Thursday 29-08-91 7:23am

SNOW


Every year, the Pikas cut down the Lupine and Wild Onions and dandelions and various other plants, after the flowers are gone, but before the seeds have turned black: right at the peak of their energy storage. They arrange them in the sun to dry, in neat, orderly piles, and when they are sure the crops are dry enough that they will not rot in their burrows, they haul them below ground. Pikas, who look like small guinea pigs, are actually specialized tundra rabbits [photo of Pika with seedpod and haystack] who live in hard-to-reach crevices between the rocks and boulders beneath the talus slopes. Like all rabbits, they make up for not having an ungulate's multichambered stomach by reingesting their fecal material. Gray voles (microtus sp) are tiny mouse-sized lemmings. Voles live like mice, in small caves insulated with a thick lining of lichens and moss, and they are much less careful about drying their harvest than the Pikas. Voles must dig new tunnels to the surface after every snow-fall to vent the CO2 produced by the slowly decomposing vegetation below the surface, or to chew the bark or buds off willows or dig up bulbs of lilies and other plants. Throughout the frozen winter these piles of decomposing vegetable heat up like compost piles and warm their burrows.

Beneath the glistening snow fields draping the Olympic Mountains, the plant kingdom is bedded down for the winter, but most of the animals are wide awake. Deer-mice in their cozy, putrid nests lined with mosses and lichens, Douglas' Squirrels curled up in crevices in trees. It is one of the wonders of the winter snow-pack, that so much life can go on beneath it and even within it. We see it so rarely; the picturesque white dusting in the distance. But for the animals who live in the wild, snow is actually the norm, 8 months out of the year. From late October to early June, the snowline in the Northwest fluctuates between 1,000 and 3,000 feet and were it not for the snowpack slowly releasing moisture throughout the summer, our region and much of the rest of the world, could not support the kind of life we take for granted. It has been estimated that over 90 percent of all the raindrops that fall begin as snowflakes. As much as 80 percent of all the water that flows in our rivers and streams actually reaches the earth as snow and by late summer, snowmelt provides nearly all of our surface water.

THE EPHEMERAL MINERAL


Snowflakes are complex constructions. Their almost magical symmetry develops rapidly as condensed droplets of water vapor freeze around microscopic, dust-size particles suspended in the atmosphere. These particles, called crystalization nucleae, come from variety of sources ranging from ice crystal fragments broken off other snowflakes, to industrial emissions and automotive exhaust. Laboratory analysis using electron microscopy shows that over 90 percent of the world's snowflakes form around soil particles or quartz-based terrestrial dust. Of these, over 70 percent are based on Kaolin or other clay minerals.

Snowflakes are ice crystals that develop inside clouds. Their 6-sided shape reflects the basic crystaline structure of ice, the arrangement of one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, with the hydrogen atoms locked to the oxygen at an included angle of 120 degrees. To be attractive as crystalization nucleae, particles of dust, clay or ash must exhibit this hexagonal structure. Clouds form when a mass of air is cooled below its dewpoint and water vapor condenses into tiny droplets. If a cloud is cooled far enough, ice crystals will form, instead of water droplets. Assuming the cloud came from the Pacific Ocean, rather than from the Canadian prairies, the temperature inside it is directly related to its elevation. The drop in temperature is between 3 and 5.5 degrees for every thousand feet of elevation, so to get over the Olympics, the bottom of a cloud will cool from 45 to 50 degrees at sea-level to nearly 0 degrees F. at 10,000 feet. If it is a few thousand feet thick, its roof will usually be 6 to 20 degrees colder. At the supercooled top of the cloud there may be as many as 40,000 ice crystals per cubic meter. The crystals are tiny, (.1 mm or less in diameter) and so light that they stay in suspension like dust, riding updrafts from the bottom of the cloud to the top, falling slowly through the cloud and then circulating back up again, like hawks riding thermals. Updraft velocities between 1 cm per second and 1 meter per second are typical. The classic "stellar" snowflake, 1/16 to 1/4 of an inch in diameter, is composed of tens of millions of frozen water molecules. As it descends thru the cloud, a growing snowflake tumbles and rotates like a pinwheel, and as its branches grow, thousands or even millions of suspended droplets of supercooled water, ice and smaller snowflakes adhere to or crystalize along its surfaces in a process called "riming". Picture-perfect 6-armed dendritic snowstars are actually fairly rare in nature. The gigantic, soggy flakes we often see near sea-level are mostly aggregates of smaller irregular flakes, rimed together and interconnected with frozen droplets and needle-like structures. Falling snowflakes are mostly air; net-like filigrees of ice, ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent moisture by volume. New snow settles rapidly as the needle-like branches break off under the weight of the snow piled up above them.

