Fall in the North Cascades: Alpine Larch

All along the high ridges and basins of the eastern slope of the North Cascades, lives a distinctive tree. The alpine larch (Larix lyallii) eeks out its existence at the very edge of tree-line in these mountains, acting as the gateway to the alpine above and the immense trees which characterize lower elevations in these mountains. Larch trees are the only conifer tree in the world that has deciduous needles and each fall the brilliant gold of these trees lights up the crisp fall air in the high mountains.

_10B5245 An alpine larch and the granite spires of Kangaroo Ridge in the North Cascades.
_10B5057 Darcy Ottey on a fall outing in the North Cascades of Washington.
_10B5086 During the fall, the limited range of alpine larch is illuminated brilliantly all along the edge of treelike in the high country.
_10B5229 At the lower elevations in their range alpine larch blend with subalpine fir and Engelmenn spruce.
_MG_7307 A grove of alpine larch below the snow covered north face of Frisco Peak and the Lyle glacier.
_10B5297 A few alpine larch dot the upper reaches of Early Winters Creek with the iconic Liberty Bell massif beyond.

_10B5190 _10B5225 _10B5249 _10B5266 _MG_7311

Back to where it all began…Alpine climbing in the Alps

I have been lucky enough to spend the end of August climbing in the French Alps out of the town of Chamonix with my friends Erin Smart and Forest McBrian, owners and guides for Borealis Mountain Guides. Erin, who has been skiing and climbing in the French Alps since she was a teenager provided me with a brilliant introduction to the climbing culture of the area. Having known Forest for many years and his love of all things related to the art of Alpinism and most things French, it was a pleasure to finally experience the mountains which I had heard about from his stories–mountains which have inspired generations of world class alpinists including Forest (whose exploits include first ascent mountaineering routes and first descent ski mountaineering routes, as well as a burgeoning writing career including a recent article in Alpinist on the famed Pickets Range in the North Cascades).

Mountaineering, European Style

Having come of age in the mountains of western North America, reading about the exploits of John Muir and Fred Becky, I always assumed that suffering through long approaches, doing battle with dense brush, brutal mosquitoes, crossing raging snowmelt filled creeks was part of the entrance fees for access to the splendor of the high mountains. Here in Europe, there is a bit of different sensibility. Approaches are manicured, ladders and footholds are added to the landscape to expedite travel, cable cars provide access from the valley bottom to the heart of the glacier in minutes, beautiful helicopter serviced mountain huts await with wine or tea to be had on the deck at the end of a day of climbing followed by 3 course dinners and a cozy place to spend the night. And just beyond the hut, or the exit from the lift, lays some of the most stunning mountain scenery and stellar alpine climbing routes of anywhere in the world.

_10B3429 Erin Smart heads out on the snow arete leading away from the Aguille du Midi. Amazingly enough this photo was taken just a few meters from where the lift drops tourists, climbers and skiers off, leaving right from the town of Chamonix. One minute I was on the street eating a fresh pastry from a local bakery and 15 minutes later I found myself in some of the most stunning alpine terrain I have traversed in my life.
_10B3521 Erin navigating fresh snow on the Cosmiques arete, a classic climbing route on the west side of the Aguille du Midi.
_10B3506 Erin smart leading out on mixed terrain.
_10B3619 At 4810 meters (15,781 feet), Mount Blanc is the highest peak in the Alps. Clouds stream off of the lee side of the heavily glaciered peak.

_10B3710

Mere de glace panorama The Mere de Glace glacier flows down off of Mount Blanc and the surrounding peaks. While still miles long, the thickness of the glacier has shrunk dramatically over recent decades…an example of the shifting climate in the region.
IMG_7116 Erin Smart on the trail into the Envers Hut, situated above the Mere du Glace.
IMG_7262 Situated in an almost fairy tale like setting, the Envers des Aguilles Hut, managed by the French Alpine club provides lodging and food for climbers.
IMG_7136 Mountain guide  Miles Smart at a belay on a route above the Envers hut.
_10B3902 Forest McBrian examines the Eperon des Cosmiques route before our ascent.
_10B3987 Forest McBrian leading out on a traversing pitch lower on the route.
_10B4044 Erin getting into the crux moves of the route, a series of cracks leading through a large roof.
_10B4034 Erin pulling over another thoughtful move on the same crux pitch of the route.
_10B4132 Forest wandering up through a series of cracks in beautiful granite towards the top of the route.
Mount Blanc Panorama The view from a belay stance on the route. Mount Blanc in the background.

