Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Introduction, by Tim Billo (Instructor)

The group poses on Sentinel Peak, >20 trail miles from any road, with Mount Anderson and the Eel Glacier in the background. From this vantage point, we looked down on a soaring Golden Eagle, saw swifts rising and swooping along the adjacent cliff face, found an alpine flower species endemic to the Olympic Mountains (isolated by past climate changes), looked across the now free-flowing Elwha River and the valley's wide unbroken lowland forests, and compared the current coverage of Eel Glacier to historic photos taken from a nearby vantage point. We would also take time here to individually ponder the value of large ecosystem preserves (such as Olympic National Park), and the kind of remote wilderness recreation experience they provide as humanity enters the Anthropocene, and as nearby Seattle prepares to take on another 1.5 million people over the next 25 years.  Photo Credit: Tim Billo (all photos in this blog are by Tim Billo unless otherwise specified)

            This blog documents the third annual offering (click here for last year's blog) of the interdisciplinary summer field course, ENVIR 495C: Landscape Change in the Pacific Northwest, offered by the University of Washington Environmental Studies Program. The course, taught primarily through the lens of a nine-day wilderness backpacking trip (July 11-19, 2015) in Olympic National Park, explores changes in the regional landscape in the distant (back to the last ice age) and recent (the last 150 years of European settlement and industrialization) past, and what these recent changes mean for our future, from ecological, psychological, and philosophical standpoints. In short, the course uses today’s wilderness landscape as a "baseline" for understanding global change in the Anthropocene, and thinking about where we are headed at this critical juncture in Earth's history.
            Each student on the course led an evening discussion around a topic he or she was interested in, often incorporating outside quotes and background studies as a way to introduce the topic and provide more fodder for discussion. Discussion topics this year included: 1) Native American relationships to nature and wilderness, 2) the literature of the sublime and development of sense of place, 3) ecology of invasive species in the national park and philosophies governing human management of “wilderness”, 4) the wilderness preservation movement and ramifications of the figurative separation of man from nature, 5) the importance of formal integration of nature (and possibly wilderness) experience into  curricula at all educational levels from pre-K to college, 6) wilderness and landscape management issues around water (and fire) in a changing climate, 7) the process and importance of developing a land ethic (inspired by quotes from Aldo Leopold), 8) a history and evaluation of wilderness recreation styles and management philosophies around recreation in wilderness, and 9) envisioning a wilderness definition that is more inclusive of permanent human settlement—or vice versa, a human settlement pattern that is more in harmony with elements of a wilderness landscape.  
            While in previous years, our discussions have often taken place around campfires, this year was one of the driest years on record in the Olympics, not due to lack of winter precipitation, but due mainly to record warm temperatures causing winter precipitation to fall as rain. Snowpack at high elevation measuring stations this winter was less than 14% of average, and basically 0% of average at lower elevations, leading to extremely dry conditions on the ground throughout the region. Hence, we adhered to the strict park-wide ban on open fires. One major theme of the course is climate change (past, present, and future), and this year offered a particularly unique insight into what the average summer 50 years from now is projected to look like. August flowers were already blooming (or finished blooming) in July, and many alpine blueberry leaves were already taking on their fall colors, as well as being flush with ripe berries, typical of late August or September. Areas that would normally be covered with many feet of last winter's snow in July, were completely dry, with much vegetation dry and crispy. Grasshoppers, typical of late August and September, abounded in the meadows, and caterpillar outbreaks were extensive, with obvious extensive defoliation of some species--particularly willows. Correspondingly, butterfly and moth populations were thriving. Stream and alpine lake temperatures were far warmer than normal this year, and swimming was downright comfortable. While our trip ironically began with 3 days of much-needed rain, it was not enough to extinguish the large forest fire burning in a remote area of the southwest part of the park. We grappled with the policy of the Park Service to control this lightning caused fire in a “wilderness” ecosystem that according to the 1964 Wilderness Act, should be left to its own "natural" devices.
            The lack of snow made it an excellent year to assess the retreat of prominent alpine glaciers, such as the Eel Glacier on Mt. Anderson and the Lillian Glacier on Mt. McCartney. We were able to re-create historical photos of both of these glaciers, demonstrating massive retreat in the case of the Lillian Glacier, and possibly the last view ever of this glacier if this summer continues to break record high temperatures. Much to our surprise, the low snowpack also allowed us to "discover" an unnamed glacier near Graywolf Pass. The lack of snow had exposed the glacier ice and crevasses (a sign of downhill movement of the ice), as well as ice worms living in the glacier. Ice worms are a direct legacy of the last ice age (explained later in the blog), and one of the animals most endangered by glacial recession in the Pacific Northwest.
