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)

 

American Dipper at Bagley Creek

Ice formed elaborate designs along the edge of the open water in Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice formed elaborate designs along the edge of the open water in Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Light waist deep and sparkling in morning light
Crust thick with fluffy white top
Ice crystals line the creek like
Lace on a fancy gown or
Maybe feathers growing out from shore
Pools run smooth and quiet.
The water dark, almost black against,
The white reflected in the water.

Sudden movement
Upstream, not water
What might it be.
I inch toward the creek
Senses alert.

Grey-chocolate puffball
With legs and sharp bill
Flies down, Alights on a rock
Water rushes around the perch,
There it bobs up and down
It peers one-way and then the next

Dives right into water which
Must be ice cold right now.
Flies out of water to
Another rock. Swims through
Pool of tumbling water with
Head under, looking for what.
A trout cruises by, both searching
For food. The Dipper flutters to snow bank.

Walks lightly, leaving
Deep foot prints as it goes.
Water droplets roll off back,
Feathers as dry as fresh towels
Scolds loudly at me, leaves
Gliding down stream, on
Stiff steady wing beats.

American Diver, or Water Ouzel, walks through the snow above Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

American Diver, or Water Ouzel, walks through the snow above Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice sheet hung over the quiet pool.1 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice sheet hung over the quiet pool.1 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice dangles above the rapids in the creek forming an intricate design. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice dangles above the rapids in the creek forming an intricate design. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Bagley Creek & Table Top Mountain, Mt Baker Wilderness

Fresh snow sparkled across the mountain while the creek gurgled and bubbled as it flowed along the snow banks. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Fresh snow sparkled across the mountain while the creek gurgled and bubbled as it flowed along the snow banks. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

24 November: My Friend from Bellingham and I drove to Mt Baker hoping to hike into Mt Baker Wilderness. After the snows in the last few weeks, the mountains sparkled in the early morning light while the valleys were draped in shadow. At one point we stopped to admire the columnar basalt, the result of the lava cracking to form vertical columns as it cooled. I wondered if this flow on the side of a ridge had formed like the one under Sunrise at Mt Rainier. Had the flow formed during the last glaciation when the lava had to slide along the side of a massive valley glacier, unable to melt the thick ice filling the valley?

We had not brought our snowshoes but hoped the snow would be packed enough from others to be able to walk the Bagley Creek valley from Heather Meadows.  The temperature hung in the 20s and two inches of fluffy snow sat on top of the crust. The snow was at least waist deep in the places I broke through the crust on the way to Table Top Mountain, which loomed in front of us. Parties of two to six people passed us on snowshoes or skis. Some followed the trail or crossed the frozen lake, while others headed directly up the steep slope toward the plateau. A pair of snowboarders traversed down from the top, stopping regularly to plot their next move. We could hear their conversation faintly as they came to the side of an avalanche slope. One of them sat in the snow while the other explored several possible alternate routes. Finally, they backtracked along their path to an open route down.  We could see small places along the slope where the snow slid, forming small snow balls that rolled down the hill. In another month, their route will be prone to avalanches.

Ice formed elaborate designs along the edge of the open water in Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice formed elaborate designs along the edge of the open water in Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

Ice sheet hung over the quiet pool.1 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice sheet hung over the quiet pool. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

The snow bank reflected perfectly in the mirror like creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The snow bank reflected perfectly in the mirror like creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Bagley Creek gurgled along the valley floor, tumbling and bubbling over rocks.  Ice sheet walls paralleled frothy white water. Ice hung in sheets just above quiet pools, indicating that water levels had been higher than they are now. One flat sheet suspended an inch above the water had a network of droplets dripping from the underside; forming intricate designs like Chinese paper cuttings. A large pool contained a perfect reflection of the snow bank on the far side.