Mountaineering, Glaciers and Climate Change in the North Cascades

In August, Darcy Ottey and I went to explore a corner of the North Cascades we had never been to: the high peaks and glaciers just above the the south end Diablo reservoir, off of the North Cascades Scenic Highway in northern Washington State. After years of seeing Colonial Peak from the Highway when driving through, we picked what turned out to be a stormy summer week to venture into the area.

_10B3110 Darcy Ottey on the approach to the Colonial Glacier cirque. Colonial Creek falls off to the left with Colonial Peak above it.

An arduous approach

Hours of grinding up a steep but established climbers route through lower and mid elevation forests eventually popped us out above treeline on glacier carved slabs along a ridgeline leading towards Pyramid Peak. From hear a short traverse across talus and old avalanche debris got us to the entrance to a glaciated citadel of mountains—the upper Colonial Creek cirque.

_10B3231 Camp on the edge of the recently formed lake at the terminous of the Colonial glacier.
_10B3340 A blanket of clouds cover lower elevations in the North Cascades with high peaks sitting like islands in the sea at sunrise. The image is similar to how these mountains often appeared during the ice age when glaciers often covered lower elevations in much the same way.

_10B3353

A dynamic landscape

Not surprisingly, when we reached where the map noted the snout of the Colonial glacier should be we found no ice. The glacier, like most glaciers in the North Cascades (and indeed across the planet), has receded significantly. Nearly a quarter mile up stream we found the new terminus of the glacier, where it ends in a newly exposed lake, in a depression carved out by the glacier and now filled with melt water and icebergs—detached chunks of the crumbling glacier. Thunderstorms roiled a we elected to avoid campsites on the exposed rock prow above the lake, instead choosing to set up camp on the only flat spot we could find adjacent to the lake.

_10B3260 Receeding glaciers leave behind moonscapes of scoured bedrock covered with piles of rubble and rock flour.
_10B3264 Glacial ice exposed at the very top of the Colonial glacier (upper left of this photo) suggests that this glacier no longer has an accumulation zone. Under current conditions, it is just a matter of time before the glacier disappears completeley–perhaps within the next several decades.
_10B3309 Current maps show glacial ice extending much further down then where the actual terminous of the glacier is now. The retreat of the glacier has created this newly formed lake. Chunks of glacial ice still float in the lake, demonstrating how quickly this landscape is changing due to shifts in the climate.
_10B3311 Glacial lakes such as this one are filled with large amounts of ground rock powder giving the water a dark milky green appearance.
_10B3243 Earth, sky and water merge with a heavy fog sitting over the snow and ice choked glacial lake.

_10B3246 Lifting fog reveals hidden peaks.

Inclement weather dashed our plans for several peak climbs but did not deter us from venturing further south, over the Colonial glacier and onto the Neve glacier.

_10B3267 The vast exapanse of one of the largest glaciers in the North Cascades, the Neve Glacier with Snowfield Peak sitting at its head, on the left side of the frame. Seen from the Neve-Colonial glaicer col.
Darcy Ottey descending onto the Neve Glacier as a cloud rols over the glacier. Darcy Ottey descending onto the Neve Glacier as a cloud roles over the glacier.
Heading into a cloud on the glacier. Heading into a cloud on the glacier.
_10B3280 On the broad expanse of the glacier, the peaks and landmarks disappear leaving an eerie world with land and sky blending together into a world of white.
_10B3266 Paul Bunyon’s Stump, Pinnicle, and Pyramid peaks from Colonial-Neve glacier col.
_10B3319 Looking north from the area into the upper Skagit river valley. Ross Lake, a large reservoir built to provide hydro-electric power for the city of Seattle is a more obvious sign of our species quest for energy then the retreating glaciers of the region but both reflect the long reach of modern human’s influence on even the most wild and rugged landscapes in the world.
_10B3362 Descending into the clouds from the glacial cirque back into the forests of the North Cascades.
_10B3371 Sections of forests on the western slope of the North Cascades get enough precipitation to qualify as temperate rainforest. Only 10,000 years ago these slopes likely appeared much like the higher elevations do now, having just been released from retreating glaicers which filled the mountains and flowed down into the ocean. Climate models predict these mountains to get warmer and wetter in the decades to come. Glaciers will retreat and forests will advance unslope in an ongoing advance of forests through these mountains which began millenia ago.

