Seeking Change

I wasn’t going to pre-hike Loon Echo Land Trust’s Bald Pate Mountain Preserve in South Bridgton today to prep for a climb there tomorrow because I figured there wasn’t really much to see except the snow. But, at the last minute, it felt like the right thing to do.

And, of course, it was. As I headed up the Bob Chase Trail, so named for the man who was the driving force behind the land trust, and its public face for fifteen years, I noted those who’d passed through the woods at some point within the last couple of days, including snowshoe hare, foxes and coyotes. Oh, and domestic dogs a many.

There were the views to admire as well, including this one from three quarters of the way up, where Mount Washington sits in the saddle of Pleasant Mountain.

The fun thing about a telephoto lens is that one can bring those distant peaks into view. Doesn’t the cellphone tower roadway up Pleasant Mountain make it look like you could walk directly onto Mount Washington? And can you see the weather station at the top of Mt Wash?

It doesn’t take long to reach the summit of Bald Pate where the view encompasses Hancock Pond in Denmark (Maine) and I was beginning to wonder what I might share as signs of spring, since despite the frigid temps and snow depth, we are on the cusp. Drive down any western Maine road and you can bear witness to that. The frost heaves and potholes have made themselves known for the past several weeks.

But, then I looked up–at the leaning Pitch Pine beside the Eastern White Pine.

And there was my answer! Pitch Pine cones take two years to mature and upon the tip of each scale is a pointed and curved prickle.

They open gradually but depend upon fire for their seeds cannot be released until they are heated to an extremely high temperature.

That being said, this is the only native pine that will resprout when damaged.

While the cones of the Eastern White Pine where almost nowhere to be seen, on a Pitch Pine they may remain for 10 – 12 years.

The needles are bundled in packets of three–making it easy to remember its name: Pitch–three strikes you’re out!

Another easy way to identify Pitch Pine is to look for needles growing right out of the bark–both on the trunk and branches.

I always think of it as our bonsai tree for though it can stand straight and tall, on mountain tops it takes on a contorted structure. The “pitch” in its name refers to its high resin content, thus making it rot resistant.

Though not located at the summit, I hope I remember to share my favorite evergreen found on this property. Meet Jack Pine. It doesn’t typically grow in our area, but there are two along the trail and either they were planted or they came in on a skidder during a previous logging operation and planted themselves.

As I’ll surely share tomorrow, I love mnemonics and that’s what helps me remember the names of the various evergreens. You see, Jack Pine has bundles of two short needles: think Jack and Jill.

Its cones also take two years to mature and tend to be slender and curved.

I was thinking that with the three varieties of White, Pitch, and Jack, there must be a fourth and bingo–just as I returned to the parking lot I found it: a young Red Pine with its needles of two. (I used to think it had three for R-E-D, just as White has five for W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E for it’s our state tree, but I used to think incorrectly!)

It wasn’t just the pines, however, that drew my attention. The tree buds are swelling and suddenly quite noticeable. Each bud, like this beech, which may contain miniature leaves or flowers, is covered with scales, which in themselves are actually modified leaves.

By May those scales will curl back and eventually fall off as the leaf and or flowers emerge, but today I found a couple that decided to get a head start. It’s the same every year–there are always a few in the crowd who want to be first. Do they survive? One of these days I’ll mark one and check back on it.

I did see several beech buds that had curly topped heads, a site I’d not seen before. This will certainly be a point of discussion tomorrow as we try to solve the mystery.

And there was an oak that also wanted a head start. Perhaps it’s because they’re located on a mountain and closer to the sun?

Some of my favorite finds included the striped maple buds and their subtle spring colors.

And then I found red maple twigs on the ground. That, too, will become a subject of further research on our walk. I suspect I know why they were on the ground, but we’ll see what conclusions the participants draw.

And then, and then, because I was looking, I found a couple of other surprises. This one is the cocoon of a Polyphemus Moth. Check out how it wrapped itself in the leaf. And can you see the silky outer layer of the cocoon located within?

And another–a Promethea Moth. Its cocoon was attached to the branch by a strong peduncle or stem and it had incorporated the curled red oak leaf. Talk about camouflage–at first I thought it was just a marcescent leaf that had withered but not fallen yet.

Our tour will include other flyers as we’ll take a closer look at the tracks and wing marks in the snow and try to figure out what the story was behind them.

And speaking of stories–many a trail features such a sign left behind accidentally by a hiker who lost a bit of traction when the Yaktrax fell off. Any takers? This one has been on the stump for a while so I think it’s fair game if you need one.

Jon Evans of Loon Echo and I plan to take the group to the summit and then find our way to the Foster Pond Outlook, where the stone cairn that’s usually three or four feet tall is barely a memory right now.

About two hours after we start, we’ll lead the group out, and if the sun is shining much as it did today, the trees’ shadows will bridge the gap between winter and spring and help those who are seeking change bring it into focus.

