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Posts Tagged ‘Winter Climbing’

New year’s day dawned sunny but cool, with a promise of warmer temperature later in the day. Since rain had washed all the snow away I though it might be a good opportunity for a winter climb, so I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. At about 11:00 am the trail across the field was still white with frost and hard to miss.

In the shade the previous night’s frost still clung to the plants.

And there was ice. I had my micro spikes with me but I hadn’t yet put them on because I had a feeling things might be different in the forest.

Some kind soul had built a boardwalk of halved logs over a wet spot. This wet area wasn’t here when I first came here but it seems to have grown over the years. I wonder if foot traffic had something to do with that.

Pretty brocade moss (Hypnum imponens) decorated many logs near the wet area. I often have trouble finding this moss when I do a moss post but apparently that’s only because I’ve been looking in the wrong places.

As I suspected the forest was clear of ice and snow. The snow on the trail had been washed away by rain before people could walk on it and pack it into ice, so we were back to bare ground.

I’ve always thought that the weight of snow was what flattened evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) down to the ground but according to an interesting article in Northern Woodlands Magazine science has found that  some cells in their lower stems die, forming a ‘hinge’ which allows the fern fronds to sprawl on the ground. What they gain by doing so is the warmer ground surface, which may keep them up to 18 degrees warmer than if they remained standing upright.

If you look at the leaflets on a Christmas fern you’ll see that each one looks like a Christmas stocking, each with a “toe.” This and their leathery look and feel make them very easy to identify. The name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations. Native Americans used them to treat chest ailments like pneumonia and to relieve flu symptoms.

Concentric boulder lichen (Porpidia crustulata) gets its name from the way its black apothecia grow in concentric (or nearly so) rings around their center. The gray body of the lichen forms a crust on stone and that makes it a crustose lichen. They grow in sun or shade and don’t ever seem to change color. This lichen is relatively rare here and I only see them once in a blue moon but here they were; four or five of them grew on a boulder I’ve walked by a hundred times.  As I’ve said before; I’m as amazed by what I miss as what I see.

There are lots of bent trees in this forest and I’d guess they got that way by having other trees fall on them when they were young.

The soil was crunching when I walked on it in places and I knew what that meant…

…Ice needles. Ice needles form when hydrostatic pressure forces groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each hair thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos, frozen together into ribbons, were about 3-4 inches long I’d guess. 

There were lots of ice needles along the trail but many had been stepped on, probably by people who heard the crunching but never saw them.

A young tree root grew over a stone and lashed it down.

I stopped to admire the grain patterns on a hollow log. Wood like this is very beautiful in my opinion and I’m seeing more of it everywhere I go.

I saw several stilted trees on this day. Stilted trees grow from seeds that fall on a rotted log or stump and grow their roots around the stump or log. Once whatever it grew on rots away what is left is a tree that looks like it’s standing on stilts. Or about to run away.

And before I knew it there was Tippin Rock, the 40 ton glacial erratic that rocks like a baby cradle if you push in the right spot. Every time I think about all the things that had to happen for this boulder to be here on the summit my mind gets boggled. How thick can a glacier be, I always wonder.

Tippin Rock has a crack but I don’t think it goes all the way through. If it is rocked much more it might though. I’ve seen photos from the early 1900s of people standing by it so I’m guessing it has been rocked for quite a long time.

This was not a day for views, and that was okay. I had forgotten that the sun points right at you up here at this time of day. What looks like brush in the foreground in this shot is actually the uppermost branches of a mature oak tree.

Instead of looking out into the sun I looked down. As always I was fascinated at being so high above the tree tops, and I wasn’t surprised to find that my fear of heights was still healthy and strong.

Of course I had to say hello to my friends the toadskin lichens. Water dripped down the stones and fell on some of them and that meant they were their “normal” pea green color. They will not die without moisture but what you see here is what I think of as their happy state.

Many of them were dry and ash gray. Lichens are very patient beings and they will stay in this state waiting for rain for as long as it takes.