Tribal Canoe Journey to Bella Bella

Qatuwas 2014: Paddle to Bella Bella

This July I had the pleasure of joining the Learn and Serve Environmental Anthropology Field School (LEAF School) as a guest instructor on a service learning program. We joined the Blue Heron Canoe Family on their canoe expedition from the Puget Sound in northern Washington all the way to Bella Bella on the central coast of British Columbia. The LEAF School is a program of Edmonds Community College run by Dr. Thomas Murphy. I joined the journey about midway up the eastern coast of Vancouver Island.

Each year, indigenous nations from up and down the Northwest Coast of the United States and Canada, as well as first nations with canoeing traditions from the interior of the region and beyond (this year’s journey included several Maori people from New Zealand as well as a number of Hawaiians!) travel by canoe, often from their traditional territories to a common destination. Begun in 1989, this is a powerful celebration of the canoeing tradition. This years destination was the Heiltsuk Nation, whose primary village is the town of Bella Bella (Waglisla in Heiltsuk).

_MG_9551 Members of the Blue Heron Canoe family and students of the LEAF school paddle the canoe along the shores of an island on the central coast of British Columbia.

_MG_9675

_10B1225 Along the route to Bella Bella, canoe families were often hosted for dinner and celebration by the nation whose traditional territory they passed. Here, members of about 20 canoes and their support boats came ashore and were hosted by the Wuikinuxv First Nation in a bay called Open Bight on the mainland coast of British Columbia.
_10B1245 Meals often included traditional foods such as salmon and many other foods from the sea.
_10B1218 Salmon cooking over an open fire in a traditional methods using split cedar to secure the fish.
_10B1751 Before coming ashore, a ceremonial landing often took place. The most elaborate landing protocol at the end when all 42 of this years canoes landed in Bella Bella. Each canoe presented its self and asked for permission to land and share songs and dances with the hosts. The request was responded to with a heartfelt welcome.
_MG_9978 Skipper and canoe-builder Michael Evans presents Blue Heron Canoe of the Snohomish people, at the landing ceremony in Bella Bella.
_10B9711 In the evenings, after landing in a new host nation’s territory and enjoying a meal provided by the hosts, each tribe would share songs and dances with the hosts. This evening, in the territory of the Namgis, was hosted in their beautiful long house in Alert Bay, British Columbia.

_10B9737_10B9798_10B9834_10B2010_10B1954A canoe is more than a simple boat

Canoes are treated with a great deal of respect as they function not just as a vehicle to move people but as a vessel of culture. The journey is an opportunity for each tribe to celebrate and rejuvenate its unique cultural relationship to the land, sea, and human neighbors.

_10B0623_10B0691_10B0311_10B0280_10B0258Cultural uses of plants and animals

Besides participating in canoeing and cultural activities, students in the class learned about traditional uses of plants and animals along the route.

_10B0483
 Dr. Murphy explains the identity of a crab found in the intertidal zone close to Fort Rupert, British Columbia.
_10B0819 Exploring a remote beach in Cape Scott Provincial Park on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

An amazing journey through a landscape rich in natural and cultural beauty

With years of exploring the Pacific Northwest, I can honestly say this journey was one of the most amazing opportunities I have had to deepen my appreciation and understanding of the people and landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, an opportunity I feel very grateful for.

