Vanishing into the Dark

The female Bushbuck peaked through the bushes, her face parially covered by leaves. Her ears were pricked forward to see if there was danger in Nairobi National Park. (Thomas Bancroft)

The female Bushbuck peaked through the bushes, her face partially covered by leaves. Her ears were pricked forward to see if there was danger in Nairobi National Park, Kenya. (Thomas Bancroft)

A hint of tan appeared between some leaves, and I trained my binoculars on the spot. There, peaking through, was the small head of an antelope. A dark black line ran up her face, running from her shiny nose to between two extra-large black eyes. The rest of her head was a light tan. Her two large ears pointed forward, directly at me, and her eyes seemed transfixed. This female Bushbuck was mostly hidden by the thick green vegetation. A little pink on her lips showed in the middle of her delicate white muzzle.  She was gorgeous and reminded me of a ballerina in suspended animation. I froze, hoping she might relax. 

Bushbucks are solitary, living in the thick brush where they selectively browse on leaves and twigs. She might well have a fawn tucked back in a secret spot. She will keep it hidden there for months before she allows it to accompany her on her daily rounds. In these cases, the mother regularly visits the fawn, allowing it to nurse and eating the fawn’s feces, so no scent is left. Leopards are probably her primary nemesis.  

The Bushbuck worked along the edge of a woodland in Nairobi National Park. She nibbled on leaves and grasses as she walked. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Bushbuck worked along the edge of the woodland in Nairobi National Park. She nibbled on leaves and grasses as she walked. These antelopes are solitary. (Thomas Bancroft)

After a few minutes, she seemed to ease, putting her head down to nibble on a leaf. Turning slowly, the antelope began to mosey to our left, gently revealing more of her exquisite body. Two white lines dotted her light brown cheek and a dark brown band wrapped around the base of her neck. A dozen or so white spots graced her tan flanks. With each movement of those legs, I sensed the power as well as the finesse they possessed. She, no doubt, could move like a ballerina, turning instantly on one hoof, dancing around shrubs, flying over obstacles, and vanishing into the dark of the woodlands.

Her right ear had a small tear; the left was perfect. Before preparing for this trip, I hadn’t known about this species. It is not one of the typical African antelopes, the impalas and gazelles, that movies show. The ones chased by the swift cheetah or that run with the herds of wildebeests and zebras. This one is retiring, wary, and hides back in wooded areas where it is often difficult to see. When she appeared, we’d just entered the woodland at the northern end of Nairobi National Park. I felt fortunate right then; I’d hoped we might find one but hadn’t had high expectations. 

The Bushbuck raised her head from feeding to look at where I stood in Nairobi National Park. Her long tongue came out to lick her lips. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Bushbuck raised her head from feeding to look at where I stood in Nairobi National Park. Her long tongue came out to lick her lips. This antelope held her body with grace. (Thomas Bancroft)

She turned her head toward me. Her long tongue wrapped out of her mouth and to the top of her nose. The heads of grass seeds swinging across her sides looked like delicate lace on a woman’s chest. I wondered what she’d look like if she ran and remembered watching white-tailed deer, their graceful leaps were astonishing as they dashed away from me on our farm in Pennsylvania. They’d hold their whitetail up as a flag for others to follow as they seemed to glide over hurdles. Their movements fluid, almost effortless.

The Bushbuck sauntered back into the darkness, fading away. Might she be going to check on her fawn? I stared for several more minutes, wondering if this had been real. 

