Monday, December 2, 2013

11-29-13 Zealand Valley

It's a bit of a challenge to hike into Zealand Falls and expect to describe something new or discover something new to photograph as I've done the trip so many times. On Friday I was a day late, too. I have, for many years, celebrated Thanksgiving at either Zealand Falls Hut or at Lonesome Lake Hut. Missing Thanksgiving by one day is okay, however, the holiday, itself, is the anniversary of the moment that I took my last swallow of alcohol. The date (I had to look it up) when I last took a sip was November 22, 1983 during a festive Thanksgiving at the hut in company with several good  friends including Rebecca Oreskes and Albie Pokrob who were the Zealand Hut winter caretakers that year. I was late this year because November 22 is my daughter Liz's birthday which needed celebrating, too. (Bleakly, our two anniversaries coincided with the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination).

 Looking south at the Zealand River from first bridge on the US Forest Service's Zealand Road. It was 2 degrees (F) when I left the parking lot at 8:30 am. The clouds were keeping the sun from removing the chill. That's Mt. Hale half in the clouds.The Forest Service closed the road a few days before Thanksgiving even through the snow was only 3 inches deep.
Another reason I wanted to hike into Zool was to spend the day, in spirit, with my friend Charley Richardson who died of prostate cancer back in early May. (see the blog article: 10-15-12) His family had a ceremony at the hut early in the summer that I had not attended and today was an opportunity to enjoy some of the wonderful memories I have of him, particularly all the wild antics we survived while working in the huts. Charley began at Galehead in 1970 a year, or two after I had left the huts. 

 Mochacino ice icles! Really!

The hike into Zool is about 7 miles long when the road is closed for the winter. The first 4 miles are kind of dull. There isn't much to keep the mind alive but, if you look around you can have still have some fun....

....there are glimpses of the Mt. Hale through the dense woods.....

interesting animal tracks to decipher....

a midden left by a red squirrel that ate its breakfast here.....

beautiful winter designs and colors......,

but mostly, it's a slog......a really long slog.

One of the stories involving Charley that I like to tell is how he and other crew members at Galehead, in the summer of 1970, packed in an amplifier, a record turntable, and some large speakers into the hut hoping to get it working for an end of the summer party. They had to use dozens of D-sized batteries connected together to make the turntable turn and the music to be heard. On a gorgeous day in August I was approaching Galehead via the Twinway and was just leaving the summit and heading down to the hut when I heard a metallic "twing" and then, as loud as can be imagined, Janis Joplin singing "take another little piece of my heart, why don't cha.." as if she was standing right there singing into a mic. The music careened off South Twin, Garfield and the Franconia Ridge filling the
"Pemi" with Joplin's wild lyrics. Then is suddenly stopped. Down at the hut I heard that some glitch had prevented Charley from playing more of Joplin at the moment. Forty years later, when I was working a fill-in night at Galehead in 2010, a guy a little younger than I asked me if I had been around in the 1970s and I nodded "yes". He explained why he asked by saying, "I came up to Galehead with my parents when I was pretty young," he said. "We were just below the hut, on the Garfield Ridge Trail, when suddenly we heard Janis Joplin singing. It was really loud and amazing. We stopped in our tracks and listened. I was really excited and thought Wow! That's so cool." I couldn't help smiling when he then asked me, "did you ever experience anything like that?" And I responded, "Once."

After the slog there's the trail.

I wasn't too far up the trail when I met this family on their way out. I was impressed with their equipment and their high spirit. They'd spent the night at Zealand Falls hut.

A typical stream crossing between seasons. There's not much ice and snow and the water is still flowing so the tops of the rocks are glazed with glare ice with a cap of snow and they're extremely slippery. It helps to have ski poles, or a stout stick, for balance. Micro-spikes also make these crossings much safer and easier.

A mile up the trail the valley broadens and the remnants of former beaver ponds, now evolving into alder swamps or meadows (of sorts), create the sensation of being in the tundra of northern Canada.

Clouds of spindrift, snow blown into the air by high winds on the loftier summits, occludes Zealand Mt. and Zeacliff Mt. in the back ground.

This is an old beaver pond that I remember from the late 1950s and early 1960s that has gone through stages of "succession" from pond, to bog, to meadow and, eventually, may go back to forest. Here it resembles tundra in that it is still wet and spongey but supports some grasses, speckled alders, and some Roseate plants(of the Rose family like rasberrys) and a few white pine, red spruce and balsam fir seedlings. For the seedlings survival here is a gamble particularly if current beaver activity causes it to flood again.

The board walk. It's quite lavish. I was surprised to find it here in August, my last trip, and had not been aware that the old bridge was to be removed.

I found the new bridge a puzzling statement about values and raises the question of how much is too much when it comes to making hiking easier. This is a giant step away from the bridges that were here for years and years and used by thousands upon thousands of hikers annually.

This is the a bridge that was here through the late 1960's and 1970s that was adequate albeit needing a good sense of balance. These photos were taken in 1970 when the beaver dams had impounded and backed up an above normal amount of water.

The last section of the above bridge where it brought hikers to the east side of the flooded area. I loved this rustic bridge because it was hand made from local logs and was still there year after year. It required a little skill, but hiking is best when skills are put to use.

That bridge was replaced with the "Z bridge" in the early 1980s. The Z bridge was a solid, durable solution to navigating the area below the dam when a lot of water was impounded.

