Hike up Denny Creek in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area

Old growth hemlocks line the valley sides as one hikes up Denny Creek Trail in the Alpine Wilderness.  This primeval forest was messmerizing, the size of many trees and complexity of the understory community were fascinating to watch. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Old growth hemlocks line the valley sides as one hikes up Denny Creek Trail in the Alpine Wilderness. This primeval forest was messmerizing, the size of many trees and complexity of the understory community were fascinating to watch. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The forest along Denny Creek Trail in the Alpine Wilderness is a wonderful old growth hemlock dominated community.  I was hiking up the trail a week ago and had to stop regularly to gaze at the massive trees, some several feet in diameter, and the complex understory.  The sword ferns and bushes were only just starting to put out new leaves for the summer.  What was even more amazing was the incredible community of lichens, mosses, and other epiphytes on the trunks of these trees that formed a complex mosaic of colors and patterns.  The Pacific Northwest has a large number of epiphytic lichens and mosses and many of the patches I studied on the lower part of the trunks had more than six different species in a square foot.  The composition seemed to change from one side of the trunk to the other, probably related to humidity differences, but I really couldn’t see what determined the mosaic.

The lichens formed a complex mosaic on the hemoloc trunk.  I was intriquid by the pattern formed by the various species and the competition that must go on between them for space. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The lichens formed a complex mosaic on the hemoloc trunk. I was intriquid by the pattern formed by the various species and the competition that must go on between them for space. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Snow was still on the trail in a number of places and some of the drifts were still several feet thick.  The flow in Denny Creek was up as the snow here and higher in the mountains was melting with our spring weather.  Varied Thrushes were singing their melancholy flutelike whistle as I hiked up the trail.  Each note is a few seconds long and then a pause before it calls again.  I tried in a number of places to find one of these birds but they blend extremely well into the dense foliage and I never saw one.  The Pacific Wrens were in full song with their complex series of trills and notes that last for 10 to 20 seconds.  I was also fortunate to spot several Dippers along the stream.  These small black birds dive directly into the rapids to looks for aquatic insects, popping back up on rocks where they bob up and down before diving into the next water patch.

Denny Creek was definitely a great place to spend a spring morning.

The mosses and lichens compete for limited space on the massive hemlock trunk.  I wonder what determines which species wins to fight for this space.  Is it first come or does one out compete the others. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The mosses and lichens compete for limited space on the massive hemlock trunk. I wonder what determines which species wins the fight for this space. Is it first come or does one out compete the others. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

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