Thursday, July 23, 2015

Day 5: Graywolf Pass to Dose Meadows--the long walk, by Joe Stewart (Student)

Photo Credit: Alexandra Bradley.
On the fifth day of our journey, we awoke next to this tadpole-filled lake which we had camped beside the night before. We were awakened particularly early, eating breakfast and breaking camp quickly. Our morning conversations lacked their usual enthusiasm; it was visually obvious that we all felt daunted by the walk that lay ahead of us.   

The plan for the day was a seven and a half mile hike, which seemed to be hanging over the group like a dark cloud. We knew that it was going to be one of the longest walks of the trip.  Photo: Joe Stewart

A picture of Graywolf pass, the first stop of the day. I remember thinking that the hike up to the pass didn't look that intimidating. Photo: Joe Stewart

I feel that the group began to simultaneously realize that Graywolf pass was a much further walk than initially anticipated. With four days of backpacking behind us, our legs (at least mine) were feeling particularly sore as we ascended the mountain. Photo: Joe Stewart

Kiley pointing out the site in which we camped the night before, as well as noting the U shaped valley that is characteristic of glacial valleys. This U-shaped valley is called a cirque. Photo: Joe Stewart

This picture was taken right as we arrived at the top of Graywolf pass. I thought that this picture did well to exemplify the U-shape that is characteristic of cirques. These valleys are carved out as glaciers form and advance down preexisting V-shaped river valleys. In the Olympics, storms move from southwest to northeast, depositing heavy snow loads (which historically formed glaciers) on north and east facing slopes that are in the lee of prevailing winds. At the pass itself, we were greeted by a variety of mid- to late-summer alpine flowers, including Agoseris, Eriogonum, Cut-leaf Daisy, and Spotted Saxifrage, to name a few of the ones that were in bloom. Photo: Joe Stewart
Nick observing a small Whitebark Pine. This individual was showing some signs of stress--either from the drought, or having not been protected from a good covering of snow last winter. This species, similar to Western White Poine, is also susceptible to a fungal disease. We did not see any Clark's Nutcrackers this year, a bird species found in the eastern Olympics (and much more common in the eastern Cascades) which feeds on pine seeds.

Cushion Buckwheat (Eriogonum sp.) a close relative of several species which grow on gravelly desert-like terrain in eastern Washington. The growing conditions here are not that different!

Cutleaf Daisy

Once we we were on the top of the pass, we ditched our bags, and decided to scramble up to a nearby peak in order to get a better view of the valley into which we were about to descend. The scramble up to the top was mildly technical due to the fact that the majority of the rock was shale and broken sandstone, and was quite susceptible to slipping.  Despite this, the climb was very rewarding as it gave us a great opportunity to see rare, alpine, species of pine, called Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis), which was super interesting for me as I had never seen one before. The seeds of Whitebark Pine are consumed by Clark's Nutcracker, a somewhat rare species in the Olympics, that had been viewed at this location by previous years' groups. We also peered at the "sea" of forest stretching for miles down the Dosewallips valley and out to Hood Canal, an unbroken forest that would have been characteristic of the pre-European Puget Trough landscape. The forest was largely unbroken, it was clearly not all old-growth, and the patchwork of forest ages was easily visible from above the canopy. We also viewed the basaltic mass of Mount Deception, the third highest peak in the range, close at hand to our east, building orographic clouds as it would nearly every day of the trip. The glaciers of Olympus shimmered to the west, in our first view of the highest peak in the range. The descent back to our bags was far more difficult than the scramble up to the top; we had to make sure to take our time while descending, in order to avoid slipping on the treacherous ground. Before descending from the pass, the trail circumnavigating an unusual trench at the valley top formed by the entire hillslide beginning to slide away in an ancient landslide probably just after the last ice age.   Photo: Joe Stewart.
The northeast side of Graywolf Pass is bare, barren, and glacially sculpted, while the southwest side is meadowy, with stands of subalpine fir nearly to the crest. This is due to the prevailing winter winds which dump large amounts of snow on the leeward northeast side of the ridge. Here, if you enlarge the photo, you can see our group hiking through the meadow, with Mount Deception (far left) and Mount Mystery in the background.
The unusual-looking seedheads of the Western Pasque Flower (Anemone occidentalis) found in a lower meadow. Photo: Shane Kelly

Here is the Olympic Larkspur, an alpine beauty we found growing on scree on the windward side of Graywolf Pass.

