Tuesday, May 20, 2014

5-18-14 Mt. Hight, Carter Dome and Carter Notch

Water, and it was everywhere, was the theme while hiking on Sunday (5-18-14) after torrential rains drenched the mountains Friday night and Saturday morning. The rain ended early Saturday afternoon but the rivers and brooks were still roaring Sunday. The ground was saturated so the run off from the rain went directly into the brooks. The Ammonoosuc River at Littleton was the color of coffee with cream in it and the Ellis River in Jackson was a chocolate color from all the silt, sand and top soil washed in with the runoff. This is Nineteen Mile Brook at sunrise on Sunday. Close up, the water was deafening as it pounded down the mountain. It was shaking the ground 100 yards from the river bank and I could hear boulders moving under the water knocking into each other.

Turbulence in Nineteen Mile Brook upstream a quarter mile from Rt. 16.

Anyway, I was my indecisive self on Sunday morning and couldn't decide where I wanted to hike. I thought about Carrigain but from experience knew that after the heavy rains the lower 2.5 miles of the trail would be exceedingly wet, not to mention two stream crossings. I also thought about Mt. Nancy but the lower half, along the old logging road, would also be wet and muddy.

 Stream flow spreading out over ledges next to the trail, dissipating energy.

The Nineteen Mile Brooks Trail is fairly level for a quarter of a mile then climbs steadily on solid ground, with a few exceptions, up to the Carter Dome Trail junction. Carter Dome's west flank is steep and water runs off it quickly particularly when the soil is saturated which was the case. So I choose the familiar loop of going up and around clockwise Mt. Hight, then Carter Dome, and exiting via Carter Notch.

Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, up to the junction just mentioned, keeps close proximity to the brook which is one of the trail's charms even when its in flood. Like the Ammy, the older Gale River Trail and the Zealand Trail there's an interweaving of the river's "song" with the rhythm of hiking, along with the light and the wind in the leaves.

Washouts occur from decade to decade usually around peak storms like Hurricane Irene in 2011 when a large volume of water careened through the entire White Mountain "system" and triggering washouts and landslides in several locations including here on the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, which  even after some repairs, continues to erode the trail.

A solid section of the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail just below the trail junction. I'll say more below but this trail and the trailup to Zeta Pass, Carter Dome, Mt. Hight and down to Carter Notch was phenomenally popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were complaints back then that the birch bark lean-to style shelter at Carter were too crowded both summer and winter. The same was true for Madison Spring Hut on Mt. Madison, also a popular destination in the late 1800s.

Who remembers the name of this ubiquitous shrub?
Southwest shoulder of Carter Dome through the trees. There are limited views from Nineteen Mile Brook Trail when the foliage is out. In the fall and winter there are superb sunsets with Mt. Adams and Madison in the background. The lack of views from the lower trails is more than compensated by the astonishing views from Mt. Hight and, to some extent, from Carter Dome in this "loop". There are several trail loops in the Whites. "Loop" means a trail, or series of connecting trails, that started at either end will bring you back to the starting point--so there is no need to "spot" your car, hitch hike, etc.. The Carter Dome-Carter Notch loop is roughly 10 miles in length as is the more famous loop over  Franconia Ridge from Lafayette Place.

The north branch of the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail at the junction of the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail and the Carter Dome Trail. The sun was still trying to get over the ridge. Looking west through the tree tops I could see the summit of Mt. Washington bathed in bright sunlight. Nineteen Mile Brook is in the Androscoggin River watershed. Pinkham Notch is the divide between the Saco River and the Androscoggin River. Both of these rivers flow to the Atlantic Ocean in Maine.

The first official AMC exploration of Carter Dome and Carter Notch was written up by William G. Nowell Charles E. Lowe (of Lowe's Path fame), and Dr. F. I. R. Stafford of Montreal in Appalachia Vol. 1, #2, (p. 76) in the summer of 1876. They hiked into Carter Notch from the south following the Wildcat River using information received from a George N. Merrill, of Jackson, a hunter and fisherman who knew the mountains well and who built a sturdy, birch bark lean-to near the site of the present AMC Carter Notch hut in which the trio slept. The following day they climbed the route of the present Carter Dome Trail, up past Pulpit Rock (Nowell referred to it as "Diamond Rock" due to its shape), and then on to the summit. They no idea if they were the first to summit Carter Dome (it probably felt like it), but they certainly enjoyed the views until clouds descended obscuring the view and they returned to the Notch. That was just the beginning.

