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Posts Tagged ‘fire tower’

John Muir once said “The mountains are calling and I must go.” To be honest I never paid much attention to that statement until the mountains started calling me. And as anyone who has climbed them knows, they do call; they kind of get under your skin and won’t stop calling until you answer them, so last Saturday I drove north to Stoddard to climb Pitcher Mountain. Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled this land in the 1700s. As mountains go it’s a relatively easy climb, even for someone who uses inhalers as I do. The last time I climbed here was in January. On this day the weather was considerably better and the spring greens and singing birds reminded me what a wonderful thing this life is.

Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberry bushes; thousand of them grow here and people come from all over to pick them. On this day the buds hadn’t even opened yet, showing what a difference elevation makes. Down in Keene they’re in full bloom.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) grew beside the trail and how very beautiful they were. Though like blueberries they’re also in full bloom in Keene, up here the fertile center flowers hadn’t shown yet. Only the much larger infertile outer flowers had opened.

One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to become more familiar with my new camera. Anyone who knows their way around a camera should be able to use just about any camera handed to them, but they all have their little quirks that take time to learn and iron out. This one doesn’t have image stabilization but the lenses do and that’s something I’ve never encountered. On this day the sun was bright and the contrast high, and that’s a challenge for any camera but I thought this one performed reasonably well as this shot of a wild sarsaparilla plant (Aralia nudicaulis) and its shadow shows. The light green oval leaves belong to Canada mayflower, which will be blooming soon.

My first stop along the trail is always the meadow, where if you look behind you, you can often find a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It was fairly good on this day, I thought.

The meadow is also where you get your first inkling of how high up you are. The views seem to go on forever.

The meadow is large and sometimes you can find it filled with beautiful Scottish highland cattle. I’ve often thought that they must have the best views of anybody who comes here.

The trail is in a U shape and you take 2 left turns to reach the summit. After the meadow the trail, which is actually a road used by the forest rangers, gets very rocky. There are also lots of exposed roots so if you come here you would do well to wear good hiking boots with plenty of ankle support.

I was stunned to see spring beauties blooming (Claytonia virginica) up here because I’ve climbed this mountain more times than I can remember and I’ve never seen them before. My timing was off, that’s all, and I might have missed them by a day or a week. There was a nice little colony of them in this spot just below the summit. Tucked in snug they were protected from the worst of the wind.

Violets and strawberries grew along the trail and even down the center of it, where many had been stepped on.

The fire tower, manned on occasion, loomed at the summit. This is the second tower on this spot; the first burned in one of the largest forest fires this region has ever seen. That’s why I call it a monument to irony.

The old fire warden’s cabin still stood solidly but there was something different about it.

The difference was a gaping black hole where the last time I was here a board covered the window. It looked like vandals had been here but with so many people climbing this mountain I can’t imagine them getting away with it.

I don’t condone vandalism but realistically bears have been known to break into cabins countless times in this area so it’s anyone’s guess as to how this happened. I wasn’t about to pass up what was probably an only chance to see inside a ranger’s cabin though, so I turned on the flash and took a couple of photos. It looked like it had been furnished in the 1940s, and that was no surprise. I’m assuming there was no running water here because there is a privy in the back, but there was electricity.

If when you reach the tower you turn almost 180 degrees you’ll see another decent view of Mount Monadnock. You can also see the meadow in this view. On this day it was so gusty up here I could hardly stand still. I wanted to crouch on the ground so the wind couldn’t catch me.

But in a way the wind was welcome because it blew away all the black flies that had plagued me all the way up the trail. For those unfamiliar with them black flies are very small biting insects that appear for a few weeks in spring, hatching out of clean running water unlike the mosquito, which hatches out of still, stagnant water. Black flies feed on the blood of mammals for nourishment and they usually come in swarms. Bug spray helps keep them away.

What I call the birdbaths are natural depressions in the stone. With all the rain we’ve had I doubt they’ve been dry a day in the past two months. I once sat and watched a dark eyed junco take a bath here, and I was able to get a few shots of it splashing around. The blue of the sky deepens as it is reflected in these pools and it makes a simple puddle as beautiful as any jewel.

