Summer Journal: A Path Leads to Many Answers
Valley News Staff Writer David Corriveau heads down the trail with the summit of Mount Cube over his shoulder after spending the morning at Hexacuba Shelter in Orford, N.H., Friday, July 25, 2014.
A group of summer school students in the Rivendell Interstate School District had left a questionnaire for hikers, and Corriveau filled it out. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Chris Nielsen, of Yorktown, Va., repairs his shoe as Abby Kaija, 15, of Reading, Vt., left, and Sage Fagbohun, 16, of Frederick, Md., middle, settle in at Hexacuba shelter with their Student Conservation Association crew in Orford Friday, July 25, 2014. Nielsen started hiking as a Boy Scout, and during his time in the Navy, he hiked and climbed mountains in locations around the world.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
After a 14 mile day hiking from Glencliff, N.H., Chris Nielsen of Yorktown, Va., fills his water bottles in a small stream near the Hexacuba Shelter on the Appalachian Trail in Orford, N.H., Friday, July 25, 2014. A retired endodontist, Nielsen is section hiking from Gorham, N.H. to Rutland, Vt.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Molly Barth, 25, of Missoula, Mont. tests a piece of forest floor before pitching her tent at the Hexacuba site on the Appalachian Trail in Orford Friday, July 25, 2014. Barth is a leader with a Student Conservation Association crew that is hiking from Woodstock, Vt. to Franconia, N.H. The crew did five days of trail work at Holt's Ledge during their trip.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
To: The nine 8th- and 9th-g raders-to-be from Rivendell Academy who are surveying hikers on the Appalachian Trail, as part of their work at summer school.
From: David Corriveau
Re: The notebook you left at Hexacuba Shelter, asking hikers traveling between Mount Cube and Smarts Mountain in Orford to share their experiences and thoughts.
During a rest stop on my day hike last Friday, I found the notebooks and survey questions that you and another group of classmates had dropped off at Hexacuba Shelter the day before, along with cookies, for hikers to answer. Considering how much my handwriting skills have slipped since my graduation from high school 40 years ago, I decided to respond on the pages of the Valley News to the questions in the notebook aimed at day hikers as well as long-distance travelers on the Appalachian Trail.
On my way home from the hike, I stopped at Rivendell Academy for a little more information about the project. Nate Cutting, the English teacher who’s working with you at summer school along with math teacher Chris White and student teachers Amber and Autumn Brooks (Rivendell graduates now at the University of New Hampshire) , told me that this project is part of an effort to introduce you to biographies, reading and thinking and writing about the lives of other people, famous and otherwise. While you’ll probably read more interesting stories about other hikers who pass through the shelter — especially the ones trying to complete the 2,200-mile journey on the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in one season — here are my answers to your questions:
What do you do for a job?
I write stories for the Valley News — mostly about entertainment, arts, literature, education and health for the Close-Up section these days. Over the last almost 27 years, I’ve also covered sports, including games and human-interest stories about students at Rivendell Academy and, before that, Orford High School, as well as local government and crimes and accidents and fires.
How often do you hike this trail?
I haven’t hiked this stretch of the Appalachian Trail — the J Trail section between South Jacobs Brook and the summit of Mount Cube — for at least 16 years; might be 20 by now. Back when I was writing a column called “Trail of the Week” for the Valley News sports section in 1993 and 1994, or trying to catch up with interesting people who were hiking the whole Appalachian Trail — I used to come up here two or three times a summer.
What is your nickname?
Some people call me Dave. A few call me D2. If I were hiking the whole Appalachian Trail, I would probably go by Mr. Magoo, since my eyesight isn’t very good.
How many times have you walked this trail?
Maybe 10 times.
Have you ever been on the Cross Rivendell Trail?
I’ve only hiked on the last part of Cross Rivendell between Baker Road and the top of Mount Cube, maybe seven or eight times back in the 1990s. I still hope to walk the rest of it someday, going through Orford, Fairlee and West Fairlee.
Is this the only trail you hiked? If not, then can you tell us the other trails you have hiked?
The first trail I ever hiked was the 19-Mile Brook Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, from Route 16 near Pinkham Notch to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s hut in Carter Notch, between my sophomore and junior years of high school. A few weeks later, I hiked up Mount Washington with an aunt and a cousin, an outing that made me a devoted fan of hiking and the mountains. A year later, at age 16, I tried to hike the Long Trail, which goes more than 270 miles through Vermont from the Massachusetts state line to the border with Canada. I only made it the first 25 miles north from Massachusetts before deciding it was more than I could handle. I’ve hiked a few small pieces here and there since, and still hope someday to do it all in one trip. Over the years, I’ve hiked all of the Appalachian Trail through the Upper Valley, from Pico Peak in Vermont to Mount Moosilauke in New Hampshire, and most of the A.T. through the White Mountains between Lonesome Lake and Route 2 in Shelburne. Between 1975 and 1981 I tried a few times to complete the part of the A.T. between Shelburne and Grafton Notch in western Maine — a group of mountains called the Mahoosucs — but ran into a variety of problems (one of which you’ll read about below) that forced me to bail out. In 1982, I spent three weeks on an Outward Bound expedition in the Canyonlands of Utah; since then, I’ve mostly done day hikes.
