Monday, July 25, 2016

Day 3: Falls Camp to Cedar Lake

By Abby von Hagel

        Waking up slowly, I discovered soreness in muscles I didn't think existed. It wouldn't be until the next morning before my body seemed to magically adjust to carrying a 50 lb. pack. Despite a dinner of angel-hair pasta with supplemental nettle leaf the night before, I was hungry and eager to break into the bear canisters. As our cook groups gathered for breakfast, the sun warmed our stiff muscles and glinted off the nearby river. Tim had warned us that it would be a longer day, but there was a promise of an alpine lake at the end. Although I was enjoying the warmth of the grassy clearing, I was excited to move from the lush old-growth forests into a whole new environment.

Breakfast under the silver pines. Some nine species of conifers, the result of mixing of climate zones, perhaps caused by past climate shifts, can be found around this campsite. Photo by Tim Billo.
A large spider enjoyed its stay in Kelly and Madeline's tent. Photo by Lucas.

      Taking full advantage of the gorgeous weather, we decided to have Maddy and Kate's discussion in the morning. Together, they led a conversation focused on analyzing the Wilderness Act and the paradox of actively managing wilderness. The Wilderness Act states:
"a wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor and does not remain". 

      This definition becomes less concrete when we consider the fact that the Wilderness Act also calls for management and protection of these areas supposedly "untrammeled by man". As Rodrick Nash states, "A designated, managed wilderness is, in a very important sense, a contradiction in terms. It could even be said that any area that is proclaimed wilderness and managed as such is not wilderness by these very acts!". How do we actively preserve land that is to be left unaffected by human forces? It could be argued that we should just let nature "run its course", unmanaged, but we must consider the rate at which non-protected lands are already being rapidly changed by anthropogenic forces. Considering the wide-reaching and sometimes indirect impacts of humans today, do we have a responsibility to intervene in order to maintain the existing ecosystems?

       Management of  wilderness is an extremely difficult balance. Often times management efforts can involve high-impact activities, such as helicopter goat surveys or killing invasive species to protect native populations. We must carefully weigh our values as a society in order to justify our action or lack thereof in our National Parks. What is the value of the spotted owl or a rare endemic flower? Why are we compelled to prevent its extinction? Many in our group sited moral responsibility, ecological health, human enjoyment, or possible pharmaceutical uses as important reasons for preservation. Additionally, the successful reintroduction of wolves in other parks was mentioned as an example of positive management practices. However, we questioned whether a perfect solution  or a end to continuous management was possible.

Morning discussion, led by Maddy and Kate. Photo by Tim Billo.
     Whether maintained for historical significance, aesthetic beauty, educational value, genetic importance, or as a global life-support system, our society must determine what it is we want to achieve within our parks. If we continue to preserve our national parks for future generations, we must decide what we want the land to look like in the decades to come.

A small blue butterfly that landed on my hand during discussion. While it enjoyed the salt, we considered the delicate paradox of managing wilderness. Photo by Kelly.

     By the end of our discussion, the sun was out in full force. Sunscreen was applied generously and sunglasses appeared. Kramer expertly utilized the first-aid kit by bandaging up toes that had developed any particularly excellent blisters. I was excited to have clean feet and socks after washing them in the icy river the night before. We then made our way past the site of the previous night's campfire and up a steep slope on a less-maintained trail riddled with burrows. Throughout the trip it became instinctive to yell "hole!" to warn others of the upcoming danger, as it would be quite unfortunate to roll an ankle with a top-heavy pack on. 
Hypothesizing about the history of the forest and identifying tree species. Photo by Tim Billo. 
      As someone who had previously never taken an environmental studies course, I particularly enjoyed the moments where Tim would stop the group to ask us about what events we thought had occurred to produce the landscape around us. It was through these very "hands-on" lessons that I learned about ecological succession, glacial movement, and began learning how to differentiate tree species. As I panted up the harsh incline, I tried to quiz myself to see if I could recognize the rotund hemlocks as they passed by.

A large rectangular slab of bark characteristic of butt rot, a disease that has the capacity to deteriorate trees from the base. Photo by Maddy.

