A Special Mondate

Our plan was to hike up Blueberry Mountain and continue on to the summit of Speckled in Evans Notch today, but as we drove toward the White Mountains I mentioned that a friend had shared a photograph of ice inside a mine near the Basin on Route 113. And so in an instant said plan changed.

b1-sign

We parked near the iconic Welcome to Beautiful Maine sign and ventured off in search of the mine. Of course, I’d forgotten where exactly it was located, so we walked about a mile on a snowmobile trail until we spied private land in front of us. That was our turn around point, but . . . me thinks we should have continued because I later learned that the mine sits between public and private property.

b2-gray birch

We didn’t mind for we knew we’d return with more accurate directions. It wasn’t the first time we’ve erred. And besides, the gray birches were beautiful.

b3-lemonade stand

After we’d covered about three miles, we headed back to the truck and drove to Stone House Road, where we parked near the trailhead for the Leach Link Trail. We could have continued toward the Stone House since for the first time ever, it was plowed, but the lane was narrow and had we met another vehicle, it would have been a challenge to back up. Besides, I love to walk the road for there’s always something to see . . . like the lemonade stand. Who knew?

b5-Pole #15

My other favorite sight along the road–telephone poles. In the past year the poles had received more attention–from black bears. Last year it seemed that any number with a 5 in it drew the most attention. Smart bears around here.

b6-pole 17 1

But it appeared that the bear(s) had added a new number to their count–#7, or in this case, #17.

b7-pole 17 2

I didn’t have my macro lens with me, but found bear hair attached to some of the scrapes. It was light colored, indicating it had bleached out in the sun.

So why telephone poles? It’s my understanding that males rub their shoulders and neck to leave a scent and may also claw and bite a pole during mating season. Bites leave nearly horizontal dots and dashes–can you see them? Think of the bear’s upper and lower canine teeth meeting. How cool is that?

Eventually, I promised my guy that I’d stop pausing to check on and photograph them, but he noted that I couldn’t resist every time we passed by one. I was just looking.

b9-Stone House Road

To my guy’s relief, we soon reached the gate, where the power line went underground.

b10-balds

Near the airfield, we turned and paused to enjoy the view of the Baldfaces, and promised ourselves a return to those trails in the late spring or summer.

b11-gorge 1

Our choice of trails today was the Stone House Trail. And no hike up is complete without a stop at Rattlesnake Gorge. First we looked north.

b11a-water racing

Ice and water, ice and water–I couldn’t get enough of the freeze and flow.

b11d-gorge 3

And then we looked south–with continued awe.

b13-pool view

We’d thought about eating lunch at the gorge, but moved on up the trail. From lunch log, where we dined on peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwiches, we took in the view of  Rattlesnake Pool.

b12-rattlesnake pool

Any time of year it’s a magical place, but on a winter day–ah . . .

b12-emerald pool

that emerald color.

b14-rocks in brook

The brook above offered its own touch of wonder.

b17-hiking up

After lunch, we continued our climb on conditions that ranged from ice to snow to bare rocks. But mostly ice and snow. Microspikes served us well.

b16-Caribou sign

At last we crossed from the Stone House property into the White Mountain National Forest as denoted by a rustic sign.

b16-arrow

All along we searched beech bark for bear sign. And found one–a very smart bear had left a sign indeed–indicating the way of the trail. We kept climbing.

b20-cairns

At last we reached the summit. It was later in the afternoon than we’d intended when our morning began because of our mine mission, and so we decided to skip Speckled Mountain, but were happy to check out the views from Blueberry. On the Lookout Loop we did get off trail for a bit as we missed a cairn buried under the snow. At that point we did a lot of post holing, sinking as we did to our knees and above. But finally we found the right trail.

b19-spruce

It’s there that the red spruces grew–their yellow green needles pointing toward the tip of the branches and dangling reddish-brown cones seeping sap.

