Tuesday, December 28, 2010

12-25-10 Christmas in Tuckerman Ravine

I lucked out and was offered a stint as "fill in" caretaker at the AMC's Tuckerman Ravine Shelter for a few days over Christmas which I quickly accepted. The shelter (literally a cabin) is located on Mt. Washington's east side, tucked away in the deep crease created by Lion Head and Boott Spur on the north and south respectively and by Tuckerman Ravine on the west. The altitude of the shelter is 3883" a.s.l.. It's also located a short hike from the Tuckerman "bowl" (it's formally called a glacial cirque and is bowl shaped), a well known recreation area noted for its spring skiing. It offers skiing well into May, and occasionally June, when other ski areas have long since closed. There are no lifts up to the ravine, rather, it's a long, 3.5 mile hike from Route 16 in Pinkham Notch to the bowl.

I arrived at Pinkham at sunset on Thursday afternoon, December 23rd, as a snow shower roared through the notch. I packed quickly and headed up the famous Fire Trail to the shelter. I arrived at 7 and met Helon, the full time "Tucks" caretaker, who gave me a quick run-down of things I needed to know. After his short tutorial he hopped on his skis and took off for Christmas dinner and some grog at the Harvard Cabin with friends Marcia and Rich. I was enthusiastically invited to join them but felt the urge to sit for a while and get re-acquainted with Tucks. The photo is of the table-desk-office-breakfast nook-dining room-command center in the cabin. It's a cozy spot to sit and read. The propane lights and a small propane heater keep it warm. There's a bed room and kitchen as well. The window decorated for Christmas looks directly up into Tuckerman Ravine and there's a powerful set of binoculars to use to check the headwall periodcially.

Next morning Helon and I were up at 6 wandering in the dark down the Fire Trail a 1/4 of a mile to the US Forest Service Snow Plot Study Area to measure the 24 hour min-max temperatures, the temperature of the snow at several depths, and to collect the "precip can" to take back and melt and then measure the precipitation from the previous 24 hours.

Helon reading the min-max thermometers. The Snow Study Plot has expanded in the past two decades from a vertical stake planted in the ground with inch and centimeter lines painted on it for a simple daily measurement of snow depth. The research now is more sophisticated and connects the Tuckerman site with others world wide as the number of winter sports enthusiasts explodes and more and more skiers and hikers head into mountain areas where avalanches are common. The data I was to collect at 6:30 each morning included the air temperature to the closest .5 degree Celsius, snow temperatures at the surface, and at 10 and 20 centimeters below the surface, cloud type, precipitation type, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, and the amount of "precip" for the year to date and over the past 24 hours. This info helps the US Forest Service snow rangers based at Tuckerman's to assess the avalanche danger locally and the information is also sent to avalanche research sites in the US and Europe to compare factors that contribute to avalanches and to make predicting avalanches more accurate.

Sunrise on Christmas Eve morning. Helon and I walked back to the shelter in this lovely alpenglow. The sun was coming up as the moon descended behind the Tuckerman Ravine Headwall.

After doing the weather and showing me his food cache Helon lost no time in heading down hill to attend Christmas festivities with family and friends. He put his skis on and disappeared in a flash down the Sherburne Ski Trail.

Just as quickly I got into my winter hiking gear and headed uphill aiming for the summit cone of Mt. Washington and the area around Alpine Garden. This photo is from near the top of Lion Head with the summit of Mt. Washington another mile in the distance. Climbing conditions were superb on the Lion Head summer trail. Crampons were useful in a few spots but the trail was negotiable without traction or flotation (crampons or snowshoes) all the way to the summit (translate this to mean on that particular day I didn't use snowshoes. I did wear crampons and feel its essential to have them available at all times in winter). The wind averaged 40 mph but the air temperature was in the teens so it was a pleasant climate for climbing.

