Sunday, June 10, 2012

6-9-12 Madison Hut & Mt. Adams

 Saturday (6-9-12) dawned with a cold nip in the air and long trails of low, racing clouds and a forecast of clearing and incremental warming through the morning. Liz, my daughter, and I were aiming for a long awaited return to Mt. Adams and chose the Valley Way, as we usually do, for the ride to Madison Hut and the high peaks. Just step on the trail, press the "M" button on the second sugar maple on the left and, voila!, there you are in the hut's vestibule with impeccably dressed hut employees offering silver platters of fine pastries (crossants!) and a choice of Cafe au Lait, or exotic, deep, fruity -tasting teas. AAhh, if it were only so, but for those of us who love the Valley Way with all its foibles it would be sad, indeed, if all it took was the press of a button.

This is the second sugar maple on the left (going up the trail) and, as you can see, it doesn't have a gleaming, polished brass "M" button, I made it all up, so please don't come running to me later saying you couldn't find the button and had to hike the whole way. The Valley Way is the most sheltered and direct route to Madison Hut from Appalachia, the trail head on Route 2 west of Gorham, NH, and is well trod. It has an irresistible personality that makes it compelling from the moment you enter the woods, as in the two photos above, and, probably more like an escalator than an elevator, as it bears you upwards, but not without considerable exertion that is its reward.

The trail parallels Snyder Brook most of the way to the hut with the brook at some distance from the trail most of the way. Near the bottom, in the first 1/2 miles, the trail treads right on the brook bank affording glimpses down into the astonishingly cold, emerald green water as it winds between huge hemlocks like this one.

A daughter and father stop to re-adjust packs and peel off a layer of clothing as the morning warms up. They were on their way to Lakes of the Clouds for the night as the first half of a "Presie Traverse" which entail hiking from one end of the Presidential Range to the other.

My daughter, Liz, hiking in front and holding her self back a bit to keep in step with me, ascending at a more moderate pace. Our goal for the day was simply to summit Adams, get our first look at the new hut (rebuilt in 2010-2011), maybe do Madison, and come down in late afternoon. Liz is heading back out West to the Sierra Nevada soon for an indefinite period of time so she wanted to say her farewells to the White Mountains from one of her favorite summits. Hiking Adams, for me, was a way of celebrating two things: my birthday and the successful completion of an advanced licensure exam in Social Work which I flunked a few times in the past 4 years. My last hike up the Valley Way and on to the summit of Adams was way, way back on August, 29, 2010.

One of the more striking features of the Valley Way comes near the end. It's referred to as "Thousand Yards", which refers to the last 1000 yards of the trail and which are steep and arduous (at least for some) and 1000 yards begins at this spot in the trail (photo), or more precisely, at the sign for the tent site on the uphill side of the trail.

Jamie Van Leuven packing down to meet the Saturday supply truck. She's the Madison Hutmaster this season. She was the Assistant Hutmaster last summer (2011) at Lakes of the Clouds (sometimes referred to Lakes of the Crowds as it's the largest of the eight huts).

 This is either Nick Briere or Wiliam Henriques the names of two new hut croo. For the first time in several years the hut system experienced a low turnover rate as veteran croo members opted not to return this summer probably due to the economy. Emmet Pruss, one of this years "rookies" (meaning first year croo members), said that somewhere around 28 croo did not return this summer creating vacancies (which have been filled) and an odd balance between new and old. The norm is to have a half dozen, or so, new positions open up in the system each summer as older croo move on to other occupations as they leave college, etc.

This, too, is either Nick Briere or William Henriques, or for that matter it might be neither. I'm guessing, obviously, and will, at some point get the names correct. Emmet, mentioned above, like his three hut mates was also packing out an awkward load of flattened card board boxes, the last vestiges of "opening" when the summer stock of staples ( a lot of canned goods and "dries" as in sugar, flour, etc), are both flown in by helicopter and packed in by croo members.

