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Thread: Backcountry Campsites Popularity

  1. #1
    Junior Member 4Paws4Feet's Avatar
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    Backcountry Campsites Popularity

    I am looking to stay at the Imp Campsite this weekend. Can anyone tell me how popular/busy this gets?

    Expanding on that question, what are the most popular campsites in the Whites? Can anyone rank them, from most to least used? This obviously isn't an exact science, but in planning backpacking trips, its good to know which one I should start earlier in the day, in order to give myself a better shot at landing a spot.

    Thanks!

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    Moderator David Metsky's Avatar
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    In my experience, the most popular ones are Guyot and Liberty Springs, with Kinsman Pond, Garfield, Nauman, the Valley Way tentsite, and the Perch following behind.
    You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose. -- Dr. Seuss

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    Senior Member Mike P.'s Avatar
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    I'd say Imp is pretty close behind Dave's list. The closer they are to 4K peaks, generally the more popular. They run the gamut also, Guyot because it is close to what many consider one of the longer day trips, the Bonds. Nauman because it can be easy to reach via the Mizpah cut-off and allows you to get water at the hut. (Not sure if they are allowed to eat meals there for a fee also.)

    Later in the summer, you will also have thru hikers along the AT corridor, Imp would be one of those, the South bounders may be thru already or you may have to contend with them, although they are a small number in comparison to their northbound brethren.
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    Senior Member Guthook's Avatar
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    Very good question! I'll be staying at 13 Falls tonight, so I can report on that tomorrow. I'm afraid it's going to be packed, but that's based on my last experience camping there, which was six years ago.
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    One nice remote campsite rarely used is the one south of Rogers Ledge on the Kilkenny ridge trail. Unknown Pond gets traffic but this one doesn't. Nice spot as the trail in either direction are old logging grades except for the stretch up the ledges from the south. The tentsites at the former Mt Langdon shelter also tends not to get much use. Its been awhile but the lean to on the Coppermine trail (if its still exists) get little use. Destination spots will always be busy and shelters along the AT get heavy use.

    The great gulf has several "designated camping areas" that are not well documented and don't get anywhere near as much use than previously.

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    Senior Member Guthook's Avatar
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    As expected, 13 Falls was full and had to resort to its overflow site on Saturday. Relatively quiet, despite the crowds, but it got me wondering about the Forest Service's plans for backcountry camping in high use areas.

    The availability of official tenting sites seems to depend on which region of the Whites you're in-- in the Great Gulf and Dry River wildernesses I've seen lots of small, signed tent sites that aren't listed on maps. In the Wild River Wilderness, there are official tent sites where shelters used to be. In the Pemi, almost every major stream crossing has at least one campsite next to it that is technically illegal (less than 200 feet from trail and water), but otherwise the FS seems to rely on people going 200 feet off trail to camp (which seems like wishful thinking, considering how dense the undergrowth is throughout most of the area. From what I've seen, I doubt most people bother with this rule). I'm curious to hear from folks with more experience in the Whites what they've seen over the years as far as trends in backcountry campsites.
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    Senior Member hikerbrian's Avatar
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    Where is the 13 Falls overflow site? I've always been curious what would happen if I arrived and the place was full. I'm also curious what happens with Guyot? I assume that Guyot fills up and overflows practically every night in the summer, and on epic proportions on nice weekends.
    Sure. Why not.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Guthook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hikerbrian View Post
    Where is the 13 Falls overflow site? I've always been curious what would happen if I arrived and the place was full. I'm also curious what happens with Guyot? I assume that Guyot fills up and overflows practically every night in the summer, and on epic proportions on nice weekends.
    Guyot has some overflow camping up on the ridge just south of the junction to the campsite. 13 Falls has an overflow site near the kitchen (hidden until the caretaker decides to send people there). At sites with large tent platforms, the caretaker usually tries to get several tents on a single platform before filling up the overflow site.