The cairn on top of Lion Head. This is a direct and safe route for getting up high in the winter. It's a direct line from Pinkham Notch to the Mt. Washington summit and 4.5 miles one way. You can get up and down the mountain fairly quickly and have the advantage of the shelter at Hermit Lake. The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, now that the Base Station (Cog Railway) road is plowed in the winter, is shorter by .7 miles of a mile, but wide open to northwesterly air flows and storms.

This is looking southeast from Lion Head. Mt. Kearsarge (Peqwauket) is in the distance a little left of center. In the immediate foreground are big chunks of mica schist (Littleton Formation) broken away from the underlying bedrock by frost wedging. For this hike I wanted to see how much snow gets packed in around the boulders on the east side of the summit cone.

From Lion Head it's possible to see areas covered by the boulder fields, or felsenmeer, clearly. In the 11-09-10 blog article on felsenmeer I cited a classic book on "periglacial processes and environments" by A. L. Washburn and an article on a finite study of felsenmeer completed in 1968 in the mountains of Norway by R. Dahl of Uppsala University in Sweden. Dahl and his students took vast numbers of temperature readings that they charted for daily and seasonal fluctuations in temperatures including variations in temperatures at ground level between dark objects and light objects (rock surfaces) and the effect of liquid in various states: water, ice, frost needles, snow, etc, on temperatures in these micro-climates. They found that temperatures in August taken in the early afternoon varied a lot from temperatures taken at 3 am in the same precise location and that often, even in summer, the variation crossed the freezing point enough to support freeze-thaw cracking of bed rock as well as the already jointed boulders sitting in soil or near and on the surface. This is where the factor of altitude plays a definitive role. As I looked up from Lion Head to the dense covering of the boulders on the east side of the cone I thought that even on one of the shortest days of the year the temperature of some rock surfaces even high on the east side of the cone might climb above freezing. Temperatures of the snow at the study plot at 6:30 (before sunrise) that morning (Dec. 24th) were -2.7 degrees Celsius, just a little below freezing. The temperature at the summit was -9 degree (C) at 7 am which is not very cold. Does that mean that freeze-thaw activity is fracturing rocks up there somewhere on winter days? Probably not, but it's not impossible.

Looking north across Raymond Cataract towards the Carter Ridge. There's South, Middle and North Carter Mountains and beyond those, at the end of the ridge, Mt. Moriah. Old Speck is on the horizon way far in the distance (left of center), a white flank reflecting the sun. Raymond Cataract is an interesting feature of Mt. Washington's east side that hardly gets mention. It's got some great skiing and there's an abandoned trail leading up the stream bed from the Fire Trail to the top of Lion Head. In old, black and white aerial photos it looks a little like an embryonic glacial cirque, one that never fully develop, what Tuckerman Ravine or some of the 8 other glacial cirques identified by Richard Goldthwait in the Presidential Range may have looked like in an initial phase. It clearly doesn't qualify as a cirque, however.

A. L. Washburn describes a periglacial process called "nivation" which is "the local erosion of a hillside as the result of frost action, mass-wasting, and the sheetflow or rillwork of meltwater at the edges of, and beneath, lingering snowdrifts." (Washburn, 205) The effect of nivation vary enormously between areas which have permafrost and those that don't. There is some question about permafrost on the Presidential Range. Permafrost is permanent ice that formed during the Pleistocene and is intact depending on local temperatures. It was believed for some time that a layer of permafrost existed below the mantel of Mt. Washington. I'm not sure whether this is true. At any rate, without permafrost and a perennially frozen ground layer "nivation" over time can have a dramatic effect in creating "hollows" as on the northeast side of Mt. Monroe and other places in the range. These hollows, over considerable periods of time and a favorable climate, could nuture an active glacier. Raymond Cataract was not listed by Goldthwait as one of the glacial cirques he identified in the Presidential Range, but I'm curious whether nivation, or "fossil" nivation, has been active here. In the next photo it appears that the "floor" of Raymond's has been scraped down to bedrock from mass wasting that includes the movement of water, snow and ice but the actual shape of Raymond Cataract indicates fluvial, not glacial, action.

