Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tongass National Forest, Alaska

Last week I was on an Alaskan cruise, which was truly awesome (if you're interested, I've got a detailed post and lots of pictures up on my regular blog). One of our excursions was a roughly four-mile hike in the Tongass National Forest to see the Monholland Glacier. I think the trail we took was East Glacier Trail as shown on the map to the left, but I can't swear to it. I went with my brother Richard.

I'd never been to Alaska before. It's gorgeous! Everyone told me it would be chilly and I needed to take warm clothes, but it's August. How cold can it be in August? I took a few light sweaters and thought I'd be good, and practically froze to death after the first day. I bought a heavy hoodie at one of our stops, which I wore on the hike. Fortunately I wore a tank under it, because of course once I was moving I got too hot and had to take it off.

Anyway, we started out in a gravelly parking lot a short distance from the trailhead. There were about a dozen people in our group, plus the leader, a botanist named Scott who was very well informed and enthusiastic. I really enjoyed listening to him, and he was really good about answering questions. We were given bottles of water and granola bars to take with us for snacks, but were forbidden to open the granola bars until we were at least half a mile from the parking lot. They don't want bears to start hanging around looking for food.

Just about everything about the forest was very different from what I'm used to. The trees were mostly firs of various kinds, and I hardly recognized any of the groundcover plants. Mostly there's moss--moss everywhere, as a spongy carpet and a furry covering over tree trunks, even draped from tree limbs. It's beautiful and strange. As Scott pointed out, there's very little real soil--it was all scraped off by glaciers in the past, so most trees are actually rooted in the moss.

I believe Scott said the trail we hiked climbed to about 700 feet. That's about twice what the highest point of the Norris watershed trails climb to, but it didn't feel all that much higher. There was only one stretch that was really strenuous, and that was because it was stairs...201 stairs. I took a picture once we reached the top. You can't see all the flights since they wrap around the hill, but you get the idea.

We made several stops for Scott to talk to us and answer our questions. At one point we stopped by a little pool with a few lilypads along the edge. I didn't think lilypads liked cool weather, but I don't know much about them. It was a lovely little area. I thought I had a picture of it but I can't find it. Anyway, while we were there Scott found a weird fungus thing called Bleeding Teeth or something like that, and he was delighted. There's a picture of it to the left; I don't know whose finger that was, but I liked that it matches the drops of viscous "blood" exuded by the fungus. Scott said that no one knows why the fungus "bleeds." He also found a yellow slime mold called scrambled eggs, which tickled him completely. He seemed to really like slime molds. (That was not a sentence I ever expected to type.)

We got some glimpses of the glacier as we hiked, but there were lots of other things to see too. We stopped at a waterfall for a while, although I didn't get a picture of it (my camera batteries had died and I was resting them to try to get one or two more shots of the glacier later--it worked, too, but I missed a lot of good stuff in the meantime). After we'd been at the waterfall for a few minutes I started to get too chilly, so I put my hoodie back on. See, I'm glad I brought it anyway!

And here's the glacier, with my brother standing in front of it. (I told him to smile and he said, "I am smiling.")

It was a lovely hike and a lot of fun. And considering how much I ate on the cruise ship, I really needed some exercise. We didn't see any bears, but we saw lots of bear poop in the trail. Scott said that once he was leading a group up the stairs when they came upon a bear coming down the stairs. He had the group move over as far as possible and the bear just walked on by. I think bears are cool, but I am so so so so so very glad we didn't have to share a trail with one.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A few Clear Creek photos

Things have been busy around here this summer, and tomorrow I leave for a cruise to Alaska! One of our excursions is a four-mile hike, and of course I'll post pictures when I get back.

In the meantime, I took these pictures several weeks ago but only just got around to posting them. I took them in the watershed, but I hiked all over the place that day and would just bore everyone if I listed the trails I took.

That one was taken on Cliff Trail, which overlooks the highway and the river. At some points, you can stand on the edge of the trail and look almost straight down and see the highway through the trees. Note to self: don't fall.

This one was taken on Dyer Trail, which I did finally hike. How I'd forgotten the details of it I do not know, especially since it's one of the trails that ends up by my house. It's a lovely trail, too, with a nice steep climb at the end.

And it's not super clear--I tried hard to get a better picture--but this is a baby snapping turtle and a frog. Ordinarily the only unusual thing about such a picture would be how I managed not to scare the frog off while I was taking it (I was taking so many pictures of the turtle that the frog swam over without noticing me because I wasn't moving), but in this case, I want to know how in hell a baby snapper made it to this particular creek. The creek flows out from under a rock halfway up a hill--I was right by the rock, but didn't think to get a picture--and has been artificially diverted to the gristmill's spillway. There's a mill pond not too far from the spillway, but it's at the bottom of the hill. Did the mother snapper climb up the hill and lay her eggs under the rock? Did the baby hatch in the mill pond and climb up himself? I just do not know! I will probably never know.