Sunday, September 22, 2013

9-22-13 Old Growth Red Spruce in the Whiteface Mt. and Mt. Passaconway Sanctuary.

Mt. Wonalancet center and Mt. Whiteface to the left, clouded over. It rained heavily from midnight to dawn on Sunday and then started to clear off as I headed up the Dicey Mill Trail towards "The Bowl" (also referred to as "the sanctuary") that is a cirque-like, bowl-shaped natural area, about a mile across (east to west) and a mile up and down (north and south), and is located facing southeasterly between Mt. Whiteface (4,020 asl) and Mt. Passaconway (4,043 asl). It's been called a glacial cirque carved by a small, "alpine glacier" back when all the small cirques were formed on the Presidential Range and prior to the advance of the great Wisconsinan ice sheet that covered this areas for thousands and thousands of year up until about 12,000 years ago.

Wonalancet River near the bottom of the Dicey Mill Trail. I spent parts of summers in the early 50s here in Wonalancet with an aunt when I was between the ages of 7 and 10, and used to fish in the river a little further downstream where there were some nice "holes" for brook trout.

The Sandwich Range Wilderness was created by the US Congress in 1984 and contains slightly more than 35,000 acres. That seems small for a wilderness area but it has wonderful things to offer.

A well constructed "water bar" on the Dicey Mill Trail. There are 52 miles of trails in the Sandwich Range wilderness and most of the trail maintenance is done by the volunteer trail crew of the Wonalancet Out Door Club (established in 1892). The system they use is to have a caretaker assigned to each trail who oversees maintenance. For instance Larry LaBrie is the caretaker of the Dicey Mill Trail and has been for more than 20 years so he has a lot of knowledge and experience regarding the beautiful Dicey Mill Trail. There's also a professional trail crew during summers that does a lot of trail building, trail repairing, and trail recycling.

I recognized this spot on the trail from a stop Sheldon Perry and I made here exactly a year ago when we climbed Mt. Passaconway on a rainy day. On that day the mist was down and the foliage wasn't as dense so the large hardwoods in the background had a ghost-like effect. I stopped here again to measure the yellow birches and maples in the background. They're about 18-20 inch in diameter.

The Dicey Mill Trail has a mix of hard and mild uphill hiking. Larry LaBrie has done a superb job maintaining it as a wilderness trail--keeping the balance between a trail that brings pleasure and  challenge--at the same time that it gets you safely where you're going.

Another example of the tread on the Dicey Mill Trail. The trail crew and caretakers are trying a minimalist approach in keeping with a Wilderness ethic and trending towards blending the trails more into its surroundings.

This is the Wonalancet River again that I had to cross to run my transects and its a bit high from last night's rain.

A specimen red spruce (Picea rubens) 85.375 inches in circumference, or 27.125 inches in diameter and how lovely!

At the top of a steep embankment rising above the river I stumbled on this young, even-aged stand of red spruce that measured between 52 and 54 inches in circumference, or between 16 and 17 inches in diameter.

This measurement, 52-54, seemed to be the "mean" diameter for all the spruce I measured Sunday morning. This puts them in a category with the largest of the trees I measured on Norwell Ridge on Mt. Adams, the west side of North Twin, and in the area south and east of Shoal Pond. When J. E. Henry first started harvesting red spruce he instructed his loggers to only take trees 16 inches in diameter and up. That criteria was quickly changed as they managed to cut everything.

Bushwhacking due West from the Dicey Mill Trail and down into the bowl you come to the river. In the course of setting up a few transects I crossed and re-crossed it several times and managed to get soaking wet, but was able to establish two complete transects walking across the bowl in two imaginary lines 50 meters apart.

This is a typical image along the first, or southern most, transect: some small P. rubens, some yellow birch, Betula cordifolia,

This is a 21.73 inch red spruce tree that is competing successfully with yellow birch. It has a metal tag nailed to it that's difficult to read, but indicates it's either been used, or is being used, in research.  

Most of the B. cordifolia was this size, 22-25 inches in diameter. This was fairly easy bushwhacking except for the hobble bush.

This B. cordifolia was an exception as it measured out at 33.36 inches in diameter, almost 3 feet. As I worked out the transects I crossed the Tom Wiggin Trail that connects the Dicey Mill Trail with the Blueberry Ledge Trail on Whiteface. You can see the Tom Wiggin Trail tread in the lower right hand corner where it is barely discernible from surrounding foliage.

It's top was at least 100 feet above the ground and healthy. It's rather amazing this far up on a mountain slope.

The B. cordifolia have dominated here for a while and would like to continue. This site on the lower transect is drenched with sunlight.

Spars, standing dead trees,  like this are common in the lower areas of the bowl.

Two proud red spruce. The one on the center left had a "diameter at breast height", or DBH, of 28.65 inches which is really stunning.

It's neighbor to the right in the photo had a circumference of 84.25 inches=25.47 inches in diameter.

I saw several young stands of red spruce like this in close in the central area of the bowl and near the river where the topography is flatter. They looked similar to stands you would see a hundred yards on either side of the Thoreau Falls, or the Shoal Pond Trails in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

This stand, however, is more stately, older, and productive.

The nurseries around these spruce stands and density of the young, nursery spruce suggest health and vitality as does...

these specimens that look more like a stand of white pine then red spruce.

This was the last stand of red spruce I measured as it was time to head down, but it was wonderful to look back at them and see them in the afternoon sun and think of trees that size and uniformity growing again, as they did long ago, in mixed stands across the national forest.
A different scene then when I started up in the morning. Again, Wonalancet is center right, and Whiteface is in the background of this photo from Wonalancet. High up on the east flank of Whiteface you can see the transitions between deciduous forests and evergreens which is where I will head next to look for red spruce.