The result of fluvial action by water in the post-glacial sculpting of the Carter Range is striking in this photo. The steep sided ravines are formed by the movement of water (another example of mass wasting) and land slides. I'll have to find out if the fluvial action in the Presidential Range and the Carter Range qualifies as periglacial. Washburn has a long chapter on periglacial fluvial processes which occur in areas of permafrost. He wrote that, "fluvial action in periglacial environments differs from that in other environments mainly in the degree to which it is influenced by frost action." (211). However, periglacial is now used in a broader sense that excludes the presents of permafrost as a condition including of any periglacial processes like fluvial action as long as conditions exist for frost wedging, gelifluction, nivation, and other forms of mass wasting that have definitely been active in the White Mountains over time.

Another features in this photo that's particularly striking are the snake-like patterns of the balsam firs across Raymond Cataract that spark one's curiosity. From a distance they look like typical "fir waves" that have been highlighted by the snow, but the areas of die-back of dead trees, at least from this distance, is not characteristic of most fir waves (see the next photo).

This is a slightly magnified area of the above photo with more detail visible in the wave patterns of the living trees. The white field in the distance is the Glen House site and just below it in the photo, if you look closely on the uphill sides of the darker bands of fir you can see actual clearings that look like they were logged off (which they weren't). They like "crop circles" (kind of) and like those made famous around Salisbury, England, a few years ago. At some point, when the snow is deeper, I'll ski through there and take a closer look. I'm pretty sure wind is the primary agent creating these patterns that from this distance probably look a lot different close up so it would be fun to take a closer look.

Just on the other side of Lion Head is Tuckerman Ravine with this photo showing the entire "bowl" and the deep gash made by Left Gully in the shadowed area to the left. Periglacial certainly pertains to almost every feature in the formation of Tuckerman Ravine, features which can be better seen on a visit to the "floor" of the ravine (coming up).

This map is from R. P. Goldthwait's Mountain Glaciers of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire, a paper he presented to the International Symposium on Antarctic Glaciological Exploration at Dartmouth College, September 8, 1968. The darker areas on the map indicate the 9 mountain glaciers Goldthwait identified has having carved cirques on the Presidential Range. The Abstract starts: "Nine steep-walled cirques nearly 1,000 feet (300m) deep and U-shaped valleys more than 1/4 miles (400m) wide were formed at one time in the White Mountains, and at least three other incipient basins were ice-deepened. These were fully formed before an overriding continental glaciation. The last overriding took place in late-Wisconsin stage as based upon the nearest C(carbon)-14 deglaciation dates, the shallow alpine soils, or the weathering of mountaintop erratics and freshness of valley deposits. But the sharpness of the cirque rims indicates mountain glacier action no older than early Wisconsin time and the volume of removal suggests Illinoian-stage cutting as well." (Goldthwait/85).

On the map Tuckerman Ravine is on the right side a little below center and where Goldthwait has detailed two alpine glaciers, one in Tuckerman Ravine and one in Huntington Ravine, joining together just below Raymond Cataract as they move downslope into Pinkham Notch.

The nine cirques are: Oakes Gulf, Gulf of Slides, Tuckerman, Huntington, Great Gulf, Jefferson Ravine, Madison Gulf, King Ravine, and Ravine of the Castles. There are three incipient cirques one located on the west side of Oakes Gulf, asecond on Mt. Clay near Sphinx Col that's a "tongue" of the Great Gulf cirque, and at Bumpus Basin at the north end of the range on Mt. Madison.

Tuckerman Headwall from the Lion Head Trail illustrates the constant mass wasting which is the result of frost action, of freeze-thaw mechanics. The "lip" is the area of the upper headwall of the ravine that's bathed in sunlight in the photo and that curves in a more gentle arc upwards towards the summit cone. The "softening" of this edge maybe the result of a higher volume of mass wasting due to high levels water, ice and snow runoff over thousand years since the end of the Wisconsin. (The "Lip" was sculpted, how much we don't know, by the Wisconsin ice sheet but fluvial action accounts for much of its present contour.)

