Ampersand Basin - Adirondacks

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Erik Danielsen
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Ampersand Basin - Adirondacks

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Sep 18, 2020 7:57 pm

The remarkable site in the western High Peaks Rob Leverett introduced us all to in 2017, as previously chronicled in the Adirondack DIscoveries thread, is tough to refer to by way of existing placenames or administrative units. We've called it "Halfway Brook" after the water body that drains much of it, and I think watersheds are an ideal way to tie together a site's concept- but the tallest stands of esker-and-island pines really drain into the Flag Brook/Cold Brook run. The old-growth forest landscape extends between both. Other forests we've explored nearer the western outflow of Halfway Brook are in a different administrative unit- the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, while the rest of the area is in the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Nearly all of this area is in Franklin county, but a bit of the upper headwaters of Cold Brook extend into Essex. What does unify Halfway Brook and Flag Brook/Cold Brook is that both have headwaters on Ampersand Mountain. Flag Brook/Cold Brook's other headwaters extend east to the Sawtooths, but that's not a problem, as it appears that contiguous areas of old-growth landscape extend well up that basin, and looking at it all on a topo it feels like a rationally contiguous "basin" in a reasonably satisfying way. I'll add a map visually describing this area once I've got it finished.

The Ampersand Basin includes Ampersand Mountain, Van Dorrien Mountain, the Sawtooth Mountains, and Alford Mountain, the two aforementioned brooks along with Dutton and McKenna Brooks, Owl Pond, Little Ampersand Pond, Big and Little Pine Ponds, and a bit of the shore of First and Second Ponds, Middle Saranac Lake, and Lower Saranac Lake. This is the best "geographic unit" I can come up with to coherently encompass the landscape of contiguous old-growth and superlative forests associated with the initial site of discovery.
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Looking up at the shoulder of Ampersand Mountain from the edge of Halfway Brook.
Looking up at the shoulder of Ampersand Mountain from the edge of Halfway Brook.

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Ampersand Basin - Adirondacks

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Sep 18, 2020 8:23 pm

9/8-9/9/2020 Ascent of Van Dorrien

Something I've wanted to do for a while is summit Van Dorrien peak. There are no trails (official or otherwise) up this mountain, which comes in at just under 3,000' and so manages to avoid attention from peak-baggers. Even in our era of ubiquitous information all I can find suggests that this peak may get fewer than one human visitor in the average year. Nonetheless it has a small open area at the summit described as having excellent views. Mostly, I wondered if this relatively undisturbed peak might have interesting plant life reminiscent of the higher peaks further east.
Incredible Yellow Birch in the "Ash Crack."
Incredible Yellow Birch in the "Ash Crack."
Parking along Rt 3, I planned a route across the north flank of Ampersand Mountain into the basin of Flag Brook separating Ampersand from Van Dorrien, and then ascending one of the ridges dissecting the mountain's slope to access an interesting-looking cedar grove and then the summit. The north flank of Ampersand features a linear cleft running more or less east to west that I planned my route through, and this cleft turned out to be packed with old-growth forest, with hemlock-dominant or hardwood-dominant stands segregating by position on the landform. Particularly impressive in the extensive hardwood stand at the east end of this cleft were several large White Ash- it's tempting to call this cleft in the landscape the "Ash-Crack." But I'll keep trying to come up with a better label.
12.7' CBH White Ash
12.7' CBH White Ash
One of these White Ash was one of the only trees I measured in the ascent of Van Dorrien. It came to 103' tall and 12.7' cbh. Even accounting for some basal swelling from an old wound, this was a very impressive tree. Nearby, a Hemlock came to 108.5'. There were dozens of large stiped maples near this hemlock, in a transitional zone between a hemlock-dominant stand and the hardwood stand. The hardwood stands are primarily widely spaced large sugar maples, sparser yellow birch and sometimes white ash, and lots and lots of beech sprouts. It's clear that beech bark disease has had a big impact on forest structure here.
Another incredible birch in the Flag Brook basin between Ampersand and Van Dorrien.
Another incredible birch in the Flag Brook basin between Ampersand and Van Dorrien.
The rest of the trip to Van Dorrien's summit never leaves the old-growth behind. The yellow birches especially stand out. One hardwood stand at around 2600', just below the transition to coniferous high-altitude vegetation, featured the largest yellow birch I saw on this trip... which I wish I had measured. The Cedar Grove just above was beautiful, and very steep, but didn't feature any exceptional sizes. The summit's open zone featured Mountain Ash, Heatleaf Paper Birch, and surprisingly- Pin Cherry, along with the other species you'd expect.
Summit zone of Van Dorrien- krummholz Spruce and huckleberries to snack on.
Summit zone of Van Dorrien- krummholz Spruce and huckleberries to snack on.

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Ampersand Basin - Adirondacks

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Sep 18, 2020 9:33 pm

9/13 and 9/14 Halfway Brook
102.5' / 8'cbh Red Spruce
102.5' / 8'cbh Red Spruce
One long rainy day and one short dry day, and a lot of trees. The upland areas just south and east of the sections we previously covered are full of nice hemlock-northern hardwoods old growth, and even further to where Halfway Brook wraps around to the south and then back west there are low coniferous swamps with a couple more lurking white pine stands hiding. I was aiming for large stems in general, 12'cbh+ White Pines to add to the count especially. There were a handful of very large loner pines on the shoulder or at the base of slopes. Red Spruce really impressed me on this visit.
13.45'cbh / 131.5' loner white pine at the toe of a slope.
13.45'cbh / 131.5' loner white pine at the toe of a slope.
White Pine
138.5' / 13.4'cbh
134.5' / 13.2'cbh
137'
133.5' / 11.95'cbh
133'' / 12.9'cbh
131.5' / 13.45'cbh
131' / 11.2'cbh
127' / 12.95'cbh
125.5' / 14.6'cbh double

Red Spruce
104.5' / 7.2'cbh
102.5' / 8.0'cbh
96' / 6.6'cbh
95.5' / 8.0'cbh
snag / 8.4'cbh
93.5' / 5.8'cbh

Eastern Hemlock
106' / 11.1'cbh
105' / 9.3'cbh
103' / 9.6'cbh
99' / 10.1'cbh

Northern Whitecedar
79' / 6.9'cbh
76' / 5.9'cbh
68' / 7.6'cbh
67' / 7.8'cbh

Tamarack
101.5' / 3.8'cbh

Black Cherry
95.5' / 9.55'cbh
89' / 9.5'cbh
85' / 8.4'cbh
80' / 8.5'cbh

Sugar Maple
96' / 11.3'cbh
94.5' / 10.6'cbh

Red Maple
97.5' / 11.55'cbh
90.4' / 9.5'cbh

Yellow Birch
83' / 9.15'cbh
76' / 10.2'cbh
72' / 8.5'cbh
>70' / 9.8'cbh

This brings the total count of 12'cbh White Pines at the site to 29 (not counting that double). The RHI10 stands at 113.87. I was also interested in putting together a Rucker Girth Index:

16.02' White Pine
12.7' White Ash
11.55' Red Maple
11.38' Hemlock
10.2' Yellow Birch
9.91' Black Cherry
8.4' Red Spruce
8.05' Northern Whitecedar
7.13' Beech

RGI5=12.59
RGI10=10.66
11.55'cbh Red Maple
11.55'cbh Red Maple

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Lucas
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Re: Ampersand Basin - Adirondacks

Post by Lucas » Sat Sep 19, 2020 12:42 pm

Good to see info on the 'dacks again.

It is a great place. I would love to look around it. Like a 200 years ago.

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