Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pickets Traverse

Forest McBrian climbing into a col on the south side of Mount Fury.

Whatcom Peak, the northern start of the Pickets range

Challanger Glacier, the largest glacier in this part of the North Cascades

Forest McBrian hiking out of Luna Cirque with the massive north face of Mount Fury rising on the left and Luna lake below.

Southern Pickets from the north. Left to right: East McMillian Spire, West McMillian Spire, Inspiration Peak, Mount Dagenhart, Mount Terror

Forest McBrian traversing south along the ridge leading to Picket Pass, what Fred Beckey might refer to as "pleasant hiking".

Forest on the Mustard glacier, part of our travel route over the southern Pickets.

Forest making the transition from the icy glacier to the steep wet rock which lead to the col between the Ottohorn and Himelhorn peaks and our route out of the Pickets. This section of the route was the most technically challenging piece of the entire traverse in the conditions we encountered it.

Last views to the north before we dropped down and south out of probably the most wild and remote section of the North Cascades. Mount Fury and Luna Peak in the distance.

One last major obstacle descending south off of our last col, a steep gully (an eroded volcanic dike of which there were a number in the range which presented difficulties along the traverse) filled with large quantities of loose rocks. The light at the end of the chasm couldn't come soon enough.

Luna Peak at sunrise from the south

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Climbing in the North Cascades

Samantha Goff and Matt Chalmers, filled with anticipation at the start of our trip into the Eldorado Peak high camp.

Samantha and Matt on the Inspiration Glacier on the approach to the West Arete of Eldorado Peak.

Samantha smiling at our first view of the route from the Dorado Needle Col which separates the McAlester Glacier from the Marble Creek Cirque. The climbing route is esentially the right skyline.

Samantha at a belay ledge soon after getting on the arete, just above the layer of clouds which filled the Marble Creek drainage.

Happy faces after enduring an unplanned bivouac high on the west face.

Samantha looking up towards the summit as Matt leads the final pitch of the route. Dorado Needle and Early Morning Spire in the background.

Looking south from the summit across a sea of clouds with only the highest peaks of the North Cascades jutting up like islands.

Johanesberg Mountain in the foreground.

The south ridge of Eldorado Peak and the Eldorado Glacier.

Inspecting the descent off of the snow arete on the south ridge of Eldorado.

Forbidden Peak, the Forbidden Glacier and Moraine Lake with part of the Inspiration Glacier in the foreground, taken from our camp at the base of Eldorado's east ridge.

Samantha leading out across the McAlester glacier towards Dorado Needle.

Samantha navigating the north ridge of Dorado Needle.

Myself at a belay ledge on Dorado Needle.

The massive west face of Eldorado Peak briefly poked out of the clouds while we were on Dorado Needle.

Samantha leading out on the final pitch on Dorado Needle.

Matt nearing the summit.

Matt navigating the final piece of the ridge, a knife edge section which he is climbing "au cheval".

Samantha belaying from just below the summit.

Soaking wet from a long descent in pouring rain, Samantha completes a successful trip with the safe retrieval of several cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer from the Cascade River.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Wolf Tracking in the Salmon River Mountains, Idaho

The landscape, typical of the mountains of central Idaho shows conifer forests, dominated by lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) in various stages of regeneration after naturally occuring fires. Interspersed are large wet and dry meadow systems.

Don Taves inspects the trail of a wolf trotting down a dirt road.

The right front foot of a large wolf. The toes have splayed widely and the claws of each digit have dug in deeply, including in the reduced inside toe due to the fast speed of this animal. The bounding trail of this wolf was adjacent to the trail of two fleeing mule deer indicating a pursuit (apparently unsuccessful for the wolf).

A pine marten (Martes americana) peers down from a safe perch.

Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) in flight. Cranes breed and rear young in the vast wet meadow systems of central Idaho.

Columbian ground squirrels (Spermophilus columbianus) at a burrow.

Rocky mountain elk (Cervus elaphus)

Students in Wilderness Awareness School's Idaho Wolf Tracking Expedition hiking out across Corduroy meadows at the southern end of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness towards the end of a long day in the field searching for and following wolf tracks and signs.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Northern Pocket Gopher (Thomomys talpoides) Hard at Work.

Pocket gophers are prodigious soil movers. Though seldom seen, the throw mounds they create are conspicuous in areas they inhabit. Mounds are often confused with those produced by moles. However, as seen here, gophers produce fan shaped mounds expelling dirt from a hole to one side of the mound of soil which is plugged afterwards. Moles expel earth from a hole which come straight up out of the ground and the resulting mound of soil is generally evenly dispersed to all sides of the plugged hole when complete.

I had the opportunity to photograph this creature while it worked right in the middle of where I was camped and could thus leisurely photograph and drink a cup of tea as the sun rose one May morning in Western Colorado over the course of an hour, an unusual pleasure while photographing elusive wild creatures.

The gopher had just begun to expell earth when I discovered him hard at work.

The exposed gopher quickly pushes soil out of his hole and then retreats back to a safer position to observe its surroundings.

The completed throw mound with the hole plugged at the base of it. Throw mounds are produced in the process of creating underground tunnels the pocket gopher uses for accessing food (roots and vegetation), as well as sleeping chambers, food storage spaces, and latrines.

The finished throw mound with the tent I was staying in the background.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Western Colorado: Aspen forests and Wildlife of the High Lonesome Ranch

Aspen stand at about 8500' elevation on the western edge of the Rocky mountains.

Aspen stand with bear climbing marks and elk cambium feeding scars on trees in the foreground. Many aspen stands in the southern Rockies are dying for reasons that are not yet totally clear. Aspen stands are generally comprised of one or a few individual organisms (called "Clones") each of which sends up multiple trunks. About half of the mature trunks in the patch are dead.

Entrance and throw-mound of a bear den found on a steep forested northwest facing slope close to a ridge line at about 8200' elevation.

Close up of the internal chamber of the den. The den was only about 4' deep.

Dewitt Daggett gets a close look at the den.

Rocky mountain elk at sunrise with stunted aspen in the background.

Incisor marks from an elk feeding on the bark of an aspen. Barking of aspens by elk can have extensive impacts on aspen stands. Along with the bark, elk, deer and cattle also feed on the branch tips of saplings stunting their growth and retarding recruitment of young trees where browsing pressure is intense.

A red-naped sapsucker paused from excavating a new cavity in a dead aspen tree. Cavities excavated by woodpeckers are used by a wide variety of other birds and mammals as nests once abandoned by the woodpecker.

A female Purple Martin looking out from its nest cavity in a standing dead aspen tree. In this same tree was also a nest cavity being used by a house wren.

Female and male Purple Martins courting close to their nest cavity.

Female collecting dead aspen bark to line her nest cavity.

Mule deer resting in the shade of a Douglas fir during the midday heat.

Large scrape made by a mountain lion under a large Douglas fir at along a ridge. This scrape has been visited and enlarged over repeated visits by the cat. Scrapes such as these are a scent marking behavior performed by both bobcats and cougars.

Looking northwest across the western edge of the Rocky Mountains at sunset.

Sunset and aspens