Friday, October 24, 2008

A couple of White Mountain Ghost Stories for Halloween

These are some ghost stories that are meant to be read aloud to an audience, preferable in the evening when it is dark in the hut and the wind is blowing, and part of after dinner presentations I do in the huts from time to time. There are more stories related to the events and places in this article which I may add later. I'll have to find a way to illustrate these stories, too.

“Chief Passaconway's Ride To Heaven came when 'at the age of one hundred and twenty he retired from his tribe and lived in a lonely wigwam among the Pennacooks. One winter night the howling of wolves was heard, and a pack came dashing through the village, harnessed by threes to a sledge of hickory saplings that bore a tall throne spread with furs (dog sled). The wolves paused at Passaconway's door. The old chief came forth, climbed upon the sledge, and was borne away with a triumph apostrophe that sounded above the yelping and snarling of his train. Across Winnipesaukee's frozen surface they sped like the wind, and the belated hunter shrank aside as he saw the giant towering against the northern lights and heard his death-song echo from the cliffs. Through pathless woods, across ravines, the wolves sped on, with never slackened speed, the mazes of the Agiochooks to the highest peak we now call Washington. Up its steep wilderness of snow the ride went furiously; the summit was neared, the sledge burst into flame, still there was no pause; the height was gained, the wolves went howling into the darkness, but the car, wrapped in sheaves of fire, shot like a meteor toward the sky and was lost amid the stars of the winter night. So passed the Indian king into Heaven.'"
Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, by Charles M. Skinner, 1896

Passaconway was the chief of the Pennacook band of Abenakis. The Pennacooks lived mostly in what is present day New Hampshire. Passaconway died in the early 1700s, possibly in 1706 and some historians say he died on New Year's day, in a Pennacook village near where Manchester, NH is situated. The story quoted above of his sled ride to heaven, as it is copied here, has had a number of variations through the years but the gist of it is that on a cold, winter day he died in his wigwam and that he was more than 100 years old. A few seconds before he died it is told that a sled pulled by six black wolves came to the door of his wigwam. His body was placed on furs on the sled and then taken north along the valleys and across the ridges to the summit of Agiochooks, what we refer to as Mt. Washington.

There is a much longer story, also, of Passaconway’s illustrious life. He had an enormous knowledge of medicinal plants, and medicine in general, and posessed great skill (or luck) as a healer and his reputation reached as far as Europe. He was often visited by doctors coming from what is now Germany, and from France and Britain who sought out his expertise. Passaconway also had a reputation as a magician. One story tells of a hot summer day when Passaconway was entertaining some visitors from Europe in his wigwam. He passed around a wooden bowl partially filled with water which he then covered briefly with a piece of soft deer skin that, an instant later, he removed with a dramatic flourish to reveal the same vessel filled with ice. The ice probably came from caves on Mt. Whiteface.

The Pennacook often wintered near present day Manchester, NH, along what is now the Merrimack River. (“Amoskeag” of Manchester’s Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River is the Abenaki/Algonquian word for "weirs" or fish "traps".) The Pennacook summered in Wonnalancet (the name of Passaconway's son) at the foot of what is now Mt. Wonnalancet, Mt. Passaconway and Mt. Whiteface and also at several locations around Lake Winnepesaukee, particulary at The Weirs, near Laconia, named for the fish weirs erected there by the Abenaki. These summer camps were visited by many bands of Abenaki who came from what are now Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to socialize and to dry fish and make pemmican for the winter months. The entire region the Pennacooks traversed as they traveled back and forth from Amoskeag to Wonalancet and north to Mt. Washington they considered to be held "in common" by the tribe. Passaconway had, for most of his life, been generous to the European settlers arriving in New England between 1620 and the 1680s. As they moved north like a tide into his tribal lands Passaconway tired of them and towards the end of his life came to despise them for their greed and broken promises to respect his land and people. Just before he died it is said that he uttered a grim promise to come back to the mountains after his death and “make havoc on the white people” and to avenge their crimes against his people.

Move ahead quickly a hundred years, or so, after Passaconway’s death and look down though the clouds at the White Mountains and see Ethan Allen Crawford and his wife, Lucy, (just a stones throw from the AMC’s Highland Center), trying to scratch out a living in Crawford Notch as inn keepers and he as a guide and farmer. It was a spartan existence, as you can see. Over the years Ethan Crawford was asked often to guide travelers to the summit of Mt. Washington so often that eventually he decided to cut a trail from his inn to the summit that could be used for horse travel. In 1818 and 1819 he and a small party of woodsmen he hired cut a path that became the present day Crawford Path.

The most difficult part of the trail to cut was the four or five first miles up Mt. Clinton and upwards towards what was called Mt. Pleasant and is now known as Mt. Eisenhower. The men camped in the woods in tents rather than return to Crawford’s each night. It was during that time that the men working on the trail complained of being watched by something they referred to as The Presence.

What they described was a kind of prickly feeling along their necks going a little way down their spines and sometimes making the hairs on their necks tingle or stand up straight. The men became jittery when any of them mentioned this feeling or what caused it. It is kind of like that feeling we all get from time to time of being stared at and we turn quickly and, sure enough, some one is staring at us. To them the feeling embraced evil, a feeling of impending doom. Within a month of the first reports of The Presence two of the men quit and vowed never to step foot on the mountain again. Could this have been Passaconway’s ghost raising havoc, trying to prevent another violation of the Abenaki’s sacred home?