            As in previous years, we were also able to study the effects of previous climate change events on range shifts of forest species up and down mountain sides. Large Douglas firs at high elevations are the remnants of a warm dry period 700 years ago, and silver firs at lower elevations seeded in during the Little Ice Age which ended only 200 years ago. Many alpine glaciers that expanded during the Little Ice Age have now massively contracted, leaving in their wake characteristic glacial deposits and a unique succession of species colonizing the bare soil. Along with the loss of ice and snow also comes a decline in a unique suite of species (in addition to ice worms) tied to this ecosystem. This was the first year in a long time that I have observed no Rosy Finches, a species that breeds on cliffs and forages best on the plethora of invertebrates that live (and die) on the surface of snow.
            The Olympic Mountains and its many historical alpine glaciers were connected to the continental ice sheets that flowed through the Puget Trough and Strait of Juan de Fuca only 16,500 years ago (sounds like a long time ago, but really a geologic "eye-blink" and not that many generations ago for our longest lived trees!). Despite the intrusion of ice from the north, as well as the growth of alpine glaciers down valleys in the Olympics, many of the highest ridges and some valley bottoms remained ice free during the last ice age, providing refugia for many local species, as well as arctic species that had moved south. Many of these species can still be found today in small relictual populations (we discovered rare populations of Rocky Mountain Juniper and Engelmann Spruce this year), and some of them have evolved into forms unique to the Olympic Mountains (including alpine plant species such as the Piper’s Bellflower and Olympic Mountain Groundsel, which we discovered in several ridgetop locations). Plant and animal species isolated on high ridges will be some of the first to go extinct given current projections for human-induced climate change, and it will be up to humans to decide whether to help these species out by moving them to places more climatically amenable (assuming they are incapable of dispersal themselves), or to let them go extinct one by one. Certainly the ecosystem will not unravel at their loss, but whether we have a moral imperative to save them is a bigger question, which we explore on the course, especially in “wilderness” areas which we have traditionally thought of as areas where nature should be left to take care of itself.
            Between 1895 and 2015, the Seattle area grew from 40,000 people to over 4.2 million. In the next 25 years, Seattle will grow by another 1.5 million. Virtually every piece of accessible habitat in the lowlands of the Puget Trough has been severely impacted by humans at one time or another, in some cases irrevocably. It was by stroke of luck (due in part to the inaccessibility of the terrain in the early days), and a big dash of courage from some forward-thinking leaders around the turn of the 19th Century, that Olympic National Park and other areas like it were saved from the ax and/or development. In only 25 miles as the crow (or eagle) flies from Seattle, an international hub of high tech industry, one can begin a walk into the Olympic Mountains, a roadless area of over 1 million acres (approximately 1600 sq miles), not to mention similar areas in the Cascade Range. It is this short gradient from ultra-urban to wilderness, that also makes the region such an appealing place to live, as well as a unique place to reflect on landscape change (past, present, and future), and ramifications of this change (namely, the loss of "wild" spaces) for society in the Anthropocene.
            It was a pleasure hiking with and learning from the 9 inspirational students, from a variety of majors, who embraced the physical and mental challenges of the course. Miranda Knight-Miles, a student on last year’s course, and recent Environmental Studies graduate, provided additional leadership and enthusiasm as a Teaching Assistant. Each student has written about one day of the trip, and offered additional personal thoughts on the importance of wilderness, a commodity whose value has recently been questioned in some conservation circles, as we enter the Anthropocene. For my part, I have spent close to 200 days traveling in the backcountry of Olympic National Park over the last 15 years, and always enjoy getting to know the landscape more intimately, while encouraging others to do the same. I also relish the opportunity for reflection on what our local wilderness areas teach me about myself and the greater landscape of "home", as well as the many values our wildernesses offer society, from the ecological to the psychological. Extended wilderness travel offers us rare time and space (both of which are commodities in today's world)  to think deeply about how we might move forward as a society at this critical juncture in earth's history, the beginning of the Anthropocene era. It is my hope that this blog conveys the power of the wilderness learning experience and its deep impact on the lives of those who are lucky enough to experience it. For those who do not have the opportunity to experience it, perhaps this blog will bring them a step closer. 

