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William O Douglas Wilderness Area trek-26-29 July

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  • Andy Stepniewski
    WO DOUGLAS WILDERNESS: FISH LAKE TO MT. RAINIER 26-29 JULY 2013 We began this exploratory trip to the headwaters of the Bumping Riverl by engaging Chinook
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2013

      26-29 JULY 2013

      We began this exploratory trip to the headwaters of the Bumping Riverl by
      engaging Chinook Outfitters. We rode from Bumping Lake to Crag Lake near the
      Cascade crest. This trek took us through some of the most remote parts of
      Yakima County, into the heart of the WO Douglas Wilderness Area. Habitats
      along the way included magnificent old growth forests, sedge-rimmed mountain
      lakes, and beautiful subalpine meadows, set beneath craggy peaks. Even
      non-naturalists will find this area of interest as vantages offer stellar
      views of Mt. Rainier, the Goat Rocks, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St . Helens.

      26 July. Denny and Darlene Sveense, guides for Chinook Outfitters, were
      super on the 10-mile ride into Crag Lake. The Forest Service had not cleared
      the trail so Denny had to stop and saw many quite substantial logs blocking
      the way. It was a big job to clear trail and we were both much impressed by
      his determination to get through numerous windfallen timber.

      The entire ride was through old growth forest, beginning with small stature
      trees at the trailhead: lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, mountain and western
      hemlocks, and western larch. I presumed sandy soils were the reason for the
      modest sized trees, quite in contrast to the many much larger specimens we
      encountered for much of the way; there we seemed to be on deeper floodplain
      soils. I believe it is no exaggeration to state the finest and largest
      remaining expanse of old growth forest in Yakima County lies in the upper
      Bumping River basin.

      After perhaps four miles, Pacific silver fir became the dominant forest
      tree, again many of great stature. The forest cover was interrupted in only
      a couple spots as we passed by the edge of sedge wetlands in bottomlands
      along the Bumping River. These boggy stretches lent community diversity to
      the otherwise unbroken forest.

      Birds were not numerous or diverse on this trail. An AMERICAN THREE-TOED
      WOODPECKERwas the highlight on this section of the trail; one was drumming
      very near the trailhead and several others were noted up river. Olive-sided
      Flycatchers and Lincoln's Sparrows were calling or singing at wetland edges,
      too. We tallied three other woodpeckers: Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated, and
      Northern Flicker. Other forest birds included Western Wood-Pewee, and
      Hammond's and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Gray Jay, Chestnut-backed
      Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren,
      Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit and Varied Thrushes, American Robin,
      Townsend's Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Pine Siskin, and Evening Grosbeak.

      At Fish Lake, bordered by an extensive sedge marsh, we abruptly climbed up a
      sidehill on the Pacific Crest Trail. This south-facing slope seemed, for
      much of the way to Buck Lake, to be deep-soiled, fostering another expanse
      of impressive Pacific silver fir. A large rockslide is passed, the eastern
      section a jumble of huge boulders, with bleating Pikas. The western part of
      the rockslide was mantled in a dense cover of vine maples. The trail then
      passes a fine outcrop with a community of plants adapted to the rigors of
      shallow soils on rocks: common juniper, buckwheats, stonecrop, and various
      penstemons. Just yards away, a seep provides abundant water for a quite
      beautiful subalpine meadow habitat with great diversity of herbs (cow
      parsnip, Mertensia, Sitka valerian, columbine,paintbrush), provides stark
      contrast to the outcrop.

      Reaching Buck Lake, the trail traverses below a zone of seepage at the base
      of a rugged escarpment, grown to thickets of slide alder and scrubby Alaska
      cedar, and a wide assortment of forb species, a habitat known to be very
      attractive to Neotropical migrant birds, particularly on their southbound
      late summer migration. I impatiently waited for an opportunity to bird this
      area on foot!

      The last stretch to Crag Lake entered subalpine forest with many mountain
      hemlock, subalpine fir, with Pacific silver fir becoming smaller. A mosaic
      of beautiful subalpine zone plant communities south of the lake, set in the
      Mountain Hemlock Zone, makes this slope a good and accessible site to study
      responses to varying snowmelt and soil moisture. From dry-wet continuum, we
      catalogued: red heather clumps/lupine -dominated forb meadows/Luetkea
      flats/Sitka valerian -dominated seeps/ sedge flats at the lake edge.

      Crag Lake, bordered by a variety of sedges, with wildflowers such as
      lousewort and spirea on elevated banks. Though at 5,000 feet elevation and
      thus covered in snow for upwards of eight months each year, we observed a
      garter snake and frogs.

      The rugged south-facing slopes north of Crag Lake, in response to earlier
      snowmelt, are mantled in the Subalpine Fir Zone.

      Our best bird here was a calling PINE GROSBEAK. We also heard booming Sooty
      Grouse, Red-tailed Hawk, Rufous Hummingbird, Northern Flicker, Steller's
      Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Common Raven, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pacific Wren,
      Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Dark-eyed Junco,
      Cassin's Finch, and Pine Siskin.

      27 July. The trail upwards from Crag Lake to the Mt. Rainier National Park
      boundary traverses a steep sidehill, capped by cliffs, grown to an
      attractive mosaic of plant communities, beginning with a perennially wet
      zone at the base of the rugged cliffs to relatively dry on rocky exposures.

