August Camp Fords Ahead
During the many summers that I have enjoyed AMC’s August Camp, nature has provided us with plenty of sun, stars and cool breezes. Sometimes, as we explored different wilderness areas around the country, we experienced and grew to appreciate more extreme weather conditions. Two summers ago, August Campers felt first hand the drought conditions in the Saw Tooth Mountains of Idaho, so I guess it was just a matter of time until we were faced with the opposite, a rainy season.
I kept checking the internet for weeks approaching my two weeks of August Camp in Stratton, Maine this past summer. The forecast never changed, little gray clouds with dark lines shooting out of them, day after day. Well, I just became fatalistic and wondered how rain would affect the August Camp experience.
August Camp is about spending two weeks living in a two-man tent, snug in your sleeping bag atop a squeaky cot, waking at 6 am to the smells of coffee perking in the coffee tent, shivering in the morning chill on the way to the lunch tent, choosing from a variety of hikes for all hiking levels or opting for a canoe or bike trip, relaxing in front of your tent for a pre-dinner happy hour, and sitting out under the stars at the nightly campfire, enjoying the warmth of the carefully tended fire. August Camp is about being in nature and experiencing whatever nature has to offer.
In Maine, we hiked up lots of slippery, root filled trails, sweated through t-shirts in one second flat, and shivered in the rain at the top of windswept mountains. The rain and humidity also added some wonderful surprises to our adventure. We must have seen every conceivable shape and color of mushroom. There were orange, purple and yellow ones. I even saw a little black one that made me giggle. The best place for mushroom sighting, ironically enough, turned out to be at the Wilhem Reich Museum, Orgonon. One hiking group spent the afternoon on a mushroom hunting tour on the grounds, but I’m sure that everyone was secretly curious to get a look at an orgone box and maybe even get inside one for a treatment! Reich is known for his work on the flow of sexual energy and its role in keeping neuroses at bay. A session inside the orgone box was supposed to unblock the flow of this energy force. In the evenings, if we heard that some folks had been to Orgonon, we gave them an extra special scrutiny to see if there was a new spring in their step or twinkle in their eye.
Land of Mushrooms
The rain also turned many placid streams into dramatic torrents that could only be crossed by taking off boots and wading through to the other side or balancing on wet rocks with the aid of hiking sticks. This was a challenge that many hikers truly enjoyed. During a hike up Redington Mountain, my small group made a wrong turn and wound up bushwhacking through tightly packed fir trees and right up through a gushing stream, looking and feeling like drowned rats after a few minutes. I broke out into a big grin and let out a whoop of laughter. I was having the time of my life!
Fording a Stream
It was on this hike that we first noticed mountainsides full of pine and fir trees interspersed with blackened, dead trees. The trails were lined with thickly growing fir trees, and I kept thinking how nice, but strange, to be surrounded by nothing but Christmas trees. Several nights later at campfire, a local forest ranger explained to us that the lumber companies that owned all the land sprayed the slow growing birch trees to kill them off and planted fast growing fir trees that were destined to be made into pulp. His job was to prevent or put out forest fires so that the lumber companies would continue to have good harvests. You can imagine how we conservationists boiled at his matter-of-fact recital of nature management.
Ladies on Trail Surrounded by Christmas Trees
For those who didn’t get enough exercise on the mountains or paddling the streams, a popular place for indoor exercise was the sport center at Sugar Loaf Mountain Ski Center. Many an afternoon was spent walking the treadmills and lifting weights, ending with a luxuriating soak in the enticing variety of available hot tubs.
Moose gazing proved a lot more successful than stargazing during the overcast days and nights. All you had to do was keep your eyes open while driving down the road. A lone moose could often be seen drinking water from the streams that ran down to the edge of the road. One evening, a friend and I drove down to the local gravel pit, where word had it moose hung out at dusk. No action there, but some other moose gazers told us they had passed a moose a few miles back on the road, so off we dashed, and sure enough, there he was, a splendid 1500 pound specimen. We stopped the car opposite him and I started clicking away with my camera from the safety of the car. Our subject started to back up and we started to back up after him. He backed up and we backed up and we kept this up for about five minutes until the poor guy got fed up with our intruding on his drinking time and trotted off into the brush. We felt like heels, but were so happy to have seen a real live moose so close up.
Sunny weather returned to the area during the second weak of camp and coincided with a local Shriners’ parade. A few of us fortified ourselves with gigantic ice cream cones from Stratton’s ever popular ice cream joint, Pine Tree Frosty, and joined the local family groups sitting in front of the Stratton Historical Society building. Along came the midget cars and fire trucks, with waving men in red hats with tassels squeezed into these grown up toys. We all cheered and shouted. The parade lasted all of ten minutes, but a grand time was had by all.
This summer I had the privilege of being a hike leader, joining an illustrious group of volunteers who have helped make August Camp so special. Since its inception over 125 years ago, August Camp has been run by club members who decide which wilderness area they want to explore, make all the arrangements, hire the camp manager and croo, and lead all the activities. This is a labor of love that is appreciated by many club members who come back year after year.
Jill hugs a trail marker
During my first week of leading, most of my A (strenuous) and B (somewhat strenuous) hikes were made up of a group of 6 women. The hardest part of hiking in Maine, as anyone will tell you, is finding the trailhead. Since this was my first time in the area, I needed all the help I could get following the written directions to the trailhead, so everyone was on the lookout for turns and signs. At the trailhead, I usually appointed a strong hiker as leader and took up my favorite position leading from the rear. Everyone was very relaxed and comradely. For the hike up Spaulding Mt. (maximum elevation 4,237 ft., hiking distance 8 mi., elevation gain 2,000 ft.), my all female troop was joined by one very sweet-natured, good-looking young man. Tyler, relatively new to hiking, kept up with our sizzling pace and came in very handy on the descent, offering his steady hand on some of the more treacherous rock scrambles. At campfire that night, when one of our members gave the trip report, she praised Tyler to the skies and sighed when reflecting all of our regrets that Tyler was a happily married man.
My second week leading was defined by the old boys network, a group of well seasoned senior male hikers, still full of pep and vinegar, who regaled themselves with memories of their past days of hiking glory. The last hike I led with them was up Burnt Hill, a trail taking off from the Ski Center, with 1700’ of elevation gain. All of us thought that this was going to be a piece of cake, but after three false summits and a long slog over a rock strewn summit, we all satisfyingly agreed that this was a real hike. And all the while, I kept thinking to myself as I chugged along behind them admiringly, “Gee, when I get to be a retired senior citizen, I’ll be busy rocking in my rocking chair”.
And while my days were taken up with hiking challenging mountains, there was a full program of canoe trips, several overnights and some mountain biking that were very popular with the campers. The canoe trips offered a wide variety of paddling experiences, including 2 over-nights, trips into flat open water, moving water and even a taste of white water. Canoeists and kayackers of all levels of experience got an opportunity to improve their skills. A water lover recalled the mad paddle at breakneck speed to get off the water before a torrential lightening storm. She also fondly remembered watching a moose chow-down on some water plants while simultaneously watching loons and listening to the echoes of their calls across three ponds. “Who cared about the weather at those moments”, she exclaimed.
Looking back at my latest August Camp adventure, I have a lingering memory of the soft, comforting sound of raindrops splattering on my tent.
Dog Enjoys View
Ed blends in with the trees
Getting ready for the evening
Cleaning up after day on trail
Croo preparing dinner
Croo Cleaning Up
last updated 4/11/2010