Some stats from our trip:
Mileage Covered: 55 miles
Number of Days in Wilderness: 9
Number of Person-Nights in Wilderness: (11 people x 8 nights) = 88 (for reference, 88 was our contribution to the astounding 40,000 person nights a year typically recorded in Olympic National Park's backcountry!)
Number of people encountered on the trail before the last day of the trip: 4 (Despite ONP's high visitation rates, the backcountry did not feel crowded!)
Cumulative Altitude gained: ~19,000 feet (about 18000 feet were lost)
Highest altitude attained: ~6,700 feet
Number of bird species observed: 49
Number of bears observed: 0; most years we observe 1 or 2.
Number of mountain goats observed this year: 1
Number of deer observed this year: >9
Number of golden eagles observed this year: at least 4 (a record high for this course)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Route Map and Elevation Profile, based in the northeastern part of Olympic National Park

The trip took place in the northeast quadrant of Olympic National Park. Click here for a map of the entire region, or paste this address ( into your browser.
Our hiking route in the northeast quadrant of Olympic National Park is shown by the red dotted line.
Approximate elevational profile and walking distances of our hike. We covered ~48 miles (~55 including the ridge-run back to Deer Park to retrieve vehicles). We gained ~19,000 feet and lost 18,000 feet for a total gain of about 1000 feet assuming an end point at Obstruction Point. Yes, this is a rugged area!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day 1: From Driving Though The City to Prowling Through The Forest, by Nick Schippers (Student)

Led by instructor Dr. Tim Billo our class of Environment 495 students headed out to the Olympic Peninsula for Olympic National Park. We were about to embark on a 9 day journey through the back country to explore the native species and landscapes of the area and discuss the current issues regarding climate change and sustainability in American society and around the world.
Departing from the heart of downtown Seattle on the Bainbridge Ferry. A few seconds later we were treated to views of Alki Beach , the site where Seattle's first European settlers (the Denny party) disembarked in November 1851 to set up what would later become Seattle. They were greeted by the kind-hearted Chief Sealth, while the women in the party wept at the sight of what would become their home, and what was about to become a dismal, rainy winter. Arthur Denny proclaimed the place "as wild a spot as any on earth"( The oldgrowth forest of Schmitz Park rising above Alki condos is the only visible connection to the original landscape.
Entering Olympic National Park. The boundary is "clear cut", as are the bullet holes in clear defiance of the law. State DNR land is on the right and the few remaining trees are intended to serve as habitat and a jump-start to oldgrowth-like structure.

