A Hike Back to Spring
Saturday Brian and I hiked back in time. No, we haven’t invented some marvelous time machine. We just picked a trail that started higher than where we live and hiked uphill. While it was early summer down in Bellingham, we found early spring on the Hannegan Pass trail some 40 miles up the road and 3000 feet higher in elevation. There were no other cars in the parking lot and we didn’t see anyone else along the trail, though there were a few footprints in the mud that told us others had passed this way in recent days.
Green corn lilies (Veratrum viride), just getting started, complemented masses of slide alder (Alnus viridis) in this recently-melted avalanche track. We marveled at acres and acres of this lush foliage on both sides of the trail. Later in the season these plants will be over four feet tall.
That waterfall high above the alders? It sure looked tempting for a fresh cold shower — on another and much warmer day. We’d chosen to hike on the wetter of our weekend days and decided a cold mountain shower wasn’t such a good idea, even if it were simple to clamber up to the falls (it’s not).
Smooth Yellow Violets (Viola glabella) were abundant along the trail, bright beacons on a drizzly day. Here among the violets lurked Pacific Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) — fresh, deep pink, and just coming into bloom.
There wasn’t just a single Bleeding Heart along the trail, there were great masses of them. Here, they’re clustered at the base of False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum). Lower down, along the road, the False Solomon’s Seal was already in bloom, but up here we had to look closely to see the flower buds and distinguish it from another plant with similar foliage at this early stage, Hooker’s Fairy Bells.
We timed our hike well, with a late start that avoided the morning’s rain but left sparkling droplets on the Bleeding Heart foliage. We thought back to the days when the same species was in full bloom in our Bellingham woods some two months ago.
Western Trilliums are another flower we saw in profusion, but never as thick as the Corn Lilies or Bleeding Heart. This flower, faded to deep red at the end of its bloom cycle, was nestled at the base of another group of False Solomon’s Seal stems. The Trilliums in our woods were fading to pink at the end of April.
The trail hadn’t yet been brushed out for the season due to covid-19 restrictions on people getting together, but it was in remarkably good shape. We only had to cross one fallen tree, a minor challenge with our light daypacks. We were under clouds all day, but that made for nice soft light to enjoy the flowers. Below us, Ruth Creek chattered with a rush of snowmelt crashing over rocks.
While the trail was in great shape, we encountered the usual snow bridges over some of the streams that cross it. Some of these are quite steep, requiring careful footing. It’s really not a place you want to go sliding down. I did have to clamber down one steep snowfield to retrieve a dropped lens cap.
Slide Alder (Alnus viridis) will never win awards as a hiker’s favorite tree. It’s a common species on these slopes, getting its common name from branches that bend nearly parallel to the ground as a result of snow pushing them down. If you’ve every tried to bushwhack through the stuff you’ll know why I try to avoid going through it. Here, it’s about as showy as it gets with fresh male catkins dangling below the emerging foliage.
This little white flower is Large-leaved Starwort (Moehringia macrophylla). It’s growing here with the foliage of Cascades Penstemon (Penstemon serrulatus), just getting started along the trail but in full bloom on this day in our garden.
Ferns were also just getting started. This one is American Parsley Fern (Cryptogramma acrostichoides), a common species on rocky slopes. It has deep roots that find their way down into bits of soil between and beneath the rocks. We also saw masses of Lady Ferns in tight fiddlehead state.
At our lunch stop, the high point of our hike, we looked up the Ruth Creek valley and decided there was more snow ahead than we wanted to deal with on this relaxed day.
The opposite wall of the valley is steep, the north side of Mt. Sefrit. We observed numerous fan-shaped piles of melting snow below the avalanche chutes. This time of year the snow isn’t always pretty.
Down in the valley below we could see how the changing course of Ruth Creek affected the trees growing along it. Where they’d gotten too wet, many died.
Oregon Box (Paxistima myrsinites) was in full bloom, along with the fresh foliage you can see in the photo. The flowers on this shrub, named for its resemblance to Boxwood, are tiny and hidden among the leaves. Growing among the Box are a couple of Fireweed stems and behind it is a clump of Vine Maple (Acer circinatum).
Another plant growing in profusion along the trail was Fendler’s Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum fendleri). This is about as showy as this plant ever gets.
Our real treat for the day was this patch of Glacier Lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum), right beside the trail. When we came around the corner it nearly took our breath away. The flowers were at their peak, with just a few having finished blooming and starting to set seeds, and no unopened buds in evidence.
Like everything else along the trail, the Glacier Lilies were sprinkled with glistening raindrops. The flowers are nodding at least in part to keep their sex parts dry.
We spent about four hours on our leisurely hike, traversing perhaps a bit more than a couple of miles in each direction. We could have been gung-ho to get all the way to Hannegan Pass, but in the rain and on our first mountain hike of the season we chose to go slow and enjoy the flowers. I can’t say we stopped to smell the flowers on this day since everything was so wet, but we often do that as well when we’re out hiking. If we’d been really serious about our botanizing I would have taken the WNPS plant list for the trail, which shows some 185 species along the route from the trailhead to the pass.
Even though we didn’t hike far, I carried my small Sony A6300 camera instead of my much bigger Canon. There were a couple of times I regretted not having the Canon and its choices of lenses but it sure was nice having less weight on my back or shoulder.