By Kent Stanton
I have to credit my brother for bringing “hair ice” into my vocabulary. We had hiked up to the long-abandoned garnet mine site on Humphrey Mountain and were on our way down when he pointed out some odd looking white stuff on a log near the trail.
A first guess was that this was some kind of fungus but a closer look revealed what appeared to be tiny filaments of ice clumped together forming silky, swirling patterns. Neither of us had seen or heard of anything like this and ice didn’t really make sense. It was November, but the prior week had been unusually mild and we had not seen snow or ice anywhere on the mountain. It was a cool day, with the temperature hovering right at freezing, but the only unusual thing about the weather was that it was noticeably humid.
Turns out, those are the ideal conditions for the formation of an uncommon phenomenon known as Hair Ice. It took some digging, but eventually I found some pictures online that matched what we had seen. That led to the name “hair ice” and to a research paper published in 2015. The researchers found that the phenomenon requires the presence of the fungus Exidiopsis effusa, humid air, and temperatures right at freezing. The fungus in question is known to be found on Beech logs and that was where we saw it, it all fit.
Additional research has led to the hypothesis that the fungus releases chemicals that prevent the recrystallization of ice forming on the fungus. Recrystallization would normally prevent the formation of the hair-like structures seen in hair ice.
It was fitting that we spotted this fascinating and unusual phenomenon on Humphrey Mountain. The hike to the old mine site will appeal to some, but there’s not much to see and this is mostly just a nice walk in the woods. Even so, If you look closely the forests that surround us always offer up something interesting to see and, occasionally, a real gem appears.
If You Go:
The most commonly used route to Humphrey Mountain starts at the parking area at the north end of Kings Flow (follow Big Brook Road from Indian Lake to the Chimney Mountain trailhead). This is private property and a five dollar parking fee is required. Heading south along Kings Flow the trail soon enters state land and at 1.5 miles a junction is reached. The trail to Puffer Pond bears left (east) and the Round Pond trail crosses Puffer Pond Brook on rocks. After an additional three quarters of a mile the marked Round Pond trail bears right and the unmaintained trail to Humphrey Mountain continues with unofficial red and yellow disks marking the way. An additional junction with an unmarked trail that passes east of Humphry Mountain is reached after a quarter mile. Bear right following the red and yellow disks. From there, the trail to the old mine site is easily followed, gaining about 600 feet of elevation over an additional one and a quarter miles. The entire route covers 3.75 miles and gains about 800 feet of elevation. The crossings of Puffer Pond Brook and Humphrey brook could be difficult if the water is high.
Kent Stanton lives year-round in Long Lake. He has a professional background is in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and software development. He enjoys creating nature videos. Which can be seen on youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfupaO1GcxkyFQmAZAJ2-8Q. Some members of his family claim that this is just an excuse to support the many days he spends hiking, canoeing and camping in the Adirondack backcountry.
All photos provided by the author.