Mt. Washington

Mark Walker mwalker at
Tue Jun 30 11:19:51 EDT 1998

In preparation of an extended backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada later
this summer, my 12-year old son and I made for the White Mountains of New
Hampshire.  We waited for a lull between storms, and picked a perfect day
(Sunday, June 28) to try hiking up the Presidentials.  We chose the highest
elevation trailhead as our starting point (Jefferson Notch), and got an
early start (8:30 a.m.).  The walk to the treeline was pleasant, but then we
encountered the Caps Ridge, which was more technically challenging than I
anticipated.  We didn't reach the pass below Mt. Jefferson until 12:00 noon.

By the time we got to high altitude, we were walking in a perpetual cloud.
All the rest of New Hampshire was enjoying a clear blue sky (and you could
see the rest of New Hampshire from up there).  Walking along the ridge
towards Mt. Washington, we began to get a little chilly (it was about 40
degrees F at 12:00).  We stopped for lunch when we approached the Cog
Railway, about a mile below the summit.  I had brought along my camping
stove, so we heated up some noodle soup.  It was about 1:30 p.m.

I was a little disappointed (O.K., so I was a lot disappointed) that there
was no sign of butterflies.  Too cold, I guess, even though the wind was a
non-existent 3 mph.  Still, as the afternoon waned, the radiated heat from
the valley floor began to dissipate the cloud cover.  By 2:00 p.m. we were
getting brief, 30-second blasts of sunshine.  I told my energetic son to
keep his eyes peeled, even though I had already conceded to a butterflyless
outing.  Then, suddenly and sort of matter-of-factly, my son says,

"I see a butterfly".

"Where, what do you mean?", I replied in a start.

"It's right over there", he said, "and it's still sitting there".  We were
surrounded by nothing but boulders and some sort of tundra grass and moss
habitat.  The weather was terrible, but he insisted that he saw a butterfly
open it's wings.

"You're kidding.  I don't see anything.  What's it look like?  Is it brown?
How big is it?".  You have to understand.  You're on the moon, high above
everything else that thrives, within the recorded habitat of a few relict
species, and due to weather you've long given up hope of seeing any
butterfly fauna.  It's an understandably excitable moment, right?

"I still see it, it's still there."

"Can you point to it?" I asked disbelievingly.

"There, it's right there."  And he gets on his knees and moves closer and
closer, but I'm still seeing rocks and moss.  Finally, he's just about
touching the thing.  It doesn't move, but I finally see it.  It's a
wonderful Oeneis melissa, perfectly camouflaged against the drab stone, and
laying almost on it's side, almost flat against the ground.  "Wow!  What in
the world are you doing in a place like this?"  (I've already confessed to
talking to them, so I will not attempt to explain this now).

Over the next 60 minutes, as we finished our ascent, we saw a half dozen
more, rapidly fluttering and bouncing about a foot off the ground, only to
stop and disappear against the rock or in the stubble.  Occasionally, one
would fly straight up and away.  All could be approached for a close
inspection, but were often next to impossible to see.  You'd walk up,
thinking for sure one had landed in this spot, and knowing you were right
only when you startled it out of it's camouflage.

We also saw two lone and delirious Coenonympha tullia and a Papilio
canadensis in a real hurry.

It was already 3:30 when we reached the top, and we were only half way.  It
didn't matter.  The day was already perfect.

Mark Walker
Extremely sore in Vermont.

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