Bushbucks are solitary and like woodland areas in Nairobi National Park and elsewhere in Kenya. (Thomas Bancroft)

Bushbucks are a solitary antelope. They like woodland areas in Nairobi National Park and elsewhere in Kenya. (Thomas Bancroft)

More photographs from Nairobi National Park are available here

 

Winnowing

Roger Lake in the Okanogan National Forest. The area burned a decade ago and a new growth of pines, firs, and spruce are coming up throughout the forest. May 25th. (Thomas Bancroft)

Roger Lake in the Okanogan National Forest. The area burned a decade ago and new growth of pines, firs, and spruce are coming up throughout the forest. May 25th. (Thomas Bancroft)

My neck hurt. I’d been staring straight up for the last ten minutes, trying to find the source of the haunting sound that was radiating down. A tremulous “hu-hu-hu” would come from one direction and then another. Wilson’s Snipes were winnowing overhead. I stood by the marsh surrounding Roger Lake in the North Cascades. It was late May, and these birds were actively defending territories and courting. Males, in particular, will fly to a high altitude, then dive, spreading their tail. The sound is made by the wind moving across their outer rectrices, both during the dive and when leveling out. It is a creepy sound and just beautiful to hear. I’d stopped at this place in the hopes of catching it.

Finally, I spotted one. The bird circled in a broad arc around the southern end of the lake. As long as I kept my eyes on it, I could follow it. It was 150 to 200 feet above the ground, doing a gradual dive while making that sound, and then climbing again. When I blinked, I’d lose it. After spotting one a few times, I stopped trying and just listened to the chorus happening all around me.

The Wilson's Snipe popped up on the down log along the edge of the marsh at Wiley Siough. Its long bill stuck down and its right eye glared right at us. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Wilson’s Snipe popped up on the down log along the edge of the marsh at Wiley Slough. Its long bill stuck down and its right eye glared right at us. (Thomas Bancroft)

 

Water Cascading Through Beverly Creek

The water tumbles down over rocks along Beverly Creek in the Wenatchee National Forest. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The water cascading over rocks along Beverly Creek in the Wenatchee National Forest. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The water cascading down the narrow valley, crashing and tumbling over boulders. Mist hung in the cool air, and the musty smell of fallen leaves and wet conifers filled my nostrils. Beverly Creek, a tributary of the North Fork Teanaway River originates high in the Central Cascades at the edge of Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Light snow covered the high ridges, and recent rain made the forest wet, giving much to fill this little creek. The sounds and smells wrapped around me and I settled to contemplate this watercourse.

Scientists recently released “Climate Science: Special Report,” which concluded, “… based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominate cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.” In late fall, as I sat beside the creek, it was actually cold – low forties – and I wondered how long I could sit before I needed to move to stay warm.

Leaves lined the sides of Beverly Creek as snowmelt and rain contributed to the torrent of water crashing over the rocks. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Leaves lined the sides of Beverly Creek as snowmelt and rain contributed to the torrent of water crashing over the rocks. (G. Thomas Bancroft)Winter snowpack is an essential component of keeping these forests healthy as well as downstream areas. The Teanaway River flows into the Yakima River, and this system is already experiencing water shortages during the summer because of the reduced snows this region has experienced over the last few decades. Allocating water between people, agriculture, and nature is difficult when the amount isn’t sufficient. And this challenge is likely to worsen.

The report also concluded:

Annual trends toward earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack are already affecting water resources in the western United States and these trends are expected to continue. Under higher scenarios, and assuming no change to current water resources management, chronic, long-duration hydrological drought is increasingly possible before the end of this century.”

The state recently protected more than 50,000 acres lower in the Teanaway watershed from additional development because of concerns about water supply. The national forest where I sat, as well as the wilderness upstream, protects additional lands critical to maintaining natural water regimes. Fortunately, Washington State is a leader in combating climate change. During the 2018 Legislative session, our representatives will have the chance to pass legislation that could make Washington a model for how to implementing programs to reduce the release of gases causing climate change while also maintaining a healthy and robust economy.

The double note chip of a Pacific wren caught my attention, and I turned to watch the bird move through a tangle of cedar branches before flying back into the woods. I then rose to walk along the edge of the creek, studying the design of the fallen leaves in the water eddies, some still holding a little yellow color. The water felt cold, not much above freezing. Snowmelt from higher elevations was driving the flow. The crystal clear water should make ideal habitat for aquatic insects. Small fish and American dippers should be along this rivulet. The sounds radiating from the creek filled my heart with hope and resolve. Washington can lead us forward to a solvable solution to this dilemma.