Kelly with the massive Douglas fir tree toppled by butt rot we had to navigate around. While a humorous name, it poses a serious problem.  This 800 year old tree was seeded in at this relatively high elevation during a warmer and drier period in the Olympic Mountains, and is surrounded by silver fir, yellow cedar, and subalpine fir which moved down hill around it during the cooler, wetter "Little Ice Age" between 500 and 200 years ago. Photos by Tim and Maddy.
Indian hellebore (Veratrum viride) an extremely toxic plant common near steams and marshy meadows. Photo by Maddy. 

Meadow clearing riddled with marmot holes. Photo by Kelly.
Tim pointed out a tree that had been clawed by a bear in spring of 2013, attempting to get calories from its sap. Photo by Tim.
Appreciating the wildflowers. Photo by Kate.

       After passing through many meadows, the trail seemed to come to a halt at a large log jam. We decided to break for lunch while Tim and Kramer scrambled over the large trunks looking for the safest crossing. Sitting on a mossy log, I had an everything bagel topped with a thick slices of cheese, salami, and a layer of peanut butter. This calorically-rich combination became a staple lunch for me, though we rotated between tortillas, bagels, and wasa crackers.

       The crossing ended up being a bit more complicated than Tim remembered, but luckily Kramer found a sturdy pair of logs further up the river. We went in two groups, with most of us crossing by carefully inching sideways with our bottom on one log and our feet on another. I was in the second group so, by the time I made my way across, I had many spotters insure I would not get too far if I fell in the roaring water.

Tricky river crossing on a log, with spotters present downstream. Photo by Hailee.

Tim making his way across.

Emi attempting a more daring method. Photo by Tim.
         After reaching the other side and reconnecting everyone with their poles, we back-tracked through thick blueberry bushes to the trail. Personally, I felt like the river crossing was an important moment for our group. It solidified a mentality of looking out for each other, we did not move onward until everyone had safely crossed. This feeling of being connected as a team extended to many other river crossings, precarious glacial slopes, and quiet evenings sharing hot pasta concoctions.

Coming through the air blast zone of an avalanche that ripped off the opposite mountain side about 5 years ago. Photo by Tim.
          As we forged our way onward, the clouds seemed to lower and the air around us filled with mist. The ground-cover contrasted a brighter lime green against the darkening skies. While we wound our way up forested hills, Tim pointed out that the the point where the moss stopped on the tree often marked the height of the snow in the winter. I tried to imagine what the forest would look like blanketed in snow and how isolated this part of the park probably was in the winter.

         The rain started as we hiked through an area decimated by an avalanche, however, my body heat seemed to evaporate the raindrops on my legs keeping me relatively dry. With Kramer leading, we would power up a hill and, as it would level out, I became convinced that the lake was just ahead. However, each time we reached a clearing it turned out to be marshy basin instead.

Approaching a marshy basin I had hoped would be the lake. Photo by Tim.

The marshy areas were actually quite interesting, this small pool held hundreds of tadpoles and frog eggs. Photo by Maddy.

Approaching Cedar Lake in the calm drizzle. Photo by Tim.
     Before we could reach Cedar Lake, we had to find a crossing over a stream that had increased in volume since last year's dry season.
Kramer, Lucas, and Tim creating a bridge. Photo by Kate.

Not at all dangerous, but nice to have dry feet. Photo by Maddy.
   We finally arrived at Cedar Lake, the entire lake was cloaked in fog obscuring the far shore. It felt very quiet and mysterious. Thankfully, the rain let up while we set up our tents. Maddy and I had begun to develop a routine and soon had our tent securely staked down. Since we had made good time, we took a moment before dinner to warm up in our sleeping bags and split a sweet sesame snap. I felt so cozy and content watching the water trail down the side of our tent fly as we journaled together in silence.

Observing the calm and endless lake surface. Photo by Kate.
    Dinner was a cozy affair. With some tree climbing, a tarp was rigged up in a clearing and we huddled together over the warm stoves. I was really glad Tim and Emi agreed that hot chocolate was a good idea. 

