Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Critters of Carter Notch

Now that I've finally gotten around to uploading my pictures, here's a field guide to the critters resident in and around Carter Notch Hut.

Here's the female half of a mating pair of foxes that has been hanging around the Notch. I saw both of them "flirting" with each other - roughhousing, really - around the hut building right before I took this picture. A moment later, she peed on the sign. A few nights later, one of them begged to come inside out of the cold (the wildlife remains wild, however). I haven't seen them for a couple of weeks, but I do see lots of tracks and will occasionally smell their skunk-like urine.

I woke up at 2 am Friday morning to frantic rodent scratching noises. I've so far been lucky not to have any rodents except for a harmless shrew (see below) that hung around for a couple of weeks, but as the warmer weather returns, they're becoming more active. I got out of bed so that I could set some traps and sleep in peace.

Here's the shelf where we store the rodent traps, and, in the corner, you can see the vole that got itself stranded there, unable to climb up or jump down to escape. It took me a couple of seconds as I fiddled with the mousetraps and bait before I realized that I was looking straight at my quarry. I herded the little guy into an empty grey-water bucket from under the sinks, and left him out in the kitchen until the morning, when I hoped to provide him as live bait to one of the local predators. The plan fell through when I found him dead of hypothermia five hours later.

The next afternoon, I trapped a second vole in a mousetrap. Hoping that I could attract predators and watch them dine through the big window next to my bed, I tossed this one into the same outdoor buffet as the hypothermia victim. The stirring chorus of Elton John's "The Circle of Life" played in my head as I shook the second corpse from the trap.

And this is a shrew, a very tiny rodent that has to eat almost constantly to sustain its frenzied metabolism. I had one in January that kept the floors exceptionally clean until it climbed into a full bucket of grey water and drowned. This one here lasted only three days before it, too, perished in a mousetrap.

And a local predator (I suspect the pine marten, whose tracks I found before and after the massacres) did snack on these treats, albeit in the privacy of darkness.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ski Carter Notch!

March 2006 on Carter Dome: Enough snow to confound navigation.

So far, rain has fallen during every ten-day stint I've worked at Carter Notch this winter (most recently during the hike down to the valley for a backcountry meeting on Sunday afternoon). But, even if all of the major storms have accompanied tepid southern winds, a number of runt "systems" have persisted in keeping the mountains pretty with fresh snow in between the monsoons.

This year, those of us who would like to consider ourselves vigorous northerners have been grasping at every meteorological suggestion of winter. Two or three of these scanty snowfalls piled on top of each other at least gave me the opportunity to recall the idea of "powder" on the top section of the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, just as they've offered New Hampshire snowplow drivers the opportunity to resurface Route 16 with rock salt. In spite of the rain, the snowpack gradually got deeper, all the way to 24 inches this past week at the hut. Windblown cornices on top of the Dome were over my head. And so, if there was going to be a week for skiing Carter Notch this year, this last week was likely to be my best opportunity.

I spent Monday on the Dome. I carried my skis to the summit on a brilliantly clear, calm, and cold day, then descended the Rainbow Trail on skis to the bald eastern ridge a mile east of the summit. Because few people ever travel on the Rainbow Trail, I enjoyed fresh, deep, and untracked powder the whole way, and the descent through was only steep and narrow enough to make me concerned about major trauma in an abstract (as opposed to concrete) sort of way. Actually, though the Rainbow Trail is ridiculously narrow, much of the spruce-fir woods around it are open enough to allow some degree of tree skiing. From the scrubby knob I had a fantastic view of Agiocochook rising over Wildcat, and I basked in the sunshine for about half an hour before heading back up to the summit and back down to the hut, on skis until Pulpit Rock, then on foot for the rocky last half mile.

Wednesday was a similarly beautiful day and, though I was tempted to enjoy the greenhouse effect of the large window next to the caretaker's bed, I got an early start to do a long loop of a ski tour via the Wildcat Valley/River trails. The Wildcat Valley Trail, which is maintained by the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, descends over 3000 vertical feet from the top of the Wildcat ski area to the town of Jackson. It is a long, meandering trail, not especially steep - it is meant for cross-country skiers, after all - but it can be fast if you want it to be, and the ride goes on for a long time. In my case, it took over half an hour, and I didn't even follow the trail to its end in Jackson Village.

