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March 13 Chapter Meeting - Program 7:30

CHAPTER MEETING, March 13, 7:30 P.M.

How Winter Shapes the Alpine Zone

Presented by Kayla White, Summit Steward Coordinator, Adirondack Mountain Club

Are you finding it a challenge to navigate this winter’s everchanging climate? We humans have the ability to adjust with our clothing,

but how do those fragile plants survive? Come listen to the presentation from Kayla White, Adirondack Club Summit Steward Coordinator who monitors these plants and evaluate their growth at our March program.

New York’s alpine zone is a dangerous, gripping, and magnificent place. The exposed, mercurial world above tree line often features slippery ice, ripping wind and drifting snow fields. While humans can be warmly-clad visitors in this harsh environment, this fragile ecological zone is also home to specially-adapted alpine plants that survive here year-round. Over the centuries a cyclic interplay of ice, wind, and snow have all shaped the alpine zone, making it an environment in which only tundra plants can survive.

Alpine plants owe their introduction to the Adirondacks through ice. During the last ice age, known as the Pleistocene epoch, glaciers carved out New York State. The ice was a mile high on the mountains and two miles high in the valleys. The glaciers started retreating 12,000 years ago and left chucks of alpine plants and seeds in their wake. Alpine plants became the first thing to recolonize a barren tundra landscape. As the climate warmed, trees began migrating further north from the southern unglaciated part of the United States. Over time, alpine vegetation yielded its lower elevation habitat to the returning northern hardwood and spruce-fir forests. On the summit of New York’s highest peaks, however, ice and wind have kept tree line at bay. Due to the frequency of inclement weather, only these hearty alpine relics have the ability to persist despite the unforgiving mountain weather.

There are many ways that ice continues to shape the alpine zone. Alpine plants have only about 60 days frost free on the summits, leaving a short window for alpine plants to grow. They have adapted by setting their buds between two to four years in advance to store enough energy over time to bloom. There is also needle ice which occurs when fine grained soils have an abundant supply of water. When the temperature goes below freezing, ice grows in columns perpendicular to the ground, upheaving soil and causing seedling death. Needle ice damages alpine sampling roots and dislodges them before they can become established. Alpine plants adapt by undertaking rapid root growth within the first year to become better established. They then switch over to more above ground development in their second year. Even with this adaptation, on average only 3 out of 100 germinating seedlings will survive a second growing season.

Wind is another shaping factor in the alpine zone. Whiteface, New York’s fifth-tallest peak, has recorded wind speeds at 150 mph! Alpine plants endure hurricane force winds (74 mph) every month of the year. The highest wind speeds (>100 mph) occur primarily in the winter. These fast winds pick up snow and ice particles and blast any vegetation that is exposed above the snow pack, shredding leaves and desiccating plants. Wind also causes the temperature to drop. Windchill can get below -100° F in the winter!

Alpine plant communities are also shaped by snowpack depths. The sedge/cushion plant - dominant community survives on the harsh windward side of the mountain where the snow is swept clean and vegetation is left mostly exposed. A natural cycle of succession occurs in mats of Diapensia where needle ice damage, death, and seedling growth occurs. These true arctic tundra plants bloom in the beginning of June right after thawing out of the snow and ice. The snow-bed community is on the most protected leeward side of the mountain with the deepest snow cover. A mixture of low-elevation and alpine plants survive and thrive in this sheltered microhabitat. Beneath the snow, the temperature is considerably higher than the air temperature, which insulates the plants. Due to the lack of exposure to strong sunlight throughout the day and freezing temperatures at night, plants on the leeward aspect of the mountain enjoy increased, albeit demanding habitat stability. These plants are the last to thaw out of the insulating snow and therefore bloom later in the season (July and August).

This fragile ecosystem needs your stewardship. Staying on trails not only protects rare alpine plants, but it can also save your life. The professionally constructed cairns are a navigational aid when hiking above tree line and into the alpine zone. It’s important to follow them. Alpine vegetation can get damaged by hikers going off trail at any time of the year, especially during the winter. Never go above tree line during a snow storm, as low visibility has caused hikers to lose sight of cairns and become lost. Make sure that you have all the necessary gear items (snowshoes, crampons, and proper winter clothing) this winter and the appropriate navigational skill set to safely traverse the trail in all conditions. On every hike above tree line, you can do your part to protect New York’s rarest ecosystem by staying in the middle of the durable trail and off of fragile alpine vegetation. Enjoy the beautiful and imposing alpine zone responsibly this winter!

March 13 - Workshop 6:30

March 13, 7:30 P.M.  6:30 p.m. WORKSHOP

Camp Stove and Water Filtration Campfire Workshop

Presented by REI Staff

Are you planning a camping or backpacking trip and have questions about what type of cook system to use? What is the difference between a liquid fuel stove versus a canister stove? What is the best method for cleaning water? In this hands-on campfire session, you will sample the most advanced camp stoves and water filtration tools. Our REI Inspired Guide will show you how to select, use and maintain many different types of stoves, water filters and water purifiers. You will leave this session knowing which equipment is right for you and how best to use the tools you already have. Get a close look at a Jet Boil or Whisperlite stove and discover how they are designed to be used and maintained. Learn how to filter and then purify water through a variety of methods. This session will help you prepare for your next adventure!


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