Saturday, February 2, 2013

Part IV Pemi Traverse: 4000-Footer Club; Bushwhacking and Peak Bagging.

4000-Footer Club application circa 1960
The rather fanciful idea of the Four Thousand Footer Club existed long before it became a reality. For instance, it was brewing in the creative mind of Nat Goodrich in the early 1930s while he was Councillor of Improvements (Trail building) for the AMC. Nat stars in Part III (Pemi Traverse: Coming of the Trails) of this blog article. He was one of a small group of individuals that were legendary path makers in the White Mountains from the 1880 up to the 1940s. The list of trails that Nat helped craft is long and his lyrical Appalachia article, The Rewards and Attractions of Trail Building is a now classic.

In his tenure as Trails Councillor Nat was involved in an on-going conversation about the challenge of climbing all the 4000 foot (and above) summits in New Hampshire. It was Nat that first defined a 4000 footer as a peak at least 4000 feet in altitude determined from an up-to-date US Geodetic Survey (USGS) map, and the summit had to be a minimum of 300 feet above the lowest part of the ridge to an adjacent peaks. His proposed 300 foot minimum was later changed to 200 feet (I still haven't found out when or by whom).

Throughout the 1930s the concept was kept alive by numerous individuals who were getting "the bug" to turn bagging 4000 footers into a separate, autonomous activity of the AMC. One article in the December 1936 Appalachia (p. 279) by Murray Stevens offers precise directions how to bushwhack to the summit of Owl's Head (the Owl's Head in the Franconia Brook watershed) as a 4000 footer. Stevens goes on to suggest renaming the mountain "Wilderness Mt." to keep it from being confused with the Jefferson Owl's Head. Some of the folks who were advocating for the creation of a club, of sorts, promoting the 4000 Footer idea were people like Robert and Miriam Underhill who were already working on their "list" in the early 1940s.

Then the Second World War came along followed by the post war years when there were very few people in the mountains. The huts were getting used, but the number of overnight guests was barely enough to support the hut system and it was in large part to promote the huts and the network of new trails that in the mid-1950s the 4000 Footer Club became the idea whose time had come.

In the December 1956 Appalachia is an artice (p. 247) by Roderick Gould, More on The Four-Thousand Footers which begins:

The sport of climbing all the 4000-foot peaks of New Hampshire, or of all New England, seems to be a poular one currently among AMC members. Some, like D. C. Backus, count only those peaks which rise 300 feet for more above any connecting ridge. (This criterion was proposed by Mr. N. L Goodrich in 1931). These peaks might be called the "distinct" 4000 footers. Others prefer to include some additional summits and spurs which happen to be dignified by names. A rather complete listing of this sort has be made by F.B. Parsons.

"Mr. Parsons included in his list thirty-six "distinct" New Hampshire peaks, fulfilling the 300-foot requirement. Mt. Willey should definitely be adds, since it is shown by the new USGS Crawford Notch quadrangle to rise at least 3002 feet above the ridge connecting it to Mt, Field. An additional candidate for the list is a spur on the west side of Mt. Bond. According to the USGS Franconia map this peak is over 4520 feet in height, and its rise above the Bond col is between 280 and 320 feet. Thus the claim for this summit is on slightly uncertain ground, but not appreciably more than Munro, Flue, or Wildcat 'E'. My personal inclination is to include this west peak of Bond in the 'distinct' list, but perhaps those who have ascended only the other thirty-seven might wish to disagree!"

 West Bond, 1958. There was a sign before there was a trail. In 
fact, Herbert Prebble of Winchester, MA, a devoted 4000 Foot
Club member, made the sign, and others like it for Zealand Mt,
Mt. Cabot, Mt. Tom, Hancock, S. Hancock, and Owl's Head
all the summits still requiring bushwhacking in the late 1950s. 

"AMC 4000-Footer Club Spurs Climbers" was the headline on the Boston Evening Globe on Tuesday, September 23, 1958, and Albert Robertson, the chairperson of the 4000-Footer Club, wrote in the December 1959 Appalachia (p. 258) that the "headline is right, too, because everywhere I walked this past ssummer in the White Mountains individuals and groups were striving to reach summits that were listed in the June, 1958, issue of Appalachia. Within one half hour, on the Labor Day weekend, three separate groups were probing in the woods for the true summit of the Zealand Ridge!

I am delighted to see so many people getting around to places they have never been before, but more important is the fact that trailless peaks are providing the members and friends of the AMC with a really satisfying challenge there strength and resourcefulness. Just for the record, be properly equpped wiht a little extra clothing and food, a compass, an AMC guide book, a USGS map, a first-aid kit, flashlight and matches. And this is very important: do not be too proud to turn back in foul weather."

The new members of the 4000-Footer club are: Daniel Baker, Marjorie Merrill, Kenneth Turner, Milton "Red Mac" MacGregor (age 74 by the way), Josephine A. Hope, Charles S. Linscott,  Lilian K. Birrell, Alice Lemaire and Doris G. Fellows. Scrolls will be presented to new members at the annual meeting on January 9, 1959.