There are lots of lichens growing on the rocks of the summit and one of my favorites is the scattered rock posy (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans.) They can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

I always tell myself that I’m going to come up here with a compass and a topographical map so I can name all of the surrounding mountains but I never do. I don’t suppose it’s that important anyway. I’d rather just sit and look around, especially when I have the whole mountain to myself as I did on this day. I expected it to be crowded up here but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I wondered if the flies kept people away.

It’s hard to tell from these photos but there is still snow on the ski slopes over there in Vermont.

I stayed on the summit for awhile trying different things with the new camera until my legs felt less rubbery and then I hit the trail again. I don’t know why going down always seems harder than going up, but my legs usually let me know that they aren’t thrilled by it.

The meadow is just to the left of the trail in that previous shot and as I looked out into it I thought a highland cattle calf had somehow gotten loose and was in the meadow eating grass but then wait a minute; that wasn’t a calf. As soon as it looked at me and sniffed the air with its snout I knew it was a black bear. And it was another big one. Though it might look far away in this photo it could have reached me in seconds. Black bears can move incredibly fast; 50 feet per second in fact, so running from one is pointless.

I’ll be the first to say that this is one of the worst photos I’ve ever shown on this blog but you can clearly see the roundish ears and long tan snout of a bear. You don’t have much time to fiddle around with a camera when a bear is staring at you like this and I didn’t have the zoom lens with me anyway, so I just took a couple of quick shots. I just went through this with another bear in Westmoreland and that one didn’t scare any more than this one did. It stood and stared and sniffed, just like this one. And just like that time once again I was the only human around, carrying no bear spray and with only one way out. Luckily this one turned into the forest while I wondered what I was going do if it started toward me, so I hoofed it back down the mountain somewhat faster than I usually do, slipping on loose stones and tripping over roots the whole way. It’s hard to walk downhill when you’re looking back over your shoulder I’ve discovered, and I don’t recommend it.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. Alfred North Whitehead

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Sign

I’ve been determined this year to show you what our fall foliage looks like from up above the treetops. My first try on Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey wasn’t entirely successful because of the limited viewing range and the bright sunshine that day, so last week I decided to try Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. There are 360 degree views from the top of this mountain, so I reasoned that it would be possible to take photos without the sun shining directly at the camera.

2. Trail

It was partly cloudy and windy that day and most of the trees seemed to still have plenty of leaves on them.

3. Maple

This young maple was certainly colorful.

4. Meadow

About halfway up the trail you come to a large meadow where long horned and long haired Scottish Highland cattle are kept. At least some of the time, anyway; I’ve climbed this mountain many times now and have never seen an animal in this meadow.

 5. Ranger Cabin

A little more climbing brings you to the old ranger cabin. The fire tower on this mountain is manned when the fire danger is high, but I don’t think the ranger station is used any longer.

6. Fire Tower

It’s hard to miss the fire tower. In April of 1940 27,000 acres of forest burned, including all of the trees on this summit and the old wooden fire tower that once stood here.  It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history and burned the summit right down to the bare granite. The tower seen in this photo replaced the original that was built here in 1915.

7. Tower Tie Down

It’s a good thing that the tower is well anchored. The wind felt like it was blowing at gale force up here on this day, and I had to use it as a wind break.

8. Common Goldspeck Lichen

Large colonies of common gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) cover the exposed granite. They were fruiting so they must be very happy up here.

9. Blueberry Bush

Pitcher Mountain is famous for its native high bush blueberry bushes which cover many acres, and people come from all over to pick them.  They are also one of our most colorful native shrubs.

10. Mount Monadnock

Mount Monadnock’s outline was barely visible off to the south due to the weather conditions, but by fiddling around with the camera’s controls I was able to get a shot of it. I’m not sure why the meadow and trees in the foreground look so dimly lit, but I kind of like it.