American Diver, or Water Ouzel, walks through the snow above Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

American Diver, or Water Ouzel, walked through the snow above Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I spotted an American Dipper working the creek and crept along the trail so as not to spook it.  The bird jumped down to a rock in the creek and then dove into the water.  For 30 seconds, it stood in water up to its belly with its head underwater, looking one way and another. It then swam 3 yards down the stream, looking occasionally down, like a snorkeler, before climbing on another rock. Water droplets beaded up on its back. A brief shake and the bird looked perfectly dry, showing the excellent water proofing on its feathers. From there, it flew over to an ice sheet where it stood on the ice without any concern for how its feet might feel on the ice.  Several times as it worked along the creek, it flew up onto the bank and walked along the snow, leaving wonderful footprints in the fresh snow. Their resistance to cold constantly amazes me. The water must be right at the freezing point with all the ice we saw and yet they can go about their daily lives as if its summer.

My friend spotted a half dozen brook trout resting in a pool 2-feet deep and 10-yards long. Crystal clear water allowed us to watch them suspended stationary in the water column facing up stream, which permitted the current to push water through their gills. Brook trout are native to eastern United States and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife stocked these mountain streams and lakes to provide more fishing opportunities for anglers. I teased my friend that he should wade into the water with his fly rod to catch some. I said “I wanted to see if you can do as well as the dipper with the cold water.” He called my bluff when he said, “I will go fetch my rod from the car but you have to sit and watch while I see what I can catch.” He told me that the Fish and Wildlife Department was encouraging anglers to remove the brook trout they caught in these alpine streams to reduce the population of trout. Brook trout eat the same aquatic insects that dippers consume.

Ptarmigan tracks and mice tracks show that wildlife were out searching for food in this snow covered landscape. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ptarmigan tracks and mice tracks showed that wildlife were out searching for food in this snow covered landscape. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

We spotted tracks of white-tailed ptarmigan in a number of places. The tracks led from bush to bush, and based on the multiple footprints around the stems, they were nibbling on buds.  Below a mountain ash, the snow was trampled and wing feathers brushed the snow. They had jumped repeatedly to grab at the red-orange berries hanging on a branch 3-feet above the snow. Ptarmigan have feathers on their toes and we could see the extra impressions in the snow from them.  At one place a mouse had scurried across the snow at right angles to the ptarmigan tracks. I would have loved to see a ptarmigan but with all the people along the trail this day, I suspected they were hidden high on the slopes in a good resting place. In their white winter plumage, they would blend in perfectly with the snow.

After a few hours, we headed back toward the car. Sigurd Olson in his book “The Singing Wilderness” talks of the joy of immersing oneself in wilderness such that you hear it sing. As we hiked back, I felt we had a good day and had heard this wilderness sing.

Ice dangles above the rapids in the creek forming an intricate design. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice dangled above the rapids in the creek forming an intricate design. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice forms along the edge of the rapids in Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Ice formed along the edge of the rapids in Bagley Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Mt Shuksan peak was dappled in soft light that helped to highlight the hanging glacier near its peak. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Soft light dappled Mt Shuksan’s peak and highlighted the hanging glacier near its peak. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

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)

Hike to Lake Dorothy in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

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)

Lake Dorothy sits on the north side of Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  The lake, over a mile long, runs north south.  A glacier carved the valley and created the lake during the last glaciation. You reach the trailhead from road over Steven Pass by heading up the East Fork Miller River.  The hike immediately enters a forest dominated with western hemlocks and silver firs.

Half way to Lake Dorothy, the trail crossed Camp Robber Creek, which drains a valley east of the lake.  Water tumbled down a series of smooth rocks and under a footbridge.  For a long time I watched the water cascade down the rocks, dividing and coming back together around outcrops.  The rushing water drowned out all other sounds and the scene mesmerized me. Just below the bridge a second creek joined this one through another cascade.  Standing on this bridge was worth the trip in itself.

