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Posts Tagged ‘Ice Climbing’

1. Long Shot

Last weekend I went to one of my favorite places, a “deep cut” along a rail trail where the icicles grow as big as tree trunks. Since little or no sun shines down into this man made canyon once it gets cold it stays cold. It can also be quite dark so I waited for a rare (this winter) bright sunny day, hoping there would be enough light to be able to take some photos.

2. Ice Formations

There is ice everywhere you look here. The odd thing about it is how in the summer you barely notice the groundwater that constantly seeps from the rock faces. Winter really reveals just how much water there is here, and it’s a lot.

3. Ice Climbers

The ice climbers were here. 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. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds ice climbing clinics here too, but I don’t know if that was what was going on here on this day. I try to never bother them because I imagine that ice climbing takes intense concentration and I’m always afraid that if I distract someone they could fall. I certainly don’t want to be the cause of that.

If you’d like to see someone actually climbing this ice you can watch a video of it by clicking here. The video also shows just how high these ledges are toward the end of it.

4. Cracked Ice

I’m thinking that they probably have enough on their minds without answering questions from me, like that horizontal crack that runs completely through this ice column.  Just taking a photo of it made me nervous. I’ve seen massive pieces of ice lying in the trail after they’ve fallen and I know that I don’t want to be anywhere near one when it comes down. When you’re the only one here and it’s quiet if you stop and listen you can hear the ice creaking and cracking, letting you know that what you thought was static and unmoving is actually moving all of the time, expanding and contracting and growing larger.

5. Laep (Leading Edge Anchor Point) Anchor

Last summer I noticed several of these rock climbing anchors, called “LEAPs” screwed into the rock face, so ice isn’t the only thing climbed here. LEAP stands for Leading Edge Anchor Point and is what ropes get tied to. This photo also shows that part of the rock face was wet. It’s hard to believe that what looks like such a small amount of moisture can grow into such massive ice formations.

 6. Drainage Ditch

All this water has to go somewhere so when the railroad engineers blasted this canyon through the rock they also dug drainage ditches along each side of the rail bed. After over 150 years they still work fine. They hadn’t yet completely frozen over yet when I was there and considering how cold it was that was a real surprise.

7. Liverworts

There are thousands of plants, mosses, ferns and liverworts growing on the rock faces and I usually wear my rubber boots so I can wade through the drainage ditches to get an up close look at them. I wore my boots this day but the ice was making some really strange sounds and I didn’t think that it was a good idea to be standing under it, so this shot of some liverworts was taken from a few feet away. After being here in such cold it amazes me how anything can survive these conditions. It was 20 °F when I left my house and I’d guess it was probably half that here in the canyon. Add the breeze that always seems to blow through here and it was probably close to zero with the wind chill.

8. Steam Drill Tool Mark

I just finished reading the book Sermons in Stone, which is about New England stone walls, and in it author Susan Allport says that long, round tool marks like that in the above photo were made by steam powered drills and since steam powered drills weren’t invented until 1861, the particular stone that bears these tool marks couldn’t have been worked before then. I can’t argue with that but there is plenty of evidence that the granite here was hand cut using star drills and feathers and wedges, so I think what might have happened was the railroad came back once the steam drill was available and widened the rail bed. If it was originally all done by hand then it was probably only as wide as it absolutely had to be. They could also have been making sure that there was no loose rock that might fall on the tracks.

9. Hand Cut Granite

The tool marks from the old method of drilling and splitting by hand can’t be confused with anything else.

10. Colored Ice

I’ve never seen ice come in so many colors as it does here. This place is beautiful at all times of year but the ice adds a bit of magic. The first time I saw it I walked this trail stunned into silence and awestruck by the sight of it. It’s hard to tell by these photos but these ledges soar upwards 50 feet or more in places and you feel as if you’re in an ice cathedral. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.

11. Orange Ice

This was the first time I saw orange ice here. I’ve read that orange icicles on a rock face are caused by iron minerals in the soil and water. I can’t find any reference to what might cause green or blue ice.

12. Algae on Rock Face

I wondered if the orange ice was caused by this algae growth which, even though it is bright orange, is called “green algae” (Trentepohlia aurea.) 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 in the algae.

13. Mineral Stains

Mineral stains of various colors are also visible on the rock faces.

14. Blue Ice

My favorite is the blue ice but all of the different colors are beautiful and part of what makes this such an amazing place.

 15. Bridge

Just as the sun started to go down I saw that someone had been clearing a new trail off of the rail trail that I was on. It looks like the new trail is meant to cross this old bridge, which didn’t look to be more than 4 feet wide. It crosses a small stream and looks like something the stone masons would have used to get cut granite out of the woods. I wanted to explore it but it was getting even colder as the sun dropped, so it’ll have to wait for another day.

