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Plants I’m fond of: Lapland rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) December 14, 2012

Posted by Jenny in hiking, plants, White Mountains.
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lapland-rosebay-close-up

Lapland rosebay

I took this picture along the Boott Spur trail on Mt. Washington. It was in June, at an elevation of 5000′. I had just connected with this trail via the Boott Spur Link, which comes straight up from the floor of Tuckerman Ravine.

Although I’m not usually into “trail-bagging,” such as becoming a “900-miler” (doing all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park), one year I just happened to notice that I’d been on all the trails that take you up to the summit of Mt. Washington, directly or indirectly, except for Boott Spur Link. I thought I might as well fill in my “missing link,” especially since the steepness of the trail made it look interesting. (Its upper section climbs 500′ in about a quarter mile.)

Once I arrived on the broad Boott Spur ridge, I began to encounter pockets of Lapland rosebay nestled in among the screefields. You notice that the leaves have a downy texture. It’s as if they need to have a little extra fur to keep warm in that harsh environment. The headwall of Tucks still had snow at that point in the season. The photo below was taken on the same hike from the other side of the ravine.

Tuckerman Ravine headwall

Tuckerman Ravine headwall

Lapland rosebay grows only in isolated alpine environments, such as around Katahdin, Washington, and Marcy. It finds pockets of soil between the sharp-edged talus rocks to grow in. And during a brief period in early summer, it comes into its glory. Those beautiful flowers, although tiny in comparison with those of Rhododendron maximum and other more familiar species, are among the largest blossoms that you find in this environment.

As this article explains, the “felsenmeer” is a tough place for a plant to live in.  But if you look closely at the wind-blasted stone piles of this northern above-treeline environment, you start to see how plants of all kinds thrive in the crevices, the tiny seeps of high streams, the leeward sides of boulders. I can’t help but see it as a metaphor for human life amidst adverse circumstances.

Life among the rocks

Life among the rocks

Failure at Raymond Cataract December 1, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, White Mountains.
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I bushwhacked a short distance into this blowdown zone and said to myself, "Nope!"

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the Ravine of Raymond Cataract.  It is a shallow ravine on the east side of Mt. Washington, located between two much more famous neighbors, Tuckerman Ravine and Huntington Ravine. You can see it quite clearly from the upper slopes of Wildcat. In the photo below from the Brad Washburn collection, you see the RoRC on the left and Huntington on the right.

Upstaged by its neighbor, but still interesting

Early editions of the AMC White Mountain Guide give directions for navigating up the ravine, while a 1992 edition in my possession says,  “Raymond Cataract falls through a series of wild and beautiful cascades in the Ravine of Raymond Cataract, but brush has covered a former footway, so the cataract can only be reached by those intrepid explorers who are skilled in off-trail travel.” Editions more recent than that make no mention at all of travel up the ravine. (Recent guidebooks are so much more sensible than older ones.)

So, how on earth did I decide to give it a try on a late November day? I had just one day available for hiking in northern New Hampshire, and I was having trouble picking a destination. I’ve done all the 4000 footers in winter—although I should add that November, coming before the winter solstice, doesn’t count in the AMC’s official winter peakbagging rules. In some ways November is easier than winter (warmer temps, not much snow) and in some ways it is harder (lots of ice, tricky stream crossings, daylight hours shorter than Feb.-March). I was having trouble mustering up enthusiasm for anything, until I looked at a map, noticed the RoRC, and thought, “Aha!” Somehow the idea really grabbed me. I knew I wasn’t going to get all the way up the ravine (it would be stupid to try that solo in cold weather, anyway), but I thought I could get up to the lowest cascade. It was a climb of only about 300 vertical feet from the trail.

Just to make my hike even more peculiar, I decided that rather than going to the RoRC by the shortest route (Tucks fire road to Huntington Ravine trail to Raymond Path), I would start at the very beginning of the Raymond Path, which I had never been on before. So I set forth from Pinkham Notch along the Old Jackson trail to make a long zigzag route.

Since it’s been nearly two years since I’ve experienced the White Mountains with ice and snow, I enjoyed things that would probably seem pretty ho-hum otherwise.

I liked the contrast of the stones under the stream with the ice

The Old Jackson trail is part of the A.T., becoming used as a cross-country ski trail in winter. But despite the diamond-shaped metal ski markers on the trees, I would say Old Jackson has a ways to go before it’s skiable.

Not quite ready for skiing

I took miscellaneous “nature shots.” That’s the term you use when there’s nothing very exciting in the picture.

Lumpy ice

Peeling birch

There were quite a few footprints on Old Jackson, but when I made the sharp turn onto the Raymond Path, I saw that only one person had been on the path since snow had fallen. I was actually surprised to see even that set. Surely no one else would be doing the same thing I was. Perhaps it was an ice climber heading to Huntington who had been dropped off at the Auto Road? But that doesn’t make sense. Someone “redlining” all the trails in each month of the year?

Raymond Path

There were open places along the way, probably old avalanche runouts. I could sense the presence of towering heights around me.

Lion's Head ridge in the background

Crossing this stream was a little difficult---but it was pretty

Scrub spruces in avalanche zone

So I crossed the Huntington Ravine trail and continued on to the RoRC. And I started bushwhacking through the scrub and the blowdowns (pictured at top). After doing this for about fifteen minutes and traveling an exceedingly short distance, I thought to myself, “You know, I think this would be a fine day for going up into Tucks and taking some pictures!” And so I ignominiously retreated.

