Archive for August, 2014

25
Aug 14

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)

12
Aug 14

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)

9
Aug 14

Common Merganser Family at Seward Park, Seattle

 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Family of Common Mergansers on a log at Seward Park. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

At Seward Park, I spotted a family of Common Mergansers along the shore of Andrews Bay in Lake Washington. The female duck had her brood resting on a log. For ten minutes she preened her wings and back feathers by taking individual feathers in her serrated bill and pulling them through her bill to straighten barbules and align feathers with adjacent feathers. All birds need to maintain the water proofing on their feathers so water doesn’t soak into to their skin.  For ducks this is especially important because they spend so much time in water. If water makes it through the plumage to their skin, a duck will suffer hypothermia and if not solved, wet skin usually results in death. They waterproof feathers by coating them with oil from the uropygial gland at the base of the tail. The oil contains diester waxes that help waterproof as well as keeping feathers flexible. All birds spend substantial time caring for their feathers.

While I watched, the female and young slept by tucking their heads along their back feathers and sometimes their bill under wing feathers. They were quick to wake-up and look around if they sensed danger. One young squeaked once at something and all became alter and looked around to be sure nothing was approaching. One young peered carefully into the sky, its head cocked to the side, but I could not see anything when I looked. Bald eagles will feed on ducks and two pairs of eagles nest at Seward Park. The ducklings closed their eyes so I guess they didn’t feel an eagle was patrolling at that moment.

Common Mergansers nest in tree cavities where they lay a dozen or so eggs. The young leave the nest soon after all have hatched. They jump from the cavity, falling to the ground where their body acts like a ball and they bounce unhurt. The mother gathers the young and heads to the water. For the first week or two, the young feed on caddis flies, mayflies, dragonflies and other aquatic insects. When about two weeks old, they begin to pursue and eat small fish. Adult mergansers feed primarily on fish and chase them under water, twisting and turning with the fish until they capture it.

I watched the family for 20 minutes before moving on down shore loop road. My heartbeat increases when I find something as exciting and interesting at this. It is great that some species successfully nest and prosper in a city landscape. This female had five half grown babies accompanying her. Outstanding.

7
Aug 14

Longmire Meadows, Rampart Ridge and Mt Rainier

Rampart Ridge rises behind Longmire Meadows. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Rampart Ridge rises behind Longmire Meadows. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I stand in Longmire Meadows looking up the valley toward Mt Rainier first simply enjoying the life here in the valley and the wonder of Mt Rainier towering into the sky. I then try to imagine 1200 feet of ice on top of me and this meadow. I had just seen two mule deer browsing through the horsetail meadow under the alders behind me and I watched a flock of 20 band-tailed pigeons roost in some trees along the edge of the meadow. They flew down to the grass to feed before returning to the branches above. For me, seeing these pigeons was a treat for their numbers have plummeted in the last few decades and finding them is now hard. A dozen barn swallows swished back and forth across the meadow-grabbing insects. Their flight seemed almost effortless and so acrobatic. Hemlock forests lined the side of the meadows in a lush thicket like large pillows surrounding a quilted meadow.

Yet 375,000 years ago, this meadow would have been buried under ice and about that time Mt Rainier erupted, sending molten rock flowing down the side of the mountain. The lava flowed along the edge of the glacier until it came against an ice dam formed where the Nisqually Glacier met the Kautz Glacier. Imagine, a 1200-foot high ice dam. This damn would have been about the height of the emperor state building in New York or twice the height of the Space Needle in Seattle. Imagine that much ice.

I see Rampart Ridge rising 1200-foot at the edge of Longmire Meadow, its vertical basalt columns creating a sheer cliff. To think, this ridge right in front of me once was a lava lake, that entire side of the ridge liquid rock. Scary, maybe awesome. The lava flowed along the edge of the ice, meeting the ice dam, began to back up, filling the lake to the top of the glacier dam. The lava cooled first along the ice. After the eruption ended the lava cooled to form basalt and when the ice melted, it revealed Rampart Ridge. I want to hike the loop trail up and around the ridge to gain a better feel for this lava flow and the size of the glacier but for today, just thinking about it from Longmire Meadow is amazing.