Today was our first day together as a group. After what seemed like an eternity of logistics, car travel, ferry rides, new faces, and group dynamics, (and also including a required trip to the National Park Service headquarters to meet with a ranger and pick up permits, and a stop at the interpretive center on the Jamestown S'Klallam reservation), we finally arrived at the Three Forks trail head at Deer Park. This particular trail head is 17 miles up into the forest via dirt road. On the way up the clouds soon became fog and rain as we ascended to around 5000 ft elevation in the vans and parked in a dirt lot surrounded by subalpine fir and other mountain trees. There was a small sign at the trail head that listed some of the items prohibited from the national park like weapons, campfires, and pets, and beyond this sign a small campsite. Seeing the small campsite at the trail head made me think of the history of the area. What must it have been like to be a settler here? How in the heck did the first guys make it across these mountains without using tents or matches or rain gear? It is miraculous that they survived and covered this rugged landscape without much else than a hatchet, a rifle, and a bag of flour. As we descended into the woods and for the rest of the trip these thoughts would be in my mind, how could I possibly have any ground to complain about the 50 miles of walking ahead when I had the luxury of rain gear and food all neatly bound upon my back.

Before hitting the trail, we discovered this naturally sculpted and trimmed bush, the rare (in western WA) Rocky Mountain Juniper. It is thought that this species persisted on an ice-free "island" here in Deer Park during the last ice age, dispersing downwards across what would become the San Juan Islands as ice retreated. There are now tiny remnant populations in the San Juans and Olympics, but this species is becoming exceedingly rare in western Washington. 
 One of the first things we saw as we dropped through the woods was a massive burn site. Trees were bent and toppled and I first though it was a landslide or avalanche scene but closer examination and some good information from Tim showed that it was the result of a fire. The area was far from lifeless as we found Columbine flowers and a family of Blue Grouse in the first hundred feet. Further down the trail the edge of the burn appeared and we shuffled down into the understory of a forest dominated by Douglas Fir trees. About 30 minutes in we took a layer break, hard to believe that walking down hill in the pouring rain (really wasn't raining so hard but being inside of a cloud sure felt like the same thing) would make you hot, but the 50 pound back pack and the need to control your speed on the steep downhill proved to be a great recipe for warming up in the typical Pacific Northwest weather.

Walking downwards through a large burn started by an out of control campfire in the 1980s. The extremely fire-adapted lodgepole pine is taking over some of these dry clearings. It may be that warmer drier conditions in the future will make this a lodgepole pine climax forest, and this area may provide us with a glimpse of that future. Currently the area is listed as a Douglas fir climax forest, an indication of how dry and fire prone the northeast Olympics are relative to most areas of the Puget Trough. More moist, non rain-shadow forest would typically move through a Douglas fir stage into a western hemlock climax.
The scales of Lodgepole pine cones are glued shut by a resin that only unglues itself and releases seeds in the heat of a fire. Here, we tried that experiment, burning the cone on the left, and leaving the scales glued shut on the unburned specimen to the right.

Though it was only around 5-6 o'clock it already looked like the night was creeping in with the grey skies and shade of the large trees around us it was far darker and cooler than the previous two weeks of record breaking summer temps. The reflection of heat off the pavement in Seattle made our hotter than average temperatures of upper 80s feel like they were closer to 100, and the relief of being in the forest was now sinking in as even with the heat of walking with a heavy pack the group seemed to feel more comfortable. Shortly after our layer break we found a weird plant that was characterized by it lack of colour. Known as a saprophyte this plant did not need significant sunlight to grow and lacks chlorophyll, the pigment necessary for photosynthesis. It was interesting to think about but made perfect sense that a plant here would evolve to grow without photosynthesis, the thick cover of the canopy of young evergreens, a legacy of previous fires, makes the forest floor here dark and cool and seems to promote its own microclimate.

A young forest, recovering from fire, that has just gone through its "competitive exclusion" phase. The stems that lost the battle for light, litter the forest floor. 

It is in these young forests with closed canopies that you often find saprophytic species such as the Candystripe or candy cane flower (Allotropa virgata). Saprophytes lack chlorophyll and usually derive energy from decomposing plant matter. These plants are more technically called mycoheterotrophs, since fungi are also saprophytes. Mycoheterotrophs are actually parasitizing the fungi, which are the decomposers that make the sugars and nutrients available. 