I feel honored that Jon invited me to help him lead this one for it’s in conjunction with the Lake Region campaign called Bring Change 2 Mind. The group focuses on encouraging conversation and ending the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Our aim tomorrow will be to discuss and reflect on how time spent outdoors can encourage positive mental health and well-being.

It may be too late to sign up, but here are the details just in case: Hike for Mental Health.

Even if you can’t join us, I hope you’ll head outdoors and find the change you seek.

Bear to Beer: Middle and Peaked Mountains

My guy opened his Christmas Bear to Beer box and considered the possibilities. The winner was . . .

Middle to Peaked Mountains in North Conway, New Hampshire.

The day had dawned warm after the recent deep freeze and so we had to consider how to dress and what to use for footwear.

Given that our route would take us uphill as we ascended via the Middle Mountain Trail to Middle Mountain, retrace our steps to the connector before summiting Peaked Mountain and then follow the Peaked Mountain Trail down, we knew we needed to dress in layers, but not quite so many and not quite so heavy.

We also weren’t sure of our footwear until we arrived at the parking area and saw the well-packed trail. Our choice–micro-spikes over snowshoes. We only hoped that when we reached the intersection of the Middle Mountain Trail and the Connector Trail, we wouldn’t regret our decision. But time would tell.

In the meantime, after we climbed over the snowbanks to get to the trailhead, we had to conquer the gate. We’ve climbed Peaked in the past, as well as walked the Pudding Pond Trail, both part of the Green Hills Preserve, so we knew that typically one walks around the gate. Today, we merely stepped over it–which tells you something about the snow depth.

At .2 miles, the trail comes to a T. The right hand route leads to Pudding Pond, while the left requires a brook crossing before continuing on to the mountain trails.

A bit further along, we came to one set of several that denote the trail system. In terms of following it via the signs, trail blazes, and well worn path, it was easy. Given the soft snow conditions and contour, we’d rank it a moderate hike.

It was one that got the hearts pumping, which is always a good thing. And when one of us needed a rest, we pretended that we just wanted to admire the sound and sight of the gurgling brook.

We passed through a few natural communities, including hemlock groves, and mixed forest. But our focus was really on any beech trees and by the leaves that littered the path, we knew there were plenty.

We scanned the bark every time we spied a beech, and saw not a nail scrape anywhere. But . . . sad to say we did notice tarry spots which oozed out of the cracks in the bark caused by cankers a tree develops as a defensive attempt to ward off beech scale insects and the nectria pathogens that follow their entry points.

The community changed again as we approached the summit of Middle Mountain, where red pines dominated the scenery. And in the warm sun, the snow became softer.

Two miles and some sweat equity later, we’d shed some clothes and reached the top.

From there, my guy went in search of lunch rock and I eventually followed.

It was actually more of lunch ledge and we set up camp, using the jackets we weren’t wearing as our seating area.

The view beyond our feet included Conway Lake in the distance. Lunch consisted of chicken salad sandwiches made with our own cranberry orange relish offering a taste of day in the fen picking berries, a Lindt peppermint dark chocolate ball, and an orange, topped off with frequent sips of water.

While we sat there, I did what I do. There were no beech trees to look at and so I focused in on the bonsai red pine in front of us. Its form, unlike its relatives who stood tall behind us, was the result of growing on the edge of the ledge where it took the brunt of the weather.

I took the liberty of turning a photo of a lower branch 90 degrees because I could see the face of the tree spirit reaching out as it formed a heart. It is February after all.

But enough of that. We were on a mission to find a bear paw tree. When I chose this trail, I had no idea if we’d see one. Yes, we’d climbed Peaked in the past, but never had we noticed any trees with such marks left behind.

So, down we slid, I mean climbed, off Middle Mountain until we reached the connector and could see Peaked’s summit in the background.

We weren’t too far along when our constant scanning paid off! Bingo. A bear paw tree. Some people bag peaks. We bag bear paw trees.

Our mission accomplished, though we continued to look, we journeyed on to the second summit.

From there, we had more of a view of North Conway below, the Moats forming the immediate backdrop, and Mount Chocorua behind.

In front of us, we looked across to Middle Mountain from whence we’d just come.

And behind, Cranmore Mountain Ski Area and Kearsarge North in the background.

With my telephoto lens I could pull in the fire tower atop Kearsarge. It’s among our favorite hiking destinations.

We didn’t stay atop Peaked as long as we had on Middle because the wind was picking up. On our journey down, the mountain views included Washington.

We continued to look for bear trees but found no others. That being said, there were plenty of beech trees on the Peaked Mountain Trail, but the sun was in our eyes for much of the journey, and we had to pay attention to where we placed our feet because traveling was a bit slippery given the soft snow. Maybe there were others after all, and we just didn’t notice.

