I was living in California when I learned about the death of Ray Evans
through an obituary in ‘Windswept’, the quarterly publication of the Mount
Washington Observatory. The obituary appeared in the 2001 summer issue, and
in the article was a small picture of Ray next to the words “In Memoriam Ray
The obituary described his early years: how he lived in the railroad section-house near the face of Mt Willard in Crawford Notch, how both parents worked for the railroad, and how an accident in Crawford Notch killed his father when Ray was four years old. Ray held many jobs through the years, and besides being an avid hiker, he was a hunter and snowmobile enthusiast as well. The article noted, “Ray developed not only a love of the White Mountains, but also a deep interest in the history of the region. His personal collection of White Mountain memorabilia was a resource he readily shared with any inquirer. Of course, he was an important part of the area’s history himself!”
The article also stated, “His enthusiasm for the outdoors and the heritage of the White Mountains was infectious. He was always interested in hiking, especially with younger companions, who marveled at his stamina and found in him an apt role model for their later years.” The obituary finished by noting, “He remained an avid hiker into his seventies and eighties, though his hiking days were cut short by the onset of arthritis. Ray passed away in Whitefield, New Hampshire, on April 4, after a period of failing health. He has left many friends in the White Mountains.”
I would not call myself one of his friends, but our paths did cross during those years I hiked in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He was grounded in himself, and in his own history in the area. He was tall and lean, and his angular face often held a great smile that almost looked out of place beneath his close-cropped hair. I was short and rounded and sported a beard, and I was a stranger to New Hampshire, drawn to the White Mountains after my Army years as a ship might drift into a faraway port. I was loud and irreverent, mistrustful of authority, and always ready to enjoy myself. Nevertheless, when our paths did cross, I could be an avid listener and enjoyed hearing tales of his exploits and the history of the mountains. I shared my own experiences in the mountains with the same degree of love and fervor that he used in the telling of his. I think he saw in me someone who loved the White Mountains unconditionally, and that was enough.
The genesis of this story is the picture below. I was relaxing at home in California on Thanksgiving Day, 2007, and I was going through some boxes of old photographs, when I came across a picture of two people at Carter Notch Hut, and the photo had two words written on the back, "Ray Evans". I took this picture in early May, 1989 or 1990.
I had hiked up to Carter Notch to enjoy a spring weekend in the
mountains. What the picture did not show is the snow that lingered on the
ground under the trees; the lakes at Carter Notch were still mostly covered
by ice, and the ice was covered by water and slush. It was a wet time of
year up in the mountains near the Presidential Range, not enough snow on the
trails to ski but more than enough to make the ground soggy and slippery. I
arrived in the late afternoon and the only people at the hut were Ray and
the caretaker. Ray had come up to visit and to bring her some supplies.
After dinner and stories, I retired to one of the empty bunkrooms.
In the morning, we met at the hut and chatted for a while over coffee. Ray was preparing to hike up to the summit of Carter Dome. By trail, the Carter Dome summit was about a mile and a half north of, and fifteen hundred feet above the hut at Carter Notch. Ray was wearing his 'Crawford Notch Croo 1981' T-shirt. I took this photograph as the two friends said goodbye at the door of the hut. Here in this picture, in 1990, Ray would have been eighty-one years old.
Ray left the hut and set out for the trail by himself. I sat out by the lake on a rock in the sun and watched as he made steady progress up the Carter-Moriah Trail. Occasionally, I could see flashes of color through the spruce as he gained altitude on the steep and slippery side of the mountain. After about forty minutes, he emerged out into the open above the steep face and to the left of Pulpit Rock, a rectangle of stone that extends from the side of the mountain like a gem crystal, high above the hut and the lakes below. Where Ray now stood was the highest point of the trail visible from the floor of the notch, from that point the trail continued gradually up an unseen ridge to the summit. I stood up on the rock and waved my hat at him. He saw me and returned the gesture. He stood on the rock alone for a few moments, and then he was gone, moving up the trail to the summit beyond.
That was the last time I saw him, and it was the last time I would visit Carter Notch. I was forty years old and, although unsure at the time, change was indeed in the wind and 1990 would be the last year I would live in New Hampshire and in the East. I find that his final wave from the ledge near Pulpit Rock forms a fitting farewell to the many adventures I enjoyed in the notch over the years.
I do not know if there is a final great beyond, a spiritual terminus high in the far distance beyond Pulpit Rock and outside of all space and time. But if such a beyond does exist, I know Ray Evans is surely present, seated before a vast and rapt assemblage, relating his adventures, and telling the stories and history of the White Mountains.
Los Angeles 2007
(to read a letter from Ray's granddaughter, click