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.