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Posts Tagged ‘Mount Caesar Swanzey NH’

We had a day with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and low heat and humidity so I thought I’d take advantage of such a fine day by climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. The mountain it is said, is named after a freed slave named Caesar Freeman and he is supposed to be buried somewhere on it, but nobody really seems to be able to verify any of the tale. One thing about the mountain is certain; Native Americans used it for a lookout and in the mid-1700s they burned Swanzey to the ground, house by house and mill by mill. The climb to the top starts on a path of solid granite bedrock, as is seen in the photo.

One of my favorite things to see on Mount Caesar is this river of reindeer lichen. Since there are no reindeer or other animals to eat the lichens they thrive here. But they are fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades for drifts like the one pictured to reappear. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

Just before you enter the forest there is a meadow teeming with wildflowers. On this day most of what was blooming were pale spike lobelias (Lobelia spicata,) which get their common name from the small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, but most are pale.

Sometimes if you look carefully you can find dark blue pale spike lobelias, as this one was. These flowers are small; hardly bigger than a standard aspirin. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma, but it has to be used with great care because too much of it can kill.

Stone walls will follow you almost all the way to the summit of Mount Caesar and remind hikers that this land was once completely cleared of trees. I’d guess that sheep once grazed on the mountain’s flanks, as was true of most of the hills in the area. The walls most likely date from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Not old enough to be covered by moss yet but there certainly are plenty of lichens on them. The yellow ones seen in the photo are sulfur dust lichens (Chrysothrix chlorina). This lichen doesn’t like to be rained on so it is usually found hiding under some type of overhang.

I saw many mushrooms on this climb, among them yellow chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius.) I’m not a real mushroom aficionado but I know this edible mushroom is considered choice. I don’t see many but when I do it’s usually about this time of year or a little earlier, and I always see them growing right alongside trails. It is believed by some that the compacted earth of the trail or road may cause the chanterelle mycelium to react by fruiting.

Another mushroom I saw in great abundance was yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) and it is not a choice edible fungus, in fact it is poisonous and should never be eaten. This mushroom is identified by the chrome yellow “warts” on the cap, which are easily brushed off. It prefers growing in hemlock forests, so it is right at home here. It is said to be one of the most common and widespread species of Amanita in eastern North America. It faintly resembles yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) but that mushroom has white warts on its cap.

I’ve seen people go up to the summit and then back down again in the time it took me to reach the half way point but this isn’t a race and I dawdle and wander, looking at this and that all the way up and down the mountain. A 45 minute climb with me can easily take half a day, and that’s why I almost always hike alone. To see the kinds of things that I see you absolutely must walk slowly and from what I’ve seen most people simply aren’t able to do it. Unfortunately most people I’ve seen and spoken with in places like this seem to feel that the end of the trail is far more important than what can be seen along it and race through it. If only they knew that they were missing all of the best that nature has to offer.

Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens,) bloomed all along the trail. This native wintergreen is in the same family as the blueberry and its flowers show that. Teaberry is also known as checkerberry or American wintergreen and by fall its flowers will have turned into small red berries that taste minty, like Teaberry chewing gum. Many animals, from foxes to chipmunks, and birds including grouse and pheasant rely on the berries to help them get through the winter. Wintergreen oil has been used medicinally for centuries, and the leaves make an excellent, soothing tea. The plant’s fragrance is unmistakable and its oil is used in toothpaste, mouthwash, pain relievers, and many other products.

Before too long the approach to the summit appears as granite bedrock, and that’s when you realize that this mountain is just a huge piece of solid granite with a few inches of soil covering it. I’ve seen several trees that have blown over and their roots were very shallow. They have to be because they can’t penetrate the granite.

I like a few clouds in the sky to give it some interest. A year or two ago we had an entire summer of blue skies with not a cloud to be seen, and it was quite boring if you wanted landscape photos. I like the way the shadows of the clouds pass over the land. It’s something I’ve watched and enjoyed since I was a boy.

