Saturday, July 24, 2010

7-19-10 Carter Notch on a rainy day

The Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to Carter Dome and Carter Notch is a wonderful hike anytime but I like it on rainy days as much as any other day. It's low enough and down from the ridge so, unless it's a hurricane, it's sheltered by dense forests and it follows Nineteen Mile Brook closely so there's always the presence of water nearby.

I first hiked this trail many, many years ago and it's been with me ever since. The first time I saw this glade it was in early June and it still had snow covering it. Now, everytime I see it, I expect to see snow, not this lush plant community.

The trail rises gradually to a height of land between Carter Dome on the east and Wildcat Mt. on the west and then descends steeply to the shore line of the larger of two small lakes.

The lakes are glacial in origin, 'kettle holes', formed by blocks of slowly melting glacial ice that left 'dents' in the landscape when the'd melted completely. The lakes drain to the south down the Wildcat River. The lakes are stocked with brook trout periodically by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and occasionally someone catches one. The lakes add another layer of wildness to the notch which, from the moment you cross the height of land, already feels remote and cut off from civilization.
The remoteness is created by the sheer rock walls of Wildcat Ridge and, in this photo, Carter Dome. To the right and starting below the high rock wall is an amphitheater that is often mistaken as a glacial cirque. It's not. The Wisconsinan continental ice sheet came through Carter Notch and helped sculpt the notch as we see it today. The boulders seen in the notch, particularly in the "ramparts" at the base of the amphitheater, are products of frost action and the process of mass wasting that has occurred since the Wisconinan ice sheet down wasted (melted).

The first glimpse of Carter Notch Hut, particularly on a rainy day, is a pleasure. It's the smallest of the AMC huts and one of the oldest. It's had many nicknames but "Cozy Carter" is the one that's stuck the longest.

I was in Carter Notch to work, for a change. I had the good fortune to be picked to help out at the hut this week for a few days while the regular croo headed to Madison Hut for a well deserved gala called 'Mad Fest". Two other members of the replacement croo, Mark Sobkowicz (left) and Craig Nesbitt were already there when I arrived. Peg Dillion, a fourth member, arrived a little later. Craig and I had the distinction of being the oldest of the bunch. I had worked at Carter in 1961 so had 49 years of seniority. Craig, who I had not seen in 44 years, worked with me in the mountains in 1966. Mark and Peg both worked in the huts during the late 1970s.

These lichen might be an appropriate metaphor for it felt like for Craig and to come back and work in a hut after the passage of almost 50 years, but it was a wonderful reunion for all of us and we had a great group of guests with outrageous senses of humor and huge appetites. It was a great time.

While the others settled in I meandered around the notch to see what was out. There were a lot of birds staying close to the Mountain Ash that was fruiting with it's appetizing red berries. The most plentiful birds were the Red Eyed Viroes. Most of the thrushes were present and heard if not seen. There's a pet-like Pine Marten (Martes americanus) (looks like a ferret and is a member of the weasel family) that, now and then, stuck it's nose out from some rocks at a corner of the hut and once, in front of a group of surprised spectators, it darted out and grabbed a mouse. Carter has a distinction to being home to a family of garter snakes that has thrived there for all the years I've been a visitor to the notch. I remember looking out the hut window one sunny day and seeing dozens of baby garter snakes sunning next to their mom on a large flat rock a few feet from the hut wall.

The shore of the smaller lakes has a greater diversity of plants growing around it then the larger lake mainly because there is an apron of sand around a portion of it. This is a Short Tailed Rush
(Juncus brevicaudatus) and I found growing in a diverse community of sedges.

The Sharp Leaved or Wood Aster (Aster accuminatus) which is one of the more common asters. There are at least 1o different asters in the White Mountains and, for the most part, they're easy to tell apart from each other.
This is the smaller lake looking north though the rain. It's fuller this year then I can remember from recent decades.

The larger lake has slowly taken on a community of yellow water lilys (Nuphar varigatum) which increases a bit year by year. They began appearing on the lake about 30 years ago.

They are also referred to as 'Cow Lily' perhaps because they are often seen drooping from grazing cows' mouths when the cows are knee deep in a farm pond.

