Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Yellow Jacket, Devil Club and Slide Alder Extravaganza!

Phil over his head in "Devil's Club" aka  Oplopanax horridus
The Jefferson pass trail is a bit strange, it really goes nowhere and it leads people to believe that it is the number one climbing route up Mount Washington.  But it is actually the number 4 climbing route, a climb that requires ropes and skills.  What was the point of this trail?  I think the point was the little lake on the other side of the ridge.  My topo map shows that the trail used to head down the ridge. 

I’ve been wanting to try to reach this lake for a while and finally this week I found a couple of hikers who were masochist enough to join me.

Duct tape pack repair at trail head
We met at the Cushman grocery store and took off in two cars.  Since we all drive old beaters we thought it would be best to take two cars in case one broke down.  There were some car issues on the way to the trail, but both cars made it all the way up.  We followed a Forest Service truck until we turned off towards Mount Washington.  The Forest Service truck continued on up towards the Upper Ellinor trailhead.   Good thing, since one of us has expired tabs and it wasn't me.

About ¼ of a mile into the hike I found a wonderful mushroom.  About a tenth of a mile later I found two wonderful mushrooms but I was only able to pick one of them.  Just as we were admiring the mushrooms a swarm of angry yellow jackets rose up out of the ground and chased us all up the hill.   We put a big "X" made of sticks near the the spot where we got swamred so we could avoid that spot on the way back at the end of our hike. 

Note that we all ran up the trail, not back towards the car.  We were there to hike!  Phil got stung 4 times, Marcus got stung once.  Over the next 1/4 of a mile had to pull three yellow jackets off of Patches and I don’t know how many times she got stung.  Patches does not yelp when she is stung, she just shakes her head.  I lucked out and did not get stung at all.
We made our way up the trail and in no time at all were were on top top of the ridge in the spot whre the off trail hike was to begin.  We found that there were ribbons and beer cans marking the off trail route.   Marcus did not like the flags, but I did.  Downward we brush crashed into the devils club, salmon berry, slide alders and yellow jacket nests.  The beer cans and ribbons soon ended.  I guess the hikers (anglers?) who went before us turned back when they ran out of beer.

Ribbons and beer cans show the way for 1/4th of a mile and then they stop.
I guess who ever went before us ran out of beer and gave up.
Phil was right behind me on a slippery slope when he yelled “ bees run!”  Well I could not really run because of the slope but we got away.  This time Phil was stung on the hand right through his high impact gloves.  Again I avoided being stung.

A bit later we found another yellow jacket nest and all had to run again, but this time we all managed to avoid being stung.

The route was difficult with head high devils club mixed in with sideways slide alder (A. viridis) and rotten logs.  What a fight it was to get down to the lake!   At first we stayed in drainage because we knew it would be free of yellow jacket nests but it was tough going, later we went up into the woods and make much better time. 

Slide alder is a "A thicket-forming shrub, 10-15 ft. tall, with short, nearly horizontal branches forming a narrow crown." As you can imagine from the description, it is not easy to travel through slide alder!

Finally we found the lake; it was a little big bigger than I expected it to be.  We ate lunch in the gully created by the currently dry outlet stream.  At lunch time Phil amazed us with his blow torch / backpacking stove.  LOL!  I found I had forgotten to pack stove fuel, so I made my tea over Phil’s stove.  I needed a hot tea as my pants were soaking wet from the brush crashing.

Our first peek at the lake

We found no sign of this lake having been visited in the past.  No fishing line, no toilet paper, no fishing bobbers, no beer cans.  There must not be any fish in this lake.

After lunch we tried to take a higher route to get back up to the trail, but eventually we ended up in the slide alder and devils club hell all over again.  At least we were going uphill so the danger of falling was less, but it was very hard work. 
At one point not far from the Lake Marcus got well ahead of us and found yet another yellow jacket nest.  Marcus ran away without getting stung thanks to his gaiters.  I called Patches back, Phil and I swung around the far side of a boulder on the slope and thus managed to make a wide berth around the yellow jacket nest.  Marcus said the wasps were swarming all around his gaitors.
Upward we went until we found the trail, I got very tired and I pulled the muscles in both of my shoulders twice, but I managed to stay on my feet for the entire trip.  I had to take a break near the top as my legs were getting wobbly.  When we finally found the trail again we were relieved to be out of the brush and we felt victorious as we had bagged the lake and successfully negotiated a difficult traverse through the brush and killer bees.
We paused for a moment at the little campsite on top of the ridge before we headed down the trail.    When we reached the “X” we left the trail and went down the VERY steep slope to the next switchback.  I really wanted to go back for that mushroom but by then I was tired and Phil's knee was hurting and none of us wanted to mess with yellow jackets again.
We made it back to our cars at about 5pm.  On the drive home pouring rain began to fall, and the dirt road started to turn into a river.  Whew.. we made it off the trail just in time to avoid being soaked.
What an adventure this was!  The morning after my entire body is stiff and sore and my arms  and hands are covered with scratches from the devils club and the salmon berries..  We all agreed that if we go to this lake again we will take the shorter route from the road near Jefferson Lake.

Phil's knee began to hurt on the way down, he carried a 30 pound pack.  Marcus had a 10 pound pack.  My pack was also about 10 pounds and I had 5 pounds of camera.  We hope to encourage Phil to lighten up his load to save his knees.

3.5 miles with 1,750 feet total elevation gain, on this up and down route.


Wormy shrooms on the slope

Making our way back up the hill to the trail

Happy because we bagged the lake and found our way back to the trail

Fresh bear poop with Sphaerophorus lichen.  With gloves on it was hard to tell
if the bear's poop was still warm.

There is a lake down there and we are going to find it!
There is a lake down there and we are going to find it!

Mossy rooted double tree

Moss and lichen

Marmots cut brush and leave it outside their hole homes to dry before they drag it in

Pretty orange Mycena mushrooms

Green shrooms

Marcus and Phil glove up for the bushwack.  Phil has already been stung
4 times and is about to get stung through his gloves for a total of 5 stings

Rotten giant Boletes

Christmas colors, Russula emetica and Hemlock

This should be easy to ID once I get around to it..

Mild tasting but still don't eat blue staining boletes unless you
really know your ID.

Phil amazes us with his "stove" and his tea making process

Patches having fun

This is bigger than it was last year.  I hope no one picks it.
These are too rare and too magical to pick!

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