Monday, January 31, 2011

Mount Moosilauke

We left home before dark yesterday morning, with Venus shining brightly above a waning crescent moon in the southeast sky. Two and a half hours later at 8:30 am under mostly cloudy skies, six of us (three men, two women, and one dog) set out on snowshoes on the Glencliff Trail toward the summit of 4,802' Mount Moosilauke.

We reached this trailhead, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, by traveling west on Rte 25 from its start off I-93 in Plymouth. Route 25, also known as the Mt. Moosilauke Highway, meanders northeast along the Baker River, through the rural towns of Rumney, Wentworth, and Warren. The headwaters of the Baker River get their start on the eastern slopes of Mt. Moosilauke. In Glencliff Village we turned right onto a road that AMC calls Sanatorium Road, that leads to the Glencliff Home for the Elderly. At 1.2 miles, a parking lot on the right is the start of the Glencliff Trail.

The first 0.4 miles of trail follows an old farm road and passes along the edge of several fields, now part of the Benton State Forest. The trail then enters the woods and begins a long, steady climb up the west side of the mountain.

The Glencliff Trail passes through mixed woods of birch, maple, beech, spruce, and fir, then into open hardwoods with many huge yellow birch, including one next to the trail that was more than three feet in diameter. As the trail climbs higher it enters the spruce-fir zone. Every patch of dense softwoods along the way revealed many snowshoe hare tracks. Farther up, in the spruce and fir, we saw one moose track and one marten track.

As we climbed higher and higher the pitch got steeper and the snows deeper. The softwoods, laden with snow, closed in the trail. The temperature hovered in the low teens or colder. Surprisingly there was little wind on this leg of the hike. The 2.6 mile Glencliff Trail is mostly protected from the wind, except for the final pitch to the intersection with the Carriage Road that leads to the summit. 

We paused at the intersection of Glencliff Trail with the Carriage Road for water and snacks and to don some extra gear for the 0.9 mile hike to the summit. Mount Moosilauke is the farthest west of the White Mountain peaks over 4,000 feet. On a clear day the summit offers far reaching views in all directions. Steven Smith and Mike Dickerman, in their book, The 4,000-footers of the White Mountains, note that you can see 34 other 4,000-footers from the summit. As such, the summit of Mt. Moosilauke is very exposed to the weather. Today we had weather and no views, but the experience was exhilarating.

It was cold at our lunch spot, the junction of Glencliff Trail and the Carriage Road

We reached the trail junction at 11:30; after the snack break we made for the summit, spent a few minutes there taking photos of the summit sign; there were no other views as a west wind whipped up the snow and low clouds blocked any views. The trail to the summit is not steep but it is exposed. The wind quickly drifted over the snowshoe tracks of others in front of us. Tall rock cairns thankfully marked the way. We passed a few others coming and going quickly from the top. Kodi was unfazed by the wind and the cold. He loved every minute.

Here are photos along the 0.9 mile trail to the summit. After reaching the summit we retreated to the wind-protected trail junction for lunch then headed back down at 1:30 pm, reaching the car at 3:15. A 7.8-mile round trip trek, gaining 3,300 feet in elevation from our car to the summit.

You can just see some people in the distance on the trail to the summit

Another 4,000-footer for Kodi

Our hiking companion Sue, Kodi, and I pose in the bracing wind

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Sun Shines Through

Kodi and I set some fresh snowshoe/paw tracks this morning in our neighbor's back woods. The snow kept falling this week; maybe a foot of fresh powder after our last walkabout over to our neighbor's woods and field. So, the going was slow in places, for Kodi and me. Our surroundings sparkled under a blue sky and brilliant winter sun.

Kodi sets a track in our neighbor's field

Ice crystals coat the alder bushes bordering the field
(click on picture twice to enlarge to see the delicate ice crystal patterns)

The sun casts a long shadow on dried goldenrods

As we hiked back into our yard, I immediately noticed the sun streaming onto the south side of the house. Now, only three days after 21 pines were removed from the woods, I cannot remember what it was like before. Today, the sun feels warm and bright on a cold winter morning - just what we hoped for by taking down the tall, shading pines. In the house, Kodi finds the newly sunny spot in the kitchen. In the wee hours this morning we looked out our south windows to see Venus and a crescent moon - sights we could not see before Tuesday when the pine trees blocked our view to the south.

