Showing posts with label Kalmia polifolia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kalmia polifolia. Show all posts

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lincoln Pass and Lake Ellen Wilson

Last light on Gunsight Mountain.

It was the night of the full moon, and the staff at Sperry Chalet planned to hike up to Lincoln Pass to watch it rise. This would be a spectacular sight in the surroundings, and a number of guests, myself included, intended to join them. But around dinnertime, clouds began to move in from Lake McDonald, and a thunderstorm broke out just as it was getting dark. With rain pouring and lightning strikes, calling off the hike was the wise thing to do--we wouldn't have seen the moon in any case.

It got very cold after the storm, and I was glad to have four wool blankets on my bed to tuck under. The next morning was clear but so icy, I put on several layers under my new vest and old Polartec jacket to walk down for breakfast. After breakfast I got out my watercolor kit and began to formulate a plan for painting a watercolor of the view from Sperry Chalet...

The view from Sperry Chalet.

From these heights all that could be seen of Lake McDonald below was one small pale blue oval, but looking down the mountain peaks and crags from either side, and then the receding ranges of mountains on the other shore of the lake, this was a magnificent sight, worthy of one of the 19th Century landscape masters!

A few mountain goats grazed near by, so I kept a close eye on my gear, to make sure no goats would be tempted. Sketching out the composition and planning the execution took the better part of an hour, and by the time I'd put in a wash for the sky and defined the farthest mountain ranges, it was getting on towards ten. The shadows had changed too much to continue. I'd have to plan for time each morning to continue my painting.

My watercolor painting, day 1.

Two of the ladies on the staff, Karen, the baker, and Stephanie, one of the waitresses, had their scheduled afternoon off today, and they invited me to join them for a hike to Ellen Wilson Lake.  Gunsight Pass trail goes in the direction opposite to the Sperry Glacier trail--it rises up about 500 feet to Lincoln Pass and then goes down on the other side towards two lakes: Lincoln and Ellen Wilson Lake. The trail then rises again some 6,900 feet to Gunsight Pass and descends towards Lake St. Mary on the other side of the Continental Divide.

We started out around 10:30, walking behind the Chalet and past the Sperry campsite, passing a small pond. My companions joked that they had named it Pond Willie Nelson, a funny acronym of  'Ellen Wilson'. I had a hard time keeping up with my companions-- they weren't even breathing hard on the hike uphill, while I had to stop every thirty paces or so, but they were very patient with me. Today I'd come up with a way to tie my camera  around my chest with an old scarf  I'd brought along just in case, so that I could keep the camera on my neck and not have it swing from side to side while I walked. This way I could take photos along the way without having to stop to put down my pack, take out the camera, put it back in, etc. which slowed me down so much before.

Willie Nelson Pond and Sperry Chalet (on the right) from Lincoln Pass.

View of  Lake McDonald from the top of Lincoln Pass.

Karen and Stephanie chatted as they walked, and I commented occasionally when I had some breath left. They allowed me to stop frequently to rest and photograph plants, and Karen, who is a wildlife biologist, identified the few birds and other creatures we saw along the way. I asked them to point out the huckleberry plants, which I hadn't been able to identify with any certainty. I was surprised to learn one variety was so tiny--it was hard to believe they provided enough food for bears. But Karen said these berries were the sweetest. The plants were just starting to bloom.

Looking south from Lincoln Pass.

On the other side of Lincoln Pass the view of a whole new set of mountain ranges opened up. We off-trailed across some rocky ledges overlooking Lincoln Lake, a small blue-green circle with towering cliffs looming above it. The lake sat in a narrow bowl, and Karen said going down there would make her uneasy, it seemed like the perfect habitat for bears, where one could easily get trapped.

Lincoln Lake.

Hiking downhill towards the Lake Ellen Wilson overlook, we came across many lovely wildflowers: a flat area still soaked with recent snow-melt had large clumps of low-growing Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia) and pink mountain heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis), farther on yellow cinquefoil and elliptical-leaf Pentstemon grew in patches among the rocks.

Bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia)
Pink Mountain Heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis)

Pentstemon ellipticus

Lake Ellen Wilson came into view as we rounded another bend. The wind was frothing the surface of the glacial water, and cut into us like an icy knife as we walked out into the open. I was glad to have packed my Polartec vest and nylon jacket, and slipped them on immediately. My friends did the same with their gear--here was the practical illustration of why one should follow mountaineering advice.

Lake Ellen Wilson looking towards Gunsight Pass.

Lake Ellen Wilson from the overlook.

We would have been shivering miserably in our sweaty T-shirts if we hadn't had extra layers of warm clothing. Instead, we settled down on the rock to enjoy lunch in this marvelous spot! The overlook was marked by a huge rock and from it we could survey the oval lake with several long, thin waterfalls emptying into it and Gunsight Pass beyond. The sound of the wind and the occasional cry of a bird were interrupted once or twice by the noise of the helicopter tours overhead.



After a leisurely lunch we started back--my companions had to be back by four to work on their dinner chores. On the way back we spotted one lonely Mariposa lily blooming along a rocky embankment. I was surprised to find it in this environment, as I thought this flower was strictly a denizen of warmer climates .

Mariposa lily (Calochortus apiculatus)