Little is heard about The Presence again until the 1930s, another 100 years towards the present. By that time Lakes of the Clouds Hut had been in existence for 20 plus years. Most of us know that Lakes was built beside the Crawford Path below Mt. Washington’s summit as an emergency shelter for hikers heading from Crawford Notch to the summit to retreat to in bad weather.

In the summer of 1900 two such hikers, Bill Curtis and Allan Ormsbee, both young men from New York City, died from hypothermia on the ridge just above the Lakes of the Clouds. They were on their way to an AMC annual meeting being held at the Summit House and were caught in a terrible snowstorm and perished a few feet from each other on the 30th of June, the middle of the Summer! They were not the first, nor the last, hikers to perish in this fashion on Mt. Washington.

Lakes of the Clouds hut grew a little bit year-by-year from a small emergency shelter to a larger building that could accommodate overnight guests who were making the loop across the Presidential Range going from Lakes to Madison Spring Hut, or coming in the opposite direction. A man by the name of Red Mac McGregor was huts manager at that time and he had a vision to build huts across the White Mountains so that hikers could hike with lighter packs and enjoy a good nights rest, a few meals, out of the rain and cold.

By the 1930 the huts were serving hundreds of people during the summer months. More and more people were coming to the mountains including people who worked there in the huts, in the huge hotels in the valleys, at the summit house, the cog railway. The mountains were filling up with people. And it was during that time that we again hear about The Presence.

Guests at Lakes of the Clouds began complaining about going down the long, dark corridor to the men’s and women’s bathrooms at night because they “felt someone was staring at them through a row of windows”. Some people said they saw a face in the windows. Some people said as soon as the went through the door of the bathroom they had the horrible sensation of someone gripping their shoulder with an icy cold hand.

More and more people made these comments. They were never solicited. No one went up to them, one of the hut croo for instance, and said “Hey, did ya feel a clammy cold hand on your shoulder when you were in the bathroom late last night?” But more and more people were mentioning it with a kind of sheepish look like, “Wow, someone here is going to think I am certifiably crazy if I say this too loud, or put too much emphasis on each word—as of I believe in ghost or some nonsense like that.”

The Lakes croos began noticing more and more people talking about The Presence in the hut, the menacing face in the window, the staring eyes, the cold hand. It is a ghost? Is the hut haunted?

The years passed, 10, 20, and more. During some of the summers there were more reports of the presence. Some years there were none. Then in the 1960s there were more reports than ever. The most common reports, that of the face in the window and the cold hand on the shoulder, were suddenly coupled with reports of footsteps on the stair case that comes up from the Lakes basement. (sound effects) Doors opening and closing. Even locked doors opening and closing.

On one occasion the Lakes hutmaster was up late one Sunday night finishing the hut report and sitting by himself at the table in the kitchen where he was kept company by the hut cat. They were both serenely sitting there with the wind blowing outside and the gas lamp hissing quietly when they both heard the downstairs basement door open and close (sound effects) and them someone coming up the stairs. The hutmaster turned to look and there was no one there even though from the footsteps a person, someone, should have been standing right there at the top of the stairs. He turned and saw the cat’s eyes were bugged out and its hair was straight up with his back arched and with an expression of terror it was looking right where the sound had been. The hutmaster jumped over the table and ran into the croo room slamming and barricading the door behind him. The cat was left to its own devices.

On September 17, 1967, the last cog railway train of the day jumped the track, as it was on its way down from the summit in the early evening. It fell off the trestle and slid down the mountainside, across the rocks, for a ways before coming to a stop. Several people were killed. Emergency personnel including state police, game wardens, doctors and other rescuers, rushed to the scene. The hotel on the summit was still open but because of the accident everyone was down on the side of the mountain and the hotel was empty that night

Chris Kreilkamp was the hotel manager that summer. On the night of the accident he was alone in the hotel. He did the usual things like make sure the stoves were off in the big kitchen, the window were closed and locked, all those safety things that have to be checked and rechecked, and then he put all the day’s money in the big hotel safe and locked it. Chris, as the manager, was the only one on the mountain with the combination to the safe. He turned off the lights and went to his bedroom in the old part of the hotel.

A few hours into his night’s sleep someone banged on his bedroom door. (sound effects) It was really loud knocking. He woke with a start, his heart thumping. He thought it was someone about the train accident so he jumped out of bed, turned on the light, and opened the door. There was no one there. He looked down the corridor. No one. “Impossible,” he said to himself and got back in bed. A few minutes later he heard footsteps in the hall and the banging on the door. Louder this time. He ran to the door. No one! He freaked and hid under the covers. The next morning when he went into main room of the hotel he found the safe with the door wide open. On the counter by the snack bar all the money that had been in the safe was stacked up in denominations. All the pennies were stacked together, all the nickels were stacked, the dimes, quarters, and all the dollar bill, too, were stacked by ones, fives, tens, twenties, up to the few 100 dollar bills that had been in the safe.

To Chris’ horror the exact same thing happened the next night. The accident scene was still drawing investigators and reporters but there were few people around. It was late in the season for tourists. Chris went to bed and again he heard the loud footsteps, the banging on the door, his heart thumping, and still no one was there. The next morning the safe was open again, the money stacked on the snack bar counter. He immediately called the hotel owner on the phone and told him one of his favorite aunts had died in Bayonne, New Jersey and he had to leave immediately.

Roughly a year later an AMC construction croo was completing some renovations at Lakes of the Clouds. It was early September and the Lancaster Fair was going on and since it has been a long tradition for everyone who lives in the North Country to attend the fair the construction croo took it upon themselves to slip away from the hut for a night, run down the Ammy and attend the fair. One of the croo didn’t feel like it. He wanted to stay at the hut. The croo joked with him saying anyone who is foolish to stay at Lakes for a night all alone will go insane. He said he didn’t believe them, didn’t care, and didn’t want to go with them and he stayed at the hut that night.

