Sunday, January 25, 2009

Was this "bowl" on the northwest flank of Mt. Guyot formed by a local, alpine glacier in the distant past?

Several people who have read through my lengthy exploration of the glacial history of the White Mountains asked if this "bowl" (center of photo) on the west side of Mt. Guyot is a glacial cirque or a well rounded ravine. All of those who commented have actually been into the Red Rock basin and, it's true, when you stand in the bowl, by Red Rock Pond, it has the feel of a cirque and you can almost describe the line where a "schrund" might be, meaning the upper extent of snow accumulation. Andrew Riely was one of those who commented and he asked his geology professor about the possibilities. The professor told Andrew to look at soil samples showing downward movement and for signs of abraison on the rock slabs. In conversations with Richard Goldthwait I had back in the 1960s he pretty much quelled any thoughts that there might be more cirques in the White Mountains other than the 9 he identified on the Presidentials. There is a bowl on Mt. Moosilauke, he said, that could have been a cirque-in-process, like the one between Mts. Franklin and Monroe. Part of the problem, as Goldthwait defined it, is prevailing winds and snow accumulation. The wind directs snow into the cirque to add to the accumulation, there has to a lot of snow falling in the first place, cold temperatures over time to keep the snow from melting, and then a well defined snow accumulation zone to form a glacier. I have been in Red Rock basin a couple of times in the winter, in February of 1999 when there was quite a bit of snow and last winter and it does hold a good amount with current snow packs mainly because it doesn't get a lot of winter sunlight. Goldthwait had concluded that the period of local glaciation in the Whites was going on when the prevailing wind was from the west-south-west. Therefore he didn't think you could have a cirque facing due west which is pretty much the aspect of the Red Rock bowl. Anyway, I think it would be interesting this spring to spend some time in Red Rock basin and look for some of those signs Andrew pointed out.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Richard Goldthwait's hard to find paper on Soil Development and Ecological Succession in a Deglaciated Area of Muir Inlet

I'm tickled that I finally found a copy of this hard-to-find paper by Richard Golthwait on soil development and ecological succession in a post glacial area of Alaska. Lynn Lay at the Goldthwait Library at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University was kind enough to scan the library's last copy and email it to me. I just got it this morning. It's 170 pages long and astonishing in it's depth. It has 7 sections under the following headings: glacial history, climate, soils, plants, insects, birds and mammals. It's really cool. Each of the subject areas are broken down into years of succession from 1-5 years after the glacier(s) ablated all the way up to 125 years after the glacier melted. I haven't had time to read much of it but did find some things we talked about in the section in the blog about glaciers and the post-glacial period that are close to being accurate. Richard's team, for instance, found that the coniferous, boreal forest began to come back in to the deglaciated areas between 15 and 20 years after the glacier ablated. The mid-succession forest for one deglaciated area was 125-130 years. That's probably indicative of the chronology for the forest succession in the White Mountains following the retreat of the Wisconsinan glacier. I'll read through it more studiously. It's the soils I'm curious about and how soil development in the White Mountains impacted the types of plants and the dynamics of plant succession after the glacier retreated. There is a single soil profile in Goldthwait's paper for the Casement Glacier in Muir Inlet that describes the ablation till area at the glacier terminus as a "coarse sand and gritty material 0-6 cms deep consisting of angular fragments; some of the fines (silt and clay) occur in the lower part of the soil directly on the ice. The material is very moist. No megascopic plants are present." It sounds familiar, like some areas above treeline on the Presidentials and Franconia ridges. If any one would like a copy of the paper I'll be glad to email it or hard mail it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Crawford Path just below the summit of Mt. Washington, Janurary 3, 2009

Happy New Year! The first few days of 2009 have been blustery and cold on Mt. Washington, true to form. These photos, taken Saturday, don’t really depict what it was like. You can’t hear the roar of the wind or feel the death-like cold. On New Years Day at around 5 am the wind chill was 70 degrees below zero (F) with a few wind gusts of 130 mph clocked at the summit. As I got on the trail yesterday morning the wind chill was a mere 50 below (F). The temperature gradually got warmer as I hiked up and down the mountain and I was in a T shirt when I got back to the car.

Mt. Monroe with a snow plume in 100 mph winds. Taken from low on the summit cone of Mt. Washington.

So winter has come with those invigorating cold temperatures. I have to say that I actually like the cold and the wind as long as I can limit the time I spend in it. At the top of the Ammonusuc Ravine Trail yesterday I watched a small flock of juncos surfing on the wind and darting in and out of the trees. They were the only other non-vegetable life forms I saw on my hike (other than myself). I took the top photo of the Crawford Path just above the junction with the West Side Trail. On almost any summer day as you hike this part of the trail you're often entertained by myriad insects crossing your path, particularly a certain black spider, a little bigger than a quarter, that is plentiful and that darts back and forth across the rocks. There’s also populations of large black ants. Alexander (1940) identified 10 species of spiders included in a list of 95 species of insects that he reported as inhabiting the Alpine Zone on Mt. Washington. When I’m climbing above timberline on these exceptionally cold winter days I can’t help but wonder how the spiders and ants survive. They must freeze solid.

Staying warm and safe at -8 (F) and a windchill of -40(F)

Speaking of freezing solid a face mask is a winter hiking essential if you’re going up high on the mountains. Goggles, as in ski goggles, are essential, too, as winds over 80 and 90 mph drive snow crystals into your eyes even if you are wearing protective glasses (I took my goggles off to take this picture). I always carry extra mittens, hat, windproof, a light merino wool pullover, a headlamp with spare batteries and crampons. I usually take hiking poles or an ice axe but not always. It depends on the route I'm taking. I try to think in terms of a higher level of safety when I'm winter hiking even when I am traveling fast and light and know the terrain by heart.