Sunday, July 24, 2016

Day 4: Cedar Lake to Gray Wolf Pass

By Kelly Bounxayavong

We woke up to the sweet and gentle “good morning” croon of our TA Kramer gently shaking our tents to wake us up, as he does every morning. The first thing I noticed was the lack of pitter patter raindrops hitting our tents, which was very much present the day before. I just knew this was going to be a great day.

It is such a privilege to be able to crawl out of my tent and see the jaw-dropping mountains right before me. I never thought I’d wake up to a beautiful backdrop that looks like it belongs as a Windows screensaver. It invites a peaceful meditation, especially with the running river splashing behind us and the calm lake. The juxtaposition of the thrashing river running behind our campsite, then the calm and still lake in front of us portray the two perceptions of wilderness long ago: nature is a wild and scary place, and nature is a place of enlightenment and peace. For this place, it's definitely a place of wonder and peace.
Our campsite view of Cedar Lake.
Here we are crossing the roaring river. Not scary, but annoying if we fell in.
We had our usual granola and oatmeal for breakfast. Again. Lots of deer and flying insects around. We grouped up and did our morning group stretch and quote sharing, then packed up our campsite, making sure to leave no trace, then we were off!

Today’s hike had us hike off trail up to the nameless pass. It was neat to pretend we were adventurers going off into an unknown territory. Along the way we also spotted some neat plants: there were lots of butterwort in the area.
Butterwort flower. Droopy and purple.
Butterwort don’t obtain proper nutrients from their environment, so to supplement their growth they try to lure and digest insects to them. The leaves of the butterwort are glandular and sticky, used to lure, trap, and even digest its insect prey. Thus giving it its carnivorous title.
The leaves of the butterwort are sticky and tricky! Insects are sometimes found inside the leaves, as you can see here.
We also spotted some Elephant's Head Lousewort near the lake side.
It's called Elephanthead because the flower petals look exactly like elephant heads!

Our group paused in our tracks for a picture in front of Cedar Lake.
On this partly sunny day, we walked through wet brushes and pointy trees that liked to attack us. But no bother, we were troopers. We reached a nice area that can be used as a campsite. However, we were bothered by what we saw. We found aluminum foil, plastic pieces, and other various trash strewn around the area. Not only that, but we were bothered to learn that the people who were in the area created a fire pit and burned part of a subalpine fir. This was unacceptable to see humans leaving such a large impact on the ecosystem, and stresses the importance of teaching the “Leave no Trace” principle. We took it upon ourselves to gather the trash and carry it out with us, while also spreading the ashes of the illegal fireplace and moving the rocks all over so no one would be tempted to make a fire place.
Us looking for any other garbage left behind by those who camped here after we dispelled all the ashes and moved all the rocks to prevent others from building fires here.
After our respectful nature duty, we made it to a rocky clearing, actually a river delta, where we spotted the call of the spotted sandpiper. Last year the group was able to find the nest of the bird, so we all tried to find it this year, but to no avail. Interestingly, spotted sandpipers have sex-role reversal, so we were actually looking for nests built and maintained by males on the territory of an aggressive female. [To see the sandpiper chicks we found last year, and for a view of the landscape without snow, check out last year's blog post for this day.] After looking for a good while with no luck, we turned to looking at the native vegetation growing around and seeing the snow pack level.
The snow pack was actually more than 5 feet deep.
Here's Madeline smiling for the camera in front of Cedar Lake.
Our own little "marmot time" grouped together before embarking on the Pass.
Walking up, we saw a marmot (the endemic Olympic marmot) sunbathing on the rock, looking at us so calmly. He was undisturbed with us being there.
Mr. Marmot came out to greet us. His hole home is right at the base of this rock.
Marmot sunbathing on a rock looking out onto Cedar Lake and the mountains. Best view ever!
We also saw some Cascades frogs mating, and of course we invaded their privacy to take a picture!
Now, in order to get to Gray Wolf Pass, we needed to trek through snowy terrain. So we busted out our ice axes and did some mountaineering techniques. Tim and Kramer graciously taught us how to properly step into the snow on a mountain in order to gain a steady footing and prevent ourselves from sliding down to the bottom. They also taught us how to “self-arrest” in the snow, so we all took turns sliding down the mountain on our back, then quickly flipping to our tummies and forming a triangle with our elbows/arms to plant ourselves in the snow and prevent us from sliding down. We also did this using ice axes, which is far more safer and easier. Here are some shots of Madeline (my tent mate!) glissading, then self arresting.
With our practice done, we headed up the mountain! This was by far one of the scariest parts of the trips for me. I felt I needed more practice, but having two experienced people there put me at ease, as they always tried to create a safe environment. Even though the mountain looked not too far off, it took longer than I expected to get up. 30 minutes would pass by and we would only get a couple hundred meters high up. It was kind of disheartening, but it was still fun at the same time. It was also much hotter than I thought it would be while crossing the snow. I ended up in a t-shirt like most others.

