Sunday, March 15, 2009

Trillium Lake

Friday March 7th we skied and skijored into Trillium Lake. This former swampland and meadow was turned into a 65 acre lake in 1960 by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The first picture is from the road atop the dam. A little known historical fact is that the Oregon Trail (AKA The Barlow Trail in this area) headed North toward Summit Pass on land now under this lake. Logs were placed over the marsh to make the route possible for the pioneer wagons. Some distance North of the lake the Trail route angles left towards Summit Meadows and the Government Camp area.

Shadows on Trillium Lake

All of the old Barlow Trail in this area offers good cross-country skiing, some of it demanding, some easy. The section nowadays called The Toboggan Run features a moderately steep sharp angled twisting run, some of it still a single head-high rut left by the pioneer wagons of 130 to 170 years ago. Its a great practice run for anyone wishing to learn quick turns-on-demand with cross-country gear. The easier route down to Summit Meadows connects with the access road to the campground and hence onto the Oregon Trail. This leads to easy access to the high route along the West side of the lake, dropping down to the dam.

We took the road route from Trillium Lake Snowpark. This leads to the campground and boat ramp at the southeast edge of the lake. These are hidden in the trees on the right of the trees in the first picture. Despite being widely touted as a beginners area, Trillium Lake features a steep initial run which can be challenging in fast conditions. Today the ten inches of fresh snow over a dense snowpack was slow and easily managed. The loop around the lake is groomed regularly, and in fact was groomed while we were there in preparation for the weekend.

Trillium Lake Skiers

The grooming is great for skijoring. Let the dogs run to the bottom of that initial hill, and then hook them up. The terrain around the lake is easy to moderate and well within the ability of a trained skijoring dog.

This area with its large parking area sees quite a bit of use. Years ago this was primarily a cross-country area. More recently the slower sport of snow-shoeing has become very common here as elsewhere. Skijoring is the newest variation and is rarely seen. I thought I spotted one on this trip but it turned out to be someone holding their young brittany spaniel on a leash. Most dogs love the snow. Overheating is their great foe and the cold mountain temperatures and snowpack is to their advantage during exercise. Temperatures started out in the low 20’s f. and rose only a little. Trees in bright sun dripped a little but the forest remained snow-covered.

As there is some longer climbing ski routes in the Trillium Basin the area attracts skiers of many abilities. In the second picture two skiers are barely visible seemingly skiing the edge of the cloud-shadow near the North end of the lake. Their shortcut will save a mile or two of road skiing but leads to steep bushwacking on the west side. East of the lake on sideroads you can climb to viewpoints and some moderately challenging downhill return runs. Years ago one such trip lead to a pleasant moonlit ski back. There is nothing better than skiing under clear skies and a full Moon!

This is Tannhauser - trail training name Tanner - cooling off after release from skijoring duties. A chocolate lab - German shorthair mix, he has the stamina and energy to make a great skijoring dog. Husky, Bernese or Swiss Mountain Dog, and general mutt also all can make useful dogs. Avoid dogs with long hair between the pads which will collect balls of snow, such as Golden Retrievers. They otherwise would be great, but snow collecting on the feet makes them a no-go. In Scandinavia where skijoring began a Greyhound-German Shorthair cross is widely used as the ideal combination of traits.

He pulls strongest with other dogs, and needs more training. I’ve only had him a month so this is hardly surprising. The stolen Maya was further along on training but has been gone for over a month. Another dog is in the offing, both for skijoring and a playmate and training partner for Tannhauser.

We were attended to by a small flock of gray jays. These are a restrained white, gray and black combination. I’m more used to seeing the larger, solid gray and more jay-like Clark’s Nutcracker.

After taking photos here, we turned back, and there was a raven inspecting our pack! Tanner made a run at the bird but cut it short as the bird quickly returned to the sky. More interesting were the otter tracks.

This picture is from the dam and shows the outlet of the lake. The long track is that of an otter. Other partially snowed-over otter tracks are visible nearby. The recent track heads directly to an otter den at the far edge of the lake.

The Long Trail

Otters are distinctively thick-tailed creatures, and the track clearly show that. The small roundish footprints were mostly rubbed away by the tail dragging behind.

Doubtful or disinterested or tired otters will drag their tails. We had a demonstration of that on our riverfront in 1996 after the massive floods of that year left bare sand everywhere below about the 40 foot elevation mark. That silty sand recorded well the tracks of all animal traffic. Mink, sandpiper, and weasel tracks were spotted.

Though always present in the Clackamas River, this time of bare earth gave us a chance to observe their behavior though tracks the April following the big flood. Two of them came up out of the river from different locations, tails dragging. They sauntered their individual wandering routes towards a large rock which was then located in what is now our labyrinth. The pair headed uphill across an eroded riverbank to the edge of a flat area with foot-high grass. An area of grass larger than a pair of otters was knocked down. Pleased with this roll in the hay, the pair walked back to the river side by side. The pair was enthused enough to hold their tails high the whole way, leaving only their round footprints.