At about 3,400 ft in elevation the transition to fir-spruce is noticeable. The Carter Dome Trail, after leaving the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, ascends gently up into a bowl-shaped area that was heavily logged about 100 years ago and all the old growth Spruce was removed and the birches took over. This is true of the forest on either side of Nineteen Mile Brook as well. In the early 1960s you could make out where the old logging camps were by the clearings. Today it feels like a sanctuary after the havoc caused by the logging.

The idea of a sanctuary is not that far fetched as one ascends further up the trail. A couple of tricky stream crossings make one feel cutoff from the world below and the landscape is gentle and inviting.

On Saturday the sunlight crept quietly into the forest highlighting the soft colors that were more typical of early April which it still is at this altitude. Leaf buds were tentatively emerging.

The sunlight became buttery.

Third crossing was a bit sketchy if you were trying to stay dry and it involved hopping, teetering and jumping--like in a decathlon or steeple chase.

One of the switchbacks cutting across the steep upper slope of the Carter ridge.
The ancient bench at Zeta Pass. This has been here for ages and it dresses up Zeta Pass considerably, like a welcome mat, and in spite of its appearance, its quite comfortable.

 Zeta Pass is a unique feature of the Carter ridge. It's a broad saddle located between Mt. Hight and South Carter and nearly level. It covers several acres evenly wooded with balsam fir and red spruce and is always a hold out for snow until late May.

Mt. Height? The distances are a bit off as well.

From Zeta to Hight the trail is straight and steep, like an escalator.

Snow leaving the woods.

The Northern Presidentials: Mt. Washington (L), Jefferson, Adams and Madison (R.)

Close up: Jefferson (L), Adams (Center) and Madison (R).

Mt. Washington in a perfect pose. Still lots of snow in Tuckerman's and on Hillmam's Highway.

Carter Dome on the left with the Sandwich Range in the distance and Tuckerman Ravine on the right.

The Carters running north with middle looking the highest.

The land of my youth--the East Branch of the Saco River (Slippery Brook) drainage area with Mt. Kearsarge (Peqawket) in the center-left distance, Double Head in front of that and the Moats to the right, and Chocorua. I lived, as a youth, at the base of Kearsarge. Pretty much everything in the photo. including the summit of Carter Dome, was my backyard and playground. In the 1950s there were wildcats, lynx, porcupines, deer, black bear (lots of them--much more than there are now), fishers (I referred to these as "fisher cats") and occasionally we would be surprised by a cougar. Usually cougars moved out of our consciousness. They were invisible. If you were lucky enough to see one it was just the tip of the tail disappearing (as stealthy as they are). The Saco was a great river for trout fishing as was Wildcat Brook and Mountain Pond.

 The Ossipees are in the distance behind the Moats. Interestingly, there are some showers behind Kearsarge that were part of a small cold front over on the Maine side. I slept on some soft sand on top of Mt. Hight for a half hour. It's one of the loveliest spots in the Whites; a perfect place for a nap.

The Bald Faces over in Chatham, ME. Mt. Pleasant is in the distance on the right.

Mt. Washington gets a kiss.
Carter Dome 4,832 ft. asl. It is a gorgeous mountain that was burned over in 1903, as was most of the east side of the Carter Ridge, and the summit was bare for many years. There was also a fire tower on the summit that was taken down in the early 1960s so there were wonderful 360 degree views from the summit.

A group from the Tufts University Outing Club. I saw a total of 13 people all day which I found amazing (amazingly small number) on such a pleasant mountain day.

A great view north towards the South, Middle and North Carter, plus Moriah, Old Speck in the distance behind Moriah, and to the right, Shelburne Moriah. As the sun continued to rise and warm the air it became a perfect summer day and perfect for hiking.