      Reaching the end of this traverse, we rounded a bend and were on
      deepersoils, where alpine Parkland habitat is encountered on up to the
      national park boundary. A short ascent north to a minor summit, best
      accessed by ascending the steep lupine-covered slopes from a point 500 feet
      east of the park boundary brought us to the highest and grandest view on the
      entire WO Douglas Trail. Dominating the panorama is glacier-clad Mt.
      Rainier, seemingly close enough to touch. Views of this monarch of the
      Cascade Range are simply put, stupendous. Views of the Goat Rocks, an old
      and eroded Cascade volcano, and Mt. Adams, third highest peak in the range,
      are grand, too. Through gaps in the trees, one can gain a more distant peek
      at Mt. St. Helens off to the southwest. Birds seen on this hike included all
      those seen before plus Barrow's Goldeneye, Chipping Sparrow, more PINE
      GROSBEAKS, Cassin's Finch, and a few Red Crossbills. Noticeably absent were
      Mountain Chickadees, which I expected in the subalpine firs near park
      boundary but, despite keeping my ears atuned to this usually common bird, we
      detected none.

      28 July. We explored on foot the trail from Crag Lake to Fish Lake that we
      had passed by on horseback two days before. We lingered especially along the
      Sitka alder/Alaska cedar thickets above Buck Lake and soon found this
      habitat held a wide variety of birds, indeed the most diversity by far on
      this hike, indeed on the entire trek. We tallied 71% of the bird species
      noted on the entire 20-mile trek in a mere 30 minutes along this short
      stretch of trail! Birds we noted in these thickets included Cassin's and
      Warbling Vireos, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit and
      Varied Thrushes, American Robin, Orange-crowned Warbler (coastal adults and
      young with some downy tufts strongly suggest local breeding), Nashville,
      MacGillivray's, Yellow-rumped, Townsend's, and Wilson's Warblers.

      Fish Lake was surprisingly devoid of birds on our visit. This may be due the
      complete lack of willows or alders near the lake. The sedge-dominated
      wetland encircling this shallow lake appeared very quiet, too, though it
      appears attractive to marsh -loving birds. Since Fish Lake lies 900 feet
      lower in elevation than nearby Crag Lake, one might predict it has a greater
      abundance and perhaps diversity of reptiles and amphibians. Vaux's Swift was
      our only addition to our trip list here.

      29 July. From camp at Crag Lake, we retraced our steps to the Cascade crest
      where we started down the Laughingwater Creek Trail 7.5 miles to
      Ohanapecosh. We were in the Alpine Parkland with both mountain hemlock and
      subalpine fir with extensive parkland, great summer elk habitat; we
      frequently heard these beasts. Also noted were mountain goat tracks though
      these denizens of the alpine crags kept out of sight. Above Three Lakes
      began a long stretch in the /Silver Fir Zone. Simply put, the size and
      extent of the Pacific silver fir along the Laughingwater Creek Trail is awe
      inspiring. Around the shores of the five lakes along the trail is a
      sedge-dominated wetland zone, backed by a forb community. Back from this on
      higher ground is a strip of subalpine fir, then once again the magnificent
      Pacific silver fir forest.

      We watched a hen Barrow's Goldeneye with five ducklings diving on Three
      Lakes and a
      Spotted Sandpiper noisely guarding its downy young here, too.

      This forest continues down in elevation to roughly 4000 feet elevation, here
      and there interrupted by cold, wet seeps with Alaska cedars, some of
      impressive stature. At about 4200 feet elevation, some giant relict
      Douglas-fir, some fire-scarred, indicate a transition to the Western Hemlock
      Zone. From here down to 3000 feet elevation the trail traverses an old
      growth forest with innumerable forest giants: Douglas-firs, western
      hemlocks, and scattered Pacific silver fir. The extent and grandeur of this
      forest make it obvious why the Laughingwater Creek Trail is featured in
      Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington and Oregon ( J. and D. Cissel
      (Mountaineers. 2003).

      Though some old growth forest appear monotonous, this characteristic never
      could be applied to the Laughingwater Creek Trail as, numerous openings
      punctuate the forest. Thus, whether due to blowdowns or aged trees toppling,
      or landslides, this forest displays "structural diversity" that once
      mantled forests across much of the Pacific Northwest before the arrival of
      Europeans and now mostly gone except in national parks or wilderness areas.
      This structural diversity: the presence of trees showing a variety of age
      and size classes, both living and dead, plus the shrub, forb, and fungi and
      lichen component, makes this a textbook example of as yet a poorly
      understood ecosystem.

      At about 3000 feet elevation, one passes a forest-lined pond off on the west
      side of the trail. Spirea shrubs edge the wet zone and pretty yellow pond
      lilies dot the surface.

      On the lower portions of the trail, a steep slope plagued by recent
      landslides, indeed marked so on geology maps. Trail maintenance is obviously
      challenging in this zone. Tree growth reflects soil instability with a
      number of leaning "drunken" trees. Toppled trees are frequent in this zone,

      Bird species diversity on this section of the trek was low, as expected. We
      did tally birds partial to old growth such as Vaux's Swift, Pileated
      Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Varied

      Birds were not numerous or diverse on this trail. In addition to the duck
      and sandpiper at Three Lakes, we noted: Vaux's Swift, AMERICAN THREE-TOED
      WOODPECKER, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher,
      Common Raven, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown
      Creeper, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, American
      Robin, Varied Thrush, Townsend's Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, (parkland at
      crest), Dark-eyed Junco, Western Tanager, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, and
      Evening Grosbeak.

      Andy and Ellen Stepniewski

      Wapato WA

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