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Posts Tagged ‘Ice Climbing’

I started doing these “looking back” posts for two reasons; I thought it would be fun to see the different seasons pass all in one post and I also thought they would be easy, because I wouldn’t have to take any photos. I was right and wrong, because they are fun but they aren’t easy. Picking a few photos out of a choice of hundreds of them can be tough, so I decided to choose the best examples of the what the month at hand brings. January for instance is a month most people in New Hampshire expect to be cold, and that’s what the above photo shows. It was a cold month; I wrote that record breaking, dangerous cold had settled in and lasted for a week. It was -16 °F the morning I wrote that post, too cold to even go out and take photos.

But even cold weather has its beauty, as this January photo of ice shows.

There was no thaw in February, as this beech leaf frozen in ice shows.

But February had its moments and it did warm up enough to snow.  This storm dropped about 7 inches of powder that blew around on the wind.

March is when the earth awakens here in New England and it is the month when you can find the first flowers blooming, if you’re willing to look for them. Sometimes it’s too cold for all but the hardiest blooms like skunk cabbage, but last March the vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) was blossoming.

Crocus also bloomed in March. This strange one looked as if it had been cut in half lengthwise.

April is when nature really comes alive and flowers in bloom get easier to find. I saw these female American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americanus) blooming on the 18th.

By the end of April there are so many flowers in the woods you really have to watch where you step. I found these spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) part of a huge colony, on April 25th. Trout lilies, coltsfoot, violets, dandelions, and many other flowers first show themselves in April. I’m very anxious to see them all again.

Though we see flowers in March and April it doesn’t usually truly warm up until May, and that’s when some of the more fragile flowers like these beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) appear. Bluets, lily of the valley, honeysuckles, blue eyed grass, starflowers, wild azaleas, lilacs, trilliums, wild columbine and many other flowers also often appear in May.

Flowers aren’t the only things that appear in spring; some of the most beautiful things in the forest go completely unnoticed, like breaking tree buds. As this just opened bud of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) shows, opening buds can be every bit as beautiful as flowers. Many other buds like beech, oak, maple, and elm also open in May and are just as beautiful. I hope you’ll look for them this spring.

One of our most beautiful aquatic flowers, the fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata,) comes along in June. These plants bloom in still, shallow waters of ponds and along rivers. Each blossom lasts only three days but the plants will bloom well into September. Some say the blossoms smell like ripe honeydew melons and others say more spicy, like anise. It’s their beauty rather than their fragrance that attracts me and that’s probably a good thing because they’re a hard flower to get close to.

June is also when a lot of trees like oak, ash, willow, hickory, and others release their pollen to the wind and it ends up coating just about everything, including the surface of ponds, which is what this photo shows. The white petals are from a nearby black locust tree which had finished blossoming.

In July I saw a fly that was willing to pose. By the time the heat of July arrives insects like black flies and mosquitoes aren’t as bothersome as they were in the cooler months, but ticks are still a problem. Other insects of interest are monarch butterflies which often start to appear in July. I’ve seen more of them each year for the last two or three.

One of the things I most look forward to in July is the blooming of the greater purple fringed bog orchids (Platanthera grandifolia) I found growing in a swamp a few years ago. It is easily one of the most beautiful flowering plants I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a few. At one time there were so many of these plants Native Americans made tea from their roots, but I’ve only seen two plants in my lifetime and those grow almost beside each other, so I’d say they are very rare in this area.

Many mushrooms usually appear in spring and then there is a bit of a lull before they start in again in late summer, but spring of 2018 brought a moderate drought so I had to wait until August to find beauties like this reddening lepiota (Leucoagaricus americanus.) This is a big mushroom with a cap that must have been 4 inches across. It is said to turn red wherever it is touched.

August is also when our roadsides start to turn into Monet paintings. The larger wildflowers like goldenrod, purple loosestrife, Joe Pye weed and boneset all bloom at once and put on quite a show.

Though fall can start in the understory as early as July when plants like wild sarsaparilla begin turning color it doesn’t usually happen with our trees until September. That was when I saw these maples along the Ashuelot River.

September is also when the New England asters begin to bloom. They’re one of our largest and most beautiful wildflowers and though my favorites are the dark purple ones seen in this photo, they come in many shades of pink and purple.

Fall foliage colors peak in mid-October in this part of the country and that’s when I saw these young birch trees clinging to stone ledges in Surry. The blue color came from the sky reflecting on the wet stone, and it made the scene very beautiful.

You can still see plenty of beautiful roadside wildflowers in October but this is the month that usually brings the first real freeze, so by the end of the month all but the toughest will be gone.

But there is still plenty of beauty to be seen, even in November. Very early in the month is the best time to see the beeches and oaks at Willard Pond in Hancock. This is easily one of the most beautiful spectacles of fall foliage color that I’ve seen and I highly recommend a visit, if you can.

