Sunday, March 30, 2014

3-29-14 Mt. Jackson 4052' asl.

A winning smile! On pulling into the parking area for the Webster-Jackson Trail I was stunned to see dozens of climbers getting geared up for a day of technical ice and rock climbing on the cliffs above the railroad tracks on the west side of Crawford Notch. These two men look like they have enough gear for the Eiger. Driving through Crawford Notch early Saturday morning I noticed that almost every likely parking place on 302 was filled with cars and climbers were heading up towards the large areas of ice high on both sides of the notch--a remarkable testament of how popular winter sports are becoming. Stopping and talking to some of them I found that they were not all of the younger generation. Some of them, males and females both, were in their 50s, or close. I was impressed.

I was doing a day trip and drove up I-91 from Northampton, MA, north thru Vermont to Littleton, NH, in pouring rain. As I approached Twin Mountain around 8 am the rain stopped and there were signs of clearing. I had three hikes in mind: Carter Dome, Mt. Nancy and Mt. Jackson with the final choice resting on weather and time. The snow banks along the highway made climbing Mt. Nancy an unlikely choice. They were 6-7 feet high and there were no safe places to leave my car. Carter Dome would have required another hour of driving (both ways) and I was already running late. The parking area at the top of Crawford Notch was plowed out and that alone made Mt. Jackson the better choice.

The snow in the woods was 4 feet deep. The trail was broken out but if you stepped off the packed part of the trail you'd "post hole" down to your hip. I chose to avoid all of that by wearing snowshoes. It's a trade off because snowshoes slow you down a bit.

The trail leaves Rt. 302 at the south end of Saco Lake, a small tarn that is considered the source of the west branch of the Saco River that flows south through Crawford Notch to Bartlett, North Conway and on to the Atlantic Ocean in Maine. Saco Lake is fed by several brooks most of them descending from the east, from the large tracts of forest between Mt. Pierce, Mt. Jackon, and Mt. Webster, and collectively named "Silver Cascades".  They are most evident on the east side of highway 302 towards the top of Crawford Notch, but they are represented, too, by non-descript streams that have, over years, cut steep sided, often deep, notch-shaped gullies like this one. The Crawford Path parallels a fluvial stream bed cut deep into the side of the mountain by Gibbs Brook and the Webster-Jackson Trail both parallels and cuts across several streams. Gibbs Brook flows north out of Crawford Notch and joins the Ammonoosuc River 6 miles north in Bretton Woods. The Saco and the Ammonoosuc are two of several important rivers that drain the Whites and the protection of which is one of the key purposes of the White Mountain National Forest.

After the trail leaves Rt. 302 it climbs at a fairly steep grade gaining access to the "bench" that runs north and south above the notch.

It steep in a few sections that are "steps" where it gains altitude quickly...

and passes under and around these huge bulkheads that mark the top of the notch.

At Bugle Cliff the trail eases out having reached a gentler slope.

The view from Bugle Cliff is limited with the exception of this vista to the north that includes a glimpse of the tiny Highland Center.

Looking down on to the train tracks in the Notch and up at Mt. Avalon and the Willey-Field ridge.

Just to the north of Mt. Jackson is the Gibbs Brook Scenic Area and beyond that is the Mt. Clinton Road. Confined in that area, between Mt. Jackson, the Mt. Clinton Road, is an old forest of Red Spruce (Pica rubens) that gets very little attention but offers a wonderful glimpse of what size the spruce achieved before the beginning of the disastrous logging in the White Mountains that began in the late 1870s.

This Red Spruce measured out at 20 inches diameter and there were large ones I couldn't get to due to the deep snow. They are quite elegant and similar, if not a little large that the red spruce I measured in the Mt. Whiteface-Mt. Passaconway natural area back in September.

A red spuce in the rear and a large yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). Yellow birch grow to 60 feet or a bit higher and with a diameter (DBH--meaning diameter at breast height) of 3 feet under ideal conditions--meaning at lower elevations in stands of other hardwoods, but this was 27 inches DBH.

