Monday, June 2, 2014

6-01-14 Lakes of the Clouds, Mt.Washington, Mt. Monroe (Complete)

Yup! It's the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail.
Yes, it was back to Lakes of the Clouds a month after the last trip just to see what changes have taken place (if any);  how much snow remains, how much ice there is on the larger lake, how dry the soil is, and to see if any of the alpine flowers are in bloom. The red trillium usually found along the trail here were not out. I found one plant that was just emerging.
A venerable yellow birch tree.
The trail as it has been for almost 100 years. Like the two photos above of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, or "Ammy", the trail "tread" in most sections is smooth and easy to navigate, but Hurricane Irene and several major storms since have created havoc on several trails in the White Mountains including sections of the Ammy.
The Ammonoosuc River has flooded over its banks several times in the past five years. Historically, the river has flooded many times and a few of those times causing great damage to bridges, the cog tracks, etc. More recent storms have taken a toll on the trail.

 Minor damage from trail flooding.
and heavier damage in several trail sections that were closest to the river bed and level with it so that water surged over the river banks and poured down the trails causing this degree of erosion.
Even small, tributary streams like this branch of the Ammonoosuc that comes down from the col between Mt. Monroe and Mt. Franklin caused erosion on a large scale removing enormous amounts of soil and gravel that was dumped into the river's main stream bed and then swept miles downstream. The AMC trail crew has been repairing the heavier damage from Irene and, today, there were recent repairs on several sections meaning that it's a work in progress.
A large group of Portuguese speaking hikers congregate at Gem Pool. They were were out for their first hike and aiming for Mt. Monroe.

Nice nails!

Onward and upward.

It's still here!
The slabs of schist are like a sidewalk.
A month ago this was an ice cake. The cataract formed where the Ammonoosuc River spills over the head wall of Ammonoosuc Ravine.
A rock ladder up the last and and second steepest pitch of the head wall.
By now one of the more familiar views from the Ammy looking northwest across the Dartmouth and Pilot ranges into Northern Vermont and Quebec.

More slab as the trail approaches treeline.
 Mt.Washington from treeline looking kinda cosmic.
Then there's Lakes of the Clouds Hut operated by the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club). A cleaning crew, preparing for the opening of the hut slated for the coming week, was busy in an around the hut, but the hut was closed to hikers.

Full view of the hut which has grown in size over the years and you can see where recent repairs  were completed with some new shingles on the exterior walls and new windows in some of the bunk rooms

A relic of the past, this eye bolt was one of four used to secure a 500 gallon water tank perched on the knoll above the hut. Back in the 1950s and 1960s a small pump house with a gasoline powered pump stood near by the tank and when water was needed at the hut the pump was started and water was pumped up from the large lake until it filled the wooden tank. From there the water traveled through a 2 inch diameter iron pipe connected to the plumbing inside the hut which, among other comforts of home, had flush toilets! The iron pipe provided an excellent lightening rod and when thunderstorms were close everyone was warned to keep their hands out of the sink (when doing dishes etc.) until the storm passed or the dishwashers might get a sudden, stimulating jolt of electricity.

Initially, the huts were all built near springs, or other sources of water, out of necessity. These water sources were not always reliable, in dry summers particularly, and as the huts increased in size and patronage the AMC drilled deep, reliable wells at each of the huts and the wooden water tanks, pump houses, and iron pipes disappeared. We treated the water so that it was potable but the New Hampshire Department of Public Health was nervous about using springs as water supplies as they can be easily contaminated and  the NHDPH had a large influence on the decision to drill the wells out of interest for public safety.

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) research department puts these photographic timers that automatically measure the exact moment in time that a specific plant begins to bloom. This research may help measure, or at least, better understand  climate change
I did not see any alpine plants in bloom. The Diapensia that was a cranberry red four weeks ago is now green. This one was still in transition.
Mt. Monroe, 5,372' asl. It's a gorgeous mountain whether you're on the top or at the bottom.

This is the larger of the two Lakes of the Clouds and looking across from southwest to northeast. The photo was taken the lake near the outlet. The shark tooth-shaped rock in the foreground is used as a reference in the following photos.

 Slightly elevated photo showing distribution of the ice in the east end of the lake. The prevailing wind was from the northwest and pushed the ice to the east end of the lake.

