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Posts Tagged ‘Colonel Sampson Stoddard’

Last Friday the 18th was a beautiful day, already warm when I got to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard at about 11:00 am. I could see spots of ice on the trail so I wore a coat and had my micro-spikes in my pocket, just in case. I couldn’t find any recent information on trail conditions so I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it would be nice to be climbing again after the terrible ice had kept me on level ground all winter.

I looked at the hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) along the way and though I saw plenty of leaf buds I didn’t see a single flower bud.

There are lots of dead trees in the forest along this trail. A standing dead tree like this one is called a snag, and snags play an important part of the overall health of the forest. This tree is probably full of insects and I could see where woodpeckers had been at work. Fungal spores will also find their way to it and eventually it will fall and provide nutrients to the surrounding soil for years to come. This one looked almost like it had a bear platform in it.

Beech leaves are quickly going white. Strong March winds usually clean them off the trees and I’m seeing as many on the ground as I am on the trees lately.

I think of this stop at the meadow as the great breathing space. I can catch my breath and think about absolutely nothing here. It’s just earth, myself, and sky. And silence. I often find a nice rock and just sit for a while.

It paid to rest up a bit for this stretch. I was expecting a little ice on the trails here but instead I got thick mud, which on a hill is almost as bad.  

Mud and stones for the rest of the way.

And roots; lots of roots. They were useful to stop yourself if you were slipping backwards in the mud, which I did a couple of times. You really want to wear good, sturdy hiking boots with some ankle support here if you can.

The bright orange-red witches’ brooms on blueberry bushes burned like fire in the woods. They may seem unsightly to some and if you have a blueberry plantation you would surely want to remove them, but I worked around a blueberry bush that had one for many years, and it bore fruit just as well as the other bushes that didn’t. I left it as an experiment, just to see what would happen and it really didn’t seem to bother the bush at all.  

If you turn around in the right spot as you climb the leg of the trail beside the meadow you can see Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. On this day it showed me that it would not be a good day for views. It was strange because I saw no signs of haze as I drove from Keene.

As I neared the summit, I saw that the old ranger cabin’s broken windows had finally been boarded up. It had been broken into and vandalized last year so better late than never, I suppose. It would be tough getting the tools and materials up here to do the job, I would think.

The only mountain ash (Sorbus americana) I’ve ever found in the wild lives up here and it looked to be doing well.

Big, black and pointed mountain ash buds often look like they have a single cap like bud scale but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. They should be swelling any time now if this warm weather keeps up.

As I looked up at the fire tower on the summit I was grateful, because I remembered the winter I had to crawl up those last few rocky yards on my hands and knees because of the ice. I doubt I’ll ever do it again, even though being up here in January can be pretty special.

This really was not a day for views but I was able to get a fuzzy shot of the wind turbines over in Antrim. It really is amazing how big they are.

When I saw these three trees, I thought of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

There was plenty of water on the summit for the birds to drink, and that meant plenty of mud as well. There was no escaping the mud on this day. It was over 70 degrees F. and everything had melted quickly, including any frost in the ground. By this point I was wishing that I had left my coat in the car.

Deep striations in the granite are a reminder that this entire region was once under ice. It’s hard to imagine ice thick enough to cover these mountains. It is estimated that the ice that covered New England in the last ice age was 2 Km (6,562 Ft.) thick. That means that 2,153-foot-high pitcher mountain was buried under more than 4000 feet of ice.

The near hill looked a bit drab on this day but I’ve known it in all seasons and soon it will be beautifully green with new spring leaves, because it is covered with mostly deciduous trees. In the fall it will be even more beautiful when those leaves begin to turn.

The summit is covered with many different lichens, like the yellowish goldspeck and the black and white tile lichens seen here. There are 136 species of tile lichens so identification is difficult without a microscope. I just like the colors in this scene.

I don’t know if the Pitcher family who settled here planted apple trees but there are apple trees here, and the sapsuckers love them. Their trunks are full of small holes.

I got to see a staghorn sumac bud just beginning to open.

And then there was the trail down. I picked my way carefully avoiding what mud I could, and I made it just fine, and that made a beautiful spring day seem even better.

Since there were no summit views to be had I thought I’d stop and get a shot of the Congregational Church in Stoddard on my way home so those of you who have never been to New England could see what a fairly traditional New England church looks like. The town was named after Colonel Sampson Stoddard of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, the charter being granted to him and others on May 10, 1752. The population has fluctuated over the years, falling to as low as 100 people in 1900 to around 1000 today. According to the town’s website the Congregational Church was organized in 1787, but the building in the photo wasn’t built until 1836.