The winter snowpack develops one layer at a time. After each storm comes a period of redistribution, the sloughing and drifting powered by wind and gravity, followed by the settling and consolidation which comes from pressure and melting, and finally through a gradual and complex recrystalization process. Depending on the steepness of the slope and its degree of consolidation, the snowpack can behave like a liquid, a flexible plastic, or a brittle solid. Its angle of repose rarely exceeds 45 degrees because most slopes steeper than this slough off snow soon after it falls.

As each layer of snow consolidates, its surface develops an icy crust, either from melting or from wind-blast. The condition of this crust, called the "nast" by Siberians, is one of the most important variables in an animal's struggle for survival. The people who have learned to live in the land of snow and ice have developed rich descriptive language to communicate the condition of the snowpack and there are 7 distinct kinds of nast recognized in the 5 languages in common usage by high latitude populations between Greenland and Siberia. An icy Nast creates a very slippery and unreliable base for the layers of snow that fall upon it, often leading to avalanches later in the season.

More immediately, it presents a nearly impenetrable barrier to any small animals [carelessly][accidently] caught away from their tunnels. It can prevent larger animals from exposing their food and deep or crusty snow is a treacherous, and nearly impassable obstacle to the small-hoofed ungulates like Deer, Elk and Goats. These animals leave the meadows of the high country after the flowering plants have gone to seed and the leaves of grass have frozen and died, but the snowline really drives their seasonal downslope migration, because they are so poorly adapted to walking or foraging in deep snow. Weasles and Polar Bears are among the few mammals who can operate in snow deeper than their legs, if they are not supported by the crust. New snow pins down most of the larger animals, and the development of a crust that can support the weight of cats, coyotes and other large predators dramaticly changes the balance between predator and prey above the snow.

Below the icy surface, the ground remains surprisingly warm. Heated from below and insulated by the blanket of snow less than 3 feet thick, it can be as much as 50 degrees warmer than the outside air, and often melts the snow. As a result, the relative humidity near the bottom of the snowpack is high. This humid environment contributes an important ingredient to the metamorphic processes that are continually transforming the snowpack and provides a rich environment for molds and other decomposers that are busy breaking down the wreckage of last summer's [deciduous] plants. When the sun heats the upper surface this water vapor migrates slowly upward thru the snow, carrying heat that can melt the lower branches off buried snowflakes, and then freeze onto their upper branches. This process can lead to the development of a layer of feather-like crystals called "depth-hoar" or to a weakly bonded ball-bearing-like graupel or "sugar-snow".

Both these structures are inherently unstable and prone to collapse without warning, providing excellent sliding surfaces for the terrifying "slab" avalanches that regularly sweep down some [mountainsides]. These rivers of snow release with little or no warning, moving faster than speeding cars. Even small avalanches can produce incredible forces, in excess of 5000 pounds per square foot, bending saplings and young trees like reeds. Large avalanches, with recorded speeds over 225 mph and forces well over 22,000 pounds per square foot are capable of shattering stands of mature timber and crushing anything in their path.

In the Olympic mountains, south-facing slopes receive nearly 40 times more solar radiation than north facing slopes. As a result, the snow vanishes in early spring on the south facing slopes, and by mid-summer the availability of moisture becomes the controlling factor for the plants growing there. By contrast, even at fairly low elevations the winter snowpack often lingers until late summer on north-facing slopes. {make this next sentance a caption?}[Glaciers actually extend below the timberline, {photo of Hoh Glacier} reaching as low as 3900 feet on the north side of Mt. Olympus. Late snowmelt can lead to very slow recovery in the wake of disturbance. In some areas, young trees simply cannot reestablish themselves in todays' climate due to the extremely long time (50 to over 100 years) it can take for a north-slope seedling to reach above the winter snow-pack in the brief summer available to them.

Small disturbances spread rapidly. At Hurricane Ridge, just north and west of the Lodge, the effect of the road itself are visible on a recently-isolated stand of 175 year-old* Subalpine Fir [abies lasiocarpa]. The trees are now exposed to the full brunt of the Ridge's namesake 100 mph winds and are dying off, row by row, as the wind driven rime scours their needles away {photo}. Each tree grew up in the wind-shadow of the one below it until this narrow stripe of a road suddenly changed the pattern of wind. Ice crystals are literally rock-hard; over 3 on the Mhos scale, every bit as hard as Calcite (CaCO3) or Limestone. On windswept ridges above timberline, the conditions are so harsh that it can take a small clump of flowers like {photo of fragile high elevation plant, preferably with boot in background or obvious damage from boot-print} penstemon over 300 years to grow into a six inch cushion, and a single careless footprint can take centuries to erase. Ice storms and hikers are not the only enemies these fragile fell-field plants face. Voles often do considerable damage to the plants beneath the snow, digging up bulbs and tunneling til they reach trees and then chewing off the bark, buds, and smaller branches. Sometimes a vole, trapped in an island of snow will destroy entire colonies of cushion plants. In the early spring (mid-June to mid-July in the high country) you can often find the remains of winter nests in the high meadows and meandering "gopher eskers" along the trail, where pocket gophers (latin name) [or other species] have tunneled along the cutbank, beneath the surface of the snow.

