Friday, July 24, 2015

Day 4: Cedar Lake to Graywolf Pass, by Maddy Anderson (Student)

July 14th, 2015 – Day 4
Leaving Cedar Lake

Shane Kelly chillin hard at Cedar Lake -- July 14, 2015 Photo: Maddy Anderson
Our day began at Cedar Lake, nestled in a 5000 ft valley in the NE Olympics. We got up, we cooked breakfast in big pots balanced precariously on little camp stoves, we broke camp and repacked our backpacks. The sun was shining, so we hung our rain-dampened clothing on the outsides of our bags. Before setting out on the arduous climb up the pass, we traversed around the lake and looked up the valley.

We could see from this viewpoint that the valley had not a “V” shape, but a “U” shape, typical of valleys shaped in part by glacial movement. When a glacier moves through a valley, it scours the land by dragging rocks and debris along underneath it. It also compresses the land to varying degrees under it’s considerable weight. The ultimate effect of this is a softening of the sharp “V” angle of the valley. We could also see terminal moraines, piles of rocks and debris that had accumulated under the glacier and were deposited when the glacier ceased to advance.

Baby spotted sandpiper just outside it's nest!
As we shouldered our packs and started out on the trail, we spotted a bird ahead of us, flying around a rocky area interspersed with low, shrubby trees. As we approached, it became more agitated, calling out and flying from bush to bush around the area. Tim identified it as a Spotted Sandpiper, and told us a bit about this species’ unique sex-role reversal. The female often mates with several different males, laying several different clutches of eggs per season. The nest-building, incubation and brooding is left to the male, while the female establishes and defends the territory. They nest on the ground near to freshwater, and it didn’t take Tim very long to locate this anxious bird’s nest. I was able to snap a couple pictures of one of the chicks before moving on.

The crew leaving Cedar Lake. Photo: Maddy Anderson
As we started ascending the slope up to the pass, we had another wildlife encounter. Though I’d heard the calls of a few Olympic Marmots along the way, I saw them for the first time on our rocky climb up the pass. Relative to the Hoary Marmot (the marmot species I’m used to seeing in the Cascades), the Olympic Marmot is larger and has much darker, golden fur. They’re a unique species, endemic to the Olympic Mountains and have unfortunately been declining in numbers in recent decades due to over-predation. These animals are very social and communicate messages to each other through whistle-like calls, the most important of which is alerting the others to the presence of predators, mainly coyotes. They don’t often see humans as a threat, and these marmots looked on calmly from a safe distance as we hiked past.

Glacial striations on a large boulder as we ascended from the lake on a post-glacial landscape.The striations occur in several directions, suggesting that the boulder shifted position under the glacier over time, while the direction of flow of the glacier remained constant.
Alpine plant (probably Tolmie's saxifrage, but already bloomed some weeks prior)
As we climbed, we saw several examples of striation, deep scratches in boulders caused by glaciers dragging smaller rocks over them. We also started seeing a change in vegetation as we neared the top of the saddle. The plants which grow up on these windy, cold, high-elevation peaks need certain adaptations to survive in such conditions. First off, they’re low to the ground. Objects close to the ground can often be completely passed over by the wind, and if they’re not, they’re anchored so firmly and widely they’re unlikely to be uprooted or broken. They also often have fuzzy or waxy leaves, which protects them from extreme drying which occurs in organisms exposed to the unrelenting wind.

We had lunch at the top of the pass, after which we continued down the other side and around three small lakes. We were off trail at this point, and it felt like it. This was the first time it really sunk in that we were in the middle of nowhere. As I was musing about what this meant, we came upon a snow field and took off our packs to explore it. We saw many spiders on nearby rocks, which were apparently biding their time until nightfall when they would come out on the snow and eat stranded butterflies and moths. This was interesting to learn about, but not as interesting as the ice worms Tim discovered shortly afterward. Ice worms, found only in northwest North America, are tiny worms that spend their entire lives burrowed in glacial ice. These creatures have enzymes with a low freezing temperature, allowing them to live in extremely cold snow, and in fact can only survive in temperatures below 41 degrees F. This discovery was significant because it showed that our snow field wasn’t a snow field at all – it was a glacier! I’m naming it the Billo Glacier.
The group poses over one of the small crevasses in this remnant glacier.

Shane Kelly holds an ice worm, wriggling in a melting piece of snow. For worms to get into this tiny remnant glacier, it would have had to have been attached to a larger glacial system in the last ice age. Peter Wimberger of the University of Puget Sound has shown that 17,000 years ago, ice worms from Alaska rafted southward into the Puget Sound region on the Puget Lobe of the continental ice sheet, and wriggled off onto adjoining alpine glaciers in the eastern Olympic Mountains. Thus, this tiny glacier and its ice worms are a direct legacy of the last ice age. The loss of glaciers will mean not only the loss of ice worms, but of the many species of invertebrates and vertebrates that feed on the worms and insects that litter the surface of summer snowfields. We saw no Rosy Finches this year, for example, a bird species that prefers to scavenge for protein snacks on summer snowfields.

The hard-to-find tailed frog, found on day two on a rainy day in the lowland oldgrowth forest. Photo: Maddy Anderson
The spot we camped at that evening was next to a small unmapped lake below Graywolf Pass. Within two minutes of coming upon the lake I saw several tadpoles, one of which was halfway transitioned to a frog. As I continued to explore, I saw several more frogs, and discovered a tarn further up from the lake which had, seriously, hundreds of tadpoles swimming around. It’s awesome to know that amidst amphibian population decline on a global scale, there’s a very healthy frog population living under Graywolf Pass.