Speaking of being knee deep in water I brought some snorkling equipment with me and a spiffy new underwater camera (Panasonic Lumix) to try out. So, rather gingerly, I got out into the lake and looked below into the murky depths trying to get an idea of the lake's depth. I took a few photos near the bottom and at one point put my foot down only to have it sink slowly in up to my knee in a soft (not slimey), thick bed of what must be particulate organic matter that has settled there over lots of time.

When I moved my foot the water instantly became cloudy with this ultra fine material that looked like this. You can see the hole where my foot was, the dark spot towards the right hand
side of the photo. I will be on another fill-in croo at Lonesome Lake Hut next week so I was testing my camera in preparation for an extensive study of that lake but will return to Carter for a better look at these lakes as well. I think the organic matter washes in each year with snowmelt, rain, etc. and never, or rarely, gets pushed out because of the way the lakes are enclosed and because the draining lake water, as it flows into and becomes Wildcat Brook, is filtered through rocks and gravel.
As I explored the notch I kept my eye on the trail for incoming hikers. The night's guest count was 26 and on rainy nights it's possible to get walk-ins (if there's room). Dinner was already cooking but there's a lot of work getting set up for that many people.

This is part of a contingent of Camp Walden campers who were spending the night. I used to guide mountain trips for Camp Walden in the 1960's and it was great to see that they are using the huts again. They stopped visiting the huts in 1974 for a variety of reason but the huts were originally constructed with summer camps like Camp Walden in mind as a means for younger people to discover and enjoy the mountains without having to carry monstrous packs. In the 1970s camping and hiking equipment and food became high-tech and much lighter and easier to carry so camps were quick to reduce operating costs by camping rather than staying in the huts. In the 1960s summer camps like Camp Walden (Camp Mudgikiwis, Pemigiwasset, etc.) were a large percentage of overnight guests in the huts.

Serving meals in the huts is one of the more important and time-consuming tasks of the croos. A cook is assigned to for each day of the week, sometimes with an assistant, and the day's meal prep begins early in the morning and goes to 8-9 at night before everything is cleaned and put away. Usually the next day's meals, breakfast particularly, are set up the night before by the next day's cook. You can see where the idea of "Cozy Carter" comes from and this is with only three of four tables being used.

A thunder storm tore through the notch during the night and cleared the air. The sun reaches the Wildcat Ridge long before it gets down to the hut.

The hut itself is tiny compared to others in the system, but there are two large bunk houses that sleep 36 guests. The first hut was built in the notch about 100 years ago and was replaced by this structure around 1920. When I first stayed here as a wee lad the area now used as a dining room was the men's bunkroom and the kitchen was the women's bunkroom. Cooking was done on a large wood stove in a corner of the men's bunkroom. The bunks could be folded away during the day to make room for the dining tables. In the morning we were woke to the sound of the cook lighting the wood stove and by the smell of the fire and coffee.

Carter Dome reflected in the small lake.

On Wednesday I retraced my steps to the height of land. Carter definitely has an aura of being apart, remote, and in a separate place in Time. In the early 1960s I spent a month here alone finishing up some of the construction on the then new bunk houses, and painting and staining, and I slept outside at night to watch the stars. It was an extraordinary hiatus. Since 1974, when the AMC began keeping the hut open for the full year, a caretaker has stayed here each winter and over that time many people have enjoyed the experience I had.

The height of land.

This is a strange looking plant called Indian Poke or False Hellibore. It's a Lily (Veratrum viride) and is found near seeps and springs throughout the White Mountains even on the summit cone of Mt. Washington and Mt. Adams just below 5800 feet. Slim Harris in Mt. Flowers of New England mentions that the roots of the plant were, at that time, used to treat high blood pressure. It's extremely poisonous to eat, however.

The Nineteen Mile Brook Trail rises like a musical scale in a series of steps that are punctuated by these level spots that are perfect for running or skipping if the fancy strikes you.

At half way I met a second contingent of Camp Walden hikers on their way up to the hut to spend the night while the first group descends and heads back to camp.

From half way to the road (Route 16) the trail was well settled with fungi some of which I knew and some that I didn't but it looks like this will be a great year for studying and collecting mushrooms if you happen to be, or would like to be, a mycologist.This is an Amanita flavoconia. It's also referred to in some guides as Yellow Patches and is a common mushroom.

This is what it looks like from the side.

These are Milky Caps, I believe (I'll look them up), another common mushroom

A closing image of Carter Notch, a photo I took several years ago from the hut looking up at Wildcat Ridge just after sunset.