Saturday, August 28, 2010

8-28-10 The Famous (or Infamous) Hut Traverse

 (a note: this piece was edited and rewritten in some places in August 2012 to increase it's accuracy and to correct some glaring typos. Enjoy.)

I've been moved more than once in the past two or three years to write a piece for the blog about something that isn't related to natural history, at least not directly, but is more about the AMC hut system and the folks that have worked in the huts and for the Club during the past 80 years. The subject is something that's known as The Hut Traverse.

George Heinrichs, as a nattily dressed faux George
Clooney, packing down from Greenleaf recently.

Update for August 2011. George Heinrichs ran the traverse this month in an official time of 12h:38min going westbound from Carter.

A few weeks ago, when I was at Greenleaf, George Heinrichs and some of the other croo got into a discussion of the Traverse because George and Mary (Weir) had each successfully completed hut traverses in August. George has, like a number of us have, a bit of an obsession with it and for a really good reason because, if you're an athlete, it's an excellent training regimen for developing "core strength".

The hut traverse is a feat that involves hiking/running across the entire hut system, physically going to each of the huts in the chain, in a single, uninterrupted passage. There are no specific rules, no guidelines even. You can do it in any manner you like. Certainly no one has to do it, no one has to tell anyone they did it, and there's no fame or fortune given to anyone who does it, and there's no recognized "record" anyone can claim for doing it. It's a personal endeavor attempted mostly by those who just want to see if they can do it. In terms of the elapsed time to cover the roughly 52 mile-distance of the Traverse most of those who attempt it are trying to finish in 24 hours or less.

The first recorded completion of the Hut Traverse was on August 30, 1933 accomplished by two AMC hutmmen, Ev Loomis and Ray Batchelder . The hut "chain" was actually completed in 1932 when Lonesome, Greenleaf, Galehead and Zealand huts all came on line and made the Traverse possible but the idea of The Traverse seems to have spontaneously occurred as the huts were official opened. The history of the Traverse actually goes back to August 9, 1932 , less than a month after the new huts opened for business, when Dick Dodge from Galehead, Ray Falconer from Lonesome, and Stillman 'Stilly' Williams from Greenleaf, hiked together from Lonesome to Madison in 24 hours more or less on a whim. They reported spending seven of those hours "stumbling around in the Northern Peaks because our flashlights had failed."

At 6 pm on August 30th, 1933, Ev and Batch, inspired by the Dodge, Falconer and Williams trio's "walk", started out from Carter Notch Hut wearing hob nailed boots and carrying good flashlights with spare batteries. They went over the Wildcats and made it to Pinkham by 7:45 pm and then Madison Hut by 10:40 pm. (There's a crucial footnote that I'll enter here which is until the mid 1970s every hut traverse attempted and/or completed included the AMC's Pinkham Notch Camp. It was considered part of the hut system at that time. This is vastly important to remember since it has an obvious impact of the time/distance factor.)

Madison celebrated Ralph and Ev's arrival by lighting firecrackers and ringing a cow bell. The pair sat down to a full supper, re-nailed their boots for the trip across the ridge, and they taped up their feet. They were at Zealand by 7 am and sat down to a hearty breakfast there and rested for a full hour before heading for Ghoul (Galehead Hut) which they reached at 10:30 am. They were at Greenleaf by 3 pm and finished at Lonesome at 5:15 pm, completing the Traverse in 23 hours and 15 minutes. (The complete story of this first Hut Traverse can be found in the December 1933 volume of Appalachia).

In the December 1936 issue of Appalachia, in a story titled, "On Breaking One's Own Record", H.L. (Bert) Malcolm, the author, begins with, "Although I had been climbing in the Adirondacks during vacations quite steadily since 1907, and occasionally in the White Mountains, my interest in 24-hour mountain marathons was not aroused until 1931, when the exploits of the Marshall brothers, Professor Griffith and others stimulated me to make an attempt at their records. In the course of the friendly competition in the Adirondacks which followed, news came through Appalachia of the hut to hut record in 23 hrs., 15 minutes made by Batchelder and Loomis in 1933."

Malcolm, inspired to try and break Batch and Ev's record, began his own Traverse from Carter at 12:04 am on July 7, 1936. He reached Lonesome at 10:07 pm setting what he terms "a new record" of 22 hours, 4 minutes." Malcolm measured the distance at 52 miles with a total gain in altitude of 16,000'. A few weeks later he did the Traverse again starting in daylight from Carter and changing the script a little by including all the summits of all the Presidentials. The added distance made the course 55 miles in length with altitude gained at about 19,000'

So that's the origin of the Hut Traverse and it began in the spirit of breaking records. Malcolm was not an AMC employee so he introduced that feature to the Traverse as well. This isn't strictly an exclusive pastime of AMC employees. But regarding "pastimes" a fascinating foot note to add here is that the Dartmouth College Outing Club (DOC) created what they called the "Midnight to Midnight Walk" that was all the "rage" (like eating goldfish) for a few years after WWI, from 1917 until at least 1920. An article in the December 1932 Appalachia by Sherman Adams (a famous name in New Hampshire) tells of incredible feats performed by Dartmouth students, himself included, walking on a mix of back roads and some trails for distances up to 83 miles around central NH in exactly 24 hours. The competitive nature made it very popular for several years and H. L. Malcolm, and others, had been inspired by both the competitive part as well as the camaraderie. I was curious about the Midnight to Midnight aspect and how some of the first hut traverses were started at midnight. I wondered if there was a direct connection since a lot of hut croo members over the years have been Dartmouth students. In 1934 Malcolm was written up in Appalachia as breaking an existing record in the Adirondacks by hiking 40 miles over the high peaks in just under 24 hours, commenting afterwards that he felt fine. He definitely had the "bug".