Adaptation is required of the creatures above the snowpack as well. Chickadees learn to hunt upside down, picking dormant insects off the undersides of branches. Squirrels are active above 13 degrees f. and only hole up when the temperature drops. Their heart-rate slows to [.ARGHH!!!.] beats per second and they curl up with their tails wrapped around them, waiting for warmer weather. The ratio of surface area to volume increases dramaticly its size decreases, and below a certain size, it becomes difficult to imagine a mammal capable of carrying around enough fur to keep warm at temperatures much below freezing. This is probably why the smallest animals other than birds who are adapted to the harsher environment above the surface weigh well over 250 grams [half a pound].

In response to the demands of the world draped in white, Ptarmigan, Snowshoe Hares, Weasels and Martens dramaticly change both their color and their survival equipment. The Ptarmigan, a mediocre flyer in the best of times, changes from brown to white, and grows a covering of very specialized "snowshoe" feathers on its feet. These elastic feathers work like skiers' climbing skins, only better, sliding easily thru the snow in one direction, but spreading out when weighted, equipping it to walk efficiently on the surface of all but the softest snow. Martens grow a second layer of fur, reducing their metabolic requirements, and special winter hairs turn their feet into veritable snowshoes, but although the poor weasel turns white, its insulation is meager and it cannot even roll up into a ball to keep warm. It has to [keep on hunting] [hunt with a vengeance] throughout the winter, consuming up to 40% of its body weight every day. Snowshoe hares actually grow two complete layers of fur every year and moult them seasonally. #Pikas have tiny ears and truncated tails, and even wear fur on the soles of their feet in the summer.

The snowpack food web starts small, with unicellular creatures. The most conspicuous of these is popularly known as "watermelon snow." In reality it's colonies of a blue-green Algae called chlamydomonus nivalis that turn the surface of the snow watermelon-juice red during late spring and summer. The red pigment absorbs enough solar energy to melt the snow and does not occur in the species of snow-algae that grow in the shade. (In the Olympics, you can also find patches of blue Chodatella and Scotiella algae and green Chlamydomonus Yellowstonensis growing in the shade, where the red pigment is of little use.) Algae are the most primative organisms that perform photosynthesis, and these unusual fresh-water species live on wind-deposited mineral dust and waste nitrogen compounds from decomposer organisms, the bacteria and molds that digest pollens and other organic material the wind deposits on the snow surface.

Chlamydomonus is a fascinating creature. Its colonies turn the snow red because their chloroplasts are surrounded by a reddish oil (pigmented red with heamatochrome, a carotenoid related to the compounds that turn carrots orange and apples red) which stores energy the way higher plants store starch. This stored energy provides start-up fuel for new algae colonies and absorbs enough heat to melt the snow. Chlamydomonus reproduces both vegetatively and sexually and vegetatively. The reproductive cells are quite durable in dry weather because their cell-walls are made of [ .... and pectin]. They are sheltered by the soil during the summer and buried by the snowpack until late spring. When the water content of the melting snowpack allows them to swim, the spore cells begin to migrate to the surface, propelled by their flagella and guided by a light sensitive "eye" structure. Upon reaching the surface, each spore releases either four or eight daughter cells.
Moving up the food-chain, Chlamydomonis colonies are parasitized by Chytridiales fungi. They also provide the nourishment for our [legendary] Snow Worms, or mesenchytraeus, a class of small, segmented annelid worms about the diameter of a thick human hair, and up to an inch long. [photo? THese guys cry out for a good photo!] Mesenchytraeus are distantly related to common garden-variety earthworms. They have adapted to the extremely narrow temperature range available in this environment with special "antifreeze" proteins and are primarily consumed by birds like the Rosey Finch.
One of the cleverest adaptations to life in the snow-pack are the spiders, [I promise I'll find the names of the species] who scavange the snow, living on flying insects blown onto the snow and too cold to fly away. The spiders take up residence on the many tufts of the spongy black snow-mold (herpotrechia sp.) which infects the needles of alpine conifers. The clumps of snow-mold that have been scattered by the wind across the surface of the snow melt holes and the spider hides in the hole, protected from birds, insulated by the mat of moss-like herpotrechia sp and kept warm and active by the sunlight it absorbs.

How to Have a White Christmas



Many of these phenomena can be observed by spring and early summer hikers in the Olympics, and to really witness the process, you must learn to operate outdoors in the winter. Below about 1500 feet, you will find very little evidence of seasonal adaptation, because it seldom snows. To experience snow on the Peninsula at sea level, it takes an outbreak of cold arctic air. This occurs when a high pressure cell, chilled in the snow-covered interior of Canada or Alaska is dragged into our area by a deep low off the coast. The process works like a siphon. The high pressure air-mass spills over the mountains and flows down the Fraser River valley, following the west slope of the Cascade Range to Bellingham and then pouring south into the Puget Sound basin. If the low is located far enough north, the high will spill out the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward the ocean. As this dry air blows over the Sound and the Strait, it picks up moisture and soon becomes saturated. When it reaches the north flank of the Olympic Mountains and is forced to rise, the moisture it has picked up is super-cooled, splattering snow onto the mountains south of Sequim and Port Angeles and on the foothills west of town. You can see this pattern on the tree trunks: they look like they've been sprayed with thick white paint, but on only one side.