     After dinner, I led a discussion dealing with the relationships between humans and nature. This tied in well with Kate and Maddy's analysis of the language in the Wilderness Act. Often our legislative language must define very abstract ideas,which could contribute to an idea of separation between people and the wilderness lands around them. Additionally, current language around climate change often paints a very depressing picture of humans as the enemy to nature. 
     In my discussion, I hoped to use a paper by Vining et al. (Linked here) that analyzed the public's perception of their own relationship to nature and words they associated with the dichotomy. 

Evening discussion under a tarp in the rain, while the mountains begin to peek out. Photo by Tim Billo.
       First, I asked the group the question "in your opinion, are humans separate or a part of nature?". I tallied our group's responses and compared them to the responses collected by the paper's authors. Like the paper, around 70% of our group felt that they were part of nature. However, unlike the initial study none in our group felt they were separate from nature, and a larger percentage felt that they were both a part of and separate from nature.
     This result may have to do with the fact that we were deeply immersed in a national park and had been talking about the complexity of such issues in previous discussions. When asked why they felt a part of nature many sited the fact that we are a biological organism or human's necessary dependence on natural resources and current environmental conditions. Those who said "both" found reason for partial separation in their climate-controlled life style and reliance on technology, reflecting a similar line of thought to the respondents in the paper.

    Secondly, I asked the group to list words they associated with "natural" and words they associated with "unnatural". I was hoping to tally similar responses to those in the paper, but our group ended up being far more original and creative than I had predicted. We ended up with a very diverse and amusing word-association list:

"Natural" words:
-flora & fauna
-marmot jerky
-carbon life
-migratory patterns
-open space
-sub-alpine fir tea with cedar lake water

"Unnatural" words:
-national boundaries
-advertising executives
-economic principals
-shave ice
-carbon emissions

Rain drops captured on the small hairs of lupine leaves. Photo by Kelly.
        Our creative word associations led to a discussion about how defining wilderness as "pristine" or somewhere where humans do not go can be problematic. In the paper, 32.3% of the same people who said they were a part of nature attributed "natural" as an area "undisturbed by humans". This cognitive dissonance in the way we perceive nature could influence the way we go about managing wilderness areas in the years to come. Does this paradox increase our desire to protect nature or justify human actions degrading the environment as natural? The paper suggested that the next step would be to conduct further research in "how people's mental processes and perceptions of self-nature relationships are associated with environmentally responsible or destructive behavior". 
      It was also interesting to hear our group debate if the very trip we were on, and other recreation, was natural. We were surviving on food purchased through modern supply chains at the supermarket and sleeping in industrially produced rental tents. Although, for many, this trip was a much needed opportunity to reconnect with a more instinctive and "natural" part of ourselves, it was only possible because of modern technological advances. Like the internet, can something created by humans still be natural? Would we have to go back to foraging and sleeping on deer skins to truly have the "natural wilderness experience"? At what point did humans and their actions cease to be considered natural? 
         Throughout the trip, people could be heard jokingly asking each other "but its it natural?". I think our discussion provided an excellent foundation for everyone to begin establishing their own personal views on the relationship between humans and nature. 
Mist on Cedar Lake. Photo by Lucas.
       After our discussion, everyone was cold and a bit stiff. But the clouds had cleared and Tim had the excellent suggestion of leading an evening walk along the shore of the lake to warm up before bed. As we stepped from boulder to boulder in an attempt to reduce our impact on fragile vegetation, we finally got a chance to enjoy full views of the surrounding basin and high snowy ridges encircling us.
Views from our walk around Cedar Lake basin after the clouds lifted. Photo by Kelly
Pink heather, one of three species of heather we would find on the trip. Photo by Lucas.

Tim giving a lesson on the natural history of the basin. Photo by Kate.
TA, Kramer Canup, in his natural habitat. Photo by Tim Billo.
A buck observed on the walk. Deer often came near our camp in search of salty urine. Photo by Kelly.

Joking around and warming up on a peaceful evening stroll. Photo by Kelly

         We enjoyed the views and skipped stones across the mirror-calm water. By the end of the walk everyone was smiling and excited about the prospect of crossing the unnamed pass seen behind us in the picture above. I had been pretty sleepy, but now I was miraculously awake and re-energized. We stayed out in the middle of the clearing simply talking for some time after getting back to our camp.  My muscles were tired and the day had been long, but I felt like I was finally in sync with both the people and the environment around me. It was beginning to feel natural.

