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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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Ampersand Basin - Adirondacks

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Oct 31, 2022 5:46 pm

In early September I returned to the "Island" out in the bog (formally known as Chase Fen) to camp a few nights with a few companions: tree photographer Brian Kelley, his father, and a friend of theirs. The latter two hauled in excessive packweights in order to serve the most gourmet backcountry meals I've had the pleasure of experiencing. Beyond that, this trip was a nice opportunity to explore the late summer flora of the surrounding wetlands and do a little measuring.

The Slow River Pine and the Boulder Pine on the island were remeasured, along with the tallest Red Pine from 2017, but a number of new pines over 12'cbh were measured as well (bringing the total to 36), including one that's just 8" shy of joining the 13x160 club.

White Pine

165' x 13.24'cbh Slow River Pine remeasure
163' 1" x 12.35'cbh Boulder Pine remeasure
159' 4" x 13.75'cbh
154' 1" x 12.57'cbh
146' 11" x 13.07'cbh
145' 11" x 11.35'cbh
135' 8" x 12.25'cbh
135' 6" x 12.11'cbh
unmeasured x 13.35'cbh
snag x 12.98'cbh

Red Pine

121' 1" x 7.15'cbh remeasure

Eastern Hemlock

111' 6" x 8.54'cbh

Red Spruce

108' 1" x 5.7'cbh
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Brian with a nice Yellow Birch.
Brian with a nice Yellow Birch.
Crown of the Boulder Pine sticking up in the middle.
Crown of the Boulder Pine sticking up in the middle.

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dbhguru
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Re: Ampersand Basin - Adirondacks

Post by dbhguru » Sat Nov 05, 2022 1:28 pm

Eric,

Do you have a feel for how many acres the Halfway Brook site contains of big white pine stands/groves/clusters? I've been telling people that it looks like the Dacks have the largest number of 12-foot CBH white pines we know of. However, acreage has to fit into the equation. The sheer size of the Park puts it out of reach of small, but quality sites in Pennsylvania, elsewhere in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont. If we can tract the acreages of the stands, we can communicate more realistically the dominance of the Dacks.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Ampersand Basin - Adirondacks

Post by Erik Danielsen » Tue Nov 08, 2022 8:51 am

Hi Bob, sure, the total "Big Pine Zone" is about 750 acres, though within that the vast majority of the large pine stems are concentrated within about a dozen smaller stands ranging from 1 to 10 acres, a few of which have not yet been surveyed but are visible in LiDAR.

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