Hiking Through History, Part V: Finding My Way

July 21, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

The Presidential Peaks from the Wildcat Range, New Hampshire.The Presidential Peaks from the Wildcat Range, New Hampshire.
It’s July 1915, and I’m in the final stages of planning my hike through the White Mountains of New Hampshire as an early 20th century wanderer. Were it the present day, I would simply pick up my AMC White Mountain Guide and maps and follow the current route of the Appalachian Trail starting in Franconia Notch, leading all the way to Madison Spring Hut.

Since it is 1915, I’m depending on the first edition of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Guide to Paths and Camps in the White Mountains and Adjacent Regions published in 1907, and an updated map of the Presidential Range published by AMC in 1914. However, the AMC guide does not yet cover the Franconia Region. One of my few options is Frank O. Carpenter’s Guide Book to the Franconia Notch and the Pemigewasset Valley from 1898. This very short booklet is extremely general, but it makes note of some key challenges I will meet on this side of the range.

According to my guides the path up Mount Liberty begins at the top of the Flume Gorge and diverges between an AMC path and one cut by Carpenter. Confusion wrought by logging roads and areas of heavy logging slash are all things I’ll contend with. On top of that, a recent fire affected about a mile of the trail to the summit. Liberty Springs Shelter was spared, as the structure built in 1905 is still there. Trails from this point to the summit of Mount Lafayette are in place in various states of repair. However, from Lafayette I must step out of 1915, and onto a later trail. The route now followed by the Garfield Ridge Trail thwarted many a trail builder in the 1910s. Work was attempted in this section in the autumn of 1914, when it rained for three days straight on the small crew. The next attempt was not until August 1915 when parts of the trail were opened.

South Twin summit is where the 1907 AMC guidebook picks up. The first trail over the Twin Range was built in 1882, and it is a well-established route in 1915. It climbs over Mount Guyot and the Bond Range, but from here another gap is left between Guyot and Thoreau Falls. This was, up until 1904, the realm of the logger. The infamous lumber baron James Everell Henry occupied the Zealand Valley from 1880 until 1897. He built a railroad into the valley in 1884 and quickly began stripping every slope within reach of its trees. The clear-cutting left mountains of slash, adding to the valley’s grief in the form of fires that plagued the area until 1897, when Henry, mostly finished with this new wasteland anyway, saw his mill burn to the ground. More fires followed including a massive blaze in 1903. Later access to the area was via the railroad bed where the guidebook notes “the rails have been removed and a succession of forest fires has destroyed everything of an inflammable character.”

A trail from Thoreau Falls, long a tourist destination, leads out to the Willey House site. The route up Webster Cliff and on to the summit of Webster is freshly cut as of 1914, so I may be one of the first to walk it. Also fairly new is the trail to Mount Clinton (now Pierce) where it meets the Crawford Path. Mizpah Spring Hut did not exist (it was still about fifty years in the future) though there is a log shelter on the site.


Mount Washington with Lakes of the Clouds Hut below from the summit of Mount Monroe, New Hampshire.Mount Washington with Lakes of the Clouds Hut below from the summit of Mount Monroe, New Hampshire.
From the junction with the Crawford Path all the way across the Presidential Range the route is surprisingly similar to 2015’s trail. The hut found at the Lakes of the Clouds is much larger than the original, and in fact in my world construction isn’t even complete. The hut opened in late August, just in time to save a group of hikers stranded there in a September snowstorm. The summit of Mount Washington is different though probably no less busy. The Cog Railway brings passenger up from the west and the Carriage Road approaches from the east. The Tip Top House is here, having survived the great summit fire of 1908. Another fire in 1915 put it into disuse while the Summit House, built in 1872 and replaced in 1915, took up most of the tourist traffic. There was a restaurant here, though they are probably not serving pizza.

The Gulfside Trail from the summit of Mount Washington north was built in 1884 and 1892, much of the work being done by J. Rayner Edmands in his wonderfully intuitive and gentle style. Parts of this trail feel like a carriage road. As the guidebook notes, “The scenery is the wildest and most picturesque in New England.”  For this reason I hope to do plenty of sketching to add work to my 'Hinterlands' series of paintings. Aside from development and changes in the use of the land in the valleys, the scene up here is not so very different aside from all these hikers wearing funny, bright clothes! Regardless of their unusual costumes, we’re all out here to be in the open air, see the wild, stunted trees growing in the alpine zone, walk along mountains and valleys, and sit down as a community in a hut each night to talk about where (and when) we have all been.

Read about the hike itself in my next segment!

Read the previous entry, Part IV.

My hikes in the White Mountains have led to many paintings in the last few years. You can see the results of that side of my trips in the Hinterlands gallery of my website. Some of the original paintings are available through my online shop. You can follow along on my next adventures via Facebook and Instagram. Happy Trails!

A view southwest from the slopes of Mount Washington, New Hampshire.A view southwest from the slopes of Mount Washington, New Hampshire.


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