I read "On Breaking One's Own Record" as a kid after discovering the copy of Appalachia from December 1936 in the bookshelf at my family's summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee. I was 10. For some reason Malcolm's story of the Hut Traverse stuck with me and I vowed to myself that I'd do it someday (and climb Annapurna, Everest and K2, set a world record in the Mile, write the 'great American novel', etc).

During the War years of the 1940s some of the huts were closed for lack of people to run them. A few, like Zealand, were run by married couples (which is another history that needs to be written) but, generally, croos were scarce and up through the mid 50s there are no published report of anyone completing the Hut Traverse. In 1958 Christopher (Chris) Goetze, a friend of H. L. Malcolm, and a member of the Harvard Mountaineering Club and Randolph Mountain Club (RMC) "ran" the Traverse in 16 hours, 41 minutes on August 14, 1958. Chris was in great shape from a combination of biking, hiking, technical climbing in the Canadian Rockies, working at Crag Camp and Gray Knob on Mt. Adams for the RMC, and very fast, long hikes around the White Mountains. He measured the distance covered by the Traverse at 51.76 miles which in his successful attempt he covered at an average pace of 3.1 mph. An article by his father, Klaus Goetze, in the December 1958 Appalachia titled "Far and Fast" details Chris' impressive training regimen and his Traverse which set a new precedent of going West to East; starting at Lonesome and ending at Carter. Chris, like Ev and Batch and "Bert" Malcolm, included Pinkham Notch Camp in the Traverse. Two friends of mine described Chris as he came through Pinkham on the last leg of his run and said he was guzzling a #10 can of pineapple juice as he ran down Rt. 16 towards the Glen House. I was duly impressed. I was also impressed that his training for the Traverse included running up Mt. Adams from Randolph to the Summit four times in one day with a total rise of 18,000 feet!

Chris' well publicized traverse catalyzed several more attempts including one in the summer of 1960 by Tom Deans, the hutmaster at Greenleaf Hut who also ran it West to East. Tom had to abort his traverse at Lakes due to a painful rash. I was inspired by Tom (who was a role model for me when I worked in the huts) and in the summer of 1963 I wanted to try a traverse. I was in great shape. In the fall of 1962 I'd lowered my Mile time closer to my goal of 4:00 minutes while winning two significant distance races in Europe one on the Ifley Road track in Oxford, England, where Roger Bannister had first broken the 4 minute mile in the early spring of 1959 before officially breaking it racing against Ron Landry in the 1959 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, BC. Bannister was definitely one of my heroes. I kept the photo of him at the finish tape of the Magic Mile at Vancouver over my desk where I did my homework every night in high school. In 1961 or 1962 I was waiting in line at the Exeter Street Theater in Boston to see Peter Seller's new movie, at the time, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (but were afraid to ask) and Roger Bannister was standing behind me and we had a nice chat. It was a great moment.

The author packing into Zealand in May 1966,
three years after running the hut Traverse.

In July of 1963 I packed everyday I wasn't guiding. I packed at Galehead and Madison where the pack trails are long and/or steep. On July 28th Willey "El Wacko" Ashbrook and I packed a combined weight of 283 lbs across the Gulf Side Trail, a distance of 6 miles, from the Cog Railway to Madison Hut. That's an average of 141.5 pounds a piece, close to what each of us weighed that summer. We took the Cog up to the Gulfside Tanks, jumped off the train there (it was still moving) with our loads already tied securely to our pack frames and came across the ridge because it was "too hot" in the valley (we thought it would be easier and cooler than coming up the Valley Way) and because we hadn't heard of anyone doing it before. We honestly thought it was going to be easy, like a walk in the park, but it took us more than 6 hours! My load of 145 pounds that afternoon was thought to be a Madison record (which I didn't accept at the time) for weight packed to the hut. (A much heavier load of 194 lbs was brought up the Valley Way in 1966 by Sid Havely !)

