Going With The Flow Mondate

Our first Mondate of 2016 had us swerving this way and that and never quite reaching the summit. Such is the way of life–and our best choice is to go with the flow.

We drove to Hurricane Mountain Road in North Conway to begin our trek up the obscure Red Tail Trail. Well, it’s not really obscure. Mountain bikers know it well. And at least a half mile of the trail is part of the Cranmore Conservation Easement held by the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. I’m going to lead a hike for them in a couple of weeks, so I dragged my guy along for a reconnaissance mission.

And we got lost. Fake lost once again. This time, the wrong trail–the Kettle Ridge trail, which isn’t signed. That was my first clue. The second was that we were immediately climbing and I couldn’t hear water. I’ve only explored part of the Red Tail Trail once before with Jesse from Upper Saco Valley LT so I knew it followed the brook beside Hurricane Mtn Road from the start. After about fifteen minutes of climbing and not feeling like it was right, we retraced our steps and I found the trail sign I’d been looking for–hidden behind some trees. Lesson to those who follow me–you never know if I’m leading you astray 😉

trail sign

land trust sign

Two signs actually within a matter of minutes and we were golden. brook 1

For about a half mile the trail follows a nameless brook. It must have a name, but I can’t find it anywhere so I’m calling it Red Tail Brook. I was looking for interesting things to share with people and as usual, nature didn’t let me down.

brook 2

brook 5 ice

4 legged ice

Water created icy legs as it cascaded over the rocks.

boulder 1

Speaking of rocks, I can’t begin to imagine the moment that this boulder landed beside the brook. It must have created quite a roar and thud. If a boulder rolls in the woods and no one is around to hear it . . .

 boulder 3

My guy begrudgingly posed beside it.

boulder 2

And Red Tail Brook flowed behind.

polypody 1

Atop the boulder, polypody ferns let us know that the temperature was in the teens. Fortunately, we were out of the wind as we were on the backside of Mount Cranmore.

boulder life

Life on a rock! Life rocks. And this rock is full of life.

boulder birch seed

One itty bitty piece of life clung precariously with hopes of taking hold on a permanent basis. I’m not sure this boulder is the right choice, but a yellow birch scale clings tentatively.

Yellow birches need moist conditions to germinate and grow. Moss-covered conifer logs and stumps, along with rocks offer the best chance for survival.

hemlock cone hemlock scale and seed

We were in Eastern hemlock territory so hemlock cones, seeds and scales were also abundant.

red squirrel midden 1

As were red squirrel middens.

 turkey prints

turkey print

It may be a single track bicycle trail, but it’s not a single turkey trail. Their oversize prints covered the lower part of the range.

deer prints 2 deer prints

From top to bottom, deer prints crisscrossed the trail.

sshare tracks

We also saw plenty of snowshoe hare tracks. Though my guy claims he saw an actual hare, I can at least say that I knew by the signs left behind that they’d been active.

sshare cut snowshoe hare scat

Prints below a 45% cut on a shrub and plenty of milk duds–aka snowshoe hare scat–were evident everywhere we turned.

btaspen bark bigtooth aspen leaf

My bark addiction is not to be denied. A wee bit of light brown between furrows makes me think I’m looking at Northern red oak, until I recognize the flattened ridges and gnarly furrows and realize I’m starring at a big tooth aspen tree. Of course, its leaves with those well-cut teeth and flattened stems serve as a banner.

 false tinder conk, Phellinus ignarius

artist's conk 2

False tinder conks and artist conks decorate the trees.

s-turns

After lunch (PB&J, some yummy chocolate raspberry bars my sister made and hot cocoa), we left the brook behind and began to ascend the mountain via a number of switchbacks. My guy, of course, was always ahead as he appears here–disappearing into the trees.

paper birch, white birch and cherry

The community kept changing–sometimes we were in a recently logged area where paper birch, gray birch and cherry trees dominated the landscape.

red pine and white pine

Other times it was a mix of evergreens, including white and red pine, hemlocks, firs and spruce trees.
Mount Washington ValleyMount Wash & Kearsarge

And then the S-turns got serious–one curve after another. The higher we climbed, the more we realized that there were a lot of false summits before us, but a glorious view behind us.

Mounts Wash & Kearsarge 2

Mount Washington and Kearsarge North provided a brilliant display.

