Saturday, August 22, 2009

Happy Trails To You, Until We Meet Again

Faithful readers, this is my last blog entry for a couple of weeks, as I will be heading up to Washington to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Stevens Pass (near Glacier Peak, above) to Snoqualmie Pass.

The Pacific Crest Trail was the brainchild of Clinton C. Clarke, the acknowledged "father" of the PCT. A Harvard graduate, successful oilman and avid Boy Scout leader, Clarke first articulated his vision in the 1930s: a border-to-border trail along mountain ranges in California, Oregon and Washington "traversing the best scenic areas and maintaining an absolute wilderness area."

To create the PCT, Clarke recommended linking several existing trails: Washington's Cascade Crest Trail, Oregon's Skyline Trail and California's John Muir and Tahoe-Yosemite Trails. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Trail Systems Act, which named the Appalachian Trail and the PCT as the first National Scenic Trails.

Next week, I will be providing logistical support for my hiking companions -- fellow former wilderness ranger Kelly Tjaden (bottom, left) and his recently-retired better half, Lupe Marroquin -- who started the trek at the Canadian border nearly three weeks ago.

I'll be meeting them at Stevens Pass and we will repair to Owl Farm for hot showers and cold beer, and to restock supplies. Then it's back to Stevens Pass, where I will join them for the next leg of the PCT, a 75-mile trek through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to Snoqualmie Pass.

As you might expect, I'll be packing my camera. By the end of our sojourn, I should have some spectacular shots like this sunset pic I took from High Pass (above) about 30 years ago. The shot below of Kelly and me was taken on the PCT at Pear Lake back in 1979.

Happy trails, and as Lupe would say: "love the journey!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Olallie Mountain: A Berry Nice View

Just returned from my last training hike with friend Frank Czubiak before tackling a 75-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington next week. My mission: Olallie Mountain. Huckleberry bushes are a predominant ground cover along the way; indeed, "olallie" is said to be Chinook jargon for "berry."

As you can see, the views are outstanding of the Three Sisters (above, South Sister) and at least eight other significant peaks. The trail has good tread through old growth forest and flowery meadows and is a moderate climb of 1,200 feet spread over four miles to the abandoned lookout site on the summit of Olallie Mountain (elevation 5,700).

One of the last two remaining lookouts on the Three Sisters Wilderness, the building on Olallie Mountain (right) is serviceable if you're trying to avoid inclement weather, but not much more.

The windows and rangefinder are intact, but my hunch is that chipmunks and mice are the primary tenants of the old structure.

Actually, I was a little surprised that the Forest Service allows the structure to remain. Even back in the late 70s, the government had concerns about liability issues, so the Forest Service methodically conducted organized "burns" of old lookouts and other buildings like illegal "hunter cabins" located on government property.

The trail back down the mountain was particularly enjoyable because the huckleberries are in season.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cougar Mountain

Cougar Mountain (above, from Cougar Meadow) is an old lookout site on Entiat Ridge, a long crestline extending from mountains to desert in north-central Washington. Friend Frank Czubiak and I hiked the 14-mile loop trail to Cougar Mountain from the Mad River Trailhead, merely a hop, skip and a jump from Owl Farm.

As noted previously in these pages, though I spent most of my Forest Service years on the Lake Wenatchee Ranger District, I did work one summer as a ranger on the adjacent Entiat Ranger District patrolling the Mad River area, including Cougar Mountain (elevation 6,701).

Cougars are a bit of an enigma in the Northwest: seemingly common though rarely seen by humans. In all my years in the backcountry, I have seen only one cougar and that occurrence was pure luck. I was napping in the tall grass during a lunch break and when I arose, a cougar was about 10 yards away. Both of us were startled, but the cougar quickly vanished into the brush.

Cougars, also known as "pumas" or "mountain lions," have the greatest range of any large terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from the Yukon to the Andes. A stalk-and-ambush predator, a cougar is reclusive and typically avoids people. An adult cougar is about the same size as an adult human and -- like almost all cats -- is a solitary animal.

Recently, cougar attacks have increased due to expanding human populations, but these incidents occur only when a cat is acclimated to humans, or is in a condition of severe starvation. As with many predators, cougars may attack if cornered, or if a fleeing human stimulates their instinct to chase. If confronted by a cougar, it's best to exaggerate a threatening posture, utilizing intense eye contact and loud -- but calm -- shouting to make them retreat. In other words, a little "woofing" like you might find in the NBA will be in order.

By and large, however, attacks are rare and cougars do not generally recognize humans as prey. Prior to my close encounter with a cougar, the only one I had ever seen was the stuffed critter at The Cougar Inn, a local watering hole at Lake Wenatchee.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ode To The Owl, An Elegant Fowl

Just returned from a full week at Owl Farm, where I had a delightful time hiking, rafting and even cutting a bit of Lodgepole pine for transport back to Eugene.

Hiked the trails on Entiat Ridge with friend Frank Czubiak. The Mad River area is a wondrous combination of high forested ridges peppered with lush meadows filled with mountain wildflowers (more on our trip up Cougar Mountain to come).

Many have asked: why Owl Farm? Well, as noted previously in this blog, our property in Shugart Flats was dubbed "Owl Farm" by friend and former fellow wilderness ranger Kelly Tjaden because of a discarded inflatable owl found on the property.

There's also the obvious reference to Hunter S. Thompson's beloved hacienda in Woody Creek, Colorado.

But another reason for the moniker is the fact that the Northern Spotted Owl, an endangered species, is the principal reason for the demise of the timber industry in the Northwest. Toward the end of my Forest Service career in the early 80s, many of us spent time searching for these nocturnal critters to identify and document their habitat. Our working hours were just after sunset to sunrise. In Forest Service parlance, we were known as (don't laugh) "hooters."

With large heads and eyes that face forwards, owls are adept predators that hunt at night. Their eye placement gives them binocular vision and very precise depth perception. Owls cannot move their eyes within their sockets like we can. In order to look around, they have to move their entire head, which has a range of movement of about 270 degrees. Owls are at the top of the food chain; they have no major predators.

With apologies to Edward Lear, who penned "The Owl and the Pussycat," the owl is truly an elegant fowl.