After last week’s adventure in -8°F weather, which, don’t get me wrong, I love!, today’s hike was much more mild. The timing couldn’t have been better either. It was chilly to start as I left this morning, a solid 10°F. As a side – you know you live in northern New England when you can walk out a week after a deep freeze and say to yourself, “Beautiful morning, kind of balmy!” as the temp goes from 10 below to 10 above. But, by the time we reached our destination the temperature had risen to 20°F.
Today’s adventure moves us just out of the AWWA watersheds in order to get a view of the eastern watershed boundary. We arrived at the base of Abbott Mountain in Shapleigh, Maine shortly after 8 AM. The access to the mountain is off Pitts Road (on Google Maps it is actually labeled as Ross Corner Road, and is the northern most Ross Corner road). This area has some stipulations that I should divulge into right off the bat. After driving in Owl’s Nest Road you will see Pitts Road on the right. In the summer, the road continues, although it is kind of a shady through-way. In the winter, Owl’s Nest Road turns into a snowmobile trail. This is where you should park. The property owner’s don’t have any problems with hikers or dogs, but they discourage and will report wheeled traffic such as ATVs. The land owners are kind enough to let people hike, so please respect their wishes.
The end of Owl’s Nest Road and looking to the right up Pitts Road. Take Pitts Road about a quarter mile to the trail head.
After parking and gearing up, Gunnar and I set forth to explore the area and see what wonders we could find. After a quick quarter plus mile on the road we had reached the trail head. The snowmobiles have been quite active and it made for a pretty easy hike. No snowshoes needed, just the trusty micro-spikes and away we went!
Gunnar, as per usual, led the way. He is a pretty excellent trail navigator. The snowmobile trail splits in a few places, but if you want to summit, just stay to the left. The trail is flat for about a quarter mile or so before it turns left and you start to gain some elevation. On the first stretch in I could see what looked like a nice wetland to the southeast, which we explored on our return. There are a few rivers that pass under the trail going in. All these little brooks are sourced from up-mountain and flow through the wetland.
Left: a small ponding area tucked into a depression that sources water to one of the small brooks. Right: a small brook flowing out of the pond toward the wetland.
Most of the trek was highlighted by hardwood stands composed of American Beech, Birch, Ash, Oak, and Maple. About halfway up I noticed some very large American Beech trees with minimal Beech Bark Disease (we discussed in the past blog). Included in these big trees was this gnarly fella!
The photo doesn’t do this tree the justice it deserves, but it was a beautifully gnarled old tree. A little farther along the trail and the trees begin to thin enough to get a view of some of the surrounding hills.
Soon we arrived at what appears to be the final ascent. The vegetation thins and the clear blue skies opened up above us.
The final push upwards is brief and not overly taxing. We had been seeing (Gunnar sniffing) several sets of tracks as we were coming up the main snowmobile trail. Lots of squirrels and plenty of deer. As we turned for the summit, the tracks increased in frequency.
Left: deer highway! There were several oak trees nearby which the deer have found their acrons quite delicious. Right: the tracks varied in size, but this one was a good sized deer. The hoof was punched in about 4″ and had a spread of about 3″.
At last we reached the summit. At just under 1,100 feet, it is not a very high peak, but it does offer some splendid views. I was unable to get a clear shot of Mount Washington with the camera, and it was not nearly as clear as last week atop Province Mountain, but it was still a great site. Abbott Mountain offers a great view from the southeast to the northwest. The reason we chose to hike an area that wasn’t in our watershed was to give you a view of our watersheds eastern most border.
This a great view looking almost entirely due west toward the AWWA eastern watershed boundary. The red barn that looks like it is in the middle of a lake is actually a large blueberry barren off Shapleigh Corner Road. Beyond that is Great East Lake. You can only see a small section of the main basin, but a lot of the forest you see past the red barn outlines the eastern most border of the Salmon Falls River watershed. It is a great site to see so much forest in our watersheds!
Left: the summit is marked by a pretty neat cairn. Right: another gorgeous day marked by some cirrus clouds.
On the summit we got a feel for the southeasterly front that was moving in. The wind was pretty gusty, but marked by a nice warm air. The temperature had probably gone up another few degrees since we started the trek. After a little while taking in the sites and locating as many features as I could, we began our trek down to check out the wetland!
A view of our wetland destination from the summit.
We descended quickly on the wonderfully packed snow. When we reached the bottom the trail splits (we stayed left when going up). We stayed left again to head toward the opening to the wetland. I was pretty excited as wetlands are one of my favorite morphological features! But before we could get there, I was distracted by another awesome feature…a carved out face in a slope that provided a perfect look into soil horizons!
Having a pretty extensive soil science background, it is exciting when you can find these natural examples of perfect soil horizons. A quick bit of soil science and then we’ll move onto the wetland. In the northeast we have pretty straight forward soils that generally fall into this category. Just below the snow is the top horizon known as the O-Horizon. The O-Horizon is the organic horizon composed of newly dead and decaying matter. It is a dark brown to black layer that has both identifiable and non-identifiable material in it. Due to our forests being very pine dominated and our rain having a low pH, we do not often find an A-Horizon in northern New England as it is leached away from the acidic runoff. The A-Horizon would be a deep brown, humus layer of rich organic material, perfect for growing. Instead we skip to the B-Horizon. The B-Horizon is the dark orange/reddish layer you see. It is this color due to the amount of iron in the soils. Below this is the C-Horizon, the slightly off white horizon composed of mostly broken down bedrock. That is a simplified, crash course in soils, but there is oh so much more if you’re interested! Now onto the wetland!
This is a pretty good sized wetland and is a beautiful specimen. Wetlands come in all shapes, sizes, and nomenclature. The term “wetland” broadly encompasses an area of land that is saturated with water, permanently or seasonally. They also must have hydric soils and aquatic plants. From this definition you can break a wetland into bogs, marshes, fens, and swamps. Each has their own defining characteristics. For me, wetlands are amazing ecological systems. They are basically giant sponges set into the landscape. Due to their unique hydrology and plants, they are capable of buffering the local environment to erosion during storms as they can store massive amounts of water during large rain events. They are also well known as phosphorus and nutrient “sinks”. The term “sink” refers to taking up a specific element or nutrients. As water passes through the wetland, the native vegetation and hydrology act to absorb and utilize the nutrients. The water leaving the wetland is cleaner and less nutrient laden that what came in. There is so much more to wetlands that is fascinating but I will leave that up to you to check out. Before we depart until next time, I will leave you with an aerial photo of the wetland which we checked out today. Aerial views of wetlands is the other big reason I find them so fascinating! When you’re right up close you cannot tell their is a river running through this, let alone the volume of water that is actually in this ecosystem.
Abbott Mountain was a great hike for a quick adventure. Just remember to respect land owner’s requests no matter where you hike!