To test my fitness for a hut traverse in a pace between 4-5 mph, I made a trial run on August 16th. Without planning exactly where I was going I left Pinkham at noon, ran up to Lakes arriving at 1:05 pm (that's after stopping to vomit violently at the top of the Tuck Junction). I stopped there briefly and continued down the Crawford Path and over the A-Z Trail to Zealand Falls Hut arriving there at 3:15 pm, had a cup of tea with Jeff Damp, signed the log book, and returned to Lakes arriving totally exhausted at 5:50 just as they were serving dinner. I has covered 30 miles in just under 5 hours. Tom Martin and Stan Cutler had me lie down on some blankets in a corner of the kitchen while the Lakes croo finished serving supper to the guests. After resting 20 minutes I drank a large eggnog and proceeded up to the summit of Mt. Washington, ran down the Auto Road, across the Old Jackson Road to Pinkham Notch Camp arriving just before 8 pm. I'd covered 39 miles with 10,600 ft in vertical gain in a little under 8 hours (including rests). I 'd maintained an average pace just under 5 mph. I had a "good" day. I was in top form and everything clicked. The first twenty five miles felt easy. It was a lark compared to committing myself to an actual hut traverse. So the success of the trial was partly due to serendipity, something you hope for but can't always predict will happen. To successfully complete a hut traverse averaging 4.5 mph would depend on a steady intake of fluid and nutrient, the weather, my feet and my footwear holding up, staying focused, and quite a bit of luck. The weather was crucially important. I needed a cool day, even a cloudy day, or even a day with light showers so I'd stay cool. On the trial run I hit a "wall" around the 30 mile mark as I came back up the Crawford Path towards Lakes and faded quickly because I'd been lazy about my hydration and energy intake. This had to be precisely managed to minimize acid build up (lactic acidosis). The Twinway, going westbound, is in the 30-40 mile range and is a hot, dry desert on hot summer days. My body weight was a 145 pounds (no extra weight). I was fearful of two things: falling somewhere and/or getting paralyzing leg cramps and particularly in that dark, forbidding 6 miles between Ghoul and Lafayette.

My log entry at Zealand Hut on August 16, 1963.  I made a little joke out of it at the time because I didn't want people to think I was bragging. I often put down my own accomplishments.

I began my hut traverse a week later starting at Madison. I'd been packing at Madison when my normal set of days off began (my last set for the summer). I also started from there because I do not do as well on downhill as I do on uphill. I left Madison at 5:08 in the morning not knowing exactly how far I would go that day. I intended to go down via Parapet and Osgood Ridge but at the very last minute chose the Madison Gulf Trail because it's like a elevator and gets you down quickly. So, I first ran to Carter via the Madison Gulf Trail, the Great Gulf Trail, the Osgood Ridge Trail to the Glen House (as all the trails from the Gulf went to the Glen House at that time) and up the Aqueduct Path to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail and the hut (8.7 miles), then, ran up over Wildcat and down the Wildcat ski trail (big mistake) to Pinkham Notch Camp (total 13.3 miles), and up to Lakes (total 17.8 miles) via the Tuckerman Ravine and Cross Over trails. To continue past Lakes my elapsed time needed to be 4 hours, 20 minutes or less. If it was slower than that I would bail and try again another time. If it was unduly hot, I would also quit to avoid injury.

The caption under my photo in the 1961 Wellesley High School yearbook read, "possesses great endurance and a quick sense of humor." As a distance runner in high school and college I "built" that endurance by learning to pace myself efficiently meaning that I finely tuned my pace to fit the event I was running and the time I wanted to run it in. If I was running the Mile and I wanted to run it in 4:20 minutes I ran four 65 second quarters precisely and, by using "pace" to save energy could put on a lot of speed in the last 300 yards. I used the same strategy for the Traverse as I watched for every chance to save energy that I would sue on the stretch from Galehead to Greenleaf. A newspaper clipping in a local paper covering a race I'd won said, "MacPhail runs like a gazelle. He's what coaches call a picture book runner." I doubted that a coach ever uttered the words "picture book runner" but it complimented the efficiency I was achieving. Ron Landry, of New Zealand, who also broke the 4 minute mile at Vancouver when he took second place to Bannister, was one a pretty runner, also, in the sense that he had a natural, graceful "look" and performed with great efficiency.

Another facet of my endurance was brought to light when I overheard a teammate ask another, "Do you think MacPhail doesn't feel pain, or does he feel it and move past it?" I heard it as a compliment to the level of endurance I'd been developing. Ernest Shackleton, Maurice Herzog. Tenzing Norgay, Roger Bannister, John Harlin were a few of my childhood heroes. They all had remarkable endurance. Shackelton's motto was "Fortitudine Vincimus" or, "By Endurance We Conquer". He named his ship The Endurance. I had a fierce dedication to achieving a high level of endurance as do most athletes who want to go on to bigger things. A risk is always that in shaping one's endurance it is also easy to cause self-injury. For me that would be running my knees out.  Everything I was doing when I was around 20 years old I saw it as "heroic" and fantasized about proving myself, or being tested in a feat that would require great strength and for me to withstand great pain and deprivation.

Could have been compensating for a deeper feeling of inadequacy. Like a lot of teens that I work with now as a therapist I had a really low self esteem. Running, hiking, packing those high weights certainly resolved that anxiety and the emptiness. Nothing in the world made me feel as good as finishing a great workout on the track or tying on 110 pounds on my packboard and getting it up to Galehead in 2 hrs. 30 min.