    The crowds at those sites is something that concerns me, though-- It seems to me like when those campsites fill up, which is often, it encourages people to make camp at much worse sites right alongside the trail in sensitive areas. I've seen plenty of tents pitched right along Twinway when Guyot fills up, and the impact those sites leaves in the alpine forest is pretty ugly.
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    When I first started visiting the whites around 1977, the backpacking and outdoors boom was on. If you have access to the Forest and Crag book there is a chapter with some real scary statistics on projected use. Compared to then, todays surge in use is minimal. At the time there were no caretakers and popular sites were overrun. Liberty Springs like many other sites was trashed, with tentsites spread for 100 plus yards and the understory trampled. The former Desolation Shelter was even worse with acres of trampled woods. Even with a significant bear issue, there would routinely be 100 to 200 folks camping there on weekends, same with Thoreau falls and Franconia Falls. Many of the great gulf leantos were surrounded by campsites but a mandatory quota system had been in place for a couple of seasons and it was enforced so the many bootleg sites started to heal up once the throngs stopped going there. Bootleg sites were everywhere many of them with fire rings. It took awhile for AMC and FS to implement caretakers and luckily the backpacking boom fizzled out quickly (Yuppies didnt hike) and then the managing organization had a chance to harden up parts of the sites and allow other areas to revegetate. It has worked remarkably well and depending on soil types many of the bootleg sites grew in thick to the point where they are hard to find. When bushwhacking and coming out of the woods towards a trail, I frequently find evidence of old well used bootleg sites complete with beer cans and fire rings. The down side is that AMC and the FS managed to downsize the campsites size and thus with the recent uptick in use, there is minimal overflow room and thus folks are pushed up onto the Twinway.

    As for current conditions, it comes down to resources. Guyot and Liberty Springs are pretty much limited to the resources available to process human waste and distribute the resultant compost in the woods. The alternative is to hand it off to the AMC and put a for profit hut in place and then far more intensive use could be supported. I expect AMC given their shift in focus to Maine on land they own, wouldn't be interested and the public wouldn't accept it. The FS has attempted to educate folks on the dispersed camping rules, but in the thick spruce/fit zones along ridgelines, the 200 foot rule is useless as the terrain is unsuitable for camping. Ultimately if existing campsites aren't expanded or new ones built it comes down to two choices, education of users or enforcement of rules. For several years every group leaving the Lincoln Woods trailhead was quizzed by a FS employee and if they didn't have a outfitter guide pass they were turned away. After years of trying to manage Franconia Falls they shut down camping and moved it to the other side of the river and for awhile they imposed day use restriction and passes at this spot. In general the Pemi area got the reputation that management was heavy handed and many just went elsewhere. Ridge runners can work but if someone is dead tired and set up next to the trail, they aren't going to move unless the ridge runner is writing a ticket.

    The general shift from organized outdoor groups to minimal commitment groups like Meetup also has contributed to poor backcountry education. AMC had a vested interest in keeping the whites from being trashed and there was an educational component in most of their events. Their leaders were generally trained and expected to follow the guidelines in use. Meetup (of which I participate) has no formal leadership training or long term goals and no real incentive to educate (although many do). On occasion the leader of one very popular meetup group active in the whites is down right dismissive of acceptable policies unless he gets called out.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Guthook's Avatar
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    peakbagger, thanks for the historical perspective! I have heard of the backpacking boom of the 60's and 70's, but no one ever mentioned concrete numbers (100-200 people at Desolation sounds like a nightmare!!!), so that definitely puts the crowds of 70-80 at Liberty Springs or Guyot these days in in perspective.

    This definitely gives me a lot of food for thought as far as watching where the trends are going in management, too. I, for one, would be happy to see the FS be more heavy handed with large groups, but I imagine that would be an unpopular move on their part, and hard to justify spending those resources. I have definitely seen large summer camp, boy scout, and school groups that are major offenders of breaking regulations in camping and group size-- maybe they're just more visible to me than Meetup groups because my job at GMC a few years back was to rein in those groups a little. My experience as a summer camp trip leader later on, working with the AMC group outreach person on coordinating a group backpacking trip, made me think that AMC is not doing much in that department unless those groups come looking for a deal to stay at huts rather than backcountry sites.

    Anyway, this is why I still love VFTT-- people like you who actually know what they're talking about and don't just post lots of baseless rants :-)
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    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

    Another good reference point over the long term is Chimney Pond at Baxter . When I camped there around 1979, it has been recovering for several years since the early seventies. Prior to 1970 the usage was poorly managed. There had been a large dump at the back of the site that had been closed and was being rehabbed and there was no understory. There were paths going everywhere that the park had blocked off in hopes of regeneration but at that time, the regrowth was being outrun by the moose. Out of the 9 shelters only three had any privacy (6,7,8 )the remaining 6 were wide open to the hiker public. Generally folks brought a tarp for privacy. The views of the basin from the campground were far more than today and one of the shelters had a cleared view and a private beach on the pond. Fast forward to two years ago. All of the shelters now have privacy and except for the rather smallest helipad adjacent to the new day hikers pavilion, the majority of the campsite is grown in and the access paths to the shelters have 10 plus feet of dense softwoods. If you look around evidence of the human browse line still exists in the more mature woods but nowhere near it was before

    Baxter's management approach during and after the boom up into today was to strictly restrict the usage and intensively manage the folks in the park. Because of that management approach many folks wont go near the place as a trip there does require some preplanning and willingness to follow the rules. Even with their rules, they have ongoing issues with AT thru hikers and there have been suggestions that if a solution to thru hiker issues isn't found that the northern terminus of the AT may no longer be Baxter Peak but end at Abol Bridge (similar to the IAT, which starts at the Parks eastern property line).