The soft sound of water cascading across rocks filled the air with the sweet sound of fall. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The soft sound of water cascading across rocks filled the air with the sweet sound of fall. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

USGCRP, 2017: Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 470 pp., doi: 10.7930/J0J964J6.

 

Wild Nearby: An exhibit on the North Cascades at the Burke Museum

Watson Lakes. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The view down onto Watson Lakes in the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness.  (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

The Burke Museum recently opened an exhibit titled Wild Nearby that allows you to get a real sense of the vastness and intrigue of the North Cascades. The exhibit has a full sized replica of a fire lookout. You can even get a splinter from the wood if you are not careful. You can handle skulls of a wolverine, deer or coyote and they have movies on wolverines and high mountain frogs.

They used my photograph of Watson Lakes at Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness in the "Wild Nearby" exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle. (Thomas Bancroft)

They used my photograph of Watson Lakes at Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness in the “Wild Nearby” exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle. (Thomas Bancroft)

 

They printed my photograph of the Watson Lakes really big and it is on display in front of a floor map of the North Cascades. I am so honored to have one of my photographs of these wilderness lands included in the show. The exhibit is open until February 5, 2017. The Burke Museum in on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle.

The Milky Way over Mount Adams

Muddy Meadows had taken on a golden brown cast and contrasted with the white summit of Mt Adams peaking through the sky. (Thomas Bancroft)

Muddy Meadows had taken on a golden brown cast and it contrasted with the white summit of Mt Adams that peaked through the clouds. (Thomas Bancroft)

Clouds had obscured Mt Adams all day except in late afternoon when a small window formed between the high and low clouds. I hoped the clouds might disappear as the day shifted to night and so I set my alarm for 10:30 PM. I had hiked into Muddy Meadows in Mt Adams Wilderness with the hope that I could photograph the Milky Way over Mt Adams. I have a personal goal of photographing the Milky Way over all 5 shield volcanoes in Washington. With a new moon just started, this night promised to be dark and perfect for seeing the Milky Way if the clouds disappeared. Lodgepole pines and firs surrounded the large wet meadow and the meadow had taken on a wonderful warm brown tinge as fall approached.

The Milky Way twinkled above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Milky Way twinkled above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows. (Thomas Bancroft)

At 10:30 PM the Milky Way twinkled above the mountain and I didn’t see a single cloud. I found a good place to watch the sky and the mountain. A few meteors streaked through the sky and one large one looked like a shooting rocket. Unfortunately, it was just outside of my camera’s view. I found the stars memorizing and lost track of how cold it was. My fingers slowly became numb in the low 40s temperatures. Little light pollution was evident and I could see far more stars than I can see in Seattle. Muddy Meadows sits on the north side of Mt Adams and a little northwest of the peak. The Milky Way stretched southwest. I wondered how many stars were out there? Some scientists estimate that we may have 400 billion stars in just the Milky Way and many have planets circling them. It always thrills me to think about the vastness of the universe and how small our planet is within the expanse of space.

I stood staring at the stars when suddenly I caught the shadow of a dark object shooting by the right side of my head, maybe only an arm lengths away and slightly higher than me. Just beyond me, it dropped down to eye level and disappeared into the darkness without a sound. I thought an owl, maybe a northern pygmy-owl. It surprised me that I hadn’t jumped or even flinched. The owl must have been checking out what this strange object was in the middle of “its” meadow. Seeing it added an additional excitement to the night experience. I wondered what else might be watching me from the surrounding wilderness?

I did it again here. I seem to drift into a meditative state each time I stand watching stars gradually drift west. My mind wanders from family and friends to thinking about wild country. Seeing wild country or experiencing it through literature, films and art always seems to leave me energized, happy, and excited for tomorrow. When I began to shiver, I realized it might be time to find my tent and my warm sleeping bag. I grabbed my camera and tripod, turned to head toward my tent, but stopped for one last look up and to wonder a little more.

Do you enjoy seeing the Milky Way? Does it raise thoughts and feelings in you?

