Ho Hum Mondate

Today’s adventure began earlier than most because we hoped to beat the snowstorm and so over bumpy roads did we travel to an old favorite. Actually, it’s a favorite we haven’t visited in at least a year because on one approach there were so many cars parked along the roadway that we knew the trails would be crowded so we found a spot to turn around and skedaddled out of there. And with the overcrowding of trails in mind, we’ve spent a lot of time finding the those less traveled, and not always mentioning our location. But . . . finally, we returned to this one.

One of the reasons I love the winter trek is that the road upon which everyone parks from spring through fall isn’t plowed, so one must walk in. And do what I always do–check the telephone poles for bear hair.

Whether it’s the creosote on the pole, the hum of electricity riddling high above on the wires, or something new and shiny in their territory, bears are attracted and rub their backs against the object as they turn their heads to nip and bite. The jagged horizontal lines speak to the upper incisors scraping the wood as they reach toward the lower incisors. And the shiny numbers that marked the pole–all that is left is a notation in the power company’s data base.

The thing is: we always check the poles along this stretch when we hike in on the road. And we’re always rewarded for our efforts. Do note the color of the hair–bleached by the sun, a Black Bear’s hair turns ginger.

Almost a mile in we reached the starting point for our expedition as a few flurries fluttered from the sky. Much but not all of the Stone House property is conserved under an easement with Greater Lovell Land Trust.

Our plan was to continue down the road, then turn right onto the Shell Pond Trail system.

All along the road we’d noted tracks galore of mice, squirrels, hares, foxes, fishers, coyotes and weasels.

The snow was well packed, but we weren’t sure that would be the case when we turned onto the intended trail.

It was, and so having donned our micro-cleats, and carried our snowshoes, we decided to ditch the latter behind a tree. And crossing over the trail at said tree, a bobcat track, complete with a classic segmented bobcat scat. Did I mention that we almost always encounter bobcat tracks here and that we often store our snowshoes, deciding that we should be just fine without them?

At the first bridge, we paused and I hoped against hope we’d see signs of an otter. Or even the real deal.

No such luck, but there was a mink track by the edge of the water. It’s often one or the other that we expect to see here.

Ditching the snowshoes, like always proved to be a good idea as our progress was much quieter (and quicker–but then again, any hike with my guy is rather on the quick side no matter the distance). Only occasionally did we punch holes into the snow.

On a couple of occasions my post-holing was intentional for I spied woodpecker trees.

The debris below each meant the bird had spent a lot of time excavating.

And the depth of the excavations meant it must have found delightful little carpenter ants and maybe some beetles to dine upon. What do I always do when I see such a refuse pile? Examine it for scat, of course. At the first tree, I found none and worried that either the bird had gone hungry or was constipated.

I was just about to stomp back to the trail after looking about below the second tree when the pièce de résistance caught my attention. The bird wasn’t starving and didn’t have digestive issues after all.

And then there’s another tree that begs to be honored with each passing and so we always do. Today the burl gave us the feeling that we might be passing through the Jurassic period, albeit snow taking the place of lush vegetation.

At last we reached the bench, or at least the top of it, and my guy turned from Shell Pond to clean it off for lunch.

Our traditional PB&J sandwiches unwrapped, we took in the view and watched the clouds play as they danced across the mountain range.

At last we continued on in the area where Peregrin Falcons will soon nest (or so we hope) on the cliffs above, and if you follow us frequently, you may note that at first my guy doesn’t have the Curious Traveller pack on his back. Once lunch is eaten and more water consumed, he takes the pack and I tease him about it being so much lighter.

The journey took us through the old orchard . . .

across the former airstrip where the clouds parted to reveal some blue sky . . .

and past the privately-owned stone house for which the property is named.

And then, because the snow had held off for the most part, we decided to hike a short distance up the Stone House Trail to Rattlesnake Pool. Surrounded by ice and snow, it had shrunk in size, but still, it’s always worth a visit.

We climbed down and got within about six feet, but chose not to dive in. The emerald green water was enough to revive us.

Because we were there, we also needed to walk in to Rattlesnake Gorge, located south of the pool. Water gurgled in the background, but much of it travelled under the weight of snow and ice.

And when we turned, it was more of the same–a frozen world waiting for the upcoming thaw to free it.

Oh, did I mention that we stowed the backpack before heading up to the pool and gorge, giving my guy even more of a break from hauling it the rest of the way? As we returned to the airfield, the snow was just beginning to fall in earnest.

Remembering to grab our snowshoes, we finally made our way back along the road, past the lemonade stand house, and returned to the truck, completing a seven-mile journey.

We are creatures of habit, as becomes more obvious each day, and we’re thrilled to back at this perennial favorite. To top it all off, we realized that we had the entire property to ourselves today. No Ho Hums about this Mondate.

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.