                                                                     Albert Robertson"
Then, jump ahead to January 1969 and the winter meeting of the New England's One Hundred Highest Club where the charter members were being newly inducted into membership. Albert Robertson wrote, "It all began with men like Nathaniel 'Nat' Goodrich, Frances 'Mulley' Parsons, and Walter 'Gus" merrill who regard every mountain as a challenge to be subdued. Gus was one of the prime movers in the 4000-Footer Club of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The club was formed to spur interest in mountain climbing and was officially announced in the August 1, 1957 Bulletin of Appalachia. We quickly discovered that if we put an official list of mountains into a man's hands he was off and running and wouldn't stop until every peak of that list was  conquered. We called it Mountain Fever. Hut business began to climb and shelter usage spiraled upward. At times, Guyot Shelter looked like Times Square.

"Climbers of the 1910 to 1940 era dusted off their gear and reappeared upon the scene to climb such peaks as West Bond, the Hancocks, and Owl's head in order to qualify for membership. More importantly the list was attractive to new climbers. Camps and family groups used the list as a base for their climbing programs. The list provided hundreds of people with a good excuse to get out and have fun, adventure, exercise, and for some urbanites it was a chance to breathe air that couldn't be seen. Most hikers learned early in the game that one has to be prepared for confrontations with Mother Nature at her worst and be ready to face the ever present possibility of becoming injured or lost." (June 1970 Appalachia, p. 480).

As previously noted, after the Second World War business in the huts was slow. It was several years before traffic on the trails began to show steady growth. In the 1950 season the entire hut system provided only 12,738 lodgings and 35,439 meals served. This included Lonesome Lake, Greenleaf,
Galehead, Zealand, Lakes, Madison, Carter and Pinkham Notch. By the summer season 1952 the figures were 14,319 lodgings and 40,612 meals served.  Much of this increase had to do with the genius of Joe Dodge, Huts Manager, in making the huts more attractive and the fact that recreational "business" was increasing throughout the White Mountain region. (Appalachia, June, 1953, p. 448)

Roderick Gould, in his 1956 Appalachia article continues, "During July and August, 1956, the writer ascended the thirty-eight New Hampshire 4000-footers in a series of five consecutive weekend trips. These were originally planned simply as exploratory excursions intended to familiarize me with the White Mountain region. (My previous experience in the area consisted of one-day climbs on Mt. Chocorua and the Franconia Ridge the previous year.) However, early in the summer Al Robertson put the idea of four-thousanders in my head, probably as an incitement to participation in club outings, and the seed took root.

I did not have the regular use of a car, and so the climbs were planned as continuous trips terminating at railroads or bus runs. On the first weekend I covered Mt. Wildcat and the Carter-Moriah Range. The second weekend trip, which occupied Monday as well as the weekend proper, included all the Presidentials, the Willey Range, Mt. Hale, and the Twin Range. (It was on this trip that I discovered the west peak of Bond, but had not the time to climb it.) The following weekend, with the aid of a borrowed automobile, I overed outlying mountains: Waumbek, Cabot, and Moosilauke.

On the fourth trip I decided to declare my independence of the huts and undertook my first back-packing. My itinerary included Cannon, Kinsman, the Franconias, 'Franconia Owl', Garfield, and Bond's west peak. This excusion concluded with my arrival at Twin Mountain village, in order to catch the morning bus, at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning!

My final 'weekend trip' was considerable extended by a combination of illness, o bscure trails, and inconveniently placed campsites. As a result, the joiurney was not completed until Wednesday. The mountains covered were Passaconway, Whiteface, Tripyramid, Tecumseh, Osceola, Hancock and Carrigain. This completed the total of thirty-eight 'distinct' peaks, not to mention a number of 'indistinct' ones.

In addition to a wonderful introduction to the White Mountains, my trips brought me a number of miscellaneous pieces of wisdom. For instance: if one does not procure really comfortabel footgear at the begining of a series of climbs, one will have sore feet at the end. If one insists on climbing Mt. Hancock in a pouring rain, the summit is likely to seem chilly and uncongenial. And finaly: attainment of all the four-thousanders has a much greater tendency to stimulate mountaineering ambitions than to satisfy them!" (p. 248). (And on a sad note, Roderick Gould was killed two years later at the age of 25 in a fall while climbing on the Dent Blanche in Switzerland on August 1, 1958. He was an experienced alpinist.)

A postscript to Roderick Gould's successful 1956 traverse of all the 4000-footers named at that time is that he was the third person to accomplish that feat, the first two being Nat Goodrich (of course) who accomplished it years before Gould, and Frances 'Mulley' Parsons was the second to climb them all. The number of 4000 footers jumped to 46 by 1960 largely through better surveying. One example I've included below was the challenge of 'Taming Owl's Head', a story by Al Robertson about not just locating the true summit of Owl's Head but ascertaining its real altitude. Mt. Isolation is another peak which got it's altitude changed by a new survey.

to be continued!

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