The water was flat in the early morning and reflected the forests of the surrounding slopes.  I found an opening in the forest to peer down onto the lake.  A trout it the surface near me.  A shallow marsh wase on the far side of the water. I would love to have a kayak to explore the shore of this lake. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The water was flat in the early morning and reflected the forests of the surrounding slopes. I found an opening in the forest to peer down onto the lake. A trout it the surface near me. A shallow marsh wase on the far side of the water. I would love to have a kayak to explore the shore of this lake. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The trail wound along the east side of Lake Dorothy and hugged the valley wall a few hundred feet above the lake.  Many open areas allowed clear views of the lake.  Scattered clouds reflected perfectly in the calm lake and the ripples in the water caused constant fluctuations in the shape of the clouds.  Ripe blueberries and huckleberries hung from bushes in the understory. Red bunchberries gave some nice color to the understory.  The trail weaved around many large boulders, some the size of small dump trucks. Moss and clubmoss covered boulders in the shade and I found ferns growing in cracks in rocks.  In one place, the leaf litter seemed to suddenly begin moving.  I crept forward and discovered a large western toad attempting to hide beside a large stump.  This toad was 4, maybe 5 inches long.  The light strip down its back and patches of orange skin along its sides gave a gorgeous coloration to this magnificent animal.

 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

(G. Thomas Bancroft)

The clouds began to clear as the sun went down.  I thought that the north-south orientation of Lake Dorothy might make a reflection of the Milky Way possible.  Just below where I camped I found a rock ledge that extended out into lake.  I went down to the lake at 10PM and discovered the stars were spectacular.  A light breeze caused ripples across the lake disrupting the reflection but the stars were just amazing to see.  The Milky Way was brilliant and right overhead and spreading south.

The Milky Way was bright over Lake Dorothy.  I found a rock ledge to squeeze out onto the lake so I could have a full view from the horizon to right over my head. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Milky Way was bright over Lake Dorothy. I found a rock ledge to squeeze out onto the lake so I could have a full view from the horizon to right over my head. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

In the morning, thick mist drifted north across the lake making the lake look magical.  Some mist tails looked like tentacles as they rose several hundred feet into the air, twisting and undulating as they drifted across the lake.  When the mist cleared, the eastern end of the lake was as flat at a mirror, making some incredible reflections.  What a wonderful way to finish a day in the wilderness.

 

The mist rose from Lake Dorothy in the early morning. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The mist rose from Lake Dorothy in the early morning. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Bumble Bees in a flower patch along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

Western Bumblebee forages at the top of a flower. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Western Bumblebee forages at the top of a flower. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

On August 24th, I hiked along the Pacific Crest Trail to the Glasses Lake overlook in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness.  The lake was hourglass shaped and looked wonderful below the rock outcrop.  It was partially hidden by trees on the slope below the lookout.  Mist was falling, giving a soft look to the landscape.  Clouds came across the saddle to my left and drifted down over the lake.  You could see the ripples from rain droplets but you had to look really hard to see the rain, it was so fine.

Fuzzy horned Bumblebee hangs from the bottom of a flower. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Fuzzy horned Bumblebee hangs from the bottom of a flower. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Just before the overlook I spotted a large patch of flowers along the trail that was just loaded with bees.  After sitting awhile at the overlook, I hiked back to the flower patch to sit amongst the flowers and watch the bees.   Purple asters and a grass were in bloom.  The patch was a hundred feet long and on both sides of the trail.  Flowers stretched back a dozen or more feet from the trail.  Hundreds of bees were flying rapidly from one flower to another, generally checking a bloom quickly and moving on to another.  Occasionally, a bee would stay longer on a flower, really working hard over the flower, probing repeatedly into the blossom.  I can’t imagine that any of these flowers had much nectar left with the intense coverage.  I also spotted a syrphid fly.  This fly mimics a bee and initially gives you a startle when it lands on your arm.  When I looked closely, I knew it wasn’t a bee because it only had one pair of wings rather than the two pairs that bees have.   The competition for nectar was fierce and I suspect as soon as a plant produced new nectar, the first bee there would have it.   I was mesmerized watching the menagerie and listening to the symphony of buzzes.  I sat amongst them for more than an hour.

Black-tailed bumblebee probs a flower. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Black-tailed bumblebee probs a flower. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Bumblebees are really important pollinators for native plants, especially at higher elevations (5200 feet here).  We have a diversity of species and there were at least three species in this foraging congregation.  The species distribution varies with elevation and each species has different length tongues and mouthparts allowing different species to specialize on different shaped flowers.  They seemed to be generalist here and all going to the same flowers.  They have pollen sacks on their hind legs and sometimes you can see them carrying bundles of pollen.  I did not see any today, suggesting they were having a hard time finding pollen in these well-worked flowers.

