Wednesday, July 1, 2009

6-27-09 Revisiting Lakes of the Clouds

Last Saturday I made an effort to get on the trail very early so I could spend the better part of the day identifying flowers around Lakes of the Clouds and Monroe Flats again. I had breakfast at dawn with a young moose that hung around grazing on a variety of greens just below the wide porch, or deck, that wraps around the cabin while I ate my grapenuts. The weekend before Liz and I came upon a huge moose, a bull, down near the road who was stunning in his regal bearing and healthy-looking, jet black, glossy coat. They're such amazing animals! As I started up the Ammoonsuc Ravine Trail this past Saturday morning I got close to another yearling male that, after a taking a few seconds to check me out, quietly disappeared in the lush woods.

Speaking of moose I recently read an entry titled "The Moose Are Back!" in the June 1968 Appalachia written by Howie Goff, now deceased, who was a renowned woodsman, an ex-hutman, and long-time veteran of the AMC Trail Crew. In May of 1968 Howie came upon two moose while clearning the Hall's Ledge Trail and later observed that he couldn't believe his eyes. Hall's Ledge Trail lays east-west across a height of land that seperates Route 16 in Pinkham Notch with the Carter Notch Road that's nearly on the Maine-New Hampshire state line. "I was so fascinated and excited that I found it difficult to keep still," he wrote. "To yell for someone else to come and take a look would have ben an outlet for my emotions, but I was alone." That's a good description of how I feel when I see a moose or a bear. Howie turned and reached for his camera but the motion startled the moose and they were gone in flalsh. The main point is that moose had been absent from the White Mountains up until 1968 for 30 years, or more. Even after 1968 it took another decade for the moose population to become significant.

One of my goals for returning to Lakes was to get a picture of the Dwarf Cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsianna) in bloom. The tiny plants have a kind of a fire works display of fine yellow blossoms that arch up from the plant in a lovely cluster that immediately catches your eye. Without the flowers the plants are hard to see. In the photo above there's a dwarf cinquefoil just to the right of center and if you click on the photo to make if full screen you can see how small it is. It's about an inch in diameter, a bit larger than a quarter of a dollar in US currency.

There were small buds on this cinqefoil on June 6th and it finally bloomed around June 22nd. Betsy Cook, the naturalist at Lakes of the Clouds, saw flower heads on this plant on Friday, June 25th, but they were gone 24 hours later. So I missed them! Probably the thunderstorms Friday afternoon and evening, with their high winds and pounding rain, tore away the flower petals. If you look closely at this plant you can just make out the flower stems and buds of three seperate flowers. The important data to remember is they budded between June 6-10 and blossomed between June 22-25. These dates may not be precise but are certainly in the ball park. Miriam Underhill wrote that it's "probably the rarest plant to be found on the Presidential Range. It is a very small and inconspicuous plant whose yellow flowers are gone by the first of July."

To my great pleasure, though, after the disappointment of missing the Cinquefoil flowering , I ran into these lovely alpine bluets (Houstonia caerulea var. Faxonorum) on the broad lawns that stretch east between the lakes and Mt. Monroe adjacent to Monroe Flats.

There was a profusion of them. They're one of my favorite alpine flowers and they appear to be common as dandelions but in reality this variety with the white petals and the yellow center are rare and almost unique to the White Mountains. They are in the Madder family, which is a typically tropical plant family that includes coffee and the plant that is the source of quinine. Bluets in the French Alps are blue.

This is the same feld-field I've been photographing weekly now and full of water and looking all the more like a tarn that you would find in the arctic or on the moors of Scotland.

And this is the view I've photographed every week this month and all three photos you can check out the differences of weather, colors and the general feeling of the "place" around the Lakes. The above photo was taken on June 6th.

This one was taken on June 13th when there was still a bit of snow left but the tundra was still brown.

I took this one last Saturday, the 27th, as a fast moving thunderstorm swept up the southern Presidentials and surprised us as it came down over Mt. Monroe and, simultaneously, swept up Ammonoosuc Ravine. It was really loud with a lot of lightening, but I'm getting ahead of myself. I want to go back to the ascent up the Ammy because there were plants blooming that are worth noting.

The river was still brimming with icy cold water and roaring down the ravine like a freight train.

Long beech ferns (Phegopteris connectilis) (thanx Elizabeth) which are tiny and grow in a cascade of green on the river banks and under the protective lee of rocks beside and in the middle of the trail. They're delicate and lovely. (I had notated Long Beech fern as Dryopteris phegopteris which should have been Thelypteris phegoptris and got a nice message updating it's latin name. At some point I should explain why I include the latin names and how much fun they can be!))

Mountain Avens (Geum pecki) This plant has a bright yellow flower which was just begining to bud last weekend (6-27-090). It's common throughout the White Mountains and usually found on wet ground particularly along streams.

