Gap Mountain in Winter: A Land Steward's Perspective
This morning I decided to put aside my usual activities and head over to Gap Mountain for a short hike. It was cold, only 5 degrees, as I drove over to the south trailhead. The temperature had dropped to –10 last night and the low winter sun had hardly had a chance to warm things up a bit before gray clouds quickly obscured it. It looks like another storm is going to move in with more snow. Since the parking lot is not plowed in winter, I found a place to park beside the road at the trailhead. I was surprised to see that no one had broken out the trail from the last few storms. Last year the trail was almost always open within a few days after a storm. I had brought snowshoes but now I wished I had cross-country skis instead. I strapped on the snowshoes and started up the trail.
It was a beautiful, gray morning. The trees were still covered with snow from the last storm and there was 18 inches of fresh powered to plow through up the trail. As I walked along I thought of the walk along a trail I know so well. One of the nice things about hiking the trail in the winter is I don’t have to think about the trail “infrastructure” that needs attention. All the waterbars, steps, drains and such are buried deep in a blanket of snow so I don’t have to think about them. They can wait until spring. Not very far up the trail I had to stop to catch my breath. Breaking trail meant that I stopped many more times than usual on the trail, but the side benefit to that is a chance to observe things that are easily missed in other seasons. The most amazing observation was how quiet it was. There was no wind and the snow absorbed any man-made sounds that tried to come my way. The forest truly is nature’s cathedral during the wintertime.
Further up the trail I quickly came across signs that there were several deer in the area. I guess they had taken up residence underneath the firs down near the brook that flows through the area. There were several large areas in the forest where the deer had been pawing under the snow for acorns and other plants. It was heartening to see that there were no coyote tracks in the area, so at least the deer are not being harassed by them. As I stopped further along I did manage to see two large deer standing and watching me. I suspect one was a large buck but it was hard to tell. The antlers he had once possessed had dropped off and were now nourishing some mice or other ground dwelling critters. This is the cycle of life in the forest.
About a mile up the trail I reached the first steep pitch that rises to a shelf where there is an apple orchard. This was my goal for the day. I suppose I could have proceeded on to the top of Gap Mountain, but I didn’t feel the need to tackle the steep ledges just before the summit. I would let someone else break the remainder of the trail to the top. The apple orchard had a stark look to it, with the apple trees gray against the white snow. There were a few apples still clinging to some of the branches. Maybe they would provide food for some of the local birds. A few years ago I had cleared all the trees that had been choking the apples. Some of the trees looked like they are growing much better, but several have the fire blight. I’ll have to be careful when trimming those, so that I don’t spread it to the healthy trees. Since this was my turn-around point, I headed back down the trail. It was now that I really missed not bringing skis. With the powdered snow and rather gentle grade I think it would have been a nice glide back down the trail. Maybe another time. As it was, the walk out was a little easier since I had my own tracks to follow. I guess the deer felt the same way as there were signs that they had walked in my snowshoe tracks after I had passed.
Overall, this was a very satisfying hike. If you have not had a chance to visit a Forest Society property in winter, perhaps now would be a good time. There are no stones and roots to trip over along the trails and best of all, there are no bugs! For those that want a bit of adventure, I will be leading a hike to the top of Little Monadnock Mountain, on March 14, 2015, conditions permitting. Contact me, Hiel Lindquist, at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in coming along.