The summit of Carter Dome

What can I say?

Carter Notch with the hut buildings nestling in among the lakes and rocks.

Looking southwest down Carter Notch towards the Sandwich Range through the lacing branches of birch trees that are just beginning to bud out.

Carter Lake (the larger of two) with Wildcat in the background. I'll be back in July to dive here again and look for more plants in the deeper part of the lake.

It is a magical, enchanted place.

Since my earliest memories I can remember patches of snow, just like this, near the height of land on the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail in early June that were remnants of deep winter drifts deposited here by the wind and while crossing it with heavy loads during the week of hut opening it was always a pain to break through the snow up to our waists and get pinned under our heavy pack boards. We'd have to roll out of the loads and dig ourselves out.

More water. It's been a strange Spring with the extended cold and now the high amount of rain.

High noon on the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail.

Ample sunlight on this part of the trail (and in the photo above) has taken care of the mud problem in this particular section, but there's a lot of mud on the upper parts of the trail if you're going up soon.
Back down at the bottom of the loop. 12:30 pm. near the Carter Dome Trail junction.

On the way up at 7:30 am.

Monday, May 5, 2014

5-3-14 Lakes of The Clouds, Mt. Washington, via Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

Saturday morning (5-3-14) I met Doug Dodd (L), Chris Stewart, and Maverick at the Cog Railway base station for an overdue hike up to Lakes of the Clouds via the always beautiful Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail (it's referred to also as the "Ammy" or "ART"). Adding up our combined ages would equal about 200 years and among us there are probably 30 years of employment in the AMC huts with Dougy, perhaps, having the most. We also represent at least 150 years of combined experience hiking, running, skiing, swimming, bushwhacking, exploring and backpacking in the White Mountains. The point is that individually and as a group we've spent a lot of time and had an awful lot of fun in these mountains.

There was an array of trail conditions prevalent on the Ammy as far as Gem Pool. The assortment  included this icy sidewalk which, until recently, had been snow, 4-5 feet of it, packed down by myriad hikers and that is now condensed to an uneven tread that made us don our micro spikes and crampons.
Before the ice sidewalk there was a stretch just up from the trail head of mud that, in places, was 6 inches deep and deceiving, too. It would look firm but we'd sink in up to our ankles!

Even higher and above all of that there was rotten snow with vast opportunities for "post holing" up to one's hips if you like, or something completely beyond mere post holing where it requires a feat of ingenuity and brute strength to dig yourself out.

But, then, what could possibly be lovelier? It was wonderful to be back!

Gem Pool is a prominent feature of the Ammy dating back at least to the 1700s and, for all those years, has often been used as a swimming hole. The Ammy, as we find it today, was "standardized" by Charles Blood and Nathaniel Goodrich in September 1916, but in its earlier history was referred to as "The Escape Glen" and used by scores of hikers, as early as 1742, to get down of the ridge quickly when bad weather set in.

Snow banks and open water. The shade of the woods around Gem Pool keeps the snow from melting, or at least not quickly, until June some years, and it also keeps the water in the pool at a toe curling low temperature. Gem Pool is but one cascade in a chain that descends the headwall of Ammonoosuc Ravine starting at the Lakes of the Clouds and then becomes the Ammonoosuc River.  

Above Gem Pool the trail begins a steep ascent up the headwall of Ammonoosuc Ravine.  On Saturday there were random patches of blue ice on the steeper sections of the trail that called for the use of crampons or micro spikes. And I can personally attest to the usefulness of hiking poles in scrambling up the steep ice. At 10 am the top surface of the ice was softening making the purchase more secure.

As the trail arrives at the top of the head wall this view opens up! It's looking north towards Vermont and Quebec over the Dartmouth Range in the mid-foreground with Cherry Mt. (Mt. Martha is another name for it) in the center background. At this point the sky had cleared and we were enjoying the sun and blue sky. It actually got hot for the last stretch to the hut.

The same view to the northwest but higher up where the trail crosses the Ammonoosuc River.

We were surprised to see the extent of this ice formation on the river. It's different every year but this is the first time I can remember it being completely frozen.