We completed the 5.5 mile hike about four hours after beginning, ran a few errands, and finally found our way to the finish of today’s bear to beer possibility at the Sea Dog Brewing Company. Black bears like to sip too!

What the Tree Spirit Knows

As I drove to Lovell this morning to take a photo for the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s winter newsletter, the crisp outline of a snow-covered Mount Washington made me realize that I had a short, unintended hike in my immediate future.

1a-Flat Hill view

Yesterday, I’d climbed the Flat Hill Trail at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve to take another photo for the newsletter–that one of the view from the summit of snow falling in the White Mountains. This past summer, staff and volunteers of the land trust had made some trail changes and opened several views, the one from Flat Hill being the most dramatic and the foliage, snow and sky enhanced the opening. But . . . today’s view was different and I knew I needed to capture it again.

Page 3 a

So . . . after a staff photo shoot at the Kezar River Reserve of Stewardship Associate Dakota, Associate Director Aidan, and Office Manager Alice, I headed north.

1-voss sign

And laughed at myself for yesterday I never noticed the yellow Voss blazes that had been mounted to mark the trail. The hope is that eventually all the trails will be signed with different colored diamonds that will ease navigation.

2-big tooth aspen

It’s a trail I know well, even with a new backwards S curve about two thirds of the way up that erased a steep and slippery portion and so instead I focused on those sights at my feet. While many leaves had already begun the long process of decomposition as they slowly break down and give nutrients back to the earth from which their trees grew, a few still sparkled like gems, including this Big-Tooth Aspen, aka poplar.

3-sugar maple

I was thrilled to discover Sugar Maple, defined by the U shape between its pointed lobes;

4-red maple

its V between lobes and toothier cousin, Red Maple;

5-striped maple

and even toothier kin, Striped Maple, known ’round these parts a goosefoot because its shape is similar. Some of us also refer to it as nature’s toilet paper for it’s large, soft, and easy to identify. You wouldn’t think of confusing it with poison ivy.

The curious thing about the Maple family, like all families in our northern New England forests, is that while the shape and color of the leaf helps us specify the family origins, each leaf within the family is different–whether in color or flaws or insect bites or galls. But despite their differences, they are all family.

6-large red oak

With the Striped Maple, I thought I’d found the largest species of the day, but a few more steps toward the summit revealed a rather large Northern Red Oak leaf.

7-even larger basswood leaf

And then the biggest of all–Basswood. My hiking boots are size 8. And the leaf–also a size 8, with an asymmetrical base. That must prove a challenge when trying to find the right fit.

13-polypody ferns

Focusing on the leaves took my mind off the climb and within no time I’d reached the summit where Polypody ferns in their evergreen form decorated the northwestern corner of an otherwise bald rock.

14-red maple flower and leaf buds awaiting
From the ferns where I’d planted my feet, I looked skyward and noticed the leaf and flower buds of a Red Maple, all tucked inside their waxy scales. It was the right place to be for as the north wind blew and my cheeks turned rosy red, I looked to the west.

9-Baldfaces to Carter Dome

Yesterday’s view had been transformed. No longer was it snowing from the Baldfaces to Carter Dome, with Mount Washington the whitest of all, posing between them. But still, it was chilly.

10-telescoping in on Mount Washington

A slight push on the camera lever and I pulled the scene a wee bit closer.

16-Perky's Path

At last I pulled myself away and hiked down, but so delightful was the morning, that I knew my newsletter work would have to wait a few more minutes at the intersection with Perky’s Path, for I felt the calling.

17-wetland--old beaver pond

It’s a wetland I visit frequently and once upon a time about five years ago it was filled to the brim with water because beavers had dammed it for their convenience.

18-suds reflect leaf

The only water today was found in a small stream that flowed through, its origin at Bradley Pond and terminus at Heald Pond. I stopped at the rock stepping path to admire what the water had to offer, including suds forming their own rachis or mid-vein from which side veins extended, a sideways rendition for the birch leaf caught between twigs.

19-view from the rock

In the middle of the stepping stones is a large flat rock. It was there that I settled in for a while, enjoying the feel of its sun-absorbed heat and the sound and views offered as the brook flowed slowly forth.

21-view from the bench

At last I pulled myself away and continued toward the bench that overlooked the wetland. All was quiet on this brisk day, but its a place of life and love and change.

22-back to the wetland

From there I continued to circle the old beaver pond to the point where I knew it had formerly been dammed. Climbing over and around moss-covered rocks, and into former stream beds, I made my way to the edge of what I used to call an infinity pool for the water was once at the dam’s upper level.

23-view from the beaver dam

Once I reached the dam, making my way one step at a time, for it was rather tricky footing at times, I discovered life on the other side. For all the years I’ve been involved with the land trust, I’d never seen this edge from this view. My surprise included the almost bald rocks.