That night we began our discussion talking about the role of nature in our day to day lives, and it evolved into a full-blown discussion about how to save the world. We voiced frustrations about capitalism and industry, opinions on the merits of environmental and outdoor education along with hopes for revolutionizing our Pre K- 12 school system. These were topics that resurfaced throughout nearly all of our discussions. To wrap up, I’ve added an essay below about the role of nature, or more specifically, the role of wilderness, in modern society.


Cedar Lake. Photo: Maddy Anderson
I began this trip having had next to no experience in anything we could really call wilderness. I had only a vague idea of the difference between nature and wilderness, and the difference in the human perception and experience of them. As our trip progressed, I gained some insight. I came to understand that wilderness is unique and valuable, because it shows us something we can’t see living within society. It shows us a world that has not been leveled and carefully reconstructed to meet the needs of humans. It shows us that the world we live in day after day is not the way the world has always been, that our modern world is not inherently right, and it raises the question that maybe we’re not entitled to having everything our way, all the time. In short, it makes our privilege impossible to ignore.

Gray Wolf  River Valley. Photo: Miranda Knight-Miles
The myth that the world was created to serve humans is largely accepted and believed by contemporary western society, and it’s a myth that has already caused irreparable environmental harm. People believe it and derive a sense of entitlement from it, and this is hardly surprising. Living in a society that was built by humans for humans constantly reinforces this idea that the world is here for our convenience. We regrade hills that are too steep, we level ground that’s too uneven and pave over soil so we can more comfortably drive our cars on top of it. We reroute rivers and drain lakes and cut down entire forests, no matter how many habitats are marginalized or species are decimated. We’ve taken an existing system and rerouted it to benefit ourselves, straining it and weakening it. But it’s easy to ignore all this.

During our trip we often shared quotes that seemed fitting for the themes were exploring, or the ideas we were forming, or the emotions we were feeling. One of them I remember seems fitting to describe the value that wilderness has: “It’s not enough to feel it – it has to overwhelm you.” I feel as though it’s nearly impossible to really see how perverse our system is while we’re immersed in it. At one point during our trip, I went on a solo hike up a steep trail to a pass – Lost Pass. It was late afternoon, and when I cleared the trees and crested the hilltop, I found myself in a golden meadow overlooking a massive valley, surrounded by hills and mountains as far as I could see. There was a chill wind coming up from the valley, but the sun was shining on me and I remember my skin feeling cool and warm at the same time. The following is an excerpt from the journal entry I wrote up there:

Cedar Lake. Photo: Maddy Anderson.
“Looking out over this valley, I feel as if I’m seeing the world as it once was, strong and balanced and self-sustaining. This place isn’t being USED for anything. It isn’t being capitalized on, manipulated or controlled to benefit humans. And this is as it should be, because the world does not exist to serve us. That’s a myth. This is one of the only places in America where that myth is not manifested in a physical form. This is a place that reflects the truth. It lends the proper perspective, one which is hard to come by while living in society, within which everything was made for humans by humans. It shatters the illusion we’ve conjured for ourselves.”

Morning on Cedar Lake

Looking up to the trail-less pass we would traverse on the way to Graywolf Pass.

Shane looking up towards the trailless pass we would climb later in the day. The U-shaped profile belies its history of glaciation. Many maps show permanent snow in this valley, but it appears now that all remnants of glacial ice are gone.

The remains of a marmot in coyote poop on the northwest shore of the lake. We saw no marmots on this end of the lake this year. Coyotes have steadily been making their way into the Olympic Mountains from modified habitats around the park. Their chief ecological excluder, the Gray Wolf (which is not a marmot hunter), was completely exterminated from the Olympic Peninsula by humans by the early 1920s.

Leaves of butterwort (light green), a carnivorous plant normally in bloom this time of year. If you look carefully you can see flies adhered to the hairs on the leaves. This plant is common in seeps on the southeast side of Cedar Lake.

On the delta of the main inflow creek to Cedar Lake. This creek was formally a small river draining the glacier that was in this valley less than 200 years ago. The extensive rock above indicates that on most years it still receives heavy snow that does not melt until late in summer.

Discovering where the daddy spotted sandpiper hid his chicks while out gathering food for them. In this sex role reversed species, the males do the nest building and parental care.

A helpless spotted sandpiper chick on the gravel of the delta, so well camouflaged, we barely noticed another one not more than a foot away.

Primrose monkey flower.

Headed up to the unnamed pass, in recently deglaciated terrain. Note all of the erratic boulders!

This moth was common on the talus. Possibly the black cutworm moth.

Striations, evidence of the glacier movement across this boulder. Note that the boulder shifted positions several times under the glacier, as striations run in several different directions.

Nearing the top of the boulder to the picture below from July 2014 to see "normal" July snow cover.

July 2014 in the same location for snow comparison!

These checkerspots were common in alpine areas throughout our trip!

Fringed Grass of Parnassus.

The Pink Monkey Flower, Mimulus lewisii, named for Meriwether Lewis.

Arctic Willow, an alpine species in the Olympics, is absent in the adjacent Cascades, but present from the Olympics north into Alaska.

These Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) caterpillars were destroying most of the willow groves we encountered.

Feeling a blast of cool air coming out from under a snowfield that we determined is actually a glacier!

An ice worm is visible near the surface of the ice inside the crevasse.

Close-up of ice worm in ice.

Perhaps the surest sign of a glacier in the northwest is the presence of ice worms. Here Shane holds an ice worm in a melting blob of snow.

Grammia ornata, ornate tiger moth.

Mountain Monkey Flower.