By Natalie Burr
I had the privilege of sweating out much of this past summer in the Trip Locker, a space that is often overlooked on a tour of the island but essential to the operation of Pine Island’s trips program. The Trip Locker is located above the kitchen, accessed via a staircase tacked on to the side of the dining hall. Its pitched ceiling and many crawl spaces are papered over with maps of obscure peaks and waterways, sticker labels from countless ten-pound blocks of Cabot cheddar cheese, packing lists and itineraries annotated with the handwriting of generations of Pine Island staff, recipes for the most delectable trail meals, and other esoteric memorabilia that has piled up in the space since the 1990’s.
Counselors spend many hours in the Trip Locker poring over maps and assessing the shelves of nonperishable foods to plan meals for their upcoming ventures. In the afternoon, when the heat from the kitchen downstairs rises, counselors hunched over their maps and meal plans are cooled only by a feeble floor fan that oscillates in the corner. It may not sound hospitable, but the Trip Locker is a favorite place for many counselors and campers. One is aware of the thousands of boots that have walked out the door under the burden of a heavy pack, only to return muddy, with light packs and tales of trails and rivers to share.
This year, trips went off without a hitch, in large part due to the incredible dedication and preparedness of counselors. This was no small feat: a typical Pine Island trips program had not run since the 2019 season, so preparing for many trips required additional research. It may seem impossible that over the course of six short weeks (in addition to the myriad ranks achieved and activities undertaken on the island) Pine Islanders might go on so many off-island excursions. Indeed, this summer, campers and counselors collectively hiked and paddled far enough to travel the entire distance of the Appalachian Trail many times over. Some campers went on as many as six or seven trips this season, hiking and paddling over one hundred miles in the course of a single summer while also earning lofty ranks in activities such as canoeing and woodcraft.
This trip season, we returned to the iconic White Mountains of New Hampshire for the first time since 2019. Also for the first time in two summers, campers did multiday hiking trips to Mount Katahdin, sleeping in lean-tos in the glacial basin of the mountain at Chimney Pond, waking up in the dark to sunrise hike Maine’s tallest mountain. In total, the hiking trips sent out this summer put Pine Islanders on 40 (out of 60 total) 4,000-foot peaks in New Hampshire and Maine.
The trips program saw four exploratory trips go out this year, all of which were a success. One was Moxie Bald, a three-day hybrid canoeing and hiking trip for older boys, in which the group covered a stunning amount of trail, hiking 25 miles in a single day. The trip was led by counselors Alex Sidorsky and Silas Hunter, whose objectives were to determine whether the section of trail would make a good trip in the future, and if so, what were the best campsites and what was the difficulty of the trip.
This section of the Appalachian Trail crosses few roads in the 35-mile span between the towns of Caratunk and Monson. Pine Islander John Alsop advised on the route, identifying the easiest trail access point at the end of a dusty logging road on the south shore of Bald Mountain Pond. The ten campers and two counselors put in their canoes and paddled up the west side of the pond to link up with the A.T. Moxie Bald Lean-to looks out over the water where the trail meets the pond, but the trippers were not ready to make camp. They took their boats out of the water, got their boots and packs on, and continued further south on the trail, summiting Bald Mountain, and staying at the Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to. Given the hiking prowess of the group, the second day of the trip amounted to 25 miles—a significantly larger area covered than was initially expected. All in one day, the hikers explored the peaks of Bald Mountain and Pleasant Pond Mountain and their many side trails, identified water sources and campsites along the Appalachian Trail, and walked along the shores of Pleasant Pond, Moxie Pond, and finally Bald Mountain Pond, where they spent their last night at the lean-to on the water. In the morning, they canoed back to the same point where they had been dropped off, and returned to camp to report back on the exploratory venture. The consensus is that the trip was well worth running, though maybe as a mid-level difficulty trip (with shortened mileage).
For the first time in some years, a trip ran to Mount Moosilauke at the southwestern corner of the White Mountains. This trip was for younger boys, and they also reported back that the views at the top of the 4,802-foot tall mountain were well worth the steep climb they faced on the first day.
Another exploratory trip which ran this summer was the Belgrade Adventure, led by Sophie Effron, Garrett Gellert, and Will Hartley. Instead of enduring a long van ride, this trip departed directly from the shores of Great Pond, where they hiked for several miles on trails adjacent to Pine Island’s mainland area. These trails are maintained by Janetha Benson, a valued neighbor of the camp. While so much of Great Pond has become developed, Pine Island’s mainland is insulated by a corridor of lush, wild forest, thanks to Janetha. The campers and staff traveled on these trails all the way from Great Pond to a campsite tucked away on one of the most scenic parts of Lake Mesalonskee. For day two of the trip, the group returned to Great Pond and paddled in canoes and kayaks across the water to hike Mount Philip, a wave-shaped mountain at the northern tip of the lake. From Mount Philip, they got back in their boats and camped on Crooked Island in Great Pond. The next day, they returned to the island and reported back on this comprehensive tour of the lakes and mountains of the area surrounding Pine Island.
Junior Whites, a trip similar to Senior Whites but four days long and for younger campers, ran as an exploratory trip this summer. This group, led by Akul Sethi and Lily Lakritz, hiked close to 30 miles of some of the most challenging terrain in just four days, exploring some of the less-visited peaks and campsites in the White Mountains. After climbing over the steep 4,000-foot North and South Twin Mountains, the trip descended past Galehead Hut to stay at 13 Falls Campsite in the heart of Pemigewasset Wilderness. The site is encircled by a perimeter of mountains often hiked as the Pemi Loop—Franconia Ridge on one side, and Mts. Garfield, South Twin, Guyot, and the Bondcliffs on the other—causing 13 Falls to feel deeply remote, far even from the sounds of highways and airplanes. It’s named for the many waterfalls and ice-cold swimming holes that can be found at the site, which is at the junction of Twin Brook and Franconia Brook. Reports from the trip noted that this site was well worth the visit, even though the ascent back up to the ridgeline to stay at Mt. Garfield was steep and challenging.
It was a memorable season for trips, thanks to the intrepid spirit of campers and counselors alike. Where there was the option to hike a little further, wake up earlier and catch sunrise on top of a peak, or drop packs and check out a side trail, Pine Islanders chose the challenging and ultimately more rewarding option. These experiences will help counselors as they pore over plans in the trip locker next season, and these are the adventures we can dream of in the cold winter months.
This piece was originally published in the February 2023 edition of The Pine Needle.