A mountaintop is not simply an elevation, but an island, a world within a world, a place out of place. ~Paul Gruchow

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We had another warmish, sunny weekend day last week so I decided to see how climbing Pitcher Mountain in winter was.

1. Stoddard Church

Pitcher Mountain is in Stoddard New Hampshire, a small town north east of Keene. The town was named after Colonel Sampson Stoddard of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, the charter being granted to him and others on May 10, 1752. The population has fluctuated over the years, falling to as low as 100 people in 1900 to around 1000 today. According to the town’s website the Congregational Church was organized in 1787 but the building in the photo wasn’t built until 1836.

 2. Pitcher Mountain Sign 

Even though Pitcher Mountain is, at 2,152 feet (656 m), the second highest mountain in this area after Mount Monadnock, most of the elevation can be gained by driving so you only have to hike the last 300 feet. In fact, if the gate that the fire warden passes through was open you could drive almost to the top with a 4 wheel drive vehicle.

According to the good folks at the Cheshire County Historical Society Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled in this area in the late 1700s. Their house was located just a stone’s throw from this sign, right where the parking lot is today. They must have been hardy souls. This is rugged country for farming.

 3. Pitcher Mountain Trail

The elevation gain may be only 300 feet but the trail is steep enough for me to have to stop occasionally to huff and puff and look at interesting things. Several web sites say that if you don’t stop you can reach the summit in about 15 minutes, but what is the hurry?

4. Pitcher Mountain Pasture

The trail skirts a large pasture in places. The owners raise Scottish Highland Cattle here but I didn’t see any of them this day.

 5. Scottish Highland Cattle

Scottish highland cattle look well equipped for our winter weather. This photo is from Wikipedia.

 6. Pitcher Mountain Fire Tower

It isn’t long before you get a glimpse of the fire tower through the apple trees and blueberry bushes. The spacing of the apple trees tells me that there used to be an orchard here. Now people come from miles around to pick the blueberries, and with 50 acres of bushes there must be plenty to go around.

 7. Pitcher Mountain Ranger Cabin

The old fire warden’s cabin still stands but doesn’t look like it sees much use even though the tower is staffed from April through October. There is a privy out in back of the cabin so there probably isn’t any running water here.

 8. Pitcher Mountain Fire Tower

The 5 acres at the very top of Pitcher Mountain are owned by the New Hampshire Forestry Commission. They first built a wooden fire tower here in 1915 but in April of 1940 a fire destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the fire tower and all of the trees on the summit.  It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history. The present steel tower is a replacement and, because of the lack of trees, offers a full 360 degree view of the surrounding hills.

 9. Pitcher Mountain View to North East

Lovewell mountain lies somewhere to the north, just north of Washington, New Hampshire but I couldn’t see it on this day because of the haze. These hills make up the Monadnock highlands which separate the Connecticut and Merrimack rivers.

 10. Pitcher Mountain View to West

This hill off to the west looked almost close enough to touch but it would have been quite a hike to the top of it from here.

 11. Pitcher Mountain Pasture

This is the view of the pasture we passed in photo number 4 from above. The cattle have quite a view.

 12. Pitcher Mountain Rock with Lichens

I wondered if these steel rods hammered into the rock were once used for tying down the fire tower.  It was pretty cool with a gusty wind on the summit, so I didn’t stand around wondering for too long.  I was also interested in the lichens. The steel rod was about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in diameter, so that should give you an idea of how small the lichens were.

 13. Common Goldspeck Lichen

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen that seems very granular when you get a close look at it, and this is the closest I’ve ever gotten in a photo. You can just make out a couple of its round, almost microscopic fruiting bodies (apothecia) in the center of the photo. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used in Sweden to dye wool yellow. It must have been difficult scraping it off the rocks that it grew on and I would imagine that yellow wool in Sweden was very expensive then.

14. Tile Lichen

An areolate lichen is one in which the body is made up of many little lumps or islands. The tile lichen (Lecidea tessellata) in the above photo fits that description well. Its black fruiting bodies (apothecia) are even with, or slightly sunken into the surrounding body (thallus). There are 136 species of tile lichens and identification is difficult without a microscope. I’ve made a guess at the identity of this one hoping that someone will correct me if I’m wrong. Tile lichens grow on rock in full sun and can grow through winter in temperatures that are just above freezing.

 15. Monadnock From Pitcher Mountain

As you head back down the trail you are greeted by a view of Mount Monadnock to the south, the only mountain in this region taller than the one you’re standing on.

I’ve learned that everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it. ~Author unknown

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