Archive for October, 2013

9
Oct 13

Hike on the Shedroof Divide Trail in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness

Fall colors are coming to the fire burn area on the slopes of Round Top Mountain in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Fall colors were coming to the fire burn area on the slopes of Round Top Mountain in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

17-18 September: I arrived at Pass Creek Pass at 6:15 P.M. and quickly put on my pack to hike into the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. The Shedroof Divide Trail starts along a one-lane Forest Service road and begins climbing immediately toward the ridgeline and Round Top Mountain. The Salmo-Priest Wilderness lies in the northeast corner of Washington. The inverted U-shaped wilderness hugs two ridges in the Selkrick Mountains and provides important habitat for grizzly bears and woodland caribou. It abuts a large roadless area in Idaho that currently is being managed as wilderness. Additional wild habitat is protected just across the border in Canada.  The Selkrick Mountains are built on Precambrian sedimentary rocks, 600 million years old, and some of the oldest rock in Washington.  Hundreds of millions of years ago, this had been the western edge of the continent.

I traveled first through an area that had burned a number of years ago. Young subalpine firs grew among thick clumps of fireweeds, huckleberries, blueberries and mountain ash. A few dead snags still remained as well as some firs that survived the fire. Based on the size of new trees, I suspect the fire was about a decade ago. Rain showers occurred on and off, everything was dripping. I watched a flock of robins drop down into the bushes, disappear for a few minutes and then fly to a new clump.  I suspected they were eating blueberries. I heard some thunder to the west but did not see any lightning.  Just in case it came closer, I headed back down the trail to be out of this open area. I arrived back to my camp at dark and as the rain became heavy and constant.

Water droplets and splider web strands formed a fascinating design on this baneberry clump in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Water droplets and splider web strands formed a fascinating design on this baneberry fruit in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

A large waterdroplet on the white baneberry reflected the vegetation along the slope. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A large waterdroplet on the white baneberry reflected the vegetation along the slope. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I woke at 6:30 A.M. to steady rain and pea soup fog. The fog rolled in and out, creating an eerie feeling to this remote place. I waited until 9 A.M. to head up the trail when the rain began to subside. Water droplets clung to leaves, needles and fruit. After passing through the burn, I entered a forest of subalpine firs, lodgepole pines, and Engelmann spruce. A hairy woodpecker tapped on a tree and I flushed a grouse as I moved through the forest. Waves of fog drifted up the valley from the east and over the ridge, at times blocking my views in all direction. A bald surrounds Round Top Mountain and the trail hugged the steep slope along the east side. Golden grass covered the bald.  Winds had increased to 20 mph and I heard a loud crack as a tree broke in the forest behind me. On the north side of the bald, I descended back into a forest and onto the west side of Shedroof Divide. I flushed a few Oregon juncos as I moved through the forest. Even with the fog, I found the views breath taking.  The forest smelled fresh in the mist and the vegetation looked vibrant. I drifted into harmony with the surroundings and walked for several hours in contemplation.  After awhile, I turned around to head back to the trailhead.

the rain coasted all the vegetation with fascinating droplets.  This subalpine fir glistened in the soft foggy light. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The rain coated all the vegetation with fascinating droplets. This subalpine fir glistened in the soft foggy light. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The fog moved across Shedroof divide in serene waves obscuring and reveiling the landscape.  Fire a decade ago burned part of the mountain. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The fog moved across Shedroof divide in serene waves obscuring and reveiling the landscape. Fire a decade ago burned part of the mountain. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The step sides of Round Top Mountain (6466 ft) are covered in meadows and allowed clear views north along Shedroof Divide into the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The steep sides of Round Top Mountain (6466 ft) are covered in meadows and allowed clear views north along Shedroof Divide into the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

8
Oct 13

Maple Pass Trail in the Sawtooth Roadless Area of Okanogan National Forest

Whistler Mountain on the left and looking northeast through Sawtooth Roadless area into Liberty Bell Roadless Area. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Whistler Mountain on the left and looking northeast through Sawtooth Roadless area into Liberty Bell Roadless Area. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

4 October: A smattering of snow covered the trees and the ground as I started up the trail through an ancient forest of hemlocks, spruce and firs.  A few inches of snow still clung to many branches and it fell periodically in big clumps and crashed through the branches.  A small clump hit me on the head and it felt like I was hit by an ice ball.  Luckily, no big clumps hit me. Fortunately, I found this trail open in the Sawtooth Roadless Area of the Okanogan National Forest.  The National Park Service closed all the trails in North Cascades National Park because of the shut down of the federal government.