The relationship between these trees and the rivers talked about earlier is an intrinsic one. The area around Mt. Jackson with borders on the Mt. Clinton Road and Dry River to the south is a vast catchment, like an upraised palm, that "cleans" and funnels water towards the valley below. Rain is one source, but snow, and particularly the depth of this year's "snow pack", is preferable as it admits melt water into the topsoil slowly so that it penetrates deeper. Rain is more apt to form sheet flow that descends the steep mountain flanks so quickly that it doesn't penetrate. The trees and vegetation in general help the soil retain moisture.

The sun finally came out after a slow start. Clouds lingered on the nearby summits after the rain stopped and the day promised to be warm and sunny into late afternoon when a trailing weather front  bringing snow and rain was forecast.

The brook bed for one of the streams comprising the "Silver Cascades".

The amount of snow that has accumulated this winter has been astonishing.

It gave the impression that everything was smothered by it.

A ghost.

Halfway, or roughly.

Looking over towards Mt. Willey and sensing a pleasing gain in altitude.

The prevalence of smaller trees also lends to the feeling of higher altitude.

A little above halfway I was passed by this handsome lot who were traveling light and without snowshoes proving that it could be done.

And by the way, Mt Jackson is not named for President Andrew Jackson. Even though the mountain is located on the "Southern Presidential" ridge it is not really one of them. It was named after Charles Thomas Jackson, New Hampshire State Geologist 1841-1844 who published a paper, "On the Geologic Age of the White Mountains" in 1848 and who was controversially involved in several far flung scientific projects including the development of the telegraph, the use of diethyl ether as anaesthesia, as well as being prominent in the field of geology.  And Charles T. Jackson should not be confused with Charles H. Hitchcock (as I often do) who served as State Geologist and authored the three volume "The Geology of New Hampshire". Charles H. Hitchcock's imprint on New Hampshire geology is huge. ( I've always thought that Mt. Hitchcock, a trail-less peak with three summits, the highest at 3620', located in the southern tier of the Pemi was named after Charles Hitchcock but I am not sure of this.)

More stunning morning sunlight

and shadows on the trail.

Two red spruce cones (with seeds attached) wait patiently for their futures to unfold. They may be hoping for a spectacular ride down the mountain perhaps even connecting with a brook to carry them down and beyond this mountain flank as they surf on the crest of the spring thaw (if there is one!). They will probably remain close to where I photographed them. The transport of seeds is fascinating because it's quite random and most do not travel far from their "parent" trees. Red spruce cones are gourmet items for red squirrels who eat vast quantities which is another way the seeds get transported but mostly in their immediate neighborhoods.
The summit of Mt. Jackson. It's a typical White Mountain summit produced by ledges of granite

that get steep just below the top.

Looking west-north-west towards the Willey-Field-Tom ridge and other peaks to the northwest. Mt. Willard where some of the ice climbing is going on is in the right center of the photo.

Lovely Mt. Carrigain in the right distance.

The Willey and Field ridge again with Mt. Bond to the left on the horizon. Mt. Webster is in the near distance, but dark. Shooting into the sun darkened the foreground.

Northwest, again, and in the far left background Mt. Lafayette with snow gleaming.

Mt. Clinton in the center with Mizpah Hut down to the left and barely visible. The Southern Presidentials extend from Mt Clinton (not a president) up to Mt. Washington from Mt. Clinton over Mts. Pierce, Eisenhower, Franklin, and Monroe.

Mt. Washington!

These folks again. They celebrated their first 4,000 footer after their successful hike up Mt. Jackson.

Another group approaches the summit.

Then there's that wonderful feeling of moving quickly down.

These guys were sweating. It was well into the high 30s (Fahrenheit) and calm so it turned out to be a spring-like day. These gentlemen hailed from Hillsborough, NH,

and were joined by a third Hillsborough resident.
Heading down in the early afternoon.

And a change of light, too, as clouds gather in front of another storm system predicted to start tonight and dump more snow on the mountains.

On my way home I saw several strings of Canada geese flying north.