Thursday, August 19, 2010

8-7-10 Eagle Lake, Mt. Lafayette

I decided implusively, while the summer was still warm and after my snorkeling experinces at Lonesome Lake, I decided to explore the other "Alpine Lakes": Eagle Lake on Mt. Lafayette, Lakes of the Clouds on Mt. Washington, and Carter Lake in Carter Notch (and, if I have time, possibly Zealand Pond, near Zealand Notch). So, last Saturday (8-8-10) I was once again hiking the Bridle Path heading for Greenleaf Hut and Eagle Lake.This is a photo of "Agony" Ridge that leads to the summit of Lafayette taken from the trail head parking area on route I- 93.

George Heinrichs, Greenleaf Hutmaster, hamming it up a bit with my encouragement. You may remember George from Zealand Falls Hut last summer. At any rate, it had been nearly a year since we'd last seen each other and there were too many things to talk about on the trail so he invited me to spend the night at the hut which turned out to be propitious for both of us.

At any rate, this is Eagle Lake (I could say: what used to be Eagle Lake). My plan was to snorkel along the basic baseline of three virtual transects, two up and down the lake lengthwise, and one back and forth across the lake. I immediately discovered huge problems in my plan.

The first problem was, after getting decked out in my gear and standing next to the lake I attracted a lot of people, hikers bound for the summit of Lafayette, who were infinitely curious about what I was doing in flippers, face mask and snorkel. It helped push me to get into the water a little faster than I wanted. I tried stepping in to the lake at the south outlet where the water was 2 feet deep but immediately sank up to my chest in some godawful muck that then produced these bubbles that were mostly methane. Not a good sign.

I then tried the traditional belly flop approach and managed to get out into water deep enough to kick my legs, about 2 feet deep, and began my first transect (usually a straight line used to guide a sampling of plants. It can be a few feet long or infinite but is simply a way to do random sampling of one or several species). The photo is looking up at lily pads that were thick as thieves at the south end of the lake.

My first impression was that this is no longer a lake as it was 45 years ago when I assisted a friend and colleague, Larry Collins, in a study of the aquatic plants in Eagle Lake. We used SCUBA then and there was actually water to swim in.

Roughly at the center of the lake. The water is up to my chest. If I move my feet I can stay on top of the deep organic sediments that, like those experienced in Carter Lake a few weeks ago, are loosely differentiated. Again, they, it, is not mud or slimy gook of some kind. It is primarily organic matter that does not have enough oxygen to break down properly and is going about slowly.

A photo of the bottom at lake center showing diverse plants and a lot of algae forming on stems and leaf petioles. The water here is almost 3 feet deep.

A close up of the bottom with a log that is taking ages to decompose.

The same sort of photo with plants, algae and the sediments comprising the lake bottom.

A rather fascinating blob of algae (I think!).

Sundews (D. rotundifolia) (remember? from Lonesome and Zealand?) were thick here and not difficult to find. It was difficult not to sit on them. At any rate they were profuse on the west and south side of the lake but were not observed on the north and east shores.

Seed pods of the water lilies.

This is a very fragile area on the northwest side of the lake which is a sphagnous bog with characteristic flora. It occurs to me that in the early 1960s the lake actually extended into this area that is now grown over just as at the south end of the lake vegetation is also increasing in area as the lake area decreases more.

Mt. Cranberry

Reindeer Lichen

The north end of the lake where there was this small, congenial cove. The lake was only a few feet deep here, and the bottom was strewn with large boulders that made it impossible to swim or walk.

A view of the hut from the east shoreline.

The water was so stirred up by my first passage across it that it became murky and stayed that way for an hour, or so.

This was after one hour.

I climbed out of the lake to warm back up and explored the shoreline.

Looking towards the east shoreline across what could best be described as muskeg. The lake is obviously filling in, eutrophying as we like to say, with soil and resulting plant communities, mainly sedges and rushes with some heaths like the cranberries, blueberries and Labrador Tea that we saw in the sphagnous bog at Lonesome Lake.

Eutrophication is a complex ecological process, part of "succession", a natural evolution, the results of flux in the environment over the continuum of space and time. It happens everywhere at different rates. The term, itself, is getting confused with the phenomenon receiving news stories about fertilizer runoff, the nutrients in fertilizer, making their way into streams and ponds and causing the explosion of aquatic plants which is also "eutrophication", kind of. But, interestingly enough, Greenleaf Hut used to have flush toilets that dumped into a cess pool below the hut and leakage from that may have "pushed" the eutrophication process in Eagle Lake. It's certainly worth researching.

The mountain and the lake. Questions form around what is the source of organic matter that is entering the lake and why more rapidly in the last 50 years so that eutrophication has increased exponentially?

I was still cold from my swim and came back up to the hut to sit for awhile and enjoy the sun and the view. This is my favorite vista from Greenleaf; it's the view towards the north.

Day business was cranking out of control by early afternoon. There was a single line of hikers from the hut to the summit and the hut and front porch were packed with people stopping for water and snacks on their way to and from Lafayette and the Franconia Ridge (in the background of this photo).

I went in to give Phil a hand with OTC (over the counter sales) which were moving briskly, everything from T-shirts to Hershy bars and lemonade. Phil was the day's cook and up to his elbows in bread dough and soup so I was able to be of some use to him.

Dinner, at 6 o'clock, is always a blur for the croo particularly with a full house of 48 guests.

Lichens on the rocks outside the hut which I plan to key out with my brand new lichen guide!

As you hike around the Whites it begins to dawn on you that lichens might represent the largest population of plants in these mountains. They're everywhere you look, it seems.

Remember this from Lonesome? It's ______________. (hint: it's a rose that's sweet)

Alpine glow on Lafayette at 7 pm Saturday night.

Then at 8 pm.

Followed by this sunrise at 5:40 am Sunday morning.

George at 5:20 am beginning the Sunday's breakfast preparations.

The unofficial 2010 Greenleaf Croo Photo (Phil, Brian, George, Hilary, Mary and Ash).

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