At Trillium Lake the tracks head one direction, judging from the small sprays of soft snow along the outside edge of the marks. The direction of travel is away from the lake outlet area. The route ends at the otter’s den at the edge of the lake.

Since the tracks all head one direction, the otter (or otters) must enter the lake at the den, fish their way over to the drain opening, and return back across the snowy ice. The two openings each may access the lake. The narrow track coming in from the right shows they slide in, legs tucked back, leaving no footprints.

The larger opening has approach slides in three directions. The small root highlighted by the snowy background shows the den is underground.

Tanner, nosey dog that he is, wanted to investigate further, but I would not let him. The photos were taken with a telephoto to avoid disturbing the residents.

Want to visit this area? From Portland proceed up Hwy. 26 past Government Camp and look for signs directing you to the Trillium Lake Snowpark on your right. The parking area is large but can be about full on weekends. In Summer you can drive in.

View Larger Map

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Cherries and Other Cherries

Road Edge Thicket of Choke Cherry

Everybody loves cherries. Good to eat, pretty to look at when they bloom - especially the fancy oriental varieties. Its a commercial crop that brings high prices to the orchardists of the American West. A staple of our diet, they add flavor to martinis, chocolates and soda pop.

The sweet cherry is derived from Prunus avium, the bird or fruit cherry, a widespread Eurasian species. Here in the Pacific Northwest we have two native species, choke cherry (Prunus virginianum demissa) and bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata mollis)., Both are sun-loving pioneer species, one of which grows large enough to survive in forests, at least until the conifers get large. Unfortunately our cherries are as good tasting as their names imply, meaning don't even try.

Pictured above is a thicket of choke cherries, the smaller of our native cherries. Lining a road and enjoying the sunshine, this suckering tree-shrub does not extend into the dark shaded North-slope forest behind. The larger bitter cherry, Prunus virginiana demissa can pioneer on streambanks and come up thick after burns or logging. As the other trees overtop the cherry, it dies and soon falls to the forest floor, the bark outlasting the wood.

Fruit and Choke Cherries side by side

Here the wide branching deciduous tree down the hill behind the smaller choke cherries is a naturalized bird cherry. It seems this Eurasian import finds our area to its liking. With home and commercial orchards providing bird-dispersed seed sources, as well as hikers chomping on cherries along the trail, this should come as no surprise.

Like any introduced plant that is able to naturally propagate itself and thrive in our climate, the bird cherry has the potential to alter the habitat it finds itself in. Some introduced plants, like the laurel daphne (Daphne laureola), survives well but will never seriously compete with our much taller growing native shrubs. Others, like ivy or Himalayan blackberries, can dominate an area at the expense of most of the native flora. How does the bird cherry measure up on a scale of "invasiveness"?

The next photo shows its potential on a site favorable to it.

Bird Cherry Thicket, Little Woodrose Nature Park, Tualatin

The picture was taken in Little Woodrose Nature Park in Tualatin, Oregon. This site is unusual in having a very warm sandy soil, and that extra underground heat is very encouraging to bird cherry.

Every stem visible in this photo is a bird cherry. The young seedlings are very shade tolerant, unlike our native cherries, and can hold their own indefinitely under a mature forest while slowly shading out most or all of its competition, both shrubs and trees. Young shaded trees often take on what the forester calls a wolf form, spreading out more that up, so that it more quickly blocks the light from the plants around it. Open grown trees shoot up quickly, and then begin to spread.

Bird Cherry, Cook Park

The invasive bird cherry can develop a massive broad crown. Under forest conditions it forms a strong central leader like this one but in more open conditions the leader can branch strongly and the tree becomes much more spreading, as in the following picture. Seedlings in deep shade can form thickets, especially in warm or disturbed soils.

On cooler, forested habitats the bird cherry tends to grow scattered throughout the stands, with the thickets seen on warmer soils rare or absent. It is not as large as our native bigleaf maple, but it is more shade tolerant, giving it a competitive advantage. It keeps lower limbs longer than most native trees.

Bird Cherry, Little Woodrose Nature Park

The potential range of bird cherry is not fully known. Its been found naturalizing from Vancouver Island on down into California. In its native haunts it grows from the mountains of North Africa to Scandinavia, Turkey, Ukraine, Poland and east to Iran. This would suggest wide adaptability. A good guess would predict a range from California well into British Columbia, and east into the Ponderosa pine belt, where late frosts would limit its ability to reproduce. In the mountains it likely could spread into the lower snow belt, 3,000 to 3,500 feet in Northern Oregon. All this is an estimate and will need to be verified by observation.

