Sunday, March 22, 2009

3-22-09 Hiking on the Franconia Ridge to celebrate the first full day of Spring

Yesterday was a wonderful treat. It was one of those days in the White Mountains that is rare in that there was no wind and not a cloud in the sky. I had made other hiking plans but quickly changed them to go up Mt. Lafayette and cross the Franconia Ridge. It's a hike I do often but, in this instance, not for several months. It's never boring. So, I'm including this piece in the blog so you can all enjoy the hike.

The early morning light was lovely as I started up the Bridle Path to Greenleaf Hut and Lafayette. There is still an enormous amount of snow in the woods even down in the floor of Franconia Notch where this picture (above) was taken at the junction of the Bridle Path and the Falling Waters Trail. In the notch at 8:30 am the temperature was 0 degrees F and not a flutter of wind.

Lonesome Lake, that thin sliver of white in the near center of the photo, sits in a "pocket" below North and South Kinsman to the west and Cannon Mountain to the north. It's possible the lake was created when a large ice block from a down wasting glacier was dropped off and eventually melted there forming a "pot hole". This, and the next photo, were taken from the Bridle Path as it threads along Agony Ridge, a long "arm" curving down from high on Mt. Lafayette.

Cannon Mountain creates the west side of Franconia Notch and at the right hand edge of the cliff is where the famous Old Man of the Mountains used to reside (before his recent demise). The cliffs in the photograph are a popular rock climbing area. Their sheerness makes one think about how they were "cut" like that to open up the whole side of the mountain. I wonder if you cut a comparable area of Mt. Lafayette if it would look like that in cross section, or any mountain in the region. Are they all solid rock? Certainly, the continental glaciers were met with a lot of resistance or there wouldn't be mountains here at all.

This is alpine woodrush (Luzula spicata), I think. I need to do some work on the woodrushes and the sedges of the apline zone in the White Mountains. At any rate it forms thick mats on the west side of the summit cone of Lafayette and is pale green during the summer.

The summit of Mt. Lafayette from the Greenleaf Trail as it tops out on the west side of the mountain. That's a "glacial erratic" sitting there pretty much on the very tippy-top of the mountain. It was "parked" there thousands of years ago by a glacier that was passing through.

3-22-09 Hiking Franconia Ridge (continued).

This was the view from Lafayette's summit yesterday looking east to Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range. The ridge in the foreground includes the peaks of North and South Twin. S. Twin looks like it's nearly bald but it's just a measure of how much snow there is (roughly 6 feet above 4,000 ft.) and it's deep enough to cover the smaller trees completely.

A fair number of hikers were on the summit of Lafayette and strung across the ridge yesterday. It's a popular hike even in the winter and in the summer there are often hundreds of people on the summit on good days. Two of the people in this photo climbed the mountain without "traction", another word for crampons or other foot gear necessary for climbing on ice. The trails above tree line are exceptionally icy and dangerous. The two young men got up the mountain but were wondering how to get back down.

The hikers on the ridge yesterday were a diverse lot. There were even some folks there older than I am! There were a lot of Canadians and they're always great company. There were even two golden retrievers. The temperature on the summit at noon was probably between 0 and 10 degees F and there was a light northwesterly wind.

Black spruce (Picea marinara) is trying to invade the ridge and probably seeding upwards on the wind from Walker Ravine on the west side of Franconia Ridge. In this photo it's coming up out of a gully where it has soil (of sorts), moisture and wind protection. Black spruce has been able to established a few small "islands" along the ridge in protected sites like the one above and is probably right at the "edge" of its range. It's a frost hardy species but at 5,000 feet above sea level is close to it's ceiling in northern New England. The islands haven't changed much in size or density during the last 50 years but it will be interesting to see, relative to global warming, if the spruce is successful at expanding it's foothold.

3-22-09 Red Rock Basin. Is it a cirque?

This is a picture of what I call Red Rock Basin. It is formed by Mt. Guyot on the northeast side and Mt. Bond, and West Bond, on the southeast side. People have been wondering for years if it's a glacial cirque (predating the Wisconsinan continental ice sheet), or not. The question will probably be resolved this summer when Andrew Riely, and maybe a group of us, will do some research in there.

This is the same picture which appeared earlier in the blog of the summit of Mt. Lafayette from just below the summit of Mt. Lincoln. If you go back to the earlier photo, taken in January 2006, you can compare how the snow is distributed across the ridge and down the east side of the mountain. There's very little difference even though 2009 has seen much more snow.

Two hikers, a Canadian couple from Quebec, relaxed out of a light wind in the enticingly warm sun on the summit of Mt. Lincoln.

3-22-09 Continued.

In an earlier blog entry I pointed out how the man made walls along the Franconia Ridge catch and retain snow adn break the wind to the benefit of plants, like Potentilla, that grow there. The walls are there to keep hikers on the trail and mindful of the delicate alpine plants (some of which are extremely rare and fragile) that grow on either side of the trail. That's the summit of Mt. Lincoln in the background.

