I am excited to be starting a new collaboration this winter right in my own backyard here in the North Cascades. Cascades Wolverine Project is a grassroots effort to boost winter wolverine monitoring in the North Cascades, capture engaging images of this elusive mountain carnivore, and leverage the skills of winter backcountry recreationists as wildlife observers and alpine stewards. Learn more about the project on our website cascadeswolverineproject.org, or follow along on instagram at @cascades_gulogulo We currently have 6 camera trap installations set up on the eastside of the North Cascades for the winter and have completed our first camera check of the season. No wolverines yet but we did get some fun photos of other North Cascades critters! Along with running camera monitoring stations we will be working on developing more opportunities for backcountry skiers to get more involved in wolverine conservation in the North Cascades!
The Pacific Northwest's mild winter has created early spring conditions in the mountains--a more stable snowpack up high and little snow at lower elevations making access to the high country easier. This weekend Cam Alford and I trekked into the edge of the Enchantment range in Washington's North Cascades to take a crack at the classic alpine mountaineering route Triple Couloirs. The route is one of several that ascends the northwest face of Dragontail Peak.
A strait forward descent around the backside of the mountain brought us back to our camp and several grueling hours of hiking on a very icy trail and gated road got us back to our car and the end of 14 hours of almost continuous movement. Beers and burgers in Leavenworth shortly there after--sorry no photos of that either.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Snow, Ice, and Rock on One of the Tallest Peaks in the North Cascades
In early June, two colleagues of mine from Northwest Outward Bound School, Trever Waage and Joel Reid, and I set off to climb the Stuart Glacier Couloir, a classic steep snow/ice and rock route on the north side of Mount Stuart, one of the tallest non-volcanic peaks in the Cascades.
In mid March, the Methow Conservancy, a land trust serving Okanogan County, hosted a Track and Sign Certification event in the Methow Valley. With the battle between winter and spring conditions in full swing, we picked our way through the melting snowpack on the eastern edge of the North Cascades, spending most of the weekend in a lovely part of the Methow called Big Valley. Signs of mountain lion were abundant along with their primary prey species in much of the Cascades, deer and beaver. Participants also had to sort out tracks and signs of squirrels, deer mice, woodrats, mink, bobcat, and other mammals as well as the tracks of flickers, geese and other bird species. Though no fresh sign of black bears having awoken from their winter torpor were apparent, historic climbing and marking signs on trees along the river were also covered during the evaluation.
Congratulations to the folks that earned Track and Sign Certificates. (For a complete list of certified trackers visit trackercertification.com)
Level 1: Susan Ballinger, Danny Nora Moloney, Gayle Grything
Level 2: Sarah Wilkinson, Mary E. Kiesau
Level 3: Nate Bacon, Kim Romain-Bondi