Beauty waits until the patience and depth of a gaze are refined enough to engage and discover it. In this sense, beauty is not a quality externally present in something. It emerges at that threshold where reverence of mind engages the subtle presence of the other person, place or object. ~ John O’ Donohue

Thanks for coming by.

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Last weekend we had a beautiful warm, sunny Saturday so I decided to visit one of my favorite places, an old railroad cut in Westmoreland that in winter becomes a cold, hard world of ice and stone.

 1. Ice Canyon

There was so much snow that I wasn’t sure if I’d see any living thing other than trees. I was surprised to find the wind blowing here because the day was calm. It is always at least 10 degrees cooler here than the surrounding area, winter or summer, and now I’m beginning to wonder if the place doesn’t create its own wind as well because, as I think back to previous trips, it always seems to be blowing here.

 2. Ice Climbers

In the deepest, most shaded part of this man made canyon a group of ice climbers were training. I’ve recently learned that the New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds ice climbing clinics here and it looked like that was what was going on. I didn’t bother them and let them have the ice to themselves. Ice was not what I was here for. 

 3. Ice Formations

Still, it’s impossible to ignore the ice formations. With ice like this it’s no wonder that they come here to train. I saw some rotten ice but I’m sure they know enough about what they do to avoid it.

 4. Mosses

This is what I came for-to see something green and growing. Mosses, lichens, liverworts and an incredible assortment of ferns and other plants have grown undisturbed in this place for nearly 2 centuries. I think someone could easily spend a lifetime trying to identify them all.

 5. Mountain Haircap Moss

This is a very wet place, with groundwater constantly running down the rock faces, and the mosses love it. This mountain haircap moss (Polystrichastrum pallidisetum) still had a few closed spore capsules (sporophytes) meaning that it’s busy trying to cover even more stone ledges.

 6. Fallen Tree 

This tree that has fallen and spanned the gap is my signal to start looking for liverworts, but as I looked at the ice covered walls it was hard to imagine anything growing in such harsh conditions.

 7. Canyon Walls

Fortunately in places the sun warms the stone enough to keep the walls clear of ice and this is where many plants choose to grow.

8. Velvet Shank Mushroom aka Flammulina velutipes

I saw a few clusters of velvet shank mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) growing on a dying American elm. This is a true “winter mushroom” that fruits from September to March and can live through being frozen solid. When young velvet shanks are ivory colored but age to reddish brown. They are usually dark in the center of the cap and lighter colored toward the edges. These examples were no bigger in diameter than a nickel, but I’ve seen them reach 3 inches.

 9. Velvet Shank Mushroom Gills

Velvet shank gets its common name from the velvety feel of its stem, which is lighter near the cap. Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog thought of the idea of using a telescoping mirror to see the underside of mushrooms instead of kneeling in the snow. I bought one and it works great but this one was high enough on the tree so I didn’t need to use it. The mirror idea might be good for those who have trouble kneeling.

 10. Narrow Mushroom Headed Liverwort

The first liverwort I saw was the narrow mushroom-headed liverwort (Preissia quadrata). This liverwort can be either male or female, or have can have both male and female reproductive structures on a single plant. Fruiting structures are short, umbrella shaped, spore producing growths that usually appear in March. The examples in the photo were just starting to grow fruiting bodies, which are the 5 or 6 little bumps that can be seen on the body (thallus) of the liverwort. I’ve circled one in white to make it easier to see. These will rise on short stalks before opening like an umbrella. Male reproductive structures will have flat tops and look like small mushrooms and females will look like tiny palm trees. I hope to be there to see them.

11. Snakeskin Liverwort

The snakeskin liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) reproduces in much the same way as the narrow mushroom-headed liverwort, but I didn’t find any getting ready to do so just yet. This is also called great scented liverwort and I remembered to smell it this time. I was astonished by its fresh, clean scent that immediately reminded me of air fresheners. It was kind of lemony, kind of spicy, but in the end impossible to accurately describe because I’ve never smelled anything exactly like it. It’s another interesting facet of an interesting and very unusual plant.

 12. Wild Strawberry 

Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) was a plant I didn’t expect to see growing on these rocks in February but there it was, still attached to its parent by its runner (stolon).

 13. Railroad Shack 

It looks like the old lineman’s shack is going to make it through another winter even though half of the roof, most of the floor, and most of the siding boards are gone. Many were taken to be used as bridges across the drainage ditches on either side of the rail bed and they can still be seen here and there along the trail.

14. Railroad Shack Graffiti

I don’t know when it was built but according to the graffiti on its back wall the shack will see at least its 90th anniversary next year. My father was born and grew up in this town and I can’t help but wonder if he ever saw the inside of this building. He was 18 in 1925.

15. Large Ice Farmation

It’s going to be a while before all of the ice has melted in this place but spring is happening, even here.

There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere. ~ Edward Abbey

Thanks for coming by.

