The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode five

I’m not sure how it happened, but when we arrived at Route 113 in Fryeburg to pick up our clue we realized we were the first contestants for this episode of The Amazing Race–Our Style.

Consequently, we had a quick decision to make–the main clue referred to the Baldfaces and we recognized the fact that that entailed a challenging climb. Though my cast has morphed into a smelly splint [envision sliced cast up one side and then add two wide strips of velcro], I was relieved that we could take advantage of the Fast Forward clue that mentioned shingles in a white forest.

s1-trail sign

We checked the map and located a trailhead for Shingle Pond only a few miles away. BINGO.

s2-heading into the woods

The trail begins along Forest Road 317, but a few curves later heads into the nitty gritty of the White Mountain National Forest.

s8-locating the trail

Toward the beginning we could hear the buzz of logging machinery in the distance, but it wasn’t all that loud and certainly didn’t drown out the not-so-sweet buzzing of the local mosquitoes. Our first real challenge, for one can hardly count those flying buzzers and stingers as an obstacle, but more a way of life, came in the form of staying on the trail. It was blazed yellow, but occasionally we had to slow ourselves and our minds, and look around for some clues. There was only one cairn, which was fine with us, but after that spot we spent several minutes of valuable time looking for yellow in every direction . . . to no avail. Finally, however, my eyes cued in on what appeared to be a worn path between some trees to our right and my guy passed through some muck and logging slash to discover that indeed we had found it. That happened more than once, but each time we paused, scouted and eventually made the right decision. They didn’t promise us easy when we signed on for our own version of the reality show.

s11-crossing Weeks Brook

The path took us across Weeks Brook for which the trail had been named and it was there that we noted a trillion trilliums–all past their prime.

s9-patch cut

Through hemlock groves and mixed forests we hiked, occasionally passing by patches of clearcuts. Our next challenge was to determine the benefits of such habitat. The answer seemed obvious for so much was the bird song–from those I recognized like Ovenbirds, Veerys, and Hermit Thrushes to warblers that we could hear but not see. If we hadn’t been racing against the clock it would have been fun to try to figure out some of the song makers.

s10-browse

We also noted plenty of signs, such as browsed tree buds, that told us moose and deer had foraged in those areas.

s5-wood sorrel

Challenge number 3 required that we locate a few plants and note whether they were edible or not. Wood Sorrel was easy–and most welcome on this sultry day for its a thirst quencher.

s6--Indian Cucumber Root

Indian Cucumber Root was another enticing edible and it grew abundantly in the forest. As pleasing as the flower is above its second tier, it’s not their fruits that appealed to us, but rather the small white rhizomes buried in the ground which offered a cool and crisp cucumbery taste. Even my guy can attest to that.

s7-wild calla

The one herb we didn’t taste test was the Wild Calla or Bog Arum. It’s known to cause severe irritation of the mouth and throat if consumed. We left it be.

s12-lady's slippers

We did find one other plant that we wouldn’t think of eating, but always revere–Pink Lady’s Slippers, in this case a matching pair.

s13-prince charming

And not far beyond–Prince Charming himself. Even his eyes were surrounded by a ring of gold.

s14-Shingle Pond

At last we reached the two-acre Shingle Pond. Though we wanted to be greeted by a moose in the water, we were pleased with all that we saw and heard, including bull, green and tree frogs.

s15-Kearsarge Fire Tower

Though we were two miles and lots of ledges below the summit of Kearsarge North, as we ate our PB&J sandwiches created by my guy, the sight of the historic fire tower evoked lots of memories and got us dreaming about our next opportunity to sign the guest notebook.

s17-crimson-ringed whiteface dragonfly

Our task at the pond was to bushwhack around its perimeter and note some of the species who called this mountain pond home. Probably my favorite discovery was the Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly.

s17b-crimson-ringed whiteface

Over and over again we saw it, that bright red body standing out in contrast to its dark abdomen. There were a zillion dragonflies, many of them darners and clubtails zooming about, but this skimmer had the decency to perch frequently and reveal its finer details.

s17a-bushwhack

As we moved around the pond, we met trees to climb over, under and around.

s18-beaver works

Many were felled by the resident beavers, so we had another who made its home there to add to the list.

s19-beaver lodge

In fact, we found the most recently built beaver abode.

s19a-beaver dam

And the dam that made it all possible.

s20-bear scat

One special sign of wildlife may gross you out, but we were delighted for this pile of scat indicated a bear had passed by earlier this spring. I’d wanted to look for bear trees on the hike up, but these days my eyes are mighty focused on trail conditions. And scat is just as good, if not better than a tree with old claw marks. Well–both are wonderful . . . really.

s21-chicakdee

One other resident was insistent that we take notice and I think we may have paused near a nest tree. When I asked my guy if he could hear the Conway Scenic Train whistle emanating from the other side of the mountains, he said that all he could hear was the chickadee’s chatter.

s22a-Atlantis Fritillary

The return hike down was via the same trail, but when we reached the log landing and later the logging road we had one final challenge to complete–the flutter-by challenge. Who were those beauties that flitted about, gracing the landscape with their presence? For starters, we discovered several Atlantis Fritillaries seeking nectar from eggs and bacon flowers, aka Bird’s-foot-trefoil.

s24-atlantis 2

Once over easy, it was equally beautiful.

s25-white admiral

And the learning continued for we watched numerous White Admirals flit from spot to spot. But notice the coloration–including orange spots below its white bars.

s25a-white admiral

This blue version was also a White Admiral. Needless to say, we admired it no matter its variation.