The Ammy (Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail) tops out at Lakes of the Cloud hut after a rigorous ascent of the steep headwall of Ammonoosuc Ravine. This is a typical view of the footing as the headwall is gained and the gradient tapers off a bit. This photo shows the lower edge of the "timberline" zone that was discussed in a recent blog entry.

There was a strong wind coming up through the ravine from the northwest and it was making the flowers dance on their stems so it was hard to photograph them in closeup mode. I haven't keyed this violet out but am going to say it is the American Dog Violent (Viola adunca var. minor) which is more common at lower elevations but often found at treeline.

Above the headwall of the ravine the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail ascends a rock rib paralleling the Ammonoosuc River and in some places it's ledge as in two photos back and in some places steps have been fashioned by repositioning existing slabs of rocks.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) growing in spagnum moss. The flower is similar to Potentilla tridentata but the leaves give it away as they are larger and leathery. The flower gets its name from the roots which are a bright gold color and in herbal medicine are used in tinctures. It's a member of the buttercup family.

Sheeps laurel (Kalmia angustafolia).

This photo and the next one were both taken at timberline on the top of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail and in the photo above of a slab of the Littleton Schist that is the bed rock of the Presidential Range (no, it's not granite) you can see the sculpting force of the last continental glacier (Wisconsinan) that motored through her from 11,000 to 20,000+ years ago. I talked ad nauseum about the glacer earlier in the blog but it's impossible to set all of that aside as you hike up to the ridge because there are so many reminders. Despite all the reading I've done about the local and the larger continental glaciers the whole subject still fascinates me and the details are daunting. At least when you see a clear remnant like this smoothed stone and put your hand on it the glacier comes a live again.

In this photo the glacier is symbolized by the profile of Mt. Monroe (in the background) and the rock formation in the foreground that is locally referred to as "sheep dog". Both Monroe and sheep dog have the same angle of incline facing the direction that the continental glacier(s) approached and then rode up on and over the highly resistant Littleton Schist as the glacier moved southeastward towards what's now Cape Cod.

From Sheep Dog you look up at Lakes of the Clouds hut and a broad area of krummholz that marks the zig-zag zone of timberline on this flank of Mt. Washington. Since writng about timberline a few weeks ago in the blog I read a paper claiming that there is some balsam-black spruce krummholz at 5700 feet in elevation on the east side of Mt. Washington's summit cone which is 400 feet higher than timberline in the Mount Washinton-Mt. Monroe col to the south and west of the summit cone.

Black Spruce (Picea mariana), as has been noted, is often found in clumps of krummholz as this one was near Lakes of the Clouds. I've occasionally gotten confused telling the difference between black spruce and red spruce just by the needles. For instance the flower and tree guide books often say the red spruce needles are more prickly to grasp but if you haven't touched either a Black Spruce or Red Spruce branch before you're going to be confused. It's easier to see differences between them in the cones or the profile of the tree or where it is growing. The cones are quite a bit smaller on Black Spruce and stay on the tree longer than the Red Spruce (Picea rubens). Black spruce is found at timberline. In the forest below timberline the black spruce is only found as a large tree occasionally in bogs. Red spruce is found below timberline in the fir-spruce forest where it is often a large tree.

This is bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) at timberline in late June. It's two or three weeks behind the bunchberry seen at 2500 feet in the valley.

Pale laurel (Kalmia polifolia).

Fir Clubmoss (Lycopdium selago)

There's a small white moth in this photo. Can you see it?

Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum) beginning to bud.

Deer Hair (Scirpus cespitosus var callosus).

Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium idaeus-vitis) makes a good sauce!

A fast moving "thumper", or thunderstorm, came up the Southern Presidential ridge and caught a lot of us by surprise around noon on Saturday. It cleared quickly but was one of many small showers that came in waves during the mid to late afternoon and a season White Mountain hiker would probably say that weather pattern is fairly commom for the season.

As the storm crashed into the mountain we got a glimpse of why the two ponds on Mt. Washington are called Lakes of the Clouds.

It took less than 30 seconds for the clouds to descend around us and completely obliterate the landscape.

Unless you were on a well marked trail or knew the mountain intimately the clouds would probably cause the average hiker to become a bit disoriented because of the rapidity of the change in weather.

The rain sent hikers diving into the big common and dining room at Lakes of the Clouds hut to wait it out.

Since it was Saturday and a full house was expected Saturday night the cook, Phil Crosby, on the right, and bull cook, Carly Jesset, in the middle, were busy most of the day preparing a meal of turkey with stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, salad and fresh bread. That's been the standard Saturday night meal in the huts for 40-50 years. That's Betsy Cook on the left. So there was the cook, the bull cook and Betsy Cook.

It poured during my entire descent until I was close to the trail head and I took these photos of these Clintonia borealis that were glistening from the rain.

And this Bunchberry was irresistibile


Elisabeth said...


Just want to say a magnificent blog, also that long beech fern is Phegopteris connectilis (formerly Thelypteris phegopteris).


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