Thursday, April 18, 2013

4-17-13: Historical Notes Regarding Two Early Shelters, Cascade Camp and The Perch, on the Northern Peaks, and A Story of Being Snow Bound at Lakes of the Clouds Hut in September 1915.

Revised historical notes regarding the construction of Cascade Camp and The Perch on the Israel Ridge Trail.  (From Appalachia, Vol. XV, p. 113. Story by Louis Fayerweather Cutter. Photos are  from the December 1956 Appalachia.)

Cascade Camp (above) was built by J. Rayner Edmands, Charles Lowe,
his son, Charley Lowe, S. H. Thorndike, who was a friend of Edmands',
and a man named Ashley who worked for the Lowes. They built Cascade
Camp and The Perch between June 11th and 13th, 1892. The fire place
was originally located by Edmands at the base of the large rock ledge
where it would reflect heat into the shelter, but due to the close quarters
of rock and shelter the first smoked badly. Edmands remedied that by
building the chimney in the foreground.

J. Rayner Edmands was born in 1850 in Boston and at the age of 18, while a student at Harvard College, visited the White Mountains for the first time. He spent a short vacation at Jefferson Highlands where he had a fine view of Mt. Adams and Mt. Jefferson and Cascade Ravine. He went for a few short hikes to familiarize himself with the terrain. In most of the narratives of the creation of the Appalachian Mountain Club in 1876 Edmands is credited as one of the founders along with E.C. Pickering, the Club's first President. Edmands would serve in many administrative posts of the AMC including serving a term as President.

After college Edmands traveled and spent a few years climbing in the Rockies where he became familiar with the "graded paths" of the Western mountains.  These are gently sloping trails that switchback up and down mountains and are designed more for horse back riding than hiking. In July 1891 Edmands, according to Cutter, is "back in the White Mountains agitating for [the creation] of national forests. On July 7, 1891 he began the work that continued for his entire life time." This, of course, was his passion for path making. Edmands created a dozen of the primary paths, mostly on the Northern Presidentials, as well as the Edmands Path on Mt. Pleasant (Eisenhower). The Gulfside Trail from Madison Hut to the summit of Mt. Washington is probably his best known work.

Edmands' paths are distinctive for several reasons and their primary attribute is they are "graded" in a similar way to the trails Edmands was introduced to in the West. They have a graded, smooth tread, more like a sidewalk than a trail and rather than heading directly up a steep mountain flank, they climb gently with the use of "switchbacks". He also introduced the idea of "stairs" in which he used selectively placed rocks to create stairs on steep sections to ease the strain on hikers but also to slow  erosion of the tread from water runoff and hikers.

Cutter wrote, " In 1891 J. Rayner Edmands, with Charles Lowe and his eldest son, Charley Lowe, and S.H. Thorndike, ventured into Cascade Ravine  and built a crude camp they called Cliff Shelter From there they began to blaze a trail on what was then called the Emerald Tongue and that later was called Israel Ridge." (Israel Ridge was named after the Israel River which, in turn, was named by a local hunter, Israel Glines, in the early 1700s, after himself in a successful attempt to enter the pages of history. From Lawson, p. 50).

The next season (1892) Edmands in company with S.H. Thorndike, found the site for a more permanent camp where the Israel Ridge Trail first crosses the stream of the Cascades and starts the actual climb up Israel Ridge.
Cascade Camp in a photo by Guy L. Shorey and reproduced from
Among the White Hills, the Life and Times of Guy L. Shorey,
edited by Guy Gosselin and Susan Boothman Hawkins and
published by the Mount Washington Observatory, 1998

"On Saturday, June 11, 1892, Edmands, Eugene Hunt, Charley Lowe and another man by the name of Ashley who worked for the Lowes in Randolph,  got the camp well started by building two lean-tos at right angles to each other both facing a big rock with the fire pit set against the rock between the two lean-tos. The paper was to be of waterproof paper fabric."

"On Monday, June 13th, Eugene Hunt, Charley Lowe, Ashley, Thorndike, and Edmands returned to Cascade Camp. Part of them worked to finish that camp while Edmands, Hunt and Lowe went further up the ridge to another site and started work there on the Perch. The whole party slept at Cascade Camp that night and had to put the fire out because it smoked so badly. (p. 135) A stone chimney was fashioned (see photo above) and afterwards the fire "drew" perfectly.

 The Perch in 1929

Louis describes finding Edmands at tree line on the Israel Ridge in the Fall of 1892--not at the trail's present location but on the old "straight path" that passed a feature referred to as The Eye. "Already," Cutter observed, "he had developed his system of cairning above tree line by which, without an excessive number of cairns, a trail could be followed in the fog." (p. 135)

Historically the two shelters, Cascade Camp and The Perch were important in the construction of trails and the delight of many hikers who used them to spend the night. The Perch is still in use. Cascade Camp was destroyed in a storm in October 1927, but it was a very popular destination for a generation of Randolph hikers.

