Sunday, April 15, 2012

Welch-Dickey Loop Trail

On this beautiful spring day we hiked the 4.4-mile Welch-Dickey Loop Trail off the Waterville Valley Road. It was a perfect first spring hike in the Whites, in recognition of tax day and in celebration of being outdoors. We met our hiking friends Mike, Kevin, and Jerry at the big parking lot. Srini and I (and Kodi) were the third car there. By the time we finished the hike at 1:30 we counted 50 cars; a very popular route, although we never felt crowded on the trail.
These mountains are not high: Welch tops out at 2,605 feet and Dickey is slightly higher at 2,734 feet. The views along the way though are terrific, and the upper half of the stretch to the top of Welch Mountain leads up one giant slab, with many, many great views along the way.
Where soil and leaves and twigs accumulate on the south-facing slope, plants grow, including a unique jack pine rocky ridge plant community. Jack pine is a fire-dependent species, is rare in New Hampshire, and reaches the southeastern limit of its range here. A new wonderful book--The Nature of New Hampshire--by Dan Sperduto and Ben Kimball notes that Welch Mountain is one of the best examples of this rare community in New Hampshire. Jack pine cones are serotinous, meaning they only open when exposed to hot fire or high temperatures. Hot summer temperatures on the south slope of Welch Mountain likely generate enough heat to open the cones.
Today was warm, but not hot. A gently breeze kept us company all day, and perhaps was the reason that we experienced no black flies or mosquitos. Kodi found it a little hot; he rested under the shade of the jack pine when time allowed. Our hiking party proceeded at a perfect, casual pace, so Kodi was able to rest at will.
The woods remain so dry. The rock tripe that clasps onto the big boulders looked withered. Typically, April rains moisten the tripe such that it turns a luxurious blue-green.
In the few shaded sections of the trail, a bit of moisture seeped out of the ground. I imagined all the nearby trees extending their roots to soak up this moisture. We saw only a few small patches of ice remaining in the darkest crevasses along the trail. Despite the droughty conditions we saw and heard much life along the way. We heard yellow-bellied sapsuckers tapping among the hardwoods and juncos trilled among the jack pines.
A small flotilla of turkey vultures soared over the valley. A kestrel and broad-winged hawk passed overhead. Ravens soared over the peaks. As we descended through a beech-oak forest, mourning cloak butterflies flitted in the understory. Bear-clawed beech trees were evident here too.
Along the way we stopped often to admire the views and soak up the warm sun and wonder at our good fortune to be out on such a fine day.
Enroute to Welch Mountain....
The Forest Service has fenced off the sensitive plant communities,
so hikers don't trample rare plants that take hundreds of years to develop.
A look back at Welch Mountain as we hiked toward Dickey Mountain.
A view toward the Tripyramids from atop Dickey Mountain.
Descending from Dickey Mountain--another great big slab.
This was our first hike on the Welch-Dickey Trail. We couldn't have asked for a better day. 

6 comments:

  1. It does look like a superb spring day (and a fine area =)

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  2. Hi Ellen,

    Welch-Dickey is a super hiking venue! I loved the insights that you added regarding your observations about the flora and fauna. Regarding the bear claw marks on the beech tree, to my untrained eye, I occasionally have difficulty in differentiating between claw marks and markings caused by beech bark disease. The marks on the tree shown in your Blog is definitely the result of bear claws!

    Thanks for posting another interesting report!

    John

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  3. Hi Hendrik - yes a great day out and a beautiful spot. Thanks for checking in. Ellen

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  4. Thanks John - I loved the jack pine and the big rock slabs, well everything about the hike. On the way down I was really checking the beech trees for claw marks. Many were infested with beech bark disease so I looked for the trees that had relatively smooth bark where I could more easily pick out the claw marks... Someday maybe I will see a bear actually make the marks. Cheers, Ellen

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  5. I miss all those great big slabs---unless they are wet!

    *sigh* I wish we had hiking like that here.

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  6. Hi MIsti - We were thinking too that the slabs would be quite tricky if wet or a bit icy. On Sunday though it was perfect. Ellen

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