I was back on the Gale River Trail (GRT) last Saturday (9-19-09) and noticing seasonal changes particularly higher number of leaves on the ground with these bright colors that signal the near-end of summer.
Everything is still green, though, including this open stand of sugar maple and beech trees near the trail head. The larger maple in the center measured just over 21 inches in diameter and is one of several dozen specimen maples visible from the trail on the lower mile, or so. Random portions of this area have been selectively cut during the past three decades but not within 200 yards of the trail. The area was extensively logged 80 years ago and these large sugar maples, and some white birch with DBHs of 20-24 inches, are trees that were left in some of the later cuttings. The term 'specimen' means older trees that provide seed for a new generation of trees.
This photo is a bit blurry but I was delighted to find this Indian Cucumber plant with a berry still attached. So this is what the Indian cucumber seed looks like.
This group was descending from an overnight stay at Galehead Hut and they looked kind of glum which I attributed to an assumption they had a pretty cold night. When I got on the trail the temperature was in the low 40s (F) and there was a pretty strong northwest wind and the peaks over 4000 feet were shrouded in dense clouds. Under the edges of the clouds rime ice was visible on the trees so it was well below freezing at the hut.
Hobble bush! My old friend! It's startling to see the near perfection of the opposite leaves when they line up in a long chain across a clump of several adjacent bushes.
First crossing on a gray morning for a change. Yellow leaves were quietly falling from the trees into the river which was mournfully quiet. The sparkle of two weeks ago was gone for the moment, but lovely all the same and the mood was in the vein of something that might inspire a Haiku--something about autumn.
Meredith! We passed at almost the same spot two Saturdays ago as she was runing to meet the truck at the trail head. The supply truck comes twice a week with fresh food and staples for the hut that are packed up to the hut on the backs of the hut croo. The first words out of her mouth were: "I froze last night." Meredith is fall hutmaster at Galehead. I first met her a couple of years ago when she was one of six women on the Lakes fall croo that was one of the most amazing and brilliant croos I've seen in the huts. Women were not hired for hut work until the early 1970s and since then the percentage of women in the hut system each summer has varied. In a few recent seasons they comprised 60 percent and more of the croos and I have to say, with pleasure, that these more recent croos have had a much tougher job to do then we had three and four decades ago when it was all men, and they are better than we were at accomplishing it. Having women in the huts, I think, has been a major improvement in the overall functioning of the hut system from every perspective.
This looks like something out of Sleepy Hollow. It's pretty gloomy. This is a stretch of the trail above second crossing and not far from where I will leave the trail and ascend the slide where
I've been researching soils and plant succession.
My objective on this trip was to get some measurments from two or three "control" plots on either side of the slide track in undisturbed soils, or at least, undisturbed for the past 60-80 years. I began a bushwack up the right hand side of the slide track from this fairly large white birch beside the GRT. Notice the smaller balsam fir growth around and behind it that is struggling and the sparse ground cover.
This photo is looking south towards the slide track. The forest here has been heavily impacted by the slide with an "edge effect" which is basically caused by the increased amount of sunlight that reaches the forest floor as a result of the opening the slide created. This slide, as I've mentioned, opened up a swath more than 100 yards across so sunlight was given access to that whole edge of the slide track and the first trees to respond were the white birch, poplars and alders. They were followed by the more shade tolerant balsams that are seen here in a dense wall right at the right-hand (north) edge of the slide.
This is looking uphill (west)on the right side of the slide and shows a typical boreal forest of whie birch and balsam fir like those we've been looking at all summer. The soils in this location were deeper than I could actually measure and more complex than soils on the slide track. Being much older they have several more horizons. Because of Forest Service restrictions I couldn't dig anywhere within this site and had to be satisfied with a 'probe' to measure the soils. A trench would probably reveal soils several feet deep going from dark brown to a light sandy color like those near the summit of Carter Dome. The top and middle layers would contain clay from the erosion and breakdown of rock particals.
Ground cover under heavy shade includes large beds of spaghnum moss and evergreen wood fern. This is a random sample plot and characteristic of the whole site but there was a variation in ground cover that included other sites shown below.
As the slope steepened a few hundred feet up the side of Garfield the trees became more dense and there was more dead wood on the ground indicating less stablity in the system. There were openings in the canopy caused by storm damage and tree falls. This photo shows a rich and varied ground cover due to an increase in direct sunlight on the ground.
Turning again towards the slide track I found these large boulders marking the edge of the track and dense spruce-fir growth.
To get out onto the slide track I had to force my way through this 'barrier' of balsam fir and spruce required a huge effort. It's bushwhacking at it's best when you have to close your eyes, get down low, and use all your strength to push and claw your way through (and hope you still have some clothes on when you get to the other side).
The edges of the slide track had a thin layer of soil with a cover of a few vibernums including blueberry bushes and also the snowberry that was intewoven with sphagnum moss as we had seen down on the lower section of the slide track.
From the mid-point of the slide track this was the view towards North Twin. There was some rime on the top most trees, near the summit, but there was a hopeful slash of sunlight as well.
I called this spot the 'V' as there was a bottle neck in the slide track here. Two interesting points: There is not vegetation on the gravel bank but near the stream some light soils have managed to develop using a meager supply of organic matter from plants crouching near the water. The second is the density of the spruce-balsam fir growth above the V when compared to the photo below taken in 1974.
This is the pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) growing in a dense cluster in the thin soil on the edge of the perennial stream that comes down the slide through the V.
