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.