What are your favorite hobbies?
I enjoy reading, listening to and going to concerts of folk and rock music with my wife, going to antique car shows and dog shows with my wife, and running 35-40 miles a week. I’d like to get back in the habit of hiking on the days between runs. We have so many good places to go around the Upper Valley.
What is your favorite food?
It used to be fried chicken and fried clams. Now it’s probably fresh fish, especially salmon. Before I go running, I like to eat soft cookies with lots of chocolate in them.
Did you hike when you were a kid?
I did my first hike (mentioned above) at age 15, and went for many more during summer vacations from high school and college.
What advice do you have for summer school students?
Along with meeting your minimum requirements to advance to the next grade, I hope that you work hard enough in your classes this coming fall, winter and spring that you can be free next summer to go hiking and otherwise enjoy the outdoors. Most of all, read as much as you can outside of school: It can be the local newspaper, or a sports magazine (I decided to become a writer while reading Sports Illustrated), or a science fiction novel or a biography. Whatever interests you or takes you away to another place or another point of view. If you read about the Appalachian Trail, I recommend Walking with Spring, Earl Shaffer’s account of being the first person to hike the whole trail, in 1948, and Blind Faith, Bill Irwin’s story of hiking the trail with a seeing-eye dog in 1990. I met and wrote about both men: Shaffer while he was doing the Trail again, 50 years after his first trip, and Irwin while following his German shepherd Orient’s nose and eyes through the Upper Valley. Another good book is Our Last Backpack, by Daniel Doan, who grew up in Orford and went on to write the guidebook, 50 Hikes in the White Mountains. In 1993, the Dartmouth Outing Club renamed a former link of the Appalachian Trail up Smarts Mountain for Doan.
We’ve been learning about people hiking trails. What’s the most dangerous experience you’ve had?
In June 1990, my wife and I hiked up a former route of the A.T. to the top of Bunker Hill in West Hartford, on a very hot, humid day. On the way down the new route of the trail, we ran into a huge thunderstorm. Each bolt of lightning pierced the darkness, enough for us to see a herd of deer fleeing for cover, and we heard the thunder way too soon after each flash. Once we descended to the relative safety of the forest below, the rain started falling, as hard as you see in movies about the jungles of India or Africa or the Amazon, until we practically were surfing the rest of the way to the road. To this day, we’re not sure how we made it out unhurt. Helps to be young, I guess ...
Maybe the next most dangerous experience was in the Mahoosucs of Maine in October of 1981. After a poor night’s sleep in a shelter at Speck Pond, I descended southwest into Mahoosuc Notch, considered by most hikers as the hardest mile of the 2,200 of the Appalachian Trail. I was already tired, and there was still frost on some of the many boulders in the notch. At one place where you have to climb up using your arms, I wasn’t patient enough to take off my backpack and put it on the rock above me. With my pack weighing me down, my boot slipped on the frosty rock behind me and I hit my chin on the boulder I was trying to climb, hard enough to send my eyeglasses flying off my face and to the trail below. Luckily, two hikers right behind me were there to help me retrieve my glasses and clean up my chin — which still bears the scar. They then followed me as far as the next trail out, which I followed to a road where I hitchhiked to the nearest town, and got eight stitches in my chin.
How often do you take breaks while hiking?
The number of breaks I take depends on how many views I find on the way up or down, how long and steep and muddy the trail is, how hot or cold or rainy the day is, and, when I’m hiking with someone else, how fast that person can go and still hold a conversation.
What is your favorite part of the trail when hiking?
My favorite part of this piece of the Appalachian Trail, the J Trail, is probably the Eastman Ledges in the first half mile, with the views out to Smarts Mountain and Quintown. I also enjoy the views between Hexacuba and the top of Mount Cube, and from the top of Cube itself, especially to the high peaks of the White Mountains. My favorite part of the Appalachian Trail in the Upper Valley is probably in Pomfret, along the ridgeline between Cloudland Farm and Pomfret Road.
What made you want to do this trail?
I like the quiet along the J Trail; on this most recent hike, I heard almost nothing from civilization except for a train whistle in Vermont and one airplane overhead. And with no signal to my cell phone, so nobody could reach me and I couldn’t reach anybody. Also, I was hoping to meet long-distance hikers at the shelter, to do a story in today’s paper about the different kinds of people who stop at Hexacuba Shelter either to relax or to stay the night. For some reason, nobody came through while I was there, so I started reading the logbooks that the Dartmouth Outing Club keeps there for hikers, and then I found your notebooks, and decided that they would make a better story.
Thanks for asking; good luck with the rest of your summer, and your lives.
— David Corriveau
P.S. I also saw the notebook that another group of Rivendell summer-school students left for hikers doing the whole Appalachian Trail. If I hit Powerball and live long enough, I’d like to hike all 2,200 miles in one trip — I’m only 57, and in pretty good shape for my age, so there’s time — and maybe answer those kinds of questions from a new group of summer-school students.
David Corriveau can be reached at email@example.com and at 603-727-3304.