I’ve heard a lot over the years about 912 foot Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey New Hampshire and about the 40 ton glacial erratic boulder that sits atop it, so recently I decided to finally climb up and see it for myself. It’s called Tippin Rock because according to legend “with a shove of your shoulder under the right spot” you can make 40 tons of granite rock gently, like a baby’s cradle.
The trail starts out as little more than a game trail, single file narrow, until it widens just a little as the above photo shows. Even though it’s a little wider here than where it started it’s still one person wide. Tall tree seedlings crowd in on both sides, obscuring any view into the forest.
Finally it widens out to road width and steepens, and you can see deep into the forest ahead and on both sides. When bears are fattening up for hibernation I feel a lot more comfortable on a trail like this than I do on a close, winding trail where you can only see a few feet directly in front of you. There is less chance of being surprised.
I found some violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) growing on a log. I don’t see these very often so I wasn’t thinking about getting a shot of the undersides, which are toothed. I like their purple edges.
I also saw coral mushrooms (Ramariopsis kunzei) as white as the snow that will soon cover them. I always wonder how something that has just come up out of the ground can be so clean. Coral fungi get their name from the corals that grow under the sea.
Before too long the canopy thins and sunlight gets through, and you know that you’re near the top.
The sign proves it. I had to laugh at the way it stated (and pointed to) the obvious.
So this is Tippin Rock? It’s only as big as a delivery van, so I wouldn’t have guessed. It’s a good thing the sign was there!
A glacial erratic is defined as “a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests.” You have to wonder where this one came from.
Of course I immediately (before anyone could see) “got my shoulder under” every likely spot on the 40 ton behemoth and shoved and grunted and sweated and swore, but I couldn’t get it to move. I crawled under it to see what made it tick and found that, as the photo shows, it has a keel much like a boat. Who would have ever guessed that a glacier could set a 40 ton boulder down on a sheet of granite on a mountain top, in exactly the right position so it would rock back and forth? At least, it rocks for people who know the secret. I thought about finding a log and prying it, but then decided that doing so would be cheating. It would be hard to claim that I had tipped Tippin Rock knowing that I had cheated.
Did this lady tip it, I wonder? Actually, maybe I’m better off not knowing. I found this photo on line and what I find most interesting about it is how the visible side of the boulder is covered with rock tripe lichens. Rock tripe is a lichen that loves to grow on very large boulders and it can often be found on mountain and hill tops. It’s similar to toadskin lichen which we will see a little later. The lady’s outfit and the fact that the first really affordable camera-the Kodak Brownie-came out some time around 1900, means that it’s very safe to assume that a hundred years ago there were lichens on this rock face.
So where did all the lichens go? This is the same face of the boulder shown in the previous circa 1900 photo, and it’s as clean as if it had been scrubbed. Did the trees grow and shade them out? Did they all die and just fall off? Did the weather wash them away? Tests have shown that lichens are tough enough to survive even the vacuum of space and tenacious enough to etch glass for a foothold, so how and why they disappeared from this rock face is a real mystery.
I leaned my monopod against it to give you an idea of how big this stone really is. Fully extended the monopod is about 6 feet long. I’m guesstimating the boulder is about 9-10 feet high, 18-20 feet long and 8-9 feet wide.
After you’ve worn yourself out trying to tip Tippin Rock you can follow a small side trail that leads to a lookout, and these cliffs are one of the things you pass on the way. Though it doesn’t look it in the photo it must have been 30 feet or more to the top. I wasn’t able to back away from them for a better angle because there was another even longer drop behind me which it wouldn’t have been good to test. People come up here to rock climb, and I can see why.
Toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) decorated several boulders and I was happy to see it. This makes two places that I’ve found it now. Both take quite a climb to get to, so I wonder if altitude plays a part in where it will grow. It had just rained the night before so these examples were plump, pliable, and pea green. The black parts are their fruiting bodies (Apothecia) and these lichens were fruiting heavily.
The views from up here look south toward Massachusetts and are some of the best I’ve seen. This is a place that makes you feel small and that’s a good feeling to have every now and then. Sometimes feeling small reminds us just how big the universe is.
This beautiful view, taken as I had my back against the boulder that the toadskin lichens grew on, is my favorite. Every time I look out over such vast expanses of unbroken forest I realize that I’m seeing fairly close to what the early settlers would have seen. I wonder what they thought when they climbed a hill and found something like this before them. How daunting it must have been to know that you had to carve a homestead out of that wilderness with a single axe-your most valuable possession. I can’t help but wonder what I would have done. Would I have had the strength and courage to go on or would I have turned around and gone back to where I came from? Still more questions which (thankfully) I’ll never find the answers to.
A man does not climb a mountain without bringing some of it away with him and leaving something of himself upon it. ~Martin Conway.
Thanks for coming by.