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"The Long, Long Trail A-Winding—"

One summer day three ambitious youngsters from Iowa arrived in Rocky Mountain Park in an old car, and without delay or preparation set out to climb Longs Peak. They reached the peak by late afternoon, and started down by what they thought to be a short cut. The route became increasingly steep and their shoes, without hobnails, slipped on the granite. The lads threw discretion to the wind and two of them tossed their shoes ahead of them, hoping to find them below. One boy stuffed his shoes inside his shirt and his ounce of judgment undoubtedly saved the lives of all three, for it was but a short time until they were trapped on a narrow ledge, with bruised feet, unable to proceed. The boy with the shoes made his way perilously back to the peak and down the regular trail to call the rangers. It was night when he reached the ranger station. Darkness, broken by lightning storms, delayed the "drag out" until the next day, when the two barefoot boys were found on their precipitous ledge, almost frozen.

Foolhardy recklessness causes practically all of the distress on the trails. Youngsters insist on blazing their own trails, against warnings of old-timers of the mountains. The world's record for "drag outs" is held by the rangers of Grand Canyon National Park, where the approaches to the park are at a high elevation. From the rim of the Canyon trails wind down to the river, and many people undertake the hike down into the Canyon. It is down hill all the way, and as the hiker continues to a lower elevation, respiration becomes unconsciously easier, until by the time the river has been reached he feels not the least tired and considers himself something of a hiker. Where they drop out is on the way back, up hill all the way, with altitude against them. It is exactly the reverse of the average hike. The "drag out" mules earn their keep at Grand Canyon, and the saying is that, though it's the same identical trail up or down, "it's seven miles down and seventy-seven miles back."

It should be added here that the hiker who keeps him self in trim by frequent walks about his home, who plans his trips and knows where he is going and about how long it will take, who understands his own physical condition and knows what he is equal to, almost never is humiliated by having to submit to a "drag out." The rash ones, the blundering ones, those who start out for a little walk and can never turn back as long as there is another bend in the trail, are the kind who make work for the "drag out " crew.

Of course, the confirmed hiker is not satisfied to hit the trail once or twice or three times a year when he can get away for a trip into the high mountains. He seeks out kindred spirits in his own neighborhood and together they explore the trails or country roads near by, and the first thing you know a new trail club has been born. The growth of these trail or mountaineering clubs until every city of importance has at least one and sometimes several would indicate that, the automobile to the contrary notwithstanding, Americans are using their legs for other purposes than to step on the gas pedal.

Trail clubs are not new to this generation, of course. The forerunner of them all in America, the Appalachian Club, celebrated its golden anniversary not long ago. Most of them have adopted a mountain and mothered it, as it were, with all of its glaciers, forests, streams, and meadows. Thus it has come about that most of the more worth-while mountains of the land have been saved for posterity.

When the Appalachian Club was formed half a century ago by a handful of trail enthusiasts in Boston, it seemed as if the wilderness known as the West never could be swallowed up. Yet within a man's lifetime that almost happened. The Appalachians first turned their attention to the White Mountains, which were then an impenetrable wilderness known to but a few trappers and timber prospectors. The Appalachians mapped the White Mountains and found no connected trail system by which they could tramp for days on end, though there were many short trails leading off from resorts or stations. It was then that the idea of the "Long, Long Trail" was evolved.

Today the Appalachian Club numbers its members by more than four thousand. It has a notable clubhouse in Boston and chapters in New York and several other eastern cities. Its leaders conduct weekly walking trips in the country about these population centers and head annual expeditions into the more remote wilderness. The club operates a chain of lodges and camps along the main trails of New England, capable of accommodating several hundred members each night. It was sponsor of a trail conference at which representatives of state governments and of trail clubs met and planned a great interstate continuous trail system extending from Georgia up the backbone of the eastern mountain range all the way to the northermost tip of Maine. This system of trails is now connected, and the eastern hiker can hit the trail anywhere along the "Long, Long Trail" and keep going for weeks on end without leaving the wilderness, yet all the time be within a hundred miles of a metropolis. The Appalachian Club is particularly interested in the national parks and forests of the northeastern states, especially Acadia Park and the White Mountains forests. The Potomac Appalachian Club's activities radiate from Washington, D.C. and extend all through the Blue Ridge, especially Shenandoah National Park, while the southern Appalachians are the prime interest of the Smoky Mountains Hikers Club with headquarters at Knoxville, Tennessee.

