EARLY IN THE SPRING OF 1959 I walked into my office at Pinkham Notch Camp one morning when my inestimable secretary, Emmy Lou McLeod, asked if I had recently had a run-in with the forces of law and order? I replied that I could recall no such event, so what prompted the question? She handed me an envelope with a return address, 'Supreme Court of the United States'. The initials, 'WOD', appeared nearby. I was to learn that those initials would become very familiar to me in the weeks and months ahead. I immediately recalled that Fran Belcher, Executive Director of the Appalachian Mountain Club, had called me some two months previously, reporting that Justice William O. Douglas of the Court had called inquiring about the feasibility of arranging a brief hiking trip to the White Mountains later in the spring/early summer; Fran had referred the Judge to me.
I soon contacted Judge Douglas and ascertained that he wanted to take a brief hiking trip in the White Mountains so he could report the experience in a book he was writing about eastern mountains as a sequel to an earlier book about the NESS: THE PACIFIC WEST). I suggested a three-day trip with overnight stays at Madison Spring and Lakes-of-the-Clouds Huts respectively. After some pulling and hauling about schedules, we finally got our calendars in "synch" and I agreed to pick him up at the Portland Jetport in mid-June, just prior to the Court's summer break. I soon learned that when dealing with luminaries from our nation's capitol, privacy becomes a scarce commodity. The media has an efficient information pipeline, and sure enough, there were several reporters already gathered around the Judge when I arrived on the scene to pick him up at the Portland airport.
I observed that he was an old hand in dealing with the media, kept his answers brief and indicated that he had to move on. We had not met before but I quickly identified myself, escorted him to my car and we headed for Pinkham Notch. On the way, I outlined the brief hiking trip I had planned and told him I had invited Rick Goodrich, Androscoggin District Ranger, US Forest Service and Paul Doherty, District Chief, NH Fish & Game Department to accompany us. The following morning I showed the Judge around Pinkham Notch Camp and explained how it functioned as the focal point for the hut system. Following an early lunch, we were driven to Randolph after a brief stop at the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area, which had recently completed its initial season.
The weather was not exactly ideal for picture taking but it was good for climbing in that it was cool. It was not raining but the cloud level was down to about 4500 feet on the high peaks. In Randolph, as one looked up at the Presidential Range, the outlook was not particularly encouraging to start a trip above treeline, but it was at this point that I discovered Justice Douglas was truly an experienced mountain man when he took the "glass is half full" view by stating something to the effect that mountain weather is notorious for quick changes, conditions were not bad, let's go!!
In choosing our route to Madison Huts, ( at that juncture, the site included the main hut, a small pumphouse, and old Madison #2, used for storage) I decided to climb through King Ravine and up the headwall through the "Gateway" where Durand Ridge joins Mt. Adams and overlooks the Madison-Adams Col. I knew the judge had traveled extensively around the world and was an experienced tramper, yet he was in his mid-sixties, about the same age as my own father. I wanted him to enjoy a good hike with rewarding views but I had no intention of killing him! Imagine my chagrin when I learned during the climb (about halfway up the headwall) that some years earlier he had almost been killed in a serious accident when a horse rolled on him in the remote backcountry out in the west breaking several ribs; the ensuing rescue by US Forest Service personnel was both heroic and traumatic. Helicopter rescue was not an option, the Judge was in great pain, and the USFS personnel were stretched to the limit in successfully evacuating him. The end result was that the Judge had only one good lung. He managed always to keep moving no matter how steep and rough the terrain, using the mountaineers' time-honored slow and steady pace. Under the circumstances, he climbed well!
Brud Warren, Editor of the Berlin Reporter and a good friend of the AMC and hut system had called me earlier upon learning of the coming visit by the Judge, and was anxious to arrange an interview. I told him we would start our hike at the Ravine House, located at the Valleyway trailhead along old route #2 in Randolph, one of the last of the old inns still functioning which would close its doors the following year! It had been involved with the evolution of tramping in the northern Presidentials since the very first days almost a century earlier, and was particularly associated with the Madison Huts. The Judge and I met Brud around 1:00 p.m. and they chatted for a short time. Rick Goodrich and Paul Doherty were to meet us at suppertime up at the hut so the Judge and I soon set off alone along the lower reaches of the Valleyway, most frequequently used trail to Madison Huts, then diverged to the Airline once across the railroad tracks at Appalachia, and then onto the Short Line into King Ravine where we paused briefly at Mossy Falls for a breather. Here I explained to the Judge the background for the great maze of foot trails in the Randolph Valley. I pointed out, also, the choices one has here of taking either the "Subway" or the "Elevated" routes, the Great Gully Trail, or bypassing the headwall altogether and opting for the Chemin des Dames, which takes a direct line to the Durand Ridge and the upper Airline. The Judge soaked in the impressive view one has there in coming out of the trees, which to this point obscures those views! At Mossy Falls we refreshed ourselves from Cold Brook and learned first hand how it received its name! The Judge really enjoyed his first, and only, visit to King Ravine and often commented about this remarkable glacial cirque.
