Monday, September 7, 2009

8-28-09 Carter Dome via Mt. Hight

This will be a quick hike up over Mt. Hight (4675') via Zeta Pass and then across the ridge to Carter Dome (4832') two fairly high summits in the Carter-Moriah Range that runs north to south close to the New Hampshire-Maine state line.

The Nineteen Mile Brook Trail is another of those classic trails that, like the Gale River Trail, follow closely to running water which always adds a magical quality to a hike. The rivers tend to make the air cooler and they also, I think, enhance the quality of the light and I like the sound of the water, too.

Nineteen Mile Brook splits in two half way up the trail towards Carter Notch Hut. The east fork starts at a spring, or seep, high up on Carter Dome and the south fork starts across the notch high up on Wildcat Mountain. By the time the two forks join into a single stream the river has a pretty high volume of water. It is often fished by fly fisherman and it's stocked each year with brook trout by the New Hampshire State Fish and Game Department.

A hiking family coming down after spending a night at Carter Notch Hut.

This boy was the most serene youngster I've ever met on the trail or off. His expression is quite amazing.

On the other hand, his dad was eating rather nervously, and wondering how long it was going to take them to reach the hut.

These are Purple Stemmed asters (Aster puniceus) that are tall and lovely.

They sometimes achieve a pale blue color, almost like chicory which is so prolific on the roadsides. They're sometimes four or five feet tall.

Leaving the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail two miles up from the road I was taking the Carter Dome Trail for the 3 mile hike up to the summit of Carter Dome and at about 2500 feet the forest consists of some old birch some of which have DBHs (diameter at breast height) or six and seven feet. They are astonishing to look up at all the more because this area was extensively logged less than 100 years ago.

The Carter Dome Trail like many trails built by the US Forest Service does a number of 'switch backs' as it gains altitude. This is particularly true on those mountains that had fire towers on their summits and the idea was to 'soften' the grade to make it easier on the fire wardens and the diverse hikers who visited the towers.

A stump at the side of the trail is moldering into soil and is at the point where it almost is soil.

Zeta Pass is at the junction of the Carter-Moriah Trail, the Carter Dome Trail, and not too far away, the Black Angel Trail. The so called pass is a fairly level place in the steep col between South Carter Mountain and the massif of Carter Dome with includes the summit of Mt. Hight. There's a dependable source of water at Zeta Pass but the water here requires treatment to be safe to drink.

This is what the forest in Zeta Pass looks like. It's fairly open and moss covers the ground. It's lovely here in all seasons. The Carter ridge is a perfect hike on a crisp, clear, cold afternoon in the fall because it stays in the trees most of the time but has striking views of the Presidentials and is fairly level for much of it's length.

This is what I call a balsam 'nursery' and one of my reasons for heading up to Carter Dome and Mt. Hight is to look at the balsam population of both these summits. In my curiosity about the insurgence of balsam fir on several summits in the White Mountains I am driven by the memory of 50 years of hiking here and the reflection that many of the summits I hiked as a kid were bare, or at least open.

This is a summery picture of North Carter through the fir trees on the steep ascent up to Mt. Hight from the Carter-Moriah Trail.

This is the summit of Mt. Hight seen from where the trail emerges from the dense balsam fir growth shown in the last photo. Mt. Hight is a bit of an anomaly in that the summit is still open and fairly free of balsams aspiring to greater heights. While there is both balsam fir and black spruce here in krummholz-like clumps, or mats, the summit, at 4675 feet in altitude, is below what we normally think of as the lowest point of 'timberline'. I don't feel that the vegetation on the summit today has increased significantly over the past decade.

This photo is taken from the summit of Mt. Hight and you can see the clumps of krummholz crowding around the top-most area of the peak. The summit is one of the most pleasing in the White Mountains and known for it's fine views in all directions. I spent a few hours here the night of December 31, 1999 here and long enough to see the New Year, 2000, in and, believe it or not, there were 27 other random people up here as well. A few told me that they really believed the advent of the new century was going to be marred by cataclysmic events and they hiked up here to be safe. It was a clear, cold night and the best part was that we could see the fireworks in all the surrounding towns as far away as Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Portland, Maine.

That's Maine over there including the Bald Faces which you can see in the center of the photo that are on the west side of Evans Notch and offer stunning hikes and views. The valley in between the Carters and the Baldfaces represents the upper watersheds of both the Wild River and the east branch of the Saco River. I spent a good part of my childhood living at the south end of this valley and liked to think of it then as my 'backyard'.

The view north towards North Carter and the Mahoosuc range beyond. That's all lovely, wild country still.

The view west includes the Presidentals and the ones in the photo are the Northern 'Presies': left to right, Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison.

Just for fun I added this photo I took earlier this summer (2009) from the top of Mt. Madison looking towards Mt. Hight and Carter Dome which are the two highest summits in the center background. You can see why it's called a 'dome'. You can also get a sense of the depth of Carter Notch.

The summit of Mt. Hight with Carter Dome in the background and a bit of Mt. Washington on the right.

So, again, here is the krummholz of Mt. Hight and quite a large field of 'feldsmeer' like the 'sea' of rocks we see on the northern Presidentials but here at a slightly lower altitude.