Cherry Thicket Forming, Cook Park, Tigard

Management Issues

Large older bird cherries can send up seedlings readily if land is disturbed or cleared around them, as is the case with this one in the bottomlands of Cook Park, Tigard. All the smaller upright stems in the picture above are young bird cherry seedlings. Park development provided the opportunity and the invasive bird cherry took advantage. Thank you very much!

Bird Cherry adaptation in select natural areas in the Portland area:
Little Woodrose Nature Park, Tualatin - dominates understory with many large older trees, mid-sized thickets, and thickets of saplings.
Cook Park, Tigard - Scattered older trees with some continued reproduction in various habitats
Mount Talbert, Clackamas - Many large older and mid-sized trees with some continued but scattered reproduction
Cooks Butte, Lake Oswego - Spread limited in this park.
West Linn Wilderness Park - Very few present, with limited new saplings.
Powell Butte, Portland - Many trees of all age classes, but prejudicial management has begun here.

So bird or fruit cherry is a highly invasive species already widely established in our area. It comes with the potential to alter extensively most land up to moderate elevations, and to completely dominate warm soil areas to the potential exclusion of most native trees and shrubs. It is much more common than native cherries.

Ivy and Bird Cherry Equals Lost Native Habitat

One of the problems in management of cherries is lack of awareness of the situation on the ground. It is widely assumed that cherries are native and to be left alone. This is fine when true, but managers need to be aware of what they have in their natural areas - which means that the ability to identify the three types of cherry met in our area is a crucial management tool.

The heavier root system of the invasive cherry is often a help in identification. The natives are lighter and smaller in all respects and will not show this much root. Bird cherry has thick, brittle stems; the native light, flexible stems. All three species are able to form thickets, and the bird cherry does this both by seedling reproduction and root suckering, and the natives do so by extensive suckering with only a few seedlings.

Heavy Bole of the Bird Cherry

This bird cherry trunk is about the maximum size of the native bitter cherry. However, this bird cherry is still a youngster, and reports indicate a potential trunk size up to five feet across. It is a rapid grower and may reach that size in a century. Some of our biggest examples are farmyard orchard trees of that age.

Suckering Choke Cherries

This choke cherry patch contrasts with the heavy-boled bird cherry, and is also smaller and lighter than the bitter cherries here in the valley.

Maple and Bird Cherry Leaves on the Forest Floor

The leaves of the bird cherry are twice the length of the native species and sport deeper teeth along the edges. The bird cherry also will take on some red fall color, which is absent with the native cherries.

The first active management of this invasive I observed is at Camassia Natural Area in West Linn. There The Nature Conservancy put this cherry to use lining the trails. Bird cherry removal is underway at Powell Butte in Portland. The chain saw is the preferred tool. Long term vigilance is crucial, as young seedlings can be missed and new ones will come along. Resprouting from low-cut stumps should be limited, and cherries as a group do not resist decay once cut.

The bird cherry Prunus avium is a habitat-altering invasive. It is able to form thickets in sun or shade to the detriment of native trees and shrubs. Unlike most larger trees, its shade tolerance and retention of branches in forest conditions allows it to compete with not just trees but smaller shrubs as well. It spreads easily from seed produced by both naturalized and orchard trees. Effective forest management in parks and other natural areas should include removal of this tree.

Click here to view more pictures and a tabular presentation of cherry characteristics used to distinguish the locally occurring species.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Muddy Fork Outwash Plain

My camera broke its zoom mechanism and consequently there are two tours without any new pictures. One of these was a hike down to the upper edge of Old Maid Flats, just below McNeil Point. Here is a few photos from earlier trips to that area.

Buried Forest

Portions of the very steep south face of Bald Peak are indeed treeless. The view is dramatic with Mount Hood, the valley of the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River and its outwash plains, and across it cliff-strewn Yocum Ridge.

Outwash Plain on Old Maid Flats

This photo shows the ending of the 2003 debris flow. The bright green flats show the extent of an earlier, larger flow. The gray trees to the left of this area are smothered trees, mostly firs, buried in the 2003 flow. These trees are about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from the mountain.

The main fork of the Sandy River comes in at the upper left. Originating at Reid Glacier, it has its own contributions from the erosion of the mountain. Its been longer since this drainage has seen a substatial outwash event.

The trail heads around Bald Peak from the trail to McNeil Point. This is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. The initial viewpoint features a drop down the fall line of 1200 feet (365 meters). The trail angles east heading up valley. The valley floor rises quickly, and by the time the trail reaches it in 2.5 miles (4 kilometers), there is only 200 feet (60 meters) elevation drop.

"Like Jackstraws"

Scattered Big Trees Along the Trail

On the way down the forest is of mixed firs including some big blue nobles. Many of the trees are two and three feet (up to a meter) thick. On nearing the bottom the trail follows the edge of the debris flow, where this tall forest was torn out or knocked akimbo. The trail here was just above the flow and a lot of damage is on display as you walk along. A tongue of the flow followed an old channel and removed the forest as it went. It stopped several hundred feet (meters) in.