We did have one incident during the climb which could have resulted in a more serious outcome. When we started the steep climb up the headwall, I suggested that the Judge go first so I could be in a better position to help should he slip. He preferred to have me lead, principally because the trail was not clearly marked in some places. We were crossing a slab well up the headwall when I heard a gasp. I turned around and saw the Judge sprawled between two large boulders, resting on the top of a scraggly birch tree, beneath which was a drop of about twenty feet and his western style Stetson, to which he was duly devoted, had fallen from his head and was down on the ground. I climbed down to retrieve the hat and advised him that if anything happened to him, I was going to head for Montreal and keep on going! He still insisted that I lead. By the time we reached the Gateway at the top of the headwall, it was getting dark due to the low-hanging clouds just over our heads, and it was approaching suppertime! We quickly reached the junction of the Airline and Gulfside trails, and took a left turn on the Gulfside just as a break in the clouds revealed a light from the hut far below us, nestled in the Col. The Judge was tickled to see our destination so relatively close at hand and said later on that it was the highlight of the trip. (No pun intended) By that time he was getting tired and hungry and I believe we both were looking forward to a "happy hour" before supper!
Rick and Paul were both on hand with just one other guest, a former German fighter pilot of the Luftwaffe who had been shot down over England and spent a lengthy prison term there. Fortunately, he spoke English fairly well. Interestingly enough, Rick had served in the Second Marine Division, surviving the fierce battle at Tarawa where he lost many close friends, while Paul served in a UDT unit in Okinawa (underwater demolition). Since none of us had served in the European Theater and had not contacted Germans "up close and personal", we did not have the deep-rooted biases we might otherwise have "enjoyed" and carefully steered the conversation to subjects other than WWII. We enjoyed a pleasant evening listening to Justice Douglas describe some of his interesting world travels, along with a few choice anecdotes about life in Washington. Not all of the summer crew had yet arrived, but I do remember Doug Kirkwood being present who was to "star" a year later in the National Geographic story by virtue of his "ringer" in the horseshoe pit, duly recorded by photographer, Kathleen Revis. The Judge enjoyed talking with Paul and Rick. They exchanged views about the US Forest Service in general, and the White Mountain National Forest in particular. The Judge had wide experience with the US Forest Service in the west, and not all of his comments were complimentary. The Judge was curious by nature and asked all of us many questions about our experiences here on the WMNF, especially about flora and fauna. The following morning we four set out across the Gulfside, the principal route traversing the northern Presidentials. Here the hiker has the option of climbing over the summits or circum-venting them in making one's way from Madison Hut to Mt. Washington via Mts. Adams, Jefferson, and Clay; we chose the latter course. We all took turns recounting various stories for the Judge which we thought he would find of interest: for example, the trail building feats of Professor Edmands and his work crews who smoothed out portions of the Gulfside and where even today some sections of the route are more like a sidewalk than a rough mountain trail; the extreme weather one may encounter above treeline; the Edmands Col Shelter and arguments for and against emergency shelters; the variety of flora and fauna, (beaver and moose viewed above treeline); some of the more noteworthy searches & rescues encountered; the max wind of 231 mph. recorded at the Mt. Washington Observatory in April, 1934; the Curtis- Ormsby tragedy on Mt. Washington in June, 1900; these and many other stories were related during the three day hike.
Somewhere along the Gulfside when hiking with the Judge, I said I remembered that the National Geographic Magazine had done a story about the White Mountains in the mid-1930's, " Do you suppose the NGS would be interested in doing a story on current hut operations"? Justice Douglas observed that he thought it a good suggestion and that he knew Melvin Bell Grosvenor, President of the Society, well and would broach the subject to him; if there were any interest he would let me know so I could travel to Washington and meet with them both. Thus the seed was planted which resulted ultimately in the return visit to the hut system the following summer by the Judge, photographer Kathleen Revis and with a supporting cast of hut crews.