b21-view 1

And then we found the view that stretched from Pleasant Mountain (our hometown mountain) on the left to Kearsarge on the right.

b22-Shell Pond and Pleasant Mountain

Below us, Shell Pond on the Stone House Property, showed off its conch shell shape.

b23-Kearsarge

We took one last look at the mountains and valleys under a blanket of clouds before following the loop back to the main trail and retracing our steps down.

b24-bear tracks

It was on the down that I got my guy to stop and examine a mammal track with me. I’d noticed it on the way up and he’d been ahead, but we both remembered that it was located at the point where the community switched from hardwoods to soft. Do you see the large prints? And distance between. It had been warmer yesterday and those prints looked like they’d been created then.

b18-bear print

Black bear prints! Oh my!

It was the five large toes that first drew my attention as we climbed up. Was I seeing what I thought I was seeing? The pattern of the overall track was a bit different than what I’ve seen in the past where the rear foot oversteps the front foot because in snow black bears tend to direct register like coyotes, foxes and bobcats–one foot landing on snow pre-packed by another foot.

Bears are not true hibernators and this guy or gal must have been out foraging during yesterday’s thaw.

We didn’t find any bear paw trees or see the actual bear, but we were thrilled with our telephone pole signs and the prints left behind.

Indeed, it was a beary special Mondate on Blueberry Mountain.

(Corny humor comes with teacher training)

 

 

 

B is for . . .

Our original plan was to hike to the summit of Blueberry Mountain in Evans Notch today,  following the White Cairn trail up and Stone House Trail down. But . . . so many were the cars on Stone House Road, that we decided to go with Plan B.

And so up Route 113 I drove, turning left just before crossing from New Hampshire back into Maine.

b-view from Basin

By the parking lot for The Basin, we pulled out our lunch and set up camp temporarily at a picnic table as we enjoyed the view of the manmade pond and Sugarloaf Mountain before us.

b-basin rim

The Basin is a low-elevation glacial cirque carved out of the east side of the Baldface-Royce range. Though we’ve visited the pond on numerous occasions, we’d only hiked the trails circling it once before. And as we recalled while sharing a brain in the memory department, that had been thirteen years ago when our oldest son was in seventh grade. It was a fine September day and we’d headed off to climb the Basin Trail. At first, we couldn’t find the brook crossing, so eventually we made our own. And, what we didn’t realize that day was that at the top of said trail we should have turned around and descended. Instead, in our ignorance, we’d continued on the Basin Rim Trail, assuming they were one in the same. Not so. Hours later, we practically slid down one of the Royce trails, splashed across another brook, bushwhacked to the road and followed it down as quickly as we could to our vehicle. It was late in the afternoon and we knew that our seventh grader was anxiously waiting for us . . . because it was also the very day that he could receive his school-supplied Apple computer if his parents attended an after-school meeting with him. That was pre-cell phone time in our lives and we didn’t have enough change for the one pay phone at the Stow Corner Store, which happened to be closed. We raced home, found he wasn’t there and while my guy went in search of our younger son, I zoomed to the middle school, sweaty, muddy and bloody (from a few encounters with branches and rocks), to find that my sister-in-law who teaches there had stood in as a surrogate until I arrived. Today we carried a map.

b-trail sign

And knew what Rim junction meant.

b-hobblebush1

As the north wind blew, it felt rather autumn like and added to our memory bank, while also the perfect day for a hike. And the hobblebush berries and leaves showed off their almost autumn colors.

b-trillium 1

Berries were abundant–especially upon red trillium,

b-bunchberries

bunchberry,

b-doll's eye 1

and white baneberry (doll’s eyes–can you see why?).

b-following the yellow brick road

The trail was easy at the  start, switching from roots to stones to rocks before climbing. Since we’d attended Lake Region Community Theatre‘s fine performance of The Wizard of Oz last night and the trail blazes were yellow, it felt a bit like we were following the yellow brick road.