    The Baxter approach cannot work in the whites due to the numerous ways of entry and private inholdings and even the remaining USFS staff in the whites admit that enforcement of the outfitter guide permits is a total joke and enforcement of camping regs is generally applied only quite close to trailheads. None of the fines stay in the local budget, so any time dedicated to enforcement is time they could be doing more critical work.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Stan's Avatar
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    In many places, "backcountry campsite" is an oxymoron.

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    The Coppermine Shelter is still there. I've never been there when it was being used for an overnight, but it obviously gets used. There is a small (illegal) overflow tenting area across the stream from it.

    Personally, I wish they'd get more formal about "overflow" areas near the existing shelters. As it stands now, if you can't fit IN the shelter, you are supposed to go at least 1/4 mile away. We all know that doesn't happen, and even when it does, it leaves a heavily-impacted and poorly managed site on the trail exactly 1/4 mi from the shelter. We would all (including the forest) would be better served by creating small desi sites 200 ft from trails, to discourage the too-close over-usage. I like what's been done at Unknown Pond.

    As far as the FS plan for managing backcountry camping: their plan is you will use a pristine site 200 feet off a trail. There are no designated tentsites in the Pemi Wilderness, and the number in the Dry River Wilderness has been cut way down (about 4 years ago, there were 4 desi sites on the Davis Path between 302 and Isolation. They're all gone, and they've added 1 at the far southern end, that is honestly too close to the road).

  14. #14
    Senior Member Guthook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    The Baxter approach cannot work in the whites due to the numerous ways of entry and private inholdings and even the remaining USFS staff in the whites admit that enforcement of the outfitter guide permits is a total joke and enforcement of camping regs is generally applied only quite close to trailheads. None of the fines stay in the local budget, so any time dedicated to enforcement is time they could be doing more critical work.
    I agree that the Baxter plan wouldn't work in the Whites. There's also just the fact that adding restrictions like that to something that's been so free and unrestricted for so long would probably cause huge backlash. I for one really love how restrictive Baxter is-- I see heavy regulations as the only way to keep the illusion of wilderness in the eastern US. But I also appreciate the Whites for how unrestricted they are in many cases. When I want a spur-of-the-moment hiking trip, I'll go there or to the AT in Maine. When I want to plan a really remote and quiet trip where I can be sure I won't have big crowds all around me, I'll go to Baxter.

    Quote Originally Posted by JCarter View Post
    Personally, I wish they'd get more formal about "overflow" areas near the existing shelters. As it stands now, if you can't fit IN the shelter, you are supposed to go at least 1/4 mile away. We all know that doesn't happen, and even when it does, it leaves a heavily-impacted and poorly managed site on the trail exactly 1/4 mi from the shelter. We would all (including the forest) would be better served by creating small desi sites 200 ft from trails, to discourage the too-close over-usage. I like what's been done at Unknown Pond.

    As far as the FS plan for managing backcountry camping: their plan is you will use a pristine site 200 feet off a trail. There are no designated tentsites in the Pemi Wilderness, and the number in the Dry River Wilderness has been cut way down (about 4 years ago, there were 4 desi sites on the Davis Path between 302 and Isolation. They're all gone, and they've added 1 at the far southern end, that is honestly too close to the road).
    JCarter, I agree with this entirely, too-- A few more designated tenting sites, even if it's just a flat bit of ground with no outhouse or platforms or anything like that, seems like it would be a good idea. I guess the difficulty is that once word gets out about them, they may be completely overrun as well. Dilemma...
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    Moderator David Metsky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guthook View Post
    I guess the difficulty is that once word gets out about them, they may be completely overrun as well. Dilemma...
    Pretty much. Anything you build will be overrun by the volume of people who want to camp. To some degree, that's why the designated campsites in the various Wilderness Areas aren't publicized.
    You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose. -- Dr. Seuss

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