_MG_9926_MG_9809_MG_9904_MG_0143_MG_0082_10B1599_10B0795_10B0355_10B0181

A week at home in the Methow Valley.

With a bit more than a week at home between expeditions this June, besides catching up on emails and the odds and ends of keeping “the rest of my life” rolling, I managed to get a few outings done in my backyard here in the Methow Valley. These included a day of climbing with friends, a solo traverse of some of the local high country, retrieving remote camera’s I had out for a bit over a month while I was gone, and an evening in a makeshift blind at a local beaver pond close to the Methow River. Here are a few of the images from my week….

Wildlife

_MG_9109 A brief pause for a very flighty creature.
_MG_9172 Supper on the water.
EK000085 Female and cub black bears inspecting a well traveled game trail.
EK000795 A mountain lion passing along the same trail at night.
EK000285 A wolf investigating along a lightly traveled forest road.
_MG_9264 Some one doesn’t need any notification that the Saskatoon berries are coming on here in the valley!

Wandering and Climbing in the North Cascades

IMG_6643 Vasiliki Ridge, Silver Star Peak, and Snagtooth Ridge as seen from the base of the base of Big Kangaroo Mountain…one of my favorite parts of the North Cascades.
Cedar Creek 8 Looking down into the upper stretch of Cedar Creek and towards the peaks of the northern Sawtooth range on the eastern edge of the North Cascades, Washington.
IMG_6392 Ryan Audett taped up and racked up for a pitch on First Ammendment on the formation known as “Le Petite Cheval” in the Early Winters Creek Drainage.
IMG_6496 Josh Cole reviews the route description as Ryan sets off on another pitch of the route. Liberty Bell and the road cut of the North Cascades Scenic Highway can be seen in the distance.
IMG_6488 Ryan peers around the corner sorting out the best line on a route none of us had done previously.
Willow Basin 7 Looking down the Willow Creek Basin towards Early Winters Creek and the North Cascades Scenic Highway, framed by Kangaroo Ridge and the Silver Star Massif beyond.

OR7 Expedition: Mission Accomplished!

Mission Accomplished!

Just a few days ago I my team and I stepped off the trail, at the end of over a month of biking and hiking at the southern end of wolf OR7’s current home range. Over the weeks prior we traversed over 1000 miles on foot and bike, retracing the route this wolf took dispersing from where it was born in the Wallawa mountains of northeastern Oregon to northern California and back up into southwestern Oregon. Along the way we met numerous fascinating people whom live, work, and play in the landscapes OR7 traversed, observed bountiful wildlife, slept out under the stars and tried to experience the lands we passed through as the wolf might have.

Sunrise over the Zumwalt Prairie in Wallawa County Oregon, part of the home range of OR7's natal pack. Sunrise over the Zumwalt Prairie in Wallawa County Oregon, part of the home range of OR7’s natal pack.
Huricanne creek and Sacajawea Peak in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallawa Mountains, Oregon. Huricanne creek and Sacajawea Peak in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallawa Mountains, Oregon.
Crossing the upper Imnaha river on a log jam in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon. Jay Simpson crossing the upper Imnaha river on a log jam in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon.
Tracks of a lone wolf in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon. Tracks of a lone wolf in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon.
Galeo Saintz pedels towards the sunset on a quite road in northeastern Oregon. Galeo Saintz pedels towards the sunset on a quite road in northeastern Oregon.
Rachael and Jay rolling through the pine forests of northern California. Rachael Pecore and Jay Simpson rolling through the pine forests of northern California.
Stars over Mount Mcloughlin, in the southern Oregon Cascades. Stars over Mount Mcloughlin, in the southern Oregon Cascades.
Sunrise on Mount Shasta. Sunrise on Mount Shasta.
Jay Simpson nears to top of a pass in the Oregon Cascades. Jay Simpson nears to top of a pass in the Oregon Cascades.
_10B5747 Galeo Saintz powers through some high grass on the edge of a wetland in northern California close to the Oregon border.
Sunrise over Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Sunrise over Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.
lava flow in Modoc National forest, California. A large ponderosa pine on the edge of an old lava flow in Modoc National Forest, California.
Stars fill the night sky in sparsely populated northeastern Oregon. Stars fill the night sky in sparsely populated northeastern Oregon.
_10B5847 The expedition crew a few days before the end of the route.