There's a lot of Krumholz on the ridge, tucked down in pockets. It's primarily black spruce (Picea mariana) and is often found in these tightly woven mats above timberline. The picture shows how the thick growth catches and traps snow around the roots of the plants making up the mat.

Looking east to Mt. Washington rising up behind the Twins. Owl's head is in the foreground. The photo was taken on the summit of Little Haystack at the junction of the Falling Waters and Franconia Ridge Trails. The Falling Waters Trail descends to the highway (US 3) in Franconia Notch and is one of the legs in the popular 10 mile loop up and across Francona Ridge.

3-22-09 The Descent

A last look (before heading down to the road) up along the Knife Edge and the summit of Mt. Lincoln from Little Haystack.

Lovely late afternoon shadows on the snow on the Falling Waters Trail as it slabs down into the ravine below the summit of Little Haystack.

This is the hardest part.....going back home.

Monday, March 16, 2009

3-16-09 Beech

Beech leaves drenched with sultry March sunlight on the Valley Way in Randolph

Wow! I think I had some really bad karma from past lives and it suddenly reared its head and struck with a vengeance at, of all things, my car; my trusty old car that I’ve coddled for years hoping it would purr through another 100k. I just finished putting two grand into it hoping it would run forever, you know, like me. It was one of those sustainability IQ tests and I flunked. So, whatever it was, karma or no karma, the car’s engine went as I was coming home from my Galehead hike a month ago. I guess the point is how difficult it was for me to let go of the car even though its erratic mechanical condition, the amount of time it's been in the shop, has been hampering my regular work and weekend hiking trips. At any rate, after weeks trying to find a vehicle to replace it I now have a "new" older car that's perfect. So I discover, once again, that it's okay sometimes to just let go, to let yourself free trust! Life can be so astonishing!

3-16-09 The Pleasure of Finding Old Treasures.

It's also astonishing that I finally found these books (displayed in the above photo). I've been frantically looking for them for months. The blue one is Richard Goldthwait’s "Geology of the Presidential Range" published in 1940. It’s the copy Richard gave to me back when I was guiding for the AMC in the 1960s and carried around with me for several seasons in the huts . It’s a bit dog-eared and has what looks like a stain from a greasy plate but it's still a classic. (He updated it in 1968 in a publication I've introduced earlier in the blog that's available on the web.)

The other pamphlets are also classics. They’re the original reprints from "Appalachia", the semi-annual publication of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), of Stuart “Slim” Harris’s series of articles titled "Plants of the Presidential Range". He started the series in 1940 and completed it in 1947. They cover most, if not all, of the plants native to the White Mountains including ferns, lichen, grasses, mosses, flowering plants and trees. They’re lovely to look at because Slim illustrated them with his own pen and ink drawings. My favorite is the one on the grasses because it's the family of plants I know least about. Slim is mentioned earlier in this blog by way of his wife, Callista Harris (or simply, "Cal"), who survived him by many years. They were my teachers in my apprenticeship in the White Mountains. They were both superb naturalists and, as a couple, they also worked in the huts several summers during the Second World War. Slim, much earlier, had been hutmaster at Lakes of the Clouds Hut. I'll check the copywrite on the booklets and if they're okay I'll print material from them in the blog over the next few months as it's time, again, to look at plants.

I’ve put together a “virtual” scale model of the Garfield slide site on the Gale River Trail (see last entry in the blog) that takes into account all the variables of the site (for soil development), in particular trying to define "slope" in terms of mass wasting (it's really steep at the top of the slide track). I can now apply data from the Goldthwait paper on the soil development process and plant succession in Muir Inlet, Alaska. Comparisons between the Gale River site and the areas studied in Alaska are close in most cases. The one anomaly is moisture. The precipitation in that area of the Alaska coastline is high, much higher than the Whites, and, of course, moisture effects plant growth enormously. The objective isn’t precision, anyway, it’s just to get an idea of how old the soils are in the Whites, generally, how they evolved and continue to evolve, and how soils effect the plant population dynamics in the Whites.

3-16-09 Introducing A New Blog

Two women that I had the privilege to work with when I was in Nepal and involved in some sustainable agriculture projects there a few years ago. The Mushar woman in the top photo is planting rice near Rampur. Laljahri Mahji is the woman in the bottom photo and she was a participant in a conference I facilitated in Chitwan.

The very last thing for this entry is that I’ve been putting a huge amount of time into a new blog titled: "The Women of Nepal" about a trip I took to Nepal a few years ago to work on a sustainable agriculture project. I was sidetracked by the people I was working with and had an amazing experience exploring the concept of sustainability in myriad forms. I ended up exploring the change process itself"; looking closely at how we actually create change. The area of change I was interested in the most in Nepal, as a social worker, was the idea of sustainability along side the reality of poverty and helping communities (and individuals) extricate themselves from the culture of poverty and the forces that keep them stuck in it, and through that process become more resilient and sustainable. The blog is still a work-in-progress but if you have a chance take a look at it and tell me what you think. The link is at the top right of this page.