A bumblebee queen hatches in early fall and overwinters in a hole it digs in the ground.  It then emerges in the spring and begins foraging while it looks for a suitable nest site in the ground, under a log, or other hiding place.  There it builds a wax nest, lays eggs, and begins to build a new colony.  Once the first workers hatch, the queen no longer forages but stays at the colony.  Colonies only last one year and then the cycle starts over again.

Keep you eyes out for bumblebees when you walk past flowers, they are wonderful and fascinating to watch and see.  I had to move from my trail seat to let two hikers pass.  They never paused to see the fascinating behaviors happening along their path.  It is something worth pausing to see.

Syrphid Fly looks for pollen and nectar in an aster. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Syrphid Fly looks for pollen and nectar in an aster. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Moods of Lake Janus in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

The clouds were shifting rapidly across Lake Janus as the sun was preparing to set.  The lake was flat, forming a wonderful mirror for the changing sky.  I found a good rock to sit and watch.  It was an uplifting period and a great end to a wilderness day. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The clouds were shifting rapidly across Lake Janus as the sun was preparing to set. The lake was flat, forming a wonderful mirror for the changing sky. I found a good rock to sit and watch. It was an uplifting period and a great end to a wilderness day. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Lake Janus sits below Jove Peak along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness.  This wonderful subalpine lake is at 4,100 feet and you can camp along the southern bank.   Jove Peak rises steeply on the east side to 6,007 feet and a major but lesser hill sets to the west.  The lakeshore is lined with a mixed forest dominated by mountain hemlocks and subalpine firs with a few silver firs for variety.  The understory around the southern edge is a lush growth of huckleberries, blueberries and asters.  The huckleberries and blueberries were ripe and delicious in late August.

I camped for two nights in a flat area surrounded by trees and only a short distance from the lake.  A meadow of grasses, sedges and a few flowers formed a light green expanse just beyond my camp.  Pond lilies were scattered across the shallow end of the lake.    Small frogs, less than half an inch long, were hoping along the shore, some still had small tails, showing they were just finishing metamorphous from tadpoles.   A spotted sandpiper landed on a log against the shore, bobbed several times, before hopping down to the waters edge and working along the shore.  The setting was sublime and I found a place to sit to watch.  An Osprey called loudly and I found it sitting on top of a dead snag along the eastern shore.  It flew across the lake, dove for a fish, but I could not tell if it was successful.  I decided I would visit the shore in different lights to see how the lake’s mood changed during my stay.

At 3AM, the moon was glowing through clouds giving a eerie feel to the woods.  I walked down to Lake Janus to find mist rising from the lake and clouds drifting by the forest.  A great-horned owl called softly from the forest on the right.  The lake was sublime and I watched for a long time before retuning to my tent. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

At 3AM, the moon was glowing through clouds giving a eerie feel to the woods. I walked down to Lake Janus to find mist rising from the lake and clouds drifting by the forest. A great-horned owl called softly from the forest on the right. The lake was sublime and I watched for a long time before retuning to my tent. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I set my alarm for 10PM for the Milky Way and 3AM for the waning moon.  The first night, it was cloudy at 10PM so I went back to sleep.  At 3AM, the moon was directly overhead fading in and out of the clouds.  It was quite eerie and I noticed that I kept looking over my shoulder to see what might be there.  I walked down to the lake to see how it looked in the moonlight.  Mist was rising from the lake and clouds were drifting across the forest.  A great-horned owl called softly from the forest on the right.  The lake in this light was serene and I lost the eerie feeling.  I watched for a long time before retuning to my tent.