25-coyote scat full of bones

Stepping from boulder to boulder, I made my way into the wetland a wee bit, but along the way realized someone had visited prior to me. Actually probably almost a year prior given the conditions of the scat left behind. Based on its shape, size, and inclusion of multiple bones plus lots of hair, I suspected a coyote had feed on a hare.

26-spider view

The coyote and I weren’t the only ones who knew of this secret place. A wolf spider darted in and out among the leaves, more afraid of me than I was of it.

27-spatterdock

And then I discovered something that perhaps they both already knew: the water supported a small colony of Spatterdock, a plant that will need to be added to the list of flora for this property. Do you see the ice on the Micky Mouse ear leaves?

28-ice

Ice had also formed around a fallen log, its swirls portraying a high-heeled boot that certainly might be appropriate in an ice sculpture but not on ice.

28-tree spirit

All of what I saw the tree spirit already knew. And yet, it allowed me to make discoveries from my feet to the sky.

29-Mount Washington summit

And every layer between. I know he’s not there anymore, but can’t you imagine Marty Engstrom on top of Mount Washington?

 

Firsties

A week ago, I joined friends Marita and Marguerite Wiser for a hike up Albany Mountain from Crocker Pond Road. At the summit, we searched for a loop leading off from the left that I’d been told about, but couldn’t find it. There were cairns leading to the right, but we didn’t see any to the left.

a1-trail sign

And so today, my guy and I headed back up the mountain with a quest in mind–to find the loop. For you see, this week when I again questioned the friend who’d told me about the summit loop, I was assured it was there and we just needed to follow the cairns to the left.

a2-ice on beaver pond

Not far along the trail, we reached the old beaver pond, which was open water last weekend, but coated in a thin layer of ice today. A first for us this season.

a3-dam crossing

We crossed the old beaver dam, made a wee bit easier because of the freeze.

a4-3 in 1 trees

And then we began climbing. Suddenly, I spied a red pine. A lone red pine. A red pine worth inspecting, for I suspected this was bear territory and thought perhaps the tree would show evidence of a past climb since it was the only red pine in the immediate area–bears like something different like a lone red pine. There were no signs of claw marks, but we did wonder about the resources shared by the pine, red maple and beech–a trinity of brethren in these mixed woods.

a5-ice

Moving upward, like all streams this month, water flowed with passion and because of the sudden drop in temperature this past week, ice formed upon obstacles. We slipped off the trail to admire its every rendition.

a6-more ice

Each coated twig offered its own fluid art.

a8-ice spirit

But my favorite of all was the ice spirit who watched over all as his beard grew long.

a9-ice needles

Back on the trail, conditions changed as well and ice needles crackled under our feet, adding to the crunch of dried beech and maple leaves.

am1

We weren’t far along, when we spied snow–another sight that made my heart sing on this brisk November day.

a10-SNOW

For us, it was the first snow of the season and we hope it bespoke the future.

a11-snow on the leaves

The higher we climbed, the more snow we saw, though really, it was only a dusting. But still–we rejoiced.

a12-new steps

Eventually we came upon some new trail work. Actually, last weekend, we’d chatted with the creator of such steps; and on our trip down, I’d asked him about the summit loop because we hadn’t found it. He said there was no such thing. But my friend insisted on such when I told her this info.

a13-climbing higher

On we climbed, reaching bald granite where sometimes conditions were slick. I’d brought my microspikes, but the trail wasn’t difficult and I never did pull them out of the pack. Still–better to be safe than sorry.

a14-Summit sign

At 1.5 miles, we reached the junction. And headed upward to the summit.

a19-ledge 1 view

About one tenth of a mile along, we turned right and followed a spur trail out to a ledge where the view west offered a backdrop featuring the White Mountains.

a16-first ledge and my guy

We suspected the summit loop may have taken off from this point, so my guy went on a reconnaissance mission to the left–to no avail.

a20-Mt Washington

But we did enjoy the view–including the summit of Mount Washington.

am3

Then we went in search of the mountain sage. Given the condition of its glasses, however, we suspected it was feeling a bit bedraggled from the recent wind. Or maybe it had tried to find the loop as well and was just plain tired from coming up short.

a21-lunch rock view

On to Albany Mountain summit we marched. And then we sat on a clear spot upon the granite to dine on . . . none other than the famous PB&J sandwiches (mine with butter, of course). Our view was framed by red pines and spruces.

a23-red pine needles

As it should, the red pines exhibited the look of chimney sweep brushes.

a22-red pine

One bent over, its leader long influenced by the northerly winds.

a23-spruce

Even a spruce known for its spire-like stance had performed the wind dance.

am4

After lunch, we poked around to the left, in search of cairns for the said loop . . . and found none.

am5

There were cairns to the right, however, which the Wisers and I had followed for a short distance last weekend. Today, we decided to see where they led. Cairns gave way to flagging.