My time to Lakes was on target. The weather was cool and I felt fluid. I had vomited on top of the Tuckerman Ravine headwall but I was running easily with no sign of cramps. I knew I could average 6-7 mph to Zealand as I had the previous week. I could also conserve energy on the long downhills. My goal was to get to Zool in 6h:25m and rest there for 10 minutes with a cooling swim in the icy flume of Whitewall Brook. Zealand was 3/5 (20 miles) of the total distance. Galehead, if I got that far, was 40 miles or 4/5 of the total distance (roughly). My elapsed time to Ghoul was 8 hrs:24 m and off target. I had dropped my pace on the Twinway between Zool and Galehead as I feared. Starting down South Twin and looking over at Garfield and Lafayette I was ranting under my breath, "forget it, you can't do it! You're an ass hole".

At Galehead I ate protein and hydrated with koolaid (the 1960s version of Gatorade). The last 1/5 of the traverse is painful and exhausting. Garfield by itself is a killer. I kept repeating "it's only 12 miles from Galehead to Lonesome " as I put my heart into summitting Garfield first, then Lafayette. I had hoped to cap Lafayette at 10h:00m but I was way off that and I was 45 minutes behind at the summit of Lafayette. Disappointment surged through me, but as I glanced back at Mt. Washington far, far behind me, I experienced that incredibly satisfying sense of astonishment seeing how far I'd come. To the west Lonesome Lake beckoned. I had a long downhill to reach Franconia Notch and I ran off the summit magnificently as I showed off for some hikers that were watching me. As I passed Greenleaf Hut some guest sitting on the front steps gave me a big boost by applauding as I quietly passed and disappeared down the Old Bridle Path.

(Added in August 2012) I want to add here that I have found, and it was particularly true on my August 1963, that I ran much better when I was being watched, particularly by a significant "other" like a parent, or girlfriend or anyone of personal importance to me. I ran my best mile with my girl friend on the time watching from the stands. Packing in the huts, too, it became amusing that I would be panting up the trail complaining, swearing, hating it and when a group of people came down, particularly if there was a pretty girl in the group (or, better) a whole camp of pretty girls, I suddenly was standing straight, head up high, surging with adrenalin, and fairly sprinting up the trail. The applause from the Greenleaf guests gave me that kind of surge, but other hikers did as well. To point out a few: a couple in the morning as I was heading up to the Wildcats, some hut guests leaving Lakes and coming across the Tuck Cross Over, a really pretty young woman on the Crawford Path who quickly handed me a packet of raisins as I ran by. That interaction alone gave buoyed me no end and gave me a energy boost that would "carry" me for miles. (I didn't stop thinking about her for  hours. Go ahead and laugh, but how often did you do something better than you might have because you were showing off for someone?)

Recently there's been talk about 'records'. Matthew Cull who did the traverse in 1993 was still claiming a record until recently, I think, of 13 hr. 14 min.  Before him Bertie Malcolm and Chris Goertze both claimed records. In 1963 I wasn't aiming for a record. Few people knew about the traverse in 1963 outside of a small group of people, but there was no one to impress, really, and there wasn't a place to record it. Also, to set a record would require proof, validation, of some kind and I had none. I didn't think about proving I did a traverse to anyone because I wasn't sure I would finish it. I was already an excellent athlete with superlative strength and endurance but I was looking ahead at the slim chance of winning a berth on the 1964 US Olympic track team. There were moments when I really wanted to because my negative self-talk was getting to me, but I didn't quit only because I wanted to see how far I could go and how much I could push myself. Like Roger Bannister, I wanted to see if I could go beyond my limit. I'm so glad I didn't quit. I don't like to quit anything unless it's wise to do so. Completing the traverse has it's own rewards for each person that tries it, I didn't make the 1964 Olympic team because of knee problems. I had trained too much which is a lesson in itself. The traverse was a training exercise. Taking the long view of all the training I did in my teens and twenties the traverse still benefits me in everything I do. I still have the core strength and the mental and physical ability to do marathon hikes, run up and down mountains, ski, etc. as I turn 70. It was a good investment.

It should be mentioned that there's a larger group of sensible folks who've completed the hut traverse by enjoying in small groups taking a more leisurely pace and good food to eat long the way.

Another footnote is that in the early 1960s there were a number of other runners in the White Mountains making fast times on the trails. They include Mark Ottey, who worked Construction Croo in 1961 who was a Nordic Combined skier with a lot of endurance and who could cover distances amazingly fast. He and his girlfriend, Connie Illia, hiked with full packs from Liberty shelter to Guyot shelter in 7 hours! Dave Langlois ran Cross Country for UNH (University of New Hampshire), worked in the huts and trained on the mountain trails. He beat me soundly on the UNH cross country course; Al Koop worked at Lakes a few summers and was very fast on downhill (which I was not), and Ludwig Schiessel who worked in the huts and is legend for his speed and endurance was usually faster and often possessed more stamina than I and did amazing feats of packing and running, in fact he's still running. I timed Ludwig once in a round trip up the Fire Trail from Pinkham to Tuck Shelter and back in 28 minutes (averaging 10 mph). Willie "El Wacko" Ashbrook was, and still is, a strong, fast runner and legendary on the pack trails of Madison and Mizpah. I fondly remember his sub-14 minute sprint into Zealand Hut from the trail head for a cold beer. The 50s hut generation, the one before Dave, Ludwig, Willie and I, had the likes of George Hamilton, Mac Stott, and Chuck Rowland who didn't publicize their trail running prowess but in private conversations blew my socks off with some of the times they made and it's possible that George's time from Madison to Lakes could still stand as one of the swiftest. So there is a tradition and a vast cast of characters, some known, some unknown, who've taken wing and run up, down and sideways across these beloved Hills and in most cases just for the hell of it (and a beer, or two).

