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.

 

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.