Mount Washington ObservatoryKearsarge firetower

With my telephoto lens, I pulled in the  Mount Washington Observatory and fire tower atop Kearsarge.
MVW

The Mount Washington Valley spread out below us. We felt like we were so close to the connecting trail between Mount Cranmore and Black Cap Mountain, but the sun lowered and we’d left our headlamps behind. Every time we thought surely the next turn would be the summit, we were wrong. So . . . rather than worrying about reaching that destination, we decided to turn around and head back down the trail. At first, we bushwhacked together and then it became a game. We took turns as one of us bushwhacked while the other followed the trail, curious to see where we would meet. Competition took over, and we were soon running to beat the other to our meeting spot–wherever that may be. Somehow, what took us a while to climb up turned into only an hour’s journey down.

last shortcut

I, of course, got off track a couple of times and had to yell to my guy to figure out his location. He had the last chuckle when I chose a wet spot for my final shortcut-turned-longcut.

brook at end

At last we reached the trailhead, tired but exhilerated. On this Mondate we went with the flow and loved the opportunity to learn and play together along the way.


 

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.

Mustelids, Oh My!

kiosk sign

This morning I drove to the Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve on Sucker Brook in Lovell. This is a Greater Lovell Land Trust property.

Station !

My mission was to photograph the eight station signs along the nature walk so another docent and I can spend some time this spring updating them.

station 2:a

Before I even reached Station 2, I realized I had a bad case of NDD. Nature Distraction Disorder. OK, so I think I just coined a new term and acronym, but maybe I heard it somewhere else and had it tucked away in my mind. (NawDee for short?–corny joke alert and I might be the only one who gets it) Anyway, what it boiled down to was what you see on this sign and then some.

Fisher

Fisher tracks were all along the brook and through the woods. I’m almost certain these are fisher. I was beginning to question my “I’m always 100% correct when alone” statement. These were quite fresh.

mink1mink slide

Mink tracks and slides were also visible, especially in and out of Sucker Brook.

otter

And then I found these. River Otter.

Silent and graceful are the weasels. From them I should learn so many lessons as they move about quietly observing and discerning what is important. I always think of them as fun loving with all the sliding some of them, like the mink and otter, do. But . . . they are carnivores who have to consume a lot of food to keep warm in the winter.

hole activity

This hole was one of several that I saw. It was across the brook, so I don’t know who entered here. Perhaps they all checked it out. Or maybe it’s a sleeping space for these nocturnal animals.

little brown thing hair

And I found what remained of hair from a little brown thing–either a deer mouse or white-footed mouse. There were tracks leading up to it, but it’s difficult to discern the difference between the two. Who had dinner here? The fisher, I believe.

pinecone tracks

It wasn’t only mammal tracks that I found. Look at the trail left behind by this pinecone.

morning lightbrook 1brook 2

The morning light was beautiful–the beginning of a crisp, clear day.

water and ice 2

Movement frozen in time. water and ice 3

tranquility

And then the brook calms down. Chickadees sing their cheeseburger song while white-breasted nuthatches call, “Yank, yank,” over and over again.

platform

Finally I reached the platform–a hidden oasis that encourages us all to take time to pause and wonder.

bog

And search the brook and bog for signs of wildlife. One of these days, I’m going to see a moose. I think I heard a river otter here either last summer or the previous one. And I’ve been on owl prowls to this very location–occasionally even heard them respond to our calls.

false tinderhoof

Now for some other fun stuff I saw along the way–false tinder polypore. I love that I can now identify this one by its hoof-like appearance on top, but also the way the pore surface angles down toward the tree’s bark. And it’s a perennial, growing taller with the years. I sound so smart, but I’m only just beginning to understand woody fungi. Only a very wee bit.

Some signs that spring is around the corner . . .

wintergreen

Wintergreen appearing where the snow is melting. You may know it as Checkerberry and Tea Berry. We used to chew teaberry gum when we were kids. You can purchase it at Zeb’s General Store in North Conway, New Hampshire. Today, however, the wintergreen extract is produced synthetically.

Hobblebush 2Hobblebush

Hobblebush! While most of the buds we see in the winter landscape have scales to protect them from the weather, hobblebush buds are naked. How do they survive? They are hairy–maybe that helps. I can’t help but wonder. I do know that it won’t be too long before the flat heads of flowers the size of my hands will bloom.

One last thing to share about today’s wander. I thought I was seeing the tracks of this true hibernator and then I saw the real McCoy.

chipmunk

Actually, I saw two of them. It may snow tomorrow, but methinks spring will make  an appearance this year.

Thanks for wondering along beside me on today’s wander. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.