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White Mountain Trail Pioneers Battle All the Forces of Nature

A. M. C. Committee Secretary Writes of Pains and Pleasures of Trail-Breakers


The following article was written especially for the Crimson by Mr. P. R. Jenks, permanent secretary of the Committee on Trails of the Appalachian Mountain Club. His many vacations spent in the White Mountains make him an authority on the the subect of which he writes.

The 300-mile trail system of the Appalachian Club in the White Mountains, mostly on rough, remote and storm-swept ridges, is substantially the by product of the brain and muscle of a few business and professional men. It is their avocation, their hobby, their dream Comparatively only a handful among the four thousand members of the Club, these few men of two generations, largely with the labor of their own hands, have made it possible to traverse the White Mountains with nearly perfect safety, and with the maximum of pleasure, ease, and comfort Cui bono? "For why?" What is the charm, or spell what attraction have they found in this work to satisfy the craving of a normal present day man for an adequate outside interest, sport, or hobby, and make them dream these trails throughout the year and spend their vacations on them in summer?

First, there is the physical satisfaction. That is why they have personally done as much as possible of the actual work. Compare it with other sports, and the physical effort is surprising. Contrast a round of golf in foot-pounds of work, or a set of tennis in the lung power required with climbing a mountain under a forty-pound pack; compare chopping one big cross-log with the strokes of nine holes: and you will see why a seasoned tramper and axeman will "kill" a college athlete at this game.

What is the nature of the work? What is a trail; anyway? A trail is cleared "when it has been made so passable by removal of growth of all sorts that a tramper with pack and horizontal blanket-roll, proceeding steadily, upright will encounter no obstructions, and will be able to see the footway a few steps ahead." The work consists of subtracting from the natural growth of the forest along the route of the trail whatever is necessary to reduce it to the above qualifications.

In the tall timber, where little light comes through, you may run a trail almost anywhere; there is often little to do but blaze the route. But even here there will be an occasional tree that has fallen of old age, and it will be a big one. you must chop or saw through it, perhaps twice, very likely an hour's real work. Out of this forest you may pass into a section where a storm has wreaked navoc. All the big trees are down, and a new forest, head high, is growing up so thick that (as has been said) you have to cut a hole for your cuttings before you can do any cutting! In this small stuff you may take an hour to clear a hundred feet. You may run into a section that has been logged, where you have a small new growth of cherry birch, and maple from half an inch to four inches in diameter; or instead, a tangle of bushes, raspberry, blackberry, alder, where only a scythe will make any progress. Anywhere in the forest you may find bobble--bush and striped maple growing into the trail from several feet on the side, so that it makes no impression to cut merely what is rooted in the path. Everywhere from all trees you find branches protruding laterally into the path. Always there is "small stuff" which has fallen across the path, which must be thrown out. Finally, as you approach timber line, you encounter scrub the stunted tough little trees which can grow only laterally and to form an interlacing network worst of all to craw! or cut through.

Then after a trail has been cleared it comes right back and begins to grow up again. The clearing lets in more light for the remaining trees, which grow the faster in that direction. Seedlings take root and prosper. Each winter trees fall across the path from two or three to twenty or thirty to the mile according to the severity of the storms and the local conditions; and once or twice in a generation there comes a storm that lays low whole stretches of forest and obliterates miles of trail. Aside from such storms a trail long maintained in good condition and wellworn win be lost in any kind f growth if left to itself for ten years. So every three to five years each trail must be re-standardized.

But the purely physical side of trail work is only an incidental satisfaction, and alone, like any exercise per se, would have little attraction, though like any work in the open or in the forest, it is good for both body and soul. But all trail work is a mental challenge so keen that it fascinates the fancy. Yonder is a skyline ridge which should have a trail. A simple thought. But before it is wrought out, the details of the ground must be examined in the rough (where a mile an hour is usually the maximum); there are hours totaling days of fighting through underbrush and blowdowns, in heat, perhaps storm, usually flies. Woe to the man who does not bring to bear all his mental powers to ease his way and save his nerves instead of wearing himself out in "building through"; every step of the way and every foot of the trail is a challenge to his judgment. Then he must organize a camp to clear that trail when thus located; he must study up transportation, tentage, food lists, tools, equipment; he must organize a crew and their work. When completed, he must "sign" it.

This for one trail. If one associates himself with a trail system of any size, he will find so many problems and matters of interest that they will exclude every other activity if given rein. The lore and the lure of the trail are equally endless. The write can testify that one may spend years on the matter of trail signs, always finding it interesting and always learning something new. For no one yet knows the best type of sign for trails.

But besides the physical and mental attractions and rewards, there are yet deeper ones, lying in the really intimate associations involved, first with nature, second with men. In nature, as in life, satisfaction comes not from acquaintance but from friendships, and friendship is predicated upon time. One can become acquainted with many places and many people in this rapid world and in exactly the same way with scores of mountains and miles of trail, but with the satisfaction only, of numbers and of mileage. A colleague of mine used to say, "I go to a different place-every summer and exhaust the region." We never doubted that the region breathed a sigh of relief when he departed, but really he was more to be pitied. Burroughs did not weary of "Slabsides," Bolles of Chocorua, or Torrey of Franconia. And in trail work you get really to know your trails, your mountains, and the friends with whom you work.

I once tramped a long trail, then in good condition, with the best of companions, but was impressed with little about the trail except its length. Years later when the storms had again wreeked it, I twice worked through it with axe and cross cut and my trail crew. The first year we broke the cross-cut at the worst place and time, and two of us traveled twenty miles in storm to replace it. Next year in a grueling three days five of us took out over four hundred cross-logs. I really know that trail now and love it; for with the work went the association with the crew, when we packed, sawed, and chopped together, ate and slept together, saw the sunset together, and talked together around the campfire.

So now when I traverse that trail, the physical effort is subconscious because my mind is occupied with the associations. Here at the worst grade someone had quoted.

"If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew.

"To serve your turn long after they are gone,... here we came out on the ledges and enjoyed the views and the blueberries (no

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