The Milky Way twinkled above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Milky Way rises above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. (Thomas Bancroft)

Dorothy Lake on an April Morning

 (Thomas Bancroft)

Dorothy Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness sits in a glacier carved valley. (Thomas Bancroft)

We climbed the trail toward Dorothy Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness hoping to see what it might look like on this spring morning. Every quarter mile or so, we heard a Pacific Wren singing his complex melody to declare that spring is here and he is ready for a mate. We stopped at Camp Robber Creek for 20 minutes to watch and listen to the water tumble down the granite chute from the valley above. The bridge across the creek is right where Camp Robber Creek joins the East Fork of the Miller River coming down from Lake Dorothy. Smith Creek joins these two from a ravine a dozen yards below this junction. The chorus formed by these three watercourses was so loud that we had to shout to each other to be heard over the symphony engulfing us.

The water tumbled down through a series of crevices in the water smoothed rocks.  The water divided between water courses and came back together as it tumbled down the cascade. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The water tumbled down through a series of crevices in the water smoothed rocks. The water divided between water courses and came back together as it tumbled down the cascade. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Soon after leaving the bridge, we discovered snow on the trail. I had not expected snow today when I suggested this trip. The storm that moved through Seattle during this last week must have brought snow to these mountains. Looking through the forest on both sides of the trail, we noticed that the snow on the ridges looked fresh, maybe from last night. Snow clung to the branches of the subalpine firs to make a winter wonderland scene in mid-spring.

Fortunately, the snow and ice on the trail had begun to melt and we had a small amount of traction as we climbed the steps up the trail. Volunteers with Washington Trails Association have improved this trail by using logs to stop erosion, construct steps up steep sections, and build boardwalks across wet places. We hiked delicately so as not to slip and fall on the snow and ice.

We took the side trail out to the outflow from Dorothy Lake. The U-shaped valley is a result of glaciers gouging out this valley and carving the deeper scoop that now forms Dorothy Lake. I suspect the granite rocks here at the outflow were too hard for the Pleistocene glaciers to carve. The snow covering the trees and valley walls gave a picturesque view across the lake, and we found a rock to sit for a while.

A mass of drift logs crowded the shore near the outflow. Water trickled through the logs and down the creek beside our seats. Two small rapids over rocks gave a pleasant sound to the scene. I noticed fresh buds preparing to open on the huckleberries. Once it warms, the new leaves will unfurl. The lake near us was flat and mirror-like, reflecting the mountains and clouds. The creek gurgled behind us and I felt the cold air rising from the melting snow, chilling my back. We rose to hike along the lake a short ways, flushing a few juncos from the bushes and hearing the chatter of chickadees in the cedars and hemlocks above us. Although I could not feel the breeze, the lake surface had become scalloped in a mosaic pattern. We found a rock to eat our lunch and watched the mosaic of scallops twist and turn in the afternoon light before we rose to head back.

Spring will reach this subalpine lake any day now.

 

 (Thomas Bancroft)

(Thomas Bancroft)

 

 

 

Chiwawa & White Rivers in Wenatchee National Forest

Chiwawa River just down stream of Maple Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Chiwawa River just downstream of Maple Creek. The river flows out of Glacier Peak Wilderness in Wenatchee National Forest near Leavenworth, Washington.  (G. Thomas Bancroft)

This last week, I went to explore the valleys of White and Chiwawa rivers in Wenatchee National Forest, northwest of Leavenworth, Washington. From the early 1950s to at least the mid 1980s, forest management here was controversial; should society protect any of the prized old-growth forests within the valleys or should all the trees be cut for timber. The valleys contained magnificent big trees — ponderosa pines, grand firs, Douglas firs, red cedars, silver firs, western hemlocks. The conservation community thought they should be left uncut while the Forest Service and the timber industry wanted to harvest these trees.