b-hermit fall sign

At about the one-mile mark, we chose the Hermit Falls loop.

b-lower hermit falls

Water poured over the lower falls,

b-Hermit Falls

and from there we spied the upper.

b-Hermit Falls 2

Though a couple of fallen trees crossed the waterway, the view and sound were pleasing to our senses. It was at this point that our climb became steeper.

b-bear tree 1

We spend a lot of time looking down when climbing up, but because we were in a beech forest I knew I had to look–for bear claw trees. And I wasn’t disappointed.

b-bear paw 2

Even in the upper trunk we could see the marks left behind.

b-maple division

And then my guy pointed out another tree he thought I should note–it looked rather like a burl gone bad. We don’t know what happened, but the final result was rather gnarly, and still the tree continued to grow and produced leaves.

b1-boulders

Huge boulders littered the woods as we continued our climb.

b-light at the end of the tunnel

Closer to the summit, the trail followed a rather precarious shelf beside the base of a big headwall cliff–I didn’t take time to photograph it for I was focused on each step, but at last we saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

b-summit which way should we go?

Before stepping out to the viewpoint, we walked ahead to the spot where we’d erred thirteen years ago. Today it’s well marked. In fact, this junction includes five options and my guy took the time to point in each direction. Our choice: to return from whence we’d come–behind us.

b1-summit 1 (1)

At last, we turned back to take in the view from the Basin below us to Pleasant Mountain on our far right. We noted a cloud casting its shadow over Blueberry Mountain and trust we would have been blown off had we stuck with Plan A.

b-summit blue bead garden

Though we’d brought containers to pick blueberries, that wasn’t to be. But at the summit we noted a blue of a different hue, a blue-bead lily garden by our feet,

b-summit mountain ash berries

and mountain ash berries maturing above our heads.

b-velvety fairy fan fungi 1

Finally, we started down. After the initial scramble on the rocks and roots just below the summit, I once again turned my attention to the life around me and realized I’d missed this display of fungi on the way up–velvet stalked fairy fan mushrooms (Spathularia velutipes). They actually reminded me of miniature cowboy finger puppets donning oversized hats.

b-bear tree on way down

And . . . another bear claw tree–this one highlighted with a trail blaze. How sweet is that?

Follow the yellow brick road.

b-back on flat ground

At last we were back on flattish ground and made our usual mad dash out.

b1-deer hill bog 4 (1)

As we drove home, I gave my guy a choice–ice cream at the Stow Corner Store or turn onto Deer Hill Road (actually a road of many names) to the bog and then to Evergreen Valley. He said the choice was all mine and so I chose the latter. And as I knew it would because it always does, it made me want to return when I have time on my hands. I will–that is a promise to myself.

b-bull frog 1

Today’s stop included a chorus of bullfrogs–adding to my list of finds beginning with the letter B.

b-bye

As it worked out, we were glad we followed Plan B.

B is for . . . The Basin and the bog and all that we saw in between.

Thanks for stopping by.

Bye bye!

 

 

 

 

Shell Pond Speed Date

While our thoughts were (and are) with our family and friends south of us along the Eastern Seaboard as you deal with a major winter storm, my guy and I drove over to Evans Notch for a hike around Shell Pond.

SP-September

Whether you’ve traveled this way before or not–a summer photo might be just the dose you need today.

road 1

We parked near the trailhead for the Leach Link Trail because Stone House Road is never plowed beyond that point. Others had skied, walked and snowmobiled before us, but no one seemed to be snowshoeing so we left ours behind. As it turns out, that decision was fine. We dug some post holes in a few drifts, but other than that, we really didn’t need them. I did, however, use micro-spikes–and am glad because it’s a rather wet trail and we encountered lots of ice, much of it just a few inches below the snow.