We don’t usually see much snow in November but in 2018 we hadn’t even gotten all the leaves raked when winter came barreling in. We had three snowstorms, one right after another, and that made leaf raking out of the question for this year. There is going to be a lot of cleaning up to do in spring.

December started out cold but it didn’t last, and all the ice this ice climber was climbing was gone just a week later. They (ice climbers) call this deep cut railbed “The icebox” but this year maybe not. I’ll re-visit it sometime this month and see.

As of right now, 40 degree daytime temperatures are common and the witch hazel still blooms, so this is my kind of winter.

The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come. ~Mick Kremling

I hope everyone has a very healthy and happy 2019. Thanks for coming by.

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Keen observers of the flowers that bloom in spring probably noticed that there weren’t any coltsfoot flowers in my last post. That’s because I hadn’t seen any yet, even though I had been to every place I knew of where they bloom. Except one, I remembered; the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland that the ice climbers call the “Icebox” has a lot of coltsfoot plants along the trail. So, though I wasn’t sure what I’d find, last Sunday off I went. What I found was where winter has been hiding. As the above photo shows there was still plenty of ice clinging to the man-made canyon walls.

But the ice was rotten and melting quickly. Ice this big can be very dangerous when it falls, so I don’t get near it. I thought it had been warm enough to melt all the ice and snow here but obviously I was wrong.

The opaque gray color is a sure sign of rotten ice. Ice is rotten when the bonds between ice crystals begin to break down because of air and dirt coming between them.

Water was literally pouring from the walls. The groundwater always seeps and drips here but on this day it was running with more force than I’ve ever seen so I think it was meltwater.

And then I saw this fallen ice column. It looked like a boat and was as big as one that would fit 5 people. If this ever fell on a person it would crush them, so I decided to turn back and get out of here.

The view further down the trail didn’t look safe at all with all the ice columns melting in the sunshine, and there was what looked like a pile of ice down there.

That’s what it was; a pile of huge ice chunks all across the trail. I know it’s hard to judge the scale of things in a photo but these ice columns are as big as trees. Actually there is a fallen tree over on the left.

Here’s a shot of some ice climbers taken in February to give new readers an idea of the size of this ice. Some of it is huge.

I think that part of the reason the ice columns fall like they do is because the water in the drainage ditches along the side of the trail erode their bases away, as can be seen in this photo.

Ice isn’t the only thing that falls here. Stones fall from the ledges regularly and I saw at least three fallen trees on this day. I’m reminded each time I come here how dangerous the place can be, but it is also a place where I can see things that I can’t see anywhere else.

One of the things I can’t see anywhere else is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum.) They grow here by the thousands and I’ve learned to expect them to look a little tattered and worn in spring, because most are covered by ice all winter. By June though they’ll all be a beautiful pea green. Another name for the plant is snakeskin liverwort, for obvious reasons. Its pores and air chambers our outlined on its surface, and that gives it a very reptilian look. In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful of its kind.

I decided to look a little closer at areas with no ice or leaning trees nearby and I’m glad I did because I saw many interesting things, like what I believe is yew leaved pocket moss (Fissidens taxifolius.) This little moss grows in very wet places on the ledges where water drips on it almost constantly. Pocket mosses get their common name from the way the lower lobe of each leaf curls around its stem to form a pocket. This example was a little beat up because it has also most likely been under ice all winter.

Grasses were just coming up in the drainage ditches that follow along each side of the trail. The beech leaf in the foreground will give you an idea of their size.

I saw a large patch of moss on part of a ledge.

It turned out to be Hedwigia ciliata, which is a very common but an uncommonly beautiful moss. It’s also called white tipped moss because its branch tips are often bright white. I usually see it on stones in full sun.

Seedlings were coming up among the mosses. I’m not sure what they are because they had no true leaves yet but I do know that Jack in the pulpit plants grow all along this section of ledge. Many different species of aster also grow on the stone. It reminds me of a radish seedling.

I found that green algae (Trentepohlia aurea) darkens when wet. This hairy alga is orange because of the pigment beta carotene hiding the green chlorophyll. It grows out of direct sunlight on the damp rock walls.

I thought I’d practice my photography skills by trying to get a shot of a stone filled with mica. It isn’t as easy as it sounds because each piece of mica is like a tiny mirror that amplifies the sunlight.

If I could have gotten closer to the ice columns I would have shown you that the ice comes in many colors here. One of the colors is a reddish orange and I believe that it comes from iron leaching from the soil and stone. The above photo is of a spot in the woods where a pool of water was. When the water evaporated it left behind the minerals it carried, in this case probably iron.

I saw this bubbly mass in one of the drainage ditches. I’m not sure but I think it’s some type of algae. It reminds me of the spyrogyra algae I saw a few years ago. That example was on a very wet stone outcrop and this one was in water. I’ve read that it is most abundant in early spring and that the bubbles come from trapped gasses. It isn’t something I see regularly.

