TrekEast Blog 57 Hiking Up and Stumbling Down New Hampshire’s Presidential Range
Views from Atop New England
Late September, 2011
Bicknell's thrush and moose photos: Courtesy of Larry Master, masterimages.org
Vistas the next couple days of my hike through New Hampshire’s White Mountains, atop the Kinsmans, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, and Galehead, were again vivid, expansive, and wild but for the fractures along I-93 and around sprawling Franconia. Then the high pressure system moved out, cold rain moved in, and views from South Twin, Guyot, and Zealand summits were dramatically different: fog-shrouded rock and heath and stunted fir and spruce trees. In that chilling weather, though, I enjoyed two special wildlife sightings
For the first time in New Hampshire since climbing Mt Moosilaukee 35 years ago with my father, I saw a spruce grouse (pictured left)! He seemed not to mind me watching as he foraged along the mossy floor of a spruce/fir forest on the north side of Mt Zealand. Early next morn, I heard hoof thumps outside my tent, stepped out with a flashlight, and saw two large widely- spaced eyes glowing back at me – after much sign, my first actual moose of the trek!
Later that day, skies having been cleared by that good cold rain, I espied from atop Mt Field with my binoculars a moose (pictured right) grazing far below in a bog. Then, with mounting excitement, I heard and glimpsed what I think was that rare and summer-endemic migratory bird, Bicknell’s thrush. It seemed fitting that I would see these three boreal species after the weather had turned colder. The spruce grouse, Bicknell’s thrush, (pictured below) and moose are near the southern extent of their ranges here in the Northern Appalachians and Adirondacks; and America (south of Alaska, where spruce grouse and moose are still abundant) could lose these emblematic animals if we do not curb our climate-disrupting carbon emissions. That sad thought aside, I ended my 20-mile, three-peak hike that day with a fine viewing of a beaver gnawing on a birch branch in a big system of beaver ponds near Zealand Falls. Beavers are another emblematic species, perhaps not especially vulnerable to climate chaos, but highly susceptible to trapping. They were nearly trapped out of most of North America a century ago, but thanks to successful reintroduction efforts and declines in demand for furs, the beaver has resumed its keystone, pond and meadow-making role in much of the Northern Appalachians.
Fortunately, the White Mountains have many conservation proponents. Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) has a particularly strong presence in the area. They maintain a system of huts and lodges (pictured lower right), where hikers can enjoy comforts of cooked meals, hot showers, and bunk beds, rather than the usual trail food, cold plunges, and tiny tents. TrekEast is on a tight budget, so we declined AMC’s kind offer of discounted prices on the huts excepting the one night I was to give a slideshow at their Highlands Center in Crawford Notch.
The Appalachian Mountain Club – like Sierra Club, Adirondack Mountain Club, Randolph Mountain Club (farther north in White Mountains, about which more later), and some river groups – is one of those good old-fashioned clubs that has long bridged conservation and recreation. The natural alliance between outdoor recreationists and wilderness conservationists has weakened a bit in recent decades, and has often been testy (programs of some such clubs occasionally inclining them against Wilderness designation in popular recreation areas, unfortunately); but there are encouraging signs of strengthening those ties again. As two examples, this trek is in part an affirmation of the values of both conserving and exploring wildlands; and a group whose board I recently joined back home, Champlain Valley Conservation Partnership has merged with Champlain Area Trails, to promote land conservation, carefully placed trail networks that get people out into Nature without disturbing wildlife, and local economies supported by non-motorized recreation.
This is one of reemerging challenges for conservation: reengage the hiking, climbing, paddling, wildlife-watching and other outdoor communities to advocate for the natural places where they enjoy their pastimes. All outdoorspeople ought to be conservationists. If you walk the woods, you know that pollution and fragmentation are diminishing them. If you climb the peaks, you know that the world is round and the flat-earth demagogues in Congress are lying.