Looking west towards the lake outlet. On January 30, 1940, Slim Harris and "Uncas" (Paul Gerhard) chopped a hole in the ice close to the opening on the center right--over the deepest part of the lake--and the ice measured 39 inches thick. Under the ice they measured 6 feet of water. According to Slim, the 6 feet of water under the ice characterizes alpine lakes in general. The smaller, shallower lake had 43 inches of ice and no water beneath the ice. Uncas came down from the observatory a few months later and chopped a second hole and found the ice was still 39 inches thick. I think it would be interesting to continue these measurement, as I've tried and failed to do so far, to find corollaries, if there are any, between the thickness of the ice and changes in global temperatures over the next 50 years, or so.

Looking towards the outlet again A water well was drilled on the summit of Mt. Washington during the summer of 1940. The drill went through several feet of glacial till before hitting ledge. It then drilled down another 1000 feet before tapping into a reliable flow of water which was close to the surface elevation of the water in the lakes.  This may be coincidence, but it is an interesting side note when studying the hydrology of the Presidential Range. There are a number of springs (seeps) even at higher elevations then the water surface of the lakes on the cone of Mt. Washington. And, even though the well was drilled to an extreme depth, visitors and workers on the summit could depend on several springs on or near the summit for fresh water.

Looking south towards Mt. Monroe and the ice packed in to the east end of the lake. The location of snow in these photos is important because they highlight areas where the springs are located that feed the lakes. The Lakes of the Clouds, and more inclusively, the entire drainage area up to the tops of the nearby ridges, is a primary source of the Ammonoosuc River. The smallish snowfield in the upper center of the photo, comes down off the plateau at the base of Mt. Monroe is another part of the total water catchment area that's supplying the lakes and, ultimately, the Ammonoosuc River.

Part IIPeriglacial Activities

Looking northeast across the lake to a feature I refer to as the bulkhead--that bump on the ridge in the left-center of the photo. An enormous amount of snow accumulates each year in a large basin extending from that bulkhead down to the lake, a distance of about 1/2 mile. Within this amphitheater, or basin, are features of periglacial processes that need further research to define properly. The definition of "Periglacial", a term introduced 100 years ago, was: "to designate the climate and the climatically controlled features adjacent to the Pleistocene ice sheets. It now includes nonglacial processes and features of cold climates regardless of age and any proximity to glaciers." from A. L. Washburn, Periglacial Processes and Environments, Edward Arnold, London, 1973, p. 1.

A photo from March 11, 2011 of the snow buildup in the basin below the bulkhead. This is a fairly typical amount of snow for the area around the lakes. My interest is that slope extending from the end of the lake to the "bulkhead" which is the highest point in the background. This area stores snow late into the spring and is an important part of the water system sustaining the lakes.             

This is a gorgeous view of drainage area surrounding the Lakes of the Clouds that was taken March 22, 2012, and shows the extent of the snow that builds up around the Lakes and Monroe Flats.  As already noted the ridge on the center right is the  divide between the Dry River and the Saco River watersheds.

Back to the present and climbing higher up the basin towards the bulkhead you can hear water running down towards the lake under your feet, a lot of it. It comes from springs and the melting snow although most of the snow has melted.

Water also feeds into the larger Lake from large area southeast of the Lake up towards Monroe and Monroe flats seen as a thumb shaped tongue of snow in the photo. In the winter the east end of the lake becomes a huge snow drift sometimes 200 feet high depending on prevailing winds and that encircles the entire east end of the lake. It melts quickly sending a surge of water through the lake. The water in the Larger lake is very clear due to high volumes of fresh water moving through it and  the gravel mix on the bottom.

The bulkhead is straight ahead. Oakes gulf is to my right and Bigelow Lawn is just beyond the bulkhead. Boott Spur is further away to the right.  Between myself and the bulkhead is this long row of rocks extending several hundred feet to the foot of the bulkhead. These appear to be the result of some periglacial processes and has been caused over centuries by frost mechanics action. A. L. Washburn's Periglacial Processes and Environments (Edward Arnold, London, England, 1973) details the remarkable force frost has in moving soil and rocks. His, and others, conclusions that periglacial forces that can heft huge blocks of stone to the surface, or in moving smaller stones into stripes as well as intricate patterns like hexagons as found, for instance, on Bigelow Lawn, a half mile from the stones in this photo. Most of this activity takes occurs at, or above, 5000 ft. asl.

This is a closer look at the form the rocks have taken due to frost action here over millennia. It looks like a large dump truck came and deposited tons of stones creating a row 7-8 feet high, 25 feet wide and hundreds of feet long.