And with that we had successfully completed the fifth episode of The Amazing Race–Our Style. All day we didn’t know our status in comparison to the other contestants, but six miles and four hours later we had nothing to fear. We definitely won this leg for we stood upon the mat at the Pit Stop much earlier than any of the other contestants.

As much as we would have liked to climb the Baldface Circle, it wasn’t in the cards for us today.  And as a final note to today’s journey–I added a few more mosquitoes to the natural history museum forming on the velcro of my splint. It’s a museum, however, that I hope will close soon, for it stinks–literally and figuratively.

 

 

Spotlight on Sabattus

Following this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust trek at Chip Stockford Reserve, where we helped old and new friends form bark eyes as they examined various members of the birch family, my feet were itchy. Not in the scratchy sort of way–but rather to keep moving.

It was a lovely day for a hike and Sabattus Mountain in Lovell was my destination. I love this little mountain because it offers several different natural communities and great views.

s-com 1

Though there are a few softwoods on the lower portion of the trail, it’s really the land of a hardwood mix.

s-downed twigs

About halfway up, the neighborhood switches to a hemlock-pine-oak community. It was then that I began looking for downed hemlock twigs in an array at the base of trees. I’ve found them here before, and today I wasn’t disappointed.

s-porky chew 3

The twigs had been chewed off and dropped by a porcupine as evidenced by the 45˚-angled cut and incisor marks. Though red squirrels also nip off the tips of hemlock twigs, they do just that–nip the tips. Porcupines cut branches.

s-porky cliff

Downed branches usually mean scat, but I searched high and low and under numerous trees that showed signs of activity and found none. A disappointment certainly.

s-pippipsewa

My search, however, led me to other delightful finds that are showing up now that most of the snow has melted, like this pipsissewa that glowed in the afternoon sun. As is its habit, the shiny evergreen leaves look brand new–even though they’ve spent the winter plastered under snow and ice. A cheery reminder that spring isn’t far off.

s-Pleasant 1

At the summit, I got my bearings–the ridge of Pleasant Mountain and Shawnee Peak Ski Area to the southeast.

s-mount tom & kezar pond

To the southwest, the asymmetrical Roche Moutonnée, Mount Tom, visible as it stands guard over Kezar Pond in Fryeburg.

s-Kearsarge 2

And to the west, Kezar Lake backed by Mount Kearsarge in New Hampshire. I wanted to venture further out on the ledge, but some others hikers had arrived and I opted not to disturb their peace.

s-summit wind

Instead, I sat for a few minutes and enjoyed the strong breeze offering possibilities as it floated over the summit and me.

s-porky cuts1

Crossing the ridge, I left the trail and found more porcupine trees, including this young hemlock that had several cuts–look in the upper right-hand corner and lower left hand. A number of younger trees along this stretch will forever be Lorax trees.

s-golden moonglow1

On the outcrop of quartz, I paused to admire the golden moonglow lichen–it’s almost as if someone drew each hand-like section in black and then filled in the color, creating an effect that radiates outward.

s-polypody patch

I was pleasantly surprised to find a patch of polypody ferns on what appears to be the forest floor but was actually the rocky ridge. Notice how open-faced it is, indicating that the temperature was quite a bit warmer than what I’d seen on cold winter days.

s-polypody sun

Sunlight made the pinna translucent and the pompoms of sori on the backside shone through.

s-glacial 1

The trail doesn’t pass this glacial erratic, but I stepped over the logs indicating I should turn left and continued a wee bit further until I reached this special spot.

s-porky scat 1

Its backside has been a porcupine den forever and ever. Nice to know that some things never change.

s-hemlocks and oaks

After returning to the trail, I followed it down through the hemlocks and oaks. This is my favorite part of the trail and though it’s a loop, I like to save this section for the downward hike–maybe because it forces me to slow down.

s-fairies 1

For one thing, it features the land of the fairies. I always feel their presence when here. Blame it on my father who knew of their existence.

s-fairies 2

I had a feeling a few friends were home–those who found their way into a fairy tale I wrote years ago. I left them be–trusting they were resting until this evening.

s-community transition 1

As swiftly as the community changed on the upward trail, the same was true on my descent.