The Construction Croo stayed at Pinkham that night and didn’t arrive back at the hut until 10 the next morning. They yelled George’s name (the guy who stayed behind) quite a few times but got not answer and they thought maybe he had really gotten scared being there all alone and gone up to the observatory to spend the night. They worked for a while and then one of them went into the croo room for something and there was George crouched down in the corner with two butcher knives, one in either hand, trembling like a leaf and mute as a stone. They helped him up to the summit later in the day and he was taken home from there by car. Several years later he agreed to be interviewed and said staying alone at the hut that night was the most terrifying thing he could imagine. He refused to divulge any details. He vowed never to step foot on the mountain again.

A Quick Night Swim in Lakes of The Clouds

One hot summer night in 1970 several of the Lakes croo decided to go for a quick swim in the larger of the two Lakes of the Clouds. The moon was almost full and it was a calm night with no wind. The trio swam to a large rock near the center of the lake and sat there talking. Then one of them dove in and swam around a bit then climbed back on the rock. Then another dove in. He stayed under for some time, long enough to make the others wonder if he was okay. The lake is only about 10 feet deep in the middle but they were a little concerned. Suddenly he erupted upwards exploding above the surface, thrashed his way back to the rock and climbed out quickly. “The weirdest thing just happened,” he said. He explained that after he dove and was about to kick upwards to return to the surface an icy cold hand grabbed him by the ankle and held him under the surface until he felt like he was going to drown and then it released him.

Through the 1970’s reports continued of footsteps coming up from the basement and walking down the length of the corridor in the west wing of the hut. But as the hut gradually got larger to accommodate the growing numbers of hikers needing space the reports of ghost-like phenomenon subsided. There are hardly any anymore which is sad because if it was the ghost of Passaconway then it means he has given up and feels defeated.

Other Huts, other Ghosts

Mizpah has a ghost story that involves a young woman who drowned in the Dry River while making a river crossing when the river was high and fast after a lot of rain. The story has it that her body was brought up to the hut and left in the basement overnight wrapped tightly in a plastic covering. In the morning the body was found in a different location and there were scratches in the plastic made by her fingernails meaning she was still alive when they wrapped her in the plastic and tried to claw her way out. The real story behind this is quite different and her body was not taken to the hut.

A now famous story involves what might be the ghost of Red Mac McGregor. You remember that Red Mac was the first Huts Manager and had first worked at Carter Notch Hut in the early 1900s as a young lad. In fact he had been hut master at Carter a couple of summers. On a cold winter night in 1976 the first winter caretaker at Carter, Joe Gill, was fast asleep when he was brought to sudden consciousness by a loud crash and someone holding a flashlight pointing straight at his face and blinding him. He bolted upright asking who was there. No one answered him. He waited a second or two to see if anyone would move or say something and then he go up. He found that the flashlight was lying on the bunk opposite his and facing him. He had no idea where it had come from or how it landed exactly in that position.

Joe went out to the dining room to find the front door wide open and a wind blowing snow into the room. He closed the door and went back to bed. He woke to another crash shortly after he had fallen back to sleep. He found the front door was open again. This time he slid one of the long, oak trestle tables against the door and went back to sleep.
He woke to another crash. The door was open and the table had been pushed aside. He closed the door again and pushed the table back against it and took four 8 penny nails and nailed the table to the floor in front of the door and went back to sleep.

As soon as it was light Joe put on his pack, un-nailed the table, opened the door, and headed down the trail. He was still a little shaken by what had happened at the hut. He went straight to Pinkham and had breakfast. He was feeling a little out of it. One of the Pinkham croo asked what was wrong and he demurred preferring not to expose himself as a believer in ghostly phenomenon. Then the croo guy said: “You probably haven’t heard but Red Mac died early this morning.” Joe looked at him blankly for a second and then asked “Do you know what time he died?” The guy replied, “Yeah, around 1 am. Why?” Joe said, “No reason” and continued to eat his eggs remembering as he ate that it was exactly 1 am that he had been wakened by the loud crash and the flashlight shining in his eyes.

Written (compiled by) by Alex MacPhail 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Taking a quick trip up to Zeacliff and then over to Zeacliff Pond, September 2008

This is the Twinway Trail a bit below the summit of Zeacliff and 3/4 miles from Zealand Falls Hut. It's a lovely trail and a lovely way to spend a day so I am going to show you how to get there. This will be the last 'trip' in the vicinity of Zealand Valley for a while in this blog but I hope the photos and stories entice you to hike these same trails in person, particularly if you've never been on any of them.