Where you can see "fluting" of the ice and a steepening of the headwall about a third of the way down is where Goldthwait indicated the location of the "bergschrund" , or top most edge of the glacier in Tuckerman Ravine (cirque).

This photo shows the steady incline between the lip and the summit cone. The thin, dark band at the bottom of the cone is a large area colonized by balsam fir that have been stunted by the climate extremes. They've been growing there for some time but never achieving any height. It is moderately protected from northeasterly bearing storms but still an extreme site weather wise.

The balsams fan out in a large "V" running from the very base of the summit cone to the edge of the ravine where they stop. This area, as well as having protection from northwesterly winds, has a high level of moisture as yearly run-off of water that flows down the cone under the felsenmeer and the melt water coming from ice and snow drifts which are quite impressive at this location.

Goldthwait, and others concluded, from evidence found on the summit of Mt. Washington and the other high summits including "pockets of compact clay-rich till with erratics" and other glacial erratics "too big to lift found on every peak" that "no one can doubt the sweep of overriding ice" on the summit of Mt. Washington.(Goldthwait/90).

The density of the balsams tapers off toward the edge of the Ravine but snow is already drifted here and is close to six feet deep around these trees. The trees "catch" a great deal of snow and will be completely covered after the next large storm and possibly will stay covered for much of the winter and spring. Bigelow Lawn, explored a bit last summer, is in the distance in this photo extending all the way out (to the left) to Boott Spur.

Dwarf, or Alpine Birch, was also visible at several windswept locations along the Lion Head Tail.

Away from the ravine and on the northern side of the Lion Head Trail is the vast table of the Alpine Garden, which like the area colonized by the balsams, has a high water table for most of the year and is home to many species of alpine plants.

This wide shelf extending from the base of the summit cone to the edge of the ravines on the eastern flank of Mt. Washington covers many acres from Nelson Crag, in the distance, to Lion Head and except for the area just above the lip of Tuckerman Ravine would connect with Bigelow Lawn to present an uninterrupted plain extending halfway around Mt. Washington at an elevation of 5,000' a.s.l.

Looking across the eastern area of the plain at the entire Carter Ridge dominated by Carter Dome and Mt. Hight in the center of the photo.

Trail Junction.

This is at about 6,000 feet and as far up as I climbed. I try to avoid going to the summit of Mt. Washington as much as possible because I find all the buildings, TV towers, trains, cars; all the activity, disheartening.

Snow blowing from north to south above the Tuckerman headwall.

But I also had to get back to the shelter to see if anyone was staying in one of the shelters and needed to be singed in. The actual work of being caretaker at Tuckerman is part custodial, part public relations, and part guide with some search and rescue responsibilities. Helon was called to run to the summit the day I arrived because a guided party climbing Washington was testing some new GPS avalanche beepers and the guide, unwittingly, was pressing the wrong button. He thought he was sending an "everything is great" message but was actually sending, "help, we're in deep ca-ca" which in turn triggered an alert in every possible rescue organization from the US Forest Service, the state police & fish and game, to the AMC, eventually falling in Helon's lap. He raced up to Alpine Gardens at a dead run where he met some other hikers and figured out what was happening and called on the radio to the Mt. Washington Weather Observatory where the group happened to be and the guide got the information and turned off his beeper. This was a good outcome. Sadly, there are those search and rescues that end tragically and on average there is at least one fatality a year or two between Tuckerman Ravine and Huntington Ravine.

Christmas morning with not-quite a full moon over Boott Spur.

