For skiers, snowshoers, and plow drivers this past snowless winter was miserable. However, for mold in huts it was great. When Caitlin Gray, the Huts Field Supervisor, opened the door to the Mizpah attic she found exactly how great. A menagerie of mold covered the plywood shelves and ceiling with black, white and gray fuzz. The window had condensation on it. This accumulation was the result of a winter in which the temperature fluctuated between –30F and +50F in as little as 24 hours. If you’ve ever watched someone with glasses walk into a warm room on a cold day you can extrapolate what happens when an entire frozen building warms quickly. With shutters on the windows the mold had the perfect environment to spread like a living shag carpet.
CC (see previous post) precedes the Ream Team by a day or two to take all the shutters off, connect the propane and get the water flowing. They have also moved boxes from the initial airlift (which contains food for the caretaker and hut merchandise for the store) into the kitchen. Walking into a hut which has not seen daylight since October can be daunting. The airlift boxes are piled up, and the kitchen is empty. Dust covers everything. After winters like this past one with many freeze-thaw-freeze cycles there is mildew on every wooden surface. The mice have had the run of the place, and left their marks everywhere. The building has not yet warmed up from the winter, and you can see your breath.
This is where the peanut M&M’s are crucial. The first step of cleaning any hut is to find the peanut M&M’s in the pile of food boxes. After the hike up through the mud, slush and snow of the spring trails instant blood sugar is a necessity. After a hot drink, some dry clothes and 2 pounds of M&M’s, the cleaning can begin.
It took Caitlin and Lynne a few hours to remove the mold forest from the attic and prepare it for food storage. Bleachy water is the WMD for mold. While they worked in the attic the rest of the crew cleaned the refrigerators and freezers, swept and bleached the bunkrooms, unpacked the library, and cleaned the bathrooms. By the time it got dark the hut was beginning to look habitable.
The following day brought warm sun, a good breeze, and a pine marten to the front door. One of the best parts of being in the huts early is that the local wildlife are not yet expecting humans. This marten was a saucy fellow who watched us watching him from the dining room, then ran over and stood at the front door as if expecting to be let in. In past springs we were visited by Stumpy, a red fox missing a front leg who was often seen around Mizpah and Zealand.
By late afternoon on the second day the kitchen was assembled, the floors scrubbed and the bunkrooms ready for guests. While a nap in the sun was equally appealing we all took advantage of the good weather and ran up onto the ridge (photo). We hiked over to Eisenhower to see if we could find any diapensia in flower. On Pierce we saw a few mats with buds, but no white flowers yet. This time of year the mats of this plant are more maroon than green (photo). This is due to the presence of a pigment called anthocyanin. This is pigment is a strong antioxidant and helps prevent damage to the leaves from UV radiation. The dark color helps the plant absorb heat during the cold alpine spring. Anthocyanin is the same compound that turns fall leaves and apples red. In a reversal of autumn, as the last snow melts on the ridgetops the maroon mats of diapensia will turn green.