Category Archives: trips

Off to a great start

On Friday we enjoyed one of the most beautiful opening days in recent memory. Blue sky, a light breeze, and temperatures in the upper 70s.  We’ve had a great start to the season.  Campers are settling into the island routine.  Many are already out on tripsExpedition Camp leaves tomorrow on a 16-day canoe adventure on the Penobscot, Allagash and St. John Rivers!  DSCF7646 DSCF7658 DSCF7660 DSCF7664 DSCF7668 DSCF7686 DSCF7703 DSCF7726 DSCF7728 IMG_6756

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!

Expedition Camp 2010: Epic Journeys, Brilliant Moments

The following is an excerpt from The Pine Needle archives.
Written by Kit Smith, photos by Stephen Manker (2010 Expedition Camp co-leaders).

The sun hides behind a thin fold of clouds. Waiting for it to dip below the haze and come into view, we settle in for our last panoramic view in Vermont’s Green Mountains. It is fitting that we should end our 2010 Expedition Camp hiking trip as we started it, with a brilliant sunset. The mysterious mountains of Canada stretch north behind us. We think we can see the Peak of Lincoln in the distant south where we began our trek. The shimmering rays play on the waters of Lake Champlain, creating a blinding shaft of light. No one seems to mind the chill breeze that rips up from the valley.  Once again, Aidan pulls the camera out. We snap some photos of our last night in the wild. I feel the beginnings of closure for Expedition Camp 2010 and I savor it. We have traveled a long way and spent many long days together. Steve and I look at the boys and beam with pride.

Preparing the 14-day canoe trip that kicked off Pine Island’s 2010 Expedition camp was no easy task for Steve and me, but Ben Swan had given us plenty of time and plenty of resources with which to prepare. We had talked in detail with Matt Clarke, a former Expedition camp leader and PIC veteran, about logistics and itinerary. Lindsay Clarke had helped us fine-tune our paddling skills and general river knowledge. Combining input from Matt and Lindsay with our own tripping experience, Steve and I gathered all the maps, tools and food we needed to head out for the Allagash for the longest trip sent out from Pine Island in recent memory.

At the last moment, one of our boys, Otto, went down with a shoulder injury, making it impossible for him to paddle, so we needed a quick replacement. It was a tough blow, since both Steve and I thought Otto would have been like a third counselor. We made a few quick calls and found that my younger brother Cody happened to be available. Soon we had signed on our tenth man. The boys were sad to leave Otto behind, but he would never be far from our conversations on the river.

Our first few days on the river were dazzling. Sandy beaches, cool blue water, and sharp cheddar cheese filled us up. Our one big wild card was Noah, a first-year at Pine Island with little outdoor experience. Although Noah had trouble at first adjusting to the challenges of camping in the northern Maine wilderness, he turned out to have a level of resilience and adaptability that I don’t think anyone, perhaps especially Noah, could have expected. To make a long story short, Noah ended his Pine Island summer as a rugged War Game specimen, romping boisterously through the Norridgewock wood like some character out of a James Fennimore Cooper novel. His transformation was remarkable to watch.

As part of our Expedition Camp program, each night before we went to bed we openly discussed the mistakes and successes of the day in a ritual we called “debrief.” At first, the boys were a little tentative to open up. They were a little uncomfortable bringing up touchy subjects. A few days into the canoe trip, Gabriel “Gab” changed that. He believed that the boys, including himself, needed to be more responsible and more accountable. Gab spoke about how Steve and I were doing too much. He called for the other boys to take a more active role in directing and organizing the group. He wanted the boys to take charge of Expedition Camp. It was exactly the kind of attitude that Steve and I had been hoping the boys would adopt at some point. It was the first of the many moments where the boys impressed Steve and me with a level of maturity that I would have never expected from 15-year-olds.

While I have spent entire athletic seasons with a single team, never have I spent as many days, 24 hours a day, in close quarters and under sometimes stressful conditions, as I did with Expedition Camp.   There was never a tune far from Jack’s tongue, an attribute that Ernest Shackleton would have appreciated and valued in his exploits on the Endurance. Around meal-time, Steve would swap cooking tricks with Charles-Elie and John. Gab expected us to set the bar high and held everyone to that standard. We could always count on Noah for a random fact when the rest of us didn’t have the answers. When the group faced an obstacle, Colvin could always find a way around it. And if we ever forgot what we were doing, Aidan would remind us to stop and take a second to look around. The one thing that the boys all had in common was the depth of their character. They never stopped surprising me. There were some times when the boys or Steve or I were not at our best, but we would always find a way to resolve the situation. We had all set our goals from day one, and we were always quick to remind each other that we were in it all together.

The entire program, including the canoe trip through the Allagash Wilderness, the work week at Whitehead Island, the hike on the Long Trail in Vermont, time in camp, and the War Game, provide an endless stream of memories, but always it is singular moments that seem to come to me and bring the whole summer into focus.  One such moment is seared in my memory:  somewhere on the Long Trail, a single, purple, five-petaled blossom sways back and forth among a sea of ferns. I gratefully lay the pack down, rest, and draw a deep breath. I can picture the boys’ smiling faces the best when I think about that single blossom. I can hear their laughing when I go back to that last sunset on the Adam’s Apple of Mount Mansfield, to the beach at Jaws campsite early one morning, or to the rocks out in front of the lighthouse at Whitehead Light Station. Each time I thought I knew the boys, they would say something unforgettable that would make me pause. Cody once pointed out to me that he and I hadn’t spent so much time together since my high school years. We were brothers, but what really connected us was that canoe trip. We shared long afternoons on cool rivers and long lakes. I guess it was those singular moments that made all ten of us feel like brothers. Those are the memories that burn the brightest.