s-birch bark color

On our morning trek, we’d looked at paper birch, but none of the trees we saw showed the range of colors like this one–a watercolor painting of a sunset.

s-birch bark 1

This one shows the black scar that occurs when people peel bark. The tree will live, but think about having your winter coat torn off of you on a frigid winter day. Or worse.

s-black birch 1

Off the trail again, I paused by a few trees that I believe are black birch. Lately, a few of us have been questioning black birch/pin cherry because they have similar bark. The telltale sign should be catkins dangling from the birch branches. I looked up and didn’t see catkins, but the trees may not be old enough to be viable. This particular one, however, featured birch polypores. So maybe I was right. I do know one thing–it’s not healthy.

s-pines 2a

And then I reached a section of trail that I’ve watched grow and change in a way that’s more noticeable than most. I counted the whorls on these white pines and determined that they are about 25 years old. I remember when our sons, who are in their early twenties, towered over the trees in their sapling form. Now two to three times taller than our young men, the trees crowded growing conditions have naturally culled them.

s-birch planter

Nature isn’t the only one that has culled the trees. Following their selection to be logged, however, some became planters for other species.

s-3 trees

Nearing the end of the trail another view warmed my heart. Three trees, three species, three amigos. Despite their differences, they’ve found a way to live together. It strikes me as a message to our nation.

Perhaps our leaders need to turn the spotlight on places like Sabattus. It’s worth a wonder.

 

 

 

 

Peeking About Mondate

Our afternoon Mondate found us sneaking to the peak–Peaked Mountain in North Conway, New Hampshire. While it’s not the most challenging hike ’round these parts, it offers great views.

sign

The trail is located in The Nature Conservancy’s Green Hills Preserve. It’s a great place to snowshoe, but today that wasn’t an option.

up the ravine

We chose the counter-clockwise route–hiking up through the ravine between Peaked and Middle Mountains.

mountain stream

Though it was a constant companion, we couldn’t always see the water rushing downhill, but occasionally we were able to take a peek.

peek peaked

And through the trees we had another sneak peek–that of the summit of Peaked Mountain. Not far from here, we left the mountain stream behind and starting climbing the connector trail toward our destination.

roots

Our discussion centered on roots–our family tree roots and how we can continue to fill in the blanks.

white pine needles

As we got closer to the summit, I realized we were among another family–the  Pinaceae or pine family. White pine, with its five flexible needles in each bundle, grows just below the summit.

red needles 2

At the top, the red pine and pitch pine grow side by side. Their bark is similar in appearance, but the needles and cones make their ID easier. Red pine features two long, stiff needles in a bundle.

pitch pine needles

Pitch pine, on the other hand, has three in a bundle and they’re about half the length of red pine needles. As one friend says, “One, two, three strikes you’re out–pitch pine.” I’m a firm believer in mnemonics.

Then there are the cones.

white pine cone

White pine cones are long and narrow. 4-8″

red pine cone

Red pine cones are ball-like in shape and almost stalkless. 1.5-2.5″

pitch pine 2

Pitch pine cones feature a short, stout prickle on each scale. 2-4″

I never thought about this before, but today it struck me that the whites, with their short needles, have the longest cones, while the reds, with their long needles, have short cones. Why?

A few cool things to note about pitch pine–because of its high resin content, Colonists used it for turpentine and tar to grease wheel axles; and pitch pine is fire resistant, meaning following a fire, new needles are produced on new branches from suppressed buds; also, it will stump sprout after a fire.

lunch rock

We found lunch rock and enjoyed our usual PB&J. Today’s jam was prepared by our friend, Pammie. Spiced peach. Delish.

Middle Mountain

Before us stood Middle Mountain. Though we’ve hiked Peaked a few times before, as well at Black Cap behind it, we’ve never actually reached the summit of Middle. One of these Mondates.

Mount Wash valley

The sun reflected off the roofs of the outlets in North Conway. We were much happier looking down on them, than being down there looking up.

Pudding Pond

Pudding Pond and the Moats add to the view.

Kearsarge

And behind us–another favorite peak: Kearsarge North behind Cranmore Mountain Ski Resort.

ice

The route down put us on the shaded side of the mountain, where ice coated the rocks.

cranmore 1

Cranmore featured top to bottom skiing this past weekend, but really, we need snow. And cold temperatures.

Peek a the great peak, Mt Wash

Even Mount Washington looks like it needs a fresh coating of the white stuff.

frost

We did find some leaves decked out with frost.

scruffing along

While my guy followed me up the trail, I followed him down. He scruffed along, not letting the leaves, rocks and roots bother him. I, meanwhile, took my time, overthinking each placement of my feet. After a few falls last month, each step has become a feat.

waiting patiently

He provided guidance over icy sections and occasionally waited patiently for me to catch up, never once commenting on my caution. I appreciate that.

And I appreciate that we shared a variety of peeks as we conquered the peak. Peaked Mountain Mondate.