Anyway, I was fortunate, when I got to AMC’s Highlands Center, to be greeted by several of my conservation heroes: Jamie Sayen is the Northern Forest visionary who made me believe, many years ago when I’d almost lost hope for large-scale wilderness in the East, in the possibility of big wild interconnected natural areas spanning the Appalachians. His Preserve Appalachian Wilderness (PAW) vision inspired a generation of conservation activists, soon to unite again behind proposals for an Eastern Wildway and cougar reintroduction therein. Jim & Meg Meiklejohn, parents of my Arctic pack-rafting buddy Brad Meiklejohn (who uses his Alaskan wilds explorations to help save land through The Conservation Fund), have been leaders of the Randolph Mountain Club (RMC) for years. Thanks largely to the Meiklejohns’ generosity and hard work, Randolph is, arguably at least, the best protected town in New Hampshire (see next blog).
I was also joined in Crawford Notch by my Uncle Dick & Aunt Sally, who have given me much moral support during this long journey, and by two Adirondack friends: Evelyn Greene is a daughter of the legendary conservationist Paul Schaeffer (see Defend the Wilderness: The Adirondack Writings of Paul Schaeffer) and herself long a leading voice for Adirondack protection, now through the grassroots group Protect the Adirondacks. Evelyn is often my naturalist guide back home in the Adirondacks, and here she would botanize in Mt Washington’s alpine zone, and remind me what those many stunted and similar looking alpine plants are.
Jay Fiegl is an exemplary teacher of earth sciences at our local public school in Westport, and is a champion trail runner. This worried me a bit, for Jay was anxious to climb mountains fast, after several class-bound weeks. My feet were just ceasing to complain after a week of pounding the steep rocky White Mountain trails, when in strode Jay, ready to scale every peak in sight, despite the hard rain falling on the mountains.
Thankfully, Jay was so awed, next day, by the parting clouds revealing radiant alpine peaks, that he kept to a comfortable, reverent pace. We both thought our first day out of Crawford Notch a hike to remember for a lifetime, yielding stunning views from eight peaks over 20 miles, including the longest traverse one can take above tree-line in the East. To share these higher zones with American pipits (bluebird size denizens of Arctic habitats), croaking ravens, rock & heath gardens, deer hair sedge in autumn gold, and a northern flying squirrel scurrying past our feet … was privilege indeed. Inspiring, too, were glimpses next day of a big cow moose browsing fir at the base of the Mt Madison summit cone, a pine grosbeak foraging cones above a rushing mountain stream, and sunbeams breaking through clouds and setting aglow slopes of leaves turning yellow and red. More of this, less of pavement!
As we took the AMC shuttle back to Jay’s car, for him to drive home after dropping me off near Randolph, we talked of Jay’s past and future work taking kids out into the wilds, to help them learn survival skills, grow confident, and reconnect with Nature. Creatures like the moose, flying squirrel, pipit, grosbeak, and alpine plants need wild places, we agreed, and so do creatures like elementary school students, parents, and outdoor explorers.
For the Wild,
Show Us Your Wild Winners
The winner: John (Will) Leonard
The Konza Prairie is located in the Flint Hills region of Kansas and is home to native tallgrass and switchgrasses on its 50,000 square kilometer area. It is home to more than 600 species of fish, reptiles, mammals, and birds. It is a lively, beautiful, and calming environment located just outside of Manhattan, KS.
The runner-up: Kristin Williams
Located at the headwaters of the Peace River in Polk County, Florida, this ecosystem is home to many native fauna and flora. Circle B Reserve is an excellent green space for a family picnic, bike ride, or leisurely stroll. Birds are plentiful, you might also encounter river otters, alligators, snakes, butterflies and so much more.
John Davis on KVNF, NPR CO
TrekEast Book Club
Wildlands Network has partnered with Island Press to provide our members and trekkers with a 25% discount on specific titles.
Visit www.islandpress.org/trekeast to find books of your choice and enter 2TREK at checkout.
Check out Michael Soule and John Terbourgh's Continental Conservation to learn how to rewild North America!