In his Geology of the Presidential Range published in 1940 by the New Hampshire Academy of Sciences, Richard Goldthwait wrote, "Where gullies lay in the downward course of blocks as at the rim of Oakes Gulf, Tuckerman Ravine, Jefferson Ravine, or near the Lakes of the Clouds, the blocks form a procession or "stream". In King Ravine, where the headwall and high slopes supplied endless material, the blocks and till-like material have piled up in a great lobe over a half-mile long and nearly a quarter-mile wide. From beneath each comes an ice cold stream or spring" (p. 32) The rock formation in these photos is not a rock glacier like that in Carter Notch, or King Ravine, but it is similar in some ways. It also fits the description of a "periglacial" process extended over lengthy periods fo time. Frost action has quarried these blocks and it has also been the primary force that has shoved them together in this extraordinary way. Snow and ice have, quite likely, played a major role in transporting the blocks. I have no idea how the steep, even-sided wall was formed, but it's unique and remarkable.

Between the long row of blocks are these soil cells, or sorted circles as Goldthwait called them, and that are covered with hair cap and sphagnum moss, and on some, krumholz. In some places they represent "hummocks". In the middle is the large array of rocks which are in the form of a "lobe" as defined by Goldthwait and these are prolific on Bigelow Lawn and on Mt. John Qunicy Adams at the northern end of the range.

Another mystery regardomg what forces created this cluster of stones which appear to be erratic with the exception of the one in the top center that has sharp edges, no lichen growing on it and no matching half. It was chipped or quarried fairly recently but I could not find a likely place of origin.

The ridge I've been referring to with old markings for the original Crawford Path up Mt. Washington. Note that the red spruce krumholz in the foreground is green and spreads extensively across the ground here.....

while not far away this krumholz is dead, at least 4 acres of it.

Erosion and damage by water to a large cushion of Diapensia close to the ridge.

An intricate solution for the mosses which unwittingly will supply the materials for the frost mechanics to do their work in splitting this rock

The moss was quite moist so that the freeze-flaw cycles could continue even when there was not a lot of water available..

Some are most likely glacial erratics, as well, sitting on the slab right on the crest of the ridge.

I have spoken of Slim Harris often and finally located the plaque that Doug, Chris and I were searching for last month and that was placed here in August 1969 by Slims family and friends. 

His name comes up a lot because he and his lovely wife Calista, or "Cal", were fixtures here in the mountains for more than half a century. They were leaders among the legion of botanists and naturalists who spent summer after summeer studying the natural history of the White Mountains. Names of others with whom Slim and Cal collaborated were Arthur Stanley Pease, Albion Hodgson, Fred Steele, Miriam Underhill, Margret Lewis, Marjoie Hurd, Wes Tiffany, and Harry Levi. Most of these individuals were affiliated by having been students of the renowned Merrill Lydon Fernald of Harvard, author Gray"s manual of Botany, the bible of botanists, among many other books. Himself a professor at Boston University, Slim was a wonderful and humble teacher in his own right and one who was always "adding his light to the sum of light" to use a quote from Tolstoy.  Slim and Cal shared their knowledge in the same way they shared their love for these mountains with their children and grandchildren and all of us who so willingly and affectionately followed after them. They were much loved.
This is standing on the divide between the Ammonoosuc and Dry Rivers. In the distance and the exact center of the photo are North, Middle and South Moats, and to their right you can see the sharp peak of Chocorua.

The entire Sandwich Range is in the background of this photo.

as it is in this one, also, with gorgeous Carrigain almost in the center.

So, where I am standing, on the dome of rock between the Dry River and Ammonossuc River watersheds the ridge called Boott Spur is directly behind me. You can see it in the background. The Cutler River which empties into the Ellis River in Pinkham Notch. Both the Ellis and and Dry River  are tributaries of the Saco River. So the drainage for the three rivers meet where I am standing.

Mt. Monroe is in the back ground with the rock dome at my feet.

The dome and the low col, Monroe Flats, between Mt. Monroe and where I am standing is the divide between the Ammonoosuc River and the Dry River watershed. The Flats (is moderately dome shaped) is also has examples of pergilacial activities in the "patterned ground" caused by the orientation of small stones into parallel stripes and on the slope leading down towards Oakes Gulf the stripes also produce "steps" and "terraces".

Walking in this areas take very special care. Even though I am out of the closed area I do everything possible to walk on rocks and not on vegetation. In this case the vegetation is extremely dry and brittle and walking on it would damage the plants.

