Monday, August 27, 2012

8-24-12 Gale River Research Site

Friday morning I was on the Gale River Trail heading up to my small research site on the 1955 landslide track to gather data but mostly to just look around. I've been trying not to disturb the site too much and staying off it but the leaves will be coming down soon and I wanted to get a few measurements before they add another layer of new organic matter to the partially decayed humus  already there.
Being Friday I had the trail to myself most of the day and it was a perfect hiking day.
Fern shadow on the trail.
Hop, skip, jump. First crossing on the Gale River. I took the "old" trail that threads along beside the river between first and second crossing to see what, if any, impact Hurricane Irene had on the trail and to see what a year of off-use impacted it as well,
Sunlight and shadows on the rocks. As I've said many time first crossing is a unique place in the hut system. In the 1960s the Gale River Trail was longer, almost out to Route 302 and there was another river crossing near the present trail head so, in those days, this was second crossing and about half way between the road and the hut and where the feeling of "remoteness" from the rest of the world began to sink in. It was a good feeling.
 You can see how intimately this old section of trail (on the left) followed the course of the river. For almost a mile, as you hiked, you got to listen to the river and be carried along by its mood on that particular day. The light was the magical part because, for some of the day, the sunlight became animated as it shimmered from the water into the surrounding trees so that sense of "bathing" in that light was literal.

This is second crossing and hikers having difficulties crossing here in high water is the primary reason the trail was rerouted recently. The trail crossed here because the logging road the trail followed crossed here. The configuration of the river bed creates a turbulent flume in high water that can be intimidating and for a few days during the spring run-off is impassable at this particular place. A number of hikers, including some groups, have had to look for other places to cross and, in a few cases, done so with difficulty.
And who do I run into a few yards above second crossing? Johannes Griesshammer (on the left) all the way over here from Tuckerman Ravine shelter where he's Caretaker for a short while longer. Tom Callahan, on the right, is Galehead Hutmaster for the fall season (unitl mid-October). What a great coincidence. When I took out my camera I overheard Johannes comment to Tom, "Oh boy, I knew this was coming!" I now have quite a portfolio of snapshots of Johannes from the last five years, or so.
Stairway to paradise. Actually, it's also a stairway up onto the debris track left by a massive landslide that came down off Mt. Garfield at approximately 3 pm (give or take an hour) on August 28, 1955 during Hurricane Connie.  If you've been reading the blog for awhile you know about the research I've been engaged in here for the past 4 years the purpose of which is to determine as accurately as possible how long it takes for reforestation to occur after a major perturbations such as a landslide, major storms, and/ or glaciation that are "natural" and perturbations caused  by humans during the last 300-400 years including acid rain, clear cutting (logging), and fires particularly those associated with logging.
The west side of North Twin, above the Gale River, from the slide track. The foliage colors are beginning to change and it won't be long before the leaves of mountain ash and white birch will be raining down across the trails.
This boulder sits on top of the old slide and is one feature that stands out in photos I have of the bare slide track taken in the 1960s. The boulder is an important reference point.
The ground cover in study plot #2 appears to be unchanged. I discovered human foot prints (not mine) from some time in the past 2-3 months in the plot, along with old pieces of kleenex-type tissues which could disturb the research. Otherwise, the soil-depth measurements showed consistency as does the type and percentage of ground cover. I collected more tree measurements (diameters at breast height, or DBHs) as I continue to get a reasonably accurate figure for the biomass content in this plot.
Looking uphill in plot #2. There is signature, or what you would call the "expected norm" in the variety of tree cover that includes balsam fir,  red spruce, poplar, and white birch. Ground cover includes hair cap and spahgnum moss, evergreen wood fern, hobble bush, and bracken fern with a few striped maples also present. This year there are a few mushrooms, but not as many as last year.

2011 litter with tissue paper. The accrual process is slow. One has to be like nature and be patient with the process. Some studies indicate a 2-4 year integration process but at this altitude (2,900 feet) in this region and in this specific site the actual time of leaf decomposition varies enormously across the specie type, the exact location of the samples (in shaded areas, on a slope, etc). The woody material takes longer. I go out of my way not to expose or disturb the top-most soil layer for instance I take soil measurements with a thin plastic graduated probe.
Another sample that includes 2 year-old leaf litter with coarse woody material.
The LBM, or "little brown mushroom", in this photo is a little smaller than my thumb and it caught my eye in the slant of light coming through the hair cap moss.
Hobble bush berries.  A favorite menu item for resident fauna.

While taking the photo of the hobble bush berries I was simultaneously stung by two white tailed hornets on my forearm. It's one of the most painful stings I've ever experienced. I imagined that it was similar to getting shot. I was a hundred feet from the trail and I quickly went over signs of shock (heart rate, etc), looked to see if I had disturbed a nest in which case I might get stung some more, and walked back to the trail where my pack was. My arm swelled rapidly and got very hot. It itched unbelievably. I soaked my arm in the river for several minutes which helped. After 30 minutes I went back and retrieved the equipment I'd dropped and resumed work. I must have  pushed the camera's exposure button while getting stung.
The western boundary of study plot #1 runs up the Gale River Trail for a bit.