Meanwhile, to complete the 1959 story, we stopped near Mt. Clay for lunch. The weather was favorable and we had a fine view to the northwest, looking down on the famous Mount Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods, site of the International Mone- tary Conference of 1944. Far below near the Base Station of the Cog Railway, we could see puffs of smoke as the railway crews prepared the engines for the imminent tourist season just about upon us. After lunch we began the long slow climb past Mt. Clay's summit cone and on up the summit cone of Mt. Washington. The Judge particularly enjoyed the view down into the Great Gulf where we could just make out tiny Spalding Lake, where Paul Doherty, aided and abetted by other conservation officers and friends, had backpacked fingerling brook trout over a period of years in an effort to restock the pond but with no success; the trout all seemed to winter-kill due to the shallowness of the pond. None the less, for those who took part in these trips packing down the long, steep and rough, Great Gulf Headwall burdened with sloshing cans of fish, sleeping bags, "O Be Joyful", steaks and other essentials, was the fodder for many a campfire story then and now, all too long to recount here.
We reached the summit of Mt. Washington around mid-afternoon. After introducing the Judge to the Observatory crew and explaining the various uses the summit premises provided for the Cog RR, the Auto Road, the AMC, UNH, Mt. Washington TV, etc., we departed down the Crawford Path for Lakes-of-the-Clouds Hut. The weather was clear but cool and we enjoyed a brisk hike to the hut. The Judge enjoyed meeting the hut crew and a modest sized group of guests, including Dr. Larry Bliss, a botanist from the University of Illinois, who was particularly helpful in identifying some of the alpine plants which were beginning to blossom in the general vicinity of the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Justice Douglas noted that he had seen some of the very same plants in the Brooks Range in Alaska. We spent another enjoyable evening, telling mountain stories and perhaps even a few "war" stories. Here we were joined by Lee Kelley from the Supervisor's office, WMNF in Laconia, an old friend who eventually went on to bigger assign- ments in the USFS. I know the judge enjoyed talking with Lee who had spent considerable time in the western states working for the USFS, and of course, Justice Douglas was from the State of Washington and at the time called Goose Prairie, Washington, home.
At that time, Lakes Hut had not entertained a major construction project since the 1947/48 effort which had reconstructed much of the hut, but at that location, buildings age quickly and some of the bunkrooms reflected that fact; we slept in the "overflow" bunkroom which was practically on the Crawford Path/ Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail junction. It was a chilly night and when waking in the morning, I said "Judge, how did you sleep?" He replied, " I slept cold", doubtless referring to the inadequacies of the AMC blankets, never famous for their ability to counter the hypothermic tendencies one can encounter at the higher elevations. I had hoped it might be possible to take the Judge down over the famous headwall of Tuckerman Ravine, but there was too much snowcover to allow a safe descent, so we elected to stay on the Boott Spur trail which, after all did allow for some fine views into the Ravine. We were back at Pinkham Notch Camp by noontime in time for a quick change of clothes and lunch, following which I drove the Judge back to Portland for his airplane to Washington. He advised me that he would contact Dr. Grosvenor at the Geographic and keep me posted about the outcome.
Later in the autumn I received word from the Judge that he had met with Dr. Grosvenor who was enthusuastic about the concept of a story about the AMC Hut System. The judge asked when it would be convenient for me to visit him in Washington and to meet with Dr. Grosvenor to discuss the project. I advised him that I expected to attend the Sportsman's Show at the Coliseum in New York City during the winter, and I could plan to visit Washington following the Show.
I teamed up with Paul Doherty to help staff the New Hampshire booth at the Show in February, 1960, both of us having previous experience at such shows in the past. I had been keeping Paul advised of my plans with the Judge and had already secured airplane tickets to Washington. My old friend Bertram "Swoop" Goodwin, another former Marbleheader and ex-AMC employee currently working for the U.S. Postal Service, had invited me to stay with him on my brief trip. A new wrinkle developed when Governor Wes Powell of New Hampshire stopped by the booth at the Sportsman's Show. During the course of conversation, he learned of Justice Douglas' proposed trip to New Hampshire. He asked therefore, if Paul and I were planning to attend the annual sportsman's dinner sponsored by the New York Rod and Gun Club that very evening with Justice Douglas as the principal speaker? Of course we answered in the negative due to the scarcity of available tickets and their high costs!
