2010-08-04 23:43:18.000 – Ryan Knapp, Staff Meteorologist
Since today is Wednesday, it means it is shift change day on the summit. And since my shift has just started, I really don’t have anything summit related to talk about. The weather is rather bland for our standards with winds 25-40 mph, visibility at zero, and temperatures in the mid-50s. If we were in the clear I would probably be trying to take in the Aurora Borealis the northeast seems to be all abuzz about but since we are in the fog, that doesn’t seem likely. But I am not worried as we are heading into an active solar cycle from what I have been reading so I am sure there will be other opportunities. So instead of talking about the summit, I thought I would turn my inspiration to three things summit related I did in my off week.
The first thing I got to do was hang out with Stacey Kawecki, our Educational Observer on the other shift as well as Jeff Wehrwein, a former summit intern on the other shift. To most this might not be that big of a deal but due to where they live and how our schedules work out, we seldom get to hang out especially since my shift is normally up when hers is down. In fact, in the nearly three years I have worked with Stacey, I have only hung out with her about five times off the summit cone and the same can be said about Jeff. So it makes these rare events that much more memorable when everything lines up and they do occur.
The second thing I got to do was hike in Ice Gulch, NH. I have been itching to do this hike ever since I met Andreas Pflitsch, the German professor that comes each winter with a group of students from the University of Ruhr. He had discussed a few of the studies he had done in this unique ravine in New Hampshire not only because it (usually) holds ice year round but its vegetation is similar to the summits. After years of hearing about all the hype about this gulch and its ice, I can say that it lives up to it all. That’s right; there is a location in New Hampshire that (usually) holds ice year round. This very deep ravine located just outside Randolph, NH houses several large boulders and because of its depth, orientation, elevation, and geological make up, several blocks of ice can survive the brutality of summer heat virtually unscathed. And because of the microclimate of the ravine, it creates a natural community known as “subalpine cold-air talus barren” of which (according to Andreas) only six such communities around the state exist with Ice Gulch being the largest.
It was impressive to feel a significant temperature difference (about 10-20F cooler) in the gulch and see vegetation like that on the summit. The dwarfed trees, the bunchberry, the mountain cranberries, the Labrador teas and the variety of moss and lichens were everywhere making for a surreal and beautiful scene to take in. But it should be noted that this is not a walk in the park by any means. The ravine, like I mentioned earlier, is filled with large boulders. Not Mt Washington boulders but the type where you have to scuttle, place three points of contact and in some instances bend like Gumby to get around. Although its elevation gain is relatively small, the amount of bouldering you have to do takes its toll on you and it takes a long time to do safely. I don’t recommend doing the trail just after rain (wet rocks/moss), with small children, dogs, or anyone with joint issues. But if you are curious and adventurous, it is worth doing. And although the White Mountain Guide would have you coming down the gulch I am glad we went with their footnote advice that said it is more common to go up the gulch.
The last thing I got to do was fly around the summit, providing me with a perspective of the valleys below I had never seen before. Unfortunately, the summit was masked in clouds so I was unable to see my summit home from above but I did get to see several areas from above that I usually only get to see as small dots or bumps in the distance from up here. Although I wasn’t able to see the summit building, I did get to see a birds eye view of our brothers and sisters in our valley offices and Weather Discovery Center in North Conway. Some other notable sights I got to see were: Story Land, Cathedral Ledge, Kearsarge Fire Tower, a few notches, Long Lake, Sebago Lake, the Locks between Long and Sebago, Weirs Beach, Lake Winnipesaukee, the Ossipee Mountain Ring Dike Complex, and Conway Lake.
It was a very busy but very memorable and enjoyable week off full of hanging with friends and seeing various sights around the summit. It provided me with many new perspectives and an appreciation of not only where I work but where I live as well. And while working on the summit provides me with plenty of unique experiences and stories while on the summit, it also indirectly provides me with many unique experiences and stories while off the summit.
Ryan Knapp, Staff Meteorologist