I never did find any coltsfoot flowers to show you but there were plenty of other interesting things to see. I also never made it all the way to the old lineman’s shack because of all the fallen ice, but I did see a piece of it; this plank from it was being used as a bridge to cross the drainage ditch. I wish people wouldn’t keep pulling the old shed apart but I don’t suppose anything can be done about it.

Nature is never static. It is always changing. Everything is in a constant state of flux. Nothing endures. Everything is in the process of either coming into being or expiring.
~Kilroy J. Oldster

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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We’ve had a return to summer here in southwestern New Hampshire and it was a hot, humid day when I sought out the natural air conditioning of the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s always about 10 degrees cooler here and there is almost always a breeze blowing through the man-made canyon. The canyon was hacked out of the bedrock by railroad workers in the mid-1800s. The rails are long gone but luckily, thanks to the efforts of local snowmobile clubs, the trails remain open. Note all the fallen leaves.  Already.

The last time I was here in May I found that a huge stone had fallen from the canyon wall. Though someone had been cleaning out the drainage ditches and cutting brush, the stone still sat where it had fallen. I think it would take a good size bulldozer to move it but then, move it where? The only way out of here is by one end or the other; there are no side trails.

Rocks aren’t the only things falling here; a large maple tree had fallen as well, but someone had cut it up. It seems odd that I see so many things that have fallen but I never see them fall. Maybe I should just count my blessings. That tree or the boulder could have easily killed a person.

The railroad used the stone blasted from the canyon to build retaining walls along parts of the trail. They’re beautifully built and they’ve held the hillside back for 150 years. Anyone who knows much about lichens would expect a wall like this one to be covered with them, but this entire place is remarkably almost lichen free.

Most of the trail is natural; just a very long trench cut through the bedrock of the hillside. It really must have been difficult to remove the snow from here in the winter so trains could get through. The canyon walls would have allowed just a few feet of space on either side of a train.

Many kinds of mosses, liverworts, ferns, flowering plants, and trees grow on these ledges, constantly watered by groundwater that seeps out of cracks in the stone. The scope of what you can find here is really amazing; I’ve seen things here that I’ve never seen anywhere else. At this time of year the lush green growth always reminds me of the Shangri la that James Hilton wrote about in his book Lost Horizon.

Drainage ditches on either side of the rail bed catch all the seeping groundwater and transport it out of the canyon so the rail bed stays dry. The railroad built the rail bed by laying large, flat stones like Roman road builders once did. On top of that they put course gravel, and over the gravel they laid track ballast. Track ballast is the crushed stone on which the ties or sleepers were laid. If the ballast was thick enough it kept weeds from growing and helped with drainage. Judging by all of the plants that usually grow alongside the ditches the ballast is most likely gone now, or it has certainly thinned out. I knew that people had been working here because all of the shoulder high plants that normally grew alongside the ditches had been cut, but they’ll grow back.

8. Washed Out Trail

We had torrential storms this past summer which in certain instances dropped 4 inches or more of rain in less than 24 hours in places, and this was one of those places. This photo shows a 3 foot wide, 6 inch deep trench that rushing water cut down the center of the rail bed. There were 2 or 3 other places that had washed out as well, so somebody has a lot of work ahead of them. Luckily trucks can get in here, but I doubt anything bigger than a one ton dump truck would get through without destroying the rail bed. The only thing good about the washout was that it let me see how the railroad built the rail bed.

Green algae (Trentepohlia aurea) grow here and there on the walls and are bright orange and very hairy. They grow like small tufts of hair all over some rocks. I’m not sure what the algae / stone attraction is, but it only grows on certain stones and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. I keep hoping I’ll see it producing spores but I never have. In fact I’m not sure if I’d know when it was producing spores because it always looks the same to me.  Algae do produce spores though, and they can produce them in high enough concentrations to actually color rainfall. Red, yellow, green, and black rain has been reported in various parts of the world.

I saw plenty of asters on this trip and some of them grew right out of the cracks in the stone walls of the canyon. Many plants and even trees grow on these walls, wherever they can gain a foothold.

In the winter huge columns of ice, some as big as tree trunks and 50 feet tall, grow here; fed by the constantly dripping groundwater. In places the groundwater carries a lot of minerals with it, and the above photo shows orange staining on the stone, probably caused by iron in the soil or stone. The minerals in the water also stain the ice columns in winter and you can find blue, green, red, orange, yellow, brown, and even black ice. It’s a magical, beautiful place when we have a cold winter.

The ledges soar overhead, up to 50 feet in places, and rock and ice climbers can often be found training here. I haven’t been able to talk to any of them to see what they think of the large boulder that fell, but I would think that it would make them a bit nervous. The shadows make the stone look very dark but it isn’t quite as dark as the camera thinks it is.