Rapids on White River at Indian Creek Trailhead. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Rapids on White River at Indian Creek Trailhead. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

In 1957, the Forest Service proposed a Glacier Peak Wilderness under their 1939 regulations. The conservation community characterized their recommendation as the “starfish proposal” because it protected high elevation habitats along the ridges extending out from the alpine country around the volcano and left open to logging long forested fingers in the valleys. Two of these forested fingers were the White and Chiwawa river valleys. Dismayed with the Forest Service’s proposal, conservationists began to work with national groups to convince Congress to pass The Wilderness Act in 1964. Congress then added some low elevation forest to Glacier Peak Wilderness. In 1968 Congress added even more low elevation forests to the wilderness when they created North Cascades National Park and Pasayten Wilderness, and in 1984 they added an additional 112,600 acres to bring Glacier Peak Wilderness to the 576,900 acres it is today. In 2001, when the Roadless Rule was finalized, the Forest Service protected from logging and road building the Roadless Areas that extended along the ridges further out from Glacier Peak Wilderness. During these decades, the Forest Service gradually extended roads further up the valleys as timber was sold and harvested from these public lands. The current boundaries reflect the conflicts and compromises on how our public lands should be managed and protected.

The White and Chiwawa River valleys are access corridors into Glacier Peak Wilderness. Designated wilderness are shown in light green and Inventoried Roadless Areas are shown in gray-green. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The White and Chiwawa River valleys are access corridors into Glacier Peak Wilderness. Designated wilderness are shown in light green and Inventoried Roadless Areas are shown in gray-green. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The original logging roads provide access up the valleys for recreationists. The White River Road extends 11 miles from the northwest end of Lake Wenatchee. From the end of White River Road, I hiked 3 miles into Glacier Peak Wilderness last summer through protected stands of Douglas firs, grand firs, and red cedars. I remember one cedar that must have been 6 to 8 feet across at chest height, a tree that had grown for many centuries. The Chiwawa River Road extends 19 miles up the valley from Fish Lake at the end of the Chiwawa Ridge. Both valleys have the characteristic U-shape resulting from how glaciers carved these valleys during the last glaciation. As I started up both roads, ponderosa pines dominated the forest, gradually adding grand firs, Douglas firs, western hemlocks, and red cedars to the mix as the valleys gained elevation. In places patches of cottonwoods hugged the rivers and a few aspen clumps interspersed the conifers. Both roads became one lane and dirt half way up the valley but they had plenty of pullovers to allow cars to pass. Forest Service campgrounds occurred at regular intervals along both roads and they provide a base for hikes into the surrounding hills. A thumb of wilderness extends down Chiwawa Ridge between these two valleys and is surrounded by a larger expanse of Inventoried Roadless Area now protected by the Forest Service’s Roadless Rule. The Roadless Rule also currently protects the ridges between Chiwawa River and Lake Chelan.  The Forest Service has proposed that the Roadless Areas that surround the thumb of wilderness extending down Chiwawa Ridge and those adjacent to the upper ends of White River and Chiwawa Rivers be added to Glacier Peak Wilderness. Congress will need to act on these recommendations to make these additions. Conservationists, including me, hope Congress will protect more permanently through wilderness designation more of these roadless areas than the Forest Service recommends.

I was trilled to see both rivers run crystal clear. These are important habitat for Bull Trout and salmon, and currently are closed to fishing to encourage recovery of fish populations.  Waters in these rivers eventually reach the Columbia River and support salmon such as sockeye that return from the ocean to breed here. The lush vegetation along the edge of the rivers helps to keep the water cool and feeds the food chain for young fish. These valleys are worth a visit for a picnic, hike or to camp.

Indian Creek drains the eastern side of glacier peak wilderness.  A large foot log forms a bridge across the creek.  I sat to watch to water flow unde the log.  A dipper flew by several times, complaining loudly that I was on the bridge and disturbing its creek domain.  The tumbling of water across the rocks created a wonderful mesmerizing sound.  After a while, I figured I should let the Dipper have its creek back so I moved along. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Indian Creek drains the eastern side of glacier peak wilderness. A large foot log forms a bridge across the creek. I sat to watch to water flow under the log. A dipper flew by several times, complaining loudly that I was on the bridge and disturbing its creek domain. The tumbling of water across the rocks created a wonderful mesmerizing sound. After a while, I figured I should let the Dipper have its creek back so I moved along. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Super Moon rises above Dewey Lake in William O. Douglas Wilderness