Down by the Muddy Fork River

Downed Trees at the Edge of the Outwash Flow

As the trail met the debris flow, trees are felled with their length down the tread. Just enough wood has been removed to allow pasage onto the debris flow proper. There the trail was rubbed out. A temporary wandering track is there to follow.

The Valley Floor

Chaos in the Valley

Past the downed trees the gray chaotic jumble of rock stretches out 3/4 of a mile uphill, almost two miles downstream and close to 1800 feet across at its widest. Leaning, smothered trees mark the far edge of the flow; how much of the intervening land was tall forest I do not know.

Deep Channel

The main outwash channel cuts into old deposits from the Mountain

This shows the upstream view, with the deep erosional channel of the 2003 event. Cut into outwash material from previous events, It didn t reveal how deep the previous flows were.

In the right top of the foreground channel is a line of shrubs with yellow fall color. These are what was growing on the pre-event surface, showing the variable depth of deposition. The large boulder atop on the right edge of the photo is twelve feet high, too tall to climb. Weighing many tons, this rock is some indication of the force of the current during the flow. Of course there is the possibility that it floated on ice from the glacier high above.

The forest above the flow on the left of the picture abruptly changes from green well branched trees to ones showing just trunk for most of their height. The green trees are ones that have always grown at the edge of the forest, and so have retained branches to the ground; towards the left edge of the photo all these  guard trees have been removed by the 2003 event. Trees in the interior of the forest commonly lose their limbs except at the top. By this you can see where the flow began to enter and damage the forest.

Upper Chasm

This telephoto shot shows the falls and very steep canyon on the mountain proper. This makes clear what gave the flow the velocity to travel 2.5 miles past the base of the mountain. This also shows the transition from just erosion to extensive deposition as the terrain flattened. The bare trunks and brown smothered trees show how high the forest was impacted.

Falls and the switchover to deposition

All and all, McNeil Point and the Muddy Fork valley make for fascination hiking tours. See both tall forest and stunted alpine trees. Gaze down on glaciers from high ridges, then descend to the outwash plain made of rock torn from the mountain by the glacier. In season wildflowers carpet much of the area.

Tour Details:

Drive up Highway 26 east from the Portland area. Immediately before the Zigzag Ranger Station turn left onto Forest Service Road 18, the Lolo Pass Road. After 3 or 4 miles an obvious right just as the road steepens drops you onto Road 1825. The next left, really more of a straight ahead, puts you on Road 1828. Follow this for a few winding miles to the junction with Road 118 on your right. There should be a sign here, and there should be another locating Topspur Trailhead #784A about a mile and a half on. The road at this point has just turned heading Northwest and it broadens to allow head-in parking. There is a fine view here but there will be much better up the trail.

The Topspur Trail in .6 mile brings you to the Pacific Crest Trail, where you turn right. After a short distance there is a potentially confusing junction with three ways to go. The leftmost turn will take you directly towards McNeil Point along Trail 600, the Round the Mountain Trail. The rightmost quickly drops to the Ramona Falls area after 4.1 miles. On the center is the Bald Mountain Trail. This section of the Pacific Crest Trail skirts Bald Mountain and then drops gently into the Muddy Fork Valley. There is also a link trail back to the Round the Mountain Trail, allowing taking in the viewpoints and then going on to McNeil Point.

The Round the Mountain Trail follows Bald Mountain Ridge to the base of McNeil Point. There it veers North, and at a junction with the Cathedral Ridge Trail the 600 turns right. After .3 mile turn right again for the mile long trail to the shelter at McNeil Point. From there a climbers trail heads uphill through open tarrain another 900 feet gain to the glacier overlook. This is on the rocky top of the ridge. The trail becomes indistinct past that point, though some both adventurous and fit continue on.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

McNeil Point Travels

On August 26th 2008 we undertook the long haul up McNeil Point on Mount Hood. From the Top Spur trailhead this is a 3000 foot elevation gain with about 5.5 miles distance to a viewpoint above the glacier. An exceedingly steep shortcut taken on the way back drops about a thousand feet in only around a half mile. In the process it saves about a mile and a half distance. We added another mile or so hiking out to the Bald Mountain viewpoints in the waning light.

The trail passes through several miles of mature but not ancient woods. At first the forest is a typical late seral tall Northwest rainforest. Fire has kept this area from developing a truly old growth condition.


A few interesting plants gave some interest during this portion of the tour.

Drippy Fungus

This fungus is covered with strange droplets of liquid. This is not dew - the how and why of the droplets is unknown to me. It grows perched on the side of a large fir. Only one was spotted.


Merten’s Purple Coralroot

The coralroot orchid bloomed away in the deep woods. Leafless and without the chlorophyll of most plants, this herb gathers all of its nutrients from decaying forest duff.

