Sunday, November 27, 2011

11-24-11 Zealand Falls Thanksgiving

First of all, my plan to spend three days at Zealand over Thanksgiving was altered a bit by a large snow storm that began to materialize last weekend and grew in intensity with each successive forecast until it carried severe storm warnings. That cut my plans down to two days. Then, due to the storm, the Forest Service closed the Zealand Road which meant walking the extra miles and that cut down more time. Finally, the back country got a lot of snow, up to 12 inches in some places, and with trails unbroken the time involved in hiking places got longer. So, I settled on an overnight trip to Zealand Falls Hut (Zool) to celebrate Thanksgiving with George Heinrichs, the hut caretaker. On Wednesday night, as the storm was ending, Hannah Orcutt, formerly of Lakes of the Clouds Hut and currently working at the AMC's Highland Center, broke trail up the road and up to the hut, which made the going a little easier.

There were a kazillion tracks left in the fresh snow by denizens of the dense woods on either side of the road. Every animal you can name was represented (well, almost). This was left by a white tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

Moose (Alces alces).

A big bunny. Technically it was a large Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus).

The Zealand Road, like the Gale River road and other access roads in the north country, tend to be really, really long, boring slogs in the winter.

George wasn't able to get his car out before the storm. Luckily the forecast for the next few days is unseasonably warm weather so he'll be able to get it out before winter sets in.

Into the wild starting out on the Zealand Trail with Hannah's footprints leading the way accompanied by an astonishing profusion of snowshoe hare tracks. Where were they all going and where were the lynx and bobcats? I saw one set of lynx tracks in the snow a mile or so up the trail.

I'm not going to add comments to each photo as this is primarily a "sketch" of my Thanksgiving. I simply wanted to show you how beautiful the trip was, so enjoy the photographs.

At one point I stopped to peel off another layer of clothing and change a camera battery. In the time it took to do that I kept noticing that the dark spot in the center of the photograph kept moving slowly and it turned out that it was an insect traveling a centimeter under the snow. I'm not sure what kind of insect it was but it offered me some insight into the winter life of bugs.

Half-way bridge showing the snow depth.

This area, about two miles from the trail head, was the location of a large lumber camp and logging railroad switch yard 100 years ago. In winter, without foliage on the trees, it's easier to see the lay of the land and how much the landscape was altered by logging and the men that worked here. This was a large clearing and the soil moved to make the clearing was pushed into the mounds in what is now that wooded area.

Seed casings.

Whitewall Mountain from the top of Zealand Falls.

Looking down Zealand Falls at Zealand Pond from the hut.

Zealand Falls Hut.

Hut interior.

Zealand Notch and Whitewall Mountain from the front yard of the hut.

It turned out that a large group that was expected, including some friends of George and I, didn't make it but this family, playing cards, and a couple showed up to spend the night. This family (in the photo) brought all the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner including turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and spinach and potatoes and rolls and pie, which they generously shared with all of us. It was a real thanksgiving!

The night was mild with temperatures in the low 20s (F) and by 11 pm the clouds cleared leaving a clear sky filled with brilliant stars. I thought of sleeping outside but then lost the momentum. This is the first in a series of photos of the sunrise on Friday morning taken from the hut porch and looking down the notch to Mt. Lowell (pointy lower summit on the left in the distance) and Signal Ridge leading to the summit of Mt. Carrigain (on the right in the distance).

Again, Mt. Carrigain is on the right in the distance (tele-photo).

Anticipating an early departure this couple wanted to get out on the trail and ski out while snow conditions were still good. Temperature in the upper 40s were expected by mid-day.

The assembled hut guests with George, the hut caretaker, in the foreground.

George Heinrichs at 23. George, a 2011 graduate of Middlebury College, has worked in the huts for 4 summers and has had a stellar career. This past summer he was Hutmaster at the new Madison Springs Hut with a truly all-star croo. From Zealand he heads for Lonesome Lake Hut at Christmas where he will be the caretaker for the duration of the winter.

In our long, animated discussions on Thanksgiving day George mentioned he had completed another hut traverse this summer in the very impressive time of 12 h:38 m. Anything in the 12 hour range for this rugged 52 mile course requires an extraordinary level of dedication and discipline. George's focus, he said, has been on both pace and hydration, which, I think, in addition to core strength, are the keys to pushing the envelope time-wise on the Traverse. George also mentioned that 9 others completed the traverse this summer which is close to a record in itself.

This photo, as I took it, caught my eye as a watercolor painting.

This is the pond that I did some snorkeling in two summers ago looking at the aquatic plant life. The photos I took are featured in blog piece number: "8-20-10, Zealand Pond, Zealand Valley" if you'd like to see what's under that ice. Soon after I took the above photo I went through the ice up to my knees and, as you can image, it was icy cold.

The Ethan Pond Trail with untrodden snow.

From the east side of the pond looking up at the hut which is visible without leaves on the trees.

Looking north towards Mt. Hale.

Zealand Mt. in the background.

Zeacliff Mt. in the background.

Trampen Zee bridge.

The cross-country ski trail that runs from US Rt. 3 to the hut.

We dug out George's car and discovered a note from the Forest Service that they'd left the gate ajar for him to get his car back out on to highway which we did and it saved me from having to slog out those last 4.3 miles.

These are elegant! They're tree shadows on the snow in the trail head parking lot.

Aren't they cool?

This was the missing gang from the night before. Their reservations were actually for Friday night. Tim Traver is kneeling in front, third from the right. He began working in the mountains about the time that I left (early 70s) and his son, Toben, center rear in red, is currently working in the huts. Happy trails, everyone!