The supper moon in August 2014 as it rises over William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The supper moon in August 2014 as it rises over William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

10 August 2014. The moon was predicted to be a “super moon,” so I headed to Mt Rainier National Park to see if I could find a good place to watch it rise. I hoped the alpine meadow at the southern end of the loop might be perfect. The Photographer’s Ephemeris said the moon should rise at 8:09PM and the sunset at 8:31 PM, a perfect evening.  The direction of the moon would be 104 degrees so a little south of east. I took my compass to explore.

The loop around Naches Peak is a 4.5-miles starting at Chinook Pass on Highway 410. I hiked southeast from the trailhead to the large alpine meadow with a tarn that sits at the base of Naches Peak. I figured the moon would rise over Dewey Lake.

I found a great spot on an outcropping of granite a hundred yards above the trail where I could look east over Dewey Lake in William O. Douglas Wilderness. The Pacific Crest Trail passes by Dewey Lake and joins the Naches Peak Loop trail to the left of my perch. Congress designated this wilderness from national forest lands in 1984 and named it for the Supreme Court Justice. He grew up in Yakima Washington and hiked these mountains as a boy. Throughout his life, he championed wilderness and environmental issues. It was wonderful to have a Supreme Court Justice with such an environmental conscious.

I met and chatted with a number of people as I scouted sites. Naches Loop has spectacular wildflowers at this time of year as well as beautiful views of Mt Rainier to the west so it is not unusual to see people here during the day. Twice before I have stayed out here to watch the sunset behind Mt Rainier and each time everyone had left before sunset. As I searched for my place, I met one photographer that had come to watch the moon rise too. I expected that the two of us would have the place to ourselves but not so. Between 7:30 and 8:00 PM the trail filled with people. I could hear groups of people in both directions from my perch discussing if they had found their place to watch. I bet at least 30 or maybe 40 people were spread in 5 or 6 groups along the trail.

Dewey Lake in the late evening light just before the moon rises over William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Dewey Lake in the late evening light just before the moon rises over William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

By 7:30 PM, I had settled on my granite outcrop to wait for the show. The sun had already dropped behind Naches Peak behind me so I sat in shadowed light. Seedpods had formed on the bear grass in the surrounding meadow. Two weeks ago, they were in full bloom when I hiked here. As I sat, a swarm of birds joined me. Purple finches, yellow-rumped warblers, and Oregon juncos hung from bear grass stalks, probing the pods. The juncos would drop to the ground and scratch between clumps, scurrying along the ground before flying to the next clump of bear grass while the finches and warblers would fly to the subalpine firs to flit through the branches.  An occasional robin would squawk as it flew to a tree or past my rock. I estimated three-dozen birds enjoyed the evening here. The evening brought back memories of chasing lightning bugs with my sister on our farm in Pennsylvania. Not sure why because the settings are so different. We use to run around the lawn between the house and barn at about this time catching as many lightning bugs as we could. My sister always caught more than me, never could figure out why. We released them before going inside so we could chase them another evening. A warm feeling of contentment settled in me.

The supper moon rises over a ridge in the William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The supper moon rises over a ridge in the William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A few minutes after the designated time, the moon crept from behind a cliff just to the left of Dewey Lake, glowing red from all the smoke in the air and large as can be. A cheer rose from the crowds along the trail. What fun! The reddish ball slowly rose above the wilderness, creating a rose-colored reflection in the lake below. A number of wildfires were burning up and down the Cascades creating a lot of smoke that added to the evening’s color. I saw craters dotting the moon’s surface including one at the southern pole that radiated fingers out like starfish arms.

At 9 PM, I drifted to the southwest along the trail so I could see what Mt Rainier looked like in the twilight. The western sky glowed salmon color from the smoke, silhouetting Mt Rainier, and putting the meadow and tarn in twilight softness. I stood with a half dozen people just staring at the scene: Mt Rainier, alpine meadow, tarn, and western gleam. All speechless.