The sun lit up the yellow fall foliage of the black birches (Betula lenta) that grow at the top of the canyon walls. This tree is also called sweet birch and its numbers were once decimated because of its use as a source of oil of wintergreen. The bark looks a lot like cherry bark but chewing a twig is the best way to identify it; if it tastes like wintergreen then it is black birch. If not then it is most likely a cherry.

Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) grows well here in the moist soil, and even grows on the ledges. Since they have a root much like the corm on a gladiolus I’m not sure how they manage to grow on stone but they do. Though it is considered toxic Native Americans cooked and ate the roots, and this gave the plant the name Indian turnip. Jack in the pulpit is a native plant in the arum family similar to the Lords and Ladies plant found in the U.K.

The ripe fruit of a Jack in the pulpit is bright red when ripe. Deer love these berries and often come by and chomp off the top of the plant, but I don’t know if deer dare to come into this canyon. I’ve never seen any signs of them here. Each Jack in the pulpit berry starts out green and contains 3-5 seeds.

Where it hadn’t been cut jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) still bloomed. These blossoms dangle at the ends of long filament and sway in the slightest breath of a breeze, so it was tricky getting a shot of one here where the breezes almost always blow.

Many species of moss grow on the moist stone ledges. I think this example was cypress-leaved plait-moss (Hypnum cupressiforme,) also called sheet moss or Hypnum moss. It is one of the mosses that are often used in moss gardens.

My favorite liverwort is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) and they grow here on the stone ledges by the thousands. I was worried about them last year because many of them turned gray and looked like they might be dying, but now they’re back to their green color and looked to be good and healthy. Last year’s color change must have been a reaction to the drought. These plants need plenty of water.

Great scented liverwort is also called snakeskin liverwort, for obvious reasons. The reason it looks so reptilian is because of the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surfaces. It is the only liverwort with this feature, so it is very easy to identify. They love growing over the drainage channels here with ground water dripping on them from above. They are very fussy about water quality and will only grow where the water is clean and pure.  When you crush a leaf of this liverwort you smell a clean spicy aroma that I always think would make an excellent air freshener. They’re very beautiful things and I wish I could see them every day.

Another pretty moss that grows on the ledges is the leafy common pocket moss (Fissidens taxifolia.) This small moss is a water lover that grows near waterfalls and streams on rock, wood, or soil. It’s very small though; what shows in this photo would fit on the face of a penny. Its tiny leaves are only one cell thick and in the right light they are translucent.

The trail goes on all the way to Keene and I always tell myself that someday I’m going to follow it all that way, but by the time I’ve reached the old lineman’s shack I’m usually ready to turn around and head back. By this time I’ve seen much and have taken hundreds of photos, so I don’t need any more of those.  I like to take a little time poking around the old shack and usually end up wondering how it is still standing, and if it will make it through another winter. It was built well, that’s for sure. It’s only supported by two walls and only has half a roof and half a floor now.

There is always an adventure waiting in the woods. ~Katelyn S. Bolds

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-canyon

It was about 13° F. when I left home to visit the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland that ice climbers call the icebox last weekend. Since this place seems to make its own weather and always has a good breeze blowing through it, I dressed for a frigid hike. It is a naturally dark place and I knew that the strong sunlight would make photography a challenge; there is actually a group of ice climbers in this photo but they are way down there in the dark section, so we can’t see them.

2-ice-climbers

Here they are. Even though I was much closer they’re still hard to see. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds regular ice climbing clinics here and seeing climbers on the ice is fairly common on weekends. Though I don’t know if this group was part of a clinic, they said they didn’t mind if I took a few photos to give readers a sense of scale. The cliffs soar to about 50 feet overhead and the constantly seeping groundwater can grow into huge icicles that can be as big as 200 year old oak tree trunks. It was plenty cold in the man-made canyon on this day but the ice hadn’t grown to the sizes that I expected.

3-ice-climbers

Two of the climbers picked on an icicle that was on the skimpy side, I thought. The noises from the ice as they climbed it; a crackling and tinkling sound, was a bit unnerving but I had to believe that they knew what they were doing. When I’m this close to them while they’re climbing I sometimes have to remind myself to breathe. It was nice of them to let me show you their methods and the intense concentration that they all seem to possess.

4-ice-climbers

This climber either lost his grip on the icicle or he was practicing falling, I’m not sure which. I was too busy taking photos to pay very close attention to what was being said. Knowing what to do in a fall is a very good idea, I would think.

5-climbing-ice

There had been a lot of activity around this huge blueish ice formation, which told me that many climbers had climbed here. I’ve heard that blue colored ice is the strongest and densest. It certainly looked more substantial than the ice that was being climbed in the previous shots.

6-icicles

There was plenty of ice to see but there weren’t many places where the giant tree trunk size formations grew. They often stand shoulder to shoulder all along the stone cliff faces but on this day they were only seen here and there.