The reward for reaching the top of 1000 yards is this iconic view looking north towards the Kilkenny Wilderness and northern New Hampshire, Maine and southern Quebec. On Saturday, as we topped out the clouds were just at eye level and the wind was peaking at 40-45 mph. It was a typical early summer day on the Presidential Ridge.
My first glimpse of the new Madison Springs Hut. It was officially opened last June just in time for the summer season. It has the profile and details of the old hut but with a lot of up-dated amenities like the composting toilets, a lot more windows, and reconfigured bunk rooms which make it more sustainable on several levels.
Madison Hut's  sexy new dinning room with a wrap-around view west and north (perfect for watching sunsets while finish your dessert).

At 10 am the weather was still a bit brisk with a raking wind. The clouds were still clustered around the summit of Adams. We hooved-to in the hut, taking a leisurely tour of the spangling new features like the spiffy new croo room and talking briefly with Corliss Gross, also experiencing her rookie year, who was cook for the day. Madison, compared to the other huts, has the distinctive "feel" of an alpine hut, a mountain refuge. I think I've said this a number of times in the blog, but even with a newly designed, up-dated hut it still has that charm which is fortified by the sharp, high peaks that tower around it.
By 11 am the clouds had lifted and the temperature inched up a few degrees. To stay out of the wind we chose the Star Lake Trail (SLT) to reach the summit. It's steeper than the alternate route from the hut; a combination of the Gulf Side and Adam Slide Trails.

Across this col, part of which is called the Parapet, just south of the hut, the wind really wails and on Saturday the wind made it difficult to stay balanced. Liz had to lean back into it. Mt. Adams is in the background to the left with the summit roughly 1000 feet above where Liz is standing.

Mt. Washington in the center rear of the photo just visible in the small notch.

The east face of Mt. John Quincy Adams (JQ Adams) which is steep and littered with some astonishingly large boulders that make it a great playground for "bouldering".

The summit cone of Mt. Madison above Star Lake and the Parapet. In the left center of the photo is a large white ourcropping of quartz (in other words, it's not snow).

The east slope of J. Q. Adams is a relatively warm "niche" in the middle of this otherwise arctic environment (more aptly referred to as Alpine Zone). The lush green area in the photo is, during most winters (but not the winter of 2011-2012), a deep snow field where the snow stays well into the late spring even though it has a east-south-east aspect that receives a lot of sunlight. The combination of warmth, protection from the dehydrating northerly wind, and ample moisture, creates an area favorable to alpine plants which often bloom earlier here than on neighboring slopes.

A few examples are the Clintonia borealis (hasn't quite bloomed) and the Indian Poke in the lower right hand corner (otherwise known as White, or False Hellebore with the Latin name: Veratrum viride)
Also, Ledum groenlancia, or Labrador Tea, is already blossoming and is a little earlier than more exposed areas and closer to the hut.
Bunchberry, Cornus canadensis, is already blooming here.

There is some differentiation, a little more obvious in this wider view, in the lushness of this slope compared to other in the vicinity except those near the tops of Castle Ravine, and southeast of Edmonds Col, where snow carrys over into late spring and, in some years, into early summer. It's more than likely my imagination but the vegetation on this slope appears to be pushing upwards at a faster rate then on comparitive, neighboring slopes. At the same time I don't want to infer that there's a scientific conclusion to be made from this informal observation.

Continuing upwards and stopping often to admire the great views that broaden out appreciatively with each upward stride.

Looking back down at the summits of J.Q. Adams and Madsion and you can still see Star Lake.

This is the bottom of the last "pitch" of the Star Lake Trail. You can see the blue arrow in the lower right and what looks to be a rock "scramble" heading steeply upwards.

This is another view of what could be described as a rock climb, although an easy one, because there are opportunities for jam cracks, fist holds and lay backs, etc. It's like Yoga!
Liz enjoying the scramble up the rocks.

Mt. Jefferson with its famous patch of snow that doesn't melt until all other remaining snow has disappeared. This patch can last well into July some years.

Summit of Mt. Adams. It's a gorgeous mountain and the apex of rocks that makes up the summit gives it the feel of a real "peak". The views from Adams are stunning. Mt. Washington has a huge massif, much larger, multifaceted, and higher than Adams, but Adams has a wonderful profile and a there's a different sense of satisfaction in climbing it.