After the Appalachians had demonstrated what trails could do for the White Mountains, a group of trail lovers in Rutland, Vermont, assembled, organized, and adopted the Green Mountains as their particular orphan. The goal of the Green Mountain Club was the building of two hundred miles of trails in their mountains. This was achieved and met with such general approval that the club grew into a widespread organization with chapters m half a dozen cities, including New York.

When it comes to doing something big, the merit badge goes to the Sierra Club of California. Casting about for some bit of wilderness to which to be big brother and big sister, this trail society, founded in 1892 under the leadership of John Muir, the noted naturalist and sage of the mountains, adopted the Sierra Nevada. Thus the Sierra Clubbers became the god-fathers and god-mothers not only of the biggest mountain mass in the world, but also numerous living glaciers, the world's oldest and largest trees, the highest waterfalls, and the tallest peak in the United States, not to mention the country's lowest depression, Death Valley, nearly three hundred feet below sea level, right next door.


It goes without saying that looking after this vast area has kept the club busy. At least once each year the members pitch tent as near the timberline as possible, somewhere along the long John Muir Trail, skirting the skyline of the Sierra, and literally hundreds of men and women undertake personal inspections of the great Sierra peaks. The Sierrans hold that camp comfort adds to the joy of mountain climbing, so it is the practice of this organization to scour California for the best camp cook in the world, and his presence along with all the food anyone can eat, plus plenty of blankets to keep warm, adds to the zest of mountaineering.

This annual outing of the Sierra Club is a momentous affair, and the Sierrans take no chance of being incapacitated. To keep fit for the big hike each summer, they organize trail trips each week-end from San Francisco and Los Angeles, into the near-by mountains with which those favored cities are blessed. For all its enormous size, there probably is no mountain in the world so well explored, so thoroughly trailed, and so easily accessible as the Sierra Nevada. Six months of the year its higher regions are locked in the arms of winter, but during the arid California summers Sierra trails are dry and safe and the atmosphere is perfect for hiking. Four great national parks, Sequoia, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Lassen, lie in this fastness, and half a dozen national forests.

The Mazamas live in Oregon. Their name they share with a mythical mountain said by geologists to have been at one time among the highest peaks in the United States. Too late the Mazamas organized to protect this mountain for it tumbled into its hollow inside a million or so years ago and thus became Crater Lake. Nevertheless, they are the patrons of the defunct mountain and the more practical minded of the Mazamas have turned their attention to Mount Hood, not so high but probably as beautiful. Every time some engineer proposes to build an incline railway up Mount Hood, the Mazamas set up a terrific protest, with the result that all such ideas have failed. Mount Hood is reserved for those who travel by trail, as the Mazamas do, not only on its slopes, but in the verdant forests of Oregon.

The trail devotees of Washington found themselves well supplied with noble mountains, what with Rainier, Olympus, Baker, and others. Their society is called the Mountaineers, with headquarters in Seattle and chapters in Tacoma and Everett, while on the other side of the Cascades they are assisted in mothering the mountains by the Mountain Club of Spokane, independent but devoted to the same forests and trails.

There are numerous other trail clubs, each active in its sphere. The largest of the Rocky Mountain trail clubs is the Colorado Mountain Club, with headquarters in Denver. The annual summer outings of this club are spent high on the trails of Yellowstone, Glacier, or Rocky Mountain National Parks. The winter outings of the Colorado Mountain Club are held at Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park where for several days each February its members revel in snow sports at zero temperatures.

Nor is it necessary to have near-by mountains to adopt to justify a trail club. Chicago has a Prairie Club, with many hundreds of members, devoted to the cause of saving a little of the wilderness in the Great Lakes region. The Prairie Club turns to both the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians for annual outings on the trails. It is especially interested in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but the Smoky Mountains Hikers Club, one of the finest of all these outdoor climbers' organizations, claims this noble range and never a week goes by without a party of its members finding its way up a high peak or ridge in the most rugged of all the eastern mountains. The Pennsylvania Alpine Club, with chapters in several cities, musters several thousand trail enthusiasts pledged to the protection of the forests, the mountains, and the wild birds and animals of the state. And there are numerous other societies, among them the Izaak Walton League, the rolls of which include the names of 150,000 fishermen, hunters, and lovers of the out-of-doors interested in the conservation of the wilderness.


Oh, Ranger!
©1928, 1929, 1934, 1972, Horace M. Albright and Frank J. Taylor
albright-taylor/chap8a.htm — 06-Sep-2004