The blueberries leaves had turned a crimson color and stood out against the granite and snow. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The blueberries leaves had turned a crimson color and stood out against the granite and snow. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

For the first mile, the trail climbed through a series of switchbacks up the valley.  Large mountain hemlocks, Engelmann spruce, and subalpine firs created a cathedral atmosphere to the climb. As I started up the trail, a chipmunk scurried across the trail, down a log, and into a hole. The forest smelled sweet and fresh because of the recent snow and this helped with my puffing up the trail.  As I climbed, squirrels scolded from tree branches.  Little piles of shredded cones along the trail showed they were busy harvesting. A short ways up the trail, I came to large talus slope that stretched several hundred feet across and went up and down the mountain for quite a ways.  The mountain ash added color with their red berries and yellowing leaves.  Blueberry leaves were a dark crimson color.  The tops of the boulders were covered with snow.  Several pikas chided me as I passed through.  I spent some time searching for them but could never spot one.  They must be hurrying to pack away food for winter for this seems to be an early snow even at this elevation.   The hillside curved sharply allowing me to look back through the trees at the talus slope.

Lake Ann reflected the sides of the valley. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Lake Ann reflected the sides of the valley. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

Maple Pass towers above Lake Ann in the Sawtooth Roadless Area.  Fresh snow covered the slopes and western larches were beginning to change color (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Maple Pass towers above Lake Ann in the Sawtooth Roadless Area. Fresh snow covered the slopes and western larches were beginning to change color (G. Thomas Bancroft)

After a mile, the woods opened and I hiked across a steep slope. Snow had increased to at least a foot deep and I could hear it dripping everywhere.  Small streams ran down the trail and off the slopes adding to the musical background. Lake Ann sat below in the upper end of a three-sided cirque.  Thousand-foot walls rose from the water’s edge almost straight up.  The cliffs reflected brilliantly in the calm water.  I spotted a person casting along the eastern-forested shore of the lake and could easily hear several people chatting down there.  The view over Lake Ann was breath taking.  The setting sun glowed over the rim.  A scattering of larches dotted the steep bowl and gave a nice contrast to the snow and rock. A ruby-crowned kinglet flew onto a branch 4 feet from me and checked me out.  Several chickadees called farther down the slope.

Black Peak loomed majectically above Lake Lewis.  Western Larches were only just beginning to change color. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Black Peak loomed majectically above Lake Lewis. Western Larches were only just beginning to change color. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I climbed another series of switchbacks to Heather Pass and found the snow over 2-feet deep.  I chatted with two men coming down the trail from Maple Pass and they said the snow was over 3 feet there. The snow crunched under my feet suggesting the temperature had dropped below freezing.  From Heather Pass, Black Peak (8970 ft) stood majestically to the northwest.  A singe ski track crossed the slope toward Lewis Lake that sat below the peak. Larches dotted the slopes.  In another week or two they will turn golden and make this view even prettier.

Cutthroat Peak (left) and Whistler Mountain (right) glow in the evening light.  The Pacific Crest Trail climbs around the left side of Cutthroat Peak (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Cutthroat Peak (left) and Whistler Mountain (right) glow in the evening light. The Pacific Crest Trail climbs around the left side of Cutthroat Peak (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

The sun would set soon so I decided I could not climb to Maple Pass before dark so I turned around and started back down the tail.  The hike back was serene and mellow.  As the sunset, the light gradually warmed and accented the peaks in all directions.  The final half-mile I walked in deep twilight.