Stone House gate

Thanks to the owners of the Stone House for putting much of the land under conservation easement with the Greater Lovell Land Trust and for allowing all of us to travel the trails–whether around the pond or up Blueberry Mountain and beyond.

Shell pond loop sign

Before the airfield, we turned onto the Shell Pond Loop trail. It’s blazed in yellow and easy to follow. Some trees have come down, but we got over or around them. We took care of a few today and the rest will be cleared by summer.

beaver works

Of course, some trees were intentionally harvested. We found these beaver works near the beginning of the trail where the brook opens into a small wetland.

beaver lodge 2

beaver lodge 1

On top of the lodge, you might be able to see the lighter color of fresh additions to the structure. This was the first of three.

beaver lodge 3

Lodge number 2 is toward the far side of the pond.

beaver view

But it’s lodge number 3 that I’d stay at. It’s worth a payment of a few extra saplings to get a room with that view.

pileated work

The beavers aren’t the only one making changes in the landscape. Pileated woodpeckers in search of food do some amazingly shaggy work on old snags.

trail debris

Winter debris covers much of the trail. Strong winds have brought much of this down.

yellow and hem yellow birch & hemlock

And two of the most prominent trees make themselves known among the debris. A hemlock samara beside a yellow birch fleur de lis and a hemlock needle atop a more complete fleur de lis flower of the birch.

Shell Pond 1

Shell Pond takes on an entirely different look in the winter. We could hear the ice whales singing as we ate our PB&J sandwiches and sipped hot cocoa.

mink

mink tracks 1

While we ate, we noticed a mink had bounded through previously. I’m always thankful to have David Brown’s Trackards in my pack.

cliffs 2

cliff flow

Continuing on the trail found us taking in views of the cliffs, which we don’t normally see so well once the trees leaf out.

ostrich 3 ostrich 4 ostrich fern 1

Before continuing through the orchard, I wandered closer to the brook in search of this–the fertile fronds of the ostrich fern that give it its common name because they resemble plume-like ostrich feathers. Come spring they’ll release their spores.

 airfield 2

The sun tried to poke out as we crossed the wind-blown airfield.

stone house 2

From the field, we always admire the Stone House and its setting below Blueberry Mountain.

 snowshoe 2

Walking back on the road, we spotted a classic snowshoe hare print. Most of the tracks we saw were filled in by blowing snow, but these were textbook perfect.

pole 4

And then . . .

pole attack

And then . . .

pole numbers

And then . . .

bear hair 1

And then . . .
bear hair

And then . . . on our way back down the road, I introduced my guy to the wonders of telephone poles. We found several sporting chew marks, scratches and hair. Yup . . . bear hair. Black bear. Even the shiny numbers were destroyed on one of the poles. Of course, my guy was sure someone would come along and ask what we were doing as we inspected one pole after another. I was hoping someone would come along and ask what we were doing. Bear poles. Another thing to look for as you drive down the road–think tree bark eyes, winter weed eyes and now, bear pole eyes.

bear paw

I took this photo on the Shell Pond Loop trail a year and a half ago. Oh my.

Those of you who have traveled this way with me before will be amazed to know that we finished today’s trek in just over three hours, even with the added walk down Stone House Road. Yup, not an advertised three hour tour that turns into six. Hmmm . . . Apparently it can be done–I just need to get Mr. Destinationitis to join our treks for a Shell Pond Speed Date.

Savoring the Sanctity of the Mountains

“Savor the sanctity of the mountains in these incredibly discouraging times,” said a friend on Friday. And so we did.

MW morning

The mid-morning sun highlighted Mount Washington as we passed through Fryeburg Harbor–always a breath-taking view.

trail sign

Our destination: Speckled Mountain in Evans Notch–via Blueberry Mountain.

Bricket Place

Parking is at the Brickett Place, where the Brickett family farmed, logged and produced maple syrup in the mid-1800s. Their original home was log, but they later built this house with locally-fired bricks.