For the snow to really "stick" at sea-level, a cold, high pressure air mass has to settle over our region, and take up residence long enough to cool the ground. This normally requires about a week of cold, clear weather. Then, moist low-pressure air must pour in from the coast, and flood over the top of the arctic high, delivering moisture to the system. Even these conditions do not guarantee snow. Usually, the low will be too big, simply absorb the high, and the snow will quickly turn to rain.

Safe Driving in Snow



Even though snow only accumulates in troublesome quantities 3 or 4 times a year, snow can create a major transportation problems on the Peninsula. According to the Washington State Patrol, the severity of traffic accidents drops substantially when it snows. They maintain that the best thing that could possibly happen to the Northwest's highway statistics would be 6 inches of snow on the Fourth of July weekend. We'd get lots of fender-benders, but far fewer fatalities. Still, snow-caused accidents on peninsula highways probably number in the hundreds every year, and many of them could be avoided.

The cold weather that brings these heavy accumulations of snow is usually followed by several days of sunshine. Snow rapidly disappears in direct sunlight, but in the shade, especially on sweeping curves and east-west roads and highways, the ice may not melt until the temperature rises. Most of the accidents happen in this prepetual shade. Sanding the icey spots helps for a while, but it does not eliminate danger. Experiments have shown that most of sand is blown out off the driving lanes within minutes of application. To avoid accidents, you must slow down before the curve. Stay out of the middle of the black lines and move to the right to find an area where a little sand might remain.

Between Queets and Quilcene, the State's Department of Transportation (DOT) spends over $327,000 a year to keep the roads open. Most of this goes for snow removal, and dispensing over 10,000 cubic yards of sand to help keep 231 miles of road drivable. When the air is really cold, below 20 degrees, the sand has a tendency to freeze to the machinery. To prevent this, a small amount of a chemical de-icer is sometimes added to the sand just before it is applied to the road. The DOT does not salt the roads.

The National Park Service (NPS) is charged with maintaining the most beautiful and challenging piece of road on the Peninsula; the 5000 foot climb from sea-level into the wilds of the Olympics at Hurricane Ridge. Last winter, the Ridge recieved nearly 300 inches of snow, and by early March the accumulated snowpack, measured just north of the Lodge, had reached 104 inches. Betwen December and April the NPS spent over $60,000 to keep this 17 mile-long ribbon asphalt open for the [50 to 60 thousand [skiers, tubers, snowshoers, snowboarders and other winter recreationists the area attracts. Snow removal and repair of this one road occupies four to six people and can consume up to 17 percent of the Park's annual road maintainance budget. The Park Service is aided by Olympic Mountain Rescue, who's members volunteer over 1,200 manhours and 7,000 vehicle miles every winter to provide an emergency system that could deliver injured recreationists and their disabled cars of the unprepared [from the icy jaws of death]. From November to July, writer Joe Breskin carries his skiis into the back country, searching for Snow-Worms, bobcats and wild Olympic Onions.

Sources of my numbers:



Recommended reading list:



THE FOLLOWING SECTION IS ALL SENSORY DETAIL, FIRST PERSON SINGULAR, HERE-NOW STUFF. I DO NOT BELIEVE IT REALLY FITS INTO THE ARTICLE: I'VE CUT AS MUCH OF IT AS I CAN INTO THE PIECE ALREADY, AND LEFT THE REST OF IT OUT HERE, SO YOU CAN PLAY WITH IT IF YOU WANT TO... I BELIEVE IT IS MUCH BETTER WRITTEN THAN THE ARTICLE ITSELF, BECAUSE IT WROTE ITSELF WHILE I WAS UP IN THE MOUNTAINS, WITH NOTHING BUT WHAT I WAS SEEING IN MY MIND... CONSIDER IT POETRY.

Summer can be over in September at 6000 feet. Every day, the line the sun can't quite reach marches higher and higher up the ridges. You can see it on the leaves: the dew of the morning never evaporates. Then the frost doesn't melt. I think that's the signal that tells the plants it's over.

The critters are busy too, shredding seed piles called middens out of the fir cones and chopping down the Lupine. The deer and the Elk have left the High Country for the Winter. Hike from Hurricane Hill about halfway down to Lake Mills, all the way down to beginning of the heavy timber, in late September and you'll come upon several places where sizeable herds have very recently bedded down, but most of the grass in the high meadows has already turned brown, from frost and drought, and I suspect that it's the quality of the food that drives them down the mountain.