The Z bridge from the mid-point looking east.

The same section of the Z bridge during heavy rains in the fall of  2010 and unusually high water. Yes, you got wet, or were a very good jumper, but this bridge could have been extended to deal with high water.

The Z bridge in winter. You have to admit it was a lovely bridge!

I met this family as they were descending the trail after a night at Zool and who were looking for a way to get across the rain-swollen brook. This brook in early winter often turns into slush and offers challenges. The easiest way to navigate the brook is to go up or down stream to places where the bed narrows or there are rocks. Either way, you have to think and use things that are at hand. It's a challenge, but absorbing, educational and, above all, satisfying to over come the obstacle(s).

The family is from the coast of Maine and they hike a lot. They had pushed a heavy duty, bomb proof "baby carriage" made out of aircraft aluminum to carry their 4 year old son lest he get tired. He didn't look tired. He looked like he was having the time of his life trying to get past the obstacle in front of him: how to get across the brook and stay dry. (They managed the crossing nicely. I, on the other hand, broke through the ice and my foot went under but without getting really wet.)

At this point the valley tapers towards Zealand Notch. Whitewall Mt. is in the background. This site was once a logging camp and railroad switching yard in the hey day of J. E. Henry, the famous lumber baron, for about 20 years starting in 1884-1885. When I was a kid it was a wide open meadow and you could find railroad spikes, broken plates, saucers, cups, spoons, and other memorabilia left behind by the loggers.
The lovely white birches lining the trail.

The first glimpse of Zealand Falls Hut.

The falls were a mass (mess?) of rushing water, slush and ice.

Another view of the hut.

Inside the hut. I got here in a couple of hours and was going to hike up to Zeacliff but the spindrift has filled the valley and the summits were clouded over. Views would have been sketchy. For a few hours I sat at the table, ate lunch, and thumbed through the hut's library of Appalachia. It's particularly strong in issues from 1940 through 1970. I found some more great articles about trail building including one by Paul Jenks titled The AMC Trail System which is a capsule history. It included the following list of AMC trails as of 1947 that may be of interest to some of you:

This is an all inclusive list of trails that were originally cut by the Appalachian Mountain Club (Paul R. Jenks, Appalachia, December 1947, pg. 381)

List of trails adopted by the AMC from the same article.

Shawn, a 20 year old mill worker from Berlin, NH, appeared at the door and stopped at the hut for a quick lunch. He left the parking lot on Route 302 early that morning just as I was pulling in. He is two summits away from completing his 4000 Footers in New Hampshire after summiting Hale in the morning and aiming for Zealand Mt. after lunch. We had a great chat about mountains and equipment and wish lists. He wants to go to college and then wants to be a mountain guide somewhere, maybe in the Whites, and bring young kids into the mountains, and it all sounded familiar.

My hike was a return to the familiar. Talking to Shawn and thinking about Charley it was easy to find again the exhilaration of being in the mountains, outside, enjoying the physical challenges, the light and colors, the steady uphill,  the vistas, the wild storms, the stories and camaraderie. I hiked to Lakes of the Clouds the week before Charley died and in an email to him I described the beauty of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Tail still deeply layered with snow even though the light was late April's and the late afternoon shadows dark on the snow, the sun filtering through the trees, as things he would physically feel as if he was there with me, the things we love that are inextinguishable.

It was trying to clear. I told Shawn that if I started down it would clear.

Which it did. The sun came out suddenly,  warm and dazzling.

And touched up these wonderful winter colors.

Zealand Mt. looking back across Zealand Pond.

The bridge over the brook that runs north out of Zealand Pond.

A Christmas card.

Zeacliff from the 2nd beaver dam.

A nursery of red spruce under mature red spruce. There are balsam fir mixed in with this group. Both species are aggressive producers of seedlings ready to quickly replace blow downs and fill in gashes (openings caused by blow downs) in the over story, or canopy, that allow sunlight to flood the under story which, in turn, churns up new activity.

In early October I spent a weekend in New York City,  most of it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and most of that time I spend in the new American Wing (I did visit a wonderful exhibit on Persian Art). There's a storage area for the overflow of paintings owned by the museum, particularly of New England artists. It's located in the Mezzanine between the first and second floor. You could easily spend a whole day there and it contains some amazing paintings by Winslow Homer, Willard Metcalf ("North Country", "Thawing River"), Worthington Whittredge, Clinton Olgive ("Near Conway, NH."), Ralph Blakelock ("Boulder and The Flume" painted in Franconia Notch), and, of course, Albert Bierstadt of the White Mountain and northern New England, generally. The photo above reminded me of the light often found in paintings, European and American, that recalls the twilight, the soft, crepuscular, often ambered and melancholy, light in nature.

Couple heading into Zool for the night. The temperature had risen to about 7 degrees (F) by mid-afternoon. There were 11 guests Thanksgiving night and I passed 10 people heading up to the hut for Friday night--so pretty low counts.

I'd passed Levi, one of the two hut caretakers, on my way into the hut in the morning. He was exiting and excited about having some days off. This is Ann, the other caretaker, heading in for her "stint" with her dad and little brother (behind them and out of the photo).

 Ann's brother

 Mt. Hale
Only a mile to go and it's only 2:30 pm. The round trip was a little over 14 miles for the day including a hike part of the way up Zeacliff. All in all, a lovely day.