This one was drying out and was partly gray, and if you compare it to the one we saw two photos ago you can see how the shine has gone out of it. The tiny black dots are this lichen’s spore producing apothecia. Toadskin lichens attach to the rock at a single point that looks sort of like a belly button, and this makes them umbilicate lichens. It was once thought that they were a combination of fungus and algae, but science has learned that they are actually composite beings made up of several different organisms.

I hiked over to the ledges and marveled at the silence of the day. Not a bird call, not a breeze, not a chipmunk, no falling ice or water, nothing. But then while I was taking this photo I heard behind me and down below in the forest the loud crash of a tree falling. This was only the second time I’ve heard a tree fall without seeing it, but it’s a sound you can’t mistake for anything else. It always reminds me of the question “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody there to hear it, will it still make a sound?”

I looked down again thinking I might see that fallen tree, and wished I hadn’t. That’s quite a drop.

After the butterflies had flown from my stomach I headed back down the hill and found a lady and her dog who were lost. She walked a lot faster than I do and had passed me a couple times at different spots, and was now coming back up the main trail looking for the side trail that would lead her out of the woods. I pointed her in the right direction and told her which tree and stumps to watch for. I didn’t see her again so I assume she made it home safely. I’ve been lost in the woods just once and I can say  that I’d rather have just about anything else happen, so I think I know how she felt.

If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.  ~Richard Jefferies

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I couldn’t remember the last time I had climbed a hill or mountain so last Sunday I decided it was time. I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey, for no particular reason other than that’s where the 40 ton glacial erratic called Tippin Rock lives. I set off across the meadow in wall to wall sunshine and a 46 degree temperature. This was no thaw, this was spring, and I was glad that I had worn a short sleeve shirt and a light jacket.

There is at least one basswood tree here and someday I’m going to find it. They aren’t common in this area in my experience.

The trail starts off level enough but it isn’t long before you’re climbing.

Someone lost a glove and someone else hung it on a tree.

There are lots of black birch here. I keep running into black birches (Betula lenta) with what appears to be a deformity in their buds. I wouldn’t call it witches broom but the buds grow in a tightly packed cluster which isn’t normal, judging by the other buds on the trees. I haven’t been able to find out anything about it from any source, so if you happen to know I’d love to hear from you.

Oak leaves have been falling, and that’s a good sign of spring. The trees will make new leaves as they shed the old.

This trail is well blazed. Blazes are important because they keep people from getting lost out here. A trail is easy to follow at this time of year because you just follow the footprints in the snow, but in the fall when the trail is under a fresh coating of leaves it can disappear quickly for those who don’t know how to read the woods. The meaning of various blazes and how to read them is easily found online. This one means there is a right turn ahead. On a single out and back trail like this one blaze color has no real meaning.

The old way, a hatchet blaze, simply tells you that you’re on a trail.

I saw lots of freshly fallen trees out here; more than I’ve seen anywhere else. There must have been quite a wind storm come through here.

But there are plenty of hemlock seedlings waiting to fill in the gaps. Life is a circle.

There were icicles on the ledges. They weren’t that impressive at about three feet long but it shows how cold it has been up here.

I think the outcrop the ice was on was more impressive. It’s quite long.

I had reached the steepest part of the trail without any breathing issues, for which I was very grateful. I was also grateful that there was no ice on the trail. I did stop here to catch my breath and thought about how nice it was to be climbing through the winter woods again. Climbing is easy to get addicted to. The more you climb the more you want to climb and when you can’t you miss it. It calls to you, and it won’t stop calling until you climb again.

I noticed that captain obvious had put up new signs.

I call this mysterious person captain obvious because the sign in the previous photo is only a few feet from the behemoth called Tippin Rock. You couldn’t miss it if you were blind, so the sign is kind of useless. But how amazing that such a thing was dropped by a glacier onto this hilltop. Even more amazing is how it will rock slowly back and forth like a baby cradle when pushed in the right spot. Even after seeing it myself it’s hard to believe.

