Archive for the ‘Wilderness Area’ Category

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)

16
Sep 13

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)

28
Aug 13

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)

27
Aug 13

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.

22
Aug 13

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.

 

21
Aug 13

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)

15
Aug 13

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.

25
Jul 13

Marmots boxing in Mt Rainier Wilderness

I discovered these two marmots in an intense wrestling match much like two puppies. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I discovered these two marmots in an intense wrestling match much like two puppies. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Passion brings them together

Up on back haunches

Punch hard to right cheek

Push, push, push harder

Mouth open, incisors flashing

Over on his back he goes

Agitated were both

Loser says he has had enough

Victor stands bewildered

Please, let’s play some more

The marmots walk off

Until another day!

 

    I rounded a corner near the west end of Sourdough trail to discover two Marmots embraced in conflict.  Each was up on his back legs and was punching the checks and chest of the other.  Their large incisors were glistening as they bit at each other but did not seem to be trying to inflict damage.  It reminded me of two puppies playing fiercely with each other.  One would gradually push the other backwards and then it would reverse.  Finally one succeeded in pushing the other over onto its back.  This individual worked hard to right himself and shortly after he regained his upright position, he suddenly stopped wrestling and turned heading rapidly across the boulders to his den.  The victor stood there for 20 or 30 seconds in what appeared to be astonishment that the match was over.  He then turned and went 50 yards along the boulder pile to his den.  He was only in the den a few moments when he emerged to run down across the trail to a patch of dirt where it looked like he ate a little dirt.  He then headed across a snow field toward another set of boulders.

Marmots are highly social creatures and young males are known to play with each other.  They frequently live in colonies if the area for dens is suitable for a number of burrows.  A dominate adult male may be able to defend burrows for several females.  If food is less abundant they may be monogamous instead.  Burrows are critical for their protection from predators and places for them to sleep through the winter.  They will dig their own or find crevices in rock fields.   The boulders in this field varied from toaster size to as large as washing machines.  I saw the one individual go down under a large rock into what looked like a miniature cave.  They feed on plants in the surrounding area and need to eat enough during the summer to build sufficient fat reserves for them to fast through the long winter at these high elevations.

I had hoped to see a marmot on this hike and turned out to be blessed to see some fascinating social behavior.

 

PS:  I will have a booth at the 6th Street Art Fair in Bellevue on July 26, 27, and 28.  I will be in booth B14, which will be along the pedestrian corridor between Mars Hill Church and Bellevue Galleria. The pedestrian corridor is off of 106th Ave, right across from 6th street.  Come on by to see my art.  I would love to chat with you.

The Marmot looks across the alpine meadow just before he runs across a large snow bank to another set of rocks. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Marmot looks across the alpine meadow just before he runs across a large snow bank to another set of rocks. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

17
Jul 13

Hike along Silver Forest Trail at Mt Rainier National Park

The flowers were beginning to bloom in the alpine meadows on Mt Rainier.  Snow had just recently disappeared from many of the meadows. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

On 3 July, I walked in the evening the Silver Forest Trail from Sunrise east through scattered subalpine firs and an occasional white-bark pine and then back toward Shadow Lake.  Several bleached white skeletons of trees stood or lay prone on the ground.  The design in the wood was remarkable, with twists and turns as the grain of the wood shifted one-way and then another.  Glacier lilies, spreading phlox, and pasqueflower bloomed across the meadows.  The white and yellow flowers with the patchwork of green grasses created a mosaic across the landscape.  I found a subalpine fir with new cones just beginning to form.  They stick straight up as if reaching for the sky.  Dark-eyed Juncos sang from many subalpine firs as I walked down the trail.  These are the Oregon race of the juncos with their browner sides and back and dark head as if dunked in paint.  I heard several Canada Jays squawk in the distance.  A Mountain Bluebird called a few times as the light began to fade.

The spreading phlox added some color to the alpine meadows. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The spreading phlox added some color to the alpine meadows. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Emmons Glacier flows down the east side of Mt Rainier and forms the headwaters of the White River. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Emmons Glacier flows down the east side of Mt Rainier and forms the headwaters of the White River. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Mt Rainier glowed softly in the evening light as the sun began to set to the west.  The Sunrise area is on the east side of the mountain, in mountain’s rain shadow.  Little Tahoma peak sat off to the left, all snow had disappeared from it.  The massive Emmons Glacier slid down from Rainier’s peak to the right of Little Tahoma and to the left of Willis Wall.  The Winthrop Glacier flowed down right under Willis Wall.  As the evening progressed, a few clouds appeared above the side vent to the north of the peak.  I hoped some clouds would drift across the face of Rainier but they never did while I hiked.  I extended my hike back toward Shadow Lake but as light began to fade I retraced my steps before I reached the lake.

New cones were beginning to grow on the subalpine firs along the Silver Forest Trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

New cones were beginning to grow on the subalpine firs along the Silver Forest Trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Just before 9PM, a grouse began to drum in a forest clump just down hill from the trail.  I would hear the thump thump thump of its drumming and then a pause for 5 or 10 seconds before it repeated the drum role.  It seemed like it was really close to the trail but I was never able to find it.  It may well be that the drum carries a long way and it was a ways off the trail.  This was one of the last sounds of the evening as I worked my way back toward the car except for the sound of water rushing over the rocks in the White River carried easily up the hill to my location.  Otherwise as twilight set in, it was just my breathing and the drum of the grouse.

On the way back down the hill from Sunrise to White River Campground, I first saw a Mule Deer doe on the side of the road grazing quietly.  It raised its head as I coasted by but did not seem too concerned.  Around one of the large turns on the road, an elk doe was in the road and bounded across the road, up a very steep embankment as if it was level to disappear into the woods.  She paused slightly in the road, looking my way, as if saying what is this strange bright beast coming down toward me.  She then bounded forward and up the bank.  I slowed to a craw to drift by and spotted a second, an elk buck with four velvet-covered points on its antlers.  It quickly disappeared into the darkness of the woods.  I felt extremely lucky to have spotted them and had this chance to enjoy wilderness.

 

PS:  I will have a booth at the 6th Street Art Fair in Bellevue on July 26, 27, and 28.  I will be in booth B14, which will be along the pedestrian corridor between Mars Hill Church and Bellevue Galleria. The pedestrian corridor is off of 106th Ave, right across from 6th street.  Come on by to see my art.  I would love to chat with you.

 

The tree trunk formed a distinctive component to the meadow landscape.  I would love to had seen this tree when it was alive.  It must have been a magnificient monarch. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The tree trunk formed a distinctive component to the meadow landscape. I would love to had seen this tree when it was alive. It must have been a magnificient monarch. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Probably a magnificient White-bark Pine that was killed in a fire long ago.  The pattern in the wood was intriquing. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Probably a magnificient White-bark Pine that was killed in a fire long ago. The pattern in the wood was intriquing. (G. Thomas Bancroft)