To the right of the trail in this photo is study plot #3 which is the anomaly of all the plots due to  1.) the lack of soil, 2.) the density of the tree growth, and the 3.) slowness of growth. This was the flat area at the bottom of the slide where vegetation returned immediately after the slide. On the upper slope cherry and alder returned within a year or two. In this flatter area the balsam firs came back in force, growing in a dense, tight cluster just as you see them here. There is no appreciable soil development in this plot. There is a very thin humus layer over the sand and gravel that was left here by the slide. The trees average 2.3 inches DBH. One of two poplars have managed to grow here and have reached nominal size but the balsams remain stunted. A lot of the plants you see are dead. In this plot there's the large question, applying to the forest generally, of where seed stocks came from so soon after the slide. Were they contained in the soil already and were triggered by exposure to light, etc, after the slide? The sheer number of individual plants, mostly balsam fir, is staggering and similar to what we see throughout the forest after a perturbation of any kind.

A pancake sized fungi.
This fellow introduced himself as Michael Sweeny and I asked because I was admiring his GPS which was clipped to the chest strap on his pack. He explained that he was trying to locate and explore sites mentioned on old maps. For instance, today he was looking for Hawthorne Falls which is located on a tributary of Gale River coming down from Mt. Garfield and not far from the slide. A trail that paralleled the stream and visited the falls existed until 50 years ago when it was abandoned. From time to time hut croo have located the trail and visited the falls which are quite lovely. I was last there in 1996 and the trail was still traceable. At any rate, Micheal was going to try and establish a GPS reading for the falls. I'm going to check in with him via email to see if he was able to find the old trail.
They're on their very first overnight, backpacking trip ever and heading over to the Mt. Garfield tent site for the night!
Second crossing on the way down. From this angle you can "see" where the logging road crossed here. Often winter ice and snow packs in to make almost a level crossing here that is perfectly safe to walk on with snowshoes until the spring thaw. It's conceivable that the loggers were able to get their log sleds across here with out a bridge. I don't remember hearing of, or seeing a bridge here.

Just a few feet above the Gale River Trail and the river itself you'll find this remnant of the logging road that swung around the north end of North Twin and extended high up on the ridge between Garfield and South Twin. You can follow it most of the way.
There was a little bit of debris, possibly from Hurricane Irene, but the old trail segment was still in good shape not that I'm overtly encouraging anyone to use it. The Forest Service wants hikers not to use it, but the newer segment that stays on the west bank of Gale River is humorless. It has none of the beauty, the surprises, the lyricism, the poetry, the humor of this now "old" trail. The "new" trail is bland in comparison.
First crossing in afternoon sunlight.
Looking up stream at first crossing at the two large rocks on opposite sides of the river reminds me that in the 1970s and up thru the 1990s there was a bridge across the river built there by the Forest Service.
This is the only photo I have of the bridge (towards the right bank of the river in the photo above)  but it was solid and high above the water. It was cabled securely but got washed away in one of the spring floods and was not replaced. Plans were already being made for relocating the trail.
First crossing in winter. It was definitely tricky getting across the ice, but the best trails have some surprises for us, challenges; obstacles that we have to deal with. Relocating the trail completely away from the river takes away its essential character, removes it from our senses, our desire to be surprised and challenged by life. If you make everything easy, effortless, how will we learn to think for ourselves? Learn at all? How will we navigate through life? Thoughtlessly? Asleep? We strive and strive for more and more conveniences. We are all about convenience these days. Drone aircraft that can kill an unknowing individual with precision! Horror! Where is the beauty in what we are crafting now?
In January 1994 I set up a camp on the river bank across the Gale River at first crossing and fasted and meditated there for two weeks (a Vipassana-type sitting). There was no snow that January, just dustings now and then, and for a number of the nights the moon was full. Sometimes the moon was shining in full but snow was falling in flurries, perhaps blown from the high ridges. Ice muted the river. I in silence for those 12 days, a wonderful silence, and came down the mountain feeling awe.  I had felt a sense of place there and my usually anxious mind was quieted by the utter simplicity of that experience; surrounded by the beauty mirrored in that place that's reflected in me. 
It's so easy when what you are looking for is the summit, the acknowledgment of success, reward, satisfaction, and to forget where you've been, what you've missed, what you didn't see, or didn't know, but in these trees, these woods along the river, is a whole history of us, of the world. We are really just stumbling along, half seeing, frightened, anxious, not really satisfied because what we hope for is so ephemeral. The woods, the mountain, the river are real and connected as one for all of time. How long will we be here?
The long walk out, once you're past first crossing, can seduce you into a light psychosis in which time becomes fluid. It's easy to forget even what year it is. Or where you're going. Tom and his sister, Meagan, were on their way back up to Galehead. I went and got a big, big dish of Red Rasberry ice cream.

No comments: