Saturday, July 28, 2012

7-24, 25, & 26, 2012 Lonesome Lake

A year ago, after working a three day stint at the AMC's Galehead Hut during "croo-nights-out" I swore up and down I'd never do it again, but a few weeks ago I said "Yes!" enthusiastically and in a heart beat when Dana Boyd Renault asked if I would help out at Lonesome and join her and her husband, Simon (pronounced with a French accent) Renault, her two sons, Malo, age 3, and Sky, age 8, and "a few" other friends. The stint was from Tuesday to Thursday while the regular croo took a much deserved R & R. In all, there would be a about 8 fill-in croo with the possibility of adding a thru-hiker, or two, so that with the projected low guests' counts, we'd achieve a record 1:1 croo to guest ratio. Not bad. Each guests could have their personal attendant.
There was a lot of traffic on the Lonesome Lake Trail, most of it coming down and hurrying a bit as every 5 minutes there was a loud rumble of thunder. I kept my camera in hand and looked for good trail portraits. You can tell I have a passion for these impromptu snap shots of folks interacting with the mountains. I look for facial expressions when I ask to take their photos, like the two young girls above as well as their dad who obviously thinks I'm nuts and he's worried because it's about to pour buckets of rain.
This couple spoke no English and are French Canadians from Montreal but after a minute we were communicating well and they turned out to be hilarious with wonderful senses of humor. These interactions on the trail spill over into the blog because the people I photograph represent all of us in varying ways and degrees.
A girls' camp a bit nervous about lightening.


The junction of the Hi-Cannon, Cascade Brook and Lonesome Lake trails at the height of land.

See the red squirrel in the upper center of the photo? A sign in one of the bathroom stalls at the AMC's Lonesome Lake Hut refers to red squirrels as "pests" that hikers should be wary of. I think that's a little hard on the squirrels, and besides who's the real pest: us or them? I do agree it's important for we humans to limit interactions with all animals, particularly feeding them, and be wary of our passions to anthropomorphize. I do it myself and, yes, they're intelligent, cute, adaptive, just like us, but we do them an injustice pitching our sugars, starches, value-added food stuffs, etc. Look what sugar and starch does for us.
The wonderful light off the lake reflecting upwards into the trees.


On 7-28-12 I received an email from a hiker named Alison who had read this blog entry and reported that she and her daughter, Griffin,were at Lonesome Lake on Tuesday, when I was,  and had run into these two "characters", as I called them, on the Cascade Brook Trail where they'd waited more than a half hour just to make sure that Alison and Griffin were able to safely cross Cascade Brook where the bridge was washed out by Hurricane Irene last August. With the rains on Tuesday the brook was really high and a difficult cross. Thanks Alison. It's a cool story. The back story is that Griffin is doing the 4,000 footers in New Hampshire as a fund raising strategy for her school in Florida. You can read Griffin's blog at
Lonesome Lake is not what you would call "alpine" but the views of the Franconia Ridge are definitely alpine. The lake, itself, is what defines Lonesome Lake, and the lake's impact on the surrounding forest. I like Lonesome simply because of the lake and the wide space it provides in the middle of the forest. I like the way the water "plays" with the light.
On Tuesday afternoon the hut was quiet with the air of a library which is not rare for Lonesome, or any of the huts. There are hours during the middle of the day when the interior of the huts is so still you can hear the clock ticking
While it was so cozy in the hut it was beginning to cloud over again and clouds were descending rapidly. cloaking the surrounding peaks.
In a few more moments a stillness settled briefly over the lake as a squall line formed just to the north that was moving towards the lake. The rain soon eclipsed the summit of Cannon Mt. and headed straight for the hut.
I was taking a quick trip around the lake but stopped to watch as the squall approached. You can see the wind churning the water as it dives towards the lake surface and then across it towards the shore. In a few seconds it was pouring with the wind driving the rain at  a 45 degree angle.
My first reaction was to run back to the hut on the boardwalk but in an instant I was soaked through and decided, even though I was freezing, to remain out in the storm and watch as it lashed the lake and the forest around me.
The sheer power of the wind and rain was exhilarating. I was content to be out in it since I was at a  low altitude, close to the hut, and surrounded by trees. The squall is exactly what a thunderstorm is like on a high ridge, or summit, and not so easily enjoyed. In fact they can be frightening, particularly if there's lightening.
If this was a video with sound the wind would be roaring and the trees would be bending and swaying wildly. The rain felt like bullets. I did retreat to the hut but the storm continued for almost an hour and I thought of people who were caught out in it. The rain was heavy, and with the wind, most rain gear would be useless so I imagined that a lot of folks were getting soaked through and cold and would soon be filing into the hut for warmth.
  By dusk the skies had cleared and there was a lovely sunset.
Looking northeast towards Franconia Ridge.
From the other side of the lake looking south. The moon was still a crescent but bright enough and lovely reflecting on the water. The light from the hut is barely visible on the opposite shore. As I walked around the lake I startled a male moose that was browsing between the lake and the trail and he disappeared in a second with hardly a sound.
 The last bit of light as the wind dies, the night sounds emerge, the day ends.
Working at a hut for months at a time offers a rare chance to observe the cycle of days and seasons in the mountains. It's a unique experience.
Working in the huts is also fun and challenging. There's a lot of responsibility divided between taking care of the hut and taking care of the guests. Most of the work, 80 percent, is taking care of the guests and includes preparing and serving meals. Being on croo at Lonesome, even for just a few days, brings back a lot of memories for me. It marks a span of 50 years of being involved in the huts. Most people would think that I've witnessed a lot of changes over that time but things haven't really changed much. There's that French quote, "everything changes, everything stays the same." The work is still demanding even with larger croos, helicopters, and modern conveniences like electricity. A lot of it is still really physical which is very satisfying. Croos still pack fresh food twice a week to their respective huts. Probably most people who work in the huts are attracted to the job by the the scenery and the physical challenges of living in the mountains. It's a great way to stay in shape, but the public relations piece is also challenging and satisfying. A lot of my best memories are of my interactions and connection with the guests over the years.
Malo in his pajamas saying goodnight.
Dawn on Wednesday morning was ushered in by a brisk northwesterly wind and a clearing trend. The clouds were wild as they raced across Franconia Ridge like horses.
With the title of her wildly popular book, Wild, Cheryl Strayed captured the part about nature that draws a lot of us to it and even defines it: wildness and the beauty. A lot of people I meet in the mountains are uncomfortable with the wildness. They feel at odds with it, even threatened at times. A lot of people prefer a vicarious relationship with wildness through books and film like National Geographic specials. As a culture we struggle with the notion of wildness and wilderness, the beauty of it, and what it means to us nationally: whether it is of greater value left undeveloped, or developed.  I'm one of those radical people who believes we need to do everything in our power to preserve wildness.

 The light intensified quickly as the sun rose and the clouds thinned as the temperature of the air climbed. Mt. Lincoln's summit is visible in this photo
Samantha is a thru-hiker who's doing the Appalachian Trail solo. She's an extraordinary young woman with a passion for the mountains and hiking. She next wants to do the John Muir trail. Myriad people have been recommending Wild, an autobiographical account of a lone women's journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, and Samantha said she hasn't read it and that her own narrative is much more important to her at the moment. She worked room and board helping to clean up Tuesday night and was off before breakfast on Wednesday.
Breakfast Wednesday morning.

Malo, Sky and the other children spent hours going through the hut croo's costume box and trying on various get ups some of which were hilarious. The regular hut croos take great pride and invest lots of creative energy into outrageously funny "Blanket Folding Demonstrations", or BFDs, designed merely to show guests how to properly fold an AMC blanket.
 Guest saying goodbye.
As the guests are leaving in the morning the days cook, or cooks, begin preparing the evening meal and usually start with the bread.
For the non-cooks there are myriad, menial chores: finish washing dishes and pots from breakfast and putting everything away, sweeping, cleaning tables, the toilets, the bunkrooms, the yard, taking out the compost, taking radio call, and then taking care of the first day hikers who start arriving right after breakfast who need services like trail information and food; mainly food. It's a redundant schedule. When chores are done there's a brief respite to find something relaxing to do for an hour or so. Here Simon is losing badly in Monopoly to his son, Sky.