The Governor responded "I want you both to go and don't worry about the tickets! Be at the Hampshire House (his favorite New York hotel) at 5:30 p.m. in civilian clothes, come to my suite and we'll all go down together. And George, I want you to introduce me to Justice Douglas!" Paul and I agreed with the game plan, but Paul pointed out that his boss, Fish & Game Director Ralph Carpenter might be surprised at this turn of events. Governor Powell advised Paul not to worry about a thing, he would arrange everything. And he did, for his administrative assistant, Maurice "Moe" Murphy, later to become N.H. Attorney General, took care of the details for us. Of course, I was delighted with the turn of events and later in the evening when advising Justice Douglas of our change in plans, he immediately invited us to his house for dinner in Washington the next evening.
Paul quickly arranged to stay with one of his brothers who lived in nearby Maryland. He was able to secure a seat on the same airplane I was scheduled for, so the following day we flew to Washington. The Judge insisted on picking us both up at our re- spective lodgings in time for dinner at his home. We had a most delightful evening and enjoyed meeting Mrs. Douglas (Mercedes). Following a delicious dinner, we exchanged anecdotes (mountain adventures) while sipping slivovitz which the Yugoslavian Ambassador had given them! Around midnight I suggested that I call for a taxi, but the Judge insisted on personally driving us back to our respective lodgings, reminding us that he would be picking us up at 8:00 a.m. for breakfast at the Yale Club!
This gold-plated treatment by the Judge for these two country boys continued the following day. After a fine breakfast at the Yale Club, we visited the National Geographic Society headquarters, a lovely new building just recently completed. Justice Douglas introduced us to Dr. Melville Bell Grosvenor, a charming gentleman of the old school who personally escorted us around the facilities. In due time we discussed the proposed article and learned that Dr. Grosvenor's sister-in-law, Kathleen Revis, would be the photographer assigned to the story. Dr. Grosvenor appeared enthused about the project and thought it a "natural" for the Geographic magazine!
The Judge and I were in sporadic correspondence over the next few months. It was agreed that he would come to Pinkham Notch to visit the huts in June whenever his schedule allowed, while I would do my best to coordinate the hut visits and help out with transportation to and from the airports. Meanwhile, Kathleen and I discussed her role and agreed that she would decide how much time she needed to obtain photos for the story. She would come to Pinkham ahead of the Judge in order to familiarize herself with hut operations. Kathleen proved to be an easy person to work with. She was independent, a good hiker, self-reliant and an excellent photographer. Much of the success of the endeavor can be attributed to her skill with her camera!
I was thankful for this opportunity to become acquainted with Associate Justice Bill Douglas, one of the leading jurists of our time; a man with a love for the out-of-doors and an innate curiosity to learn more about everything he saw. He was a real "people person" with a fine sense of humor, and particularly liked young people. He enjoyed talking with the hut crews and sharing anecdotes with them. Through him I determined to become more familiar with alpine flora myself, for like most hutmen I had tramped over, around and on the delicate flowers for years. In the next few years I became better acquainted with them, thanks to the help of folks like Miriam Underhill, Brad Swan, Slim Harris, Fred Steele, Larry Bliss and others. The end result of the Judge's trip in 1959 was to provide a chapter on the White Mountains in his book, MY WILDERNESS: EAST TO KATAHDIN, an accounting seldom equalled of the flora and fauna surrounding the hut system of the AMC. The Judge's attention to detail was outstanding! And, of course, this trip laid the groundwork for the NGS story, "The Friendly Huts of the White Mountains" which appeared in the August, 1961 issue of the Geographic magazine.
Although there have been times I questioned the wisdom of beginning the alpine flower guided tours, held each June, which we started in 1959, I am pleased to have had a hand in helping visitors to the hut system appreciate the flora and fauna. Likewise, the NGS story about the hut system provided a great impetus businesswise, and any regrets we might have had about the increase in hikers over the fragile mountain trails is offset, in my opinion, in the recognition that the "outdoor recreation explosion" of the late 1950's and which carried ever onward into the sixties, would have inevitably reached the White Mountains without the influence of a story such as the NGS piece. In retrospect, the story spread the reputation of the Appalachian Mountain Club wider and in a positive vein. It is my hope that the hutmen, and women, who have contributed to the success of the hut system through the years, share my pride in participating in the story.George Hamilton was the AMC Huts Manager.