11. Distant View 1

Almost every time I’ve climbed Pitcher Mountain it has been sunny when I started out and then clouds rolled in as soon as I reached the summit. This day was no different, but a little patience paid off and every time the sun broke through I snapped a photo. It was so beautiful, I didn’t mind waiting.

12. Crow

As I sat waiting for the clouds to part I watched this crow struggling to not be blown out of the sky. The wind was fierce and I too struggled with keeping the camera steady on its monopod.

13. Closest Hill

I sat on the side of the fire tower away from the wind and waited for some sunshine to illuminate this, the nearest hill. I had to laugh at my luck because once or twice all of the surrounding landscape in any direction was in full sunshine except this hill and the mountain I sat on.  When the sun finally illuminated the hill, it was beautiful as I knew it would be. I was surprised that so many trees were bare though.

14. Foliage

There were some nice colors up close, too. I think we’re seeing the red of oak, orange maple, and yellow beech in this shot.

15. Distant View 2

This was taken when the sun was shining just about everywhere except the mountain I sat on. It’s a good example of how the light, and lack of it, can impact foliage colors. I’m not sure why the few evergreens in the foreground appear so dark.

16. Distant View 3

Though the photos don’t really do them justice the colors seen from the mountaintop and the way the light played on the distant hills were breathtakingly beautiful, and at times I felt like I was inside a painting by Monet or Renoir. There is simply nothing that compares with being on a mountaintop, especially at this time of year.

Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Trail

A friend of mine who moved to California many years ago came back east for a visit recently and, since it was a beautiful summery day with low humidity we decided to climb Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard, New Hampshire. This mountain was named for the Pitcher family who settled here in the 1700s. The trail is actually a road so the fire wardens, technicians, and others can easily drive almost all the way to the top. Hiking it takes about 15 minutes with no stops.

2. Meadow

Before long you reach the pasture where Scottish highland cattle are kept. They weren’t here this day, but there were plenty of wildflowers to admire.

3. Grass Flowering

Grasses were also flowering. They are beautiful when they bloom.

 4. Trail

Nearer to the top the trail gets steeper and rockier.

5. Ranger Station

Before you know it you’re at the old ranger station. There is a shed and an outhouse out in back.

6. Firetower Anchor

It isn’t hard to imagine the mighty winds that must blow up here. The fire tower is tied down to solid granite in several places so it doesn’t blow off the mountain.

7. Fire Tower

Ironically the original wooden fire tower built here in 1915 was destroyed by fire in April of 1940. 27,000 acres of forest burned, including the fire tower and all of the trees on the summit.  It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history and burned the top of the mountain right down to bare granite. There are 16 active fire towers in the state, but this one is only manned when the fire danger is high. It has microwave transmitters and receivers on it, and I’m never really sure what to think about that.

8. Blueberry

Blueberry bushes have colonized the mountaintop and this is a favorite spot to come and pick them. Sometimes entire families will come and pick buckets full of berries. There are acres of them and there always seems to be enough for everybody.

9. Mountain View

Others come for the views, which on this day were quite good.

10. Lichens

I always have to take a close look at the lichens when I come here, even though they never seem to change. Orangey-yellowish common gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) and black and white tile lichen (Lecidea tessellata) appear here with small spots of pale yellow sulfur fire dot lichen (Caloplaca flavovirescens.)

 11. Cloudscape

I took this shot more for the clouds than anything else. I like the way that they float off into infinity. According to Henry David Thoreau mountain tops were sacred and mysterious places to Native Americans and they never visited them. “Only daring and insolent men go there” he said, but I didn’t feel particularly daring or insolent on this day.

 12. Glacial Striations

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.

 13. Triangulation Station

Even on mountain tops, trigonometry.

14. Monadnock

As you start back down the path on this, the second highest mountain in the region, you are greeted by a view of Mount Monadnock, which is the highest. The sun coming through the clouds was doing some strange things to the colors of the hills, making them look like a painting.

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know. ~Rene Daumal

Thanks for coming by. Happy first day of summer!

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