August Camp Resurfaces in the Whites

 A very personal account

by Jill Cotter

Hiking with Noel 

Every summer, August Camp reappears full blown in a new setting, with many of the same cast of characters, some of whom haven’t communicated since the last camp, taking up exactly where they left off, only a year older and hopefully wiser.  This means that there is no warming up period necessary- the comfort level is still there- tent flaps are hardly lowered.  “Let it all hang out” is our credo.

Forget reality.  Suspend routine.  Leave your worries at the doorstep. Let the pleasure principle reign.

Have you ever seen little children running around and around in a playground simply for the pure joy of it?   Perhaps that explains why I always feel so young when I spend day after day climbing up mountains, jumping rocks, scaling boulders and running down root filled trails.  Hearing my heart beat, breathing noisily through my nose and mouth, gulping down water, feeling rivulets of sweat pouring down my head, communing with my knees and thigh muscles- these primal pleasures fill my days at August Camp.   

And all the while you are out exploring nature, you are also interacting with the other campers, people just like you, who enjoy living in 2-man army tents huddled stiffly on narrow cots;  getting woken up at 6am sharp by a virtuoso horn player giving his rendition of that old army favorite ‘You’ve Got to Get Up…’ ;  running through dew wet grass to the tillies (portable toilets)  just out of a warm sleeping bag;  sleeping with your long johns, woolen hat, gloves and down vest on those rare, cold country nights;  lining up on the lunch line before you’ve had a chance to brush your teeth, wash your face or comb your hair.   Everyone has bags under their eyes at 6 am, and somehow, I begin to accept mine.  I feel part of the group.

View of Camp

 Living in a little tent community brings out the village gossip in me.  Must be my  genetic predisposition to kibitzing.  The first week is taken up with discussing club business with my New York-North Jersey chapter friends.  By the second week, friendships with women who I had met the previous summer deepen.  I worry about Pauline’s fever;  I marvel at Monique’s joie de vivre;  I laugh at Pat’s shenanigans with her husband Paul;  I am fascinated with the details of Dottie’s relationship with Bernie.


The Shower Line
August Campers at Work

clockwise from top: Dot greets a new camper, Pauline does her laundry, Jack hauls water

A lot of thought goes into picking out my tent, which I will be sharing with my friend from Mt. Rainier, Ron.  It has to have a good view of the whole village.  It needs to have some nighttime privacy, while also being where the action is.  Our tent catty cornered to the showers answers all of our needs.  Out the back of the tent, we get to hear the joking and make some jokes ourselves as everyone must come to the showers.  From the front, we have a comfortably distant view of the tillies and see people as they discreetly make their after dinner pilgrimage.   Sitting out in front of the tent, waiting for campfire, the life of the camp evolves before our eyes, people washing dirty clothes, filling their sun showers down at the river, straightening out their hiking gear which is strewn all over the floor and cot, catching up on the day’s news with their neighbors. 

August Camp in the Whites is all about bagging peaks.  We listen avidly every evening at campfire for the elevation gains of the hikes on offer and the weather forecast.  Since we are getting a slightly modified heat wave that is bringing 108degree weather in New York, many hikers opt for waterfall hikes, not thinking that the coolest place is high up where the mountain breezes blow.  The first week, I have to conquer my fear that I don’t have the stuff to make it to the top- stopping often to regroup, eat and drink water.  Much to my surprise, I discover that B hikes leave me feeling that I could have done another mile or two.  My new boots give me back my spring, and I can leap swiftly from rock to rock on the way down.  By the end of the week, I declare to all “OK.  Now I mean business.”  It is then that I determine to be part of the A group that will scale Mt. Washington. 

The defining hike of the session for me, however, is the A hike with Wayne, up the Flume and Liberty, an 11 miler with 3300’ of elevation gain.  Alex and David are the only other intrepid souls willing to brave the 95degree heat.  Since the first couple of miles of hiking are on a pleasantly cool, fairly flat forest trail, we begin to shake our heads in anticipation of the steep climb that has to be right around the next bend.  I must have been a mountain goat in a past life, because I love scrambling over the giant boulders going straight up and up and up the Flume.   By the time we reach Liberty and feel that cool wind and enjoy the incomparable view, we are all ecstatic, so ecstatic that we run down the closest trail in sight without checking the map.  It isn’t until we drop down and start up another mountain, that we know something is not right.  At first, we think we have simply missed the turn off, but then Wayne shouts, “My compass has completely turned around”, and we realize with a shudder that we have backtracked down the way we had come and have to climb Liberty all over again.  I give the gang credit.  We look deep into our souls and find the strength to climb the extra 500’ without a single screaming fit.  The realization that I can do the extra 2 miles at a strong pace goes to my head.   By the time we get back to camp, everyone is at dinner and cheers our return.  I break out into a run, giving a victory wave, a huge grin on my face.   

