Thursday, July 21, 2016

Day 8: Cameron Basin to Grand Valley

By Jacob Wessel

Only two more days.  It's mornings like the one we had on day eight that make you never want to leave the unfathomable beauty we found in this basin.  The night before we decided not to descend further into the glacial trough as it would become too buggy to enjoy the sites around us.  Instead, we stayed right at the bottom of the first of a few gradual steps and in the cirque, a basin carved by a glacier with walls on three sides.  We woke up earlier this morning than we had any other morning at six am and popped our heads out of our tents to find ourselves on a flat expanse of smooth gravel, gracefully intertwined with glacially fed streams.  I wrote in my journal that "the basin walls were slowly illuminated by the rising sun.  It slowly lowered itself down the West wall really giving you a sense of scale and how incredibly large this place was.  The immense amount of weight and sheer force required to excavate an area on this scale is mind blowing." As we got ready this morning, we watched a helicopter fly over that we were convinced was for the annually goat survey, which is in place to keep track of the non-native goat population in the park.  Lucas and I tore our tent down in record time and then waited another hour and a half for everyone else to do the same.  When we left,  and went down the first descent to the next step in the chain, we were swarmed by mosquitoes.  I was under the impression that there were only mosquitoes like this in Alaska but unfortunately I was wrong.  For the rest of the morning, if we merely slowed down to take in the view, there would be five or six of these bloodthirsty monsters swarming your face and neck.

Cameron basin, where we slept between day seven and eight and had the opportunity to watch the stars and the sun rise

Mimulus tilingii (Mountain Monkey Flower)

After our first descent to the second of many stair like structures, the streams grew in numbers as did the mosquitoes
Rana cascadae (Cascades frog).  As we were walking along the trail which paralleled on of the many streams, something moved and caught my eye.  This little guy dove into to the water and tried to hid underneath some of the grass that was hanging over the stream.
Trail disappears into the willow underbrush

Kate showing the size of this incredibly old yellow cedar

Tim had the habit of telling us how easy the day was going to be compared to the day before and correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that was the case a single day of the trip.  Every day was difficult for everyone in its own unique way and yet we were able to keep moral high the entire trip.  During day eight, I slipped and fell into the first stream we crossed.  No big deal, just change my boots and socks and then keep moving.  The next stream we cross again, I slipped in and this time decided that my running shoes would probably dry faster than my boats and I kept trudging.  This picture immediately above was the group as we made our way up to Grand pass where we ate lunch and meet up with Linda and Steve, the reporter and photographer who were doing a piece on the centennial celebration of the park.  On the way up we saw one of my favorite flowers, the indian paintbrush which is red and is shaped in the sporadic leafing with interjections of yellow.  Once at the pass, we ate our last lunch on the trail and played some cards while a few of us were interviewed.  We then summited Grand peak where we compared pictures of the Lillian glacier from the early 1900s to now.  This was difficult because it was extremely cloudy that afternoon, but we did get a few breaks.  Up at the top of the peak we also found Flett's violet, a rare species endemic to the Olympic National Park, and vulnerable to climate change because it already is growing as high as it can go. As climate warms it may be outcompeted by lower elevation species moving up hill.

Viola adunca growing among the leaves of silver-leaf phacelia.

The endemic Piper's bellflower blooming near Grand Pass.

The Lillian Glacier, or what remains of it (still covered by last winter's snowpack which makes it hard to see where the glacial ice actually is). Click here to see historical photos, and to compare to last year's photo of the last bit of remaining glacial ice visible in last year's low snow year. The Lillian Glacier likely built up in the "Little Ice Age" 500-200 years ago, and began melting around 200-100 years ago. Anthropogenic climate change has caused a dramatic increase in melt, however. The glacier is still shown on 1970s maps, but is virtually entirely gone today.

Steve Ringman and Lynda Mapes join us on top of Grand Peak.

Viola flettii (flett's violet)
Viola flettii (flett's violet)

The Olympic Marmot in his home habitat.

When we finally decided to come down from the pass, we were treated with some amazing views of small alpine lakes.  The dotted the valley floor and were littered with boulders that were moved their during the last ice age by the glaciers that inhabited the basin.  When we did finally reach our destination, Moose lake, we came in contact with more people than we had seen for the past eight days.  We set up camp in the group site that we reserved and started on dinner.  Moose lake is a popular destination for day hikers because it is only about four miles from the parking lot of our final destination.  That night we made Spanish rice and butter noodles for dinner and ended our last night with a discussion with Lynda and Steve.  We talked about the importance of wilderness, something we will miss, something we are excited for, something we will never want to do again, and then ended with our best moments from the trip.  This was a weird discussion for us and not everyone participated as much as previous nights.  Its hard to talk about your feelings and make something up on the spot when you have a camera in your face and every word will be etched in stone for eternity. After the discussion, the bugs were so bad that we all decided it would be best to just go to bed.


1) Favorite Memories

            It took until day three, but my favorite memory of the course and something I will cherish for the rest of my life is how close our group got so quickly when we didn’t have our cell phones and no one else to talk to.  Now I know that almost sounds like we had a gun to our heads, but it was so much more than that.  We could have spent the entire week, curled in our tent or alone during the hikes refusing to try and hold a conversation with someone.  There was not a single soul in the group though that followed this train of thought however.  To say that we all got along and had friendly conversations is an understatement.  Never before have I felt so accepted by a group of people that I had only known for three days that made me feel like I had known them for years.  On the seventh day, we climbed the ridge into Cameron Basin and huddled like penguins while Tim Tim’d and Kramer tried desperately to figure where we were supposed to go in the choking fog.  We stood there, took pictures of each other, and howled with laughter.

2) Challenges
            Two days after being home I flew from Seattle to Portland to see my family before they left for a family reunion that I would not be able to go to since I had an upcoming class.  A day after I arrived I drove back to Seattle and then a day later I left to go to Chelan for the weekend because I didn’t have much better to do for the hot summer weekend.  When we first got out to the Olympics I remember coming back to civilization and feeling eternally at peace; nothing could make me upset and nothing could ruin my day.  A day in a busy airport during the summer, two incredibly long drives, and classes coupled together have beat away my internal peace.  I don’t find myself reminiscing about Dose meadows as much as I had when we first got back.  This upsets me and is something I don’t want to lose.  It was so incredibly relaxing and has been hard for me during this transition.

3) Changes

            You spend 9 days without your phone accepting and appreciating the wilderness and get thrown back into a society that is a stark contrast to what you want it to look like.  This experience has opened my eyes to the incredible amount of waste that I produce and the incredible amount of waste that our society as a whole produces.  It has also helped me think critically about the way my friends and family think about wilderness and shown me how they treat it.  Unfortunately, this experience hasn’t been positive and since the trip I have been really trying to make a bigger impact on the environment and trying to teach those around me the importance of preserving this pristine place.

4) Takeaways

            I can do anything that I set my mind to no matter what it is.  Anyone can do anything they set their mind to.  Shout out to all of the girls on this trip; y’all were troopers.  We gained and lost A LOT of altitude over those 9 days.  Don’t sell yourself short that we only did 50-ish miles you did it.  I think this is a great take home message even though it might not be the most important.  I think I already explained the most important take home message above and to me, that was that we were able to break through my stubborn shell and show me how important it is to take care of our wilderness areas and how big of an impact one person can have on our earth.