Now, this is Mouse & Marmot country. Like 14# to 20# Prairie Dogs, Marmots dig their holes along the hillsides between 4500' and 6000', sometimes right in the middle of the hiking trail. They hibernate for most of the winter and emerge in the springtime with their aft sections bleached almost silver from the excrement with which they foul there nests. They have been haying. You can see all sorts of vegetation decorating the doorways of their nests. This works out very nicely for some of the plants, especially for the Wild Olympic Onions. These plants are slightly smaller than domestic chives and have beautiful, twisted leaves. They grow a single 10" - 14" tall shaft with a 1 1/5" globe on top formed of clusters of many small flowers on tiny radial branches, just like a garlic. Earlier in the cycle, there were fragrant purple flowers, which were replaced by delicious green fruit-like swellings that eventually ripen into seed. Now in its final phase, each of the Onion's seed pods has opened into a seed-holder shaped like the trumpet on an old Victrola record player. These cup-like structures are made from thin translucent cellulose, brownish-white like dried flower-petals. These upward pointing "dried flowers" are arranged in groups of threes and fives, perhaps 20 to a plant, and eventually, each of them opens and releases one small black seed. To harvest the green, food-stage seed pods, at their maximum sugar content, the Rodents chop off the central stalk near the top, and leave it to cure in the sum. Because not all the pods ripen at once, a maximally ripe cluster will have some seed pods that are truly ripe, mixed with the pods that are merely perfect food stage. Dragging the clusters across the rough terrain to their caves distributes all the seeds that are truly ripe. We might call this system good resource management, but the metaphor does not really apply to things that simply cannot work any other way. Systems this elegant represent "real Engineering".

In the high country, the march of time gets a little messed up, and you can walk from spring into fall and back, within a distance of a hundred feet or less, because the seasons are defined by the arc and angle of the sun and by the shadows cast by the peaks and the ridges. On one side of a patch of berries or flowers you can see blossoms just beginning to open, on the other, the berries are ripe or even withering. A few feet from a patch of flowers, the seed pods have already ruptured releasing their seeds in preparation for winter. Winter has already arrived in the deeper canyons: they will not see the sun again until June.

=========== No changes have been made past this point, this edit ===========

The National Park Service is charged with maintaining the most beautiful and challenging piece of road on the Peninsula; the 5,000 foot climb from sea-level into the wilds of the Olympics at Hurricane Ridge. Last winter, the Ridge recieved nearly 300 inches of snow, and by early March the accumulated snowpack, measured just north of the Lodge, had reached 104 inches. Betwen December {1990} and April {1991}, the {Park Service} spent {an alternative would be to say "spends" instead of "spent" and leave off the 1990 and 1991. Besides, "Spends" matches "attracts" in the next clause.} over $60,000 to keep this seventeen mile-long ribbon of asphalt open for the 50 to 60 thousand skiers, tubers, snowshoers, snowboarders and other winter recreationists the area attracts.

Snow removal and repair of this one road occupies four to six people and can consume up to 17 percent of the park's annual road main-tainance budget. The Park Service is aided by Olympic Mountain Rescue, who's members volunteer over 1,200 manhours and 7,000 vehicle miles to provide an emergency system that could deliver injured recreationists and their disabled cars from the icy jaws of death.

Sidebar: Snow at Sea Level

On the Peninsula, it takes an outbreak of cold arctic air to cause snow at sea level. This occurs when a high pressure cell, chilled in the snow-covered interior of Canada or Alaska is dragged into our area by a deep low off the coast. The high pressure air-mass spills over the mountains and flows down the Fraser River valley, following the west slope of the Cascade Range to Bellingham and then pouring south into the Puget Sound basin. If the low is located far enough north, the high will spill out the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward the ocean. As this dry air blows over the Sound and the Strait, it picks up {water} and soon becomes saturated. When it is forced to rise by the north flank of the Olympic Mountains, the moisture it has {swap "absorbed" for "picked up"} becomes super-cooled, splattering {as} snow onto the mountains south of Sequim and Port Angeles and on the foothills west of town. You can see this pattern on the tree trunks: they look like they've been sprayed with thick white paint, but on only one side.

But for the snow to really stick, a cold, high pressure air mass has to settle over our region, taking up residence long enough to cool the ground. This normally requires about a week of cold, clear weather. Then, moist low-pressure air must pour in from the coast and flood over the top of the arctic high, delivering moisture to the system. Even these conditions do not guarantee snow. Usually, the low will be too big, simply absorb the high, and the snow will quickly turn to rain.

The cold weather that brings these heavy accumulations of snow is usually followed by several days of sunshine. Snow rapidly disappears in direct sunlight, but in the shade, especially on sweeping curves and east-west roads, the ice may not melt until the temperature rises. Most of the accidents happen in this prepetual shade. Sanding the icy spots helps for a while, but it does not eliminate danger; most of sand is blown out off the driving lanes within minutes of application. To avoid accidents, drivers must slow down before {curves}, stay out of the middle of the black lines and move to the right to find an area where a little sand might remain.