My “moon comrades” left so after a while I turned to head back down the east side of Naches Peak to Chinook Pass. Two groups of people that had watched the moon rise near my perch passed me in the opposite direction, heading to the Mt Rainier side of Naches Peak. I had expected to have the 2-mile trail back to the pass to myself but to my surprise I met a number of groups out for a moonlit hike. I met two family groups of at least 10 people with three generations each from grade school to grandma. One group was spread a quarter mile along the trail, some hiking with headlamps and others in the dark. I met two groups of two couples and four couples by themselves. All must have left Chinook Pass after the moon had risen. Many hiked just by the light of the moon. Several of the couples commented that it was a romantic outing for them. My excitement and respect for them increased with each group. A transformative hike!  It was probably good that they didn’t know that I would flush a black bear from his resting spot under a subalpine fir right along the trail at 5:30 AM the next morning.

Sunset behind Mt Rainier from Naches Peak Loop Trail. The red in the sky is partly from the smoke from the many forest fires burning in Washington. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Sunset behind Mt Rainier from Naches Peak Loop Trail. The red in the sky is partly from the smoke from the many forest fires burning in Washington. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Buckhorn Siesta

Pine forest at Buckhorn Overlook by Hells Canyon

Pine forest at Buckhorn Overlook by Hells Canyon

Large black flies float back and forth in this suppressing afternoon heat, energy emanating with each wing beat. A buzz penetrates my ear as a bumblebee hovers near my face before flying to a penstomom flower for a drink. A horse fly strolls up my finger and across my hand, I feel nothing as each of its six legs repeatedly touch my skin and its proboscis extends and retracts. The resin smell and pine dust make me sneeze repeatedly, blotting out the chatter of a Steller’s jay and the raspy song of a black-headed grosbeak. I rest in the pine needle duff with my back against a large ponderosa pine; its ruff bark scratches my back with each sneeze.  I am in a pine forest bordering Hells Canyon; the clear cerulean skies allow the sun to bake the earth. Temperature rise creating a sauna in the shadows, which makes my skin appetizing to flies. One walks across my shirt covered belly, probing and tasting with each step of its six delicate black legs.  Movement on my knee catches my attention and I watch a wolf spider, an inch across, climb to the butte of my knee, turning slowly, her eyes searching for prey. She jumps to a dead branch between my legs. A shiver rushes through my body, primordial fear rising but I suppress any movement in my legs with what energy I have left. My eyelids begin to fall; thinking as I lie down what holes might be eaten in my flesh if I ever awaken.

Lake Julius, Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Lake Julius during a snow storm in Alpine Lakes Wilderness (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Lake Julius during a snow storm in Alpine Lakes Wilderness (G. Thomas Bancroft)

At 5,000 feet elevation on the eastside of the Cascades outside of Leavenworth, Scottish High Camp sits beside Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I stayed in an A-frame cabin with a wood stove to heat the place and a propane light and cooking burners.  I wanted to snowshoe into Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  The camp is 3,000 feet above the parking lot along Us 2 and I rode a 4-wheel vehicle up the first half and a snowmobile the second half to the camp.  Almost 2 feet of snow covered the forest floor and snow flurries were drifting down as I moved into my cabin.

I left early in the next morning to snowshoe over the ridge and down to Lake Julius. The trail moved through a forest dominated by large noble firs. This tree, a popular Christmas tree, can grow to 8 feet in diameter and over 275 feet tall. Most of the ones I saw were a foot to 2-feet in diameter but I did find a few with more than 3-foot diameter trunks. These trees do not tolerate shade and need to be first in the regeneration of a forest.  This tree has high strength for its weight making it historically a valuable tree for airplane building and ladders. It still remains a premier timber tree and the Forest Service often replants this tree following timber harvest. Silver firs, Douglas firs, western hemlocks and a few white pines were interspersed with the noble firs.

