November 15, 2009

Olsen Creek

Filed under: Hiking — geezerwriter @ 5:03 pm

Lunch time

We hit another lucky seam in the weather on Thursday – it was actually sunny on the way up Stewart Moumtain and for a short while after we reached the clearcut at the top. I was surprised to find a pretty extensive layer of snow up there, since none was visible from below. In retrospect it shouldn’t have been surprising, as we were only a few hundred feet lower than the elevation of the White Salmon ski area, and they were open for business that day with record opening day snow depths.



At lunchtime we jealously hoarded the remaining sunshine. After the difficult slog 4.8 miles uphill through the woods we were pretty well warmed up but that didn’t last long after we got out in the open.

When I first hiked this trail only 5 or 6 years ago there were great open views to the north and east, but young trees have grown tall enough to mostly obscure them. I had to climb up the hill and onto s stump to get the shot on the right.

Clouds moved in as we came down on the new trails that have been built in the last few years by a local fellow named Einar. There are a number of trail segments connected by stretches of the old logging road. The first trail is really steep, dropping about 1100 feet in less than a mile, which puts it between Church Mt and Welcome Pass in steepness. But it passes through a dark and beautiful woods with mostly soft organic duff underfoot so it is relatively easy on the legs. There was pretty broad agreement that we weren’t eager to ever hike up this trail, even though it is a lot shorter than the way we’d come up.

At lower elevations the new trails pass through some very recent clearcuts which allow fine panoramic views of Lake Whatcom, Squalicum Lake, Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands. We should enjoy these views while we can: in a very few years it will grow up into another impenetrable Alder thicket. And with the recent political shift on the County Council we will probably see a lot more of these temporary “View Enhancement Projects”, given the likely backtracking on the conveyance of Lake Whatcom watershed timber lands to the County for parklands.


Two lonely trees remain to seed a new forest.

November 11, 2009

Oyster Dome…almost

Filed under: Geology, Hiking, North Cascades — geezerwriter @ 4:55 pm

Lummi & Orcas Islands

Does a forecast of high winds and 100% chance of rain keep us from hiking? Well, some of us, maybe. But there were eleven brave fools souls who came out for the hike to Oyster Dome and I don’t think anyone regretted doing so. Everyone was in full deluge regalia and it seemed as if it were about to rain at every moment; but it only managed a few drops now and again.


Oyster Creek

But the winds came as promised.

The weather around here is generally mild in almost every way – temperatures are moderate all year (80F is considered a “hot” day in summer and daytime temps are seldom below freezing); rain is frequent in the “winter” but is usually a gentle drizzle; and when it snows at all, it is usually less than an inch at a time (and that usually melts the same day).

But the winds! Every now and then the wind just rears up and blows and blows for days at a time. It blows down trees and rearranges your patio furniture and generally  just gets on your nerves, since you just can’t get away from it unless you have a soundproof room where you can hide out

The big fir, cedar and hemlock trees have very shallow root systems, and a very common sight in the woods is a tree trunk lying on the ground and an enormous flat disc of roots and dirt sticking straight up in the air – most people talk about trees having “root balls” but these are “root plates”! So even though we were sheltered by the forest from the direct blast of the wind most of the time on the hike, we had to hope that there would be no sudden visitors dropping onto the trail.

Oyster Cliff

Early on, we decided to skip the short hike from the main trail out to Oyster Dome. We usually get blown off that exposed rock dome and back into the woods even on a moderately windy day, so we went instead on the even shorter trail toward the so-called “Bat Caves”, thinking it might be a bit scenic but not so exposed as the dome above. No one in the group had ever spent much time there and the trail gets a bit sketchy and ill-defined, so we didn’t know whether the pile of enormous boulders that we came to was our intended destination or not. There were big cavities between and under the boulders that might have passed for caves, but Carlsbad Caverns it wasn’t.

But it was a pretty spot, with the sheer cliff rising up to Oyster Dome. I hadn’t done any geology homework before the hike, thinking that everything from Fairhaven down to Blanchard was plain the old Chuckanut Formation, mostly sandstone with some shales and such mixed in. But on the way up the trail there was a whole lot of dark, nondescript rocks along the trail that surely didn’t look like Chuckanut Sandstone, but might have been a shale. There was too much of it and it was too angular to be a glacial deposit (glacier-borne rocks are normally a mixture of types and usually polished into a more or less rounded shape). But up at the “caves” I saw what looked like quartz inclusions in some of the rocks (not unlike the stuff we saw on Anderson Mountain the week before) and that didn’t fit very well with what I’ve seen of the Chuckanut Formation elsewhere.

So when I got home I pulled up the WA state geology department online geologic map, and sure enough the valley of Oyster Creek is the dividing line between the Chuckanut Formation to the northwest and, on the Blanchard Mountain side, a patchwork of the various kinds of (mainly) metamorphic rocks that are typical up in the North Cascades (including the ever popular Darrington Phyllite, again). As far I could tell, given the lack of reference detail on the geologic map, the area around the “caves” is listed contradictorily both as “gabbro” and as “Shuksan Greenschist”. It certainly wasn’t the latter, which I know pretty well, and I thought gabbro was blacker (although I’ve never seen it up close) so more research is needed. Dangnabbit! Now I’ll have to go do that hike again! Rats!

The wind really fired up on our way down Max’s Shortcut on the windward side of the mountain, and the trees were swaying and dancing above us. When we got to the Samish Overlook , which is a popular jumping off point (literally) for parasailors who fly down onto the Samish Flats, it wasn’t windy enough to take us airborne, but it looked like Cindy was ready to try.


