Tuesday, September 16, 2014

9-7-14 Mt. Katahdin

I have to say it 's been years and years since I was last in Millinocket--maybe 55 years have passed, or close, and it hasn't changed a lot. The Great Northern Paper mill has closed and the town is a bit rundown, but it has potential certainly due to all the recreational close by and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT). For me, as a young teen, it was the jumping off place to the Maine wilderness and, even with the mill, it held a feeling of romance. This trip I was traveling with my daughter, Liz, who's working trail crew at Acadia National Park this summer. We'd driven 8 hours to visit her boyfriend who heads up a Maine Conservation Corps trail crews on Katahdin. He came out of the woods to meet us in Millinocket.

Arriving in Millinocket, Liz and I had driven less than two blocks when we saw these two gents who looked a lot like nattily dressed AT Thru Hikers. They had finished the trail on Friday and were getting ready to head home to Germany. They live in the Schwarzwald region along the Austrian border and said the most memorable event of their trip was arriving at Galehead Hut on South Twin (in New Hampshire) in a heavy rain, drenched to the bone--everything they owned soaked. The recounted how great the Galehead Hut crew was, warmly welcoming them and helping them dry their gear. They only thing lacking was beer, they laughed.

Early morning shot of Katahdin from the dirt road to Roaring Brook Campground and trail head.


Chimney Pond with Baxter Peak, the highest point of Katahdin, in the center. The Cathedral Trail goes up the ridge on the right, curving in an arc, to the summit. We stayed inside the park at a Maine Conservation Corp facility which made it possible to get on the trail early. Katahdin is beautiful. This glacial cirque is similar to Tuckerman Ravine, Huntington Ravine and, in some ways, like King Ravine of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire. The plants and animals are conspicuously similar to the alpine plants of Mt. Washington and the entire alpine zone of the Presidential Range, as well.

The Cathedral with Baxter Peak in the center background.


The Cathedral Trail starts at the Ranger's Cabin on the northeast shore of Chimney Pond. It climbs gently to the base of the Cathedral before dropping you off here at the bottom of this steep boulder field. The route through the boulder field is well marked but the climbing, in places was more of a rock climb, a 5.2. There are three people in the photograph to aid in getting an idea of scale.

Looking down towards the boulder field and Chimney Pond I was reminded of the last blog entry and my hike up the King Ravine Trail on Mt. Adams in July. There are a number of similarities between the two glacial cirques including the steepness of the walls. In King Ravine the boulder field in the lower section of the bowl is referred to as a Rock Glacier (see article for an explanation) and here on Katahdin it is a boulder field made up of very large and some not so large boulders that came off of The Cathedral and, probably, the upper walls of Katahdin, but that is a presumption on my part.

As we came to the top of the Cathedral Mt. Pamola and Knife Edge came into view. Pamola is in the center with the Keep Ridge sloping to the left. The Helon Taylor Trail lies along that ridge and was the route of one of the original trails on the east side of Katahdin and called the Keep Trail. The famous Knife Edge is to the right.

I camped at Chimney Pond with some friends for several days in 1959. I was 15, or about, and Katahdin was dreamy to us as we explored the trails and ridges. It seemed so wild compared to any other place we had hiked. I remember coming down the Cathedral Trail late one afternoon from the summit plateau chased by a thunderstorm and dancing down the tops of the boulders, from rock to rock, unperturbed. On this trip I felt shaky at the thought of having to go down that route.


Looking east through the eastern terminus of the glacial cirque. The Appalachian Mountain Club had a guest lodge on Katahdin Lake from 1877 until the early 1900s. The club cut several trails from the lodge to surrounding peaks. In the 1920s thru the 1950s they ran trips for climbers and a number of the AMC's best rock climbers like Marjorie Hurd, Miriam and Robert Underhill, John Post, and others laid out a number of routes on the south wall of the Great Basin including the Chimney, itself.

A better view of the Knife Edge and The Chimney which is the gully running straight down from the right of Pamola. It was compelling to stop and scrutinize the shape and topography of the south wall which would have its equivalent in Tuckerman Ravine in Boott Spur.

From the second Cathedral looking northwest at Hamlin Ridge where the Hamlin Ridge Trail connects Chimney Pond with the summit and the summit plateau. It is perhaps the easiest of the east side trails. Between the Hamlin and Cathedral trails is the Saddle Trail which is a safer way down than Cathedral particularly in a storm. Ranges advise hikers to go up Cathedral and come down the Dudley Trail in making the loop. Another loop is to go up Cathedral, across the Knife Edge to Pamola and then down the Helon Taylor Trail back down to Roaring Brook.