7-ice-colors

This was one spot where the ice grew large. Even in full sunshine there was no melting going on but I could still hear the constant sound of running water made by groundwater running down the stone behind the ice.

8-evergreen-fern

An evergreen fern found a sunny spot on a ledge to grow on. Many others were encased in ice.

9-mineral-staining

There is always mineral staining on the stones but the cold seems to make the staining deeper and more colorful. I suspect that minerals in the groundwater are what gives the ice its many different colors.

10-ice-colors

Tan seems to be the most visible ice color this year. In the past I’ve seen everything from green to orange to black.

11-drainage-ditch

With all this ice and dripping water you might think I’d be standing in water up to my knees but the railroad wisely built drainage ditches along the edges of the rail bed and they’ve kept this section of trail dry for over 150 years. It seemed strange that they weren’t frozen over in most places.

12-trail-washout

Last fall a large stone fell from one of the cliff faces and it landed in the drainage ditch in just the right way to act as a dam, and since all the dammed up water had to go somewhere it ran into the rail bed and washed a section of it out. Luckily these trails are maintained by snowmobile clubs and I’m assuming it was they who moved the stone and solved the problem. I’m sure they’ll come back in warmer weather and fix the washout.

13-fallen-stone

This stone didn’t move easily. I’d guess that it must have taken two strong men with pry bars just to slide it out of the way, because it was big. Thankfully it didn’t hit anyone when it fell.

14-banded-rock

I looked up to see a band of reddish rock running through the cliff face. I’ve never noticed it before but it was the same color as the big stone that fell.

15-fallen-ice

Stones aren’t the only thing that fall here; we’ve had a few warm days and a huge slab of ice had fallen into the trail. This was easily big enough to have crushed someone, and this is why I stay in the middle of the trail away from the walls as much as possible.

16-moss-on-ice

When the ice fell it took quite a large bit of moss with it.

17-pale-liverworts

You can’t be a regular visitor to this place and be unaware of the falling ice and stone, but it isn’t something I obsess over. One of the reasons I keep coming here is because of all the unusual plants that grow here, and you’ve got to get close to the cliff walls to see them up close. For instance the above photo shows some of the many liverworts that grow on the walls. They are the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum,) but they don’t look right and I wondered if they might have frozen solid. They should be a deep, pea green color rather than the pale gray green seen here.

18-liverworts

This is how a healthy great scented liverwort should look. Note the pea green color. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the paler ones in the previous photo. I hope they’ll recover when it warms up.

19-frost-on-stone

Since I was in the deep cut last weekend we’ve had a January thaw and temperatures approached 50°, so almost all of our snow has melted. I can’t imagine what it looks like in the canyon but I’d bet that more ice has fallen. On this day though it was so cold that there was frost growing on the stones, so I didn’t stay for too long.

20-linemans-shack

With a quick nod to the old lineman’s shack, which is miraculously still standing, I headed for home to get out of the stiff breeze and to find some warmth. I’d guess that the wind chill must have been near zero and though every part of me was covered but my eyes, it was still pretty cool.

The splendor of silence, -of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram crockett

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1-trail

We’ve had some cold nights and a little snow over the last week or so and it seems like winter might be here to stay, so I decided to visit the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland recently. Once the cold settles down inside this man made canyon it’s reluctant to leave, and spectacular ice formations grow here.

2-ice

The ice is fueled by the groundwater that constantly seeps through the bedrock that the railway workers hacked their way through in the mid-1800s, and ice columns as big as tree trunks are commonplace. I’ve seen huge ice columns here many times but I’ve never seen their birth, so that was the object of today’s hike.

3-ice

Ice was forming almost everywhere on the vertical walls of the canyon. It was very cold this day and even in the bright morning sunshine the ice wasn’t melting. That’s the secret of the why the ice grows to such giant proportions here; the temperature seems to stay about 10 degrees cooler in both winter and summer. On a hot July day the natural air conditioning is very welcome, but in December it can be like walking into a freezer so you had better be dressed for it if you plan on spending much time here.

4-ice

The groundwater seems to follow the natural lay of the stone and seeps between the layers winter and summer. The water doesn’t seem to ever stop seeping so when an icicle forms more and more water flows over it, increasing its length and girth drip by drip. There can be enough ice here in February to cover the stone ledges completely in many areas.

5-ice-climber

Unless you’ve seen them the ice formations are hard to imagine, so I’ve used this photo from last February to better illustrate the size of both the ice and the place. Last winter was mild so the ice shown is tame in comparison to previous winters but still, ice climbers came to train. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds regular ice climbing clinics here and seeing climbers on the ice is fairly common on weekends. I expect that I’ll see a few this winter.

6-waterfall

There is almost always the sound of water dripping here. Usually it comes from the seeping groundwater but in at least one spot water gushes through a rift in the wall with enough force to be called a stream. I wonder if a stream on the hillside above somehow changed course, because I doubt that the railroad engineers would have left it this way.

