Saturday, November 14, 2009

11-14-09 Hiking Down Off The Ridge Through The Other Fall Colors

I always have mixed feelings as I start hiking back down the mountain, any mountain. The huts afford that luxurious opportunity to travel light and still be able to stay up high among the peaks for the night. In warmer weather one can linger until after sunset to descend using headlamps and flashlights. But I had promises to keep and I could come back in a day or two, so, as I always do I lingered a bit and then started down. This photo shows where the Valley Way begins it's descent in the ravine created by Snyder Brook. As I mentioned before this little grassy spot is one of my favorite places in the mountains.

On summer days like this, when I worked at Madison in the early 1960s, I used to lie here in the sun after a pack trip and read books by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Kerouac, and D.H. Lawrence. It was Lawrence in "Women in Love" that proclaims, "in the mountains there is freedom" which was a quote that I used often. Kerouac's "On the Road" and "Dharma Bums" were published just a few years before my first summer in the huts and I first read them here on the grass beside Snyder Brook with great glee at their inventiveness and hi-jinks. I couldn't wait to get on the road myself.

This is the way it looked on a summer morning in 1968. It hasn't changed much in all those years. It's still a lovely place to sit and read, or watch the clouds rise to the ridge and pass overhead, to enjoy the warmth of the sun, and to lie on the grass and daydream for hours.

The colors on this hike were stunning. The whole day was marked by infinite variations of the light, always lovely as in this view out towards Randolph and the North.

I overtook these hikers who were nattily dressed. Winter hiking requires good equipment particularly clothing. Over the years the quality, price and availability of good winter equipment has improved enormously. It tends to be expensive but the value is high. These people (are they twins?) were dressed appropriately in highly functional gear. Hiking in winter is so much more enjoyable when you feel warm and secure.

This is frost being extruded out of the ground as it expands. It's pretty! It's also a perfect example of the elemental force (water exanding as it freezes) in the fracturing of the schist bedrock into blocks (that then form the felsenmeer) as well as the solifluction that moves the blocks around.

The next photos show the colors of late fall, after the foliage has gone, and the winter light softens the remaining colors, the whites and dark greens. I love this time of year in the woods because of these colors and the unimpeded views through the trees.

This will be my last entry in the blog on the subject of felsenmeer and I promise not to repeat that word again. I'm still curious about several aspects of the fracturing and my mind goes off on tangents trying to imagine the sequences and time line. Here's a sampling of my enduring questions: Was it hellishly cold? Did the fracturing make a lot of noise, like tiny explosions? Did it occur like a crescendo of popcorn popping with all of the blocks fracturing at once? (I'm joking.) Alas, all those things we'll never know, but it's definitely time to let go of the felsenmeer. The last 14000 years have witnessed other changes that I can be curious about , too.

These last photos are near the bottom of the Valley Way, close to the road. Without leaves on the trees I could hear the truck traffic down on Route 2 from a mile away which is another reminder that civilization is hemming in the mountains on all sides, more and more, and having a greater impact on the forest interior. During all the years I have spent in the White Mountains I have witnessed gradual changes. I hope the pace of change stays the same (for future generations). I often think that every year there's incremental change that only someone who's been around a while would notice and I feel deep appreciation for each moment I'm in the mountains now which is to say a deep love for this place and appreciation for being able to spend this time here. It's nothing compared to 14,000 years, just the blink of an eye, but so precious.

A stand of beech trees gives way to a stand of sugar maples (below).

Isn't it lovely?

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