The view was hazy in some directions but I usually spend time marveling at how vast this forest really is, so I don’t mind a little haze.

Mount Monadnock could be seen through the haze off to the east but it wasn’t a day for mountain portraits.

You need to watch where you step when you’re taking photos of the mountain because you have to get close to the edge of the cliff if you want the best shot. This is one time when it isn’t wise to step outside of yourself and become totally absorbed by what you see before you. It’s a long way down and for someone who doesn’t like heights it’s a stomach knotter, and I tread very mindfully up here.

I was surprised to see so many old friends up here, like this bristly sarsaparilla. It made me wonder if it has just moved in or if I have been negligent and ignored it on previous climbs. It obviously likes it up here; it was blooming well. It normally grows in dry, sandy soil at road edges and waste areas. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter.

Each tiny bristly sarsaparilla flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job and it looked like they were hard at it. I’m not sure what this insect’s name is but it was very small. The entire flower head of the plant in the previous photo is barely bigger than a ping pong ball.

Blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) also grew on the summit. It seems like I’m seeing this little beauty everywhere I go this summer and it makes me wonder if it doesn’t like a lot of rain like we’ve had this year, even though it grows in sandy waste areas.

Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) was a real surprise because it usually grows in wooded areas instead of out in the open.  It has wide leaves and smallish flowers that grow from the leaf axils and at the terminal end of its zigzagging stem.  Zigzag goldenrod grows in the shade and prefers moist soil, so this seems like an odd place to have found it. It grew beside a large stone so maybe the stone keeps it shaded for part of the day.

We had torrential rains the day before I made this climb so I thought my little friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) would be happy, but most of them weren’t. I don’t know if they just dried out that quickly or if overhanging tree branches kept the rain off them. They grow in just about full sun so I suppose they could have simply dried out. The example in the above photo was close to what I expected but it still wasn’t that deep, pea green color and I could tell that it was drying out. When at their best these lichens are very pliable and feel like an ear lobe, but when dry they feel crisp like a potato chip. This one was somewhere in between.

This one was ashy gray and very dry. You can see the broken edges top and bottom where it has snapped like a brittle chip. I have to say that, though I doubt the lichens enjoy being in such a state, I think they’re at their most beautiful when they look like this. I wish I could see them every day so I could witness all of their changes but I’ve seen them only on the summits, so if you want to visit with them you have to work for the privilege.

To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits. Sir Francis Younghusband

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1. Trail Start

July ended much as we’d expect it to; sunny and hot. But after a month or more of hot rainless days everyone, especially farmers, is hoping for rain. The weather people said that rain showers would pass through last Friday night and we did get a little, so on Saturday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I was hoping that a few showers might help some mushrooms grow because it was about this time last year that I saw a beautiful violet coral fungus, easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in nature. The above photo shows the start of the trail between two dry stone walls. If I was a farmer in the 1700s and I wanted my cows to follow a certain path I would have built walls on either side of it too.

2. Hole Under Wall

There was a hole dug recently under one of the walls. It looked plenty big enough for a family of bobcats but I didn’t see any signs of activity.

3. Meadow

There is a meadow here, made when the town decided to clear cut a large swath of forest. I find many wildflowers here that I don’t see anywhere else, like slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) and Canada St. Johnswort (Hypericum canadense.) Two different native lobelias grow here as well, pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) and Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) This spot has seen full sun and 90 degree F weather for quite a while now, and only the toughest can take it.

4. Lobelia Blossom

I keep trying to explain in words how small some of the flowers are that appear in these posts but a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took a photo of a lobelia flower sitting on a penny. It is from an Indian tobacco plant, which is one that appeared in my last post. A penny is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.

5. Trail

As much as I’d like to I can’t stay in the meadow all day, so up we go.

6. Fairy Stools

There will be stops along the way so I can catch my breath and admire things like these fairy stool mushrooms (Coltricia cinnamomea.) They are very tough, leathery little things that seem to have shrugged off the lack of rain. I like their concentric rings. Their cap is usually very flat and with their central stems they remind me of tiny café tables.

