior Whites, which was my introduction to the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

That summer I was technically in the Navy, having completed a two-year tour as a deck officer on a cargo ship homeported in Norfolk, Virginia. Vietnam was heating up; the armed forces were trying desperately to hold on to their Reservists. In my case, the Navy offered a wide choice of billets if I would agree to extend my commitment two more years. I signed—but on the condition that I be granted a two-month leave of absence before reporting to my new duty station. Those two months were mid-June to mid-August, during which time I was assigned without pay to the Naval Reserve Training Center in Augusta—where occasionally I had to make an appearance.

What I had engineered, of course, was Another Great Summer at PIC— most of which I spent flopping around in a sailboat and taking life very easy. However, as the summer began to wind down, an agent of change intruded on my comfortable lifestyle. He was the director, Tim Holbrook—a fire-eating workaholic who never had enough to do, and usually did it all himself. We followed in his train—in awe. Anyway, as the previous director, Chip Handy, had expanded Pine Island’s canoeing program into the Allagash, Tim was determined that our hiking trips would extend to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. To my astonishment, he announced that I would lead Pine Island’s first ascent of Mount Washington—with the very able assistance of David Carman, who had done a lot of climbing in the Presidentials. Signed up for the trip were (left to right in the photo) Howard Ferguson, Coley Hoyt, John Timken, John Goodhue, and Jeff Kilbreth.

From left to right: Howard Ferguson, Coly Hoyt, John Timkin, John Goodhue, Jeff Kilbreth, and Dave Carmen on their way up Mt. Washington.

From left to right: Howard Ferguson, Coly Hoyt, John Timkin, John Goodhue, Jeff Kilbreth, and Dave Carmen on their way up Mt. Washington.

“You’re perfect for the job, Ball,” Tim assured. “And, besides, you need some exercise.” Me, perfect? As to exercise, I had no idea what lay around the corner…

Ever the efficiency expert, Tim took charge of the logistics. And aware of my disinclination to move fast in the morning, he shifted our trip to the First Cabin the night before departure. “No breakfast for you, Ball—unless you get on the road! And then you can choose: McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts.” Both options were rare treats and eagerly anticipated, all part of Tim’s plan to get us an early start. But Route 2 to Pinkham Notch was slow going, and even with breakfast on the fly, it took us much longer than anticipated to reach New Hampshire’s White Mountains. As I recall, it was just noon when we finished a quick lunch and began the climb to Tuckerman Ravine. And that is when things began to fall apart…

Stay tuned for the rest of the story!

Akka Lakka!