The slide was typical of dozens of slides that have left their initials on the steep sides of White Mountain peaks like Lafayette, Carter Dome, North Twin, Tripyramid, Cherry, and others. It was 300 feet wide at its widest point and about 1500 feet long. It came down during Hurricane Carol when heavy rains were sweeping the mountain slopes. It came down without warning at close to 2 pm. Luckily no one was near the site at the time of the slide. A member of the hut crew, Ben Bowditch, was below the slide carrying a pack board laden with 80-100 pounds of food and supplies for Galehead Hut. His sister, with a friend, had arrived at noon with the AMC supply truck and decided not to wait for her brother and she and her friend headed up the trail as Ben tied up his load at the pack house. Ben started up the trail around 1 pm. In those days, the distance from the pack house to the hut was 5.7 miles. The slide site is roughly 4.6 miles from the site of the old pack house. The two young women just missed being caught in the slide and made it to the hut without knowledge of the slide. During the elapsed time between the slide ravaging the side of Mt. Garfield and Ben's packing up towards the site a debris dam caused by the slide was backing up water from the rain swollen Gale River. When Ben was about a 1/2 mile down stream the dam let go and a wall of water a few feet high started down the valley. Ben heard it coming, saw it, dropped his pack board, and climbed the closest tree as fast as he could to avoid drowning. He lost the packboard and its load of food.
The slide in profile. The debris dam did not last long with the river's high rate of flow. Those who have witnessed large slides like this one say they move very fast and take absolutely everything in their path down with them
Wednesdays and Saturdays were "truck trip" days for the AMC hut system. Hurricane Carol "slammed" into New England on Tuesday, August 31st and headed north-northeast into Maine and New Hampshire. It's probable that the slide occurred on September 1st as the soil on the mountain sides became saturated from the 4.5 inches of rain dumped on the White Mountains by Hurricane Carol. Ben's sister and her friend passed the slide area in a narrow corridor of time just before the slide occurred. They did not hear a rumble or feel the ground shake. When Ben did not show up at the hut, Art Prentis, the hut master, and two others descended the trail looking for him. Art. later in a private conversation, remarked that "it was a pretty wild night" when they were out looking for Ben. They were shocked by the size of the slide and feared Ben may have been killed or injured. They kept going downhill shouting his name and finally hailed Ben who was descending on the opposite side of the river. Art and the hut guests walked on the west side of the swollen river and Ben walked down the east side back down to Route 3. They then drove and hiked to Zealand Hut and had breakfast and Ben rested before going back up to Ghoul (Galehead Hut).
Most of the top soil that came down in the slide was probably swept downstream when the dam burst. It also took medium sized boulders, rocks, gravel, sand with it and redistributed all of it downstream. What was left on the side track did not fit the description of soil. It was mostly rocks, sand and gravel with sheltered areas of top soil here and there.This material, including the boulders will be discussed later as "glacial till".
This photo shows the southeast corner of research Plot #1 and the accumulated organic debris that is a mainstay of forest soils. What you also see is evidence of "succession" in the plant community. That is the process by which a habitat evolves, slowly or quickly. It's quickest when there is a major perturbation like a hurricane, a tornado, or avalanche or land slide. Succession will be discussed below.
In the past 7 years of studying soil development in the track of the 1954 slide I've found that yearly soil development takes place incrementally. In some plots it is negligible year to year. In other plots it is a quarter of an inch to half an inch a year. Gravity is one of the primary factors in soil development and in the mountains it makes sense that soils on steeper terrain would experience loss from transport of soil building materials downslope: during seasonal runoff, avalanches, land slides, etc. That is what has happened here probably dozens of times. Old timers, older than I, recall the presence of landslide tracks from several slides similar to the 1954 slide and parallel to it up and down this particular ridge of Mt. Garfield on the west side of the Gale River valley.
The area in the photo above looking uphill in Plot #2 in the early fall.
The same ares of Plot #2 in the early summer.
The central idea, of course, is the evidence of vegetative succession here; primary succession, or the what is called Primary Succession which begins where there is no soil and not plants and the plants and soil develop together.
To Be Continued....