Christmas Eve was perfectly still, perfectly calm, and clear. Before the moon came up it was like every star in the northern hemisphere was visible and the Milky Way was a meandering white path of myriad lights. After the moon rose I could sit on the deck at 2 am in a sweater and read by the moonlight. It was a gorgeous night of peace and beauty. I reflected as I gazed upwards at stars and crags that I have been coming to this place for six decades, since I was 5. The first time I stood here and looked up at Boott Spur and Hillman's Highway my jaw dropped. I was in love, and thus it has been all these years. Having that deep connection to this place, to this beauty, is a priceless gift that I enjoy passing on to others.

It was also a gift, a luxury, to come back to the cabin in the late afternon, to the cozy warm room, and not have a TV, a computer, a cell phone, or any distractions at all except for the mountains. I could get up, take a few steps through the small passageway, pull open the heavy, squeaky door and with a few more steps be in the center of the deck looking up at the wild, beautiful peaks and be held, dazzled by them, my imagination freed, liberated from the daily "noise" that's become such an overwhelming part of our lives.

Christmas morning.

Christmas morning a few minutes later as the sun climbs a bit higher

After finishing my chores around noon on Christmas and under a thickening layer of clouds I hiked to Tuckerman's Ravine via the hiking trail (as opposed to the way one would ski up or down).

For most of Christmas Day at Tucks there was a steady stream of visitors who were jolly and grreat fun to talk with. Whole families came intact, with infants in backpacks, and some said they've made the hike to Tucks their annual Christmas tradition. One family has been hiking up for 15 Christmases in a row. There was a group of teens (three young women and two guys) from Berlin, NH, right down the street so to speak, who regaled me with stories of recent hikes and skiing adventures, their love for the mountains, and their desires to work in the huts. I mention them in particular because it's a rare treat to meet someone from local, northern communities out on the trails and it was astonishing to meet a group of local teens, passionate hikers, skiers and snowboarders, who come up often and it was great fun to give them a warm, enthusiastic welcome. The age range for visitors on Christmas Day was 11 months to 82 years old. Several individuals stopped to say hello who knew me by my name and remembered me from years past (many years) and it was very cool to sit and chat and connect with them again.

Next to the trail to the Ravine is this product of mass wasting and probably periglacial at that. See my ski poles? They're 4 feet long so this single boulder is probably 15 X 25 feet. I'm eternally curious as I pass it what it would have been like to witness its descent from the wall above, or the descent of any of the leviathan-sized rocks one sees in Tucks, some as big as houses.

From the Tuck Trail looking south to Boott Spur showing the degree of slope as well as the numerous slide tracks that punctuate the side of the ridge with exclamation marks.

Looking straight up from the Tuck Trail at Boott Spur. The actual summit of Boott Spur (5500' a.s.l.) is hidden from view. This peak in the photo is about 4700' a.s.l.). The dusting of snow helps highlight the amount of rock fall on this side of the ravine which is impressive. I often wonder if, in terms of sheer mass, whether the north walls of the ravines, because of the amount of sunlight received, have greater freeze-thaw potential in temperature fluctuations and thus more mass wasting activity then the south walls which are in shadow most of the day (with less fluctuation in temperature).

The easterly end of Lion Head and now you can kind of see a little of the "lion' in the profile. The amount of debris and very large boulders in this and the photo below indicate mass wasting activities that's gone on for ages. I have been in the Ravine and heard and occasionally witnessed rock falls but nothing as big as in the photos.

Lion Head, itself, with Right of Right Gully going straight up to the top. Look at the size of some of the boulders. They're quite impressive. A full spectrum of periglacial processes have been involved over an immense period of time in the mass wasting of these rocks and getting them to their present positions.

A close up of the Tuckerman and Huntington glaciers as drawn by Goldthwait showing the location and the elevation of the cirque rims and floors. These two cirques are similar except that the Huntington headwall is higher than Tuckerman's as we will see presently.

