Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sketching the Alpine Meadow




Pink Mountain Heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis)


The weather was splendid the next day--that morning I decided to hike over Lincoln Pass to sketch the patches of Bog Laurel I'd seen on my first visit to Ellen Wilson Lake. I started out hiking directly from the back of Sperry Chalet. The patches of Pink Mountain Heather under the subalpine firs were in full bloom, and I stopped to photograph them.

On the way up to Lincoln Pass I ran into a couple from the east with whom I'd chatted the previous evening at dinner. They were about my age, but I soon passed them while they were taking breaks from the uphill traverse. I was rather amazed when I realized this--in only one week of hiking up and down these trails I was noticeably stronger and in better condition than I had been when I arrived. If I could only have stayed at Sperry for the rest of the season, I would have been able to tackle the long Gunsight Pass Trail easily.

I went over the pass and continued down, trying to remember exactly where the boggy meadow with the lush stand of Bog Laurel was. It would be on my left as I approached.

Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia)

It was a bit farther down the trail than I had remembered, but the meadow was easy to find. The ground was considerably drier now than the week before and the pools of standing water from the snow melt almost all absorbed. I walked around to find a nice spot to set up my camping stool, looking for some shade. There was very little shade and I positioned myself with my back to the sun so as to shade my sketchbook.

Close-up of Bog Laurel flowers

At one point I looked up from my sketch towards the rocky mass of Gunsight Pass Mountain in the background, and thought my eyes were playing tricks on me--I could see a spot of what looked like blue sky through the rocks! Nah, it was probably a trick of the light, a reflection. I kept looking, and saw the blue change to white as a cloud sailed past, then back to blue. Well then, this had to be the famous "hole in the wall" that had been described by Beth Dunnegan in her Sperry Chalet book. Kevin had told me that the hole in the wall was only visible from Sperry Chalet on one day in August (he couldn't remember the exact date) when the morning sun shone through the small opening. But here I was looking at it from the other side of the mountain--what are the chances?

After an hour or so, with the sun directly overhead it got so hot I couldn't stand it, and I moved my setup over to the edge of the meadow, into the scant shadows cast by a couple of subalpine firs near some rocks. Here I ate my lunch amid the bees and insects buzzing around the flowers. Ranger Dan came up on the trail, and I greeted him asking where he was heading. He told me that a dead baby goat had been reported at the Ellen Wilson Lake campground, and he was going to dispose of the carcass before it attracted a hungry bear. I had noted before that the park rangers are assiduous in their task to keep bears away from places where humans are, and vice-versa. I wished him good luck and he went on his way.

Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia) and Yellow Mountain Heather (Phyllodoce glanduliflora)

After lunch I added some Yellow Mountain Heather to my sketch, and a rock with some other plants I was not able to identify (they are probably some form of aster or groundsel), but I'm afraid my attempt to describe the environs--that mass of flowers in the rocky subalpine meadow--was not very successful--just passable, I'd say.

Yellow Mountain Heather (Phyllodoce glanduliflora)


Ranger Dan went by the trail again on his way back, and I asked him about his mission. He replied that he had not been able to find the goat carcass--either something had got to it before him, or perhaps another one of the campers had buried or moved it away from the campground. In any case, he had enjoyed the hike in this beautiful weather.

I packed my gear shortly after, and thought of going further down towards Ellen Wilson Lake, but the  the sun and the heat had tired me out, and I decided to head back towards Sperry. It was still fairly early in the afternoon when I reached Lincoln Pass, so I lingered there to do another sketch.


Mt. Edwards from Lincoln Pass, watercolor pencils, 8" x 6"


For this view of Mt. Edwards I used only watercolor pencils. Later, when I got back to Sperry Chalet I went over the lines with water to blend some of the tones. I was surprised at how well it turned out--better than my earlier sketch. The mountain's geologic formations can really be appreciated from this vantage point.


Photo of Mt. Edwards from Lincoln Pass

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Blue Larkspur

Glacier Plants II, color pencil 10" x 8"

After a day of rest my knees returned to almost normal. In the morning I showered early and did some laundry by hand before breakfast. After breakfast I worked on my watercolor of the view from Sperry Chalet for a couple of hours as the day gradually warmed.

After that I got my pack lunch and headed out towards the ledges at Akaiyan Falls to sketch the beautiful blue larkspur flowers I'd noticed on the way back from my hike to Sperry Glacier. Kali, a young lady on the staff who was the dishwasher and liked to sketch, had the afternoon off, and decided she would meet up with me later on location.

Profusion of Pink Spirea and wildflowers on the ledges

St. John's Wort (Hypericum formosum var. scouleri)

The wildflowers along the trail were amazing--each day seemed to bring on a new progression of bloom as previous flowers faded and set seed. Places where the sun warmed certain ledges earlier brought out a flush of bloom in some places while others ledges in shadow wouldn't bloom until later--making the flowering period dependent on the exposure.

The growing season being so short here, after a week many of the wildflowers in the cirque were now approaching late spring to summer, whereas the week before it had been early to mid spring.

Billygoat on the trail

When I got to the waterfall, a billy goat was lying right on the trail, but he graciously moved farther up a ledge, leaving his spot to me. I set up my camping stool and started to work right away. After I'd finished sketching the larkspur, I took my lunch break. Later Karen, the baker from the Chalet, passed me on her way up towards Comeau Pass and stopped to take this photo--notice the two goats on the ledges behind me.

Sketching the larkspur with goats behind.

 Impossible to paint the iridescence of the intense blue and purple of the low larkspur flowers with color pencil! I'd need something like the interference colors made by Daniel Smith, or a mineral watercolor pigment. Once I completed the larkspur, I looked for a few other flowers to add to my sketch, to give a sense of how these plants grew and bloomed together. I figured the yellow of the St. John's Wort flowers with a tinge of deep red on the buds and at the petal tips, and a sprig of scarlet red Indian Paintbrush would complement the larkspur's blue for a set of primary colors. Some gray-green leaves of yarrow and a couple of rocks would tie it all together.


Low Larkspur (Delphinium bicolor)
Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja rhexiflora)

Kali joined me and we chatted while we both worked. An interesting young lady, she has a degree in architecture, but had become disillusioned with it as a profession, and wanted to write instead. Her grandfather was from Czechoslovakia and had taken refuge in Bolivia toward the end of WWII to avoid an assassination plot. Her father had been born in Bolivia and immigrated to the US as a young man. She did very amusing pen and ink drawings--I hope she will continue to draw as she finds her way towards an artistic life.

Later on I had a chance to admire her caricatures of people when she drew a wonderful get-well card for Karen's husband who had fallen while hiking a few days earlier. Dan twisted his knee and had torn the ligaments; he had to be sent down the mountain trail on mule back. They operated on his knee as soon as it could be scheduled, but he would be unable to resume his duties on the staff for a couple of weeks at least. Kevin had to send a substitute to replace Dan, and Jason came up to take up his position on the staff.

It got very warm as the sun moved to the west, even positively hot, but by this time I was almost finished with my sketch. Kali decided she wanted to hike a bit farther up the trail, and I walked back to Sperry Chalet. Another hoary marmot appeared on the trail as I was walking back.

Hoary marmot on the trail.
Maidenhair ferns and club mosses grow among the ledges.

BTW, high quality digital reproductions of this painting  of Glacier Plants II and Glacier Plants (with the Pentestemons) will be available for purchase soon, coming in early 2017.