The Twinway Trail as it just reaches the summit of Zeacliff, September 2008

This is the Twinway Trail at the northern edge of the broad summit plateau of Zeacliff. Zeacliff is the eastern terminus of a long ridge, or granite shelf, that extends west to Zealand Mountain, and then, with a few undulations, all the way to Mt. Guyot (Ghee-O). Fifty years ago the section of the trail in this photo is where you broke out of the trees and stepped onto a broad open area with gorgeous 360 degree views, gleaming white granite ledges and blueberry bushes extending for a mile west and a few hundred yards north and south. With those gorgeous views on sunny summer days when the blueberries were ripe it was absolute heaven. Towards the east the ridge breaks off in a sheer cliff, Zeacliff itself, with a breath-taking, 1300 foot drop to Whitewall Brook on the floor of Zealand Notch. Two huge and devestating forest fires burned through Zealand Notch more than 100 years ago. The first fire occurred in July 1886 when J. E. Henry was logging here. The exact area of destruction is not known. The fire was believed to have started north of the notch, close to Route 302. A second fire in May 1903 (after Henry had ceased logging in the valley) burned as much acreage as the 1886 blaze (approximately 10,000 acres) but burned further south through Zealand Notch and up high to the top of Whitewall Mt. and perhaps to the top of Zealcliff. Newspaper accounts don't offer specifics. One newspaper article described Zealand Notch as "death valley". "It is a dull-brown waste of lifeless, fire-eaten soil and stark white boulders. All about lie great blackened stumps and tangled roots of what were once majestic trees." (from Fran Belcher, 1980) If the 1903 fire burned over the top of Zeacliff it would account for the thin soil, the barrenness I recall from 40-50 years ago, and the emergence of the balsams and spruce over the past thirty years as plant life struggles to re-colonize the area. I want to do some more research on the fires of 1903 and 1907 to try and survey the exact terrain the fires burned.

View of Whitewall Mountain from Zeacliff through the clouds, September 2008

This was the view from Zeacliff the morning I was heading over to Zeacliff Pond. The two photos below show what the view is like ion a clear afternoon but I like this view, too. I like the anticipation of waiting for the clouds to thin for a moment to see even this much. Sitting there at the outlook on Zeacliff is a pleasure after the steep mile-long hike from Zealand Falls Hut. This outlook was the only place you could come on a clear night, winter or summer, in the White Mountains and not see any lights from human habitation but that's not true anymore. Now lights from towns to the east and the north are plainly visible. I sat here one sunny afternoon in 1962 as a young kid serving my apprenticeship under Harry Levi, a wonderful man and a brilliant naturalist/botanist. He was a professor at Harvard and director of Harvard's famed Arnold Aboreteum. Harry had several areas of expertise but more than any other thing he knew birds. He was incredibly astute at identifying even rare birds just by their songs. So we were sitting on Zeacliff with a group of AMC members who were on one of my guided hikes and I was looking around using Harry's powerful binoculars. Suddenly I saw a huge bald eagle soaring over the summit of Whitewall a few miles away. Eagles were rare then in the Whites so I was very excited. "Look, look!" I was shouting. "There's a bald eagle!." Everyone dove for their binoculars and squinted off towards Whitewall. No one could see it. "It's right there," I kept saying pointing in the direction I saw the eagle. Just as suddenly as I had seen the eagle I heard Harry laughing. I put down the binoculars and he pointed out to me that what I had been looking at was a black fly a few yards away, directly in front of the binoculars. I never, ever heard the end of that.

View of Whitewall Mountain from Zeacliff taken on a clear September day in 2007

This is the same view of Whitewall Mt without the clouds on a beautiful afternoon in September 2007. You can see the Ethan Pond Trail in both photographs as a thin dark line cutting straight across the talus slope on Whitewall Mt. This line represents the old logging railroad bed used by the Zealand Valley Railroad in the 1880s. The Ethan Pond Trail (named after Ethan Allen Crawford) is part of the Appalachian Trail.

View of Mt. Carrigan and the Pemi from Zeacliff on a clear day in September 2007

This view (from September 2007) is due south from Zeacliff looking towards Mt. Carrigain, the highest peak in the background. Most of the leaves were already off the trees so there are those lovely russet and purple colors across the valley that one associates with winter.

Zeacliff summit showing the height of the fir-spruce overstory, September 2008

This is the Twinway Trail as it crosses over the broad summit of Zeacliff. The spruce and fir trees are overspreading the blueberry bushes and herbaceous plants including clintonia, bunchberry and several mosses. The balsams and spruce are efficient competitors for the enormous amount of sunlight available here. Looking at the granite ledge gives you an idea of how thin the soil is but it's enough to support the plant community. Granite erodes gradually providing a consistent supply of nutrients available to the plants and makes up for the thin soil. It is likely that all the soil on Zeacliff was destroyed in the 1903 fire. The granite ledges gradually supported plantlife which has, over the past 105 years, finally become established. 1903 was one of the worst years for forest fires in New Hampshire history. Many summits including Carter Dome were burned over and left treeless and much of the soil was destroyed as well. (See Applachia, June 1953)

A young hiker on the granite "sidewalk" of the Twinway near the summit of Zeacliff, September 2008

As I've said, when I was this boy's age the fir and spruce trees were small seedlings and the summit of Zeacliff was covered with blueberry bushes (as it still is only with better views) and you could spend hours picking and eating them simultaneously. In an hour, or two, you could hike up from Zealand Falls Hut and pick a bucket of them, enough to make a few pies for the evening desert and have some left over for blueberry pancakes in the morning. It was not unusual to be so absorbed in picking berries that the first reminder that a thunderstorm was bearing down from the west was when it was almost overhead and you would have to make a dash for for it and head down the trail far enough so you were out of harms way.

Finding late season blueberries on Zeacliff, September 2008

This family found some late season blueberries right beside the Twinway Trail and the berries were dense enough to make it worthwhile to stop for a bit and fill up. Even though competition with other plants for sunlight and soil nutrients is intense Zeacliff is still an ideal place for blueberries to grow and I hope they do for a long time to come.

