Royal Basin

In between finishing my dissertation and planning for an international move, we squeezed in a weekend trip to Royal Lake in Olympic National Park. I haven’t done a lot of backpacking, so the 7+ miles up with a pack was a big push for me (not to mention the return 7+ miles down, feeling every step!) The whole trip was stunning, and absolutely worth the effort.

The trail started in mossy forest, which sported funky fungi along the path, and followed along the noisy waters of Royal Creek. After some climbing, it opened out to rocky slopes and bits of late fall color (mostly vine maple, ocean spray, and slide alder). A few more miles and switchbacks to Royal Lake, at about 5100 feet. We set up camp here and climbed pack-free another 600 feet to the Royal Basin area, which features the rough peaks of Mount Deception, Mount Clark, and the Needles range rising above rocky mountain meadows. The crowning glories were the blue glacier-formed tarn, and the slim crescent moon hovering just above the ridge.

After a decidedly cold night, the return trip featured the sun creeping in to frosty meadows, calming time on mossy trails, and some final eye-catching mushrooms.

Subalpine Wanderings

Five years ago, I took a hike off of Obstruction Point Road, in Olympic National Park. It was one of my top ten favorite hikes, with spectacular wildflowers interspersed with gnarled fir trees and snowy-splashed peaks. Last month I returned, hiking the Badger Valley loop with some wonderful naturalists. The 8.5 mile trail includes 2500 feet of elevation change (first down and then back up again!) through plant communities ranging from meadows to forest to alpine. I also got to see many of my favorite flowers: columbines, lupines, penstemons, larkspur, tiger lilies, and the bizarre elephant-head flower. Also orchids, two grouse, and corn lilies (one of the most “violently poisonous” flowers in Washington, according to my field guide), and Mount Olympus.


Mini-lecture of the day: cloud forests

We went to a highland tropical forest today. When I say highland forests (that is, a forest up on a mountain) perhaps you imagine somewhere dry and cold, with packed soil and sparse vegetation.

Try again. Think wet–clouds of mist that frequently condense into rain. Think warm enough to wander around in a t-shirt. Think mud, sucking at your boots and splashing onto your clothes. And think green–trees, palms, vines, epiphytes, ferns, mosses–everywhere you look. Got it?

This was much more of an experiential learning trip, so think about following along with our group. There’s twenty one of us, including our professor and two TA’s, and we’re all ready with our hiking boots and backpacks. The trail is our version of fun: steep climbs up, steep drops/slides down, with lots of cool things to look at along the way. At one point a green railing has been added to the slide of the trail to make the steps easier, but much of it has fallen sideways or slid with the mud, so we’re holding onto it as we go, and occasionally swinging under or climbing over it. There’s lots of laughter, and a few slips, and mud all over the place, and it’s fantastic.

We can’t help commenting to each other: “we could be sitting in a lecture hall right now!”

At the same time, we did learn a fair bit. We saw flowers, commonly called “hot lips” because of their shape and bright red color, which are in the Rubiacaea family (so is coffee). We saw thick, woody lianas and thin green vines. And now, when we hear about how cloud forests are areas where mist condenses into clean water that trickles down to other areas of the forest, or about the extremely high biodiversity in the cloud forests, we know what that actually means. We’ve seen it, we’ve smelt it, we’ve touched it. Cloud forests have a meaning to us, one that leaps off the page, and across our path.