Looking the south side of the Tuckerman Headwall with Left Gully in full view. The vegetation is remarkable in that it gets denser every year. Winter and spring snow cover most of it until the end of May. There is not much snow in the ravine now. It takes several months to fill the ravine and most of the snow is blown in. It's been said that for every inch of snow that falls on the mountain, Tuckerman receives a foot. The heaviest snow accumulation in the ravine is actually in late winter, in March, and even in April there are often big storms.

Goldthwait lists a number of identifying features of mountain glaciers that he used to identify the nine cirques on the Presidentials: "1.) a sharp craggy rim separating the rolling upalnd above, 2.) cliffed head and/or side slopes, 3.) breadth of valley floor, and 4.) deep sloping voers of till on a broad floor."(Goldthwait/87). "Each definite cirque is headed by an amphitheater with very steep rock slopes and small vertical cliffs and shelves. Converging ridges and gullies developed in detrital blocks run directly down many of the lower sides walls and below some headwalls just as we have seen in these photos. I am going to add another which is the existence of striations, scratches, in local rock caused by the grinding of glacial ice and rock debris carried downwards by the ice.

The south half of the headwall with Left Gully partly hidden.

The north side of the Headwall looking up towards the Lip which is left of center, running all the way to the top, and holding quite a bit of snow. The avalanche danger when the photo was taken was "moderate". Right Gully can be seen (center right) slanting down and dividing the two large rock masses. This is the safest way off the ridge in bad weather and a fairly gentle incline that's not as prone to avalanche.

The Sluice and above it the Lip. The slope here is about 38 degrees and is one of the prime avalanche areas in the Ravine. The Lip is 600 feet above where I'm standing. I've been caught in small avalanches on this track a few times and it's pretty scary. Large avalanches on this track have killed a number of people over the years which is the reason the Forest Service is so intent on having accurate information for hikers and skiers.

Rich, the Harvard Cabin caretaker, in his Santa Claus hat, after skiing the "Sluice".

This IS the Harvard Cabin, a highly venerable local institution, a refuge from the storm. Located on the "fire road" into Huntington Ravine about a 1/4 of a mile off the Fire Trail it's the remaining cabin of two that were constructed in the Huntington-Tuckerman area by the Harvard Mountaineering Club. Rich has been caretaker here for a year. I remember staying here during college vacations and lugging ropes and pitons up to Huntington Ravine each morning to climb. The cabin always seemed to be filled to the roof with climbers jammed in like sardines with all of their gear and the cabin warmed by their good cheer and camaraderie .

The Harvard Cabin interior. It smells like wet wool drying and smoke from the wood stove, and has that enchantment of both simplicity and the inclusive atmosphere of a mountain refuge.

Comparing Huntington Ravine to Tuckerman is interesting. Huntington has an average depth from rim to floor of 1,000 feet (300 m) with the steepest slope from floor to rim being roughly 40 degrees. Both Tuckerman and Huntington ravines are both formed in what Eusden calls "well bedded schists. The Tuckerman Member is schist and quartzite 10-50 cm in thickness and the Huntington Ravine Member he describes as "a rhythmically bedded schist and quartzite 3-10 cm in thickness." (Eusden/Bedrock Geology of the Presidential Range map)

The lower, more striking rock formation is The Pinnacle, a popular technical, rock climb. The division between The Pinnacle and the larger, upper rock buttress is called Pinnacle Gully and offers challenging technical ice climbing. Pinnacle Gully is actually one of many basalt dikes in the White Mountains which Eusden says were formed when the "supercontinent Pangea began to split apart" forming the North Atlantic ocean. Abundant fractures, or cracks, occurred in the mountains of New England which were filled with intrusions of magma (basalt) from the Earth's mantle. (Eusden/49).

Looking closer at Central Gully and the talus slope below it. The bottom of Pinnacle Gully can be made seen on the leftside of Central.

The center and north side of Huntington Ravine with some of the obvious cirque features that Goldthwait described.

