Memories of Hump Brook by Aimee Reichert (Originally published in the Long Trail News.)
My first week was tough. So much in my life was changing. I was recovering from an emergency tonsillectomy that occurred the month before my first walk up the Monroe Trail. A couple months earlier I had been completing my bachelor’s degree in psychology with a final course in ecopsychology that caused me to become disillusioned with society, a sort of classic existential crisis. Serendipitously, I went on an overnight trip to Hump Brook on Camel’s Hump before graduation, and met my first GMC caretaker. I remember thinking, “Hey, I want to live in the woods! I could be like this lady, a GMC caretaker!” One interview, a college graduation, and a minor hospitalization later, I was schlepping through the rain, up the Monroe Trail to the Hump Brook tent platforms on Camel’s Hump feeling skinny, tired, and out of shape, with an outdoor resume that included only day hikes and summer camp.
Fortunately it stopped raining, and I began settling into my new home. I eased in slowly, hiking only a few miles a day. By my third week I was visiting the summit of Camel’s Hump several times a week, and hiking more than fifty miles a week. I grew accustomed to living by the light of the sun. In the morning I woke, pumped water, made breakfast, splashed my face in Hump Brook, and started my undirected tramp around the mountain. I started to understand that my job was to be a presence, to offer education, advice and a friendly smile.
It did not feel like work, at least the kind of work I ever imagined myself doing. Even when I spent hours trying to clear a fallen tree from a trail or I had to strap on a pack board and carry thirty-to-forty pound bags of bark mulch to the composting privy three miles away, it felt like I was getting paid to walk around and be nice to people and trees.
The only time it was hard was when people seemed not to care. Summit stewardship was part of the job: being an advocate for the ecosystem. Camel’s Hump is one of three mountains in Vermont with a fragile alpine ecosystem. Thousands of hikers pass through in a season. That’s a lot of heavy footsteps. Most people were respectful and appreciative of the Leave No Trace principles, but a handful did not adopt a stewardship ethic. Fortunately the receptive overpowered the ignorant, and I shared many beautiful days with amazing hikers from all over the world.
I spent just over three months on Camel’s Hump, learning the placement of many rocks and trees and talking to thousands of people about the importance of respecting the backcountry. I found my secret spots where I could be so still. This day a boulder by the beaver pond on the Dean Trail is the happy place I go in my mind when I need to relax.
I hiked out through fall foliage on a cold October day, recalling my first painful hike into the woods, barely able to carry my pack. As I reached the parking lot I realized my life path had shifted dramatically. This new path required sturdier footwear than the flats I might have worn in the office.
I spent the next year travelling to New Zealand, hiking, backpacking, returning to the GMC as a Mount Mansfield caretaker. I finally discovered a career that allowed me both to continue my personal healing journey in the woods and to share the journey with others: wilderness therapy. I completed my master’s education in wilderness therapy in 2007. I have been in and out of the woods ever since, always grounded by the memory of those days close to the land on Camel’s Hump.
Marty Leake says
You have written some great articles. I’m researching the details of the Appalachian trail in Vermont for a novel I’m writing. I came across the word “Wilderness Therapy” and the further I searched for more informaiton I have been elated with what I have discovered.”
I want to thank you as I’m considering hiking the 149 miles of the AT in Vermont to assist in my research for my novel.
Great writing and thanks again.
Nigel William says
Hi, GMC Staff and Aimee! This story is so inspiring! It really shows how nature can make us get to know ourselves better through getting to know nature and her life. It`s nice to know that anyone can find their place and peace in nature.