It's possible to say that more than three hundred people completed the Traverse in various and sundry times from the late 1970s til' 2010, AMC employees and others. Someone's even done it in the winter! Whenever I bump into someone on the trail who was/is attempting the Traverse I ask them to stay in touch so an accurate history might get written someday.

Mary Weir packing down the Bridle Path from Greenleaf.
She ran her first Hut Traverse in August 2010 in 22 hours.

These days there are lots of non-AMC folks doing the Traverse but it's most popular with AMC croo like George, Mary, RD, and others who have a lively interest in it as both a challenge and a training regimen. A few weeks ago George completed a Traverse in 14:17 hours and Mary Weir, also on Greenleaf croo, completed a Traverse in 22 hours. I'm aware of 31 AMC croo who completed the Traverse in the past four years with 12 so far this summer and that includes Ari's Ofsevit traverse (read Ari's description of his traverse in the Comment section). Average time over this summer has been a little under 17 hours. My conversations with George and Mary and others like Hillary Gerardi who did a Traverse three years ago by telling herself that she was "just going for a really long walk", focus on the personal education regarding fitness and training. I think it would be brilliant for someone to write a current history comparing attempts not so much about time but more about training, fluid intake, how to reduce stress and improve energy efficiency and stamina. It is, after all, the equivalent of two back-to-back marathons with 16,000 feet-plus in altitude gain!

As already noted those people who completed the traverse pre-1974 included Pinkham Notch Camp in the Traverse which means a mileage increase and added time. The distance of the added leg depends on how you run it. The usual West to East strategy was to go to Lakes, Madison, then Pinkham and Carter and East to West to go to Pinkham, Madison, Lakes, but pre-70's people were also using different trails than those used for the Traverse today. Even in the past four years trails have changed somewhat. To go from Madison to Carter directly is .4 miles longer now then it was in 1970. Lonesome Lake Hut is .6 miles further west than it was in 1965. Conversely, trails have been reconfigured in places and improved. The .9 mile section between Galehead Hut and the summit of South Twin was like a shaky ladder prior to 1976 and is now a escalator by comparison. Happily I can report that the A-Z Trail between Crawford Notch and Zealand that used to be a nightmare; a quagmire of mud so deep that you could lose a boot in it, is still a nightmare.

Lastly, hiking equipment has changed dramatically since the first Hut Traverses were completed in the 1930s. Transporting fluids, water, etc, with the new technology of bladders outfitted with tubes and mouth-pieces is revolutionary. Footwear keeps getting better. I wore Adidas cross country shoes that were designed for the 1960 Rome Olympics. I had been given three pairs and I wore two of those out training and running the Traverse but they saved me a huge amount of energy compared to heavy hiking boots. I wore Limmers on the first leg down Madison Gulf and switched to Adidas at the Carter pack house. I had another pair of Limmers waiting at Ghoul in case I felt it was necessary to switch for the Garfield and Lafayette descents but I stuck with the Adidas. The trail shoes I wear today, Salomons, are light, like the Adidas, but super tough with great traction and adhesion to rocks (even wet) and slabs.

This short history was my way of introducing the Hut Traverse, catalyzed by conversations with George and Mary, but also a forum to tell what I remember about my 1963 traverse with the caveat that memory is not often synonymous with accuracy. In this narrative I feel that I have achieved perhaps 80 percent accuracy. My time was a personal best. That's all. I've never claimed a record on the traverse mainly because I have no proof that I actually ran one. I think of it as a personal endeavor meant to build strength and confidence. I was doing it because I love the challenge, not to make a name for myself. I'm supportive of anyone who tries the hut traverse with or without the need to set a record but my genuine interest is with those like Mary, George, Ari, RD, Nate, Sarah B., Matt D., Phil, Hillary, etc, who do it for the challenge, training or pleasure: for the satisfaction.

The Hut Traverse is not the only game in town, either. There are several other grueling hikes that can be addictive, some that have already been mentioned. My favorites is the Mahoosucs (one way north or south) with a bike return (approximate 11-12 hrs.), Kilkenny Ridge (one way) with a bike return (11 hrs) as well, the West and East Pemi Loops (10-12 hrs), the Presidential Traverse with a bike return (or Guy Gosselin when you don't have a bike) (10-12 hrs), and the Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Ridge(s) with a bike return (8-9 hrs). They're all long but you can do them in a day and have fun. Elapsed times vary, of course, but for most of these mentioned its under 12 hours. There are a few I haven't done like Swan's Traverse (going from Randolph to Pinkham in the most grueling way imaginable). My dream is to try a Gorham-Moriah-Carter-Wildcats-Washington-Clay-Jefferson-Adams-Madison Loop via Glen Boulder, and Pine Link back to Guy Gosselin's house in Gorham, in one day. It's about 40 miles.