Zeacliff blueberries competing with balsam fir and red spruce, September 2008

In between the spruce needles you can make out the blueberries close to the ground. This probably wasn't the best place to take a picture showing the competion for sunlight that is going on. There were lots of places where there the blueberries ruled and there wasn't any competition.
Anyway, it's time to head for Zeacliff Pond still a mile away.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Zeacliff Pond, the first glimpse, September 2008

This was my first glimpse of Zeacliff Pond in many years. The water level looks low as if it was a dry summer but it wasn't. The summer of 2008 has been pretty wet. At any rate the pond looks like a lot of the alpine ponds in the White Mountains including Eagle 'Lake' on Mt. Lafayette, Garfield Pond, Ethan Pond, Kinsman Pond, Speck Pond, the two lakes at Carter Notch, and others. They could all use another visit by the continental glacier to clean them out and spruce them up a bit. In 1965 I helped a friend and colleague, Larry Collins, with his Master's level thesis project which was to study the aquatic plants in three alpine ponds including Eagle Lake and Lakes of the Clouds (yes, I know, but they are still ponds even thought they're called "lakes"). We used scuba equipment and created 10 meter square grids across the bottom of the ponds and then randomly sampled the plants. We identified 7-8 different species of plants and Eagle Lake had a much larger inventory than Lakes of the Clouds largely because there was more mud on the bottom of Eagle Lake. That in turn was accounted for by the amount of detritus (particulate organic matter) that runs into Eagle Lake from the surrounding terrain and the dense plant growth around the perimeter. Both bodies of water freeze to the bottom every winter so that hasn't been a factor in plant distribution. Lakes of the Clouds may be 'younger' than Eagle Lake because of it's higher altitude or there may be less CO2 because the water is colder which would make it difficult for some of the plants to propogate. Over in Carter lake, the larger, deeper one, surface plants in the form of water lilies (nymphacea) with deep roots began appearing twenty years ago and they are becoming denser every year. Water lilies have been at Zeacliff Pond for several decades at least.

Zeacliff Pond, some oily slime near the north side of the pond, September 2008

Here we have some oily slime and it looks like some one stepped in it! Two things about Zeacliff Pond 1.) there isn't now and apparently hasn't ever been any beaver activity at the pond, and 2.) th epond is fed intermittently by streams coming off the surrounding ridges. The bottom is thick with mud, several feet thick, so there are oily by-products from all the decomposition. The slime, too, is from the incomplete decomposition of plants.

Zeacliff Pond from near the site of the old shelter and close to the spot where the 1959 photo was taken

This is what it looked like on this recent, grey, overcast day compared to the next photo that I took nearly 50 (49 actually) years ago!

Zeacliff Pond as it looked in July 1959 from the north edge of the pond looking south towards Mt. Carrigain

I took this photo with my Anschomatic camera late in the afternoon from the north shore of the pond and pretty close to where I took the photo above. Two things stand out in the comparison. One is that there is a lot of plant growth on the surface of the pond in this photo. The second is that the pond had considerably more water area than it does now. Most mountain ponds are formed out of glacially carved depressions or from glacially formed eskers, pockets created when chunks of glacial ice melted slowly after the glaciers had receded leaving a hole the size of this pond to fill with water. A pond is a body of water in which sunlight reaches the bottom (as opposed to a lake where the water is too deep for sunlight to reach the bottom). Sunlight, of course, turn green plants into little factories in which photosynthesis makes green plants grow, even aquatic green plants. Photosynthesis uses carbon dioxide (CO2) to make sugars that are stored in the plants and it produces oxygen as a kind of by product that is used by other things like fish. Photosynthesis needs carbon dioxide, CO2, to make the essential sugars for plant growth. CO2 in the pond might come from decaying plant material but too much CO2 would also cause the "death" of the pond. Once the CO2 tipping point is achieved the pond would begin to eutrophy like Zeacliff and some of the other mountain ponds. Another simpler way to think about this is that ponds, including mountain ponds, are 'alive' in a sense. They are like an organism that lives and eventually dies and in the process of living it maintains a kind of status quo scientifically termed 'homeostasis', an equilibrium, but the equilibrium will eventually reach entropy and collapse and the pond will begin a new life and seek out a new equilibrium as a bog, or swamp, or meadow, or forest.

The Zeacliff Pond shelter in July 1959

This is the old Zeacliff Pond shelter that was pretty rickety when I slept there in the summer of 1959. Note the patch work on the roof. The night I stayed there a camp arrived with 17 campers to spend the night so it was a tad crowded. The shelter was torn down in 1961 or 1962 and was not replaced. It offered an overflow, an annex of sorts, between Ethan Pond and Guyot shelters.

Zeacliff Pond looking north towards the cliffs, September 2008

Looking north across the pond towards the cliffs that are part of the same mass of conway granite that forms Zeacliff. The Twin Way Trail, part of the Appalachian Trail, runs along the top of that ridge which connects Zeacliff and Zealand Mt which is west and to the left in this photo. The old Zeacliff shelter pictured above and maintained by the AMC from the early 1900s until 1961, or so, used to sit a little to the right of the right of this photo overlooking the pond. In the foreground you can see muck, mud that has been churned up by moose and other critters, and lily pads. The march of the mud began at the southern end of the pond (see below) and will probably continue until, decades from now, the pond is filled in.

Zealand Pond, sphagnum moss with sedge and viburnum growing in it.

This is what the muskeg looks like up close. The area of ground in this photograph is about 2 feet across. You can see the sphagnum moss underneath the viburnum and the sedge. There are a few bunchberry plants in the upper righthand corner with their leaves a cranberry red.

Area of Zeacliff Pond that was open water 50 years ago, September 2008

This is the near the south end of the pond and 50 years ago this was open water a foot, or so, deep. It is now muskeg with a combination of a few species of sedge, some viburnum and sphagnum moss as in the photo above. It is comparatively dry compared with the area closer to the pond outlet two photos down.