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Regular readers might be getting tired of seeing this part of the New Hampshire rail trail system north of Keene but I never get tired of exploring here because I never know what I’m going to find. There are mosses, lichens, and liverworts here that I don’t see anywhere else so last week, after a nuisance snowstorm of 2 or 3 inches, I decided to see what I could find. The ice formations alone make this a worthwhile trip.

 1. Rail Trail

I think the reason all of the unusual plants grow so well here is because of the all of the groundwater that constantly seeps from the stone cliff faces. Mosses, lichens and liverworts don’t have roots so they depend on rain, snowmelt, and groundwater for their nutrients. In the winter the groundwater that helps them survive also freezes into huge, interesting ice formations and there are many people who come here to climb them.

 2. Ice Climber

I happened to meet up with a solitary ice climber here this day, and I took his picture so you could get an idea of the scale of this man made canyon that was blasted out of the bedrock. He looked to be 6 feet tall or so-maybe a little taller.

3. Green Ice

The ice climber had gotten there before me and I followed his footprints in the fresh snow, noting that he went from ice column to ice column, finally settling on a large column of green ice much like the one in the above photo. He was climbing alone so there was no safety rope and I didn’t want to take a photo of him climbing because I didn’t want to do anything to break his concentration. I was wishing that I could have talked to him about the ice and why he climbed it.

I haven’t been able to answer the question of why the ice is green so I don’t know if it is being stained by minerals or vegetation.  My gut feeling says it’s probably a little of both.

4. Fan Pocket Moss aka Fissidens dubius

Ice wasn’t the only reason I came here. These old walls are covered in mosses, lichens and liverworts. I think the moss shown here growing out of a crack in the stone is fan pocket moss (Fissidens dubius.)  It was very small-no bigger than a quarter. Fissidens mosses always appear flat and have two leaves directly across from one another along the stem.

5. Green Algae

I also came here to see something I was only recently able to identify. Though it is bright orange, this is called green algae (Trentepohlia aurea.) The orange color comes from the carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color. One of the reasons I wanted to visit this place again was to try to get better photos of it.

6. Green Algae 2

I found that getting a better photo was easier said than done, but at least you can see the hairiness of what is described as “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.” The pigment masks the green chlorophyll and can also be yellow or red.  In 2001 airborne spores from these algae were in high enough concentrations in India to cause a “red rain” that actually stained clothes pink. Yellow, green, and black rain was also reported. You can read more about that by clicking here.

7. Fallen Tree

I know from previous visits that this fallen tree means I should start watching for liverworts growing on the walls. With all the fresh snow, I wasn’t sure that I’d see any.

 8. Fountain Smoothcap Moss aka Atrichum crispum

It would probably take a lifetime to identify all the different mosses growing here. I think this one might be fountain smoothcap moss (Atrichum crispum), but to be honest I can’t be certain. There are many mosses that look very much like this one and often only a microscope will reveal their true identity. The fact that it was growing in such a wet environment and the way the dry lower leaves had a crisp look is what leads me to believe it is Atrichum crispum. In any case, I thought it was a very pretty moss. Since most moss leaves are only one cell thick they look translucent in certain kinds of light.

9. Running Water

Speaking of wet environments, this is not the place to come if you want silence, because the sound of dripping water is constant. Winter, summer, spring and fall it, and the sounds of birds chirping, are all that you hear in this place. Sometimes the drip turns to a gush, as can be seen in this photo. Luckily the railroad engineers designed drainage ditches along each side of the road bed that still keep it nice and dry close to 200 years after they were dug.

10. Sun on Ice-2 

The canyon walls are high enough and the sun low enough in the sky so very little sunlight is seen here in winter.  A few shafts fall here and there, but they do little to warm things up. Also, the ice seems to create its own micro climate so you need to dress warmly if you plan to explore this area. On this day the temperature must have been a good 10 degrees colder in the canyon than on the more open parts of the trail that get sunshine.

11. Winter Crane Fly aka Trichocera

On the more open parts of the trail winter crane flies (Trichocera) could be seen soaking up the sun.

12. Liverwort in Snow

I finally saw some liverworts that had been protected from the snow but the drainage ditch full of water kept me from getting close. I’ve decided that I’m going to get some knee high wading boots to overcome the drainage ditch problem. That way I’ll be able to get closer to all of the unusual plants growing here. A ladder would also be useful but I hate to think of carrying one all the way out here.

 13. Preissia quadrata Liverwort

Every time I come here I see something I’ve never seen before. Today’s find was this liverwort that reminded me a little of cooked bacon. Or maybe I was just hungry.  Anyhow, I think this one is called narrow mushroom-headed liverwort (Preissia quadrata,) but since it can sometimes take a team of botanists to identify a liverwort, don’t bet the farm on my identification. Fresh plants are said to have a disagreeable odor, but I was able to get quite close to this one thanks to the frozen over drainage ditch, and I don’t remember smelling much of anything. Plants are also said to have a very hot taste when nibbled, but I think I’ll leave the nibbling to the botanists. I’m anxious to come back in June to see the mushroom shaped fruiting bodies.