Not to be too redundant I want to conclude by saying that when people ask why I do these "ridge runs" I try to tell them what a the deep pleasure I get being able to move fluidly and freely, like Chingachgook in "Last of the Mohicans", to run like a deer and move effortlessly uphill, and the zen-like feeling of being one with the mountains; for the joy and satisfaction (power?). Try one yourself and see if you get the bug!

8-28-10 Dougy Dodd Leaving Lakes after the Summer of 1969

Inspired by the photos of Johaness (Griesshammer) and Arran (Dinsdorf) (in the last Lakes of the Clouds entry 8-14-10) packing out their personal belongings, including their skis, from Lakes at the end of the 2010 Summer Season, Douglas "Dougy" Dodd sent this photo of him leaving Lakes at the end of the summer of '69 with his skis. Dougy said the load weighed 140 lbs and he took it down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the comment that he "only fell once" followed by, "we did some pretty stupid stuff back then." My response is, "we did do some pretty stupid stuff (at times) and we loved it". I'm sure Johaness and Arran and most current croo would agree.

A significant tidbit of historical data is embedded in Dougy's photo and that's the elaborate flag pole set up that he's standing next to. That no longer exists. It confused me because I couldn't remember the flag pole ever having been there. Dougy said they frequently hung underwear from it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

8-20-10 Zealand Pond, Zealand Valley

If last Sunday (8-15-10) was one of the loveliest days I've spent in the mountains this Friday was its twin. I was lucky to have the day off so I could wrap up my cursory explorations of the aquatic habitats of the five ponds and lakes I selected. I wanted to finish this up while the weather was still warm and the day turned out to be nearly perfect. Zealand Pond was different, by comparison, with the previous four lakes I'd investigated and was not what I had expected.

At the half way point to the pond, where last year this beaver dam was causing flooding including water across the Zealand Trail, some enterprising person put in two lengths of stainless steel stove pipe as a top drain to help keep the water at a manageable level. It'll be interesting to see how this works in the winter.

A few feet away the trail leading to Z Bridge was dry again after being flooded most of last fall and winter.

It's clear beavers are back in the valley in force and refurbishing older dams to establish a habitat for themselves that's safe and sustainable (for them) .

The trail was lovely, as it almost always is, including this section through the birches which is my favorite part of the hike and the sunlight early Friday morning was filtered by a thin layer of clouds that gave the trees a silvery sheen.

This small pond beside the trail has been highlighted in this blog before but it is interesting to see how much more the vegetation has fanned out on the southern edge in the past two years and reduced the surface area of the water.

Zealand Pond, part of it, lies behind the overgrown beaver dam in the photo. The pond and the area around the pond has been dissected many times in the past 100 years by beaver dams that may have been designed by the beavers in masterful attempts to change how the water moved up and down the valley. The pond in on a watershed divide and has two outlets that flow to the ocean in two different directions. One flows north into the Zealand River that flows into the Ammonoosuc River 11 miles downstream. The pond's south outlet flows into Whitewall Brook which becomes a branch of the Pemigewasset River in just a few miles at the southern end of Zealand Notch.

This is the south end of the pond. Zealand Falls Hut is located up there on the ridge behind the pond. You can see a bit of the roof left of center of the photo. My plan was to set three 'lines', or 'transects' across the pond: one directly across the pond from this point just to the right of the exposed rock, then north to a small island, and then up to the northwest corner of the pond and back to my starting point. Establishing transects is simply a way to secure "randomness" in a series of measurements, or observations, so those observations can be repeated at a date in the future. Randomness (is there is such a word?) is desired so that the observations won't be biased.

Looking north towards the island I just mentioned and, in the background, an old beaver dam that was built almost 30 years ago (post 1967) and extends entirely across the pond that the beavers used to split and control the flow of water in the lake between the two outlets. Mt. Hale is in the background.

The water was cool, but not cold. I thought I might be able to stay in as long as I wanted. This was my first view upon diving in. It looked eerie. Everythings seemed dead and unattractive in the orange colored water.

I'd seen these plants in the lakes at Carter and Lonesome but not covered with silt and looking half dead.

This, too, was familiar, and it also had a death-like pallor.

A log on the bottom in 6 feet of water near the outlet. The log was not decomposing and was pretty solid. It could probably be lifted out, cut up, dried and still used for something.

This is the bottom in only 4 feet of water and...

This is the bottom in 6 feet of water. That is the deepest water I found and it's in front of the outlet. The outlet, during high water, creates a flow of water and a pretty strong current towards the south and it carves out a six foot-deep trench that's about 40 feet long.

Another log in the vicinity of the outlet.

On the second transect, heading northeast, I found some green plants covered by algae and, whether it was the silt or something else, they didn't look very healthy and it was at this point that my disappointment in Zealand Pond began to hit me. I had hoped for another experience like Lonesome Lake where I would find obvious health in the aquatic system that would mirror the environmental health of Zealand Valley.

On the northeast transect I found this plant in 30 inches of water. They obviously looked much different than other plants I had been observing if only for the green pigment, chlorophyll, but also by their dendritic (branching) form.

They had thick, fleshy stems and looked generally healthy but in this strange light it was difficult not be repelled by them.