Dead spruce trees in the muskeg area at the south end of Zeacliff Pond, September 2008

This looks pretty dismal with the grey sky and the dead trees. It's an indication of the late stage of eutrophication of Zealand Pond. I just looked up 'eutrophy' in the dictionary and it defines it as "the state of being well nourished, state of being over-rich in organic and mineral nutrients which promote plant life over animal life." That sounds right but I am using it to denote a phase in the life and death of a pond using my definition of a pond from the photo above. At any rate in the past 50 years, by comparing the two photos above these spruce trees have grown and died. I'm going to guess and say they died 30 years ago, or so, because of too much water. In other words they may have drowned.

Zeacliff Pond, near the outlet on the south side, September 2008

Sedge and sphagnum moss are the primary plants here near the pond's outlet. Like the last two photos this area is like muskeg and spongy. It can potentially hold a lot of water but the water is
covered with a oily film from all the decomposition taking place in the sponge. There is very little oxygen in the water and probably subnormal amounts in the pond water it self. So this is almost the final image of the death of Zeacliff Pond although, in reality, it will be several more decades before the pond is completely transformed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A beautiful glade along Whitewall Brook in Zealand Notch, October 11, 2008

This is a gorgeous glade I happened upon last Saturday (October 10, 2008) as I meandered down Whitewall Brook south through Zealand Notch. You can see the brook on the right through the trees. I want to 'key out' (as in look it up in a botany book) the grass that is growing there. I'm still not sure what it is as I write this. It could be Dentgrass, Agrostis borealis. I didn't pay enough attention to it when I was standing there taking this picture. I was surrounded by all that beauty and I was trying to take everything in. Natural History, as a discipline, is certainly multifaceted. It focuses on taxonomy and interpretation. Taxonomy being the process of cataloging things, sorting out the myriad details, organizing the odd bits and figuring them out and becoming familiar with them, meaning being able to see what's basically in front of you so you can develop the narrative, the interpretation. I feel Natural History is really about beauty, the incredible beauty of everything around us. I feel the same about social work, which is my profession. Both are ecological; they're about relationships, interactions, and interpretations (stories).

Hobble bush, or Witch Hobble, up close

This is a small bit of hobble bush, my nemisis, that I often complain about in this blog and that has taken a fair bit of flesh off of my shins. This is an innocuous-looking stand and probably only five feet high but it gives you an idea of what it looks like and where it is apt to grow, in these glade-like areas where there is a lot of sunlight.

Logging railroad bed that ran along Whitewall Brook for several miles more than 100 years ago

In a few places I was able to follow this old logging railroad bed that paralleled Whitewall Brook. This spur started from a switch slightly north of Zealand Pond and extended down the notch, south, for a few miles. This was part of J. E. Henry's operation, the Zealand Valley Railroad. The main railroad bed stayed at the same level as the upper part of the valley and cut across the face of Whitewall Mtn. and is used now by the Ethan Pond Trail which is part of the Appalachian Trail as well. This part of the bed in the photograph still had indentations in the ground from where the railroad ties used to be.

Shiny clubmoss, Lycopodium lucidulum

This clubmoss is one of the more common in the White Mountains and was prolific along Whitewall Brook in vast carpets several hundred feet across that make the groves where it grows seem enchanted. Here with the shiny clubmoss are two Ground Pine, Lycopodium obscurum, which is also common here. They look like minature pine trees.

Spinulose woodfern, Dryopteris spinulosa

This is a beautiful and very common fern in the White Mountains called Spinulose woodfern, or by its lating name, Dryopteris spinulosa

Zeacliff and an old beaver pond off of Whitewall Brook, Zealand Notch, October 11, 2008

Here is some of that familiar vegetation seen in the areas of beaver activity up the valley to the north including the larch trees (Larix decidua) that are turning brilliant yellow. The alder is here as well along with spirea (meadow sweet) and those lush, lush grasses and sedges. That's Zeacliff Mt. in the background. In the vicinity of where this photo was taken, on the floor of the notch, there are several older dams and old ponds that are silting in and turning into fields. They offer these attractive open areas in what would otherwise be dense stands of balsams and spruce.

Wood frog, Rana Sylvestris

This is a wood frog that caught my eye in the yellow and brown leaf carpet. I tried to photograph it on the ground to show how he blended in with the colors there but he moved too fast.

Mt. Hale in the north and Zeacliff Mt. above Zealand Notch

I'm including this photo only because I like it. I like the light. That's Mt. Hale in the background and Zeacliff to the left. That large boulder bounced down off Whitewall Mt. and landed on the old logging railroad bed which I was standing on when I took this picture and which I mentioned earlier. The top of the rock is nearly level and makes a great spot for sunbathing, eating a snack, and looking around.

Zealand Notch with Zeacliff above, October 11, 2008

Zeacliff Mt is up to the left overlooking Zealand Notch. Earlier in the day I bushwhacked several miles down the center of the notch, along the valley floor, and stayed mostly in the evergreens. The main purpose of adding this photo is to show how the coniferous, or evergreen, trees, mostly balsam and red spruce, line Whitewall Brook where the soil is well drained. The conifers also dominate the rocky cap of Zeacliff for the same reason and you will generally find evergreens in these types of locations. On Zeacliff you can see how the evergreens have established themselves in the area where the rockfall from the cliff has spread out over thousands of years.