The stars were bright above my camp site on Lake Janus.  I could see thousands and thousands of stars.  I stared for a long-time in amazement of the sight. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The stars were bright above my camp site on Lake Janus. I could see thousands and thousands of stars. I stared for a long-time in amazement of the sight. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Thousands of stars were visible above Lake Janus and reflected in the mirror flat water.  It was an inspiring and invigorating sight.  I stood watching for a long time in awe. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Thousands of stars were visible above Lake Janus and reflected in the mirror flat water. It was an inspiring and invigorating sight. I stood watching for a long time in awe. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A 10PM, the second night, I found the stars out and bright.  The Milky Way was right over my tent and I stared in wonder as I climbed from my tent.  I could see thousands of stars at once.  A gas-dust cloud in the galaxy that absorbs light of the stars forms the dark area through the middle of the Milky Way.  It was perfect to finally see this.  I walked down to the lake, hoping the Milky Way would be reflected in the lake.  It was not particularly distinctive but there were still lots of star reflections.  The air was fresh and I noticed that a few clouds were drifting by because stars would disappear for a few minutes and then reappear.  The long exposure showed the clouds in the photograph.  A trout hit the surface by a lily pad and its dorsal fin created a ripple as it swam swiftly to deeper water.  The night and the lake was tranquil, the owl called once as I headed back to my tent.

The mist was rising from the left side of the lake and drifting across the lake.  The morning clouds were wispy and delicate.  The tranquil setting inspired me for the days hike. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The mist was rising from the left side of the lake and drifting across the lake. The morning clouds were wispy and delicate. The tranquil setting inspired me for the days hike. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

In the morning, I walked down to the shore with my tea to sit.  Mist was rising from the east side of lake and drifting across.  Blue sky with wispy clouds was reflected in the water and constantly changing.  A spotted sandpiper called from the far shore.  A pair of Canada jays landed in the tree behind me, squawked once or twice and then moved back into the trees.  Two red-breasted nuthatches called softly from behind my tent. The scene was mesmerizing and I sat for a long while.  I walked back to my camp exhilarated and ready for the hike back out of the wilderness.

Pikas at the edge of Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness in the North Cascades

Pika popped out of its burrow under a boulder and gave its alarm call as I approached.  It then froze for several minutes waiting to see if I was a threat. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Pika popped out of its burrow under a boulder and gave its alarm call as I approached. It then froze for several minutes waiting to see if I was a threat. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

As I crossed the saddle into the Watson Lakes drainage, two pikas gave their typical ‘alarm’ call and ran for their burrows under the boulders.  A field of boulders covered the slope on the side of the trail for a 100 or more feet and up the slope a similar distance.  Some boulders were the size of washing machines and there were scattered in a pile as if some giant had thrown their building blocks in a corner.  Pikas don’t dig their own burrows and are dependent on rock piles to find safe places to live.  I couldn’t stop on my hike into the Lakes so I planned to have more time on my way out.

On my way out, I found one of the rocks along the trail and sat to watch the boulder field for a while.  Shortly a pika hoped up on a rock 50 feet away, with a mouthful of ferns.  It sat, chewing ferns for several minutes before ducking under a rock.  Pikas eat vegetation and do not hibernate so they must harvest plants all during the summer to store for winter similar to a farmer “haying” for their livestock.  They then have a source of food to eat under the rocks and snow all winter.

A second one popped out on a rock closer to me.  They have cinnamon-brown fur over the body, white fur on the feet and legs, and gray fur on their large round ears.  The ears have a white edge and fluff of fur in front.  Their whiskers are almost half the length of their body, sticking three to four inches out from their round face.  This individual moved down through the boulder field before disappearing behind a one.

Several more came out of their hiding places as I sat and watched.  As long as I stayed very still, they seemed to ignore me and go about their business.  I sat for 30 minutes, just enjoying seeing these wonderful creatures move back and forth across their home.

Pikas don’t like warm climates and have a hard time surviving if temperatures average above 80 degrees for very long.   Climate change has been affecting their distribution; unfortunately they have disappeared from many areas in the west.  Protecting habitat for them is critical for their continued survival.  It was so wonderful to have this chance of observing them.

 

A hike into the Watson Lakes in Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness in the Cascades.