The winter sun shines through the hardwoods, now free of the tall white pines, to warm the house.

Kodi finds the sunny spot (notice his reflection on the fridge!)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pine Tree Removal

For the past two days I was absorbed watching a crew of four remove 19 tall, white pines from our woods and 3 similar pines from our neighbor's side. Together we hired Urban Tree Service from Rochester, New Hampshire to carefully remove the pines, leaving untouched, as best as possible, all the remaining hardwoods. They did a phenomenal job, with the aid of a large crane, a tree climber/sawyer, and two others working the chipper and logging trucks. They worked carefully and methodically, despite the frigid temperature on Monday and snow on Tuesday. On the second day the sawyer (the guy who climbs up and down the trees, wielding a chainsaw to cut the trees in sections) said his feet were still cold.

Our purpose was to remove these tall pines that shaded our house and driveway in winter. The thick needles on the tree tops and their wide trunks blocked the low winter sun, so our driveway always remained ice covered and we were getting less passive solar warming on the south side of our house.

Here are a before and after picture. The after image looks a little bleak, but mainly because it is overcast, whereas the before picture was taken on a sunny day. We are anxiously awaiting another sunny day to see how much sun now reaches the house!

Before pine tree removal

After pine tree removal

Depending on the size of the tree, the sawyer made one to five cuts. The sawyer, fitted with a climbing harness and rope, protective head and face gear and leg chaps and a dangling chainsaw, was lifted to the upper part of the tree by the crane. He then lashed the crane hook to the tree, belayed himself down about 16 feet, then tied himself off to the trunk and kicked his boots fitted with side spurs into the tree. Then he reached for the chainsaw, gave it a few pulls (it seemed to need 4 or 5 pulls in the cold), lifted it to eye level, and sawed through the tree trunk. The crane operator carefully lifted the tree section straight up and then over to our driveway, dropping it gently in front of the chipper truck. The top one-third or so of the tree went into the chipper; other bigger sections were kept as logs. Some trees took 45 minutes or more to remove, while thinner trees were dispatched in 15 minutes.

The first day went slowly, probably because of the cold and the large tree sizes; they removed 7 trees. On day two the crane set up in our neighbor's driveway. And by day's end, after moving the crane one more time farther down the driveway, all 21 trees were gone. This is clearly hard work, especially in winter. Although, the frozen ground is the best for protecting the driveway, yard, and soil since there was no compaction from the heavy equipment.

After the crew left, there were some small branches and needles scattered here and there and a few logs for them to come back for. Otherwise, at first glance you might not notice they were here. The trees were cut cleanly to the ground. Softwoods do not re-sprout like hardwoods, so we don't need to dig up the stumps. The hardwoods can now put on more girth and spread their crowns. And the winter sun can shine through their bare branches to our house and driveway.

Since this was not a typical logging job, where trees are felled and the landowner receives some of the income, we paid a good sum to have these trees removed. Felling the trees would have damaged most of the remaining trees. We wanted to save the hardwoods and still have a nice woods. Doing this with our neighbors worked beautifully, as we each saved a bunch of money, and having access to their side helped with the removal of some of our trees. The neighbor kids came home early from school (and Srini arrived home early from work) to see the last few trees being removed. It is fascinating to watch. We were all impressed with the skill of the crew.

Here are a series of photos showing different aspects of the operation.

The crane in our yard; the chipper in the background

The sawyer being lifted by the crane

The sawyer lashing crane hook to the tree top

The sawyer making a cut with the chainsaw

Crane lifts tree top over to the driveway

A top going into the chipper

The bigger sections are kept for logs

The logs are loaded

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Quiz 3 Answers

We are having 19 large white pines removed from our side yard to allow more sunlight to reach the house and driveway. The remaining hardwoods - mostly red oak and beech -- will now grow straighter and bigger after the over-topping pines are gone. We have many big pines on the other side of the house, so the birds and squirrels still have their roosting and feeding habitats. The tree crew is working in the cold; the average temperature in the last 24 hours was 0 F. Tomorrow I will post photos of this operation.

Meanwhile, here are the answers to the winter bud quiz that I posted last Friday. Buds add warmth to the season, which is greatly needed at the moment. These winter buds are a sure sign that spring is on its way!