Bricket place signage

The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Y

Hop Hornbeam trees are abundant in a section of the lower trail. My guy saw slingshots in the unusual growth of these two, but I saw Ys. Why? Why? Paris? Syria? Around the globe?

B slides upper

About .7 of a mile from the trailhead, we paused at Bickford Slides–one of the many places for contemplation along the way.

B slides 2

While the upper slides are calm at the trail crossing, the brook funneled below us into a narrow chute, where the water’s fast movement has carved a channel in time.

granite, glacier

Later, on the Blueberry Ridge trail, I saw this pattern in the granite and thought of how the glaciers that covered our northern states scoured the land as they receded.    The land tells the story–I just need to learn how to read it.

climbng up Blueberry

We usually hike down the Blueberry Ridge Trail because it offers magnificent mountain views, but I was thankful that we switched things up today. A different perspective was welcome.

rime ice

I found myself paying attention to each step upward, mindful of leaves and rocks and water and ice. Because of this, I spent a lot of time staring at the ground. There’s plenty to appreciate at this level, like the crystals of needle ice that form within the earth.

ice 1

We left our crampons at home, but in the future, we need to add them to the pack.

ice 4

As dangerous as it is to walk on, I’m fascinated by the dramatic formations that change with the moment–forever fluid.

wintergreen

Other things worth noting–wintergreen leaves taking on their winter hue;

sheep laurel 1

Sheep laurel leaves protecting its spherical fruit;

reindeer lichen

and a variety of reindeer lichens awaiting a visit from the red-nosed, sled-pulling residents of the North Pole.

MW from Blueberry Ridge

After pausing on Blueberry Mountain, we continued up the ridge, remembering to turn back frequently and take in the view,

Shell Pond and PM

including Shell Pond below and Pleasant Mountain in the background. My guy pointed out that Shell Pond really does look like a conch shell from here.

Kezar Lake

Our view also included the islands on the northern end of Kezar Lake in Lovell.

lunch rock

We chose the largest rock we could find for today’s lunch spot. Lunch? The usual–PB&J, followed by brownies,

looking back

and topped off with another spectacular view.

squirrel lunch rock 2

We weren’t the only ones choosing a rock for lunch. This squirrel prefers the top rock on the cairn.

spruce scales

Red Spruce scales and cobs line much of the trail.

squirrel cache

And we found a few caches–a sign of things to come.

nd 4

The higher we hiked, the more natural devastation we encountered. Gazing upon it brought me back to today’s reality. Blow downs, galls, fungi, animal interactions with the landscape–it’s constantly in flux. Then there’s the human factor–we leave our imprint in ways we can’t even imagine. But . . . across our nation and around the globe?

ice on Speckled Trail

We encountered more ice on the climb to the summit of Speckled Mountain.

summit wind

The wind was blowing when we reached the summit, where a fire tower once stood.

summit view miles of mountains

The stanchions are all that remain of this former lookout site.

summit, MW in clouds

It was getting late, so we didn’t stay long,

summit, MW,

just long enough to notice that Mount Washington was disappearing into the clouds.

sphagnum and snow 2

We followed the old jeep trail that is the Bickford Brook Trail, on the way down. Rather than ice, we found snowflakes among the sphagnum moss.

hidden rocks

Once we got below the spruce-fir forest, the beech and oak leaves obscured the rocks, making it almost more difficult than the upward climb.

beech sign

I couldn’t spend as much time as I wanted scanning the beech trees for bear claw marks because I was paying attention to my foot placement, but I did pause by this tree that has served as a sign post for many years.

1976

1976–a very good year. I happen to be a member of the Bicentennial Class of North Branford Senior High School. Go Thunderbirds!

Eight plus miles and five and a half hours later, we’d completed the loop as the sun   lowered behind the mountains.

hobblebush, global prayer

My hope is that these hobblebush buds encircle the world in prayer so that all may savor the sanctity that we find in the mountains.