Summer Camp for Adults:
August Camp does Mt. Rainier (July - August 2000)
Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t trade the two weeks I just spent in Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington State with the AMC August Camp, black flies, tillies, rural haute cuisine, hard cots, and 6 am wake-ups, for all the glitz and lavish displays of wealth that St. Tropez has to offer. Having just finished reading a very funny article in the London Financial Times about the fantasyland that is St. Tropez, I smirked condescendingly as I recalled the fantasyland that is August Camp.
Picture this- sixty four AMC members (mean age 55, ranging from 25-75), coming from as far a field as Louisiana to Maine, live for two weeks in two-man army tents laid out in a large circle with a campfire in the middle (Indian fashion), in a large open field surrounded by giant trees. Tillies (outhouses to the uninitiated) way off to the side and dining tent and cookhouse near the parking area on your way into the site. Clotheslines sporting dirty, sweat soaked or newly washed hiking shorts, t-shirts, socks, and underwear adorn the spaces between the tents for all to see. Sun showers lying belly up like jellyfish washed ashore are underfoot everywhere, ready to catch the intense sunlight that floods the camp every day. Buckets of water for brushing teeth, shaving (face and legs), splashing on face in the morning, are at the ready near the tent opening. Fold-up LL Bean canvas chairs grace the tent frontage of the more upscale neighbors.
While New York was experiencing day after day of gray, rainy weather, we had nothing but blue skies, 90 degree days and 50 degree nights, star-studded skies and quiet. The quietude of the nights, with the faintest sound of the wind rustling through the trees and the odd, horrific snoring, lulled us all into a very relaxed frame of mind. No TV. No radios. No phones (a dead spot for cell phones). After two days, the Gordian Knot to the outside world severed itself. “Nothing is bothering me, I am having too much fun”, seemed to reflect the prevailing mood.
A typical day at August Camp went something like this-
An anemic blast from a horn sounding like a male walrus after mating season wakes us up at 6 am. Sometimes the anemic blast never comes, and intruding voices from the next tent do the trick. Brush teeth and splash icy water on face. Rush to the tillie. Dash to the coffee tent. Fill cup. Wait on line at the lunch tent for the serious business of making your sandwiches (tuna fish, cold cuts, peanut butter & jelly, anyone?), fruit and two cookies. The sport of the day is to distract the cute “lunch wench” and steal an extra cookie. One morning, this sweet young thing objects to my taking a third cookie, and in a fit of pique I throw all my cookies back into the container and sail out, mumbling “I don’t like the damn cookies, anyway”.
Most of us eat breakfast already dressed in hiking gear. I prefer to stay warm a few minutes longer by dining in my long johns and changing after breakfast. Breakfast consists of hot cereal, pancakes or French Toast, eggs and bacon, and fruit. I take a picture of Wayne Foote’s daily breakfast special, oatmeal topped with rice krispies topped with yogurt topped with raisins topped with syrup topped with milk. Ymmm!
There are four hikes each day to choose from- a C hike, B-, B+, A in ascending order of difficulty, scheduled to leave at the precise times of 7:58 am from the coffee tent, 8:02 am from the mailbox, 8:15 am from the dining area, and 8:17 am from the flag pole.
Ironically, our nearby town of Packwood, with a population of 1000, is in the midst of a road works program, and we often wait 20 minutes to get out of town. One morning, we are stopped by Tina the blond bombshell on the road crew and her cute STOP sign, for the ubiquitous 20 minute stop. Just as the women bound out of the vans and into the roadside bushes, pull down their pants for a “separation”, Tina gives the go-ahead to roll. Being such a humane person, Tina bounds into the bush herself to find the tardy separators.
