This blog post is dedicated to my good friend Christopher Putnam on the eve of him leaving for Navy Boot Camp. Thank you for volunteering to serve my friend.
I stirred and moved my left wrist in front of my face to bring my watch into focus. It was already past 8AM and although I had been up late the night before, I couldn’t justify staying in bed for another moment. I crawled out of my sleeping bag, stuffed my feet into my boots and stepped out of my tent and into the new day. Outside the sun was shining through the tree canopy. I glanced around camp and saw Mike was already up and had the fire going. I made my way over to him and warmed myself for a moment as we exchanged good mornings. It wasn’t long before Chris climbed out of his hammock and joined us beside the fire too.
The previous day had consisted of us lazily setting up camp and gorging ourselves with food and drink. We worked together gathering and processing firewood, making fun of each other and having an all around good time. Like a flash of lightning, the day was here one moment and gone the next but the experience will stay with me forever. I really enjoy being able to share this place with other people, so having Bryan, Chris and Mike on this trip made it all the better.
It was after 10AM when we collectively decided to wake Bryan up. He was out cold sleeping in his pup tent with his dog Luke. He had wanted to make a traditional “Mountain Man” breakfast but it was getting late, we had a hike planned. Instead, Chris stepped up and started cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast wraps. He was concerned because we didn’t have any cheese but I thought they were delicious. It was early afternoon by the time we finished eating and cleaning up, so we grabbed our day packs and hit the trail.
We began by exploring an unmarked trail near camp before turning off and bushwhacking our way along the Sawyer River. Before long we discovered an old campsite that appeared to be well used. It was a fantastic location and we all agreed it would make a great spot for future trips. There are sites like this all over the White Mountains, some legal others not, and for sake of conservation I always try to use them instead of clearing a new spot. We stopped for a group photo before moving along the river and up the mountainside.
Further up the mountain we came across a large group of boulders with what looked like a small cave underneath. Mike and I agreed it looked like the perfect place for a black bear or some other large mammal to shelter. We didn’t bother to stick our heads in to find out and kept moving up the mountain.
Eventually we came to an abandoned and washed out logging road. We followed it for a ways before I pulled out my map to find our location. We talked about a few different options before deciding to head back towards the river to see if we could find a place to cross. On the other side of the river were the remains of an old “ghost town” called Livermore. It had existed from 1876-1951 as a mill town dependent on the timber industry. Although it’s been almost seventy years since the town was officially dissolved, many artifacts remain and we were curious to see what we could find.
We bushwhacked our way back towards the river and began scanning up and down its banks for a suitable spot to cross. The ice cold water was rushing down the mountain, smashing against the boulder strewn river bank, creating impressive cascades with a deafening roar. We spotted a few different places shallow enough to make it across, but crossing with the dog, over the slippery rocks, mixed with the powerful current was a recipe for disaster. We followed the river down for awhile trying to find a safer spot to cross until we got walled in and had to turn around and scramble back up the steep river bank.
From here we started making our way back down the mountain. Along the way we came across a birch tree infected with chaga. For those not familiar with chaga, it’s a highly regarded wild edible mushroom, parasitic to birch trees. It is usually consumed as a tea and is renowned for its medicinal benefits. It also makes decent tinder and can be used as a coal extender. The guys harvested a bit of the fungus before we moved down the mountain, back towards base camp.
As we approached the valley floor I noticed an unusual shape amongst the leaves. I looked down and lying at the base of a tree was an antique stone grinding wheel. I picked it up and inspected it wondering about its past and who it belonged to. Was this an old relic of Livermore or one of its logging camps? It was beautiful and looked to be in great condition. I put it back down where I’d found it and continued on with the group. It would have made for a valuable and even useful souvenir but taking artifacts like this is against the law. Besides, to me its way more valuable knowing it’s there for someone else to discover.
Back at camp we did the usual mix of relaxing and gathering of firewood as we prepared for dinner. It’s good to get in the habit of going on a short stroll away from camp every now and then to see what resources are around and it’s an unwritten rule, if you walk away from camp you better come back with some firewood. So we all took turns contributing to the wood pile, sometimes working individually and sometimes as a team. It wasn’t long before night began to fall so we turned our attention to dinner. Bryan whipped up one of his delicious soups in a large stainless steel pot and I cooked a cranberry blueberry cobbler in a Dutch oven. We spent the night laughing, eating and drinking by the fire as a light snowfall fell over us and the valley floor.
There was a thin crust of ice and snow covering my tent when I crawled out the next morning. It was another beautiful day in the New England Mountains. The sun was shining bright one moment, then there would be a quick snow shower the next. I shivered my way over to the fire where Chris and Mike had already gathered. I heated some water for coffee and before long Bryan was up cooking the mountain man breakfast he had planned on making the previous day. Mike pan fried a bannock mix as well and we enjoyed the feast, slowly packing up our gear as the day wore on.
By the early afternoon, Chris and Mike had finished packing up there gear and we waved goodbye as we watched them disappear down the trail. We hung around for a few more hours, enjoying the surrounding woods and mountains before finally heading home too. It was another camping trip for the books. The time flew by with the intensity of two passing freight trains. Like I had previously mentioned, each day (week, month, year, and/or lifetime) is like a flash of lightning…here and gone in an instant. However it seems to me, the thing that remains, our experience, is something we carry with us wherever we go. Thanks for another memorable experience guys, can’t wait to see you back out there.
Photos c/o Christopher Putnam