Some of the oldest striped maple trees (Acer pensylvanicum) I’ve seen grow up here. This one was probably 6-8 inches through, which seems big for them if I’m to go by the ones I’ve seen.

I learned a long time ago that if you climb solely for the view you’ll be disappointed most of the time. On this day it was hazy but not too bad. I like a good view as much as the next person but I never count on there being one because it doesn’t take much haze or humidity in the air to spoil them.

This view shows the haze in the distance. There was actually a warm breeze blowing and the snow had melted from the leaf covering in several spots so I sat, warm and dry, and looked out over the endless forest.

You can’t help but wonder, after seeing miles of unbroken forest from above, how the early settlers ever did what they did. I always wonder if I could have gone on after seeing this, or would I have turned back? There was nothing familiar out there, after all. No stores, no roads, no houses, nothing. It would have almost been as if they had landed on another planet. Personally I would have loved the emptiness and the solitude but you have to eat and you need shelter, so I’d guess that staying alive would have taken up almost all their time.

It’s a long way down from here so you want to watch your step. I always check to see how near the edge I am before I bring the camera to my eye. Once I’m looking through the viewfinder, I don’t move a step. Heights and I don’t get along well but up here you don’t know how high you are until you look down. Then you get the heebie jeebies.

Of course I couldn’t come all the way up here without checking on my little friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulose.) This one seemed to whisper “Hey, look at me,” so I did and I saw how very different it was. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen that was brown. Usually they’re pea green when moist or ash gray when dry. You can see a hint of that gray in this one’s center. You can also see the point where it has attached itself to the rock in its center. It’s like a belly button and that’s what makes them umbilicate lichens. The many “warts” are what give it its common name.

When dry the toadskin lichens usually turn from their normal pea green color to the ashy gray seen here. They also become very brittle, like a potato chip. All those black dots are this lichen’s fruiting bodies, where it’s spores are produced. I’ve noticed that they often seem to form where the lichen stays wettest longer after a rain.  

The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecium) could easily hide behind one. The apothecium is where the lichen’s spores are produced. In this case it is tiny black disc with a sunken center that makes it look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This isn’t a great photo but it’s only the second time I’ve ever been able to get this close to this lichen‘s apothecia and it’s a pretty fair bet that you’re seeing something you’ve never seen.

Here is what a normal, healthy and happy toadskin lichen looks like, and this one looked like this because an icicle was dripping meltwater on it. It was about as big as a quarter and cute as a button.

I got back to my car and saw that a horse had been there. Horseshoes are supposed to be lucky but I’m not sure about a horseshoe print. I did feel lucky though, having gotten up and down the hill without any issues. The temperature even went up 8 degrees and it was a beautiful day, up or down. I’m already itching to climb again.

Perhaps there’s no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it’s a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal. All you have to do is take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, and refuse to turn back until you’ve given everything you have. ~Ken Ilgunas

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1-sign

I’ve been itching to make a climb for a while now, but ice and deep snow have made forest travel very difficult. Many of the parking spots aren’t plowed in winter so even if you can find a good place to climb there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to park anywhere near it. My solution to the problem was Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard, which always gets plowed and is usually an easy, gentle climb.

2-trail-start

One look at the trail told me this would probably not be an easy, gentle climb. There was a good foot of snow on the trail and it wasn’t as hard packed as I had hoped.

3-trail

It wasn’t as bad as ice but it was quite warm so the snow was wet, slushy and slippery. If you stepped off the hard packed part of the trail you found yourself up to your knees in wet snow. I could see that some had worn snowshoes and others had worn spikes, but I wore hiking boots.

4-wood-chips

Woodchips on the snow usually mean one thing when the bears are sleeping; pileated woodpeckers have been busy.

5-woodpecker-tree

They did a real job on this dead birch. It had been shredded and almost cut in half.

6-downed-tree

Up ahead a tree had fallen across the trail. This was a good opportunity to stop and catch my breath.

