Extreme Leaf Peeping
Dizzying. Terrifying. Spectacular. That’s how travel guides describe NH’s Table Rock, which juts up hundreds of feet. Not for the faint of heart, and not for kids
“It's the scariest place I have ever been in the White Mountains” — and Fred Shirley (shown here) has been to lots of scary places in his 15 years of hiking.
The first time he hiked to Table Rock, which sits (way) above the now-closed Balsams Resort in Dixville Notch, he was scared enough that he didn’t go all the way out to the edge. “There’s a straight drop on three sides and huge cracks underfoot,” he says.
On his second visit, he put aside his fear of falling: “It was so beautiful — with fall foliage and sunset viewing — that I thought a photo on the edge would be neat. But you’ll notice I did not stand out there, just sat carefully on solid rock.”
But then, solid is relative. What about the Old Man? Shirley, a retired engineer, remembers a Grand Canyon tour guide once said, while standing on an outcropping of rock with Shirley and others, “Thirty thousand years from now, the rock you’re standing on will have fallen, but probably not today.”
“The fact that Table Rock’s structure is similar to the Old Man — which did fall! — makes me unsure of the ‘probably not today’ part,” he says. But that worry is unlikely to keep hikers from taking in the awesome view from Table Rock. Below is a ribbon of highway that winds through the dramatic, jagged notch and a mountain forest stretching out for miles (it’s said you can see Canada, Vermont and Maine on a clear day).
Getting there isn’t easy — the summit elevation is 2,510 feet, with a serious vertical gain, depending upon the trail you take. Shirley says, “There are two main ways to get up to Table Rock: a steep, short route and a more gentle, but longer route. I chose the short route, which requires care to avoid slipping and potentially getting hurt.”
Ask Shirley about other scary spots he’s been to, and he says there are two in particular, both difficult to get to — Bondcliff, “a long hike,” and Eagle Cliff, “a bushwhack.” (You can see photos of him on those hazardous heights at his website.)
Would he go back to Table Rock? The 73-year-old Nashua resident says probably not, but not because it’s scary. “It was beautiful when I was there, but my passion is exploring new places and I expect I will get too old to hike before I run out of new-to-me mountains in New Hampshire.”
Shirley’s website, nhmountainhiking.com, is a resource for hikers, with many choices of mountains, technology aids (Google maps, GPS tracks, GPX files) and photo galleries.
And to get a sense of the whole Table Rock experience without actually having to go there, go instead to YouTube. There are lots of terrifying videos there.
Want the latest on where the colors are brightest? Go online to the state Division of Travel and Tourism Development’s “Foliage Tracker." (Be sure to download the free mobile fall foliage app for when you’re on the road. Available for both the iPhone and Android.) You can also call (800) 258-3608 to get the report. We also have foliage drive suggestions for every region right here.
To more fully understand the process that’s happening as the leaves turn color, check out the info below from the US Department of Agriculture:
Where do the colors come from? Chlorophyll gives leaves their basic green color, which is necessary for photosynthesis, the chemical reaction that enables plants to use sunlight to manufacture sugars for their food. Two other pigments that create a palette of colors, carotenoids and anthocyanins, are also present in the leaf cell through the growing season. As night length increases, chlorophyll production slows down and eventually stops. The color pigments are unmasked and show their colors.
How does the weather affect color? The amount and brilliance of the colors are related to weather conditions that occur before and during the time the chlorophyll in the leaves is dwindling. Temperature and moisture are the main influences.
A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular displays. During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf, but the cool nights and gradual closing veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. These conditions — lots of sugar and lots of light — spur production of the brilliant anthocyanin pigments, which tint reds, purples and crimson. Because carotenoids are always present in leaves, the yellow and gold colors remain fairly constant from year to year.
The amount of moisture in the soil also affects color. Like the weather, soil moisture varies greatly from year to year, which assures that no two autumns can be exactly alike. A late spring, or a severe summer drought, can delay the onset of fall color by a few weeks. A warm period during fall will also lower the intensity of colors. A warm, wet spring, favorable summer weather and warm, sunny fall days with cool nights produce the most brilliant colors.