Between Queets and Quilcene, the State Department of Transportation (DOT) spends over $327,000 {a year} on snow removal, dispensing over 10,000 cubic yards of sand to help keep 231 miles of road drivable. When the air is really cold, below 20 degrees, the sand has a tendency to freeze to the machinery. To prevent this, a small amount of a chemical de-icer is sometimes added to the sand just before it is applied to the road. The DOT does not salt the roads.

From November to July, writer Joe Breskin carries his skiis into the back country, searching for Snow-Worms, bobcats and wild Olympic Onions.

Call Gay Edelbrock / spiders / science / 452 4501 Call Bruce Moorehead: mammals

Called NPS, got Jan, she passed messages, did not send latest FAX (directly below) they called back

I have a problem. I have assumed for years that there were Pikas in the rocks above Lake of the Angels, down by Mt. Skokomish. I have never seen them, but every fall, I see these incredibly neat haystacks drying in the sun, as opposed to scattered at the mouths of nest holes. I am now on the spot: Daniel Matthews claims Pikas haven't gotten to the Olympics. Can species be infered from their harvesting behavior? Which critters DO make haystacks? I found a ref. in Zwinger to a 1958 article by R.G. Beidelman and W.A. Weber in J. Mammal. 39: 599-600 "Analysis of a Pika hay pile." I will try to find it in the stacks at U-W this week, however, in the mean-time:

1. Is there an Olympic Mammals species list? Can I have a copy of it?

2. Is it broken down by "region" as in SE (Skokomish), North-slope (Hurricane), Interior (Bailey/Olympus), etc? or are most species ubiquitous/well distributed at this point.

3. Who can tell me about chipmunk life history?

according to Richard Johnson (below) Penngelly (U-C Riverside) is most prolific publisher of ground-squirrel hibernation papers. Back in '60's he published a slew of em.. J. Mammal. 47:63-73, 49:561-562, Comp. Biochem & Phys. 19:603-617, Can. Jn. Zoology 39:105-120, 41:1103-1120, also suggested

A. Chipmunks (Eutamias (it is NOT a Townsendii: what is it?) are ubiquitous in Olympic high country in the summer, they seem to occupy similar terrain to that preferred by Pikas. What kind of nests do they make & what do they do in the winter?

B. Are the 4-5" dia. nest-holes/tunnels along the road, just west of Waterhole on Obstruction Pt. Road likely to be from water-voles or boomers? They have semi-orderly haypiles at and near their entrances, but the haypiles are not particularly well layed-out if drying the material is important to the critter... the "hay" appears to be mostly lupine and other soft, leafy stuff.

Talked to both Bruce Moorehead and Gay Hunter. Bruce sez there is no reason that Pikas shouldn't be in the Olympics, just that no one has caught one yet. Until very recently, Olympic has put little or no energy into inventories, focused on providing services to visitors, not science. He suggests several mammologists to call: Richard Johnson at WSU, Murray Johnson at U-W Burke Museum. Told me about Baird's Sandpipers, a migratory shore-bird which swings thru, does not go to the seashore, and harvests tons of insect life from the high elevation snowpatches in late summer. Told me the black moss like snow mold was in fact a Usnea (goat's beard lichen) and that the Lichen grows on trees only above the snowpack high water mark, whereas the herpotrecia snowmold grows below the snowpack.

Gay talked about the studies of HUnter, who quantified the Biomass on snowfields in summer (enormous number, but its all invisible, cuz it all gets eaten) and also has a John Edwards article on Aeolean Zone ecosystem (which she will send, along with the most complete Olympic Species list) which she had JUST then printed out on the computer for Bruce. Gay sez the Olympic collection is very shabby, because no one has been working on it, altho she is impressed by how much ground the old guys actually covered, considering the primative equipment they were using. SHe is studying nocturnal insects who scavange the snowpack after dark. Particularly a carotid beetle, and the grashopper she discovered, that Lowell told us about is in fact a previously undiscribed species.

Called Karen Holtrop at Quil 765-3368 for mammalian species list

Call Mark at DNR. Heads Natural Heritage Program, did MS on Herbivory at Eagle Point... townsends vole oregoni (creeping or long-tailed in wetter zones) pocket gophers


Bruce
Hurricane Ridge/Obstruction Point Chipmunk is not a townsendii
Snow mole/ pocket gopher (Murray Johnson U-W Burke museum) has published pocket gopher paper

Spiders on the snow (this is for Gay Hunter)

"Among the cleverest adaptations to life in the snow-pack can be seen in the spiders who scavange the snowpack, living on flying insects blown onto the snow and too cold to fly away. The spiders take up residence on the many tufts of the spongy black snow-mold (herpotrechia sp.)[or is it actually a black snow-mold infecting a green lichen that lives on the trees?] which infects the needles of alpine conifers.

