Annual NARGS meeting, Mt. Rainier

Loren Russell loren at PEAK.ORG
Fri Aug 25 06:19:27 CEST 2000

On Thu, 24 Aug 2000, Ray Deutsch wrote:

> I was unable, at the last moment, to go to the NARGS meeting
> near Tacoma, Washington.  Anyone have any good/bad experiences,
> moments of enlightenment, treasures found, etc., to tell us about?

Hi, Ray.

Yes, I'm sorry that chatter didn't start on this.  I was there as a guide=,
so only saw a singlew trail system, three times in three days.

Mt.Rainier is certainly among the most imposing alpine landscapes in Nort=h
America.  At timberline, at Pradise or Sunrise, the mass of the mountain
can simply overwhelm you.

After the record snow-pack of 1999, I know that the organizers were
crossing their fingers.  Last year, many of the higher-elevation trails
never melted out at all.  This year, the snow-pack was still well above
average, and trail conditions and the bloom were changing every day.

I walked the Skyline Trail above Paradise the day before the meeting with
four other guides.  This was my first look at the Paradise meadows since
my school days at University of Washington, some 30+ years before.  it wa=s
a little worrisome to encounter snow acros the paved trails, only a
quarter mile above the lodge, but the bloom low down was spectacular.
Glacier lilies, Erythronium montanum simply filled the meadows in wav upo=n
wave of cream, often with masses of Pulsatilla occidentalis [many just
emerging, others 18 inches high and fully mop-headed] and wetter spots
where the snow had just left gave
us Erythronium grandiflorum, Caltha leptosepala, Ranunculus suksdorfii
[or R. eschscholtzi -- authorities differ], and in places, Claytonia

The trail leveled out to the so-called "Dance Floor", then resumed its
climb with a series of stone steps.  The steps were handsomely planted
[not by man] with lovely blue Veronica cusickii, Phlox diffusa [one plant
especially full-faced, white with a hint of pink and blue highlights was
located just so a macro shot could be balanced, no tirpod, on the next
step.  One Phyllodoce empetriformis was in bloom, in a crevice square in
the middle of the walkway.

We passed a very depauperate "rawmark"  community, with little except
the oddly sedum-like Saxifraga tolmiei and alpine partridge-foot [Luetkea
pectinata].  Then at a rise, and perhaps due to its south to southwest
exposure, a little fragment of meadow, richly in bloom.  Pink
mountain-heather [Phyllodoce empetriformis] right next to yellow
[P.glanduliflora] and white [Cassiope mertensiana]; Aster alpigenus and
Erigeron peregrinus; paintbrushes in purple [Castilleja parviflora] and
red [C.miniata]; a flock of louseworts, mostly Pedicularis contorta
[cream] and P. ornithorhyncha [purple].

A couple of flights beyond, at the first good view of the snout of
Nisqually Glacier, we saw a dozen or so mats of a lovely
two-tone, predominately cream form of Penstemon procerus var. tolmiei.
Just there, as over the next rise, all the P.procerus were of the usual
dark purple form.

We climbed over more snow to reach the skyline trail proper.  High on the
ridge we saw our lunch-stop land-mark, a precariously poised solar toilet.
There we saw another suite of plants for the first time, including common
juniper, dwarf goldenrod [Solidago simplex], and Penstemon davidsoni
[growing with the purple form of P. procerus var. tolmiei.  The rock here
[andesite] was shale-like, offering many crevices, and a top-notch crevic=e
garden with the lovely Polemonium elegans, and a single cushion of
Saxifraga bronchialis in full bloom.

Then, a high pass with Lupinus lepidus lobbii, Erigeron aureus, Spraguea
umbellata, and Penstemon procerus predominating.  One floriferous E.aureu=s
grew in the middle of a large patch of P. procerus, the purple-and-gold
colors suggesting the University of Washington school colors.

A last rockery on the Skyline trail was marked by some peculiarly
muddy-purple Penstemon davidsoni at trailside.  The reason was soon
apparent:  a few feet above, on vertical cliff were a few plants of
hot-pink P. rupicola.  Many nice hybrids can be found of our shrubby
penstemons, but this pair regularly turn out disappointing hybrids..

At this point I reached the spot where my bus host, Hans Sauter, had
warned me, a descent across snow with "exposure" below.  He had been here
only three days before, and judged that the groups would have to retrace
their steps, but snow melt had already rendered this an easy crossing --
most of the "strenuous groups" on Thursday and Friday were able to make
the round trip.

The walk down, including a couple hundred yards across snow liberally
stained with "melon-juice" algae, recapitulated the plants we'd seen
befoer, though at one point several Dodecatheon jeffreyi and a single
plant of Kalmia microphylla was still in bloom.  On Thursday, our group
spotted a coyote along this stretch.

The parking lot around Paradise was a hot spot, literally.  With the
fairly early season on the meadows above, the heat from the parking lots
gave us a two-week or so fast-forward.  Most notable were the link
spiraea, best know as S.densiflora, but rechristened Spiraea splendens
var. splendens in the new Mt. Rainier flora.  The new name is certainly
descriptive, and for once I'm willing to embrace such a name without a
fight!  With it were numerous Gentiana calycosa.  [I'm still unhappy that
I told one person on the bus about the gentian, then didn't give her
go-ahead to leave the bus to see it. As it happened, we didn't move for
another 15 minutes -- enough time to explore for the explorer's gentian.]

The bus tour had the great virtue of, for the most part, saving us from
the worst of the notorious Puguet Sound traffic.  On Thursday, though, on=e
of those unforseeable glitches occurred: On the way up we shared the
highway with approximately 700 bicyclists, intent on circling Rainier in
one day from Eatonville. I cycled enough in my past to generally forgive
the human-powered on roads, but passing that many on blind curves with a
full-sized bus was clearly wearing on the driver. That wasn't all... as w=e
neared PAradise, having passed all but the speediest cyclists, we saw a
rather heavy-set middle-aged man jogging sweatily up the grade. With a
croquet mallet.

Six hours later, we passed the same road section, and the same guy was
jogging down the road, still with his mallet. There is craziness that
exceeds even rock gardening...

I'll let someone else weigh in on others hikes and the evening activities.

loren russell, corvallis, oregon

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