In this dry micro-climate, when the snow has melted away and the days are becoming warmer, the Diapensia has some protection, as mentioned before, in the "cushion" surrounding the reproductive parts of the plant which can retain moisture for several weeks.

This was another mystery. This rock was flipped fairly recently but it is to big and heavy to have been moved by the wind, or a moose with a "crow bar". It weighs 300-400 lbs, at least. So, how was it moved. It is located on the edge of southern "fence" that marks the restricted area on Monroe Flats and is close to the lip of Oakes Gulf. One would be tempted to say two people conspired to move it to its current position. That's my conclusion, but I have no explanation for choosing it. It does sound an alarm, though, in that it is so close to the very fragile, vulnerable area of the flats. It is common, in the spring to find spring skiers walking across Monroe Flats without caution or care as they head for the prime skiing gullies in Oakes Gulf. I have done it myself years ago. It remains to be seen whether ski traffic here is causing a general degradation of the environment and how much and what needs to be done to inform skiers to be more savvy where they walk and stop to put on their skis.

The periglacial processes also contribute to marked changes in the soil and structure of the existing steps and terraces along with the enormous force of the water from recent large storms. The above photo is of a series of "steps" that have been disturbed by heavy flows of runoff.

The water moves around the Diapensia cushions where it picks up speed. Many of the Diapensia colonies have been compromised by the water, or destroyed.

Then it gets to the steeper slopes and the erosion increases exponentially.

This is evidence of a strong flow of water, a stream, going down into Oakes Gulf.

The deterioration of the terrace systems that formerly served to slow water down and prevent gouging.

A gulley pointing across the slope but able to move a lot of water quickly towards Oakes Gulf.

The undoing of a Diapensia cushion by water.

More evident erosion, which began several years ago and has been intensifying here along the Crawford Path where it goes around the flats.

A young Geum Peckii, or Mountain Avens, leaf making its debut. It was the only new plant life I saw all day--with the exception of a red trillium right at the bottom of the trail at Marshfield.

Looking across from Mt. Monroe at the area I traversed today starting at the hut.....

then circling the lake and following the gully still holding snow up to the top of the ridge and then down along the ridge itself to Monroe Flats in the foreground. It can not be stressed enough how sensitive and vulnerable the area on and around Monroe Flats is, or for that matter, the extensive areas including the watershed above timberline throughout the White Mountain National Forest .

Monroe Flats March 11, 2011. So, you can see from this photo how the wind rips through this col between Washington and Monroe and scrapes all the snow off before dumping it all in Oakes Gulf. Monroe Flats is an area with a micro-climate that includes temperature extremes and wide fluctuations in snow depth and precipitation, generally. Alpine plants are adapted to this niche and, most years, they thrive here. The threat to the plants comes in the form of humans and storms, like Hurricane Irene, with high amounts of precipitation and storm runoff.

The mystical summit of Mt. Monroe.

The Dry River watershed with the Sandwich Range and Carrigain in the distance.

The Southern Presidentials. Mt. Mooselauke is the the distance.

Mt. Lafayette in the distance.

"Buddies" from New Hampton, NH,  who come up Mt. Washington almost every week.
The Crawford Path, between the trail up Mt. Monroe and the hut, is evidence that there's spring water flowing towards the Ammonoosuc River, by-passing the Lakes. It comes down from the area between Mt. Monroe and the old Crawford Path.
Mt. Washington in repose. I spent the ascent in stopping to pick up bits of litter and trash on the trail and filled a quart sized, zip lock-type sandwich bag with used tissues, piece of cardboard and plastic wrappings from energy bars and it's awful to see. Granted, a lot of it had accumulated over the winter, but it breaks my heart. Truly. When people don't care, if just one person doesn't care, we're doomed. Each of us needs to be accountable. These mountains are a beautiful gift that belong to each and everyone of us. Please, please help take care of them! Keep them beautiful.
On days like this there's a reluctance to descend. I'd much rather spend the afternoon here while the sun traverses the sky and the stars come out. It's a beautiful place to just sit still and watch and listen.

Checkered sunlight.

The foot bridge below Gem Pool.

Makes you want to jump right in. It's freezing though!

Australian honeymooners from Sydney who passed me on the way up to the summit and were keeping track of their elapsed times on an iPad they were carrying. They made good time!

The combined damage from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and the amazing avalanche that swept down Ammonoosuc Ravine in late January, 2010, is still evident everywhere.

The End