High Up McGee Creek

The trail crosses high up the many branches of McGee and Elk Creeks. Cold springs create the creek and the wet meadows which intersect the trail. The water and the wet meadows appear on the steep bank behind this view; forest covers everything uphill from the springs.

Spring-fed Meadows Along the Trail

Paintbrush, buttercup, and shooting star among others were growing in the soggy soil.

Climbing along the sometimes steep ridge path a point is reached where the forest quickly changes. The trees become only half the size of the lower elevation forest just below. Snow creep - the winters slow movement of the snowpack downhill - has made most of the trees bent, especially at the base, but sometimes higher too.

An Aberrant Rhododendron

Cascades Azalea

Cascades Azalea is an atypical member of the rhododendron clan. Unlike most rhodies or azaleas it blooms from buds formed along last years shoots rather than at the shoots tip. Consequently its been threatened with transfer to some other genus. It becomes common in the mid-elevation shrubfields and forests of our mountains. Not actually a member of the Azalea subsection of the genus, its so unlike a typical Rhododendron that the azalea name gets slapped on.

Glacial Outwash Events

As we climbed onto the high shoulder of Bald Mountain, the views opened up to the mountain and into the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River valley. The broad valley floor was created by both glacial debris flows and volcanic ejecta.

The last substantial eruption of Mount Hood was a little over 200 years ago, just before the journeys of Lewis and Clark took them past the mouth of the Sandy River on the mighty Columbia. Those intrepid explorers took note of the fact that the route of the Columbia was forced North against the far bank away from the Sandy River delta because of the huge outpouring of sandy grit. They named the Sandy from this phenomena, and to this day the Columbia skirts North around the shallow broad delta formed by the deposition from the much smaller Sandy River.

Glacial outwash events are frequent on Mount Hood - and recent. The last one from the Sandy Glacier was only five years ago, and the effects were widespread and dramatic.

Muddy Fork Outwash Plain 2008

There were no witnesses to this event. Deep snow was on the mountain in the Winter of 2002-03 and few hardy travelers come high enough on this side of Mount Hood to view the upper valley of the Muddy Fork. Snow just after may have quickly hidden the evidence too. And no roads cross the valley high enough for passers-by to notice, and access roads up the canyon are closed in winter. The following summer exposed miles of deposition along the valley floor.

The photo here of Old Maid Flats and higher reaches of the Muddy Fork valley shows miles of extensive deposition of rock from gravel up to truck-sized boulders. The beginnings of this event were beneath the Sandy Glacier high above on the flanks of the mountain. At an elevation around 6500 feet (2000 meters) occurred the most likely scenario: a subglacial lake formed, ponding sufficient water, which subsequently was rapidly released. The upper section below the glacier is extremely steep, with two waterfalls and a 2500 foot (760 meters) drop in only a mile (1.61 km). The velocity this initial drop provided was able to distribute the large amount of stone over the next 2.5 miles (4 km) of valley and more.

Of course that first mile was scoured out of any loose material and probably much bedrock as well. After dropping 2000 feet, the grade lessens and the torrent began tearing into deep deposition from previous outwash events. I am uncertain of the previous depth of the stream channel; after this event a huge vertical sided chasm up to one hundred feet deep and more across was formed. The flow at least at first overtopped that and deposition occurred in relatively speaking small amounts. After another 500 drop the ground became less steep again; the depth of the channel lessens and more deposition than cutting became the rule. Still, large sections of forest were rubbed away and the flood entered two old channels, dead-ending amid a jumble of two and three foot thick firs. In the lower section of the debris flow erosion ceased and rather than removing forests the outwash buried and killed them instead.

A Punctured Glacier

This view of the blown-out snout of the gravel covered Sandy Glacier from 2003 is difficult to read for scale. This is a telephoto shot; the trees in the apparent foreground are around fifty feet high; they are also easily a thousand or 1200 feet from the glacier. This means the opening may be two hundred feet across. Note also the small opening just above the trees.

The Punctured Sandy Glacier 2003

The Ice Cave

The Hollow Sandy Glacier

The passageway continues hundreds of feet uphill under the dirty grayish ice of the glacier before being exposed by some collapsed ceiling. Its unknown if the opening continues farther up. A stream of meltwater falls into the big hole in the glacier, and a much bigger stream exits at the snout. The area in the upper left between two snow patches is the location of the collapsed glacier. Here the glacier is punctured ceiling to floor.

High Mountain Ponds

The trail passes small meltwater pools, filled with tannic cold water and possessing no outlets except at highest peak inflow. These are located on a bench at about 5600 feet (1700 meters) elevation. These remain visible through much of the climb to McNeil Point.

Mountain Pool

The trail here is confusing. If you follow the official trail you miss these attractive waterbodies. If you visit them on the well-established trails, and avoid backtracking to the official trail, you end up with a bit of bushwacking. All and all I always opt for the bushwack. Its just plain more scenic and entertaining. Cross the ridge above the ponds and veer right to the main trail.