am6

And flagging gave way to more cairns.

a24--views of balds from other trail

Meanwhile, the trail gave way to more views–of the Baldfaces.

a25-crossing the ledges

The trail seemed to circle around to the left, but then it turned right. Eventually, we met two young men and asked them if we were on the loop. We learned they’d spent the day exploring the top and knew of no loop, but informed us that we were on a spur. Funny thing is, they were from Texas and Wisconsin.

a26-view toward Pleasant Mtn

And they were right. About a half mile later, we reached the end of the cairns and the end of the spur and another panoramic view–with Keewaydin Lake in the foreground and our beloved Pleasant Mountain in the back.

am7

Again Mount Kearsarge greeted us with its pyramid formation and we stood for a while watching a bald eagle circle below us.

a27-foundation at trailhead

Our trip down the mountain passed quickly for it was my guy that I followed and within 45 minutes we were at the trailhead. Run much? While he went to the kiosk to double-check the map, I spied a foundation I’d previously missed. Who lived here? Was it the Crockers for whom the road was named?

a30a-Crocker Pond

Back in the truck, and because I was driving, we drove to the end of the road and I hopped out to look at Crocker Pond, which was partially coated in ice.

a28-Crocker Pond--backwards C

But it was a backwards reflection that really gave me pause for the birch trees seemed to spell the pond’s initials–backwards and upside down of course. CP. Humor me here. 😉

a35-Patte Marsh

And then I drove down another forest road to Patte Marsh, which was almost completely covered in ice.

a32-dam at Patte Marsh

Its formations were varied below the dam.

a31-sky reflection and ice

But my favorite of all was upon the pond, where the sky was reflected on a wee bit of open water and ice that reminded me of the eagle in flight.

We didn’t find what we’d gone in search of and may just have to try again (oh darn), but it was a day of firsties for us–first ice-covered ponds, first snow, first time on the second spur trail. Definitely a first rate day for a hike.

P.S. Thanks for continuing to stick with me. Please feel free to tell your family and friends about wondermyway. And encourage them to click the “follow” button. I’d appreciate it if you’d help me increase my readership. You never know what you’ll read here because I never know what I’ll write. Even when I think I know, I don’t. The end result is always a wander and definitely a wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plan B Mondate

We had a hike in Evans Notch planned for today, but a look at the weather forecast made us question our choice.

Forecaster Jack made the following prediction: “Current observations this morning show the long-awaited cold front just about to clear the coast. NW winds are already in progress across the mountains behind the front. Today’s weather will be dominated by a familiar pattern that we haven’t gotten to enjoy much recently: upslope/downslope. The mountains will see plenty of cloud cover as air is forced to rise up the NW slopes. As that air descends the SE slopes of the mountains, it warms and dries, leading to sunny conditions along the coastal plain. All models are in agreement that temperatures will be moving downward today, so the ‘high temperature’ is whatever you’re seeing right now. For the mountains, this means that temperatures in the mountains will fall from the low 50s this morning down through the 40s this afternoon before arriving in the 30s this evening. Temps along the coast will be about 10 degrees warmer with morning 60s cooling to afternoon 50s and evening 40s.

Consequently, we thought about changing our plans since it seemed like any foliage views would be under cloud cover. And then Marita sent me an invitation to hike with her tomorrow, which I can’t do, but we decided we’d invite her to join us today–on a hike of her choice.

r1-trail sign

The Red Tail Trail off Hurricane Mountain and the backside of Cranmore Mountain was the path she chose. It’s a funky trailhead to locate–park near the little cement building and gate, walk up the dirt road to a large water tank (now decorated with graffiti), and skip the first trailhead to Kettle Ridge, instead circling about halfway around the tank where a small sign about ten feet up a tree marks the way.

r30-dam

For a half mile or so, the trail follows No Name Brook, so named by moi because I have yet to locate its identity, but it parallels Hurricane Mountain Road. Near the start, barbed wire and an old mill dam bespoke its former use.

r31-no name brook

We followed it, slipping down occasionally for a closer look and listen–its rhythmic cadence so pleasing to our souls.

r3-giant erratic

And then we came upon the glacial erratic that must have landed with a thud one day about 10,000 years ago. Standing over the brook and covered in polypody ferns and asters, it resembled a small, two story earth house with a garden roof.

r4-sending puffball spores airborne

Shortly before breaking into the old log landing, which had been transformed into a mountain bike park with jumps of sorts since we last traveled this way, Marita spied several large clumps of puffballs. And so I encouraged her to poke them.

r5-spores wafting forth

She channeled her inner child as she poked one after another, releasing the spores which wafted skyward, mimicking a smokey fire.

r6-climbers trail sign

Arriving in the log landing, we were a bit confused about whether to follow the bike trail and then my guy spied a small yellow sign–and we found our way, for climbers were we.