It would be nice if this was a picture in a Harry Potter vignette and we could say "Hi" to Ken and ask him to move aside a bit but I can also use him for a moment to point out that the V in the last photo is just to the right and above his head in this photo so we can use it as a reference for the remaining photos below.
Looking down from the V across the "sand bank". The GRT and river are about 250 feet down. Looking at the 1974 photo you can see that no vegetation has grown on the sand bank since the slide occurred 50 years ago which is interesting and is most likely due to the steepness of the sand bank and the lack of a growing medium. A few pioneer plants have attempted to colonize it but it resists all of these attempts. The growth lower down on the gentler slope on the right side (looking down) is as dense as it gets and is nearly inpenetrable.
The upper region of the sand bank showing the dense balsam fir growth on the gentler slope there and also how compact the gravel is. The larger stones you see have actually come down fairly recently from somewhere near the top of the slide.
They roll and bounce down the steep section of the slide and land like cannon balls in the sand which 'catches' them. They make a dent in the gravel that sends up divots.
This is what the sand in the sand bank looks like, like typical outwash sand from a slide zone and I wondered if it compares at all to a glacial moraine. It looks similar, certainly. It's very compact and contains no organic matter.
Above the V the situation is less stable. The sand bank is a great deal more stable than what the slide left on the upper half of the track. Most of the rocks in the foreground are ready to roll at the slightest provocation. There are numerous craters in the sand bank made by boulders bouncing down from the upper reaches. There are two 'pockets' or 'bowls' in the track just above here and they have caught some eroding gravel and succeeded in producing enough soil to allow spotty vegetation to take hold.
Above that zone the ledge opens up again all the way up to the ridge. In the 1974 photo this is all denuded 19 years after the slide. Vegetation is still sparse 50 years later. The ledge points to the primary reason there was a slide. The soil on this slope was probably thin and tree roots could not anchor the soil so the whole slope was unstable and with the weight of the trees, soil and water from the hurricane the side of the ridge oozed down the side of the mountain.
What was going through my mind as I ascended the slide was whether this landscape, the rock ledge and sparse vegetation trying to find a stable place to settle in here, was a facsimile to a post glacial landscape. I concluded that it probably is very similar, the whole slide track, and represents the varied terrain and the varied ways soils and plants took hold in the hundreds and thousands of years following the last glacier.
Here is an anomaly of sorts. It's a white pine (P. strobus) growing at 3100 feet on the side of Garfield. There are seven white pine sapplings on the slide track and mid-size older white pines. How and where did the seeds get here. There isn't a white pine within three miles of this side and white pine seeds are contained in cones. They are not distributed on the wind.
In my theorizing as I try to draw some conclusions from all of this I am trying to imagine if the glacier had 'plucked' trees and soil and carried it forward as it advanced and back with it as it retreated? If so I wonder how this organic matter might have been distributed as the glacier melted. Obviously the glacier plucked rocks of all sizes, and gravels, but is it likely that whole forests were ground into the plastic ice at the foot of the glacier, incorporated into the ice, and then deposited in various forms as the glacier abated? Were there large deposits of this organic mix, partially composted, that could be found in declivities and basins, and did this organic matter contain a lot of plant and tree seeds that were still viable after being frozen in the ice all those centuries? The sources of seeds following the deglaciation still fascinates me.
This is the top of the slide track on the south side and shows encroaching vegetation that is making use of a slight declivity in the rock to get a start.
This is where the slide topped out. The slope here is very steep and the trees dense in all directions. There was a slight "schrund" at the very top where the slide material had pulled away from the slope that required the use of hands and feet to negotiate.
I was greeted at the top by this large mountain ash with its clusters of bright red berries that are loved by birds.
I descended via the left hand (south) side of the slide track staying as close to the track as I could and for the first half of the descent I was climbing over huge boulders that were most likely remnants of the slide.
Half way down there were a great many decaying trunks of trees that were quite old and possibly from the slide.
Some of the older material included the trunks of large trees as well as more recent blow downs and everywhere there were large boulders.
Below the half way mark the slope steepened and the forest returned to the white birch-spruce-balsam fir mix with the usual amount of dead material on the forest floor. This was a reprieve as it is easy terrain to walk through.
The soil here was, like it's counter part on the north side of the slide track, too deep to measure adequately although with my probe I could determine that the upper horizon was identical to the north side of the slide.
This is the south edge of the slide just a few feet off of the GRT. I have no idea why the trees are all leaning the way they are but the density of growth and low DBHs are comparative to the entire front, or bottom edge, of the slide.
When I finally got back to the boulder and my gear I was greeted by this large group of hikers on their way to Galehead for the night. The weather was definitely improving and the sun had broken through the clouds several times in the past hour.
Can you see the chipmunk? As soon as the group finished their lunch and moved on up the trail this chipmunk came out of nowhere (or perhaps he lives under the boulder) and began picking up the crumbs left by the hikers. She/he had a good strategy that I have often seen in the mountains and that's used by myriad chipmunks and red squirrels to hang around where hikers are apt to stop and eat.
The chipmunks adaptation to humans includes a bit of begging as well. I had found a yellow M & M candy crunched into the gravel and broken into two pieces that I offered the chipmunk and it came to take them from my hand.
For the afternoon I followed a transect across the slide track at a diagonal and took soil measurements and ground cover samples every eight feet to establish a representative 'mean' for both plant cover and soil depth.
For those of you who are so inclinded to read a scientific abstract Ugolino's results in Glacier Bay 1966 measuring soil development and plant succession in a large deglaciated area will see some close correlation between his results and mine on the GRT slide.