The clumps of snow-mold that have been scattered by the wind across the surface of the snow melt holes where the spiders find refuge, protected from birds, insulated by the mat of moss-like herpotrechia sp and kept warm and active by the sunlight it absorbs."

O.K. so what spiders are these, anyway? Lowell told me you had discovered a beetle/grashopper critter that scavenges the snowpack surface. Does it hide from birds by crawling into holes and sitting on twigs and tufts and rocks?>

Next:
Called Richard Johnson refered by Bruce Moorehead.
(509) 334-1977 or switchboard 334-3564 Dept of Zoology WSU Pullman 99164-4236.

He referred me to Andrew Smith or his assist and current Doctoral student Mary Peacock. They are in the Zoology Dept Arizona State University Tempe . Andrew (Andy) is west's leading Pika specialist. Richard has hiked with Mary and reports she is a very keen observer, that she pointed out all sorts of haystacks he missed, and that she is studying Pika nests. He agrees that I should be able to identify the presence of the critters by the characteristics of their nests and haystacks.

He offers that the other critters who could potentialy have made the piles are pocket gophers, woodrats, or heather voles, and that I probably DO need to catch one eventually, or record them eekk eekk eekk-ing at me

He also refered me to Murray Johnson @ Burke Museum 543-5590 or 685 7417 office at U-W, he lives in Tacoma. Hm-office # 627-5697 M-J has documented the existance of Pocket Gophers in North Olympic, at H/R and elsewhere. Is former surgeon, retired, old, works only a few days a week.

Next: Called Mark (silvestra?) at DNR. get his MS thesis from Western Biology dept. 1978 Herbivory in Olympic Mtns. He refered me to William Wood who did thesis in 73 or 74 on Marmots, also at western, Biology. He does not believe that there are either Pikas or Ptamigan in Olympics, but sez MUCH stranger things have been reported at Lake of the Angels, namely a Wolverine, which the staff pooh-poohed until the reporter described both the animal and its behavior perfectly.

He figures the nest we took apart on monday was a Heather Vole, and that the scat with all the seeds and grass in it was not from the Vole, but was grouse pellets, which are very rich food compared to the roots the Vole normally gets. Said that they are very clean animals, and make latrines quite a distance from their nests, which does not explain the sawdust-like stuff, unless it is more melted-down grouse-pellets. When we turned over the pile of sawdust, there were a lot of little pellets under it, which sort of agrees-with/supports that model. He said he has the same problem of keeping what he knows separate from what he believes that i am experiencing here. Listed all the species he has seen in the Olympics:
3 voles in the high county: Heather, Creeping and Long Tailed - plus red-backed in forest
2 Weasels: Short and Long-Tailed
3 shrews: Wandering, dusky and the beautiful silver and black Water Shrew, which has silver fur on its hind feet to work as paddles when it swims, and is silver on the underside and black on the topside, making it virtually invisible to both birds and fish when it is swimming.,.
2 chipmunks (townsendii and )
Hoary OLYMPIC Marmot
2 mice: Deer and Jumping

Mtn Beaver, at lower elevations (in the meadow going up to Mt. Angeles on Switchback trail and in the meadow above the road, below Sunrise... )

Pocket Gophers
Then I called Murray Johnson, an unabashed splitter and a grand curmudgeon. We talked about the species he has collected (he prefers a .22 cal shotgun) and the nests he has excavated over the past 30 years, and about Park Politics.

More Spider Stuff

  One of the cleverest adaptations to life in the snow-pack are the spiders, who scavange the snow, living on flying insects blown onto the snow and too cold to fly away. The spiders take up residence on the many tufts of the spongy black snow-mold (herpotrechia sp.) which infects the needles of alpine conifers.

 

The clumps of snow-mold that have been scattered by the wind across the surface of the snow melt holes and the spider hides in the hole, protected from birds, insulated by the mat of moss-like herpotrechia sp and kept warm and active by the sunlight it absorbs.

I promised my editor I'd find the name of the species and discovered that the little research has been done on insects of the Olympic Mountains. As a result, this spider is unreported, and its habits are undocumented, and its name is unknown.

We went out again this weekend, to a very hard place, but one of the best places we know about, the one we go to every year at this time. Because it's so far up into the high country, right on the margins of the zone that plants can inhabit, the seasons are not well distributed. We heard on the car's radio, while we were driving there that time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening all at once. In the high country, the march of time gets a little messed up, and you can walk from spring into fall and back, within a distance of a hundred feet or less, because the seasons are defined by the arc and angle of the sun and by the shadows of the peaks and the ridges.

