Friday, September 24, 2010

Icicle Ridge, Day 2: The Mischievous Marmot

The sub-title to this post could be called "Chasing Vallindaklopf." Helmut Vallindaklopf is one of Kelly's many pseudonyms and aliases, which tend to keep the authorities at bay.

Knowing that Kelly was a late sleeper, I arose early from my camp at Middle Chain Lake and -- feeling remarkably chipper considering how much pain I was in the day before -- packed my camp and headed up the trail toward the pass to Upper Doelle Lake (above).

Reaching the pass at sunrise, I was rewarded with stunning views of Glacier Peak to the north and Mt. Hinman to the south, and to Upper Doelle Lake (with Bulls Tooth in the background below). Spotting Kelly's bright yellow tent, I signaled my arrival as he enjoyed breakfast while sunning on a large boulder.

Continuing on, we both knew the next stretch of the Icicle Ridge Trail would be tricky. On our map, the trail is marked as "not maintained." That turned out to be an overstatement. We lost the trail a number of times on this day.

After scouring the area around Lower Doelle Lake for awhile, we found what looked like the start of the trail to Frosty Pass, thanks to a couple of hikers who had come from that direction the day before. Unfortunately, they had gotten lost and had given up hope of finding Frosty Pass, returning to Lower Doelle Lake. Not a good sign.

Undaunted -- and perhaps overly confident of our backcountry skills because of our experience as USFS wilderness rangers -- we continued on. Below Lower Doelle Lake, a meadow unfolded with a blanket of wildflowers (above, with Kelly ready to break into a chorus of "The hills are alive, with the sound of music"), including Western Anemone and Giant Red Paintbrush.

The Western Wood Anemone (right), one of my favorite mountain wildflowers, is a hairy plant with finely divided leaves.

The flower is common at altitude on mountain slopes and meadows from British Columbia to the Sierra Nevada, and east to northeastern Oregon and western Montana. Also called Mountain Pasque Flower, the "Pasque" refers to Easter, blooming time of other species.

The Giant Red Paintbrush (left), also called Indian Paintbrush (or perhaps "Native American Paintbrush"), is common in mountain meadows, thickets and forest openings throughout the west.

Most Indian Paintbrush are partial parasites on other plants, their roots establishing connections with roots of other species. As a result, they are difficult to transplant or grow by seed.

From here, the trail became increasingly scarce, and at times, non-existent. I can definitely see how our friends at Lower Doelle Lake gave up. However, we were not to be denied, and after bushwhacking for a spell using a map and compass, we felt we were close.

"Just watch," I told Kelly, "we'll probably stumble onto the trail." Almost as soon as they words left my mouth, we found the clearly marked trail to Frosty Pass.

Arriving at Lake Mary for the night, we encountered a fellow traveler, who -- lacking sufficient campsites in the area, offered to share his considerable space. Lake Mary is where we encountered "Max the Mischievous Marmot" (below).

Marmots -- called "whistling pigs" by 19th century miners and trappers due to the high-pitched whistles they use to communicate -- are wilderness rodents that look like beavers but without the tail. Instead, they have very long claws for burrowing tunnels where the hibernate during the long winters in the backcountry.

Now, I have never encountered such an audacious marmot. Most are very shy; I have never been lucky enough to get a decent picture. Not Max. While setting up camp, Max raided our neighbor's camp; he had taken a day hike to Ladies Pass. Max attacked our friend's gear with gusto. He was maybe 10 yards away, fussing with his gear.

Naturally, we chased him (could be a her, though, which is why we dubbed the rodent as the adrogynous "Max"), but the critter was relentless. "Watch this," I warned Kelly, as I charged the beast. I was surprised at Max's fleetness of foot. The critter had the speed of a young Cocker Spaniel. Eventually, Max gave up.

After dinner, it started raining; we retired at the end of a long day.

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