Clouds were drifting across Mt Baker as I climbed toward the Watson Lakes trail head. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Clouds were drifting across Mt Baker as I climbed toward the Watson Lakes trail head. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

On Friday, I hiked into the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness to spend the weekend at the Watson Lakes.  This wilderness is southeast of Mt Baker and you get there by driving 10 miles up a one-lane road from Lake Baker.  You can see Mt Baker from the road just before the trailhead.  A few low clouds and a wash of clouds painted the high sky over Mt Baker.    The trail climbs through a mixed forest of silver firs, mountain hemlocks and western hemlocks, some quite large.  I was headed for a saddle between the Anderson Creek and Watson Creek drainages.  As I reached the saddle, several pikas ran across rock piles to duck into their burrows.  They gave their typical alarm “chirp” before descending into their holes under boulders.

I rounded a corner decending the trail and could look out on to my destination.  The two Watson Lakes looked so tranquile and inviting.   I paused to take in the view, my excitment increasing, before I started down the trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I rounded a corner decending the trail and could look out on to my destination. The two Watson Lakes looked so tranquil and inviting. I paused to take in the view, my excitment increasing, before I started down the trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Through a series of switchbacks, the trail dropped steeply 500 feet to the first lake.  Part way down, I popped out into an opening formed by an avalanche that came off the rocks from above.  A thick carpet of false hellebore covered the slope.  They had grown to more than three feet high.  I enjoy seeing their thick broad light green leaves.  It gives a tropical feel to this subalpine environment.  I have never seen so many in one place.  This opening provided a grand vista of the two lakes.  The water was wonderfully blue with ripples from the gentle breeze, the blue sky and white cumulus clouds reflected in the water.   A cliff rose from the south side of both lakes, forming a high terrace before the slope continued climbing to Watson Peak.   The other sides of the lakes were covered with a mosaic of forests and meadows.  Mountain hemlocks with a scattering of subalpine firs and silver firs dominated the forest.  Heather and blueberries dominated the meadows with rushes, mosses and grass in the wetter spots.  The valley drops along the north side of the lakes toward Noisy Creek.  When a mosquito flew into my mouth, I realized I had been staring at this scene for some time.  I collected myself and headed down the trail, excited to see what I would find.

Thunder clouds were forming over the mountains to the east.  The reflection in Watson Lake was dynamic and every changing.  The clouds were framed by the vegegation on the near shore and the reflection of vegetation and mountains on the top.  I was fascinated and watched for quite a while. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Cumulus clouds were forming over the mountains to the east. The reflection in Watson Lake was dynamic and every changing. The clouds were framed by the vegetation on the near shore and the reflection of vegetation and mountains on the top. I was fascinated and watched for quite a while. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The cumulus clouds reflected brilliantly in the lake.  Ripples from the breeze added soft texture to the clouds.  The reflections constantly changed as the clouds slipped across the sky.  An osprey called briefly down the lake and I watched as it hovered searching for possible fish near the surface.  Eventually it flew around an outcropping along the shore and I lost sight of it.  My gaze returned to the reflections and I realized how bliss I felt standing at the edge of this magnificent lake.

The water spread across a shallow stream before tumbling over a series of rocks.  Water droplets bounced off rocks as they continued downstream.  The softness was mesmerizing and the sound soothing. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The water spread across a shallow stream before tumbling over a series of rocks. Water droplets bounced off rocks as they continued downstream. The softness was mesmerizing and the sound soothing. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Two waterfalls on the bluff to the south caught my attention and I began to hear the lovely sound of running water.  Small snowfields were still in depressions in the rocks high on the slopes and from each a stream trickled down, water tumbling off repeated ledges in a series of steps before flowing into the lake.  I realized that the louder music of cascading water was coming from the north and I went to investigate.  Both lakes had outlets that merged into a larger creek just down slope from the eastern lake.  Large drift logs were lodged against each outlet, forming bridges to cross the streams.  On each the water tumbled over a series of ledges forming a delightful cascade.  I scrambled down the slope through a mosaic of heathers and blueberries to get a closer look.  Old flowers still clung to some of the heathers but best of all, ripe blueberry fruit was everywhere.  My pace slowed as I paused to eat as many of these deliciously sweet morsels as I could.  I finally sat just above the junction of the two creeks, eating blueberries and listening to the soothing sounds of the water flowing down stream.