7-rosy-saucer-lichen

I always like to look to see what was growing in the top of a newly fallen tree. This one was covered with what I think were rim lichens (Lecanora epibryon.) There are many different rim lichens and I think most of them have brownish fruiting bodies (Apothecia.)

8-maple-buds-2

Its buds told me that the fallen tree was a red maple (Acer rubrum.)

9-monadnock-2

After climbing over the fallen maple I slogged on to the Mount Monadnock viewing spot and had another rest. The mountain lies almost directly south of Pitcher Mountain and the bright afternoon sun coming at the camera made this a difficult shot.

10-meadow

I always stop to see the edge of the meadow rising up into the sky. It’s impossible to explain how such an empty place makes me feel but after being in the woods for most of my life such a view is foreign enough to almost make it seem like I’m on another planet. It’s a pleasurable experience that’s always hard to turn away from. French sociologist, social psychologist and philosopher Emile Durkheim once said: “One cannot long remain so absorbed in contemplation of emptiness without being increasingly attracted to it.” I think he was right.

11-meadow

Though I’ve seen photos of Scottish highland cattle in this meadow I’ve never seen the real thing. They’re not common here so I’d like to see them in person someday.

12-cabin

The old fire warden’s cabin looks like it’ll make it through another winter. It’s too bad a use can’t be found for it, it has been empty and unused for years. The cabin marks the steepest part of the climb so I sat on the porch for a bit to catch my breath. It looked like a few others had the same idea. Climbing in this kind of snow was hard work.

13-fire-tower

The fire tower marks the summit. They let people go up in it when it’s manned but I haven’t seen anyone in it since last summer. This is actually the second tower on this mountain. In April of 1940 the first wooden fire tower built in 1915 burned in a fire that destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the fire tower and all of the trees on the summit. It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history but it left the Summit of Pitcher Mountain with a full 360 degree view. That and the wild blueberries that grow here make it a popular spot.

14-turnbuckle

The fire tower is pinned to the bedrock for good reason; it was windier here on this day than I’ve ever seen it and there were two or three gusts that I seriously thought would blow me over. At least it wasn’t cold, but I still didn’t stay long.

15-winmills

To the north of Pitcher Mountain 12 wind turbines stretch over several ridgelines in Lempster. These examples are part of the first windfarm in New Hampshire. They looked to be spinning quickly on this day.

16-ski-area

I think this might be Mount Ascutney ski resort in Vermont to the northwest. Chances are it was doing a brisk business on such a warm day.

17-mount-kearsarge

I think this is Mount Kearsarge in Wilmot, New Hampshire to the northeast. It’s a very pretty mountain.

18-near-hill

I call this hill the near hill. After looking at several maps I still haven’t found its name, so it might not have one. It looks very close but it would be quite a hike to get to the top of it from here.

19-common-gold-speck-lichens

Common gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) grows all over the exposed bedrock up here. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used in Sweden to dye wool yellow. It must have been difficult scraping it off the rocks that it grew on and I would imagine that yellow wool in Sweden was very expensive then.

20-common-gold-speck-lichens

Common goldspeck lichen is a crustose lichen that seems very granular when you get a close look at it. It seems to do very well here; I’m sure that it must get plenty of sunshine.

21-scattered-rock-posy

I’ve seen plenty of scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) but never one with a spore producing apothecium in the shape of a heart. These lichens are very small so I didn’t see this myself until I saw the photo. Scattered rock posy is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) I always find them growing on stone in full sun. This is a lichen that never seems to stop producing spores; its orange pad like apothecia are always there.

22-mountain-ash-bud
I’ve probably walked by this mountain ash tree 50 times but never noticed it, and that’s why I follow the same trails again and again. You just can’t see everything in one or two visits. It was a tough slog going up and coming down the mountain in the wet snow but I’m glad I did it and glad I didn’t miss these large beet colored buds.

We don’t stop hiking because we grow old – we grow old because we stop hiking. ~ Finis Mitchell

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