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Thread: Hale & Strange Compass Behavior

  1. #1
    Senior Member BIGEarl's Avatar
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    Jul 2005
    Nashua, NH

    Hale & Strange Compass Behavior

    A couple months ago, July 3 to be exact, I hiked Mt. Hale with my nephew and hiking partner Steven. The next day we hiked Carrigain and found ourselves on the summit with several other folks including Double Bow (he was finishing the 48) and Eric Savage. We talked about a number of hiking-related topics, one being the magnetic condition existing at the Mount Hale summit. Not knowing about it previously I decided another trip was needed to satisfy my curiosity.

    Last Sunday was a rainy gray day in the Bretton Woods area. There is no view from Hale or the Hale Brook Trail even on a good day, which made Sunday a good day to re-hike Hale. This time around, my friend Jennifer and I hiked together. Jennifer is working to finish the 48 this year and Im happy to help. Hale was one that she needed.

    As Im sure most folks know, Zealand Road is closed forcing some added hiking and time to get to the trailhead for Hale Brook Trail. We hiked from the snowmobile parking area on route 302 along the temporary trail that follows the South side of the Ammonoosuc River to Zealand Road. Then, while hiking Zealand Road toward the trailhead, an AMC van used to shuttle hikers stopped and offered a ride. We were happy to climb in. The van was left marooned on the closed road to help move hikers from the construction site to the trailheads along Zealand Road during the construction project.

    We arrived at the Hale Brook Trail trailhead at a little before 11:00am and started hiking. The van driver said she planned to be passing through again at 2:00pm and would pick us up if we were back out. Three hours was enough time if we held a good pace and didnt lose time along the way.

    It was rainy and the trail was littered with leaves making for some slippery hiking. We moved as quickly as we could being careful not to take a wrong step. Except for one downed tree across the trail approximately half-way to the summit the hike was uneventful and gloomy. Along the way both Jennifer and I were very warm with our rain gear and gradually shed a layer. We reached the summit between 12:30pm and 1:00pm. Once there, Jennifer put her rain gear back on to stay warm but I pulled out my compass. The main interest I had was to find the magnetic condition that exists on the summit that makes a compass do strange things according to Eric Savage.

    With compass in hand I started a grid pattern back and forth across the summit clearing. I found a couple places where there was strange behavior. In one case (northwest of the cairn) the compass drifted 40 degrees toward the east, in another (southwest of the cairn) it drifted between 50 and 60 degrees again toward the east. I kept moving, resetting my bearing and hiking across the summit until I hit the spot with the most change that I could find. At this point, which is east-southeast of the cairn, the compass shifted 180 degrees (north became south). I announced to Jennifer that I found the spot and she came over to take a look. Im not sure if she was really interested, but Jennifer acted as if she was.

    A few minutes later I realized Jennifer was standing in the rain holding her lunch. She said we should find a sheltered place for lunch and then head down to meet the van. I realized it was raining and I was getting wet and cold the compass distraction was over. I put my rain gear back on and we headed down the trail. After hiking for a while we came to a good spot for lunch. The weather cooperated and gave us a dry break for a quick snack.

    Our hike back to the trailhead was the same as coming in, wet and gloomy. We made it back to the road at 2:05pm. No van. Since the road was wet and muddy I thought we would be able to see tire tracks if the van had recently gone through but there were none. We started hiking Zealand Road toward the construction site and temporary trail. After roughly a mile the van came along, stopped to pick us up, and drove us back to the bridge. The two rides saved us roughly five miles of hiking which would have been approaching to two hours.

    We hiked the temporary trail to Route 302 and the truck, packed our things, and headed for the highway home.

    This was a long-winded lead-in for my question, sorry.

    Does anybody know the cause of the magnetic condition at the summit of Mount Hale?

    I found it quite interesting and am glad to have re-hiked this mountain. I enjoy hiking with Jennifer even on a bad day and the compass dance was a bonus.

    Edit Follows.....

    Additional details concerning location.

    The magnetic conditions described all occurred within approximately
    thirty feet of the base of the cairn (aka rock pile). In other words,
    if you imagine a boundary roughly thirty feet greater than the radius
    of the cairn at the base and stay within this boundary the places I
    describe will be in there with you.

    The most significant magnetic disruption I found was stated as
    east-southeast of the cairn. Prior to my visit I was not aware of the
    belief concerning magnetic rocks. As I recall, if you go to that
    position within the boundary described above, there will be a large
    rectangular rock roughly 18 inches x 18 inches x 60 inches. (don't
    hold me to these dimensions, I didn't measure the thing). This rock
    may be the source of the disruption at this position. I recall
    Jennifer calling to me as she thought I was about to trip over this
    rock. At this location was the north - south swap on the compass.

    Last edited by BIGEarl; 10-15-2005 at 08:24 PM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Quietman's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Peterborough, NH
    I've heard people talk about this. Here is an exerpt from a site listing anomalous declination locations

    "-Near the summit of Mt. Hale, New Hampshire (one of the 4000-footers, near the Zealand Falls hut on the Appalachian Trail) ; old AMC Guides to the White Mountains used to warn against it."

    And from the GORP site

    "Some of the rocks on the summit of Mt. Hale are magnetic. When a compass is placed on or near these rocks, its needle spins in evidence of this geologic phenomenon."
    Last edited by Quietman; 09-21-2005 at 03:26 PM.

  3. #3
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Bedford, MA; Avatar: eggs anyone?
    An old copy (~1970) of the AMC Maine Mtn guide reports a magnetic anomaly on the tableland of Katahdin. Don't know the specific location or severity.

    Could be interesting in limited visibility...


    Edit: found the reference:

    From the 1971 A.M.C. Maine Mountain Guide (3rd ed), pg 6
    (Description of the Katahdin Area):

    "In using the compass in this area it should be remembered
    that at various points on the tableland of Katahdin, and
    particularly near its summit, local variation in the compass
    is so great as to render it somewhat unreliable."

    No mention in the 8th ed (1999).
    Last edited by DougPaul; 09-21-2005 at 10:32 PM.

  4. #4
    Member JNewell's Avatar
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    Sep 2005
    West of Boston Avatar: S. Twin just before older son (C) completed NH 4Kers
    There is a reference in the WMG (current and earlier editions) that is similar to the one quoted from the GORP site.

  5. #5
    Senior Member --M.'s Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Upper Works, Tahawus, or Massachusetts.

    Ah yes, of course!

    It is now clear, of course, what has happened. Obviously, there is a monolith buried beneath the summit which will, when exposed, transmit a signal to Jupiter. If you listen carefully, you can hear "Dave" whispering: "Something wonderful is going to happen!"

  6. #6
    Senior Member spencer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Maine Avatar: We could use some snow around here
    In January '03 I needed to use a compass to cross the Tableland in a whiteout and had no problems, although I've also read that reference in the '71 guide. The cairns are really not close enough together to be useful in a whiteout.



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