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.