Saturday, July 25, 2015

Day 3: Falls Camp to Cedar Lake, by Kiley Sullivan (Student)

Today was amazing.  We began in Falls Camp, waking up to Tim telling us to “Dry out camp.”  Shane and I had been off away from the rest of the group, as not to wake the rest of camp up with our snoring.  We roused ourselves and gathered some wet items that needed drying and headed to where Nick was camped, on a grassy knoll in a clearing.  The sun was out and felt fantastic after the long, cold, wet night and previous days of rain. 

Drying out after 2 days of rain. An hour after this picture was taken, the rains returned again. Later in the trip we would observe the bulk of Mt. Deception, the 3rd highest peak in the Olympics, building orographic clouds (and showers) every day as moist air moved across the southern Olympics and then up the Puget Sound along the eastern Olympics on otherwise sunny days. We were the recipient of these orographic showers as long as we were near Deception.
In the morning, we held Alexandra’s discussion that was from the previous night, but had been delayed to rain.  The discussion she led was about woodcraft, modern camping, and the sources of all the gear we use.  I had never heard of woodcraft before this class and was very interested to hear about how pioneers in camping and wilderness used to build camp and utilize the natural materials around them to create their campsites.  Although the practices were very impressive, being able to create shelters and survive off of their surroundings, these practices could not be sustained with the current usage of wilderness areas (40,000 person nights a year in Olympic National Park alone, according to ONP ranger Nicole Winters).  The discussion was very poignant, as we held it next to a shelter that had been built using woodcraft, but destroyed by an arsonist who had supposedly made his views against woodcraft known to other users of the Olympic National Park.  Apparently, this individual believed that by erecting and using a shelter, mankind had made too large of a mark on this isolated and pristine ecosystem.  Alexandra’s discussion continued on to approach modern camping and how many people are focused on their gear rather than the experience of getting out and enjoying the wilderness.  She pointed out that consumerism holds a huge place in the pastime, and is very visible in the modern day camper and backpacker.  She pointed out that many of the materials used to create the consumer products are not sustainable, and ironically may be manufactured with negative social and environmental impacts.
Mist playing on the fir trees above Falls Camp. Some 8 species of conifers can be found in this very diverse area at the convergence of several life zones.

Stretching done, packs on, and ready to leave camp!

Hiking through a low (~4000ft) meadow. It is easy to see fir encroachment along the edges of this meadow, a phenomenon that will become more pervasive as snow depths decrease at this elevation in the future.
Hiking upward through silver fir forest, enormous oldgrowth Douglas fir trees are testament to a warmer drier period some 700 years ago. Similarly, silver fir trees that extend their range down slope to 3500 ft. elevation are remnants of a colder wetter period on 200-500 years ago.

Stopped next to a large Douglas fir within the silver fir zone.

After the discussion, we broke everything down and began to get ready to go before fixing lunch.  As we started to prepare lunch, the orographic weather system that had caused the previous day’s rain began to close in on us, again.  A drizzle followed shortly thereafter.  We ate lunch and chatted for a bit before heading out on the next leg of the trek, ascending 2,000 feet over 3 miles to reach Cedar Lake at 6,000 feet.  The trail started off fairly steep, with switchbacks rising through the old growth forest.  At points, we traversed through sub-alpine meadows, keeping a lookout for wildlife while people pointed out different types of plant life.  I was eagerly hoping to see a bear!  At one point while crossing a meadow, Shane twisted his ankle in a marmot hole, (which were dangerously laying in wait beneath the brush; it’s a wonder more people didn’t fall victim to them).  We took a break at the end of the next meadow so Tim could take a look at Shane’s ankle and assess the damage.  The crew proceeded to go exploring and see what plants and animals we could find.  It was interesting to see all the students who had taken Environmental Studies 280 blurting out species common and Latin names, vying to be the first to identify birds and plants.  Nearby, a plant looked like it had berries growing from the leaves, but someone quickly pointed out that it was actually a “gall,” a lump in the plant containing a parasitic insect that used the plant for gestation.  I found myself using knowledge from Environmental Studies 250 to identify benthic organisms in a nearby creek, pulling a Caddisfly larva and a discarded Caddisfly larva shelter out of the water for closer examination.  When Shane was given the all clear to continue with the hike, Nick was nice enough to volunteer to take Shane’s tent for the rest of the way to Cedar Lake.  

This tree was freshly scratched (and licked) by a bear desperate for some sugar after hibernation in 2013. We would see no bears this year, and the resins produced by the tree are signs of healing.

The beautiful shrub, Menziesia ferruginea, growing in a mixed subalpine fir/silver fir forest below Cedar Lake.

The white rhododendron grows along side Menziesia, with similar leaves, but very different flowers.
In the airblast zone of the avalanche. We had to pick our way through the debris in 2013 before the trail was reconstructed.

A view up the avalanche track that ran in the winter of 2012 or thereabouts.

Coming into the subalpine meadows below Cedar Lake. The subalpine first stand tall and conical, an adaptation for shedding snow in this normally very snowy environment. A deer grazes near center left.

Crossing the creek one last time on the final push to the lake.

