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Windswept – In Memoriam: Guy Waterman

by Peter Crane

Noted hiker, writer, and conservationist Guy Waterman, 67, of East Corinth Vermont, died on Mount Lafayette, on or about February 6.

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Maintaining a cairn on the Franconia Ridge Trail.

Waterman's writings are well known throughout the Northeastern outdoors community. Besides having contributed to the Observatory's NEWS BULLETIN (now WINDSWEPT), and many other publications, Waterman and his wife and hiking and writing partner, Laura, authored four books. In "Backwoods Ethics" and "Wilderness Ethics", the pair offered a selection of sometimes humorous, sometimes serious essays about hiking and related outdoor pursuits. While more than capable of poking fun at fellow peakbaggers and the outwardly masochistic habits of winter campers, they also raised serious issues regarding the need for visitors to the backcountry to be thoughtful and forward-looking in their impacts on the limited wild lands of the Northeast. In "Yankee Rock and Ice", the Watermans chronicled the history of technical climbing in the Northeast. In their magnum opus, "Forest and Crag", the pair exhaustively reviewed the history of exploration, trailblazing, and hiking in the mountains of the Northeast, providing a context in which backcountry management decisions of today, and of the future, might be viewed.

The Watermans could sometimes be critical of actions which they felt were not in the best interests of the backcountry environment, but also showed a willingness to match their comments with positive action. In the late 1970's, the AMC erected scree walls on sections of the Franconia Ridge to more sharply define a trail to help channel foot traffic to one path along the alpine ridge. The Watermans bristled at the obviously artificial intrusion on the landscape, but then went on to become volunteer trail maintainers on the Franconia Ridge for almost two decades, and encouraged others to show similar stewardship for trails in the White Mountains and elsewhere.

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Sugaring at his home in Vermont.

Those who had the good fortune to meet Guy Waterman learned that he was a remarkable character. His enthusiasm for outdoor exploration was legendary, as was his sincerity in sharing the many lessons he had learned with others, whether in formal instruction or in conversations along the trail. His background was also noteworthy - son of the first director of the National Science Foundation, jazz pianist, economist and speechwriter for the Republican party in Washington in the 1950's, speechwriter for General Electric in New York in the 1960's. To outside viewers, it may appear that he and his wife "dropped out" when they left the city to homestead in rural Vermont in 1973, though from their standpoint it allowed them to "drop in " to a lifestyle that was more authentic and far more in touch with the natural world.

The circumstances of Guy Waterman's death reflected a side of the man seldom glimpsed by the outside world. He had lost two of his three sons, which must have been a great grief and burden to him. A vigorous man, he evidently had a greater than normal fear of losing his abilities with age; his personal habits suggested he had a deep-seated need to control his fate as much as possible. Thus, on a brisk winter's day, he left his home destined for Mount Lafayette, with a plan to breathe his last there, a plan that he carried out near that mountain's summit, thanks to the cold and wind of the open ridge. Friends retrieved the body on February 11.

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At Edmunds Col. During this time Guy was the caretaker at Randolph Mountain Club's Gray Knob.

To those who had some hint of his complex personality, Guy Waterman's death was not a complete surprise, but is nonetheless felt as a profound loss. Fortunately, there are some small ways his presence will persist. While the cairns and stone steps he placed on the Franconia Ridge will last for many more years, and his writings will continue to have a positive effect on this and future generations of outdoor adventurers, perhaps the greatest impact will be the enduring impression he made from his personal contacts with many hikers and climbers, showing his delight in the woods and mountains of the region, and his commitment, in word and deed, to taking care of those areas. He set a splendid example of thoughtful and active stewardship for the Northeast's wild areas, an example which, further challenged by his untimely passing, we are called to emulate and to further set for others.

 

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