The Fin

The Fin

Between the two lobes of the Ice Age Sandy Glacier a remnant fin of rock stands. With the ice retreated far uphill the narrow, leaning object still stands. For scale, the trees in the picture near the feature stand a hundred feet high. And yes, there are stunted trees atop the fin too.

High Mountain Gardens

The high mountain areas of Mount Hood are a great place to study the forces of nature and their expression in the ecology of the region. Trees reach the limits of their growth, and the great, dense forests of the Pacific Northwest give way to banks of heather and natural perennial gardens of great beauty.

Snow, Boulder, and Blossom

Here in a valley below our irregular treeline are interlaced snowfields, boulders, lupine and heather. Trees are eliminated by the deep, late melting snow. There is too little time for tree seedlings to establish here. They will higher up where the mountain winds blow some of the snow away into the valleys. Our treeline is established by length of the growing season after snowmelt, not by cold.

Our native heathers prefer dryer, poorer soils and are tough evergreens. This is an advantage in this short season area. They photosynthesize as soon as exposed to the summer light. The lupines along side them must sprout and grow from their perennial rootstock. The lupines have their own set of advantages. Taller than the heathers, they fix nitrogen though a symbiotic relationship with fungi, enriching the soil and encouraging other flowers. It is actually rare to see heathers and lupine interlaced like this, as the lupines create conditions that lead to the demise of the heathers. Over time as the soils improve the lupines and the meadows they help create will dominate.

Slow Changes in the Meadows

With the climate warming there is less snowpack and that throws the ecological balance in favor of the trees. Starting back in the 1930’s many long-established high mountain meadows have been invaded by trees, shrinking or eliminating the flowery meadowland.

A Few Trees Struggle to Grow in a Glacial Basin

Here in the deep glacial McGee Creek basin, a few scrawny firs are the only ones for quite a distance. As they slowly grow they will capture snow on their lengthening branches, where it can evaporate and never reach the ground. In this way they slowly make it possible for more of their kind to establish, at least in the driest years.

Red Mountain Core

This late afternoon shot shows The Red Shaft on Mount Hood.

The Red Shaft Above the Sandy Glacier

This stratovolcano is the result of many eruptions which resulted in rock of many colors and ages. One major eruption left behind a vertical stretch of red stone now at the center of the West side of the mountain. Most of the rockfall covering the Sandy Glacier is from the Red Shaft. Rock from other eruptions are gray to black and generally more dense than the light red cinder.

Glisan Glacier

Glisan Glacier

The Glisan is one of the lesser glaciers on Mount Hood; its crevasses are comparatively few but always present. It is lower in elevation than most but is North facing. It is also short. Most of its basin has been abandoned by the glacier, and is a boulder-strewn fellfield with little vegetation.

Wind Timber

This snow skirt found above the mountain treeline testifies to the brutality of the high mountain environment. Formed from a single Alpine fir, its shrubby shape is determined by winter snowpack and blowing grit and snow.

Snow Skirt

Rainbow Circle in the Fog

Rainbow Fog

A final curiosity: with the fog swirling in and out we caught a shot of a circular rainbow in the mist. Whenever water droplets are exposed to sun, you have the chance of a rainbow. In the picture my head and shoulders are circled by not just one but two round rainbows. Somehow the shadow creates the conditions necessary for the rainbow to form. I’ve seen this at waterfalls where concentrated spray will show a round rainbow around the shadow of your head.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mount Adams - Horseshoe Meadows Tour

We toured this area September 24th. A summertime hike up here would reveal many wildflowers in the meadows and the sometimes open woods. We saw a few late lupines, pearly everlasting, and the foliage of several flowers, such as the evergreen partridge foot. The trail goes through forest and meadow and passes many interesting rugged rock outcrops.

The paucity of flowers was made good by an abundance of fungi, with many types present following the recent rains. By far the showiest is the fly agaric. Most common in the Fall, this forms symbiotic relationships with conifers here and with many species worldwide.

Fly Agaric, Amanita muscari

This is both psychedelic and poisonous. Despite the danger from ingesting too much, it is widely used for its psychoactive properties. More is not better however, and fatalities do occur from time to time. These are not necessarily from recreational users, but rather those who mistake it for an edible. There are species of Amanita which are truly edible, tasty and not psychedelic, but their appearance is exceedingly similar to those which fit no such criteria.

Originally native to most of the Northern Hemisphere, it has moved with nursery plants to most of the Southern Hemisphere too, so it now is truly cosmopolitan. Reports indicate it has new symbionts in the South - Southern beech (Nothofagus), related to the beeches of Eurasia and Eastern North America, and with Eucalyptus which has no relatives in the North.