r7-hobblebush color deepening

And because there were so many along the lower part of the route near the brook, I once again celebrated the variation of colors portrayed by the hobblebush shrubs.

r8-mount kearsarge 1

We zigged and zagged as we made our way through hardwood, softwood and new succession areas of forest. At last, we looked northwest and were greeted with the sight of another old favorite–Mount Kearsarge North. And the color display.

r9-Whitehorse ledge

Across the valley, we also spied White Horse Ledge and the White Mountain Motel.

r10-upslope clouds

After climbing 2.6 miles, we came to a T, and turned left toward the Black Cap Mountain trail. In the offing, we could see those upslope clouds overtaking the mountains beyond.

r14-Mt Wash and Kearsarge

And ever so slowly snaking their way over Mount Washington.

r15-lunch rock

By the time we reached lunch rock atop Black Cap, we were rather warm . . . and hungry.

r16-me and my guy

But ready to pose once we’d eaten.

r17-mountain ash fruits

As we looked about at the top, we admired the red, red berries of Mountain Ash, and wondered about their edibility. According to Weeds of the Woods by Glen Blouin, the scarlet fruits provide food for “many species of songbirds, including cedar waxwings, grosbeaks, and robins . . . they are also a favorite of both black bear and ruffed grouse.” Blouin adds, “The berries are rich in both iron and vitamin C and were used (medicinally) both fresh and in teas, to treat scurvy. Prior to ripening, the fruit is high in tartaric acid and is unpalatable. After a few frosts, the taste mellows and, though still bitter, the fruit becomes edible.” To that end, he provides a recipe for Mountain Ash Berry Jelly. Hmmm.

r18-starting down from Black Cap

For our descent, we decided to follow the loop trail around the summit of Black Cap.

r19-down 2

With each change of natural community, we enjoyed the color it offered.

r20-yellow birch

Back on the Red Tail Trail, Marita spied a tree we’d previously walked under, but not noticed. “What is it?” she asked, commenting that it looked like two different trees. Indeed, it wasn’t. Instead, it was an old yellow birch that had toppled a bit, caught in another tree and continued to grow–sending new branches skyward that looked like young trees on their own.

r21-hemlocks and pines

Again we zigged and zagged, changing up leaders as we wound our way down.

r21-upslope clouds advancing

At the point where we’d first enjoyed the views of Mounts Washington and Kearsarge, we again paused. That section had been previously bushhogged, thus providing an exceptional vista.

r22-upslope wrapping around Washington

And again we noted the upslope clouds curling around Washington, but chuckled that the mountain we’d originally intended to climb was probably in the clear.

r22-flowers in bloom

Our downward climb was much faster than our upward and in what seemed like no time, we reached the “bike park.” What had once been a mass of wildflowers overtaking the log landing, had become small patches and we were surprised that they still bloomed.

r25-squared rocks

Back at the brook, we commented on the squared off sections of granite and wondered about the processes that created such.

r28-artist conk

And then we reached the trailhead, where I spied an old favorite–an artist conk that has a surface area of about two feet.

From beginning to end, we knew that Plan B was really better than Plan A–for we’d had fun introducing Marita to a trail we like as we shared stories, laughter, lunch rock, and later a post-hike beer.

 

One Plus One=Five

One plus one equals two on an average day. And so today, Marita and I set out to conquer at least one trail, with a couple of others as additional options. We ended up “bagging” as they say in hiking terms, two–including one that was totally unexpected.

s-Long Mtn lower path

Our morning began with an exploration of the new trail on Long Mountain, a 2.5 mile climb that twists and turns beside Mill Brook on property owned by Mary McFadden and Larry Stifler. Near the start, bog bridges pass through wet areas now dry.

s-Mill Brook 1

The climb is moderately gradual and the brook ever present, its rocks creating falls that added a pleasing sound and sight to our hike.

s-brook crossings

Occasionally, we needed to cross and the way was well bridged.

s-dry brook1

At times, the brook was dry, but those moments made us realize that we must return in the spring when we assumed torrents of water pass over the rocks.

s-Mill brook moss (1)

Moss dangling today, however, mimicked the flow that wasn’t there.

s-cairn

As we climbed, we noticed works of art. I’m not always a fan of cairns, but in this case, each had a flair that bespoke someone’s creative mind.

s-cairn 2

Others were simply simple.

s-water bar

We found water bars that were equally artistic in nature.

s-flagging

Just over a mile and a half into the hike, the trail turned and though it wasn’t as well cleared, it was certainly well flagged and losing our way wasn’t an option. There would be no getting fake lost on this climb.

s-sledge hammer

Eventually we came to a third section where the trail was again cleared and we found signs indicating the crew might be ahead.

s-stairs 1 (1)

Again, we admired their work, from the stone stairs to wooden steps, all created with materials found within feet of the trail. Work gloves left behind made us wonder if perhaps they wanted us to lend a hand. If you find the gloves, then I’ve a feeling you are good at “Where’s Waldo?”