One goal I had for climbing Adams was to visit again with this balsam fir growing just a few feet below the summit of Adams at an elevation of approximately 5,774 feet (asl) which is high and a little out of range for a balsam fir. This one particularly had, by happenstance, ended up growing in a gruelingly exposed position. It shows the all the signs of rigorous stress. The two photos below show the plant on August 29, 2010 and make an interesting comparison.
This is the balsam from the south side looking at the summit a little higher. The balsam looks like it's thriving and I was first struck by it several years ago when it first appeared on an unlikely location on this very exposed ridge that is open to the full force of westerly and northwesterly winds. It is also growing on a small area of soil that is only 7 inches thick and sitting on solid rock.

Looking at the balsam's profile from this angle in the 2010 photo, from the east, underlines its vulnerability to the weather. There's a low ridge protecting it from the full strength of northwesterly winds but the location the tree has found itself in is stressful.

Looking straight down on the tree in the photo from Saturday shows the effects of stress. The tree is approximately 50 percent living tissue at this point. It's vitality has been compromised by exposure and lack of moisture possibly due to the a lack of snow cover this past winter.

Close up there is new life in the form of the apical buds but little hope, for the long term, for the tree. The tree caught my interest because I am interested in the "versatility" of balsam fir, generally, as I've alluded to many times in this blog. Balsam has been highly adaptable and a fascinating plant to research for it's ability to grow in extreme environments and, certainly, it would be difficult to find a more extreme environment than the summit of Adams within a 100 mile radius.
A photo from Adams' summit looking into northern Maine over the summit of Mt. Madison. In the lower left corner of the photo, interestingly, is a clump of balsam fir at the same elevation as the nearby balsam observed above. The trees are only 20-25 feet apart, but this one,  on the leeward side of the summit, appears to be  thriving, at least for the moment.
With the summit in the background you can see, in its profile, how the balsam has adapted in response to wind. It has grown vertically a surprising amount but only where the wind is limited by the profile of the summit which somewhat shelters the tree. Winds here, as on nearby Mt. Washington, often reach 100 mph and average 30-40 mph. Wind is a major stressor, as is lack of moisture and thin soil, for these pioneer trees that find themselves in these extreme locations.

In the more recent growth there's a visual depiction of the adaptive transition from vertical growth to horizontal growth. The tree is "sculpted", in a sense, by the wind. The shaping is definitely a response to the wind but the horizontal extension of these branches is also an adaptation to increase uptake of moisture. This pattern created by branches is primarily a response to available sunlight but serves to improve efficiency in the tree's use of moisture. The moisture available at this arid location comes from snow, rain and fog and the trees have adapted well to each of those forms.  Horizontal, versus vertical branching, means more protection from snow. It also allows a stepping down of moisture from branch to branch and ground moisture around the tree is also protected somewhat by the outward spreading branches.  The dead branches are a reminder that these plants endure incredible amounts of stress in this alpine environment and they are basically "experiments", or pioneers here, and seemingly teeter on the edge of survival. The lone plant in the photos above was propagated from seed. For me, that raises the question of how did the seed get there? Balsams have two methods of propagation: by seed and  by "layering" in which a lower, drooping branch that comes in contact with the soil can convert tissue to promote root growth and propagate a "new" stem.

Liz trying to run uphill against a strong head wind. Mt. Washington and the Great Gulf are in the background.

Mt. Sam Adams.

Mt. Abigail Adams.
Madison Spring Hut tucked into the flank of Mt. Madison.
The view north from the front door of the hut.
This small, idyllic "pasture" is, perhaps, my favorite place in the White Mountains: a great place to read, daydream, or take a nap.
One of the most difficult aspects of mountain climbing is having to go back down. I've probably said that umpteen times but on fine days like Saturday it's difficult to step out of that world and back into the stress (assault?) of everyday, ordinary life.

Liz is into self-portraits and I, on the other hand, detest having my picture taken.
Near the bottom of the Valley Way and next to Snyder Brook.