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum): small, round, red buds; reddish stem

Red maple (Acer rubrum): opposite, red buds; red stem

Hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium): opposite rust-colored, naked (no scales) buds

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata): large, tan-gray buds with dark outer scales; stout twigs

Speckled alder (Alnus incana): male (large) and female (small) catkins (flower buds) present; also look for last year's fruits (cones)

Gray birch (Betula populifolia): typically single male bud; slender twigs

American beech (Fagus grandifolia): long, slender, pointed, copper-colored buds

Rhododendron: large, green, pointed buds

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Blog's Namesake

We are visiting my parents this weekend at their homestead -- Winterberry Farm -- in western Massachusetts. Yesterday another 10 inches of nice powder fell at our place in southeastern New Hampshire. Plenty of snow here too, although they got a bit less than we did in this last storm. Still, the fields and woods are deep in snow.

Kodi was ready for a walk when we arrived so we set off out back on our snowshoes. The rain from Tuesday's storm left a crust of ice sandwiched between the snow that fell before and the fresh powder that came after. The small to medium-sized animals are able to stay on top of the ice crust, while we broke through on our snowshoes. We crossed paths with several tracks, including Eastern cottontail rabbits, gray squirrels, woodland mice, and coyote, or maybe fox. I think the wild canids are in heat now; we saw blood mixed with urine where two sets of tracks merged in the field.

The hardwood forests here are stark in winter, beautiful in their simplicity. We returned to the house through the woods, passing several spicebush - my blog's namesake! It is these very spicebush that inspired me to title my blog as such.

A snowshoe hike through the "back forty" at Winterberry Farm

Spicebush among the hardwoods and woodland mice tracks

Spicebush buds in winter

Today was sunny and calm, with temperatures in the low-20s. A perfect winter day. The really cold temperatures predicted for this weekend have not yet materialized. Tomorrow night promises to be much, much colder.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Plant Quiz 3

I have been remiss in not posting the next plant quiz. January snows keep coming - with a bit of rain in between this week -- so I've been too busy snowshoeing and shoveling. Another 6 plus inches of snow are expected today. Before I get ready for more shoveling, here is the next quiz.

On my snowshoeing travels I keep my eyes open for winter buds; there are many and if you look close they add a lot of beauty to the otherwise grays and whites of winter. Below are eight photos of winter buds. To make this slightly easier, here is the list of plants: gray birch, American beech, red maple, shagbark hickory, rhododendron, speckled alder, hobblebush, highbush blueberry. Match these plants with the buds below.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snowshoeing Snow

Continuous cold weather has maintained the beautiful soft snow that fell last Wednesday. The snowshoeing is the best in memory. Often it seems, we get rain or warm weather soon after a nice snowstorm that melts away and ruins the snow. Not this year, not yet. The snowshoeing is fabulous.

Yesterday afternoon I led a group of 24 people on snowshoes into the nearby Northwood Meadows State Park. By the time of our snowshoe hike in early afternoon the temperature had warmed from -2 F at 5 am to the low 20s. I tend to set a fast pace in between stopping to look at winter buds or examine an animal track or listen for resident birds. Everyone kept pace; all were enthused, energetic, and excited when we saw various tracks including deer mice, snowshoe hare, long-tailed weasel, and river otter among others.

Cold temperatures in winter typically bring clear blue skies, so much the nicer for a snowshoe hike. Our good fortune continued this afternoon as we set out with some friends on snowshoes into another local state park (Pawtuckaway). We crossed a frozen wetland, walking among wetland plants -- black spruce, pitcher plant, and others -- something that one cannot do easily during the other seasons, unless you want to get very wet.

 A small black spruce growing on a small hummock in the frozen wetland

We climbed a familiar trail that leads passed a huge rock outcrop and boulder field that is home to bobcat and porcupine in winter and nesting ravens in summer. The trail meanders up and then along a ridge with nice views.

 The view from the top -- looking toward the New Hampshire seacoast

It was along the ridge that we paused to tap a small white ash tree dotted with a line of old woodpecker holes. After a few taps a flying squirrel poked out his head, then scurried out and around the tree trunk, and then back in the hole. A second flying squirrel poked his nose out then ducked quickly back inside.

 The flying squirrel tree; they popped out of the second hole from the top

Every outing on these fine winter day reveals new sights and sounds of winter. There are few distractions out in the woods on these clear, cold days. Only us and the flying squirrels now nestled in their tree and the porcupine tucked into his rocky den and the whistling of the wind as it blows down the length of the wetland as we retrace our steps back to the cars.

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