7-drainage-ditch

All that water has to go somewhere so the railroad built drainage ditches on either side of the railbed to direct it where they wanted it to go. The ditches have kept the railbed dry for over 150 years but I saw that a rockslide further down the trail had dammed up one side and now water is washing away the railbed. With no railroad to maintain these rail trails it’s now up to private groups like snowmobile clubs to do all the work. They do a great job but it they might not be aware of the washout.

8-rock-fall

This is a shot of where the rocks have fallen across the drainage ditch and dammed it up. What isn’t seen in this photo is how all the water in the ditch has been forced into the railbed, washing it away. The rocks are big and I’m sure are very heavy but I would think that two men with crowbars could at least slide them over enough to let the water through.

9-ledges

There are many mosses, liverworts, and other interesting things growing on these walls that I don’t see anywhere else so I put on rubber boots and walk across the drainage ditches to get close to them. I’ve seen large stones that have fallen into the railbed and in the winter falling ice is always a possibility, so I have to be very aware of what’s going on around me. I always look up before I cross a ditch to get to a section of wall to make sure that I’m not going to be standing under overhanging ledge like that seen in this photo. I’ve never seen one fall but fallen stones litter both sides of the trail all down its length.

10-liverworts

For me this is what makes coming here worth any small amount of risk involved; I can get close to so many plants that I’ve never seen before, like the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) seen here. They are very particular about where they grow, insisting on just the right amount of light, humidity and temperature and they have found the perfect spot here, where they grow in great numbers. Though they are said to be common I never see them anywhere else.

11-liverwort-close

The great scented liverwort is also called the snakeskin liverwort, and with good reason. I love its reptilian skin and its scent, which is so clean and fresh it always makes me wish it came in a spray bottle when I smell it. Each more or less hexagonal leaf cell has a central pore over the top of an air chamber. On the floor of the air chamber are photosynthetic filaments called chloroplasts, and the pores through its skin let in enough light for the chloroplasts to do their work, which is photosynthesis. It’s quite amazing, as is all of life.

12-liverworts

Though the liverworts might seem fragile they are actually very tough as all of the plants that grow here have to be, because they are often completely encased in ice throughout the winter months. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t seem to bother them.

13-ferns

Any thoughts I had about the delicacy of our evergreen ferns went right out the window when I saw them growing here. They too are often covered in ice through the winter, but still green.

14-moss

Mosses also have to be able to withstand the ice. Curiously, though this one was surrounded by ice it was quite dry, as its twisted leaves show. I think it might be tall tornado moss (Tortella tortuosa) which has leaves that twist and contort when it dries out. It grows in the thin soil that forms on boulders and on rock ledges, and likes limestone.

15-algae

One of the strangest things that grow here  is a green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. It’s very hairy and produces spores which, when produced in high enough concentrations, can even color rain. I was just reading about a blood red rain that fell in parts of Spain in 2014. Many worried that it was a bad omen or extraterrestrial in origin, or a plague worthy of the Bible, but it was actually caused by the algae Haematococcus pluvialis. The same thing happened in Texas in 2013, in Sri Lanka in 2012, and in India in 2001, each seemingly caused by different algae. Yellow, green, and black rain has also been reported. It seems that colored rain can happen just about anywhere on earth when conditions are right. The blue in this photo is the sky reflected in ice.

16-mineral-staining

I’ve never seen colored rain falling in this place but I have seen plenty of colored ice, and I think at least some of the ice colors are caused by minerals in the groundwater, like the iron staining shown on the stone in this photo.  The ice here can be blue, green, red, orange, yellow, brown, and even black.

17-mineral-staining

Another example of mineral staining on the stone, this time in a sandy, orangey brown color.

18-colored-ice

And this photo from last year shows what the minerals can do to the ice. At least that’s my assumption. Neither I nor readers of this blog have been able to come up with any other theories except in the case of blue ice, which can become blue simply because of its own density.

19-linemans-shack

It takes a while to get used to this kind of cold again and by the time I had reached what’s left of the old lineman’s shack I couldn’t feel my toes any longer, so I thought I’d better do a little less lollygagging and more walking, and I trudged back down the trail at a high rate of speed (for me.)

20-ice

Watching ice melt might not be very exciting but watching it grow is, so I’ll be coming back here often throughout winter.

He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter. ~John Burroughs

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1. Ice Climbers

After our below zero cold of Valentine’s day weekend I wondered if the ice in the deep cut rail trail on the way to Westmoreland had grown. When I got there I could see that it really hadn’t grown much since my last visit but I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of ice climbers there. You can just see them in this photo, way down toward the light at the end of the canyon. That’s where the biggest ice grows.

