Tuesday, December 1, 2009

12-1-09 Resources on the Geology of New Hampshire

I had the good luck to find this out-of-print booklet (with this lovely cover) "on line" at a website I stumbled upon recently. This is Part I of a three-part series published by the New Hampshire State Planning and Development Office on the geology of the "Granite State.". Part II is Marland Billing's gem, "The Bedrock Geology of New Hampshire". Part I, written by two generations of Goldthwaits and published in 1951 is a great read. It's only 84 pages long, comprehensive, and well written. It's brilliant in it's clarity and practicality. It sorts out all kinds of questions I've been mulling over about the glacial and post-glacial period in the Whites that aren't explained as clearly in his other writings. It's written for the non-geologist, for one thing. I recommend reading both Part I and II. They're PDF files and you can read them right on line or download them. The web address is: http://des.nh.gov . On the right-hand side of the Home page under Quick Links click on Publications. In the middle of the Publications page look in the list of links for Geology of NH Series. Click on that and the three booklets are listed by titles and authors. Part III is on the "minerals and mines" of New Hampshire by T.R. Meyers and Glen Stewart.

I'm mentioning this as a way of saying I'm still working on the two unfinished entries in the blog: the felsenmeer piece from a few weeks ago, and the research piece(s) from the Gale River Slide on soil development and plant succession last added to in September. I plan on one more visit to the site when there is light snow on the ground to take more measurements. I'll put a little flag up when each is complete.

To a reader who signed her name "Kate" to some comments on the blog, and I'm not sure if that's Kate the AMC naturalist or not, I apologize for not responding sooner to your input regarding glacial erratics and, also, 'frost hardiness' as a defining factor in timberline placement. I plan on including your comments in the felsenmeer piece as I finish it and thanks, by the way.

Thom Davis sent me some papers dealing with the controversial question of whether, or not, local, alpine glaciers continued to exist on Mt. Washington and the northern Presidentials (and Mt. Katadin in Maine) after the down wasting of the Wisconsinan continental glacial 'sheet'. The papers have a lot of useful info on glaciers and other aspects of White Mountain geology so thanks Thom.

Lastly, I found another great resource for the geology of the White Mountains in the June 1934 Appalachia titled, "Geology in the Franconia Region" by Charles Williams, of Harvard University, who was working along side Marland Billings on a project to map the bedrock geology of all the unfinished quadrangles of New Hampshire which included several in the White Mountains. Williams mapped the Franconia quadrangle which included the area between Mt. Hale in the east west to the Kinsmans, and from Franconia village in the north to North Woodstock village in the south. His maps are, and the article in general is, excellent for understanding the relationship between all the various granites, the granodiorites, syenites, breccias, the Moat volcanics and the metamorphic bedrock of the Whites relative to the oft mentioned Littleton Schist bedrock of the Presidential Range. If anyone's interested I'll photocopy the article and hard mail it to you. Complete sets of Appalachia are available at the AMC library at 5 Joy Street in Boston, a (very) few libraries around New England, and at the AMC Highland Center at the top of Crawford Notch on NH Route 302 (near Twin Mountain, New Hampshire). The Highland Center has a large, comfortable, well-stocked library where you can sit for hours and hours uninterrupted (and another room with a large fireplace where you can sit and read as long as you want, and a place to buy comestibles like coffee, tea, and sandwiches).

Friday, November 27, 2009

11-27-09 Happy Thanskgiving!!

Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, Liz and I hiked up to Lonesome Lake in the dark, in the rain, and in dense fog that reflected our headlamp beams back into our eyes in a really annoying way. We arrived just in time for dinner with Hillary Gerardi, Lonesome Lake Fall Caretaker, Lauren, her mom, and River, their chocolate lab (family dog). A warm fire flickered in the stove and the hut was surrounded by a deep silence. After dinner Hillary and Lauren took River for a walk around the lake in the rain and a while later Hillary returned in high spirits with this half-eaten torso of a snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) they'd found on the trail near the hut.

Hillary's enthusiasm and curiosity was sparked when she rrealized the upper half of the torso was missing, chomped off by a large predator. The chomping had occurred just before they discovered the carcass as it was still warm which meant there was/is a large carnivore foraging close to the hut. We guessed it was a bobcat (Lynx rufus) or lynx (Lynx canadensis). Both "cats" are common in the White Mountains. The smaller of the two, the bobcat, is at the northern edge of its range. The lynx is at the southern edge of its range so they overlap here. Bobcats like swamps and there's a lot of swampy areas in this glacial "bowl" between Cannon Mt., North and South Kinsman, and the height of land at the edge of Franconia Notch to the east. It's actually ideal habitat for both animals. (Hillary returned the carcass to the place where they found it and discovered at dawn that it had been completely eaten with the exception of some intestines.)