For instance, this one looked kind of extraterrestrial and eerie.

When I saw this plant close by I had the sudden thought that I was on Mars.

In the middle of the northeast transect I found this hole and realized, as at Lonesome Lake, that it was a moose's hoof print. It was a dent in the bottom sediments 5 inches deep and it was easy to make out the outline of the hoof.

As I looked around I saw hundreds of them in a diagonal line that ran northwest by southeast and that suggested a moose interstate highway of sorts because it was clear that a lot of moose, or a few particularly anxious moose, had cut across the pond here over a lengthy period of time . From my bushwhacking experiences throughout the Valley particularly on the back side of Whitewall Mountain extending over to the Willey Range I'm aware of the extensive moose "yards" in the area and the traffic across the pond lines up with at least two of the yarding and browsing areas.

Closer to the island the diversity of plants increased. There weren't signs of there being more oxygen in the water, or less, but it was difficult to tell because of the silt. I concluded that the silt could be a result of turbulence caused by the moose as they cut across the pond with their hooves churning up the bottom sediments into clouds of silt drifting in the water and finally settling.

At any rate, this photo alone, speaks about eutrophication and the major change in the habitat on the bottom of the pond and in the pond itself. It would be brilliant to study Zooplankton in the pond and establish current population levels for future reference.

Here's the small island approached underwater. Like the small islands in Lonesome Lake it is anchored tenuously by the roots of a few plants.

This is what the island looks like above the surface. This is also a good representative photo of how adaptive larch trees are to these kinds of habitats. The larch tree, and there are several others nearby on the margins of the pond, is a late comer, but offers a better anchor for the other plants and insures the stability of the island for the future. I took several measurements of the area of the island and it will be interesting to observe it over the next decade.

From the island across the southeast quadrant of the pond the water depth diminished to an average of 2 feet and the bottom was covered with this dense mix of plants. There was a current here running south due to a breach of the beaver dam to the north. It's possible that there's more oxygen in the water on this side of the pond due to the current.

As I finished up at Zealand Pond I made generalized comparisons of the four other 'lakes' (Eagle, Lonesome, Lakes of the Clouds, and Carter). It's evident that Zealand Pond and Eagle Lake are the most eutrophied and that succession is moving at a faster pace in these two habitats. I'm not sure why, but at some point the process must reach a critical mass that is determined by oxygen amounts, the pH of the water, and the ability of the water to recharge. The rate of flow must be inversely related to the pace of eutrophication.

As I mentioned the bottom sediments in Zealand Pond were a thick layer that I could extend my hand and arm in as far as my elbow. Normally we consider this sediment layer of particulate organic matter to be a key indicator of a body of water losing its vigor, dying in other words, but only at that stage in succession. Lakes of the Clouds is referred to as a glacial lake, where the glacier scooped out rock that was there and carried it further away. It will probably not go through any further successions for a long, long time and only if there are significant climate changes. It's the most stable of the

Pushing my hand down into the sediments sent up bubbles of gas that smelled faintly of methane, a good measuring stick for eutrophication.

For the moment I've paired Eagle Lake and Zealand Pond of the five bodies of water as the two most likely to proceed to the bog stage before the other three. The other lakes, including Lakes of the Clouds, get "flushed" (recharged) periodically by high flows of water, maybe several times each decade, where Eagle Lake does not. Zealand Pond probably got flushed (by hurricane-sized storms, etc) prior to its dissection by the existing beaver dams. The lakes at Carter probably doesn't get "flushed" extensively but must have a fairly good flow of water moving through it most of the time. Lonesome and Carter are next on the list in terms of eutrophication and succession but not for a long time.

There was evidence of beaver activity in the southeast quadrant of Zealand Pond in the form of sticks and logs that were cut and dragged into the pond by beavers over a long period of time. Some sticks were really old, more than 60-70 years old, and some were more recent.

Because of the shallow water I could just snorkel up to this vacant lodge but I couldn't find the entrance. The resettling of Zealand Valley by at least one family of beavers will be interesting to observe. One has to wonder if the beavers' intent is to stop water flow to the point where euthropication accelerates moving the succession towards dense, fertile soils followed eventually by forest cover.

I often think of plants and soils as being two stages of the same organism that's trying to find equilibrium and I see that beavers, working over long periods of time, help accomplish this. Wolves and buffaloes working together created the astonishingly rich, dense soils of the north central areas of North America. Beavers and moose might be part of that legacy.

This is a beaver lodge anchored to the shore in the very southeast corner of the pond. There are several around and in the pond representing various periods of beaver cultures here. All the lodges, though, exhibit similar architecture and purpose in creating an almost indestructible, safe-from-predators, home for the beavers.

Witherod, or Vibrurnum cassinoides. This is very common in bogs throughout the area and particularly at Zealand.

Golden rod again. How many can there be?

Mesic forest. Again, mesic means somewhere in the middle regarding moisture. Xeric would mean dry like a desert. Hydric is wet and could apply to the bogs we've been looking at. These three terms are generalist ways of defining habitats.