Dull Oregon Grape was abundant in open burned areas. It is already developing fall colors.

The iconic banana slug came out as we descended into wetter forest in the Tsuga heterophylla climax zone. The wet weather helped too.
 After a couple hours of hiking we finally made it through the first few miles and descended at least 1000 feet into the Three Forks Campsite. This first campsite was  good size and was accompanied with an old shelter that was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) a program launched under Franklin D Roosevelt in the early 1930s to keep young people working. The shelter was built entirely of trees that were cleared from the campsite and was still in good shape. Once we got our tents set up and got some grub in us we began our group discussion lead by Eva. We talked about the Native American relationship to "wilderness" and the role that Native Americans might play in the future of national parks. It was a tough discussion in that reservations were created to try and retain Native American culture and way of life but removing them from land that became the national parks effectively ruined their culture and way of life. Trying to restore or give that back to them now and in this day and age is a day late and a dollar short of what is needed, if it would even be possible or desirable. It is hard to try and repair the past and Tim asked us to think of the significance of national parks and preserving wilderness for the future, what does it mean, why is it even important at all?

Eva Barth leads an excellent discussion on Native Americans and wilderness concepts.

Discussion lasts into the night, and Shane Kelly explains his research interest in nature-based experiential education. 

We had the opportunity throughout the trip to think on the relevance of wilderness in modern society and the importance of it to ourselves personally. Overall I think wilderness within the national park is of immeasurable importance. Seeing what we saw on this trip it became clear that without an environment such as wilderness where the impact of man is negligible on the surface it is impossible to see where we have come from and where we are going. What I mean here is that wilderness is like the control in a science experiment. Being in the Anthropocene we as humans are now affecting every aspect of our surroundings and wilderness can be used as a metric for this. For example the glaciers all throughout Olympic National Park are receding due to man made climate change. Looking at historical pictures from 100 or 50 or even 10-20 years ago you can see just how far these miraculous ice sheets that have been present for thousands of years are shrinking away. And it is not minuscule, it is huge, most of the glaciers we saw have lost significantly more than half their mass in the last 50 years. These are glaciers that were over 1000 feet thick in some places. Without wilderness out here as an environment we would not be able to see and compare our effects on the environment, this type of landscape gives us a very tangible way to look at our surroundings and recognize the changes that are and will be occurring.

Personally wilderness to me is an escape. It is something that brings back vivid memories of my child hood and of the things I value individually. I have a strong connection to nature and love the outdoors and so getting a chance to go into the wilderness and spend 9 days exploring it was a great opportunity for me to recharge and refocus. With the hectic nature of the city and school and family issues, wilderness is for me a place where I can stop and put everything aside and focus. It is somewhere were I can be calm and quiet and alone. It allows you to step aside and set things down and look out and see everything in front of you for exactly what it is. There are no short cuts, no cheap skate ways out, there is in fact nothing. Nothing but pure black and white honesty. The laws of the land are in control and you as a person are left with only the view in front of your eyes and the whole and honest truth of who you are as a person. Whether that be good or bad or anything in between, wilderness is a place where everything is on the table, you don't get to hide. This for me is something I love, I love being honest with myself and seeing where I am weak, seeing where I can improve, and seeing what it is that drives me to do better and then taking a deep breath and tapping into those things. One of the most important things in visiting a place like Olympic National Park is taking the time to breath. Taking a deep breath of the air that is there, it is still pure, it is still clean enough to tell the difference between what was and what is. Breathing this air I feel at peace. The smell of the mountains and the evergreens and the nearby streams have a taste like the cleanest water on earth. As my lungs fill with this air I find my peace, I find that all I really need is just a breath of fresh air.