Hillary made me a bit envious three weeks ago when she told me that while bushwhacking on Cannon Mt. she had the extraordinary luck to see a snowshoe hare that was midway through its seasonal color change: half of it white in preparation for winter, the other half still brown from the summer. For ages I've wanted to photograph this transitional stage in the hare's protective coloring. This seasonal adaptation is a strategy to help the snowshoe hares blend into the background as an advantage against predators that include several birds (owls and hawks) as well as mammals. At any rate, I've never seen a hare that was halfway through its seasonal change of clothes, so to speak (a two-piece ensemble), but in this mild, snow-less fall that we're experiencing, it's working against the hares who now, with their coats being all white, practically glow in the dark. Without snow on the ground the predominant colors in the woods are dark, shades of browns, dark greens and grays, and the hares' white coat is a life threatening liability.

You get to sleep late on Thanksgiving!

Liz and I slept in a bunkroom that was refurbished recently with fancy pine paneling and new mattresses!

Lonesome Lake Hut was remodeled three years ago when it was retrofitted for winter use including new windows, a closed in basement, some insulation, and new siding. It's one of the more unusual looking of the huts. It was originally built in 1964-1965 by the State of New Hampshire because it's located on state-owned land in Franconia State Park. It replaced an old hunting and fishing lodge on the northeast side of the lake.

The original hut consisted of all those buildings you see across the lake. There was a barn, used as a bunkhouse, a large house with a kitchen and living room, and another addition that was also used as a bunkhouse. There was a boat house, too, that's at the far right hand edge of the picture. When it operated as a sportmens' camp it was reached by horse and wagon via what is now the Cascade Brook Trail and that in the early 1900s was a corduroy road. The AMC first leased the cabins to use as a hut for hikers in 1929 from the State of New Hampshire. Having a hut at Lonesome Lake complimented Greenleaf Hut across the notch on Mt. Lafayette (4.2 miles away) that was completed for full service use in the summer of 1930. Galehead and Zealand huts were completed in 1931-1932 to complete a chain from Lonesome Lake to Crawford Notch and the Presidentials. (The above photo is from an old 1940s-era AMC postcard.)

Mt. Lafayette on Thanksgiving morning from the porch at Lonesome Lake Hut.

Looking at Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln across Lonesome Lake


During the morning several hiking parties came through including this group of folks who all lived down Route 3 in Woodstock, NH, close to the trail head, and were enjoying some camaraderie as well as pre-Thanksgiving dinner exercise.

Just before noon the valley got warm enough to push the mist towards us and for an hour or two we were in the fog.

Lauren, Hillary's mom, was finding that spending an off-trail day in a hut is a lovely way to re-explore the wonders of leisure time, particularly finding time to read.

Liz, too, actually picked up a book and read for a while which is a rarity for her.

Then, of course, there's crossword obsession

and cooking which got done in microbursts of activity.

There was chocolate cream pie a la Hillary,

chocolate chip cookies, and cinnamon rolls, and a little later green beans, mashed potatoes and squash. The turkey was in the oven most of the day.

I took a mid-day walk down to the lake where it was inordinately quiet. Franconia Ridge was still in the clouds and for awhile there were no sound at all.

This hiker was one of a pair that appeared suddenly, took a quick glimpse and some photos of the lake and hut, and went off down the trail again as quickly as they appeared.

A little after noon the clouds began to break up and slowly rose up towards us,

moved slowly across the view of Cannon Mt.,

obscuring the summit for a few minutes,

and then seemingly evaporated.

While I watched the clouds disperse this small contingent of kids arrived and instantly became enthralled by the lake. Water's such a cool plaything when you're young!

They could hardly sit still long enough for a portrait.

Then there were nine!

Mountain simplicity.

Lauren began carving the turkey

followed by Lenny Gerardi who finished the task with blurring speed.

This is River being as hopeful as ever that one, just one morsel, a drum stick maybe, will perchance fall his way.

The full, sleepy feeling.

Dusk across the lake looking west towards the Kinsmans. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it's a deep pleasure and special treat to be able to spend it in the mountains at either Lonesome or Zealand in the beauty and stillness this photo evokes.

I lightened this photo in photoshop because it was so dark. There was just a smidgen of light left from the day for Liz and I to use as we hurried back down the trail to the car. This is a frequent mountain experience, the run down the trail racing the descending darkness, for who wants to leave?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

11-14-09 Madison & Adams; more explorations in the felsenmeer

Mounts Madison, JQ Adams and Adams at sunrise last Saturday morning (11-07-09). I was heading back up the Valley Way again to look at the felsenmeer on the north flank of Adams before it's buried in snow.