The trail out, back to the road. The Zealand Trail, from Route 3, is really part of the old logging railroad system that crisscrossed the White Mountains. Almost all areas of the "Whites" at one time or another had a railroad extending through them used for hauling out vast amounts of wood (whole trees) from the mountain slopes and valleys.

8-15-20 Carter Lake, Carter Notch

Last Sunday was such a glorious day! I was on the trail (Nineteen Mile Brook Trail) early, bound for Carter Notch, and luxuriated in the coolness of the woods and the lovely sound of the river close by.

There are myriad little swimming "holes", water falls with slides of mossy rock that drop into bathtub sized pools for the first mile, or so, of Nineteen Mile Brook.

This pool, a favorite of mine, has a built in shower.

The lower part of the trail has several sentinel hemlocks ( Tsuga canadensis) that are leviathan in comparison to other trees in their immediate vicinity. One wonders how they've been spared through all the logging that's taken place along the brook over years and years.

The woods, as already noted, are full of fungi this year. This one is associated with conifers generally but seems to prefer hemlocks.

A blushing hobblebush leaf.

Being on the trail early insures some quiet, at least for a while, but in this case the trail was suddenly inundated with hikers descending from Carter Notch Hut with tales of mountains of pan cakes dripping syrup and butter. This young woman was hiking with a friend.

Two friends; one's a little shy.


My favorite: father and daughter.

At the height of land gusts of wind rustled in the birch leaves above the lake whispering hints that September's not far off. The lake wrinkles and sparkles in the sun as the wind rushes across the surface.

I found out in July that getting into the lake is a bit of a problem due to the deep, organic sediments on the bottom in around the south end and you can sink in up to your knees which is a not a pleasantfeeling . I found a place behind a boulder in the southeast corner of the lake where I could put on my gear and begin swimming right from the shore. My feet didn't have to touch the muck.

After being in the cold, sterile water of Lake of the Clouds the day before Carter Lake was warm by comparison. This was my first view as I submerged: a rich diversity of plants that was reminiscent of Lonesome Lake. Of the four lakes I explored Carter was the most diverse in plant life.

Here were the tall, grass-like plants that were so abundant at Lonesome that grow in 3-5 feet of water.

These lily stems and leaves, as they rest on the surface above me, were lovely.

The stems go down for several feet. On average they grow well in water depths of 3-5 feet but I found some growing in 8 feet of water but struggling there.

The stems towards the bottom are fleshy, and thick, and supple, and..

are firmly attached to the bottom by a strong, well developed root system. They are very hardy, tenacious plants.

These plants were also fleshy and well attached. I keep saying that I'm going to key these out and find out their names but I haven't had time. When I do have time I will come back and record the names properly. For the moment it's nice just to look at them.

The middle of the lake with the cliffs of Wildcat Mountain jutting steeply up from the west shore of the lake.

Under those cliffs I expected to find a mass of boulders and crevices, dark holes, but the bottom was relatively clear with one or two larger rocks like this one.

And this one.

Looking east towards Carter Dome and Pulpit Rock.

The deepest spot I measured was here at 14 feet. There's still ample sun reaching the bottom and profuse vegetation. I saw small trout swimming in this section of the lake (the northwest corner where it;s deeper, cooler, away from the trail and more shade). They weren't very large so don't grab your fishing gear.

Nine feet deep and still lots of vegetation.

There was a lot of organic debris on the bottom along the western and northern shores of the lake like this balsam log.

This was representative of the bottom along the southern shoreline of the lake where the deep sediments layers are that tend to be loose and undifferentiated.

When I stuck my hand into this sediment layer I could bury it easily to the elbow and beyond.

The sediments were light, not like mud, and took a long time to settle after being disturbed. Note all the mica glistening in the sunlight.

This shows more of the bottom near the southern shore which is rock bound for the most part. The rocks cover the bottom for 10-12 feet out towards the center of the lake.

A typical view.

A blob of algae, I think. It may be another kind of plant that looks like algae.

These look a lot like young Boston lettuce plants in a garden.

And this looks like a bean plant.

This, mysteriously, was the stump of a balsam fir (it's not a prehistoric reptile arching up to take a bite out of me) and it's been here for a quite a while but in three feet of water and well out from the shore. It was firmly anchored to the bottom. It raises historical questions about water levels in the lake and/or shifts in the shoreline.

Tadpoles of the American Toad (Bufo americanus). It seems late in the season for tadpoles but their reproductive cycle may have been disturbed by the hot dry summer we've had.

The 2010 Carter Croo.

It was a lovely summer day. I sat for a long time by the lake enjoying the heat of the sun on my shoulders and listened to the wind as it whipped up the leaves on the surrounding wooded slopes, upending silvery bellies the way it does when rain is coming.

The air smelled of asters that were arching over the trail that swings around the lake. They were hinting that fall was coming, too, and gave the day an added poignancy.

After saying goodbye to the croo I packed my cameras and decided to go up Carter Dome to see what I could see and I spent that beautiful summer afternoon meandering along the Carter-Moriah ridge enjoying the wind, the sun, the clouds and the trail. In late afternoon dark clouds wrapped around the summits of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison making them look fierce. It started to rain just as I reached the road and began hitchhiking back to my car.