 14. Conocephalum conicum Liverwort

Sometimes we see things so beautiful that we just want to sit and gaze at them, and when we do we find that when we’ve finished we have no idea how much time has passed, because the thing has taken us outside of ourselves. It can happen with a view from a mountain top, or a sunset, or a liverwort. This one is called the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) and it is another reason I come here.

The woods were made for the hunters of dreams. ~ S.W. Foss

Thanks for stopping in. Happy New Year!

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Last weekend I visited a railroad cut that dates from the early 1800s.  I found this rail trail in Westmoreland, a town that’s North West of here, last year and it has become one of my favorite places to explore because of the many different plants that grow here.

 1. Canyon

This cut is deep in places and ice had formed where little if any sun shines. If you have ever stood in front of the open door of a walk in freezer then you know what I felt like while taking this photo. It’s nice and cool in the summer and real cool at this time of year.

 2. Mossy Ledge

Some ice tried to stand up to the weak November sunlight but ion this day it was losing the battle, because it was near 60 degrees. All I could hear was the constant drip of water and the crash of falling ice. I took this photo because at times it was like being in an ice cathedral. This reminded me of a niche where a statue might stand.

 3. Trees on Ledges

Instead of spires this cathedral has trees that soar up to the heavens.

 4. Unknown Plant on Ledge

Instead of gargoyles many different plants perch atop even the smallest ledges. I thought the one in this photo was a spleenwort called wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) but there is a small brook running all along the base of the rock face so I couldn’t reach it. I’ve been able to get close enough by zooming in on the photos that I took to know that it isn’t wall rue, but I have no idea what it is.

 5. Icy LiverwortsThousands of liverworts also grow here, seemingly not minding the ice. The small brook kept me from inspecting these up close, too. These plants have grown here undisturbed for almost 200 years and they obviously like it because there are large colonies of them.

 6. Brook

This is the small brook that runs along the base of the rock face. It’s just wide enough so you can’t straddle it and just deep enough so you don’t want to step in it. If you jumped it you would run smack into stone, so I’ll wait until it freezes. There were some small fish in it but they were so fast that I couldn’t tell what they were. They might have been brook trout-they like cold water.

 7. Unknown Orange Lichen

Some stones were covered with huge patches of orange lichens that looked like moss. I’ve never seen this one anywhere but here and I haven’t been able to identify it. Many lichens are orange, but none seem quite as hairy as this one is.

 8. Shack 

Since the railroad ran through here at one time I’m assuming this was a lineman’s shack, or maybe a storage shed. People have torn off the siding to use as bridges to cross the brook.

 9. Ice on Ledges 

A lot of ice climbers come here in the winter to climb the huge ice columns that form when the temperature gets cold enough. On this day all of the ice was rotten and falling from the ledges, and I made sure I wasn’t standing under any of them when they let go.

 10. Rotten Ice

Rotten ice is ice that has frozen and thawed repeatedly or has layers of snow or water within it or has water or air pockets between its ice crystals. Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes grayish, and sometimes white. Vertical hanging ice usually has bubbles in it that are big enough to be seen without magnification. It is always weak and it sounds hollow when it is tapped, rather than solid. When water gets between the ice and the stone that it’s hanging from it can fall very easily and without warning, so that’s a good reason to not stand under it.

 11. Slipped Ledge

Ice isn’t the only thing falling around here. The face of the slab of rock shown in the photo was about two feet wide and the whole thing must have easily been 10 feet long.

 12. Pink Feldspar

A pegmatite grows quickly in the last bits of magma to cool in granite. They are known for their large crystals of what are often semi-precious stones like aquamarine, tourmaline, garnet and topaz. One of the most common pegmatite minerals is feldspar, which can be white, pink or gray. The photo shows part of a large vein of pinkish feldspar that travels through the exposed bedrock here.  Many fine mineral specimens can be found in feldspar and I used to spend many happy hours searching for them. I think of it as a soup, with feldspar the broth and the semi-precious crystals the vegetables. Feldspar is a weak mineral that is easily broken and it gives off a very distinctive odor when struck with a steel hammer.

 13. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are usually a smoky gray color, which is where their common name comes from, but they can also have a bluish tint because of the way their waxy coating reflects sunlight. These are crustose lichens and they form a kind of crust on the substrate that they grow on. The bond between a crustose lichen and its substrate is so strong that it can’t be removed without damaging the substrate.  

14. The End 

I found this on the trail and thought that I might as well get some use out of it.

If nature has taught us anything it is that the impossible is probable ~ Ilyas Kassam

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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