We made it onto the nameless pass and got to see Cedar Lake behind us. Here we had a little break to snack or go "Timming", a term invented by previous students meaning to nerd out on nature for hours, which Tim LOVES to do. The fog was covering mountains and it was a cloudy day, so we did not stay long. Tim foresaw rain clouds and he wanted to get down to camp as soon as possible so we don't get stuck on a snowy mountain with rain pelting down. Parts of the trail was still covered in snow and were steep, so there were times when people tripped and fell. But not to worry, Kramer or Tim were always there spotting us to stop us from tumbling down off a mountain or into some very pointy trees.
Some steep, rocky hills we have to climb with Kramer spotting us and staying behind to keep us safe.
We found Douglasia on the mountaintop. It is a rare and smooth alpine flower that is native to the Pacific Northwest. It has waxy leaves so it can better capture and preserve any amount of water that falls on it since rocky alpine environments are actually quite dry due to exposure to sun and wind.

The leaves on this lupine collect water droplets. The hairs on the plant allow it to prevent the wind from contacting the surface of the leaf, thereby conserving water that might otherwise be lost to convection.
While walking, we notice how the mountains form a ‘U’ shaped valley instead of a sharp ‘V’ shape. The curve of the mountains is shaped by the weight of the packed snow on the mountains, along with glacial movement dragging the rocks and debris from underneath. Moraines are then formed, which is the accumulation of rock/debris deposited after the glacier ceases to move. Some of the rocks we saw were from the mountain that got dragged by glaciers long ago.
Here we are walking along the glacier area Tim knew about. You can see how the valley is a U shape instead of a sharp V.
We hiked down from the nameless pass down to lost basin with a dying glacier and turquoise blue tarn, which is a small shallow alpine lake in a rocky area. It's called a dying glacier because it's one of the last remnants of the older times, and is slowly receding each year.
The tarn with small glacial remnants behind, and perhaps some glacial ice buried in rock.
Turquoise tarn. Not sure if we should drink the water since there's watermelon snow (a poisonous algae that lives on pollen and other debris on the surface of the snow) around it.
In the dying glacier, we were on the hunt for ice worms. Ice worms are only found in glaciers, so as long as ice worms are present we know the glacier is still around. However, as our group was looking for ice worms, we couldn’t find any. After a while, as Tim was venturing off in precarious looking areas in search for his precious ice worms, the rest of us decided to play in the snow. Abby was throwing snowballs at people, Emi and Hailee were doing controlled glissades down the snowy mountain, and others were talking about their relationship statuses while also digging at the snow. We needed some fun activities after our scenic hikes, and playing in the snow made us feel like kids again, while Tim was off trying to find his spirit animal in the snow pack.
Tim AKA Ice Worm trekking upwards to find his spirit animal (the ice worm).
Here's us playing in the snow. Mady got hit by a snowball in this picture so Jacob is getting revenge with another snowball.
After searching for a while, Tim decided to call it quits (for now) and head down to our campsite. Made it down to wonderful place. Luckily, it was sunny and cloudy when we were on top of the mountains. When we were going down to reach our campsite, it started to rain. We quickly set up our tents before the rain started hammering down on us. We used a tarp to cover ourselves while we made some delicious dinner.

