The Backcountry


(Photo above) The crew on top of Mt. Adams (Mt. Washington in the background)

I’ve been very excited to head into the backcountry of New Hampshire during conservation season. It was a big part of my decision to apply for this program and there are numerous ways in which I hope to apply what I’m learning here. I’ve also been very excited to write specifically about this experience, because of the project, the process and preparation we put in before starting, and the amazing place where we’re living and working. But as it sometimes goes with new experiences, there is so much going on and so many thoughts running through my head, it’s difficult to focus on something specific to write about.

Our “backcountry hitch,” was actually a 6 day portion of our 24 day hitch in the Androscoggin region of the White Mountain National Forest. By some definitions, most of the work we’ve been doing here has been in the “backcountry” because we’ve been more than 2 hours from definitive medical care. For 6 days, however, we were camping at a campsite on Mt. Madison, just below tree line, working and living in the same place. Our commute to our kitchen area was farther than our commute to our work site. We added a tent platform to the campsite for a total of six sites, and tried to use brush and fallen trees to create barriers to keep people from venturing off into the woods to make their own sites, creating footpaths, and increasing the impact to the area. During our time there we could tell that the campsite was in need of more platforms. It was interesting to see how people behaved when they encountered our boundaries. We learned where we need to add brush and what size rocks people are willing to dig out of the ground to create a place to pitch their tent. The hope is that by creating artificial barriers, enough people will be deterred so that new growth can occur. If problems continue, who knows what will happen to access at this campsite?

Using rock bars to plant rocks, effectively destroying illegal campsites

The view of Mt. Adams from our campsite

Every aspect of our lives there directly relates to water. For breakfast, the chore was to boil water for oatmeal and coffee. At lunch we hiked 10 minutes to access the nearest stream and filter water. At dinner we boiled water for whatever grain we were eating for dinner. The whole design of the tent platform we built revolved around where water will flow if it rains. A lot of our decisions and our actions are based around water in everyday life, but it becomes so much more noticeable as soon as you remove yourself from places where water runs down streams instead of down drains.

Perception of time was also slightly altered there. Previously, I wrote in a post how I tend to wake up with the sun and go to bed at dusk. The same was true there, but without having to drive, or work on anyone else’s schedule, our days started earlier, lunch and dinner came earlier, and afterwards there was a lot of time to sit around a small fire and talk about whatever it is we talk about. We received a lot of up front training for conservation season. It was just under 2 months between the time we ended education season and left for our 1st 24-day hitch. We spent a lot of time getting ready so that we could be self-sufficient in the field. Every 7-person team has a different dynamic and a different way of going about things, but we are all able to go 6 days, 3.5 miles and 3,000 ft away from the nearest road. The best part is that the amount of time it would take for us to get help or for help to come to us. But because we were honest with ourselves in the conversations we’ve had about what could happen, we were able to have fun focusing on what we were doing, where we were, and whom we were with. Looking back on it, 6 days in the backcountry takes just as long as 6 days in the front country. It’s slow when it’s happening but seems like it never happened once it’s over.

What this experience has really taught me is that there is so much more to see and do than I ever thought possible. I had never heard of Valley Way Campsite, or Mt. Madison, but there I was, working at a place that is getting too much love, and standing on a summit more than a mile above the ocean. If someone asked me why I chose to apply for and take this position, I would tell them about these 6 days and how I got to work where people vacation, and live where people only visit, and play in some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

Finished platform

Constructing the new tent platform

Filtering water at the stream