7. Sapsucker Holes

Bark full of tell-tale holes from a yellow bellied sapsucker were about all that was left of a birch log. Many other birds, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.

8. Unknown Fungi

A cluster of young fungi grew on the birch log. I’m not sure of their name but I was surprised to see them. It’s been dry enough to make mushrooms a rare thing this year.

9. Starflower Seed Pod

The starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have gone to seed and this tiny seed pod was just opening, as you can see by the hole at the top. These chalky white seedpods are so small that this one would have fit inside the lobelia flower that we saw earlier with room to spare. I like how they look like miniature soccer balls.

10. Pixie Cups and British Soldier

Other small things along the way were these red British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing with some trumpet like pixie cups (Cladonia pyxidata). Lichens like water so I was surprised to see that these examples looked so fresh.

11. Trail Top

The trail at the bottom of Mount Caesar starts out as bedrock and that’s also how it ends. This mountain is really just a huge mound of solid granite with a thin coating of soil covering it.

12. View

The views were what I expected them to be; hazy on such a hot, humid day.  I had hoped there would be a cooling breeze up here but hardly a leaf stirred. Not only that but the lack of shade made it feel even hotter than it did down below.

13. Earthworks

Off in the distance on another hill I saw a large sand pit that I’ve never noticed before. Swanzey is built on sand and gravel and digging it up to use elsewhere is thriving business. Surely an operation as big as this one has been there for a while, but I’ve never seen it.

14. Monadnock

Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey could be seen through the haze. At 3, 165 feet its summit rises another 2,203 feet higher than where I was standing. It was much too hot to even think about climbing that one but I’d bet that there was a cool breeze up there.

15. Rocking Stone

Everyone in this area has heard of Tippin rock, the forty ton glacial erratic that sits on the top of Hewe’s hill one mile to the south, but I doubt many have heard of the rocking stone that sits on the top of Mount Caesar. I’ve seen this big stone many times but hadn’t really paid much attention to it until a friend sent me a photo from 1895 with a caption calling it the rocking stone. It’s probably about a quarter the size of tippin rock but I didn’t try to rock it.

16. Mount Caesar

I was surprised to see a building along with the stone in the old photo with a caption calling it “the pavilion.” I wonder how many teams of horses or oxen were needed to get all that lumber to the summit, and I also wonder why a building was even needed up there. It looked old in 1895 so it must have been there a while. There was no air conditioning then so maybe people climbed to the summit hoping to find relief from the heat by sitting in the shade of the pavilion.  Maybe they had picnics up there; picnics were popular then. Or maybe they were tired of getting caught in thunderstorms and built a shelter, I don’t really know. I don’t even know who “they” would have been. I wandered all over the summit, using the shape of the stone as a guide, but I couldn’t find a trace of the building. Not a board, not a nail, nothing. Time has erased it completely.

17. Blueberries

I’m sure that people must have climbed these hills to pick the blueberries in 1895 as they still do, but I hope they had better luck than I did. It’s so dry up here this year they’re turning into hard, withered stones.

18. Toadskin

I couldn’t leave without a visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) Their gray color told how dry and potato chip crisp they were but lichens are nothing if not patient, and they will sit here for eons if need be, waiting for rain. Some show an entire solar system on their faces and how fitting that is.; lichens have been flown into space and have survived more than two weeks in the void, leading many to believe that they are immortal.

19. Toadskin close

Toadskin lichens have warts called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. The black dots are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) which are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just take the time to look a little closer.

20. Fan Clubmoss

 I never did find the beautiful violet coral fungus that I hoped to see but I saw many other things that made this climb worthwhile, including this fan club moss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) that grew into double hearts.

May your dreams be larger than mountains, and may you have the courage to scale their summits. ~Harley King

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Riendeer Lichen

I haven’t had time to do much climbing over the last few months so I thought I’d make up for the lapse by climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. It’s one of my favorite climbs because there is so much to see there, like this drift of reindeer lichen that looks like a snowy path through the woods even in August.

