Updated: 04/24/2007
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Alpine Tundra

Return to the 2007 Mud Season Survival Guide

Taking Care of the Long Trails' Highest Summits

Mt. Mansfield, Camel's Hump, Mt. Hunger, Mt. Abraham

The rugged landscapes of Vermont’s treeless alpine summits are unique places to visit. The plants that call these mountains home can survive some of the harshest weather in our region, yet amazingly a single footstep can kill them. Hiking in the Green Mountains requires special care in order to protect these fragile environments. Here are a few simple guidelines you can follow that will ensure future visitors are able to enjoy these mountains as you do.

GMCer Matt Larson offers these additional facts about Alpine Tundra:

The plant communities that make up the alpine zone are remnants of the last glacial age. After the ice sheets that covered the Green Mountains melted away about 10,000 or so years ago, the first plants to pioneer the rocky detritus left behind would have been dwarf trees, lowlying shrubs, and miniscule flowering plants with an arctic heritage like those found today on Vermont’s highest summits: Mt. Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, Mt. Hunger, and Mt. Abraham, in particular. As time passed and the climate warmed first softwood trees (spruce and fir) and eventually hardwood trees (maple, beech, birch, and their kin) moved in and the prevalent arctic-alpine vegetation retreated to the cold and windy refuges atop the highest mountains.

The growing season in the alpine zone is less than 90 days. The treeless ridgelines are essentially “periglacial”: cold enough to allow ice to form in its soils in any month of the year, as well as to sustain seasonal ground-ice, but not so cold as to allow permanent snowfields or glaciers. Plants in the alpine zone are exposed throughout the year to high rates of precipitation, yet vegetation often has little or no access to water due to sub-freezing temperatures and lack of soil to be used for moisture storage. Alpine vegetation must also cope with persistent high winds, heavy cloud and fog cover, and intense solar radiation.

 

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