The north side of Huntington Ravine with North Gully in the center of the photo. The long talus slope and the extent of the large boulders is indicative of recent mass wasting. The boulder a little to the left that looks like a roof top is literally as big as a house.

The characteristic U-shape and boulders across the floor of Huntington Ravine. Wildcat ski area is on the left and Mt. Kearsarge is in the distance. The thin band of yellow across the horizon is a key weather indicator useful to know when hiking in the White Mountains as it forecasts a low pressure area and an approaching major storm. In this case the storm forecasted is the blizzard of December 26-27, 2010.

Another useful forecasting phenomenon is the way the ridge lines of Carter Dome, Mt. Hight and South Carter stand out, the sharpness of the lines, which also indicates a drop in barometric pressure and an approaching storm.

Looking back up at Lion Head and Raymond Cataract from the Huntington Ravine Trail. This is the angle I mentioned before where Raymond Cataract has a slight "bowl" shape but it's also clear that it is not a cirque by Goldthwait's definition.

Boott Spur from the Huntington Ravine Trail. Hillman's Highway is the long diagonal line, left to right, from bottom to top. It's a popular place to ski particularly for those who find the steepness and danger of icefalls of the Tuckerman Headwall intimidating. In the center of this photo is a line you can see starting between the two highest points that is a popular "run" called Dodge's Drop, named after Brooks Dodge an Olympic skier who grew up here and skied every gully and drop you can imagine.

Monday morning , December 27th, about four hours into the blizzard that had been forecast. There was 16 inches of new snow at this point and my first job for the day was to change the avalanche advisory on the US Forest Service sign from "moderate" to "high."

Tuck Shelter with lots of snow beginning to accumulate.

Sixteen inches of snow and 50 mph winds.

Wild and beautiful!

Rich and Marcia skinning to Tucks from the Harvard Cabin and contemplating a run down the Sherburne ski trail.

It's really difficult to leave this and go down to the valley.

As I descended to Pinkham and home the first person I passed was Justin from Forest Service with his stunning ice encrusted beard .

I passed myriad others who were brimming with excitement about the storm. Everyone was racing upwards into the storm wearing skis or carrying a snowboard, including Nate Shedd (above) a stellar AMC employee who, during the summer, oversees the Hut Naturalist Program.

Closer to the bottom of the trail close to Pinkham there were herds of people; climbers, skiers, snowboarders, and hikers on snowshoes, heading upwards with unrestrained enthusiasm. One group was planning to hike to the summit even though wind speeds of 95 mph had been forecast. I don't think they actually went further than part way up Lion Head where they would have felt the full force of the wind.

Anyway, that's how I spent Christmas vacation!


Ari said...

Wow, Alex, that sounds friggin' sweet! I would have come to visit but I was in at Zool which was also lovely, although just for the evening (I made it from Boston to Zool in 4 hours flat, including blasting up 93 and skiing, hard, up the road). I have to go up and visit Mike and Helon one of these days; maybe next weekend after the ski race in Jackson. Also, I thought they had more technology up there than you let on.

As for the post-glacial valleys—since the continental glaciation in the area wasn't particularly thick over the summits (5000-7000 feet thick) I think there's speculation that some of the non-glacial valleys (Snyder Glen near Madison—the Airline Cutoff/Airline Junction is a great place to view U- and V-shaped valleys; Lynne Zummo and I decided it might be the best place to see that in the east—for example) were extant before the glaciers and the continental glaciation was rather static on the higher slopes since there was much less ice than in the valleys and notches.

Also, seeing Nate Shedd's face made my day. That is always the case.

Alex MacPhail said...

Ari, Nate feels the same way. We had a little chat on the trail in the blizzard about you and your natural naturalist bent. He's great. I like your summation about the ice sheet being static on the higher slopes. I'm only beginning to grasp all that. But it's cool stuff! Have fun and Hopefully I'll catch up with you soon. Alex. P/S Any thoughts of a
Taverse in June? Sounds like you're in great shape.