The drizzle intensified as we continued to ascend through the forest, crossing streams in our path.  As we crested the lip of a clearing just shy of our destination, someone spotted a black-tailed deer cautiously watching us while grazing nearby.  We slowly passed the deer and arrived at the lake.  The crew slowly split up and perused the campsites for ideal spots to pitch their tents.  Shane and I crossed a small stream to arrive at another campsite, which looked ideal.  Joe had intentions of setting up his tent on the edge of a nearby cliff but was quickly dissuaded of the idea by Tim.  While we stood on the cliff Joe wanted to camp on, Maddie climbed into the lake, across the way at the other campsite.  The sky was completely overcast, with fog sweeping across the valley, hovering just above the water.  We watched in disbelief as Maddie swam out to the middle of the lake before Nick and Shane decided that they wanted to get in, as well.  As Shane got in, he exclaimed that it was surprisingly warm.  Still skeptical, I slowly got my boardshorts out of my bag; after all, we’d been hiking for three days without bathing.  Shane, Nick, and Maddie swam to the other side of the lake as more of the group waded out in the water near the other campsite.  I was in no hurry to be wet and cold again, after the previous two days of hiking and camping in the rain.  Awhile later, the three initial swimmers returned from the other side of the lake.  By this point, I had disrobed and changed into my boardshorts, but was only in the water up to my ankles, and I still had my slippers on.  It didn’t take long for my feet to get accustomed to the water and even feel warm, as the temperature of the water was warmer than that of the air.  Shane swam over to where I was and laughed at the fact that I hadn’t made much progress; by this point, I was only in up to my knees.  I knew once I got in and got used to the water, I’d be fine, but taking that plunge always makes me cringe.  Finally, after everyone else was out of the water, I convinced myself that I was ready to dive in.  The water wasn’t bad at all!  The mist forming off the water quickly pushed in, after I was fully submerged, making the whole scape seem otherworldly.  It was a great feeling to be swimming in a glacier-fed lake, albeit one that was shallow enough to be warmed by this summer’s unnatural amount of sunshine.  I soon got out and quickly changed into warm clothing to deal with the frigid mountain climate.  Shane and I set up our tent, then headed over to the main camp where my cooking team of Tim and Eva were already cooking dinner.   They inquired as to the whereabouts of the rest of the pasta, as we only had one of our allotted two packages.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, the missing bag of pasta was in my bear canister.  As we sat and ate, the mountains cleared, showing their craggy outlines, outcroppings of trees, and rock scree from numerous avalanches.  The backdrop looked like something from a Lord of the Rings movie. 
The fog lifts from the peaks over Cedar Lake while a student takes a swim. On a normal year, the temperatures would be close to freezing with snow lining the far shoreline of the lake. This year the upper water depths were comfortable for swimming.

Mist hovers above Cedar Lake, as Maddy takes a swim.

After dinner, Natalie led a discussion on the presence of the sublime in nature.  She led us to a familiar author in the Program on the Environment, William Cronon, and how he was a critic of the concept.  The sublime view of nature focuses on deities and the presence of a higher being.  Buell was an eco-critic, talking about sense of space vs. sense of place.  Through the discussion, I realized that my sense of place is in Polynesia, more specifically Olomana, in Kailua, Hawai’i.  But we discussed that “you can never go home, again” and Kailua will never be the place I remember from my childhood.  Tim finished off the discussion by informing us that his sense of place is the northeast corner of the Olympic National Park.  He has spent over 200 days there, and it continues to deepen as his sense of place.
Natalie (black jacket in center) leads a discussion on the literature of the sublime and development "sense of place". In the background, the clouds are lifting from the peaks surrounding Cedar Lake, an image that would have inspired any of the writers Natalie quoted from!
As with all of our discussions, this one was heated. Here, Joe holds forth on the development of "sense of place".

From this discussion, I began to think about what wilderness means to me.  I know that the area I grew up in on the island of O’ahu, which was near an undeveloped mountainous area, may end up being developed as the years go on and the limited land continues to become more densely populated.  I realize that my experiences in those areas growing up really helped to solidify my connection with wilderness and nature.  Some of the areas, although previous human presence was evident from the trail and erosion in trodden paths, still contained that feeling of nature persisting in the face of the human impacts.  The foliage slowly creeps back into place where footsteps had worn it away over the years.  To me, the concept of life coming back to an area that had been killed off is the truest example of nature existing alongside us, and one that will be here when we are gone. 

These days, it is common for people to not get any time to spend out in the wilderness, away from civilization, or even get to experience the outdoors in city parks.  I consider wilderness to be any area that is far enough away from city life that the distractions of mainstream society are few and far between.  In the Olympic National Park, even in an area considered to be one of the most remote in the contiguous United States, there were still airplanes flying overhead intermittently.  However it wasn’t so much of a distraction that it detracted from the value of the place as wilderness.  I don’t feel as though wilderness areas necessarily mean that t is a place that has been untrammelled by humans, due to the fact that nature can reclaim areas that we have destroyed or harmed and then left abandoned.  Far too often in today’s hustle and bustle, people do not take the time to reacquaint themselves with wilderness.  The healing power of immersion in the natural world is overlooked and forgotten.  The benefits are out there, waiting to be experienced.

Judiola instabilis, the Instable Longhorn Beetle. It was very common this year on flowers of the Apiaceae. Larvae bore into wood. The wildflower displays this year in both the alpine and subalpine, as well as lower elevation avalanche tracks, were all well into later season flowers. On the way to Cedar Lake, there was no Elephanthead Lousewort in bloom, for example, a flower that would typically be blooming in mid-elevation wet meadows. We did see Menzies Larkspur, however. In higher elevation wet meadows and snow melt, the Avalanche Lilies were completely done. The Bog Gentian, however, was at its peak.

Bog Gentian, in full bloom in the wet meadows near Cedar Lake. This would quickly become Nick's favorite flower (see Natalie's post).
We were not able to ID this common caterpillar.

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