Somehow this mushroom became associated with Christmas, especially in Europe. I have a pair of inherited antique Christmas ornaments which feature red and white miniature ceramic Amanitas. Their history has been lost but I do know they were considered old by 1950. Perhaps the red recalls old Saint Nick, or their fruiting just before the holidays made for the association.

The goal of this day hike is Horseshoe Meadow. Following the Pacific Crest Trail on a steady climb, in about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) you reach the intersection with the Stagman Ridge Trail. This is another route to this area of the mountain. It starts higher but requires a long rough section of gravel road. Another half mile or so (700 meters) past this junction brings you to the Round The Mountain Trail. The Pacific Crest Trail heads North along with the Round The Mountain Trail. Horseshoe Meadow is just uphill from the junction. Its elevation is about 5900 feet, a little below treeline. The mountain dominates the view.

Horseshoe Meadow and Mount Adams

The picture shows a lenticular cloud atop Adams. These weather clouds result from high winds, peak crossing updrafts and moist air. They form over all the high volcanic peaks of the Northwest. Even with good conditions elsewhere, it will be harsh atop the mountain just under that cap. The cloud forms from very minute water droplets.

The name Round The Mountain Trail is something of a misnomer - it does not fully circle the peak, not passing around the East side, all of which is part of the Yakima Indian Reservation. It does process from the Northwest to the Southwest sides.

Moraine on Mount Adams

The lateral moraine of Avalanche Glacier is a pale brown for the most part, with darker flows marking it. The coloration is the result of the rock being ground up by the glacier. How the dark areas formed I an not certain.

Mount Adams was mostly glacier covered during the last ice age. High up much of it was sheet glaciation, with broad areas covered without deep valley erosion. Sometimes as it flowed downhill the ice would gather itself into valley glaciers, carving deep, steep-sided canyons. One example is between Stagman and Crofton Ridges. The landforms revealed after the glaciers are gone are quite different. The drop down off Crofton Ridge into Cascade Creek Canyon is now over 1600 feet (500 meters). Relief in the sheet glaciated areas may only be 200 feet (60 meters) or less. Commonly this is in cliffs and steep sided hollows.

Glacial striations along the PCT

Moving ice is the defining characteristic of glaciers. Icefields do not move. If they do they cease to be icefields and become glaciers. Rock embedded in that moving ice gouges the bedrock they pass over, leaving easily seen linear features in the stone. These striations are on the sides of a shallow valley, where they were abraded by the sides of the glacier. More often they are found at the bottom once under the glacier’s full mass.

Directions to the trailhead: Take SR 14 to the Trout Lake Turnoff. From Vancouver simply head East on 14. From the Oregon Side take I-5 East to the Hood River Bridge across the Columbia, turning left at the end, then take the first right onto Highway 141 towards Trout Lake.

At the first stop sign, go straight. Go straight (sort of a right) past Trout Lake, turning left soon after onto FS Road 23, This eventually intersects FS Road 521. Turn right and travel a short distance. The Pacific Crest Trail 2000 crosses the road just before a trailer park along this road. Parking is along the left.

You head left here - its easy to want to go right since the Mountain has been in that direction for most of the drive. The spur turns 90 degrees however, and right is now away from Adams.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Doing the Dog

Dog Mountain is a choice late spring - early summer destination. The lower slopes are primarily populated with Douglas-fir and other westside natives. Eastern species are present though - rattlesnakes can appear on the lower slopes, the native eastside mock orange was present and flowering. Its hybrids are mainstays of the nursery plant trade.

Mock Orange, Phildaelphus lewisii

The trailhead is at the east end of a large parking area along Washington State Route 14. In earlier times this was the site of the Crest Trail Inn, which disappeared in the 1970’s with nary a trace.. The trail initially follows a steep gravel road but after a sharp turn to the left continues up with a trail in the forest.

Dog Mountain tops out at 2940 feet (896 meters) with 2800 feet (853 meters) elevation gain from just above river level. River level here is less than 40 feet, so with the peak only a mile and a half from the river with large open areas, impressive views are commonplace. Such relief is common in the Columbia River Gorge with short climbs such as Mount Defiance rising 4800 feet (1463 meters) from near river level. The dryer conditions this far east contribute to the meadows, as its just a little too dry for trees to establish. All the meadows are along exposed southwest slopes, not the cooler north or east sides. The hike itself switchbacks 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) in to the summit, with a new loop trail returning 3.9 miles (6.3 kilometers) to the parking along SR 14.

Expansive meadows on steep slopes provide the sun needed by the broad displays of wildflowers of many types. With the middle elevation and a location midway up the Gorge, the flowers derive from both east and west, high elevation and low. There is a lot of botanical diversity here.

Date of this hike was the 2nd of July. This was a very late year as far as flowering times, and the predominate basamroot was just past its peak of flowering. So prime time in normal years for this tour should be late May and early June.

