Mt. Cardigan: Subalpine Heath - Krummholz Rocky Bald System
Description: With its open, 3,155 ft. summit and expansive views of west-central New Hampshire, Mt. Cardigan is an extremely popular destination for hikers. When the trail emerges from the trees of the spruce-fir and hardwood forest, it enters a red spruce - heath - cinquefoil rocky ridge community, which consists of extensive areas of exposed bedrock and patches of scrubby vegetation. These patches are generally characterized by short red spruce trees, shrubs in the heath family such as lowbush blueberry and sheep laurel, and an herb layer with three-toothed cinquefoil and common hairgrass.
As the trail approaches the Mt. Cardigan summit, at roughly 2,800 ft. elevation there is a transition in the vegetation to the subalpine heath - krummholz/rocky bald system. Here, the tree species are only present in the stunted and twisted krummholz form, and a suite of plants appear that are indicative of subalpine habitats. These include mountain cranberry, black crowberry, and Labrador tea. In addition, there are three rare plant species in this subalpine system: mountain firmoss, Bigelow's sedge, and head-like sedge (which is known in NH only from Mt. Cardigan and Mt. Washington).
Along the ridge between Mt. Cardigan and Firescrew, hikers will pass by several montane level fen/bog communities, small wet areas with a variety of mosses and peatland plants.
For a detailed report on the ecology of this site, see Ecological Inventory of Cardigan Mtn. State Forest (2007).
Directions: From the AMC's Cardigan Lodge on the mountain's east side, the easiest route to the top is via the Clark Trail. From the summit, a loop is possible if you descend via the Manning Trail over Firescrew.
Landowner: State of NH - DRED / Appalachian Mountain Club
Site Guide and Map
Images (hold mouse over image for caption)
Subalpine heath/krummholz rocky bald system on Mt. Cardigan.
a small fen along the ridge Sheep laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Firescrew and the exemplary montane rocky ridge system from Mt. Cardigan
Mountain firmoss (Huperzia appalachiana) Three-toothed cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata)
Fire tower at the summit of Mt. Cardigan wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)
a montane level fen/bog in the montane rocky ridge system on Firescrew
(photo by Ben Kimball)
Mt. Cardigan from above (Rimrock and South Peak in foreground) (photo by Ben Kimball)