In the meadows of the lower Dosewallips valley--an avalanche track here. With Deception and Mystery in the clouds.

This is a picture taken while we were waiting for the rest of the group to catch us with us as we quickly made our descent down the mountain. There was a small group of four of us that decided to descend the mountain at a slightly quicker pace than the rest of the group in order to spare our knees the strain of walking slowly downhill.  As we kept up our vigilant pace, we passed several large dead Western White Pines, and a massive split-trunked Yellow Cedar. We ended up getting at least 30 minutes ahead of the rest of the group, and ended up stopping at the trail junction at the bottom of the the valley to eat a lunch of Wasa bread and peanut butter. Photo: Joe Stewart

 When the rest of the group caught up with us, we decided to move to a nearby clearing where the rest of the group could break for lunch. The near 3000 foot descent left many of our feet with blisters, and had many of us dreading the near four remaining miles to our campsite in dose meadows.
Before shouldering our packs and continuing on our way, Tim informed us that we would be doing an activity called, "the solo walk" for the remainder of the day's hike, through gorgeous old growth Silver Fir interspersed with overgrown avalanche track meadows. As the name implies, this activity required us to walk a couple of minutes behind the person ahead of us. This gave us a very large amount of time to reflect on a question posed to us by Tim Billo. Tim asked us to consider the question, "what is the purpose of wilderness in today's world?" Photo: Joe Stewart

During my solo walk through the old growth forest at the floor of the valley, I had plenty of time to ponder the question, "what does wilderness mean to you?" I thought that it was a very fitting time to be posed with this question considering that we were nearly as far into the wilderness as one is able to get in the lower 48.
Something interesting that I noticed, being away from the city the last 5 days, was that I was more in touch with my humanity while I was in the deepest level of my isolation. I found it mildly ironic that on a trip where I've seen a total of 4 other people excluding the other members of my group, is where I made the deepest connection to what it is that makes me human. I believe that this is in part due to the easiness and comfort that has become so ingrained in out day to day lives; we rarely find true challenges in our daily activities, which thus makes it harder for us to empathize with the challenges of others. We see a homeless man on the street and instead of offering a helping hand, or a warm meal, we instinctively think, "well I have a job and an apartment, so this person must just be lazy."
Wilderness is one of few things that can humble even the most stubborn individuals in the difficulties of life. Spending nine days in the wilderness is thoroughly reminding me of how difficult it can be to simply survive. Challenges and difficult situations are the antecedents to necessitive co-operation. It's easier to share a fire when you yourself know what it is to be cold; Just as it is easier to share your food, when you know what it is to fall asleep hungry.
Wilderness reminds us that we are more than the societal constructs that we have build; we are but one species, a microscopic pixel in the larger mosaic of life. We are humans, who posses the capacity to feel compassion and empathy for one another. However, in the big picture, human interaction is dominated by brutality, apathy, and willful ignorance. We need to realize that as a species, our methods are unsustainable, and that we need to act like any other species, and act in symbiosis with the planet we call home. Photo: Joe Stewart

Right near the end of the solo walk, I saw a branch hanging low over the trail that was covered with these caterpillars. I was unable to identify them, but found it incredibly interesting that they appeared to have spikes covering them. I couldn't help but wondering if these apparent spikes were an evolutionary adaptation in order to deter predation. Seeing the different microcosms of life in such a large park was very humbling to me personally. Up until this point in the trip, I had been focused on the larger, more 'grand' landscapes. It was very interesting taking a step closer and looking at the smaller scale.

This picture was taken as soon as I arrived at our campsite at dose meadows. After the day's hike, we were all anxious to get our tents set up and get to making dinner. Phoebe, Nick and I decided to make make macaroni and cheese for dinner. While we enjoyed our cheesy, calorie filled meal, we listened to Nick's discussion about water conservation and the future of this necessity for life. It was so interesting to hear the different views of my classmates on this interesting topic. The discussion varied from different techniques of water collection (as well as purification) to policy decisions that could be made to reduce the massive amount of water that we waste in this country. The ideas presented were as unique and creative as the people who joined me on this trip. After the discussion, we were all excited to get off to bed to get a decent night's rest after the seven and a half mile we had just finished. We were all especially excited to spend the next day without our backpacks on.
Overall, this day was a journey of two sorts; one being a physical journey of nearly eight miles, the other being a  journey of self discovery and reflection.  Photo: Joe Stewart