As we got close to Lakes of the Clouds hut where we each have worked for a number of summers and mostly back in the 1960s and early 1970s a switch seemed to have been turned on with the phrase "Hey, do you remember the time..?" or, "Do you remember so and so..?"and the answers came in fragments until the memory took form and was followed by cascading laughter as we remembered incident after incident, character after character. It was great fun.

The winter trail goes all over the place. Often the person who broke trail after a snow storm goes a little to far north, or south, then someone decides they know a better route, until its a maze of snow shoe tracks. But, as the snow melts and the river rises with snow melt and eats at the snow from below creating hazards for hikers where they might break through, the choices narrow down and hikers tend to wander less and stay on the official, blazed trail. In those early months, though, it's stunning to wander about footloose and fancy free and go anywhere you like across the wide wind packed snow.

This attests to the snow depth at this site which is about 4 1/2 feet deep.

Looking up to the summit of Mt. Washington with the summit itself hidden in clouds. There's a light dusting of snow around the summit, down onto the saddle. This is that time of year when leaves are just beginning to come out in the flat land, suggesting that spring has arrived,  and, here,  you can climb back up into winter.

A few minutes later with a clearer view of the summit. The weather was being fickle and teasing with bright sunlight and warmth but a front was building and coming in from the southwest with darker clouds.

The higher, the better the view. Still looking northwest.

Lakes of the Clouds Hut with the summit of Mt. Monroe to the right.

Pardosa. That's the name of one of a "genus" of spiders that inhabit the alpine zone. You can refer to them as thin legged wolf spiders. It's usually associated with grassy fields and is very common in the "lawns" of the Presidential range. I'm not sure which species this specimen is as there are several different ones on Mt. Washington. I'm going to make a guess that it's either P. distincta, or P. saxatillis. They survive here all winter and are out surprisingly early. Doug saw this one as it scurried up the steep ice. Makes you cold just looking at it! As you hike above timberline you will notice these wolf spiders moving quickly on the rocks in and near the trail. They are of utmost importance to the ecology of the alpine zone so use your utmost care not to step on them.

Ice, suggesting a glacier, from surges of water coming out of the Lakes during changes in temperature. Water pressure building in the larger (deeper) lake often pushes the ice up and out of the way as it heads for the Ravine causing a bulge of ice to form behind the hut.

A clearer view of the summit.

Getting ready for hut opening which should be happening in a few weeks.

We encountered very few people on the trail. I think, in all, we met 7 other hikers all day which is unusual. The weather was slightly psychotic, but not terrible, and the air was really clear making for great views. This couple passed us on the way up the Ammy and were headed back down after summiting Mt. Monroe.

Mt. Monroe. Note the black clouds. Also note the lack of snow in this photo and the one below.  A number of the alpines will be blossoming towards the end of this month and even if there is no snow now the ground is saturated with water that the plants will depend on. The soil will dry quickly as the sun rises higher in the sky, so the plants have to flower in a small,  but critical window of time.

  Mt. Monroe, again, looking at the terracing on what has long been referred to as Monroe Flats. This area is federally protected, as is the entire Alpine Zone of the long Presidential Range, and is habitat for some of the rarest of the 43 species of alpine plants that are found on Mt. Washington. I came up to Lakes principally to note snow cover in the plant habitat areas. Monroe Flats experiences high wind velocities all year which accounts for the topography and the lack of snow. Alpine flowers bloom very early to take advantage of the short growing season but also the fluctuation in soil mositure. Water is most dependable just as the snow is melting. Monroe Flats is an amazing ecological realm that compares to areas of the high arctic but here it is extremely fragile and becoming more so every year. After attending to it for more than 50 years I've seen profound changes which included the near demise and then the heroic restoration of a species, Dwarf Cinquifoil, as well as the continued erosion by natural elements. The reddish, rust-colored plant is Diapensia lapponica which grows in tufts, or "cushions" of myriad plants that are one of the first to bloom here with a beautiful, small white blossom.