Water Water Everywhere

On the way back from the hike, however, Wayne begins to worry.  He knows he’s in for it as memories of the paddling I had been forced to administer to him at campfire last summer (see article on make us both laugh.   Later that evening at campfire,  cries of “Oh no.  She can’t.  Not again!  Don’t do it”, rise from all sides as I stand to give my hike report, searching for a suitable piece of wood.  Wayne rises docilely in response to my command.  “I’m sorry”, I explain to everyone, waving the paddle ominously.  “I have to do this”, I say as if it will hurt me more than him.  By the time I get to Wayne, I drop the paddle and give him a big hug and kiss and declare him the best hike leader ever.  One should never be too obvious. 

I won’t name names, but-  there were certain campers who acted very selfishly in regard to the tillies, having discovered that a certain tillie’s ‘occupied’ sign remained on whether occupied or not.  This, of course, meant that it was underutilized and the least, how shall I put it, offensive to one’s sensibilities .  One of these not-to-be-named persons shared the secret with me, and I, of course, took advantage of it.  One evening, I knocked at the tillie door to check if it was empty and heard a shriek from inside.  Another not-to-be-named person came out red faced and laughing- caught with her proverbial pants down, begging me not to reveal her anti-social streak.  (Now, would I do that, MC!) 

(left) happy camper at the tillies  

(right) Wayne conjuring up another fabulous hike


One night I awoke to what sounded like footsteps in my tent.  I fearfully turned on the flashlight, but couldn’t make anything out.  I figured it had to be the wind sweeping under the plastic tarp.  Then I heard that we had mice on the premises, so Ron hung our stash of Russell Stover Chocolate, Twizzlers, Cracker Jacks and Walmart’s best pistachios  in a plastic bag high up from our internal clothes line.  Albeit, too high for me to reach, but, most importantly, I suppose, too high for the mouse.  One thing you do come to find out quickly when sharing a tent is who has the biggest sweet tooth!  Need I say more?   

 I decide to go canoeing on my last day at camp.  How can any other hike top climbing Mt. Washington!  So I opt for an easy 7 miles on the Androscoggin River with Carl and seven other mellow folk.  My paddling partner, Sammie, and I get hung up in shallow water twice and twice I have to get out of the canoe to push it loose.  My heart is pounding as I struggle to guide the boat so it doesn’t tip over and a small part of my mind is worried that I will embarrass myself if the canoe does tip.  Even the rain that comes down and drives us to land seeking leaf cover creates an enjoyable contrast between  sunny, warm weather and the chilly, rainy weather.   Ah, nature!

The Mt. Washington Climbing Expedition: before and after.

 None of us are ready to get out of the canoes at the take out spot, so we decide to just paddle around on our own for an hour.  Sammie and I put our paddles in the canoe and just let the current take us.  We go around in lazy circles, enjoying the perfect Monet scene.  This is a great day all around since I get to ride in the back of Terry’s jeep, enjoying the wind in my hair and the sun on my cheek.  And what really clinches the day is when the guys do all the work of getting the canoes back on the trailer.  I guiltily help put the vests away, but Jerry, Carl and Tom seem perfectly happy doing all the work and not even expecting the women to lift a finger.  What gentlemen of the old school!

 That night at the Follies, a bunch of campers put on a hilarious skit about hikers going on their first paddle.  Monique comes on as a silly hiker who has decided to try out canoeing, but is inappropriately dressed with about five layers of jackets and shirts.  Maryke, Monique’s real life daughter, in the role of canoe leader, instructs Monique to take off each layer, and Monique does a strip tease until she strips to her bathing suit.  We all roar with laughter.  You really had to be there!

 The only thing I don’t get to do, to make a totally complete August Camp experience, is to visit the tourist hot spot, Santa’s Village, and ride the miniature roller coaster.   Santa’s Village sits across the highway from the Red Lantern, a relatively upscale motel that offers a hot shower and long soak in a sauna for the modest fee of $5, which many August Campers splurge on during their day off from hiking.  Ron and I spend my birthday motel poolside, working on our tans, serenaded by Christmas carols, hearing the screams of kids as the roller roaster descends its first hill and watching the cars go by.  What bliss.

Those of you who read my article about August Camp in Mt. Rainier, 1999, know that I did the near impossible- I had just as a great a time this summer as I had had the summer before. 

 Thanks Dot Aronson, camp director extraordinaire, for another “summer camp the way you always wished it to be”.  Alas, Dot announced that this would be her last summer as August Camp Director.  It will never be the same.

 In closing, I officially declare myself a member of the August Camp Groupies.  See you all next summer in the Sawtooths. 

Jill Cotter

member, new york-north jersey chapter