By Nick Schippers, UW Environmental Studies

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Day 2: Beginning Our Ascent Up the Gray Wolf River Valley, by Phoebe Coleman (Student)

The second day of our trek through Olympic National Park started bright and early at the Three forks Campsite as Tim went to each tent and gave it a vigorous shake to wake us up. We all emerged from our tents still fairly groggy from our first night of sleeping on our not so luxurious sleeping pads but quickly jumped into making our first breakfast of the trip with our cooking groups. Most people were already sore from the 4 mile hike the afternoon before and I could tell today was going to be an interesting day.

Nick taking down his tent our first morning in Olympic National Park.

The group in front of the CCC shelter before leaving camp on Day 2. This shelter was built from the trees that were logged in the clearing to make this camp. It has withstood the test of time.  Many CCC camps existed throughout the Olympics in the 1930s, and telephone cables ran between them. The insulating rings which held the cables can still be found on some trees in the Olympics. Many CCC shelters throughout the park are designated historic structures, and a "wilderness carpenter" is employed by the NPS to maintain them. Shelters in the wilderness are controversial, and many have been left in disrepair to return to rot into the ground, while others have been burned down illegally by people who  believe shelters are antithetical to the wilderness experience. Old timers appreciated that one could travel throughout the Olympics sleeping entirely in shelters with no need to buy or carry a tent.
The day started off a bit slow as people ambled around the campsite packing up backpacks, filtering water, and discussing who know what else but finally we were ready, kind of. After breaking camp we had a quick stretch circle to get our bodies ready for the 6 mile hike ahead of us and an ecology lesson from Tim, going over the various trees and plants (like Douglas-fir, Douglas Maple, Western Hemlock, Grand Fir, Nitrogen-fixing lichens, and Cow Parsnip) found in the clearing we camped in our first night. We hauled our packs on to our backs said a quick good bye to our first stop on our adventure and began hiking. 

My backpack. Photo: Phoebe Coleman.

A little toad friend (Bufo boreas) who paid us a visit after breakfast

Tim showing us a map of our trip and various plants from the clearing at Three Forks Campsite, including the difference between slide alder and red alder, both of which were growing side by side along the creek. Grand fir as well as the Douglas maple behind the shelter were both showing signs of drought stress. The hemlock looper caterpillars that were observed in previous years were present in smaller numbers than usual and had not outright killed any of the large trees ringing the clearing. Photo: Phoebe Coleman

Our hike began with and easy crossing over  Cameron Creek on a log bridge and then things got tricky. As we approached the second river we needed to cross, the Grey Wolf River, we realized that the bridge had been washed out and destroyed due to logs in the river that had come down stream. We spent about an hour fording the widest part of river and slowly getting people across one by one. Crossing the river was tricky for me. The water was extremely cold and initially was quite deep and came up to my thighs. Luckily, with the help of some trekking poles, and of course Tim and Shane, I made it across. When we had all finally dried off and put our hiking boots back on it was time to get to business. It was already 12 PM and we could still see our campsite! 

Bridge washed out on the Cameron Creek, necessitating a ford.
First crossing: Grand Creek.
We made our way up the Graywolf River Valley, walking through lush but ever changing forest, transitioning from beautiful examples of lowland old growth western hemlock forest (with some enormous Douglas firs) to silver forest and the lower reaches of subalpine forest by the end of the day. As we climbed higher up the valley and into the Olympics, the trees began changing in size and type. Tim told us about various areas we went through that had been scarred with fire and the structural effects on the forest. Eventually, the light grey clouds that had been shielding us from the sun all morning broke and it started to drizzle. The rain made the forest came alive to me in a way, greens became greener and you would feel the moisture in the air. We even passed through areas where the floor of the forest was completely covered in neon green moss that looked like 70s shag carpet.

A forest entering the middle stages of succession after fire. The canopy is beginning to open, but the moss understory lingers. Gray Wolves (the valley's namesake) have not been seen in the Olympics since the early 1920s when a few remaining individuals were fully exterminated by bounty hunters. Since a referendum that voted down reintroduction of wolves, hikers are unlikely to hear the cry of wolves again in the Olympics, unless a pack migrates to the peninsula on its own power (extremely unlikely) from the Cascades. Photo: Phoebe Coleman.