2. Ice  Climber

Last time I did a post about this place that the climbers call the “ice box” several readers said they wished I could find a way to better show the scale of the place, so I broke my own rule and took photos of the climbers. I’ve avoided doing so in the past because I didn’t want to distract them, but since several of them were talking back and forth I didn’t think I’d break anyone’s concentration. These few photos should give you a good idea of the size of the place and the height of the walls that the railroad blasted out of the bedrock nearly 150 years ago.

3. Ice Climber

This climber had nearly made it all the way to the top. It must be exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

4. Ice  Climber

Ice climbers wear spikes called crampons on their climbing boots and have a tool called a pick in each hand. They swing a pick into the ice and then swing the other, and when they’re sure the picks will hold them securely they move their feet up until the crampons have found a purchase, and in this way they slowly move up the ice fall. There is always a helper with each climber who keeps the climbing rope taut or slack, depending on what is required at the time. These people must have great concentration.

5. Polished Ice

After our cold snap we’d had some warm days and the melting and re-freezing had given some of the ice columns a high polish.

6. Rotten Ice

Other ice falls looked dull and grayish white and these were rotten. Ice becomes rotten when water, air, and / or dirt get in between the grains of ice and the ice becomes honeycombed and loses its strength. Instead of a sharp crack when it is tapped it sounds more like a dull thud. It would be dangerous ice to try and climb, so you have to be a good judge of ice to be a climber.

7. Trail

There is still a lot of ice here in spite of the warm days we’ve had but as I walked along I noticed that much of it was rotten, and that’s my signal to stay away from this place until it has melted. I’ve seen ice columns as big as tree trunks fallen in the trail in years past, and I don’t want to be anywhere near them when they start falling.

8. Falling Ice

For the first time since I’ve been coming here I saw ice falling in the spot shown above. It wasn’t a huge amount but it was enough to warn me away until spring has taken a solid hold. This entire ice fall was rotten. Note how white it is, and how it has lost its shine and has become dull, even with the sun shining on it.

9. Fallen Ice

These fallen chunks were large enough to kill someone if they ever fell at the wrong time. The biggest was as big as a car tire.

10. Colored Ice

I knew I wouldn’t see sights like this again until next winter, so I took my time and admired the ice. This is a place where you can be immersed in winter’s beauty, and I haven’t found another place like it.

11. Ice Cave

You can just see an evergreen fern inside this ice cave. In summer this place is green and lush with most of the rock faces covered by plants, and I often think of it as the Shangri-La in James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon, but walking through here in winter can be like walking on a distant frozen planet. If there is a place where the difference between the two seasons is more apparent I haven’t found it.

12. Ice Free Wall

One wall in full sunshine had lost all its ice. This is an unusual sight here in February.

13. Liverworts

In one spot the ice had melted enough so the liverworts that grow on the walls could be seen.

14. Liverwort

After checking to see that there was no ice overhead and the ice covering the drainage ditch was solid I inched out across it to get some close ups of the liverworts. I only stayed for a minute; if the ice I was standing on had broken I would have been up to my knees in freezing cold water because I didn’t have my knee high rubber boots on. It would have been a cool walk out of here.

15. Liverwort Closeup

The beautiful reptilian great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) made the risk of cold wet feet worth taking. These liverworts like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. Though they like a lot of water they won’t stand being submerged in it and die back if the water level rises. Their common name comes from their scent, because if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle.

16. Trail

I always try to take photos that show how high the cliffs can soar, and this one does a fair job of showing that. In this section the trail was very icy. This winter any snow that has been packed down has turned to glare ice and is very difficult to walk on. That’s why I’ve stayed away from hill climbing this winter.

17. Ice Column

This column of ice was about as big as a basketball, or about 9.25 inches across. Though it looked from the trail like it had grown solidly along the rock face this view told a different story.

18. Lineman's Shack

The old lineman’s shack tells me that I’ve reached the end of what I came to see. I really thought that the winter snows would bring it down this year but I don’t think we’ve had more than 4 inches fall in a single storm, and that was the biggest. The other 4 or 5 storms were only 2 or 3 inches.

19. Lineman's Shack

There really isn’t much holding the old place up. It looks like a strong breeze would blow it over.

20. Gaffitti

I’d kind of like the old shack to stay standing. The graffiti inside always reminds me of my father. He would have been 18 in 1925 and lived near here and I always wonder if he came to see the ice like I do. None of the initials match his but he could have easily walked the tracks through here. I’m not sure what NLP! GH means; maybe: No Longer Present! Gone Home.

I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it. ~William Shakespeare

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1. Deep Cut

Each year at about this time I start wondering if the ice is forming in the deep cut rail trail that I visit up a ways north of Keene. This place gets very little direct sunlight so usually once the nights get cold enough the ice starts to grow, and our nights have been in the 20s lately. The ice grows steadily through January and February to the size of tree trunks. On this day though the temperature had soared into the 60s so there was little ice to be seen.

