Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mid-morning Trek

The snow was so nice that I simply had to go out and snowshoe a trail or two this morning. I headed out the Rich Lake Trail, and was having such a good time that I added the Peninsula Trail.

On our scale of difficulty levels, the Rich Lake Trail (RLT) is our shortest and easiest trail: 0.6 mile loop and flat, once you get to it (access is downhill via a series of switchbacks). The RLT connects to the Peninsula Trail (PT) about half way around. The PT is 0.9 mile loop and rugged - considered our challenging trail because of the hills and stairs. I tell visitors that if they climb mountains, it is a piece of cake; if they have bad knees, they don't want to do it. The nifty things about the PT are its old-growth conifers and the impressive rock-faces along the ridge (you'll see 'em in a bit).

There weren't many tracks of note today : squirrel, mouse, some old and drifted coyote. There were some nice fox tracks, but for some reason they just weren't photographing well. I had my eyes peeled for more deer bones (companions to the skull previously posted), but no such luck.

Something about clear ice just makes you want to photograph it.

Here we are looking down Graveyard Bay and out towards Rich Lake proper. Despite the cold temperatures and the very likely frozen water here, I'm not so sure I'd tempt fate and cross the bay. I've known this part of the lake to have soft spots, and I'd hate to fall through. Therefore, we post the shoreline, discouraging visitors from heading out onto the ice.

This fall the winterberries bore a good number of bright red fruits. A few remain still, but most are gone. Robins and other birds fill up on winterberries to get them through the cold months. Winterberries (Ilex verticillata), aka black alder, are a member of the holly family. Unlike the holly associated with Christmas, with its spikey-tipped swoopy leaves, winterberry is not evergreen.

The RLT is the windiest of our trails. On bitter cold days when the wind is gusting, I steer people away from this trail; otherwise, they come back frozen solid. Still, the wind makes for some wonderful snow dunes - sculpted mounds of snow formed as the wind gusts between the trees along the lakeshore. These are a couple views of the actual trail, covered with snow dunes, waiting for me to wade through and make the path visible once more.

The Graveyard Bay Overlook is on a cliff many feet above the water. Looking at the snow down there on the ice, you can almost feel the wind that formed the crusty snow-waves.

A lone white pine stands sentinel at the Graveyard Bay Overlook. It's banner, or flag, shape is a direct result of years enduring the wind on this point.

From many places along the trail you can catch a glimpse of the Goodnow Mt. firetower. We had a trio of visitors in first thing this morning whose destination was the firetower. I hope they had a good climb.

Every time I walk by this tree, I think "my goodness, but the woodpeckers have been busy." One of these days I will have to actually record the holes and then check on subsequent visits to see if any new ones are added.

We come at last to the floating boardwalk, which isn't doing much floating these days. Socked in for the winter, it gives us access to some interesting wetland plants.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is probably the most common plant out here. Even in winter, it is easily recognized but it's buttony flowerheads.

I think sweetgale (Myrica gale) has some of the prettiest buds out there.

Steeplebush (Spirea tomentosa) is pretty easily recognized. In the summer these flowers are a delicate shade of pink. Now they are a dark, crusty brown.

I came across this toppled spruce, all covered with snow. This tree has been down for a couple years, but it really stands out in stark contrast in the winter.

Here's a close-up head-on.

Stretching out as high as I could, I could not reach the toppled trunk. This should give you an idea of how big it is.

I just loved the pattern in the wood where it ripped apart. The jagged edges remind me of marbled paper.

The brown checkered heart of the tree suggests rot. Could this have weakened the tree?

Doesn't this look like pale broccoli? I'm not really sure what it is: moss or lichen. It was soft and spongy, which to me suggests moss, but it is awfully pale for most mosses I've seen (with the exception of Bryum argenteum, which is a lovely silvery green). Whatever it is, there was a lot of it, all along the underside of a fallen-over tree, which has been down for quite some time. Hm...maybe they're liverworts?

You can probably guess why this part of the PT is roped off. Can you imagine snowshoeing stairs? Every winter we close off the stairs and reroute trekkers through the woods - a bushwhack that isn't usually available (if you stay on the trails as we request). When the PT was first built, there were no stairs here - just a scramble up the cliff. The stairs make it more easily accessible to everyone.

Every year I tell myself that I should explore this rock face, but I never do. It certainly wouldn't be easy to navigate; in fact it would be downright difficult, but I bet there are lots of nifty things to discover. The variety of mosses and lichens alone might be worth it.

These icicles were hanging further along the rock face. The longest ones might easily be as tall as I, and I'm just under five-and-a-half feet tall.

On the way back to the building, I passed a group of cross-country skiers. Should you put the VIC on your list of destinations this winter, please keep in mind that while all our trails are snowshoe-able, only the Sage Trail is a ski trail. To get to the Sage Trail, you have to ski part of the Sucker Brook Trail, which can be a challenge, even for expert skiers. And if you don't have any snowshoes, that's okay - you can borrow a pair from us at no charge.

So pack up the family and come on out. I hope these images have tempted you to make the Newcomb VIC one of your winter trip stops this year.


  1. Thanks Ellen for the pictures and narration on your snowshoe. I love reading about places other people love to snowshoe. Toby looks like a sweet dog and I'm glad you came to the rescue.

  2. Lovely photos! I especially enjoyed the sweetgale and steeplebush, but I loved the liverworts (?) too!. I've been to Newcomb VIC in summer, but I would love to come in the winter, too!

  3. Everywhere you look, something lovely to see! Thanks for taking us along the VIC's trails. Regarding that moss/lichen/liverwort stuff, you know who would know, don't you? Evelyn!

  4. You have a keen eye for nature.I like your interpretation of things you see on your hikes.

  5. I SO enjoyed taking this walk with you! (The digital camera is one of our recent inventions that truly does serve a purpose.)

  6. I have to admit, I'm lazy about hiking in the winter, but enjoyed taking this walk with you! Thanks for sharing your trail.

  7. Loved the walk and that photo of the steeplebush.

  8. 'Got a question regarding your picture looking out Graveyard Bay -- please email me.

  9. Catharus - I don't have an email address for you. Drop me a line at ejrathbone@gmail.com .