Looking east.

A little after noon we were faced with a decision whether to continue as the wind on the summit was increasing steadily making the Knife Edge a concern. Several of our party decided to go back down. One was okay with finishing the loop and was able to convince a second to go on as well for increased safety.  Hikers were beginning to descend by us as we ate lunch saying how cold and windy it was above. I dd not want to go down the way we came up and pictured a long afternoon of it. But, after a few moments of being queasy we found the descent to be a lark with the same ease and enticement of the descent all those decades ago.

 I made it to the bottom of the boulder field without even stumbling once and after removing wind breakers, readjusting our packs and munching some lunch near Chimney Pond in preparation for the gentler descent I tripped and fell with the above results. First aid was applied and we were off again.

Basin Pond looking due West up towards Hamlin Ridge. One of the reasons I came to Katahdin, besides spending time with Liz, was to do some botanizing with Dewey's trail crew, who, as they were in the woods all day wanted to know about the names of plants and, particularly, the medicinals and the edibles. Most of the crew was from the western states and they were unfamiliar with eastern plants. There are only one or two species of alpines found on Katahdin that don't grow in the Alpine Zone of the Presidentials, and vice versa. One thing that distinguishes northern Maine is the vast amount of eastern Cedar, and the extensive cedar swamps.
It was great to be on Katahdin again after all this time. It brought back a lot of memories, and that wonderful feeling of wildness that is preserved here. The State of Maine has put in place regulations designed to sustain the wild state of the Katahdin region similar to the management of the Adirondacks in New York. Sitting at Basin Pond watching the clouds and the sun on the pond and listening to the sound of waves lapping on the shore you were surrounded by wilderness, but there was something unseen, too, that I couldn't name but could easily feel and that's one of the primary reasons we are so attracted to wilderness. It felt wonderful. The medicinal for stress.
Liz and "Dewey" (Christopher) contemplating a swim after the hike.  They have been working on trail crew out West in the National Parks, mainly King Canyon, and came east for a a change

Liz at 25.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

7-26-14 Mt. Adams, King Ravine

Saturday I did something I've never done before which was to hike the King Ravine Trail to the top of the King Ravine head wall. This trail is one of the most wild and charismatic trails in the White Mountains and it was the perfect day for it; a perfect summer day as the photos attests. The King Ravine Trail requires some elementary rock climbing techniques, provides more exercise than the gym, and it's fun. The photo is looking north towards the Pliny Range (closest and which includes Mt. Starr King and Mt. Waumbek), towards the Kilkenny Wilderness with Mt. Cabot (part of the Pilot Range) in the distance and down onto the "rock glacier" on the floor of King Ravine. The light colored opening in the very center of the photo is the location of Lowe's Store where I started my hike.
The bottom of Lowe's Path where it's swallowed by the forest just of Route 2 in Randolph, across the road from Lowe's store and gas station. The name on the store is related to the name of the trail which was cut between September 1875 and the summer of 1876 by Charles Lowe and Dr. William Nowell. It was originally designed to go straight from the front door of Lowe's house, called Brookvale, in Randolph, directly to the summit of Mt. Adams with the deliberate intention of making the grade as even and unvaried as possible. Charles' descendants still run Lowe's Store.
Although the Lowe's Path was Charles Lowe's passion William Nowell made notable
contributions to its creation as well as the creation and upkeep of other trails over the decades. With the founding of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in June, 1876, both men would be at the core of the AMC's trail building initiative, and, in fact, it was Nowell, as the Club's "Councillor of Improvements" who drew up a lengthy list of trails the "to be made", paths that would occupy both Nowell and Lowe for the next 20 years. This photo is taken on the northwest flank of Nowell Ridge. Readers might remember an article in this blog posted three years ago where I measured the largest trees on Nowell Ridge, mostly yellow birch and occasionally a large red spruce.

Hikers from Camp Tecumseh, located on Lake Winnepesauke in Moultonborough, NH, fly by me.

This yellow birch was one of the largest ones I measured at 3 feet 2 inches in diameter. It's right off the trail....
and towers over the surrounding forest trees

A stone stair case which is an effective method, labor intensive, for preventing trail erosion. It uses materials at hand which is an advantage.