By the time we stopped at Ellis Camp for our first lunch of the trip we were getting fairly damp. The drizzle had turned into more of a shower and getting wet could not be avoided. Many people grabbed their rain coats and some extra layers to stay warm while we ate our bagels with peanut butter and cheddar cheese. Photo: Phoebe Coleman.

After lunch we did a very interesting activity called a solo walk. Instead of hiking in a big group, as we normally do, Tim spaced each person out. Allowing each student to hike for a time in the forest almost completely alone. This gave us all the opportunity to experience the forest in solitude, without the noise and distraction of the group. It was amazing to be able to listen so closely to the sound of the rain, birds, and flowing river and to take the time to look at everything around you. At one point I rounded a corner into a clearing and looked up to a waterfall peaking through the trees as misty cloud floated by it. It was honestly spectacular. This is not to say that the solo walk was without struggles. The last part of our hike into Falls Camp was mostly uphill, and with our legs getting tired, we crept up the trail. 

Suddenly we were at the camp and everyone scrambled to claim tent spots that were sheltered from the rain. Tents were erected, sleeping pads blown up, and layers tossed on. Many of us took a few minutes to put on dry clothing and warm up in our sleeping bag before beginning to cook dinner. 
After dinner we discussed some of the various things that we had seen or thought of while on our solo walks. The topics varied from caterpillar rescues to fascination with the mental ups and downs of the solo walk. We then all went around and stated our goals for the trip. Many of us seemed to have similar goals we wanted to accomplish and others goals that were very individual. Finally, darkness over came the camp and with that we packed our food into our bear canisters stowed them away and went to bed. 

Only one whole day in, I don't really think that we all understood how far away from civilization we were getting or how much more we were about to see and experience. We had only just begun our journey but already I had learned so much and was only excited to keep learning more as we got further into the park. 

Being in the wilderness is a very eye opening experience and one that is still extremely valuable in our urban, fast paced society. Though every person gets something different out of wilderness experiences I believe that being out in the wilderness allows one to realize how much bigger the world is. This is because when we are out in nature, away from all the things that put pressure on us, like societal expectations and the expectations we put on ourselves. I think this is extremely important in that it gives us a better perspective on the importance of the planet we live on the and environment. You realize that in daily life many people are very absorbed in their own lives and don't see how important the environment around us is. Some time wilderness can help us take a step back and see what we don't normally get to see. 

More pictures from the day:
Maddy Anderson shares a western toad (Bufo boreas). 

One characteristic of Bufo boreas is the pale dorsal stripe.

Crossing the Grand Creek.

Crossing the Gray Wolf River, the 3rd of 3 required crossings just after "3 Forks" Camp.

Pinedrops, another mycoheterotroph, growing amongst Twinflower runners in a former burn area just upstream of the first crossing of the Gray Wolf River.

The beautiful Gray Wolf River Valley.

Detouring off trail to avoid bees.

Crossing the Gray Wolf again on a sturdy log.

A nurse log, and Devil's Club in the background.

The river channel moves around its flood plain from year to year, wreaking havoc on the forest. The riverine forest and hyporheic zone is a dynamic system.

An avalanche track rips from high in the alpine down into mixed silver fir and Doug fir forest. A waterfall cascades from above through Slide Alder thickets, Subalpine Fir and Yellow Cedar brought down from above.
The avalanche air blast zone on the other side of the creek eats into the forest on the other side. This track runs on big snow years, and typically snow bridges the river into July.

Old growth Douglas-fir on a talus slope are the site of a recent Northern Spotted Owl nest site. The NOSO has been forced into higher elevation habitat by invasive Barred Owls.

These Western Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars were everywhere on plants of the Apiaceae.

Moving into the upper limits of silver fir and mixed montane forest, this tree trunk was recently scraped by a bear looking for a quick infusion of sugars in the early spring.