When I arrived at Hermit Lakes, it started to snow. Pretty hard. Not good weather for photography. So I trundled down the Tucks fire road and back to Pinkham Notch, where I had a fine bowl of chili. Forget about chili from Texas or the Southwest or any place like that. Mt. Washington has the best chili.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed my outing. I’ll try RoRC again—I think in summer. I suppose I should feel bad about not going up Lion’s Head or all the way to the summit, except that I’ve done it a number of times before.

This is the kind of riffraff you run into on the Lion's Head route

My missing link on Mt. Washington June 8, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
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Tucks from Boott Spur Link

Tucks from Boott Spur Link

I’ve been up all of the trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Washington, but there is one trail called the Boott Spur Link that I had long ago noticed on the map and wondered about.  It connects the floor of Tuckerman Ravine at Hermit Lake with the trail that leads to the 5502-ft. elevation shoulder of Washington called Boott Spur.  Yesterday I did a circuit going up Boott Spur Link and up to the Davis Path, then over to the top of George, and down the Lions Head trail.   The headwall section of the Tuckerman trail is in its usual seasonal closure now because of lingering snow and ice.

I was feeling energetic and did the 2.4 miles, 1860 vertical feet to Hermit Lake in an hour.  As I sat on the porch of the shelter, a few shaggy-looking guys were wandering around, talking about the skiing in Tucks.   The season is not by any means over, by the way.  I saw these skiers partway up the climb out of the ravine:

Still skiing in Tucks!

Still skiing in Tucks! (Click on photo for zoom)

Before I started my climb, I gazed across the ravine at a slightly frightening-looking gully that I thought must be the Boott Spur Link.  As it turned out, the trail angles up to the right of the gully.  But it was still steep.  After meandering in the woods for a bit, it goes pretty much straight up.  Here is a view looking down from near the top.

Looking down Boott Spur Link

Looking down Boott Spur Link

After reaching the ridgetop, I started the stairlike climb to Boott Spur.  Along the way I met a woman who was on a quest to find alpine flowers in bloom.  Right where we met, there was a cushion of miniature flowers with a tiny wind-carved bonsai birch growing next to it.

Diapensia and alpine azalea with branch of micro-birch

Diapensia and alpine azalea with branch of micro-birch

She told me I would see Lapland rosebay further up, and she was right:

Lapland rosebay close-up

It just fascinates me how this plant is a miniature cousin of the rhododendrons growing in our yards, which seem almost coarse and bloated by comparison.  These survivors live in the harshest possible environments.  These were next to a screefall at about 5200 feet.Rosebay and scree

The summit cone of George was beginning to loom larger as I turned onto the Davis Path and passed numerous elegantly constructed cairns.  Many of them had blocks of quartz carefully placed on top for better visibility in the whiteout conditions that sometimes trap unwary hikers.  (I remember one hike on Mt. Jefferson with my brother when visibility was so bad that we had to take turns searching for the next cairn, calling out to each other because we couldn’t see each other any more than we could see the cairns.)

View of George from Boott Spur

View of George from Boott Spur

I stopped at the Tuckerman trail junction for something to eat (three large chocolate-chip cookies) before starting the final push up the steep summit cone.  I noticed how the rough, sandpapery texture of the rocks on the upper Tuckerman trail was worn smooth from hiker traffic.  You could actually tell when you strayed off the course just by the feel of the rocks, without even looking around you.

The summit had its usual full spectrum of humanity—hikers, auto road people, and cog people.   Some people hate the cog because of its puffs of soot, but I am too much of a railroad fan and admirer of 19th century technology to dislike it.  Some thin, high clouds were moving in, and the tourists were clutching their sweaters around them in the stiff breeze.  I always like the view of the northern Presies from the top.

Northern Presies

Northern Presies

I thought about having a bowl of summit chili, but in the end I stuck with my usual Irving convenience store sandwich (this was one of their better ones, with “Southwest mayo,” whatever that is).  After resting a bit and refilling a water bottle, I headed back down the upper Tuckerman trail.  From the vantage point of halfway down the cone, the headwall of Tuckerman has a remarkable dropoff.

Upper Tucks trail

Then it was down the Lions Head trail.  I don’t use that trail very much in summer (like most winter climbers of George, I have used the winter Lions Head route, which uses a slope that is less avalanche-prone than the summer route).  I’d forgotten what a pain in the butt sections of it are—eroded with annoying little scrambles.  But you do get some good views into the ravine.

Tucks from Lions Head trail

As usual, the wind was stiffest right around the Lions Head itself—much stronger than on the summit, though obviously some unstable weather was starting to come in.  I made my way down the trail section that switchbacks down toward Hermit Lake, passing a sweaty woman who was descending with a full pack.  I tried to give her words of encouragement, but I could tell she was in that state of mind of  “This is just one aggravation after another!”  Actually, I was pretty sweaty myself, and starting to get tired.

Finally down the Tuckerman fire road.  Something dawned on me that is probably pretty obvious:  that this was a great hike with spectacular views but not a hike to take if you just want to enjoy being in the woods.  The fire road is such a wide swath of rubble that you hardly notice the trees around you, and everything above the fire road is at or above treeline.

The sky was looking very strange when I got down to Pinkham, but there were only a few light showers as I drove home.  The hike took me seven and a half hours from start to finish.

Interesting sky at Pinkham Notch

Interesting sky at Pinkham Notch