s-oak ladder (1)

The extra sturdy ladder was created on site from a red oak (and some hefty hardware).

s-Marita, Bruce and Gary 2 (1)

We were chatting companionably when we heard some movement above. And then heard their hellos. We’d found the crew–Bruce, the property manager and Larry, his right-hand man. Bruce and Marita had communicated previously, so he wasn’t surprised to see us and we were full of admiration for the work these two have done–all by hand. In fact, if you ever think you want to do some trail work in your neck of the woods, I highly suggest you locate these two and spend some time working with them for theirs is the best I’ve ever seen. We chatted for a bit, learning about their good works and the good works of the property owners.

s-lunch view

And then it was time for us to move up a few more hundred feet and out to the ledges. We didn’t reach the summit of Long Mountain, for that is owned by someone else, but the ledges with a view of Round Mountain (also owned by the Stiflers), Evans Notch and the White Mountains beyond was the perfect setting for lunch rock.

s-nature's tapestry

As we ate, we noted that foliage peak had passed in this part of the woods, but still, the tapestry was worth a closer look.

s-Long Mtn trail signs 2

Eventually, we followed the 2.5 mile trail down, repeatedly singing the praises of all who made this hike possible.

s-wasp nest

And then we traveled down another road we’d never been on before and located a mailbox Bruce had told us about as an indicator to the trailhead also owned by the Stiflers. We didn’t find the trail immediately, but did find this huge wasp nest, now abandoned.

s-Speck Ponds trail sign

It took us a few minutes because it’s rather hidden, but within a few feet of the trail sign, we recognized Bruce’s artistic mark–sign attached to stump atop rock.

s-Speck Pond signs

And other trail signs that we admired mostly for their coloration in contrast to the paper birch to which they were attached.

s-Norway sign at Speck Ponds

s-Albany

This trail led us from one town to another in a matter of inches.

s-Mt Wash from Speck Ponds

And out on the power transmission line, we turned toward the mountains. with the Whites again in our view–especially Washington.

s-pond 1 (1)

At last we reached Upper Speck and turned to the left as we started on our way to hike around it and Lower Speck in what was described to us as a bit of a figure 8. I think really it was more of a calligraphy “g” in design with a bit of a line between the two ponds.

s-leaf art

Again, our views were delightful, including leaves of different species offering contrasting colors and shadows.

s-painted turtle

For a few minutes, we had the pleasure of admiring a painted turtle as it sunned itself before I disturbed it. I just wanted to get closer.

s-speck bridge

Again, bridges helped us ford the wet spots and we admired the workmanship.

s-bank lodge

It wasn’t just human workmanship that drew our attention. We saw at least five lodges, some beside the bank . . .

s-beaver lodge 2

and others in the wetlands adjacent to the ponds.

s-beaver works old and not successful

We found lots of old works . . .

s-beaver works old 2

some not entirely successful.

s-beaver dam 2 (1)

And beside a substantial beaver dam . . .

s-beaver new

we spotted a wee bit of new works–but it wasn’t much.

s-Upper Speck

Again, the colors kept us in awe, much as they had done atop the ledges of Long Mountain.

s-fall colors 1

And finally, we completed our “g” loops and made our way out with all of these and so many other photographic memories in our minds.

Today was not an average day for it’s Friday the 13th. And we had the pleasure of learning that one plus one=five–five stars that is, for we gave such a rating to each trail we traveled, and thanks to all who made them possible for us to wander and wonder. Thank you Mary and Larry and Bruce and Gary. And Marita for inviting me to join her.

 

 

 

Nervous Nellie Mondate

Usually my guy asks me to recommend a trail for our Monday hikes. But this weekend he had one in mind. Actually, he wanted to conquer it on Saturday, but I put the kabosh on that plan because of predicted thunderstorms that didn’t develop here. We kayaked instead.

And then I was able to postpone it on Sunday because I thought we should do something more palatable for my left knee as I was recovering from a quirk in it due to training (LOL–two runs but plenty of cross-training activities) before participating in the annual Four on the Fourth Road Race. So yesterday, we drove to Bartlett, New Hampshire, and began our journey on the Langdon Trail with the intention of summiting Mount Langdon. But after meeting one couple on their descent and listening to them talk about the views from Mount Parker, we changed our minds mid-hike and climbed to the summit of the latter. It was a fun hike that at first seemed a wee bit boring (did I write that?) as it followed an old logging trail, but eventually the natural communities began to change and we really enjoyed the climb.

Because we often hike in companionable silence, that climb was filled with voices from so many friends who are currently dealing with a variety of difficulties–physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I chatted with them along the way and lifted them on high at the summit–including those who suffer silently. May they all find a moment of peace in their lives.