In the valley, I was in the somewhat unfamiliar territory of Jackson's cross-country ski trail network. I needed to find the Wildcat River Trail to get back up to the hut, and after some skiing on a groomed track, I found a yellow blaze and a rough trail in the woods to the west of what I believed to be Jackson's Carter Notch Road. I followed this for over a mile before I began to second-guess my sense of direction and suspect that I might be climbing Doublehead Mountain on the other side of the valley. This idea, troublesome because it would have put me nearer to Maine than to the hut, turned out not to be so. In hindsight, an interstate tale of nocturnal navigations and neglected hut guests would have been better blog material than this account of a merely satisfactory day. For my next excursion, I will keep this in mind.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Dr. Almond takes a hike

On Saturday I learned that Dr. Almonds are a new superhero food. Filled with almond butter, honey and crushed graham crackers and dipped in dark chocolate, they are a tasty fuel and hearken the graham craze of the late 1890s. Let me know if you'd like the recipe.

It was Satuday that I hutchecked Madison Springs and Lakes of the Clouds Huts with Chris Dufreese, a regular hutchecking companion. The hike across the ridge is my favorite hike anywhere in the White Mountains. It changes every time. Leaving Madison and ascending Adams' shoulder, we were buffeted by 70 mph winds, with higher gusts. The air, however, was warm enough to need little more than long underwear and a windbreaker. By the time we reached Edmonds Col, the winds had died a bit, and the clouds had lifted (or we had desceded below them). We could see the hem of a thick cloud curtain hanging over the Great Gulf and shrouding the summit of Mount Washington. Then my crampon broke.

I hike in L.L.Bean boots with strap-on crampons and have since learned this is a mistake. My boots flex too much for the crampon, stressing the dinky clip that holds the back and front halves together. Fortunately, at the last moment, I packed some Dermatone which comes on what I had always thought was a useless carabeener keychain. Not so. The key ring worked perfectly to reconnect my crampon, so Chris and MacGuyver ate some Dr. Almonds, and carried on.

The crampons (and Dr. Almonds) proved necessary for the hike around Jefferson. Its flanks were covered with chenille-like stretches of snow and ice. The clouds lifted, and by the time we reached Clay, the sun had peeked out from behind its curtain. Following more Dr. Almonds, we skirted Washington in the sun. Lakes hosted a quick snack and an illegal quinzee, and we warned a loitering hiker against camping next to the hut. The buttslide down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail was just an added bonus to a beautiful, brisk, ridge walk.

Hutchecking both huts in one day allowed me to visit C.Neal at Carter that evening. I motored up in the moonlight to be welcomed by the Maine AMC chapter, led by C.Neal's high school chemistry teacher, and some delicious peach pie. It was a perfect day, and I can only attribute my endurance to a certain Doctor, and the coming of Spring.

In other news, I saw the pine marten at Zealand this week. He spent much time sunning just below the front porch and nosing around in its ice scrapings. I was so excited about my visitor that I shot an entire roll of film, and I will be sure to share them here as soon as they are developed.

This week in books:

Cruddy, by Linda Barry
The Corrections, by Johnathan Franzen
The Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami.

Friday, March 03, 2006

New York City

It's Friday, which means that I hike back into Carter Notch this evening with a 10 day stint in front of me. But March is my favorite month of the year, with lots of snow and lengthening days and warming temperatures in which to enjoy it. There's enough white stuff in the Notch that it's feasible for me to bring up my skis for the first time in a month. I plan to attempt ski descents of Carter Dome and the Wildcat Valley Trail this week.

This last set of days off were spent on the road, visiting friends in Vermont and New York City. We enjoyed good company and fresh vegetables, but New York was further away than I had thought, and I was also reminded of my extreme distaste for driving. What a relief it is, after a long day in the car, to arrive someplace where one gets around on foot, whether in the White Mountains or in Brooklyn. Jess and I also replenished our supplies of novels from the city's rich supplies of used books.

My buddy Paul from Reed joins me on the hike up today. He's visiting from Oregon and it's his first time in New Hampshire. I hope that Carter Notch raises his regard for the Granite State enough that he can turn a blind eye to that lower intestinal tract of White Mountain tourism, the North Conway strip, when he drives back to Boston tomorrow.

And before I head off to the hills, a shout-out to the crowd from Views From the Top website. They visited me over Presidents' Day weekend and shared two tremendous (in both the qualitative and quantitative meanings of the word) dinners of authentic Asian cuisine.