Anna Gilbert climbs the lower portion of the new slide on Mt. Colden, just before Avalanche Pass.
Nothing in nature remains static for very long, and this time of year the most obvious example of this is the gradual emergence of fall foliage.
Autumn is the ultimate seasonal segue, a bridge between extremes, and it is upon us. Everything in the forest is preparing for the big freeze, which has already started to descend upon areas in the Adirondacks and will soon be working its way into the Champlain Valley. The onset of winter, the result of the tilt of the Earth and its position in orbit, is a major change indeed, and the bold pallette of colors accenting our mountains and valleys is a local response to that planetary positioning.
In the fall, as plants stop making chlorophyll, the pigment that gives leaves their green color and enables them to perform photosynthesis, other pigments begin to emerge. In trees like birches, elms and poplars, those pigments are called carotene and xanthophyll, and they are responsible for autumn yellows and oranges.
Red autumn leaves, commonly found on maples, staghorn sumacs and red-osier dogwoods, are the result of anthocyanins. These pigments are produced in the leaf cells and cause leaves to turn bright red if the cell sap is acidic and purple if the cell sap is alkaline. When red and yellow pigments are both present, the leaves appear orange, as is oftentimes seen on maple leaves.
Yes, the smell of dying deciduous leaves means change is in the air, but in the mountains, change is always in the air, and in some places its mark is literally etched into the mountainsides.
Last August, Tropical Storm Irene wreaked havoc on the region, and reminded us of just how fast change can occur here, and how intense that change can be. After the flood waters subsided and towns and villages began rebuilding, it was estimated that about 28 new landslides had ripped paths into the High Peaks.
Residents of Keene and Keene Valley later described that terrifying night—the constant sound of pouring rain did little to muffle the noise of boulders, breaking trees and earth as it crashed thousands of feet into the valleys below, damming up waterways and exposing acres of bedrock in its wake.
From the top of Big Slide mountain there is a panorama containing a few of the new slide tracks along the Upper Great Range. They are easy to spot because they are bright white instead of the dark gray of their older neighbors.
Other mountains also bear scars from Irene. Leaving the Adirondack Loj, there is a slide just before Avalanche Pass whose base is easily approachable, and the cascade waterfall on Cascade Mountain, which was previously hidden by vegetation, can now be clearly seen from Rt. 73, just south of Lake Placid, as a result of a landslide on that mountain.
The landscape’s new look has given a that-wasn’t-there-before edge to some of this year’s hikes, but it has also provided a reality check. The fall foliage, that gentle and predictable seasonal change, provides the starkest contrast against the evidence of an event whose force stripped the landscape of an overwhelming volume of vegetation and boulders and soil without warning last year.
There is something here to be said about respect and humility, and perhaps a question as to why anyone would want to live in such a place. The truth is, it’s hard to turn your back on something you love. Sometimes change can be devastating, but, as autumn reminds us, it can also be good.
Shaun Kittle is a reporter at Denton Publications and an avid outdoor enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.