With the rain gone, we were able to have a nice conversation led by Minji and Emily. They asked us questions regarding wilderness, and had us line up on a continuum of extremes to answer the question—either agree, disagree, or somewhere in the middle. Then they chose people to explain their thoughts on that. One question they asked that I remember the most was what we thought was more valuable: a cedar tree in the wilderness or a cedar tree in the city. This had a lot more people at the “wilderness” extreme rather than the “city” extreme, which is understandable given the importance of a cedar tree to the ecosystem. However, it came to the question of whether it would make people separate from nature or a part of it. Having a cedar tree nearby in a city park can promote a love of wilderness, which was why I chose the city. They also read some quotes and asked us to think about it. One in particular was along the lines of “I lost my wilderness when I no longer feared it”. This brought out a discussion on why people fear wilderness, whether the fear we feel in wilderness is part of what makes the experience valuable in today's society, and the consequence of no longer fearing nature or wilderness--or being able to find natural places in the world where you are afraid.

When night fell, it was time for bed and everyone was feeling ready to sleep. But not Tim and Kramer. No, they were excited to continue their quest to find ice worms! Ice worms are more active at night (where they are free from UV rays and bird predators) and usually crawl from under the snow pack up to the top. When Tim and Kramer came back, we heard their excitement and they showed us the ice worms they caught! The tiny glacier on the day's hike only yield 5 worms--suggesting that this glacier had melted down to near nothing in last summer's hot weather. But they discovered another ice patch that was littered with so many ice worms--hundreds in one square meter. This is a good sign since it put us at ease to know ice worms were not going extinct here, and that there is still some glacier ice hanging on in the area. Along with ice worms, they found some cool beetles that roam the surface of glaciers scavenging other bugs that fall in the snow and die. Hey, that's nature for ya.
Kramer Canup looking at ice worms he and Tim found at night.
More than 400 ice worms per square meter wriggled on the surface of the snow that night. Also out on the snow in abundance were Nebria beetles (aka ice beetles), nocturnal beetles which scavenge for dead insects and detritus on permanent snow fields and glaciers. Ice worms, ice beetles, and the snow-surface ecosystem they are a part of, are threatened by a warming climate. 


I'm pretty sure everyone agrees that these 9 days were definitely memorable and unforgettable. One of my favorite memories was climbing up Sentinel Peak and looking down on everything! Let's think of how cool it is that we were looking down on a helicopter! I never thought that would happen (and it shouldn't have happened, because the the helicopter was flying illegally in wilderness). I felt so high up and free from modern day world. Looking down at what we climbed, and looking out onto the Elwha, Hood canal, and the other mountain peaks was my defining point of this trip. We were on a mountain amongst other mountains and nature paths. There were no cars or strangers around, just us. It felt great to stay in a place and feel like our group are the only people on the planet. This was something I grew accustomed to during our 9 days, so when we saw a lot of people around Moose Lake, the awe-inspiring feeling I got diminished and made me realize that we weren't in a remote wilderness area, but only in a section of a National Park within the industrialized US.

I also really loved our snow mountain climbing, and walking along the mountain. Even though it hurt and was super strenuous on our legs and knees, these have always been my favorite parts of the day. Also camping by rivers and listening to the soothing running water waves, along with sleeping in amazing scenic places!