The Bigelow Sedge-Potentilla lawn to the south of the larger lake. The ridge in the background is the boundary between the Dry River and the Ammonoosuc River watersheds. It's also the route of Crawford Path #1 that first came into use around 1819 as a bridle path from Crawford Notch to the summit of Mt. Washington--a long trip with much of it exposed to the weather.

Looking a bit more to the northeast from the last photo to the highest areas of the Ammonoosuc watershed with the summit of Mt. Washington to the left. It's so beautiful! The light on Saturday was amazing.

Isn't this cool? I think it could properly be referred to as "periglacial" activity.

Diapensia, Bigelow Sedge, Haircap Moss, and assorted lichens.

Diapensia laponica L. Again,  the Diapensia is at home in the high arctic. There has long been debate regarding the morphology of this plant and the reddish "cushion" that is its most notable feature. The dark red color absorbs the sun's warmth so it makes sense that the cushion protects the plants from the cold, particularly sudden drops in temperature, and it also helps the plant retain water.

Deer's Hair,  Scirpus cespitosis, var. callosus

Doug and Maverick looking where a plaque used to be fixed to the rock he is looking at. Following the death of Stuart "Slim" Harris in 1969 the plaque was fixed here (see next photo), but has since been moved.

Slim was a denizen of these mountains for years and a formidable botanist as was his wife, Calista, or "Cal" as everyone called her. Slim worked in the huts in the 1920's through the 1940s, off and on, and stuck around long afterwards to help document native plants in a tradition that goes back to the early 1800s with Bigelow, Tuckerman, and Oaks. Slim, like many other great names that explored the flora of the White Mountains was part of the last generation of botanists that studied under the esteemed Merritt Lyndon Fernald at Harvard and used the Whites as their laboratory.

The dedication ceremony of the plaque for Slim in August 1969. Doug is the fourth face from the right. He remembers the day as being windy and cold. Cal Harris, is the sixth face from the left, a brilliant ecologist-botanist in her own right, and revered by all of us who worked in the huts when she and Slim spent their summers here. Doug went on at length describing the summer periods when Cal and Slim would stay for weeks ar Lakes going off during the day to study the plants, and, in the evenings, leading informal "flower walks", and talking to guests about the rare plants they prized, and helping out around the hut.

Since posting this aticle I've heard from Slim's and Cals' children/grandchildren including their son in law, Sanford "Sandy" Wilbur who is the person peeking out third from the left in the above photo. The person to the far left is Curt Curtis; then Natalie Curtis next; Sandy; Cal Harris sixth; Miriam Underhill with the hat, Shawn Wilbur and Sally Harris Wilbur, Doug, two hut crew members, and Bruce Sloat. 

Sandy said that the momentum for Slim's plaque, in addition to Slim's family and friends, had come from the hut crew who wanted to honor Slim and the botanical work that was his legacy.
 Sandy also suggested that the missing plaque where we were looking on Saturday may have originally been the location of a plaque commemorating the death of William Curtis by exposure in the famous blizzard of June 30, 1900.

An example of "nivation".

Looking south towards the Moats, Mt. Chocorua, and, to the right, the Sandwich Range. The Old Crawford Path is visible in near the bottom of the photo threading its way between the rocks. It hasn't been in formal use for a hundred years but you can still follow it in places,

Showers moving in from the southwest.

The upper water collection area for the two Lakes of the Clouds and uppermost source of the Ammonoosuc water "system". This depression on the flank of the mountain that was  provided by glacial mechanics thousands, maybe millions, of years ago, and is where the Ammonoosuc begins. The larger Lake is the blue area in the photo's center.

                                         Looking west across the larger of the two lakes.

and looking back to the northeast and the ridge. Up to the left, that long slope covered with snow is the cutting edge of the divide between the Ammonoosuc River (eventually the Connecticut River) and the Saco River.

The weather had changed quickly and completely. It was getting cold and rain showers were closing in. It looked like a temporary system, but we headed down.

Showers moving rapidly towards the northwest seen from the Ammy.

Back in the trees again, just above Gem Pool. It was a great hike, a rare treat to hang out with Dougy and Chris, and a lovely day all in all. I'm hoping this hike will be the first of many over the coming months. See you in the Hills.