Published DateI took a hiking buddy up Table Mountain (2,675 feet) in Bartlett on a beautiful day this week. It is always good to introduce friends to new places. Being an easy four mile round trip hike, it was leisurely with great views south from the summit ledges. Pastel yellow/green spring foliage filled the Swift River valley with light.
I had been to the top of Table Mountain before. Twenty eight years ago, in 1984, I hiked up Table Mountain to watch fire fighters mop up the last smolderings of a fire that had burned 105 acres over six days. It was newsworthy, being the first forest fire in the White Mountain National Forest since its inception in 1915. It started from a carelessly left campfire in the saddle between Table Mountain and Bear Mountain, and was first spotted from the Green Mountain fire tower in Effingham. At one point, the fire moved swiftly up the steep south side of Table Mountain, crowning out in tall spruce. Airplanes doused it with water. For once, fire fighters came from around the country to help here, rather than leaving here to fight fires in the West.
I wrote a column about it in the Mountain Ear newspaper. Seven years later, I revisited the top of Table Mountain. Below the ledges, succession had replaced the forest with young softwoods, though skeletal remains of burned trees were also plentiful. Again I wrote about it, this time for North Conway's Reporter Press (that column can be seen on the Google News archives at: news.google.com/newspapers?nid=325&dat=19910821&id=Lis6AAAAIBAJ&sjid=OioMAAAAIBAJ&pg=847,13715968).
This Thursday, as we started up the Attitash Trail towards the top of Table Mountain from the hiker's parking lot on Bear Notch Road, the Table Mountain fire of 1984 was only a shadowy thread of memory, as we walked beneath glorious spring foliage next to the roaring Louisville Brook.
However, as we bore left and followed the steep trail away from the brook, I remembered that fire hoses had been laid up the trailside from the brook to get water up to the "Fire Camp" in the saddle between Table and Bear Mountains. According to my Reporter article, a total of 7,000 feet of hose and six pumps had been used. From there, it was carried in Indian pumps up to the fire on the summit.
Above the brook, the trail soon returned to a gentle grade, and traversed an open hardwood forest up to the saddle. I was walking second in line, and we moved up the traverse so fast that I missed noticing the saddle, where, 28 years before at the "Fire Camp," four wheelers were parked in the woods beside tents, next to stacked equipment and lingering firefighters on break. Back then I had to wait till no one noticed me to continue up the trail into the restricted fire zone, even though the fire was essentially out at that point. Upon reaching the top, where firefighters aimed Indian pumps into smoldering duff, I was welcomed, and allowed to get some pictures.
Thursday we reached the first lookout ledge above the saddle in no time, and enjoyed the southern view. Then, each succeeding ledge yielded greater views, until we sat on the uppermost ledge and looked out over the wide Swift River valley. Our eyes bathed in spring green.
On the south ridge below the summit, a wide swath of pastel aspen leaves marked an area that had burned in the fire. It contrasted dramatically with adjoining dark spruce. Closer, most of the tall gray skeleton trees killed by the fire were gone, replaced by uniform young softwoods.
We stood on the edge of the summit ledge and looked 20 feet straight down to the ground, and the trunks of adolescent aspens. Annual rings would likely reveal they began their lives a year or two after the fire. Now, my two hands wouldn't stretch around their trunks and touch.
In an undisturbed forest, fires are natural and beneficial. In a forest that has been so effected by recent human history, it's good to see this essential healing power of nature.