The water tumbled down the rock face creating a wonderful soothing sound.  I sat on a moss covered rock for a long time just enjoying the music. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The water tumbled down the rock face creating a wonderful soothing sound. I sat on a moss covered rock for a long time just enjoying the music. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I camped on a small knoll between the two lakes.  It gave me a great panorama of the eastern lake. From my tent, only a few scraggly hemlocks blocked part of the lake.   As dusk started to develop, I strolled down the rise from my campsite to the edge of the lake.  The sun had set half an hour ago and had dipped below the mountains well before that.  We were entering l’heure bleue, the blue hour, and it should be very serene to enjoy watching the lake drift into night.  I love watching twilight develop and pass over a wilderness lake.

I found a place to sit by the water.  A light breeze was blowing across the lake rustling the needles of the mountain hemlocks behind me.  Several waterfalls were along the cliff to the right, each creating its own gurgling sound as the water tumbled over rocks.  The outlet to the lake was off to my left and the water tumbled down a series of rapids dropping a hundred feet in a couple of dozen feet.  Mountain hemlocks with an understory of blueberries and heather lined the sides of the lake on each side of me.  Insects were humming in the background.  Mosquitoes buzzed in my ear as I waited for darkness.

As twilight progressed, I spotted a little brown bat swooping down over the water and hit the water briefly probably catching an insect rising to the surface.  Trout had been hitting the surface for several minutes suggesting that an insect hatch was in progress.   Suddenly, four more bats joined the first and they flew back and forth hitting the surface on every few passes.  They flapped gently and rhythmically on wings about as long as swallows but broader.  Several more fish hit the surface as I watch the bats.  Slowly the darkness settled onto the lake and I could no longer see the bats so I rose to head back to my tent, a wonderful wilderness experience.

Twilight was setting on Watson Lake.  I walkded down to the shore and discovered 5 bats flying close to the water grabing insects from the water surface.  A light breeze came across the lake toward me rustling the branches of the trees.  It was an incredibly serene setting and I sat until it was totally dark before rising to return to my camp site. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Twilight was setting on Watson Lake. I walkded down to the shore and discovered 5 bats flying close to the water grabing insects from the water surface. A light breeze came across the lake toward me rustling the branches of the trees. It was an incredibly serene setting and I sat until it was totally dark before rising to return to my campsite. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Columbian Ground Squirrel in Pasayten Wilderness

 (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A family of Columbian Ground Squirrels came out on a rock to scold me as I hiked down the Pacific Crest Trail in Pasayten Wilderness Area. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The “bird-like” chirp

Rung across the meadow

Persistent chirp, chirp, chirp

What was it?

I stop to look

Stand very still so

It does not stop

For I am the danger

There, in the long grass

The head of a squirrel

Out on a rock pops another

Smaller than the first

Mother, the first, scurries

Arrives on the rock

Stands alert on hindquarters

Mouth open, chirp, chirp, chirp

Reddish brown on nose, feet, haunches

White-speckled brown, black, and gray fur elsewhere

Front feet folded, puppy like

Chirp, chirp, chirp

Three half size ones join Mum

One is shy and leaves

Two look to where the danger

Chirp, chirp goes mum

One young rises on hindquarters

Looks at mum

Where is the danger, Mum

Boredom sets in

Young leave, Mum gives up

I walk on down the path

Past the rock and meadow

Columbian Ground Squirrel been seen

Good day in the Pasayten Wilderness

I rounded a corner on the trail in the Pasayten Wilderness to hear a persistent “chirp chirp”.  It took me several minutes to locate from where the “chirping” was coming.  The mother was standing amongst thick grass, looking straight at me.  Three young kept coming out on a rock, looking around and then scurrying back into the bush.  After about 5 minutes the mother, hurried down to the rock where she took up an upright stand and continued the “chirp chirp”.  The young joined her but appeared to not recognize me as a danger.  They kept looking around and staring at the mother.  It was great to watch.