Mountain Life

After my first week of caretaking up at Gray Knob, I’ve decided this is really the way to live. Getting off the power grid, making trips to the spring to get water and putting in a good day of work really proves Life. The crisp clean mountain air, the staggering views and the fierce mountain weather with thunder and lightning is an experience better than any electronic gizmo induced form of entertainment.

As the caretaker, I am charged with maintaining the four camps under the auspicious of the Randolph Mountain Club (RMC). My home, Gray Knob Cabin and Crag Camp are both fully enclosed cabins providing mattresses to sleep on, a kitchen space to cook (bring your own stove and food) and benches and tables to eat from, play cards, write or read – whatever suits your fancy. Log Cabin is a three-sided shelter modeled after an Alaskan Trappers shelter that sleeps ten and The Perch is a simple lean-to shelter that sleeps eight. The Perch also includes four large tent platforms for campers to bring their own shelter. In the past week, many of the ‘local’ colleges (namely Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard) have used the tent platforms and set up elaborate tarpaulin arrays.

Each evening I make my rounds to these shelters to collect the camping fees from the patrons. As it turns out, the fees are just enough to cover the cost of running the shelters. Between insurance, maintenance and my hefty salary these camps are self sustaining without much profit. It’s about a four mile trip to get to each of the camps. While that sounds like a nice evening stroll, the fact that Log Cabin is 1200 vertical feet lower than most of the other shelters, it makes for a substantial route.

The weather has changed dramatically. In just this first week the average temperatures have plummeted from the lower 50’s F (10°C) to the mid 30’s F (2°C). I suspect freezing weather is not far off and icy conditions have already started to encroach on the peaks above me.

Gray Knob is situated on the northern slope of Mount Adams just below tree line at 4,370 feet. The shortest trail to get to Gray Knob is Lowe’s Path from Highway 2. It’s only 3 miles up, but again, the vertical gain of 3,000 feet makes it a serious climb up a rocky and sometimes slippery route. I’ll make this trek about once a week as I come back down into town to re-supply myself with fresh vegetables and other items needed up at the cabin like hardware for repairs at any of the camps.

My daily routine isn’t firmly set save two primary duties. First, I need to be up before 7am to record the weather broadcasted by the Mt. Washington Observatory a mere six miles away along the Appalachian Trail. And in the evening I do the rounds to all the cabins. In between those times I’m cleaning the cabins, chopping wood, getting water, conducting repairs, going out on hikes of my own or reading and writing.

As a resident already in the mountains, I’m a primary source for any Search and Rescue (SAR) operations that occur near me. I’ve prepped my trauma kit and have checked all my other SAR equipment to make sure it is functioning and ready. Fortunately nothing has happened, but there have been stories where the caretaker was called out on a SAR mission the first day!

Cooking can be entertaining and I experimented with some blueberry muffins in the little oven I found in the cabin. It is just an aluminum box that sits on one of the gas stove burners. The problem I discovered was it’s not very good at dispersing the heat and the bottoms of my muffins were a little burnt. I have some ideas to solve that… and if that’s all I’m having to worry about, burnt muffins, then life must be pretty good.

It’s been great to come back down to the valley to the luxuries of a warm house, hot running water and the ambiance of music filling the air, but I’m finding I didn’t really miss any of those things much. Life on the mountain is good and I’m looking forward to heading back up with a fresh load of supplies to keep me for the week to come.

Read on! Mt. Washington Traverse

About the author

Adventure Correspondent Cameron L. Martindell is a freelance adventure travel and expedition writer, photographer and filmmaker who founded in 2000. He has contributed to Elevation Outdoors Magazine, The Gear Junkie, National Geographic, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Outside, Backpacker, Wired, Australian Geographic, and others. He has been to all seven continents and lived on five of them, including a four-month stint at the South Pole. Cameron has more than 10 years of mountain search and rescue experience, is an Eagle Scout, has been an Australian bush firefighter, competes in sailing regattas, plans national and international youth programs, guides Oregon rafting trips and Australian bush backpacking trips.


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