Thursday, August 30, 2007

Willow Gentian

Sometimes a plant is a standout of its type. Such is true of the willow gentian. Though almost all plants in the genus Gentiana share intense blue flowers, most are low growing, soon out of bloom and finicky to grow. Willow gentian grows a useful medium height, blooms August till frost, and given its preferred conditions is quite simple to grow.

The trumpet flowers of this leafy two footer (60 cm) are among the truest of blues -- dark and rich like the best of chocolates. They nestle in small clusters along the tops of the gracefully arching stems. They look up from their perches to show markings of white and yet darker blue.

Willow Gentian

They like cool shady nooks that you can keep watered in dry spells. Give them a good loose soil high in organics. They will award all your efforts with flowers from August on.

Give it plenty of room to allow the arching stems space to fully develop. A yard (meter) between plants is not too much. A shortcoming is its dislike of alkaline, free lime soils, much like an azalea. The dry regions most likely to have such soils naturally are also too hot for the willow gentian's liking.

You can make more by simple division in the fall or spring. Seed should be sown as soon as ripe, and cuttings can be sucessful. A white form exists, as does a dwarf blue one.

Gentiana asclepiadea
Willow Gentian

Grows wild from Central Europe to the Caucasus Mountains and Asia Minor.

USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 5a
Height to 2 ft (60cm), spreading 2-3 ft (60-100 cm), more with age.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Olallie Scenic Area Highlands

This expansive backcountry area is underappreciated by forest users, with almost all use limited to around the larger lakes at trailhead elevation. The higher elevations here give access to one of the most extensive regions of upper montane forests and meadows not on a high glaciated peak in The Cascades. At 7215 ft. (2200 m) Olallie Butte is the highest point between Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson. If you try this area out, you will find few other folks on the trail.

Family at an unnamed lake

On this outing I met only one other group - a young family of four with their dog. From northern Washington and used to the deep-canyoned, steep-trailed North Cascades, they found the comparative gentleness of this landscapen better suited to their growing family. The unnamed lake is a short hop off the trail. Its outlet was dry at this time, and I'm uncertain if it is part of the Clackamas or Santiam watershed.

The Ice Age glaciation of these highlands took the form of sheet glaciation rather than carving deep valleys. The ice sheets left behind so many water bodies that many have never received names. Hiking on any trail up here reveals a series of pretty ponds and attractive lakes.

This hike starts just of Forest Service Road 4220, accessible using Roads 46 and then 4680 or 4690. I started at Lower Lake Campground and proceeded south on Road 4220. No trail completes the loop hike planned, and the road gives access to some little-visited ponds and lakes which have little or no parking available.

Beaver Tarn

First stop was a mountain pool with no outlet. Its waters are strongly tainted with organics. Usually tannins and such are flushed out by an exit stream, but this old beaver pond has none. So the tannins and other chemicals build up, making the tarn tea-colored.

Two linear grassy strips cut across the pond and support some straggly trees. They are remnants of very old beaver dams. No sign of current beaver activity could be seen. The pond backs up to the roadfill but has never flowed across it.

Next up the road was First Lake. Limited parking exists here and a few primitive campsites are near the water. A trail follows the north bank (to the left in the photo) but peters out just past the lakes westernmost point. The outlet is also on the north near the road. It is choked with large logs too big to wash down the creek. Like all the outlets found on this hike, the outlet creek is dry during the rainless summer.

First Lake

The clear water supports salamanders and some fish. Like other glacial lakes nearby, this radiates out from Olallie Butte and the view from the west edge gives the length of the lake with the Butte on the skyline. Sunlight on Road 4220 is visible just past the lake, with the gravel rising towards the south.

Also visible in the background are grey patches of bark beetle killed lodgepole pine. The adults burrow their eggs under the bark, and the larvae fan out to feed on pitch, girdling and killing the pine in the process. The thin bark falls off in two years, exposing the tunneling that did the tree in. In around ten years the trees fall. Many thousands of this common pine have died. In fire-history areas the lodgepole made up almost all the forest, and the big trees are all gone. The young pines that have yet to mature their bark are spared, so we can hope that this insect epidemic will see the bugs run out of food and die out.

Beetle Tunneling

Fire danger will be higher with all this dead fuel around. The current cool wet summer has put an end to high fire danger this year, but next year could bring drought.

I reached the Pacific Crest Trail at Head Lake, one of the ultimate sources of the Clackamas River via Squirrel Creek. At first the route follows the divide between the Clackamas and the Deschutes drainages. After crossing and recrossing this divide the trail enters into the Santiam drainage.

Head Lake
with Jefferson behind

The Pacific Crest trail climbs from the lake. Many ponds and meadow areas can be seen along it. The first was some distance below the trail and had tannin-tinged water, indicating lack of an outlet.

Most of the area is quite rocky, with only the little soil that has developed since the glaciers melted. Occasionally the path enters deeper soils of unglaciated areas. The forest thickens, more undergrowth appears and everything looks more like a typical westside woodland, without the rocks and pines more common eastside.

Mount Jefferson from the cliff

High up the ridge a glacial dropoff provides stone seats for lunch. Mount Jefferson is on the skyine nine miles (14.5 km) distant. The cliff exceeds 100 feet (35 m) height. The view over the treetops extends from the south slope of Olallie to Double Peaks. Drought tolerant wildflowers and shrubs take advantage of the sun on the cliff face.

Glacial striations in Bedrock
just off Trail 2000

The faint, eroded glacial striations indicate the ice moved more or less at right angles to the cliff, which it helped create during the Ice Age.

North Side Mount Jefferson

The heavy crevassing of Russell Glacier is clear in this 8X telephoto of Mount Jefferson. The apparent secondary peak to the right of Russell Glacier is a remnant of the west slope of the once higher and larger mountain, cut off by the notch created by the glacier. Originally the slope would have been continuous to the original peak. Likely thousands of feet of rock have eroded off all sides of the mountain by ice, water and wind.

Cigar Lake

This rock-strewn lake was the high point of this hike at 5500 feet (1675 m). The sheet glacier divided at what is now the lake, with part flowing to the right in the picture and the rest directly into the camera. In that direction below the water down the very steep slope are springs fed by the lake. They support a colony of spirea and other wetland plants which is bisected by the rocky trail.

Cigar Springs and the trail

More trails are available in this area. Close by is the Double Peaks (5900 ft., 1800 m.) trail, which forks off at Cigar Lake. A second steeper route parallels the Pacific Crest Trail giving access to a different set of lakes. The Crest Trail heads south and two trails branching off it give access to the high terrain above Breitenbush Lake. Other forks pass more lakes on the way to trailheads downstream.