Sunday, June 14, 2009

6-14-09 One more quick hike up to Lakes of the Clouds to look for blossoming alpine flower

I took another hike up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail yesterday (6/13/09) to check out the alpine flowers with the specific objective of taking pictures of the Dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana) if it had bloomed. The cold and rain of the last week slowed things down a bit and only a few flowers were out, mainly the diapensia. The robbinsiana had not blossomed, or at least none of the those that I visited had. A good warm, sunny day like last Saturday will probably bring them out. This Witch hobble at the base of the trail has already blossomed and lost it's petals and is ready to produce it's colorful fruit, but above 5000 feet it's a different story.

The rain increased the volume of the Ammonoosuc River a lot causing these waterfalls to fairly roar above the wind as I ascended next to the river. The interweaving of the sound of the wind and the water falling is lyrical.

The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail is lyrical, as well. It's a favorite of mine, in fact it's in the top ten of my favorite sections of trail in the White Mountains. Hiking the upper section yesterday had a different feel to it than last Saturday. The rains on Friday turned the trail into a river in some places, the rocks were slippery, and there were fewer hikers out. On top of that there was a cold northwesterly wind with grey and ominous looking clouds about.

The White Mountains have several things that make them appealing. They're easy to get to, they're rugged but not intimidating, and the forest that covers and surrounds the mountains probably has one of the most diverse list of plants and maybe animals, too, of any other national forest. There's also a lot of water in the form of rivers and lakes that, for the most part, are pristine, clear and cold but one of the reasons I keep coming back is the light. Everyday is a study of light, regardless of the weather. It must be something about the weather affecting the quality of the air, along with the latitude and longitude and the local topography that conspire to create the most exquisite light. Yesterday with the dark clouds and shadows and hint of rain was no exception. Ansel Adams and others referred to the Sierra Mountains in California as "The Range of Light" but it could equally be said of the White Mountains.

These two waterfalls are on the upper third of the trail almost at timberline and in the dry part of the summer are almost non-existent except after a lot of rain so it's a treat to find them rushing down the mountain in their spring mode.

Once above timberline yesterday I went straight to Monroe flats to check on the robbinsiana and see if there were any of the tiny yellow blossoms. It's still a little early for them but one can hope. Anyway, as I've already noted, there weren't any. Then the question is, do I come back next week and hope they don't blossom between now and then? There's a good chance they will.

The fell-field I included a picture of last week when it was dry was full of water yesterday and looked like a small arctic or alpine "tarn". It's a reminder to me that this area of the White Mountains is a remnant of the arctic climate that existed here for thousands of years. The flowers are the most symbolic vestige of that climate, but the fell fields (in the last blog entry) and rock circles and rock stripes as well as the acres and acres of fracture rocks called Feldsmere are also remnants of that climate. In coming entries I want to explore how the plants got here and also explore the etiology of the geologic features as well.

Comparing this photo from yesterday with the one I took last week shows a few differences, most notably the loss of snow from the rain during the week. But you can feel the striking differences in the light and temperature as well.

Birch is one of the three principle trees found at timberline. Balsam fir and black spruce are the other two. These are the embryonic birch leaves just emerging from a dwarf birch that is growing a few inches out of the wind in order to survive the harsh climate.

The diapensia was the most prosaic flower yesterday. It was literally everywhere in vast colonies and clumps like the one above and spread out like stars in the night sky in the photo below.

The diapensia shares the same habitat as larador tea which is just starting to bud and the lapland rosebay seen here with the delicate pink color.

If you click on these photos to make them full screen size you will be able to see how prolific the diapensia is as it covers the eastern flank of Mt. Monroe. The large snow field that was there last week has shrunk considerably.

A string of hikers ascends the north ridge of Mt. Monroe.

When I was a kid we called this Emerald Pool fittingly enough but the name has been changed to Gem Pool to eliminate confusion with the other Emerald Pool over in Evans Notch near the AMC's Cold River Camp. Gem Pool is located about 1.3 miles up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail and at the base of the Ammonoosuc Ravine headwall and is worth the hike. On the descent from the ridge it is always a welcome relief to get to this point because it means the steep section is behind you and the rest of the descent is fairly level and easier on the knees. If your blood contains antifreeze you might even consider taking a swim here.

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