Snyder Brook. At some point in my long narrative on path building I mentioned that Snyder Brook that emanates from Madison Spring and Star Lake near Madison Hut was named after Ben Osgood's dog. That's incorrect. It was Charles Lowe's dog that was named Snyder. Apparently Lowe gave that name to his dog after Rip Van Winkle's dog in the famous tale by Washington Irving.

 Snowbound at Lakes of the Clouds Hut, September 1915
From Appalachia Vol. XIV June 1916 p. 119.

Photo of Lakes of the Clouds Hut taken in August 1915 when it officially opened. 

The Lakes of the Clouds, the Appalachian Mountain Club's hut located on the open southwest ridge of Mt. Washington at the base of Mt. Monroe and close to the two lovely Lakes of the Clouds, was officially opened on August 7, 1915 and, in the opening day ceremony, was dedicated to "Those who enjoy the higher altitudes." It had accommodations to sleep and feed 36 overnight guests.

Whitehall, the author of the story that follows, begins his account by pitying people who have "found their lives to be boring and tame." He goes on to say that the "Great Storm of September 1915 furnished unexpected the stage properties for the scenario about to be unfolded and [that] furnished the amateru actors with more than they had bargained for." (p. 119)

The storm lasted for several days and made "its fury felt from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It was especially severe in the White Mountain region where the terrible gale devastated forest as no storm has done for many years. In the Franconia and Crawford Notches roads were rendered impassable by the fallen trees, while in some places heavy growths of timber were cut off as if by the stroke of a giant scythe. The old Peak House on Mt. Chocorua, which had sheltered many happy trampers during more than a quarter of a century, strained at the moorings for the last time, and the place of its anchorage knew it no more."

Whitehall's party ascended Mt. Washington on a Saturday morning in mid-September. It was windy but sunny with no warnings as to what was to come. They spent a few hours on the summit and then descended to the hut arriving just before dinner time and they spent the night there. They woke Sunday morning to the sound of the wind screaming around the corners of the hut. The force of the wind, according to Whitehall, bowed in the new steel window frames, buckling them to the point where the guests were sure they were going to break and implode in on them.

They had no way to measure the velocity of the wind but they found it impossible to leave the shelter of the hut. The government weather bureau located on the summit measured the wind at 175 mph but the day following the storm the U.S Weather Bureau corrected it to 186 miles per hour. The wind blew continuously throughout Sunday and into Monday. On Monday the group began to ration their food which was already nearly gone. Whitehall reported that they decided on a "brunch" which was a new concept and he defined it as, "brunch; a modern title, ascribed to Gilette Burgess to designate a meal in which breakfast and lunch are combined."

The wind continued to howl all day Tuesday and they were still not able to leave the hut. The hutmaster, George, who came away from the great adventure with the highest praise of his guests for his resolve, resourcefulness, and nerves of steel (he had been on the AMC Trail Crew for a number of years prior to working at Lakes), fashioned some "bread" from bits of leftover flour he found on shelves and elsewhere. He dipped the bread in bacon drippings to add calories and taste.

 Rime a foot thick on the exterior, northwest wall of the hut on the day following the storm.

The guests spent almost whole days wrapped in blankets lying on their bunks or pacing back and forth in the narrow confines of the hut. The storm raged through Wednesday and at 11 pm the wind had not decreased. It had blown continuously for four days at speeds of 180 mph. At 5:15 on Thursday morning they woke to perfect calm. The wind had ceased. Whitehall wrote, "The sky was clear and there was much rejoicing. 'Ohs' and 'Ahs' could be heard from all as it was such a beautiful day and everything was covered with snow and ice so that it all sparkled as the sun came up. We were rewarded with clear views. Heaven was a feckless dome, the valleys a glorious green, and rising high and lofty above the Lakes of the Clouds the great cone of Mt. Washington appeared in spotless white frost feathers to a foot in depth and covering everything including the walls of the hut."

 Frost and snow covered cone of Mt. Washington above the Lakes of the Clouds

George, the hutmaster, guided the party up to the summit (no mean feat with all the ice) from where they were able to see the "golden ocean".  They used mirrors to signal loved ones in the valley sending them the "all clear" message that they were all safe. "The response was amazing," Whitehall wrote, "not only from Jackson but beyond and on either side [of the mountain] messages were being flashed up to us. It was as if everyone in New Hampshire was watching."

Whitehall concluded, "This is just a little tale of what happened to a small group of people that have humdrum lives."

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