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Straightening out Ethan Pond Shelter: new life for an old friend

October 5, 2015

Ethan PondEthan Pond Shelter is special among the shelters AMC manages in the White Mountain fleet. It is the oldest standing shelter, built in 1957 by an AMC Trail Crew. It is the only shelter built with vertical logs. It is the only shelter in a very long stretch of Appalachian Trail. It is our lowest use campsite, its most popular visitors being moose and bears. It is special, and when the time came recently to think about its future, we weighed the careful decision of repair and replacement, and even removal. And because of all these special reasons, including dry and stable framing, the decision came to repair our old friend and gentle spirit, Ethan Pond Shelter.

Ethan Pond Shelter
Ethan Pond Shelter, crooked.

The problem Ethan suffered was wracking due to lack of horizontal and cross-braced supports, as well as erosion in the front foundation rocks. The rehabilitation style would be to honor the native log construction technique, using trees cut and peeled on site. We decided on sets of cross bracing in as many corners as possible, as well as reinforcing the ridgeline and horizontal supports. Holding those braces in place are the modern convention of Timberlock screws, but covered with dowel plugs as utilized in the original construction.

Of course…..how do you straighten a shelter? Very carefully. And, it turns out, very quickly.

Armed with two griphoists, a spool of Amsteel (wildly strong rope, worth googling when you get a chance), and a general plan, the project began on a Wednesday afternoon. We started by setting up a front anchor to the two front posts, to ensure we wouldn’t accidentally pull the shelter off the footing. The next step was cinching the shelter with a long section of Amsteel, and anchoring that to a second griphoist that would do the actual work of pulling the shelter into line. Looking at the picture above, it might look like some dental floss and not much else. But it worked.

Watching the shelter come into alignment was like watching a flower bloom, in the words of one of the crew. As the griphoist pulled slowly, the movement was subtle but powerful. If you closed your eyes briefly and looked back you would noticed the difference and the gentle movement. Occasional pops and cracks alerted us to the gravity of the work and the seriousness of the task. And then, the shelter was straight.

The task of straightening an old and dear shelter is not one of total straight lines, of measured SpeedSquare angles or of engineered perfection. Just like the crew that built it, the crew that rehabilitated it aimed for visual beauty and rugged perfection. Or, in brief, ‘that looks about right.’

We have a deep and important connection to Ethan Pond Shelter through a local trails celebrity, Ben English, who was one of the crew who built it while he was on AMC Trail Crew. Ben, throughout this process, has been supportive, curious, and also kind enough to loan me the news article that I pulled these photos from. He helped me develop a nice chronicle for Ethan Pond, that you can find here. He has also promised a musing of his own on his relationship with Ethan, in its new form.

Ethan Pond Shelter
Bracing Ethan’s Walls 2015, and Raising Ethan’s Walls 1957

There are some things that have not changed much since 1957. It took all summer to prepare the logs, and the photo that opens this post sums up the experiences of the two caretakers that spent their days peeling logs. The crew wore plaid and brown pants. They came from afar and came from New England. The techniques of log work, while aided by tools like chainsaws, still involved hand tools and patience.

By Friday the crew had installed all the braces and horizontal supports that we had planned on. And with baited breath, they released the griphoists.

Ethan Pond Shelter stayed upright, and will stand proudly for another half century. May Ethan Pond Shelter outlive us all.

Ethan Pond Shelter
Ethan Pond Shelter, 2015.
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