More Stories to Come!

With the expedition complete the team is now turning its attention to production of a wide variety of educational materials to help share the stories from our trip and create a forum for community dialogue around coexistence with large carnivores. Read more about the details of our trip and forthcoming materials at or7expedition.org.

Thanks to our many supporters, and sponsors including Xplore and Sculpt the Future Foundation. Learn about all the many people and organizations that helped make this expedition a success here.

Big Cats, Big Roads, and Beachfront: Out and About with the Santa Cruz Puma Project

In February I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in the field with the Santa Cruz Puma Project, an ongoing research program based out of University of California Santa Cruz. Along with learning about the general biology and ecology of mountain lions, researchers and graduate students are looking specifically at how these large cats interact with human populations, neighborhoods, and roads.

_10B0489 The San Francisco Bay area is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States but still includes a matrix of open spaces and wild lands that mountain lions have managed to carve out an existence in.
_10B0327 The primary study area for the project is the Santa Cruz mountains which run south from San Francisco. Plant communities range from redwood forests to arid chaparral and oak woodlands.
_10B9987 On the eastern edge of the Santa Cruz mountains, residential areas intermix with parklands and forested mountains creating a fragmented landscape that mountain lions travel through carefully.
_MG_8713 In order to get detailed information on the movements of mountain lions, the project live captures mountain lions and attaches a GPS collar to them.
_10B9594 Hounds are used to track the cat which typically climb a tree to evade the dogs. Researchers can anesthetize the mountain lion, give it a physical exam and secure a radio collar to the cat. Here roundsman Dan Tichenor  has just released one of his hounds on the fresh trail of a mountain lion.
_MG_8747 Treed mountain lion in a Pacific madrone tree.
_10B9901 Besides a GPS unit, the collars also include a radio signal transmitter which researchers can use to get close enough to the cat to wirelessly download data from the collar. Other collars have a transmitter which allows GPS data to be transmitted via cell service. All of the lions in the project with these collars are currently on a family plan I was told (seriously!). Here wildlife biologist Paul Houghtaling is attempting to locate a collared cat in a large stand of redwood trees.
_10B9965 Once the data has been collected from the collar’s the detailed geographic information collected can be used to address a wide variety of research questions.
_10B9811 One big question that the project is studying is about the diet of mountain lions and specifically where on the landscape they are hunting in relationship to various habitat types and levels of human presence on the landscape. Here field technician Chris Fust has used information from a collared cat to discover the remains of a deer killed by the mountain lion.
_10B9627 Another topic of great interest to the project and numerous other conservationists in the area are the effects of roads and highways on mountain lions ability to move around the region. I spent a day out in the field with Tanya Diamond (pictured here) and Ahiga Snyder from Pathways For Wildlife whom are studying wildlife crossings of numerous roads in the region.
_10B9609 Researcher Ahiga Snyder servicing a remote camera at a break in a fence adjacent to Highway 1 which wildlife have been using to access the roadway.
_10B0191 Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from Wilder State Park just north of Santa Cruz California. Stunning natural beauty has drawn hundreds of thousands of people to the San Francisco Bay area for decades creating the current challenges the region is facing to conserve local wild lands and wildlife but also a human population deeply invested in the outcome.

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Wildlife In the Methow Valley, Viewed Remotely

This winter I have been running remote cameras of mine, and assisting the Ray Robertson and the United States Forest Service with the deployment of several others in various locations around the Methow Valley here in north central Washington. Remote cameras are considered a non-invasive research method, as they provide a means to monitor wildlife without having to handle or even directly observe them. Remote cameras greatly increases the amount of time we can monitor a location and also reduces our impact on the species we are studying by limiting the amount of time we are actually in the field in their habitat. Remote cameras, if set thoughtfully can also provide beautiful images that both document various species of wildlife while also illustrating their relationship to their environment and each other. Here is some of what we have been finding this winter here on the eastern slope of the North Cascades.

