Rogue Patrol

Sam “Bananas” Norton

2018 – 2020                                                                                                                                                                                            [email protected]


In early July, the AMC terminated me and three others, which led others to quit, and effectively broke the continuous chain of TFC knowledge and labor that has coursed through the White Mountains for a century. When we rolled out of Camp Dodge in our overloaded vehicles, we left more than a job and an occupation behind; we left a source of meaning, excitement, and learning in our lives. During my years on crew we traversed countless craggy peaks under the baking sun, and patrolled through high-grassed trails tucked into narrow valleys of the White Mountains. Beyond being sources of excitement and humor-filled (or painful) memories, those patrols and woods weeks were arenas for individual strength-building, and professional dedication. Through the gritty hours of exhaustive chopping, running, and stone structure building I came to build a colorful mosaic of appreciation for work and teaching — which is a trail crew ethic formed not only from hard work, but through a love of place and people. As the dust begins to settle on those hot, dramatic July memories, we are left to think about things with more pensive mood and reflective lens.

Losing our AMC jobs meant at the most basic level that we had to give a harsh goodbye to the colorful circus that has been our TFC experience in the Whites. And yet, we felt a stubborn resentment at the thought of leaving the crew that has meant so much to us. It was that stubbornness which led a group of us to participate in the volunteer patrolling which is depicted in the following videos. These patrols were in a sense an homage to the work we’ve done in these mountains, which we hope is not complete. We did two such patrols during the week between our terminations, and the move to the Adirondacks where we joined their own crew.

We conducted one of these “rogue” patrols on the Davis Path in the southern Presidential Range, with a crew of three people — Zeta (Annie Dumais), Misty (Six Rudolph), and myself. Several other crew members, who were on our previous unofficial patrol had elected not to join us that day due to injuries. Our patrol began early on a blue-skied morning on the Glen Boulder Trail which would take us to the Davis Path. From the trailhead, we hiked up the alpine shoulder of Mt. Washington in windy, but pristine weather. From the majestic and tree-bare viewpoint of the ever-teetering Glen Boulder we looked down on the Pinkham Notch Valley. Visible below us was the richly colored mosaic of forest that lines Route 16. Snaking up from Glen and Jackson, that winding road could be seen arching around “dead man’s curve” and then passing by the old Hutton Lodge at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center — which has housed the Trail Crew for nearly 50 years of it’s existence. As we turned our axe-strapped backs to the view and moved further up the stoney, cairn-studded trail I felt that the storied TFC history represented by that filthy lodge extended beyond it’s planked walls. Our crew history lives less in the AMC’s physical spaces, but much more within the beaten soil of the trails and the land we’ve labored on. It was that sense of hidden history that occupied my mind as the three of us moved our way down the 15-mile long stretch of the Davis Path — from the wind-swept alpine zone, and into the increasingly dense forest of the Crawford Valley. As we patrolled, I enjoyed the familiar sensation of swinging my axe into Spruce swales and churning my boots forward and back     over root-woven, duffy soil. Going through these rigorous motions I was compelled to imagine the decades of memories that lay tucked under moss growing on rock stair cases and hidden within the decomposing scarf of old blow-downs.

The patrol of that day saw a middling amount of downed trees across the trail. There were scattered patches of downed Spruce as we travelled down the ridge. It was a rigorous, but manageable amount of chopping for three people over the course of the day. The joyful sensation of slicing and blasting chips out of softwood was made all the more sharp by the feeling that we were witnessing the end of an era. It was a hot day, but we mercifully shaded much of the time — warm rays trickled onto our bare necks as the sun rose to its highest points in the sky. The work made us sweat, but the fact of our “volunteering” status allowed for an appreciation of natural surroundings in a way that is often impossible during the speeding frenzy of normal patrols. The higher elevation forest on the ridge was occupied by dense patches of smaller trees, many of which pointed at an array of crooked angles, like a scattered pile of giant shaggy spears. Many of these askew trees were wrapped in woolly cloaks of “old man’s beard” — nests of yellow and green colored lichen that clung to bark and branches. This rolling landscape of tilted, furry trees created both a chaotic and whimsical setting, not unlike the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. It it uniquely enjoyable to be a passing guest in the mystical Dry River Wilderness.

Far down in the valley, the seemingly endless sight of fragile softwoods was replaced by a denser population of mostly Beach and Birch trees. The last chop of the day was a foot-and-a-half thick White Birch that lay at the very bottom of the Stairs Col Trail. Given its size, Zeta and I paired for the chop, taking turns bearing down into a wide “V” of dense wood. Our Birch let off sharp booms under the rhythmic pound of our double-bits.

The patrol ended with a run out on the desolate Jericho Road — a roughly two-mile, unpaved road, beginning at the washed out bridge at the end of the Rocky Branch Trail. It was early evening as we jogged over the sandy ground; golden shards of light danced through the foliage that flanked our route. It was a monotonous, but pleasantly familiar trek. When we arrived at the road’s ending gate we were greeted by our jolly crew mates, who had brought good Cream Ale and laughter.

In just a few days all of us travelled to the Adirondack Mountains of New York, where we would go on to have a very successful summer of trail work — albeit away from our beloved White Mountain home. While we are all still trying to make peace with the unsavory way the 2021 AMC season ended for many of us, there is still a feeling that our work is not complete. The traditions and attitudes we’ve developed on this crew will no doubt endure within our stories, memories and choices in the jumbled maze of life. In the wake of this AMC kerfuffle I hope that the enduring, positive feelings that built this community will prevail over the messy squabbles of organizational politics.