Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Upper South Skok to Sundown Lake

The pond that the Skokomish River originates from

There was not enough snow last year and all the snow is gone now.  The rivers are drying up.  I decided to go looking for the Rivulariella gemmipara liverwort before it’s too late. This aquatic liverwort needs water and it will die if the streams dry up.  I’m the first person to ever find it in Washington State and I wanted to make a second find in a different place.  

 I always thought the headwaters of the Skokomish might be a good place to look for the Rivulariella gemmipara liverwort.  With the days being so long I did not start my hike until about 10AM.  My goal was the headwaters for the South Fork Skokomish.  I’ve only been up to the headwaters once before and I remembered that they were pretty and they seemed like perfect Rivulariella gemmipara habitat.

All of the bridges on the Upper South Fork Skokomish River trail are gone now and the trail is getting brushy above the upper crossing.  I made good time getting to the upper crossing and then to the salamander swamp.  All the salamander eggs that I saw there a few weeks ago were flattened out turning green and exposed to air as the swamp has dried up.  I added one bottle of river water to the swamp.  I don’t know if trying to fill up the swamp would help or hurt the salamanders.

Just above the camp Riley meadows the sudden movement of a large animal in the woods frightened me.  I think it was a lone elk but I kept smelling bears.   Near camp Riley I found what looks to be the liverwort I was looking for.  So I did not have to go all the way to the headwaters to look.

When I reached the headwaters I saw that the liverwort could not be growing there.  The stream did not have enough of a current.  Water was barely even flowing out of the pond that is the start of the mighty Skokomish River.  I took a few pictures and then decided to check out Sundown pass.   

On my way to Sundown pass I had a bit of my jerky and I decided that it tasted too good; it must have MSG in it.  I looked at the label and was horrified to see MSG listed as an ingredient, not just as “natural flavor” but as an ingredient.  I was almost sure to get a debilitating migraine from eating just half of it.  I put the jerky away quickly downed almost a liter of water to help flush the MSG out of my system.

Once on Sundown pass I started thinking about Sundown Lake.  My GPS said it was just ½ mile away, but I would have to lose 300 feet and regain it on the way out.  Time was running a little bit short.  I pondered for a while and then decided to go for it since I was so close and I had not seen the lake in 7 years.  I have good memories at the lake too.

So I headed down the trail to the lake and worried and worried about having to regain that elevation and I was afraid that I was about to get a migraine but then I told myself to quit worrying.  Then when I had gone half a mile I realized that I read my GPS wrong, the lake was actually 1 mile from the pass and would add two miles round trip to my hike.  Oh well, I was committed now.  I started to worry again.

It was good to see the lake, but I did not spend too much time there before I headed back up to Sundown Pass.  Regaining the elevation was not that bad.  At the top of the pass I did some quick calculations, how much light did I have left and how fast was I going to hike out?  It looked like I had time to take an hour break at the headwaters, so I took a half hour break to be on the safe side.

 I had my coffee at the little lake.   A slight breeze kicked up and it was nice and cool in the shade, almost too cool.  The breeze kept mosquitoes away.  With everything drying out so fast, I don’t think it’s going to be a bad year for mosquitoes.  I found a box in a tree that I think is for storing food.

At 5:30 I began my hike back down to my car.  I had six miles to hike and 4 hours of daylight left.  If I went 2 mph I should make it out before dark.  I stopped to check the time Camp Riley and I saw that I was not going 2 mph, so maybe I would not make it out before dark.

Just before Camp Riley I scared a little flock of baby grouse.  I can’t believe that tiny baby grouse can fly and like always, I mistook them for little adult birds.  But then Mama Grouse came flying up and she was pissed!!  She landed in a tree branch and hissed at me and then suddenly she came flying straight at me.  I screamed “Whoa whoa!  As she came at my face and then made a sharp turn about five feet in front of my face.  Wow, mama grouse was really pissed.  I wish I had gotten a picture of her, but it all happened so fast.

I made it back down to the upper crossing with one hour of day light left.  Just before the upper crossing my ankle brace cracked and right before my brace cracked my good ankle got twisted.  I was tired and clumsy so I knew I would have to take care hiking out if I did not want to twist my ankles.  Racing the sun was not going to be an option, I had to be careful.

People were camped at the Upper Crossing; I think they were the same people I passed on the way in.  They had a huge tarp with bug netting.  Mosquitoes were not too bad on my hike but I did put on lots of Deet and there was a nice breeze in the areas that should have had lots of Mosquitoes.
Just before sunset I got out my headlamp and discovered that the batteries were almost dead, so I switched out the dead batteries with my spare batteries that I always carry.  It’s good to get batteries sorted out before it gets too dark to see.

 I made it out 15 minutes after sunset but well before dark.  It stayed light long after sunset, I’m used to darkness falling 1 half hour after sunset, but maybe it takes longer for darkness to fall in the summer?  I don’t think I’ve ever had to hike out in the dark in the summer time.

When I reached my car a savage dog rushed out to bite me so I yelled and positioned my little pack in front of me for defense.  Not that my soft little pack would have done me much good.  The dog owner was camped at the trail head in the back of a truck.  She made no effort to call her dog off.  She said the dog was friendly and was just going to sniff me.

 I did not want to be sniffed by her dog and I did not like having my nature experience end this way.  I also did not want a confrontation.  The woman never called her dog off, not even so I could get my car turned around without hitting it.  So I did the only reasonable thing, I spun my tires and left her and her dog in a cloud of dust.  

I was not as tired as I thought I should be after doing a 15 mile hike with 3,200 feet elevation gain.  My left knee and left little toe and left ankle hurt a little, but overall I felt pretty good for such a hard hike.   The last time I hiked over ten miles was back in April and I don’t think I’ve done a 15 mile hike since last summer.  I guess my body still remembers how to do it though.

15 miles with 3,200 feet total elevation gain
Rivulariella gemmipara

Rivulariella gemmipara
Rivulariella gemmipara

Rivulariella gemmipara

Rivulariella gemmipara

Rivulariella gemmipara


Fading light near the upper crossing
Unique old blaze at Sundown Pass
The salamander swamp dried up

Same sign in 2008
No TLC for this area anymore
Sphagnum squarossum
Start of the Skokomish river dried up
Sundown Lake
Sundown lake
Sundown lake August 2008 with snow

Savage dog at the end of my hike

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