Snow had fallen off rocks above and grew to large snow balls as the rolled down the step slope. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Snow had fallen off rocks above and grew to large snow balls as the rolled down the step slope. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

6
Oct 13

Hike along Ridley Creek in Mt Baker Wilderness

A debris flow from the Demming Glacier scowered the river bed this summer.  A wall of water 15 feet high and 150 feet wide recontoured the river bottom.  The Lee Promitory is the large rock face in front of the Demming Glacier. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A debris flow from the Demming Glacier scowered the river bed this summer. A wall of water 15 feet high and 150 feet wide recontoured the river bottom. The Lee Promitory is the large rock face in front of the Demming Glacier. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

1 September: With a friend from Bellingham, we headed to see if we could cross the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River and hike up Ridley Creek. In late May, a large debris flow flushed from the Deming Glacier. A USGS geologist estimated that the flow was 15 feet deep and 150 feet wide and the consistency of wet cement. Boulders up to 14 feet in diameter washed down the river and the flow tore out trees along the banks. Several subsequent smaller flows continued to remake the channel. The Mt Baker Ultra Marathon of 1911, when racers ran from sea level to the top of Mt Baker, ran up the Ridley Creek Trail. Some are hoping to reenact the race next year.

Fortunately, someone built a small bridge consisting of a 6-inch log with a 1-inch log railing across a narrow spot in the stream. We inched across this wobbly bridge and then dropped down to see Ridley creek near its confluence with the muddy Middle Fork. The water ran crystal clear through the creek and a hatch of insects rose from the water. For twenty minutes, I watched an American dipper hawk insects from a rock in the middle of the stream. It sat staring all around itself and would suddenly bolt up to an overhanging leaf or to another rock, grab something and then settle back on a rock. My friend caught and released a few trout but few bit at his casts, probably because they had eaten many insects already.

The lower part of Ridley Creek hung close to the southern slope of the valley so little sun hit this area.  Boulders of various sizes covered the stream and the water cascaded through a series of gaps and drops.  An American dipper flew through the area scolding loudly that I was present. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The lower part of Ridley Creek hung close to the southern slope of the valley so little sun hit this area. Boulders of various sizes covered the stream and the water cascaded through a series of gaps and drops. An American dipper flew through the area scolding loudly that I was present. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

We hiked several miles up the Ridley Creek Trail through a wonderful primeval forest of hemlocks and silver firs. Many living trees were 3 to 4 feet in diameter. Ferns, moss, trees and mushrooms grew from dead trees everywhere. Relatively fresh logs to ones in the final stages of decay dotted the understory. We saw numerous impressive dead snags. A pileated woodpecker had heavily worked one snag.  Wood chunks were spewed across the ground and the snag contained large holes where the bird had dug out larva. Many hemlock and fir bases had buttresses showing they had started their life on a long rotted log. The rain of the last few days stimulated the growth of mushrooms everywhere. We saw more than a dozen species. We could see a long ways through the open understory. In a few places where tree falls had opened the canopy we found thickets of young hemlocks vying to be the next monarch in this marvelous forest.

Bracket fungi on the end of a down log. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Bracket fungi on the end of a down log. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

Small mushrooms. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Small mushrooms. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

We found a small creek, the headwaters of Ridley Creek, several miles up the trail. Mosses covered every rock, log, root, and bank of the creek. In places, the creek disappeared under moss covered bridges to reappear a foot or two down stream. The air was moist, damp and musty and off the trail, the forest floor was spongy from the thick moss and leaf litter. We heard several flocks of kinglets and chickadees, saw a Swainson’s thrush and heard a young varied thrush attempt a few whistles.

On our way back to the trailhead, I sat beside the middle fork for half an hour before we crossed. You could hear rocks tumbling down the riverbed with the force of the current flow. I doubt anyone could successfully wade across the creek right now. The combination of rushing water, unstable rocky bed, and moving rocks would knock you over. I loved thinking about wild nature at work shaping this wilderness landscape.

As dusk fell on the river, we crossed the wobbly bridge and headed for home, relaxed from a great day in the wilderness.

The upper reaches of Ridley creek was deep in a lush hemlock forest.  Moss covered the rocks and branches near the creek in a lush carpet of green.  The water tumbled over rocks and under logs and moss bridges.  I liked how the moss framed this particule cascade. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The upper reaches of Ridley creek was deep in a lush hemlock forest. Moss covered the rocks and branches near the creek in a lush carpet of green. The water tumbled over rocks and under logs and moss bridges. I liked how the moss framed this particule cascade. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The twisted stalk hung over the small creek, its purple fruits glistening in the soft light of the forest interior.  All the exposed surfaces not with flowing water were covered in a lush network of moss. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The twisted stalk hung over the small creek, its purple fruits glistening in the soft light of the forest interior. All the exposed surfaces not with flowing water were covered in a lush network of moss. (G. Thomas Bancroft)