Work on the evening meal intensifies in mid-afternoon.

While outside the hut people are everywhere and primarily close to the water. This was a rather large family who came up to the lake for a picnic.
and stayed for quite a while enjoying sun and water and the scenery.
Young boys like to throw stones into the lake......
..while this wise (and probably bored), young woman napped.
An angler had arrived in full regalia. Often fishing enthusiasts come to Lonesome because they are thinking that it's a clear mountain lake, remote from the world, and a perfect place to catch a large brook trout, but, alas, is is not that kind of a lake. It is, in fact, a shallow lake with low oxygen levels and fish do not survive here well.
I set aside a few hours to snorkel up and down the lake. I'd been planning to SCUBA but was off-put by the weight of all the gear I would have to pack up for one afternoon of diving. The snorkel approach was fine and I only wanted to look and not do any counts. This is a photo of Franconia Ridge from the center of the lake.
This is detritus I stirred up with a visit to the bottom. There is a lot of algae present in the plant community on the bottom of the lake which averages about 8 feet deep. I was wearing my new "Rocket" swim fins and they lived up to their name except they also churn up silt and plant debris (most fins will do that if you are swimming along the bottom). It is this algae and the wall-to-wall carpet of the grass-like plants in the photo below that are choking the lake and decreasing its available oxygen content. The lake is slowly dying.
The predominant plant community across the lake.
The same plants at the 8 foot depth.
An interesting couple who have spent many years hiking in the Whites and who are still active. They can reel off names of places where they've been as well as where they have yet to hike. 
The woman in the photo hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years ago and since completing it she has sponsored a thru-hiker every year. This year it's the young man in the photo. She came up to Lonesome on Wednesday to rendezvous and deliver a box of his favorite cookies which she made herself and he's in process of devouring them.
Lady Fern, or Athyrium filix femina. I identified 7 fern species around Lonesome Lake and the hut but believe there are several more species present here. 

  Mountain Holly, a common shrub that grows near the lake.
For the naturalist talk Wednesday night I went back to my favorite subject, The Forest, and ideas about how it evolved after the last glacial ice sheet melted here about 11,000 years ago. The focus was on adaptation and evolution generally.  I am surprised when I ask people if they believe that  250,000 years from now the White Mountains, including the high peaks, will be completely covered with balsam fir forests and they say yes. Most attribute their positive responses to "climate change" which they believe that climate change is taking place on a global scale and that one outcome will be the growth of the native forest in areas now considered above the tree line. I found this kind of shocking. Not about climate change because something is indeed changing in our climate but we still don't know exactly what, or for how long, or what realistic outcomes we will see. To think about 250,000 years is tough enough as it is, but global climate change is like a wild card. It would be easier, I think, to answer the question of whether we will be here in another 1000 years, or even 100 years. There was a good discussion, though, about local evidence of a climate change in the form of warming temperatures which branched into a discussion about plants stressor and adaptation to stress.

One other subject touched on Wednesday evening was the presence of several invasive plants around the hut and bunkhouse. These included some Docks (photo), members of the Rumex family that arrived in the New World with the European colonists and have now arrived at Lonesome and other hut sites on the boots and clothing of hikers. This is probably curled dock which you find a lot of in your garden. There's wild lettuce,  dandelion, and I thought I saw some Amaranth, or pig weed, also a common plant (weed) in vegetable gardens.

 Thursday dawn with the lake a perfect mirror.

and perfect onion-zuchinni-potato frittatas for breakfast .

Grandparents with their grandchildren, Sammy, right, and Micah. A perfect closing shot for this piece. The grandmother, as noted above has done the AT and is still active as in sponsoring other thru-hikers. Bringing her grandsons into the mountains is another wonderful thing she's doing. I was five the first time I spent a night in the huts (at Carter Notch) and, then and there, I fell in love with the mountains. My parents "gave" me the mountains and I believe in the importance of "generativity", meaning older generations passing knowledge, experience, wisdom, and values down to the younger generations. It's another, important facet of sustainability.