2. Ice

I saw that a few icicles had formed on the cliff walls but had quickly melted and fallen. Usually on a hot summer day breezes blow through here and cool it off to about 10 degrees cooler than the temperature at ground level. On this day though, for the first time, I felt a warm breeze blowing. I was dressed for two days before December but before I left I was sweating as if it were tax time in April. I should have paid more attention to the forecast.

3. Drilled Hole

Railroad workers used steam drills and black powder to crack this rail bed out of the bedrock about 150 years ago. You can still see many of the holes they drilled.

4. Ties

Signs of the railroad are still seen here and there. Here two railroad ties have been placed against the cliff face. Why I don’t know; possibly as help for climbing these walls. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds ice climbing clinics here and seeing them climb on winter weekends is common.

5. Bolt Hanger

They call this place the “ice box” and come here to train and get used to ice climbing before they go out and tackle the really big ice falls. You can see signs that people have been climbing on the higher parts of the wall, which I’d guess must reach 40-50 feet.

6. Mossy Wall

On this day the ice climbers would have been disappointed; there was more greenery than ice to be found. In places these walls are completely covered by all kinds of plants, mosses, lichens and liverworts and are very beautiful. It often makes me think of the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote of in his novel Lost Horizon.

7. Possible Wall Rue Spleenwort

Some of the plants that I see here are ones that I don’t see anywhere else. I’ve been trying to identify this one for close to three years with no luck, so if you know it I’d love to hear from you. I have a feeling it’s a spleenwort (Asplenium) but I don’t know which one. It’s similar to wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) but I don’t know if that’s it. Since there are close to 700 species of Asplenium it might be a while before longer I uncover its name. It grows right out of the cliff faces and is evergreen. It reminds me of flat leaf Italian parsley.

8. Built Wall-2

The railroad engineers used the stone from blasting to build massive retaining walls along parts of the rail bed. Drainage ditches run all along the base of the walls on both sides and still keep the rail bed dry after a century and a half.

9. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) still had their leaves and reminded me of spring. Their hoof shapes give this plant its common names. It has been used to treat coughs for centuries.

10. Insects on Branch

What I think were a type of winter crane flies (Trichocera) swarmed all over the cut surface of a branch and appeared to be drinking the sap. Others flew back and forth along the trail. Without too much effort I could imagine that it was almost April instead of almost December.

11. Water

In places small streams pour out of and over the rocks and there is always the sound of splashing and dripping water here. It’s like being near a public fountain.

12. Ice

There was some ice on a rock but it was rotten and probably fell soon after I took this photo.

13. Liverworts

I’ve seen many amazing things here and some of the most amazing are the large mats of liverworts that grow here in the many thousands. They’ve probably been growing here for the century and a half that these stone cliffs have been here. They grow on the rocks just above the drainage ditches where the humidity must be high, and to get close to them you have to wade through the ditches with high rubber boots on, but it’s worth the effort.

14. Great Scented Liverwort

One of my favorite liverworts is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum.) I like its reptilian appearance and the fresh, clean scent that gives it its common name. It likes water but will die if it is submerged so it needs a place where it can be moist but not touching water. The groundwater that constantly runs down over the stones makes this the perfect spot.

15. Overleaf Pellia aka Pellia epiphylla

Another liverwort called overleaf pellia (Pellia epiphylla) also grows here but in nowhere near the numbers that the great scented liverworts do. I’ve noticed the overleaf pellia grows on the sunnier side of the cut and the great scented grows on the shaded side. When it gets cold this liverwort starts to turn purple as is seen in the photo. Though not even one tenth the size of a slice of bacon this one always reminds me of fried bacon because of the way its wavy edges curl.

16. Lineman's Shack

The old lineman’s shack’s walls seem to bulge and its roof sags just a bit more each time I see it. I wonder how many more winters it can stand before it can stand no more. Since there is graffiti dated to 1925 it I know that it has seen a few. What I don’t know is if my father, who was 18 years old in 1925, might have been one of the people who wrote on the walls. He didn’t live too far from here and might have once walked the tracks.

17. Antenna Rotor Control

The old 1940s bakelite television rotor controller still sat where it did the last time I was here. It seems so big and cumbersome now but it never did when I had to use one on our antenna years ago. It seemed like a marvel of modern engineering then.

18. Trail in February

This photo is from February of last year and is for those who might not have seen previous posts I’ve done about this place. The ice grows into massive columns and comes in many colors, including green, blue, black, and orange. I believe the many colors come from minerals, algae, soil and other contaminates, as well as the density of the ice and how it reflects and refracts light. It’s very beautiful and I look forward to seeing it each winter, but with the forecast calling for above average temperatures this winter ice like this might be hard to find.

Nature is shy and noncommittal in a crowd. To learn her secrets, visit her alone or with a single friend, at most. Everything evades you, everything hides, even your thoughts escape you, when you walk in a crowd.  ~Edwin Way Teale

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