Scales from fir cone (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Scales from fir cone (G. Thomas Bancroft)

In most years, noble firs produce abundant cones; a favorite food for Douglas squirrels and I saw and heard many squirrels along the trail.  One came down a tree trunk to 10 feet above the ground and let me know that he was not happy that I was walking in his woods.  All fall, Douglas squirrels cache cones under logs, in the leaf litter, and other suitable places for them to dig up later for eating. I watched one race across the snow and behind a trunk as I approached.  I found a number of places where they had retrieved a cone and taken it apart to eat the seeds, scattering the scales across the snow.

Fresh snowshoe hare tracks crossed the trail in many places. I hoped I might flush one but never did.  They are primarily nocturnal and find thick cover to hide during the day. In winter they turn white and hide by freezing in place, blending into the snow, making them difficult to spot. Their hind feet are long, 4-6 inches and have fur extending out to give them broad feet that helps them stay on top of the snow. The footprints suggested that they were moving quickly across my path. The two front feet landed first in the snow and then the hind feet several inches in front and each set of prints was 3 to 4 feet apart. They are agile and can run up to 25 mph and jump as far as 10 feet.

During winter hares eat bark and buds and the young firs and hemlocks with branches close to the ground in this forest would provide abundant food. Hares travel over a 10 to 25 acre area in search of food and shelter. Hares reach their highest densities in young lodgepole pine forests, which have good cover, and these pines are more nutritious than firs and spruce.  But lodgepole pines self prune, loosing low branches after a few years eliminating both cover and food, and hare populations then crash.

In the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska snowshoe hare populations fluctuate through a 10-year cycles.  Winter food and disease seem to drive these cycles. Canada lynx populations track these cycles closely and may play a role in causing the peaks. Snowshoe hares are the primary prey of lynx, which also have broad feet and long legs allowing them to walk on snow. I looked for lynx footprints, hoping that I might find some. Lynx are a threatened species in Washington. Prior to 1947, a $5 bounty on lynx resulted in their populations being decimated. The state implemented a ban on hunting and trapping them but their populations have not fully recovered. Historically they ranged down the eastside of the Cascades above 4,000 feet through Alpine Lakes Wilderness but according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s recovery plan, there has been no sightings this far south in recent decades.

At the ridge, I could look down into Roaring Creek Valley. Lake Julius was a mile up the valley. Snow showers moved through the landscape and at times were heavy.  Clouds danced across the hills, on occasion totally blocking my view of the far slope. The dusting of white on the trees made a stunning setting. Fresh snow began to cover my tracks and I headed down the hill toward Lake Julius.

Ice and snow covered Lake Julius but Roaring Creek remained open. The lake lies at the base of a large cirque and the far shore and headwall drifted in and out of the clouds, never reveling the headwall’s top. Firs lined the bank of the lake on its other sides.  As I stood watching the scene, the snow began to build on my shoulders and cap; close to an inch of snow accumulated in the hour I wandered along the shore.

Sigurd Olson in his book, Reflections from the North Country, discussed how before humans dominated the landscape “great silences” permeated the landscape. He defined great silences to “include the temporary physical sounds of wind and falling water, the roar and crashing of prehistoric creatures, natural in origin and always present. The silence itself was beyond the ordinary sounds of nature: it dealt with distance, timelessness, and perception, a sense of being engulfed by something greater where minor sounds were only a part, a hush embedded in our consciousness.” I spent more than an hour along the edge of this subalpine lake and think I came to appreciate what Olson was professing. It is more than just quiet. The tingling of snow was constant on my jacket; a few breezes rustled branches at one point; two ravens squawked as they flew unobserved through the thick clouds, and a few Gray Jays fed in the trees behind me. I spent more than four hours exploring this wilderness and I had not heard or seen a person. It was marvelous to feel I had this vast landscape in front of me in its primordial condition to myself. I stood in silence for a long time along the lakeshore until I realized it was late and I had a trek back to the cabin.

 

Snow storm moves through Roaring Creek valley in Alpine Lakes Wilderness (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Snow storm moves through Roaring Creek valley in Alpine Lakes Wilderness (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

Roaring Creek drops down through a snow covered forest (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Roaring Creek drops down through a snow covered forest (G. Thomas Bancroft)