Or is that Thor about to send thunderbolts down on Samish Flats?

November 1, 2009

The woods were lovely, dark and deep…

Filed under: Hiking, Mining — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 12:06 am
The woods were lovely, dark and deep...

Dark and deep

With apologies to Robert Frost, the woods on Anderson Mountain were dark indeed, and we had miles to go. We had one of those steady drizzles all day which can be a bit annoying, but also adds a sheen and a richness to the foliage which almost makes one forget the freezing hands and the soggy socks.

Darrington Phyllite outcrop on the trail

Darrington Phyllite outcropping

I was taken with the many outcrops and loose chunks of the slaty gray phyllite rock that the mountain is mostly made of. It is called the Darrington Phyllite and is widespread in our area (and apparently as far away as Darrington). It is associated with the Shuksan Greenschist that forms Mount Shuksan, and we see it on lots of trails, including Goat Mountain (which is one big chunk of phyllite) and Lily and Lizard lakes.

Phyllite – a fine-grained metamorphic rock with a well-developed laminar structure, intermediate between slate and schist in degree or metamorphism.

Which is to say that it fractures along planes that are sort of slate-like, but not nearly flat enough for a blackboard or even a roofing tile. And those planes can have an almost silvery metallic shine, which is also enhanced by the rain.

This particular phyllite also has many intrusions of light-colored minerals (quartz and feldspars) that were deposited in cracks from superheated solutions that seeped up from magma chambers at some point in the rocks formation. These solutions also typically carry metals in solution, including precious ones like gold and silver as well as more mundane but valuable elements like lead. Indeed, most of the successful gold mines in the area, including the only remaining active mine, the Lone Jack near Twin Lakes, were carved into these quartz seams in the Darrington Phyllite.

Intrusion in Phyllite

Intrusion in Phyllite

But back to the hike. I have been on this hike several times with different groups, but always before we had started at the trailhead near Alger-Cain Lake Road, at an elevation of about 500′, and we’d never made it to the summit. This time, Pat had checked with the DNR and knew that we could drive from south of Alger to a trailhead at Big Stump, an enormous old cedar stump next to the road. We took a few wrong turns on our way up the logging road, but we did eventually find Big Stump. This was going to cut 1100 feet of elevation gain and about 2.5 miles off the hike, greatly increasing our chances of getting to the top.

On the other hand, it meant we would be going where I’d never been before, and that always makes me nervous. I don’t know how much of a leader I am, but I know that I am a really crappy follower. People still talk about the impromptu “Chuckanut Ridge Death March” where we tried to get from the top of the ridge to Lost Lake on the east side of the ridge by hiking steeply down the west side of said ridge. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t work out very well.) As it happened I had transferred onto my GPS a track from a previous hike, and had looked the map over pretty well and traced one road, the one that led to the summit, onto the GPS.

We followed the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) on our way up the west side of the mountain, and when we got near the summit (and near the end of my GPS route), those who had been there before agreed that we should do “The Loop”. The previous mile or so had been on a “good” logging road that bypasses the summit and continues on down the east side, ultimately emerging on Highway 9 near Wickersham. I figured that “The Loop” would mean following the PNT along an old abandoned road to the summit (which was on my GPS) and looping around and reconnecting with the “good” road (which was not) and following it back up to the start of “The Loop”.

(I should point out that the PNT, with its distinctive white blazes on the trees, continues on down the east side, following the road to Wickersham. We did not want to go that way. Really.)

So we followed the abandoned road, which curls around the summit, to its end and then started down a trail, and steeply down at that, which would loop down to the road. We stopped for lunch in a protected spot with some convenient logs for sitting, and shortly after resuming the trail abruptly ended at a road. It was headed uphill to the south – “just the ideal thing for getting back to the start of The Loop,” thought I. But it didn’t look right to Pat and he headed on down a steep slope with no suggestion of a trail – a lot of logging debris, a real mess.

I was not happy. We were already several hundred feet below the start of the loop, headed downhill in the opposite direction, and still seeing some PNT blazes – which would be good if we wanted to go to Wickersham. But we didn’t want to go to Wickersham. Really. Considering the difficulty we had had earlier just finding the trailhead, I was beginning to lose confidence in our leader. I was about ready to head back up the way we’d come, despite the very steep slog back up to the summit, and I think most of the other hikers felt the same. We held back but I went far enough to keep sight of the leaders and was just about to pack it in when Marjan called back that Pat had found a place he recognized. I was deeply reluctant to follow, since I would probably be dragging the rest of the hikers along if I did. (Did I mention that we didn’t want to go to Wickersham?)

But I have a lot of faith in Pat. He’s been around here all his life and he’s never led us very far astray. (He often gets blamed for the Chuckanut Ridge Death March, but that fiasco really belongs to someone else, who will remain nameless). So I went back and got the others, and made a deal with myself that I would try to keep my mouth shut for awhile. But if we got down to the 2500′ level I would raise hell. (We were already about 500′ below the summit (3300′) and had to get back to 3100′ at the start of The Loop.) We caught up to Pat at the road, which at least was aiming in the right direction but was still going down. Finally at about 2700′ the road turned up and after about a mile we found ourselves back up at the start of the Loop, with no casualties and none the worse for wear. Pat had been right all along – apparently some workers had been up there this summer with their Tonka trucks and had obliterated that one portion of the trail. Good ol’ DNR – you gotta love ’em!

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