The krummholz appears to be wind-stressed and is hunkered down behind the rock outcrops for protection from the wind which is fierce here during the winter. What I notice is the lack of soil on Hight.. There is gravel of mica schist but very little soil which I am assuming is a factor related to the population density and upward growth of the balsam firs.

From Mt. Hight it's a gentle mile over to Carter Dome along this wooded ridge. The balsams wreath the mountain and grow in dense stands along the ridge ahead.

A last look at the summit of Mt. Hight to be able to compare it to the summit of Carter Dome when I get there. Remember that the Dome is 150 feet higher than Hight.

The trail along the ridge between the two summits is a treat. In the winter it is packed with snow almost to the tree tops but on a hot day in August it is like a meditation. The light and the dense balsams on either side and forming a corridor give the ridge an enchanted feeling.

The balsams here are high and their crowns are dense and healthy even though they are growing on a high ridge raked by high winds more days than not and the winds here are brutal in the winter.

This looks like the kind of place you might bump into Hansel and Gretel.

The trail follows the soft upward curve of the 'dome' as it arcs up to the summit. Again, there's the sense of a corridor in the formation of balsams on either side of the trail.

A soil profile is given at a place where the trail has eroded the berm and this one shows the soil to be a dark podzoil with organic matter in the upper most horizon. That is a balsam fir root. Baslam firs are notable for not having deep root system. In most cases in the upper regions of their range the roots are fairly close to the surface thus you see alot of balsam wind kills and blowdowns. The phenomenon of "Fir Waves" will be explored a little later but it describes arcs, or waves, of dead firs that die off due to the combination of shallow roots and high winds on the windward flanks of high mountains.

Foot erosion by hikers produced this trench in the trail that allowed a deeper look at the soils on the summit of Carter Dome and exposed this glacial mix of compressed sand, medium and large rocks and gravel. Because it has been exposed to the elements for some time, both wind and water have probably altered the composition of this profile somewhat so it is not definitive by any means.

The summit of Carter Dome is marked with many cairns as if a culture of 'monument builders' resided here. This scattered cairn marks the topmost part of the mountain and is positioned a little north of where the fire tower stood.

The tower was built in 1929 and taken down in the mid-1940s. This photo was taken in the late 1930s and served as a post card sold in the AMC huts. I was given this one in 1954. I had a memory of seeing the tower but it must have been this picture because I wasn't around until after the tower was dismantled. The reason for referencing the tower, though, is that like Mt. Hale, the summit of Carter Dome was bare when I was a kid. There were no trees for 100 feet down in all directions. At least that's the way I remember it.

I took this photo in pretty much the same spot as the one above it was taken so that the tower, if it were there today, would be in the center of this photo, too. So there are the balsams and the tallest one is 16 feet tall.

This is another post card shot from the summit of Carter Dome looking at Mt. Washinton on a fall day with a little snow on the ground. I'm not sure on what date it was taken but it was probably around 1940. If I remember there being no trees here it's because they were cut down. In other words there were trees here, not very big ones, but they were growing here and were cut down probably when the tower was built. There is also written evidence that there was a fire on the summit of Carter Dome in 1903 and some of the stumps in this photo could have been from trees that were burned. This is what's called a 'pyric timberline', or one that has been created by fire.

I circumnavigated the summit of Carter Dome about 100 feet down and encountered balsam that were as thick as I've ever tried to negotiate. They were nearly inpenetrable. I found that just below the summit they were shorter than those on the summit and deformed by wind.

This was a typical growth pattern on the northwest part of the summit cone.

I even found the remnants of the tower which were piled not too far from the summit on the west side of the mountain. I found these steel girders and old signage and a lot of broken glass from the windows which have probably rotted away by now.

This was a more typical growth pattern on the eastern side of the summit a little north of the Rainbow Trail. Everywhere that I crawled there was think sphagnum moss like this.

On the northwest shoulder of the Dome I encountered this feldsmeer with black spruce and balsam fir forming mats and if you look down the slope there is the impression of a timberline 'zone' where the trees are shortened and bowed from omnipresent wind and the weight of snow.

Looking across the 'frontline' of this zone also gives the impression of being just below timberline and at roughly 4780 feet the altitude correlates to a potential lower edge of a timberline-effect. That's Mt. Washington and Mt. Jefferson in the background.

Unlike the post card shot this is the only view of Mt. Washington available and it is through these older balsam firs that are 300 feet below the summit on the west flank of Carter Dome.

The way Carter Notch Hut looked when I first visited.

This will probably be the only time I will grace this blog with my image but I'm placing it here to give evidence that Carter Notch is a special, magical place for me. I was five years old when this picture was taken standing outside Carter Notch Hut on an overnight hike with my family that included an ascent of Carter Dome on the second day. No, that's me on the left (in the state-of-the-art trail running shoes).

The first Carter Notch Hut built (and photographed by an unknown photographer) in 1914.

Another shot of the hut taken in 1917.

The site of the first hut as it looks today.

Katie, Dominic and Alex loafing for a few moments by the lake at Carter Notch before putting dinner on the table for the evening hut guests.

A south bound "thru hiker" on the Appalachian Trail accompanied by his dog

1 comment:

John said...

Very thorough and interesting account of a great hike. Thanks. It's my favorite. John