A water bar that uses materials at hand.

This enterprising group was making its 15th anniversary hike up Mt. Adams and were about to divide into two groups--one group heading up the Lowe's Path and the other up the King Ravine Trail.

The Lowe's Path at its junction with The Link.

The junction of the King Ravine Trail from Lowe's Path.

Cascade Camp, originally built by Charles Lowe and a handful of other trail builder as a makeshift shelter so they wouldn't have to go all the way back down to the valley every night, but it quickly became a popular, fanciful place for hikers and hiking parties over the years. It was located just off  Lowe's Path a short distant above the King Ravine Trail junction. (Photo by Guy L. Shorey and reproduced from Among the White Hills: The life and Times of Guy L. Shorey edited by Guy A. Gosselin and Susan B. Hawkins, foreword by Bradford Washburn, pubished by Mount Washington Observatory, 1998)
The King Ravine Trail follows the contour of the west wall of King Ravine to economize on ups and downs and it twists and turns through hardwoods like these yellow birches and balsam fir and spruce as it cuts across the lower floor of the Ravine.

The forest in the Ravine is but a reminder of a great forest that grew here prior to the logging that reached this high on Mt. Adams in the early 1900s. At that time there was a large logging camp on the floor of the ravine that had the look and feel of a small town and even sported a mens clothing store. In the 1920s the eastern wall was severely burned over by a forest fire that climbed over the Air Line Trail and progressed down as far as Snyder Brook before being extinguished by heavy rain.

This King Ravine Trail crossed Cold Brook just below the trail junction
with the Short Line Trail and just below Mossy Falls, one of the loveliest
waterfalls in the White Mountains.

Just above Mossy Falls the trail begins to rise steeply, and
though still in the forest, it becomes apparent that the
landscape is changing.

Within a few more yards it offers some easy rock
climbing over a series of boulders...

and, here and there, some views up to the top of the ravine.

There's a tendency for hikers to bunch up on some sections
that require more time to navigate as in the next photo.



The Reverend Thomas Starr King began writing The White Hills around 1860
and there's confusion about the dates of his visits to the Randolph area. He
often was in the company of James Gordon, a well known mountain guide who
blazed out a crude trail from Broad Acres Farm straight up Mt. Madison that was
rough in places but popular with hikers trying to get up onto the ridge. This may
have been as early as 1858. Starr King ascended Gordon's trail up Madison before his
ascent through King Ravine. We don't know the date of his King Ravine exploration,
but assume it was close to 1859. On that trip, James Gordon was also his guide.

These undaunted hikers scurry off to complete the side trail called
the "Subway" which is great fun as it takes the trail under boulders
rather than over the tops of them.


From Rev. Thomas Star King's The White Hills, p. 358, 1870, "Huge rocks were piled in the most eccentric confusion; crevasses, sometimes twenty and thirtyfeet deep and spanned with moss, lay in wait for the feet; thickets of scrub spruces and junipers overgrew these boulders, and made the most sinewy opposition to our passage. Every muscle of our bodies was called into play fighting these dwarfed and knotty regiments of evergreens. A more thorough gymnasium for training and testing the working and enduring powers of the system could not be arranged by art. After six hours of steady and hard climbing--which, added to three of the afternoon previous, made nine hours of toil in scaling the ridge--we gained the plateau above which the pinnacle of Adams soars."

Huge boulders on the ravine floor just below the head wall. The
size of this boulder can not be appreciated from this photo, but
it is as big as a small house. Many are larger.

It's rather daunting. Earlier in this blog I reviewed a research
paper that gave an excellent history and description of this
"Rock Glacier" that has made King Ravine famous.

King Ravine Rock Glacier: A slight digression 

A Masters Thesis written in 1978 by Diane Eskenasy, then a University of Massachusetts grad student, was titled The Origin of The King Ravine Rock Glacier in The Presidential Range of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Her thesis, and several others on various topics, somehow, or other, ended up at Tuck Shelter some years ago and they've been sitting in the book shelf there to be read by a few curious souls. I've been curious about the "rock glacier" in King Ravine for years and have wanted to camp in King Ravine for a few days to explore its nooks and crannies. The rock glacier is reported to be the only one of its kind in New England. They are commonly found in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and Wyoming. Ms Eskenasy wrote: "King Ravine, one of the north facing cirques on the Presidential Range, contains an inactive rock glacier, a mass of rocks having the morphology of an alpine glacier." I may, this summer, get into King Ravine and integrate Ms Eskenasy's thesis into a blog article with photos that might help explain what a rock glacier is and how it evolved.