The biggest challenges I've faced during the trip was getting accustomed to a "natural" lifestyle. I couldn’t get water whenever I felt thirsty! I had to be smart about getting water and conserving it, even though we passed by clean water a lot. Carrying humongous backpacks was also very challenging, especially when hiking up steep hills. I found myself relying on the trekking poles the entire time. I also found walking on sideways trails and in the snow very challenging for myself. I didn’t have a fear of snow on the mountains, but I did hesitate when walking because I’m not too familiar with snow travel and felt I needed a little bit more “training” walking in snow. So it was a challenge for me, but having Kramer and Tim spot me from underneath was reassuring. Walking in the back of the group was great while on a snowy trail since I wouldn’t feel rushed to keep up. The snow and the loose rock mountains were also challenging because of the strain on my knees from walking sideways.

Coming back home, I wasn't used to seeing so many people. The day after we came back, I went into a bubble tea spot and it was like a rave. It was crowded, there was music blaring, lots of people talking, blenders blending... I freaked out. This is a normal day for the cafe and normally I wouldn't have flinched, but this time I did. I was so used to the tranquility of our outing. I enjoyed hearing the sounds of the wind, rain, birds, marmots, and us talking. Every night I looked forward to the sound of the rivers rushing down. It was paradise! Coming back, I've had a hard time adjusting to the noise pollution, and it's kind of sad to realize how we're so used to so much noise, be it mechanical or natural.

I'm definitely not as worried about cleanliness as I was before I went on this trip. Food on the ground and has dirt on it? Eat it. Don’t like the tap water taste? Ehhhh it's better than iodine. Who needs to shower every day, right? Being immersed in this wilderness experience changed my outlook on our everyday life. I don’t need to be unnecessarily clean all the time. I feel like I’m more “rugged”, like I found my nature self. I liked being outdoors for an extended amount of time without having so many people around. I’ve found a different type of wilderness that I haven’t grown up with, but is the iconic type of wilderness: up in mountains without others around. Growing up with a love of parks and green spaces that also occupy animals and people was a type of nature and semi wilderness that I’m familiar with. I couldn’t relate to those who talked about wilderness being a place of enlightenment. But now I’ve been to both types of wilderness/nature and can relate to both sides. While city parks encourages a peaceful mind and appreciation of nature being nearby, the National Parks and wilderness illicit a humbleness of having lived without materialistic distractions. After spending time in the wilderness, I’ve come to appreciate the simpler things. I think I’m cutting back on my technology use (phones, tv, computer, internet) and spending more time outdoors in this sunny weather while I can.

I see how society is too unnecessarily clean and how we like to waste food and water, which are precious resources. I feel more grounded after spending 9 days out in the wilderness. Even though we had fancy technology to help aid in our comfort out in the wilderness, it was still tougher than what we’re used to in the city. There is so much junk in society that really has no use or value other than entertainment or a simple desire to have it for no reason. In wilderness, we have only things that we need and use—we rid ourselves of useless artifacts. I now understand what Thoreau was feeling when he was writing Walden Pond. We have a lot of things that we are bound to and can’t live without—like phones or social media—when they aren’t really important. So many people are addicted to social media, checking it every 10 minutes or so. Social media is a great way to stay in touch, but there comes a point where people use it as a distraction and can’t get away from it. It induces a desire and want, sometimes making people feel jealous or self-conscious because of people bragging about their lives. The wilderness only induced feelings of fear, awe, wonder, excitement, tiredness, and wanting to survive. Society produces the excess feelings. And what I wonder is, do we really need all these excess feelings of greed, lust, and want? Wanting money, clothes, and new technology is good, but out in the wilderness it’s useless. Money doesn’t work in the wild. To summarize my long rambling, similar to what Thoreau has been saying, I think having a wilderness experience should be on top of most peoples’ list of things to do because it teaches a grounding humbleness and appreciation for the necessities that most people overlook in today’s society.

For a view of how little snow there was in this same place last year, check out last year's post for this day.

Coyote poop at the pass, full of bones. Probably marmot bones. Coyotes have likely become more common since the eradication of wolves in the park, and since forests have been cut right to the boundary of the park. And coyotes may be at least partly responsible for current declines in the endemic Olympic Marmot.