Then the hard work of the day begins- hiking. Anywhere from 2 miles with 500’ of elevation gain to 13 miles and 3000’ of elevation gain, our hikes take us to glaciers, vast meadows of wild flowers, cold mountain lakes, the base camp of Mt. Rainier, the devastated slopes of Mt. Saint Helens. Five intrepid hikers ( Eva Borsody Das, Noel Cotter, Terry McAdams, Ron Davis, and Chris Riely) sign up to climb to the 14,000’ summit of Mt. Rainier and make it, admitting afterward that the midnight climb was the hardest thing they’d ever done. Two crew members climbed to the summit and down on their own in a record 14 hours. Ah, to be young again! Thirty B+ hikers tackle Camp Muir, the 10,000’ high base camp (with 4600’ feet of elevation gain in 9 miles) on a glacier, and live to tell the tale. A record for August Camp. The return is accomplished on our butts, as we slide gleefully down the glacier on plastic garbage bags, screaming all the way. On the way up, I had wanted to quit a hundred times, but my buddy Lee Fanger, a veteran hiker who I’ve known over my 25 years in the club, kept encouraging me forward. Thanks Lee. The Mt. Saint Helen’s hike was in stark contrast to the lush mountainsides of giant trees and wildflowers we’d been used to. We all felt as if we were walking on the moon, and startled whenever we came upon patches of purple luppin beginning to bring the vast mountain back to life. Amid this splendid devastation, Maryka of Ct. and Ron Davis of ME. and I philosophize about the distinctive joys of hiking- it’s communal nature which allows people to talk and share the unfolding experience; the fact that all hiking takes is perseverance, sweat and stamina; that hiking is a sensual experience- you smell the flowers, your legs rub against the rock boulders, your hands caress the ancient bark of the trees; that each hike is a complete short story with a cast of characters, a beginning, a middle and an end.
On the way back to camp, we stop at the town hotspot, the Texaco station, to gas up, fill our water bottles, feast on ice-cream, sneak a hot shower at the RV camp, pick up beer and potato chips for happy hour, which starts as soon as we get the bottle opener out. Lots of time back at camp to socialize, take candid pictures, shower, comb our hair, nap or read until dinner at 6:30. Evenings consist of yoga with Chet Kaplan (my body never felt so good) and campfire, during which we hear about the day’s hikes, animal sightings and flower discoveries, and the next day’s offerings. Carson Tang always seems to report on animal sightings (bear with cub, marmots, mountain goats) which occur only when he is alone on the trail! One campfire witnessed the first ever public flogging, as hike leader Wayne Foote got spanked with a big piece of firewood for bringing a group down a different way, which left them with a six mile road walk to the vans. Oh yes, we loved Wayne as we descended along a raging mud colored river and saw spectacular pleated rock walls that looked like Chartres, but, as the saying goes, leaders are only as loved as the last few miles of their hike! Is it any wonder that Wayne’s A hike the next day was blackballed.
To finish off the evening, the August Camp band would play and folks would sing the usual medley of campfire songs. Others would stand around and gossip as any citizens of a small town do on a beautiful summer evening. By 10 pm, most everyone is tucked up into his or her sleeping bag, recuperating for the next day’s fun.
But ah! Who knows what other sweet things are happening under the glorious starry sky.
The New York/ NoJ chapter was ably represented by the irreplaceable and irrepressible hiking director Wayne Foote, hiking leaders Marion Chalat, Noel Cotter, Gina Carmody, Carson Tang and Chet Kaplan, and hikers Michelle Bayne, Jerry Brooks, Jill Cotter, Mike Dalton, Jack Driller, Lee Fanger, Anne Hood, Roberta Kaufman, Hazel Lacks, Jane Levenson, Linda Lowenstein, Mim Lox, Pauline Nevin, Anna Parker, Michael Schmidt, Mel Schwartz, Ingeborg Stochmal, Renny Stone, Bill Tyler and Bill Smith.
Other intrepid campers: Christine Bird, Dorothy Blocker, Christie Carter, Mike and Susan Cerullo, Roy Chestnut, Peggy Clapham, Monique Cleland, Janet Cooper,Eva Borsody Das, Ron Davis, Bob DickinsonDuncan Goldthwaite, Inga Hoe, Bernie Kalemba, Pat and Paul Kehler, Anne Kent, Sue Keroes, John Lisker, Carl Lohmann, Terry McAdams, Marcia Miller, Trish Niece, Ginie Page, Chris Riely, Ron Roth, Tom Rutt, Kevin Ryan, David Sample, Randell Sample, Maryke Schlehofer, Mike Sheehan, Susan Simmons, and Dan St. John.
August Camp, run by a committee of AMC volunteers, has been in existence for 110 years, providing AMC’ers with a priceless group experience in which sixty people of all ages get to know, like and respect each other through the joys of rigorous physical exertion, lots of laughs, story telling and love of the outdoors. It is summer camp as you always dreamed summer camp could be.
Thank you Dot Aronson, our camp director, and all my hiking buddies, for making this the best summer of my life.