Summit Registers

July 1, 2008

On June 17, 1896, three MIT students had bicycled from Boston to North Sandwich, N.H., to climb 4,043-foot Mount Passaconaway. Leaving from Birch Intervale, the former name for a section of the town of Tamworth, these men climbed the peak in less than three hours. They described the weather that day as “hazy, with occasional clouds passing by us.”

We know this only because it was recorded on one of AMC’s summit registers (pictured above), narrow booklets of thin parchment paper kept in metal cylinders and stored, according to instructions, “where [they] will not be likely to be carried away by ice or water, or be exposed to fire in the event of neighboring woods being burned.”

The register, which has scribbled hiker entries from 1893 through 1896, is part of a collection that were kept not only on Mount Passaconaway, but also on several of the peaks in the White Mountains. AMC members were asked to replace registers once filled, which generally happened every five years.

In an article that appeared in the June 1905 issue of Appalachia, Raymond M. Dow Adams writes that Benjamin Osgood is believed to have placed the first register on Mount Adams in 1854, and by 1876, there were only 20 names on it. Booklets were eventually filled once every other year on Adams.

The summit registers remained a popular outlet for hikers to record their achievements until 1908, when the cylinders began to be replaced with trailhead registers. (More than 30 of these historic summit registers are now stored in AMC’s archives.)

In his article, Dow Adams reflects, “There seems to be in humanity an inherent desire to record things. To cut, carve, write, print, stamp, stain, mark, dot, or engrave one’s name on all substances, movable and immovable, seems to be an almost overwhelming passion of youth…We make a discovery, or finish a worthy task, and we set it down, erecting a memorial, though it be only in writing.”

Images seen here appear courtesy of the AMC Library and Archives. Duplicates can be ordered for a fee. Funds support efforts to preserve the club’s historical collections. Contact Library and Archives at 617-391-6629, visit the website, or send an e-mail for details.

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