Shape of the King Ravine rock glacier from an aerial photo. The mass of rock debris is roughly 1800 feet long and 1000 feet wide. ( Diane Eskenasy, 1978).

This is a profile representing the rock glacier after the separation of the King Ravine ice lobe from the continental ice sheet after the disappearance of the ice sheet from New Hampshire. (From Eskenasy, 1978). (I took photos of these diagrams using my camera with one hand while I attempted to flatten the page with my other hand--which accounts for the distortion in parallax)

Modern profile of the rock glacier. The term rock glacier doesn't imply that the rock lobe is moving. It means that the glacier, at one time, when it was active transported blocks from higher on the cirque headwall. The predominant ice has since melted leaving the blocks in the form of a glacier. The time line between the first diagram and this one is roughly 11,000 years (from Eskenasy, 1978).

The trail is effective in getting to the head wall itself, but becomes
just a part of the fabric of the mountain beyond this sign where it
heads upward using an existing rock "stream" and doesn't stop 'til it
reaches the top. The trail is relatively steep, averaging just under
40 degrees from just beyond this sign up to top.

A great beginning!

It quickly climbs and with the need to use both arms and legs
it becomes absorbing the way a rock climb does so that one
doesn't notice the larger panorama. That's the rock glacier in
the center of the photo.

A good, well defined perspective of the "rock glacier" that sits
in the mid section of the ravine floor.

These "fresh" looking boulders make one think of others that
might follow. This one has no lichen or moss and the inference
is that it came down recently, but, in fact, it may have come
down years ago. Still, it gives one pause, particularly as
you look up at what's above.

This may not look it, but it's very steep, and the huge rock formation
in the background is near the so-called "Gateway" at the top, and
seems to be overhanging the trail. The rock "stream" is the trail.
The overhanging rock formation looked a bit ominous and I felt
myself listening for falling rocks.

A second showing of this photo and a reminder of what a lovely day it was.

Looking north along the eastern wall. The Chemin des Dames Trail meets the Air Line Trail just about in the center of the photo. In fact, if you look closely, you can see a gentleman in a bright yellow shirt that I passed near Mossy Falls, just coming out above tree line.

Balsam fir cones. The steepness at this elevation on the head wall is similar to Tuckerman Ravine head wall. The two ravines are similar in several ways and most conspicuously in the way the curvature of the "bowl" shape that is often the defining feature of small, local glacial cirques.



Yes, this is a boulder.

Steep slabs often referred to as the "bulk heads" at the eastern crest of the headwall.

Abigail Adams across the head wall.

The King's Gateway as it was originally called.

A photo of a hiker circa 1926 relaxing on the rock above the Gateway taken my Guy Shorey,
(from Among the White Hills: The life and Times of Guy L. Shorey edited by Guy Gosselin and Susan Hawkins, foreword by Bradford Washburn, pubished by Mount Washington Observatory, 1998)

Topping out just below the summit of J. Q. Adams.

Beautiful Mt. Madison. 

Rev. Thomas Starr King emerged from King Ravine through "the 
massive gateway" that "marks the boundary between rugged ravine 
and exposed mountain-side. It was in emerging  from the ravine at 
his point that (King) obtained the view of Mt. Madison to which he 
refers as so striking." ( p. 93 Appalachia Vol. 1, 1876-1878.) In August,
1876, almost 20 years later, Charles Lowe and J. Rayner Edmands sat 
at this same spot and discussed standarizing the King Ravine "Path". Lowe, 
with the help of hired woodsmen, completed it on September 16, 1876.

  Hikers coming down from the summit of J. Q. (John Quincy) 
Adams (the summit of Mt. Adams is off to the right and 
a little higher)

Lovely as can be. Looking north across to Mt. Waumbek (4,006' asl) on the right, and
Mt. Starr King (closest and in the center). Mt. Cabot is in the center distance on the skyline .

Alpine goldenrod.

This has long been my favorite spot in the White Mountains 
at the top of the Valley Way Trail.

Looking back at Mt. Madison over a small forest of balsam fir.

Megan Farrell of the Madison hut crew on her way up to the 
hut with a load of "Req", meaning fresh food and sundries.
I ran down in a little over an hour, hitch hiked back to Lowe's Store 
to get my car and was in Gorham by 5 pm.