But, it had to happen eventually and so today dawned. There were no storms on the horizon and after yesterday’s eight-mile climb, my knee felt fine. Darn. I’d run out of excuses. And so this morning I drove us to New Hampshire. At the stoplight in Conway Village, we could see the mountain’s craggy outline contrasted against the blue sky. I wanted to take a photo of a church spire in the foreground and mountain in the back, which seemed apropos for how I was feeling, but a large SUV blocked the total view at the stoplight. We continued on, turning onto the Kancamagus Highway for our trail of choice, for we chose the easy trail. Yeah, right!

c-waterfall 4

Our journey began with some easy hiking through a hemlock grove. I was liking it. We continued upward and at 1.5 miles reached a decision-making spot–turn left onto a loop by the waterfalls or continue straight. I’d read that the waterfall trail could be dangerous and that rescues were sometimes necessary, but agreed to go–stating, of course, that we had the option of backtracking.

c-waterfall 1a

The waterfalls, however, took my breath away–and my fear . . . for the moment.

c-water fall 1

I extended that moment by taking numerous photos in different settings of the same thing.

c-waterfall 2

Up and up we climbed beside them,

c-waterfall 3

and with every step the landscape changed. Watching water flow is like watching the flames in a campfire–each moment a glorious rendition of the same and yet a new statement.

c-wood sorrel

And at the same spot, a surprise–wood sorrel with its delicate candy-stripe petals.

c-waterfall stairs

At last we climbed the staircase to heaven–or at least back to the main trail.

c-ichneumon male

The higher we climbed, the rockier the trail became and so my focus was on the ground under my feet. But . . . a downed tree laden with lichen drew my attention for its beauty. As I looked, I realized something was flying about. In my current damselfly/dragonfly mode, I thought I’d spotted a spread-winged damsel until I took a closer look and realized it was a male ichneumon wasp.

c-ichnueomon wasp female

And in another spot below the downed tree, a female ichneumon, her lower abdomen twisted into a disc. My guy actually came back to watch with me as we saw her body throb–using her antennae, she must have honed in on a horntail wasp grub within the wood. Her intention was to drill and secrete a fluid into the grub and then deposit her eggs, which will eventually hatch and consume the grub. How cool is that?

c-northern bush honeysuckle

The trail became much rockier the further up we climbed. And I continued to look for things I haven’t seen recently, including Northern bush honeysuckle, its flowers still in their yellowish-green hue. Check out its long pistils. She’s a pistil!

c-looking for yellow blazes

A couple of hours later, we reached my moment of fate–when the treeline gave way to open rocks. At first it wasn’t so bad and I thought I could manage it.

c-view from lunch rock

Because the wind was more of an issue in the openness, we decided to find lunch rock before progressing further. The views were breathtaking as we looked toward Kearsarge and even our own Pleasant Mountain.

c-Mount Washington 1

Mount Washington was also part of the backdrop.

c-lichen lunch rock

And right under our butts–I was liken the lichens on lunch rock. I could have spent the rest of the day in their presence. And probably should have.

c-geology folds

But that was not to be. With other travelers on this mountain, we continued the journey from the false summit to the main summit. I tried to be positive as my knees buckled. I knew I wasn’t alone in that feeling as others also commented. But, I tried to stay focused and along the way, I realized I was looking at a fold as I channeled my inner geologist, Denise Bluhm.

c-summit view 1

Hand over hand, we scrambled up.

c-summit view 2

The views were incredible.

c-summit 4

Finding the trail wasn’t always easy and we all let the next know where the yellow blaze might be. Finally, after lots of scrambling, I realized I’d reached my ending point. A mental block flashed in my brain and I could go no further. My guy, however, despite his own fear of heights, wanted to give it a try. While he crawled the last 75 feet to the actual summit, I tucked into the mountain and became a trail guide, telling others where they should go and how to place their feet–like I knew.

c-after the summit

It wasn’t long before he descended–using the crab style that became our means of downward locomotion. We made it back to the treeline by the seat of our pants.

c-luna 1

From there, we were thankful to continue our downward descent. And then, less than a mile from the parking lot, we made a delightful discovery–a luna moth.

c-luna moth1

She seemed to embody our hike–clinging on as best she could. Her wings were a bit ragged and one ribbony tail missing. I too, was a bit ragged from the experience, and later discovered dried blood on my leg from an encounter with a branch. But, I lived. Sadly, she won’t live much longer–her main job to mate and then die.

Despite that, we were thrilled for the sighting. Seeing a luna moth is such a special treat and that fact that we saw it on the Champney Trail of Mount Chocorua even better.

I’ve spent about forty years avoiding that mountain and for good reason. But today, my guy pulled me out of my comfort zone–to a point. My nervous Nellie syndrome was well earned from my mom–Nellie. She, too, however, stepped out of her comfort zone many times and I have her to thank over and over again.