JQ Adams is the bump with the steep rock face in the middle of the photo and the summit of Mt. Adams is up behind it. This photo was taken from the highway (Route 2) near the top of what we call Gorham Hill. I used a little bit of telephoto compression to frame the photo. The hike up to the summit of Adams from this side of the range (from Appalachia) is a great workout with almost 4500 feet in gain and a steep incline most of the way.

The morning sun was clearing the ridge as I started up Dead Horse Hill and the first mile of the Valley Way. It was just catching in the top of this 60-foot tall spruce. The photo reminds me a little of Georgia O'keefe's painting "The Lawrence Tree". There are a number of monumental spruce and birch on both sides of Valley Way and close to the trail that are worth seeing in the fall or early spring when there's no foliage obstructing to appreciate what the forests looked like up until the early 1800s, or so.

Early morning sunlight on the bark of a paper birch (B. cordifolia) next to the trail.

Think of the snow on these balsams (Abies balsamea) as sunlight and you can see their strategy for achieving maximum use of available sunlight throughout the year. Their branches slope downwards to release snow and prevent breakage.

The summit of Madison from the top of "1000 yards". It looks a bit Christmassy. I wanted to catch the summits with a light covering of snow because the snow accentuates and highlights all the topographic features.

The summit of Madison again this time from the 'front lawn' of Madison Hut. I left my pack here, at the hut, and scampered up to the summit planning to take my time and explore the areas of felsenmeer on the northwest flank of the the mountain. There was a frigid northwest wind blowing up the mountain and at the summit I turned quickly and I scampered right back down to the hut where I luxuriated in the warm sunlight on the lee side of the hut and put on warm clothing.

The light was extraordinary in this view to the northwest as I came down Madison. I relish these winter colors, the purples and russets spread across the canvas of the Kilkenny Wilderness.

Madison nestled into the mountain at the base of the Mt. Madison summit cone. This photo summarizes the extent of the felsenmeer on Madison and dramatizes the distinct patterns in the way the felsenmeer might have derived from the older rock mantle of the mountain. Madison, is the northern terminus of the "spine" of the Littleton Schist bedrock that comprises most of the bed rock of the Presidential Range.

Mt. Madison from the top of the "slide" on the Gulfside Trail showing the extent of krummholz as it stretches up the northwest flank of the summit cone right up to the felsenmeer. The photo also shows places where the bedrock portrudes and likely places where the felsenmeer was once more securely attached to the mountain in ancient times.

King Ravine from the top of the lip looking down at the U-shaped contour, the clue that this landform was carved by glacial mechanics in the distant past. The extensive area of large boulders you can see on the floor at the downslope end of the ravine has been referred to in several dissertations as a 'rock glacier' (more on that later).

A cairn marking the upper section of the Airline Trail above the Gulfside Trail and leading up to the summit of Mt. Adams in the background. In the background, stretching across and up the north flank of Adams you can see acres and acres of felsenmeer which the Air Line Trail traverses. A lot of the white in the photos isn't snow, it's "rime", or rime ice.

With a combination of strong wind and cold temperatures rime ice form on everything, rocks and plants (and humans if you sit still long enough), above 4500 feet, or so. It's lovely to look at. It 'grows' outward as the wind plasters it to the rocks and then itself and sculpts it into these lovely forms out of the ice crystals that are formed from atmospheric moisture and that are supercooled by the wind.

Before heading Mt. Adams I veered off towards the summit of J.Q. Adams (short for John Quincy Adams) for a glimpse of the Littleton Schist (LS) there. This photo is from just below the summit and shows large blocks of the LS that have broken away from the larger outcroppings that make up the summit.

This is a photo of of the steep east face of J.Q. Adams taken in July showing the extent of the mass wasting that has occurred. The blocks of Littleton Schist that have broken away from the peak vary a great deal in size and some are quite large. This area is a veritable playground often used by Madison Hut croos for practicing the art of 'bouldering'. The extent of the mass wasting here is what you would expect from the combined factors of time, topography. climate and gravity. Noticeably, there's no felsenmeer.

The summit of "J.Q." consists of several outcroppings like this one of exposed bed rock (LS) and around it are large and small blocks that have fractured away from the bed rock. It's difficult to see if there are glacial striations on the outcrops due to advanced weathering of the rock surface but the upper surfaces of the outcrops do not look as though they have been modified by glacial dynamics.

A piece of the schist has fractured off the face of the large outcropping in the photo above.