Looking Down Dog Mountain

The hike up features a woodland generally like that of Western Washington, dominated by Douglas-firs and bigleaf maples. I found this plant of wild ginger (Asaurum caudatum) perched on the edge of a dropoff, allowing its normally hidden flower to be photographed. Of a chocolate-burgandy color with a pale inner cup, these are borne under the leaves atop the forest duff.

Wild Ginger, Asaurum caudatum

Phantom Orchid, Eburophyton austiniae

The phantom orchid was frequent on the forest floor. This leafless perennial gets its nutrition entirely from the decaying forest duff. It grows only in deep established woods with a goodly layer of organic materials built up over the ground.

Old burnt snag

Like so much of the Columbia Gorge, this mountain has burned, probably in pioneer times. Occasional very large fire-scarred snags can be found along the trail. The existing trees have not had the several hundred years needed to reach the girth of the old snags like the one pictured.

Initially this route is in a thick forest, and your only views are within the woodland. The climb averages 800 ft a mile, so steep sections are frequent. Eventually breaks appear and viewpoints open as the forest thins.

The Columbia from Trail 147

The glory of this mountain is the extensive meadows that carpet the upper slopes on much of the Southwest side. There is a delicate balance here - North and East slopes are just a little less dried by the sun, and tree seedlings survive well there. The location of these mid-elevation fields are determined by drought - unlike high mountain meadows which are sited by deep late melting snowfields.

The meadows provide broad views of the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascade Mountains.

Wind Mountain and the Columbia

To the right of Wind Mountain in this view is the town of Carson, its hot springs resort hidden in a deep canyon. Wind Mountain is prominent next to the Columbia. On the Oregon side Nick Eaton Ridge leads down to a point which the river wraps around.

Looking back on the climb with Mount Defiance on the skyline

Looking down the rise to the Columbia disappears east past the point. Mount Defiance on the far Oregon side rises to 4960 feet (1512 meters), with its trail having probably the greatest elevation gain around.

Wind timber on the slopes

The trail system continues North, and if you take the correct fork you can connect with the Pacific Crest Trail System in about 15 miles. The trail heads north and east between roads to Mount Adams Wilderness. Certainly there are shorter routes to Mount Adams. To backpack from near sea level on the Columbia to treeline in the high mountains would be interesting however.

Trail heading North across the Southwestern slopes of Dog Mountain, traveling towards Mount Adams

The blanket flower with red centers and yellow petals are as showy as any of their garden offspring. This one of the Westernmost outposts of their range, and only a few plants were present. The flowers are larger that the more common balsam root, making these the largest individual blossoms on the mountain.

Cow parsnip (Heracium lanatum) shows up sporadically Better adapted to the wetter west side climate, here it prefers to grow where sun protected by nearby trees. In damp meadows west of the Cascades, it can grow a lush eight feet high (2.5 meters). In the mountains cow parsnip may reach only half that.

Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) was common in the dry sunny meadows. This common plant is happy in roadside gravel too. It makes a good garden plant, in bloom a month or so in lowland springs. Cut back after flowering it spends the rest of the growing season a tidy and presentable mound of grey cut foliage.

Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) prefers sun, and flowered in orange throughout the meadowlands of Dog Mountain. It is common at mid to high elevations throughout the Northwest. Sometimes it covers roadside gravels and is also frequent in montane meadows like those of Dog Mountain.

Mugwort (Artemesia douglasiana) was scattered in most sunny habitats on Dog Mountain. On these exposed mountain slopes mugwort reaches at best two feet (60 cm). In lush lowland habitats it can reach eight (2.5 meters). Higher up in the Cascades it can be less than one foot (30 cm).

The grey foliage is very aromatic. It was much used like incense by Northwest first peoples, just like the closely related European and Asian mugworts were wherever found.

Lowland mugwort plants are found in dry meadows. The are also very common in coarse gravels along rivers such as the Clackamas where they may be submerged half the year and in full sun the other half. Mountain plants take to the same habitats.

Lupines are very common flowering plants all over the Northwest. Unlike mugwort, rather than having a single species adapting to all elevations, different replacement species of lupine grow at different elevations, with only a little overlap. A tall species occupies low elevation meadows and open woods, producing 6 foot plants with two foot spikes of blossom; on Dog Mountain L. latifolius grows 2 to 2.5 feet (60 to 75 cm) high, and above treeline there is a diminuative species is only two or three inches (5 to 8 cm) tall with inch (2.5 cm)-high-at-most thimbles of bloom.

Circling around the mountain and dropping down the West and Southwest sides are open tall fir forests. Short forest floor plants dominate under the big firs with few taller shrubs to clutter the view.

West of the lower sections of the trail were views of isolated farms and estates on the valley floor, with ponds, forests and fields. This is the valley of Collins Creek,which extends west into the Wind River valley and Carson.

It steep climbs and moderate distances, this is not a hike for the weary or out of shape. The views are a just award for the hiker, and are among the most dramatic around.