Whitewall Mtn. from the Ethan Pond Trail, October 11, 2008

This is Whitewall, the crumbling west face of Whitewall Mt. In another story in this blog (if you scroll all the way down) I describe bushwhacking up Whitewall with Andrew Reily three months ago (back in July, '08). The long, steep gully in the center of the picture is a direct route to the summit and the way Andrew descended after our climb up the gentler north side of the mountain. I ascended this gully years ago and when I go to where it goes up through the cliff the boulders I was climbing up all started moving downward like an escalator. Needless to say I was scared out of my wits. In July when Andy suggested taking the gully for our descent I chickened out and went down the same way we had hiked up.

This is a ring lichen, or Parmelia centrifuga, October 11, 2008

This is a large specimen of Ring Lichen which is common in the White Mountains. It's almost 2 feet across.

A moose is a moose is a moose, October 11, 2008

I was tickled to have this large, gorgeous female moose for company for a few hours as I slowly meandered through Zealand Notch. Since I was bushwhacking and quite a ways from any trail I was in the moose's home turf. The moose was slightly ahead of me and down wind so she knew I was there. We were moving roughly at the same speed. She was browsing on hobble bush and striped maple (moose wood). I saw her tracks early on and not knowing the gender and not wanting to run into a large bull I kept a cautious eye for signs. When I saw it was a female I relaxed a little. We eyed each other several times and at one point I came to within 6 feet as I talked softly to her. I stopped and she walked away slowly and then I took this picture. She was healthy looking with a dark, glossy coat!

Rush hour on the Zealand Trail, Columbus Day weekend, 10-11-08

There was a bit of a bottleneck, closer to gridlock, at the intersection of the Zealand, Twin Way and Ethan Pond Trails as I was on my way out and heading back to the road on Columbus Day. It was a stunning day with peak foliage, as they call it, and warm, in the 60s (F), so there were good reasons to see lots of hikers, particularly at Zealand which is one of the more accessible areas in the Whites and certainly one of the loveliest.

"Closed to Entry" sign to keep hikers away from fragile alpine plant communities near the Crawford Path on Mt. Washington, July 1984

This sign was put up when the Crawford Path was relocated in 1984 to protect a nearby, extremely fragile plant community. Moving the trail a number of yards away from the site was a preventive measure with the hope that the plants would begin to thrive again away from the tread of hikers' lug-soled boots. The measure, it turned out, looking back 24 years later, was extraordinarily successful. The once threatened plant community is now thriving. Preventing damage to the fragile upland 'environment' of the White Mountains is a full time job for a number of people. The three photos that follow, taken in the late 1960s, show the kinds of human activities that have the potential to cause damage with long term consequences to vulnerable habitats. I took these photos at the apex of an enormous upsurge in the number of people coming to the Whites. The increase was caused by a number of factors. One that had the impact of a minor earthquake was the publication of a story titled "The Friendly Huts of the White Mountains" by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas published in the July 1961 issue of National Geographic. The magazine mailed in early June just in time to allow for summer plans to change and the mountains and huts were inundated with the curious and the zealous. Innovations in hiking equipment, footwear and clothing also helped motivate people to head for the mountains and so did increased efficiency, safety and ease in transportation. Interstate 93, principally, and I-95 had made driving to the mountains by private automobile much easier and faster. In 1967 it was estimated that the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) was within a four hour drive or 20 million people!

1940s era map designed to promote the White Mountain National Forest

This is a map printed in the 1940s I've had for years. The icons always catch my eye. If you enlarge the picture by clicking on it with your mouse you can see a little logging truck coming out of Waterville Valley, a black bear walking down the Franconia Brook Trail, and men on a log drive on the Androsgoggin River near Berlin. All of the old summit fire towers are visible along with all the AMC huts with the exception of Mizpah which was constructed in 1964-65. The map was an advertisement for the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). It was part of a campaign that included eye catching posters for restaurants and inns with photographs of skiers in Tuckerman's Ravine, skiers on the Wildcat ski trail, and a long string of campers from a girls camp hiking up the Osgood Trail to Mt. Madison. The promotion worked and eventually people came. Tourism expanded quickly south of the WMNF during the 1950s. Skiing became a big business quickly in the region. Ski areas blossomed overnight. Living in North Conway during that time we could feel this surge of growth as new businesses sprang up to 'handle' the tourists. Hiking didn't catch on as fast probably because it was more work and less glamorous than skiing. Hiking was kind of a well kept secret. The map's references to fire towers, logging and timber reflect the principal activities in the WMNF until the 1960s. The AMC had completed its now famous hut system by 1932. The Forest Service (USFS) and the Randolph Mountain Club (RMC) and the AMC together kept up hundred of miles of trails and dozens of shelters in the national forest starting as far back as the 1880s. So an infrastructure existed for hikers to utilize but there were not a lot of folks coming to the mountains just then. Not yet.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hikers camping near Lakes of the Clouds in July 1968

When this photo was taken in 1968 this was legal. On any given Saturday night in the summers of 1967 through 1970 there would be as many as 100 tents like these spread out all around the Lakes of the Clouds extending all the way over to Monroe Flats. Campers near the lakes used the toilet facilities at Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Campers out and away from toilets did not and with really awful results. Campers often built fires and/or used small gasoline stoves to cook on, they erected tents and dug drainage trenches around them, and they put down pads under their sleeping bags. They walked everywhere, indiscriminately across the tundra. They had come to enjoy the great outdoors and, for the most part, were unaware of the damage they were causing. A lot of us did not see the damage immediately, but all this activity and the sheer number of people engaged in it constituted overuse of the fragile alpine environment. Eventually it caused measurable degradation to the plant communities, water supplies, and the terrain itself. Unrestricted camping, particularly the over use of most-favored camp sites, caused sanitation problems and real environmental damage. Some damage was superficial and when the activity stopped the natural system bounced back but there were permanent scars.

