October 17, 2010

Goats, but no ptarmigans

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 4:08 pm
Earl on the trail

Earl on the trail

On a nippy Saturday morning Earl and I headed out the Ptarmigan Ridge trail, in hopes of finding some members of the species Oreamnos Americanus, commonly called the Rocky Mountain Goat, or just Mountain Goat, as they are native to the Cascades as well as the Rockies. Our senior hiking group had hiked this trail just a few weeks ago but this is one hike that never gets old, and I was more than happy to accompany Earl on his quest.

Hoar frost filaments

Hoar frost filaments

The sky was perfectly clear and the sun blazing bright, but the temperature had only made it up into the low 30’s when we started, and there was some fresh snow on nearby peaks. We were treated to a preview of one of the more delightful aspects of winter in the mountains – hoar frost (or rime). I’d seen hoar frost just a few times in a previous lifetime in the midwest, where it occurs when damp, foggy air contacts trees or power lines that are below freezing. It really amounts to a form of frozen dew and requires a combination of the frozen and the unfrozen that is not common in most places.

But up here in these mountains in the winter, where there is lots of damp air, especially at night, and almost daily cycles of freeze and thaw, the rime grows into long crystalline filaments of ice, forming bizarre patterns and formations. (In the pictures on the left the crystals are almost two inches long and maybe 1/10 inch thick.) In another place, the crystals had lifted the top layer of soil right off the ground – each filament had a little bit of dirt or a small stone attached to it.

Mountain Goats

Oreamnos americanus

Winter is a’coming in – and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Viva la Niña!

We found the goats about three miles out, at just about the same place where we saw some in September, as chronicled on DJan Stewart’s excellent blog. They were just lying in the sun, soaking up the rays. When we came back a couple of hours later they had moved a few yards, but were sprawled out again. You’d think they’d be ferociously gobbling up the foliage before the snow flies in earnest, but what do I know?

Glacier Peak

Glacier Peak

Did I mention that it was clear? This is one of the few places that affords a good view of Glacier Peak, another volcano about the same size as Mount Baker, but almost 60 miles away, as the crow flies. I had never before seen it so crisp and detailed. You could also just barely make out the tip of  Mount Rainier, about 100 miles away.

View from base of Coleman Pinnacle

View from base of Coleman Pinnacle

The snow patches that gave us some trouble in September are mostly gone now, and not a moment too soon – there is a couple of inches of fresh snow in places.

Crater vapor

Crater vapor

We stopped for lunch at the end of the maintained trail, on the west side of Coleman Pinnacle, and soaked up the view. I noticed a filmy cloud stretching out from the side of Baker and got up to get a better look – often the first clouds to appear on such a clear day form a cap on the very top of Grant Peak, the main summit. But this streak seemed to be coming from the notch between Grant and Sherman peaks, the site of the active volcanic crater. I had seen the occasional little wisp of steam in this crater, but this deserved to be called a plume. Was it steam, or just a cloud that coincidentally ended at the crater?

The hike back was uneventful and gorgeous, getting prettier by the moment as the shadows lengthened. There were many other visitors, both human and canine, enjoying the day with us; they were still coming out as we got back at 4:00 and the parking area at Artist Point looked like the used car lot at the Subaru dealer. So, not exactly a wilderness experience, but it is nice to see people of all sorts and shapes and sizes, all grinning from ear to ear in the sunshine.

I’ll end with a picture that I grabbed as a cloud momentarily blocked the glare and allowed me to shoot almost straight into the sun.

Baker in the fading day

Baker in the fading day


1 Comment »

  1. Eeeek! What a gorgeous last shot that is, Al. I am so jealous. But frankly I am still recovering and pretty well medicated with cough suppressants and expectorants in order to get a good night’s sleep tonight. Glad to see the pictures, though. Are we maybe going on a Tuesday adventure? If so, I want to be on it, and I PROMISE to be well enough by then!

    Comment by DJan — October 17, 2010 @ 5:10 pm

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