2. Trail

The uphill climb isn’t steep but it’s steady. Recent logging operations here haven’t helped the trail any, but at least it wasn’t muddy.

3. Bedrock

In some places the granite bedrock is exposed. I like the patterns of minerals in it.

4. Starflower

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have gone to seed but the tiny white seed pods haven’t opened yet.

5. Starflower Seed Pod

Starflower seed pods look like tiny soccer balls and can be tough to get a good photo of. Putting a penny on a stump to use as a background helped.

6. Cicada

I found a dead cicada on the trail and put him on a stump for a better photo too. I never knew they were so blue.

7. Downy Rattlesnake Plantains

As if to illustrate how you can hike the same trail a hundred times and still not see all there is to see, I found downy rattlesnake plantain orchids growing right beside the trail. I can’t believe that I’ve walked right by them all these years without seeing them.

8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Flowers

This orchid’s flowers are very small and hard to photograph, so I went back with a piece of black artists foam core board and got this shot so you could see what they look like. They look a lot like the flowers of the checkered rattlesnake plantain that I showed in another recent post and indeed the two plants are thought to cross pollinate naturally. I don’t know what made them appear so sparkly in this photo.

9. Acorns

Acorns were falling all around me but the real surprise was hearing a large tree fall off in the woods. I couldn’t see it and was glad I wasn’t anywhere near it because it made a tremendous crashing sound when it fell. That’s a rare experience for me.

10. Fairy Stool

Cinnamon fairy stools (Coltricia cinnamomea) grew here and there all along the trail. They get their common name from the concentric bands of cinnamon brown coloring on their inch diameter caps. They are a tough, leathery polypore which, if picked when fresh, will hold their color and shape for a long time.

11. Coral fungus

My Mushroom books don’t say much about club shaped fungi but I think this might be Clavaria ornatipes. This fungus is described as spatula or club shaped and greyish to pinkish gray. It grew directly out of the ground.

12. Coral fungus

The reason club and coral fungi grow the way they do is to get their spores, which grow on their tips, up above the soil surface so the wind can disperse them. This example is another of the Clavaria club fungi I think, but I haven’t been able to identify it.

13. View

There are good views to the south from the top of Mount Caesar though on this day it seemed just a bit hazy.

14. Swanzey LakeIt was a very hot and humid day with temperatures approaching 90 degrees and I found myself wishing I was swimming at Swanzey Lake rather than sitting up here in full sun.

15. Monadnock

I couldn’t leave without looking across the hills to Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It’s the highest mountain in these parts and is also the second most climbed mountain in the world, and on a day like this there were probably hundreds of people on it.

16. Toadskin Lichen

My friends the toad skin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) were very dry and ashy gray for the most part, but I did find a moist green one here and there. I’ve only seen these lichens growing on the very tops of hills so visiting them comes with a price. They’re beautiful and rarely seen though, so it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

18. Looper Moth

I never would have seen this moth if it hadn’t flown in front of me to land on a tree trunk. Even though I knew where it had landed I had a hard time finding it, so perfect was its camouflage.  I think it might be a looper moth in the family Noctuidae. There are many, including some familiar ones like the cabbage looper and the golden looper. They all seem to be experts in camouflage, just as this one was.

19. Violet Coral Fungus aka Clavaria zollingeri

Easily the most beautiful thing I saw on this day was this violet coral fungus (Clavaria zollingeri.) My daughter had climbed here the day before and told me that she had seen it but this is a big mountain and I had little hope of finding it. Her directions were perfect though and there it was; the most beautiful coral fungus that I’ve ever seen. I knelt before it to admire its beauty and forgot the heat, the mosquitoes, and even myself for a while.

The events of the past day have proven to me that I am wholly alive, and that no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. ~Anonymous mountain climber

Thanks for coming by.

 

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