Smiles after a dinner stroll. Photo taken by Emi.


Favorite Memories:

          The views on this trip were spectacular. Each day brought another amazing view which I would remind myself to sear into my memory (especially after my camera died). I learned to love the way the fog would rise up over ridges and puddle around the base of peaks. I felt so accomplished anytime we could peer down from above and see multiple valleys and faraway places we had been just days before. I was amazed by just how resilient the tiny life on some windswept passes could be and how bright turquoise-blue glacial water could look. My standards for moss and wildflower-filled meadows are now pretty high after hiking such picturesque winding trails. However, when I look back at the trip pictures they almost seem too catalog-perfect.

            It is my memories of our group’s conversations that remind me that I actually passed through these landscapes. Our moments of cooperation, camaraderie, and debate are some of my most valuable memories. I savored our time around warm fires and huddled together under the brown tarp in the evenings. By tackling problems of river and snow crossings with a group mentality we came closer together. I can honestly say each person brought something extremely valuable to our group. Whether it was a helping hand, constant humor, unwavering determination, or a new perspective on a discussion topic everybody had something to contribute. Ideas about wilderness topics and ourselves were challenged and freely evolved both through structured questions or spontaneous trail conversations. Whether creating experimental food combos or very strange running jokes, we made a very good team.


           While on the trip, I would say both the soreness and social awkwardness miraculously cleared up around the same time. Working really hard with a group of people towards a simple common goal of eating and sleeping at the end of the day seems to do wonders for quickly making friends. I do think lack of any distractions beyond the trail in front of you allows people to engage in a way that would not be as possible back home.
          Also, I will say that the ability to pee in any convenient group of trees was sorely missed when we were waiting in the long ferry line.

          Staring at the stacks of thousands of papers in my office Monday morning was pretty depressing. I wished I could somehow mash them back into pulp and form my own forest of old growth trees to live in and escape our office. It forced me to acknowledge the reality that we continue to use massive amounts of paper products daily.
          We desperately need to figure out a way to manage our use of natural resources, whether it’s creating marine preserves, only logging 70% of the trees at a time, or regulating how communities use public water supplies. It is too simplistic to say “save the trees”. We must evaluate constantly which trees to save, how that will effect larger biological cycles, how human usage can evolve, and, historically, why certain landscapes are deemed worth saving.

          In short, I would say the experience forced me to acknowledge greater degrees of complexity in our land management. It will be very hard for me to go out on a hike, backpack, or even a trip to a city park without considering the story told by the landscape. For example, it will be interesting to go into an area that is managed by logging companies and evaluate how the experience differs from that in Olympic National Park.

         On the ferry ride home I squinted and tried to imagine what the natural coastline of Seattle looked like prior to skyscrapers, logging, docks, and the drainage of tidal flats. Sometimes hard to see change happening quickly when you are in the middle of it. My experience in Olympic provided a historical lens of the natural landscape through which I can view the rapid changes occurring around me.


           I was honestly very shocked our first day by how different the ecology and landscape of Olympic was from my usual cascades areas. I think this trip cemented in me a desire to explore other unique ecologies more broadly. I think this is even more important when I consider how fast certain vulnerable ecosystems are changing due to Anthropogenic climate change. I think it is so important that our generation gets to see the world in its current state in order to relay these memories to future generations as a baseline for change to come.

       While I was writing on Sentinel Peak, I kept thinking about how incredibly lucky I was to get a chance to see a snapshot of this beautiful and quickly changing environment. The following is a excerpt from my journal:

All at once I am very young in this place
and the moments stretch beyond any reference of time 
my imagination can hold
Yet as the  days slip past with each uncounted hour 
and the cold and moon appear all to soon
I feel the weight of nostalgia and sense of loss
for the space before tomorrow

I am a child of wonder and new discoveries
holding in the folded canvas of my brain 
memories of a landscape fading into the recesses of high peaks
and falling like warm sand 
through the calloused fingers of civilization

Cedar Lake. Photo by Hailee.