EK000077 Mule deer, such as these two are one of the most conspicuous species of wildlife in the Methow Valley and show up in camera sets in many low elevation camera traps around the valley.
EK000137 A young mountain lion explores the same location where the deer from the previous image had visited earlier. Other images from this camera captured both this lion and its mother in the same location.
EK000032 An adult mountain lion sniffs at the buried remains of a deer which had been cached about a week before by either himself or possibly another lion that uses this area. After inspecting the area briefly, this lion moved on without retrieving anything of the buried carcass.
EK001369 Golden eagle and black-billed magpie feeding on the remains of this same carcass which had been excavated by a bobcat several days earlier. In this image I had the camera looking down on the sight from an overhanging tree branch.
EK003643 A group of river otters bounds along the banks of the Methow River. I set this camera at a location where I had found sign of a number of species of wildlife and the set also captured images of mountain lion, deer and beaver.
EK000016 A photo of myself. As part of setting a camera trap I will trigger the camera and then inspect the images it is capturing to make sure the focal area of the camera is capturing the area I am interested in. Behind me is the remains of a mule deer that had been killed and consumed by wolves several weeks earlier. Here I am using the carcass as an attractant to draw carnivores into the range of the camera.
EK000165 A pair of coyotes inspecting the carcass. They scent marked the area and then left without scavenging on the carcass.
EK000086 This bobcat was more interested in getting a meal out of the deer carcass!
EK001048 Even after many other visitors, a hungry wolf returned to the carcass to feed on the bones and hide that remained.

PICT0086 A mule deer buck captured on a Forest Service camera set by Ray Robertson and I in a location we had found tracks of wolves.
PICT0199 A daytime image from the same camera. The short ears and stocky muzzle of this animal identify it as a wolf.
PICT0074 Several weeks later, this coyote was captured at the same location, identified by its more slender build and narrow snout.
IMG_5431 Remote camera set targeting wolves and mountain lions along a game trail. For this camera set I am anticipating the travel route of these species through my interpretation of their tracks and knowledge of how they typically travel through this particular location. I expect that I will also get photos of mule deer, and coyotes as well as possibly bobcats and red squirrels. Will keep you posted on how this one turns out…its out there right now!

Productive remote camera traps aren’t just created by sticking a camera up just anywhere in the woods. It requires careful observation of tracks and signs, knowledge of the target species biology and ecology, how to use natural and imported attractants, as well as specific tricks on how to get the most out of the equipment you are using in the field. Click here to learn more about remote cameras and other non-invasive wildlife research methods. David Moskowitz provides custom trainings on many of these methods and consulting services for projects looking to employ them effectively and efficiently in the field.

A Night Out, Methow Valley Style

Winter nights are long in the rural Methow Valley, tucked away on the eastern edge of the North Cascades. Here are few shots from a recent overnight trip to a local summit.

Starlight on the North Cascades…3897 second exposure. Starlight on the North Cascades…3897 second exposure, 12 degrees Fahrenheit.
Big Dipper over WInthrop Washington. Big Dipper over WInthrop Washington.
_MG_8457 Stars circling around Polaris, the North Star.
_10B8565 Low clouds sit over the valley at the first light of the day.
_10B8620 Low clouds cover the Methow Valley as the first light of the day hits the high peaks of the Pasayten Wilderness on the eastern edge of the North Cascades.
_10B8615 First light on Oval Peak, one of the highest summits the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness.
_10B8617 Reynolds Peak, another one of the high summits in the Sawtooth Wilderness, and often a climbing objective for students on mountaineering courses through the Northwest Outward Bound School which has a basecamp in the Methow Valley.

Check out more of my Landscape Images from the Methow and far beyond.

 

Just interested in images from the North Cascades? My image collection is searchable by keyword. Check it out! Custom Prints Available.

Radio Interview on Radio West

On November 21, I joined Radio West, a weekday radio show of KUER 90.1, a Utah based public radio station to talk about the historical and current role of wolves in the American west. Listen to the full show here: Return of the Wolves

 

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