Hikers erecting a haphazard shelter in the krumholtz on Mt. Washington, July 1968

These hikers are "roughing it", using an army surplus tarp as a tent. This was a popular practice when the picture was taken in 1968 as an impromptu but unsafe shelter for use above timberline in the White Mountains where the weather can become nasty quickly. At about the same time, 1968, due to technological innovations brought about by the Apollo Space Program and the Vietnam War there was a revolution starting to happen in new materials (ripstop nylong, nylon taffeta, eventually Goretex, Kevlar, etc), that brought affordable, lightweight, and durable back backs, wind and rain gear, footwear, tents, and sleeping bags that also helped to propel people into the mountains. These two men relied on a campfire for warmth because of the insubstantial shelter provided by the tarp so there net impact on this site was probably more destructive, at least potentially, than the impact made by the hikers with their mountain tent in the photo above.

Campfire debris next to the Crawford Path on Mt. Washington, July 1968

This is one of the consequences of camping in any area but in above-timberline areas a camp fire can cause immeasurable damage to fragile plant systems from the fire itself and by the process of procuring firewood. Another consequence of camping in above timberline areas is the repeated and concentrated use of favored camp sites which causes even greater impacts. As a result of the above timberline camping the USFS and the AMC, by 1973, had collaborated to create what we referred to as RUAs or Restricted Use Areas. Camping above timberline was no longer permitted, you could only camp 200 feet from any trail below timberline, and you camping near the huts was also prohibited. Along with the "Closed to Entry" sign in the photo above the RUAs were necessary safeguards protecting the overall environment of the WMNF.

Forest Protection Area designation to prohibit over-use of specific areas in the White Mountain National Forest, September 2008

The Forest Protection Area designated by this sign has replaced the Restricted Use Area (RUA) that was used in the 1970s. For the most part regulating the WMNF in 2008 is challenging but not as challenging, say, as regulating Yosemite National Park. And the discussion about the necessity of regulating the forest brings up the concept of the "The Commons", or more to the point, the "Tragedy of The Commons" as iterated by Garret Hardin back in 1968. I like to think of the White Mountains as The Commons. It is public land, afterall. It exists under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture which regulates all the national forest and that adheres to the catchy phrase: "Multiple Use" as its managment credo. One of the major threats to the WMNF, and the force behind the necessity of regulating the forest, is "over use" by anyone, any faction of users, and one has to say, looking at the huge numbers of people who come into the WMNF yearly, it IS well regulated and it is largely a healthy forest, a healthy ecosystem. A case in point: I was back bushwhacking in the Pemmigewasett Wilderness last Saturday, Columbus Day Weekend which is, weather permitting, one of the busiest days in the mountains if the foliage is peak (which it was), and as I was coming out late in the afternoon, just a few feet from the sign in this photograph, there was actually a moment of real gridlock at the junction of the Ethan Pond, Twin Way and Zealand trails. There were a 12-15 hikers bottled up but really only for a moment. A few minutes later and the spot was deserted. And more to the point, not a mile away and a few minutes earlier, I had come face to face with a large, mature, female, moose, a gorgeous critter if there ever was one, and not less than six feet away from me. That's a gift outright, an ephermeral moment, a chance encounter, a reminder of the beauty that's there surrounding us all. (And a bit of the wildness.)

Mt. Lafayette, August 17, 2008

I went up Lafayette last Sunday with my youngest daughter to visit some friends who work on the mountain. We ran across the ridge to Mt. Lincoln and I was reminded that the low stone walls you can see in the photo were not there when I was a kid. These walls have been carefully constructed to protect the fragile plant communities that survive here at 5000 feet and which include the rare Dwarf Cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana), by encouraging hikers to stay on the trails. No one, it seemed, paid much attention to the plants 40 years ago. Construction of the walls took place in the 1970s and 80's and are similar in intent to the two signs in the photos above: to help people be aware of their impact on the environment.

Mt. Lafayette from Franconia Ridge, January 2005

This photo was taken in January 2005 at the same spot that the one above was taken on August 17, 2008 and it shows the light snow of that particular January and how the snow is distributed by the wind on the ridge. If you enlarge the photo by clicking on it you can see the Franconia Ridge Trail as it follows the ridge crest and is defined by the stone wall that parallels it. The snow accumulation when the photo was taken was unseasonably light but you can see how the snow builds up in the lee of the wall system and offers a potential niche for plants. It's conceivable that the plants would be protected from wind along the lee of the walls and more moisture would be retained by the soil there due to the snow build up. The point I'm making is that the wall system was put there to keep hikers on the trail and to remind them of the flowers outside the walls but the walls might also help some of the plants, like Diapensia, remain established by providing a favorable micro-environment that wasn't exactly there before.

Photo of Mt. Washington from Franconia Ridge taken in January 2005 and showing where part of ridge system had eroded over eons.

This is an astonishing photo taken the same day as the one above it of Mt. Lafayette. That's Mt. Washington in the center background slightly higher than the summit of South Twin. To the left is Mt. Garfield with the prominent cliffs facing the camera. In the center of the picture you can actually see where a section of the Garfield-South Twin ridge has crumbled over thousands of years and probably with the help of a glacier, or two, and flowed like lava downhill. You can double click on the photo to make it larger and see more of the detail. By the way, I skied into the cliffs at the base of Garfield last winter (February 2008) and found them to be more than 100 feet high, and solid granite. It surprised me to find a few bolt holes drilled into the rock indicating that climbers had been there before me.