On one side of a patch of berries or flowers you can see blossoms just beginning to open, on the other, the berries are ripe or even withering, and a few feet from a patch of flowers, the seed pods have begun releasing seeds in preparation for winter. Winter has already arrived in the deeper canyons: they will not see the sun again until May or even June. So you see, the seasons are not defined by the mere passage of time: it is a complex and wondrous thing. Carter sat in the shade, covered with shirts and hats, reading a book while I wrote this piece, lying nearly naked in the sun, hoping to get one last sunburn this season, and to test the power of the low-angle sun.

September 24, 1989 Lake of the Angels

I get the feeling that this little basin, at the foot of Mount Skokomish is close to the Geological Heart, the Active Center, of the entire region, perhaps of the entire Park. The Plate Tectonic Model of Continental drift and the formation of the landscape posits that the Olympic Peninsula is the smallest of all the Plates in the earth's crust, a pawn, perpetually pushed around by the movements of its larger neighbors, it serves as the "Whiskey Plank", the place where all the slack gets taken up. Perhaps rather than the center, it is the cutting edge of the plate. It appears to be the junction of at least 7 distinctly different kinds of rock, and they ways they are blended and mixed create extremely unique, localized features. 30' to the north of our tent is a steep cliff of heavily black basalt. It is almost black and it seems to be exploding into gravel, almost before my eyes. 15' to the south is another similar cliff, but much of this one is made from concrete gray sandstone, and it seems to be in much less hurry to turn into sand. The draw between them is filled almost level with coarse black gravel, like people used in their driveways in the suburbs of my youth, but most of it has a subtle softness, implying a metamorphic process at some point in its past.

We are camped at almost exactly 6000' above sea-level, and about 1000' above the timberline, but there are lots of trees here. Few of them get to live very long, because everything changes so fast up here. Looking across the basin to Mt. Stone, you can see enormous boulders, some as big as school-busses, that have fallen down the slope. Several of them were hundreds of feet higher up the slope this time last fall, and you can clearly see the holes they vacated, gaping like the mouth's of caves. Last fall I helped a friend named Stuart build a little dam at the end of a draw right above the snowfield that is providing us with water. We intended to block part of its drainage and make a little pool to soak in, figuring the black gravel bottom would make it get nice and warm: this year, the entire hillside is gone. It occurred to me that it might have been our fault that the hillside fell down, but looking at the amount of change in the rest of this valley, I really don't believe it.

From the air, this valley would look roughly fish-hook shaped, and its less than a mile and a half deep. We are at the southeast corner, at the barb on the end of the hook, because it offers the best possible views of the sunrise and although it's hundreds and hundreds of feet of steep talus and slippery heather above the lake, it has a snowfield that feeds a quiet little stream about 2 minutes walk from camp, and its THE place few people will ever visit, and fewer still will ever foul. We didn't even try coming up here 'til after our 3rd year of climbing to the saddle that's north of the lake.

This year there are still lots of bugs in the high country: mostly ants and "Bee-Flys", the curious little flys that are painted to mimic YellowJacket Wasps. I'm actually rather fond of the BeeFlys: with their big gray cartoon-character eyes and there metal-detector tongues, they seem to take a higher animal's interest in their surroundings, and altho they tickle when they are exploring my skin, they do not seem to bite. The ants up here do not bite either, but I don't let them walk on me. Can't quite trust 'em, and they're a little too distracting.

At night, if you go to the cliff at the mouth of the valley, you can see the rosey sodium lights of Seattle, 50 miles off to the east, its mercury vapor suburbs stretching for many miles to the north and south, but there is a lot of air and a lot of water between us and the city, and the lights of civilization do not block out the stars, or intrude into your consciousness the way a road would. This is the First Real Spectacular Glaciated Hanging Valley in the Southeastern Olympics. In spite of how hard the trail is, this place is much too easy to get to for its own good. Looking East at dawn, you can see all the Olympic foothills, then the ridges and all the ditches filled with water between Hood Canal and Elliot Bay, and then, after the hazy wasteland around Seattle, the layered gradations that mark the foothills and finally the Cascades. In the foreground looms Mount Rainier. I suspect that around Christmas, if you are on this cliff at dawn, you'll see the sun rise almost directly behind Mt. Rainier. The Hamma Hamma River Road runs west from US 101 about 15 miles to Boulder Creek and the intersection with FSR 2466; about half the distance is paved. Fsr2466 was built by bozo loggers about 20 years ago, and until last year, it was so badly washed out at every stream crossing that you would have had to carry a mountain bike across the gorges. You used to be able to drive up the road for about half a mile, to park at the first washout, 30' wide and 12' deep. Last year they "fixed" all of the washouts, installing new versions of the same undersized culverts, and piled a huge mound of dirt and gravel at its intersection with the Hamma Hamma Road, so only heavy equipment or the truly obnoxious 4-wheelers can use it. The rumor is that they are going to sell all the timber east of Boulder Creek real soon. Last year, we drove over the berm to the lower washout, and parked our Subaru wagon. Stuart bounced his 4 X 4 Toyota HCV through it and continued all the way up to the trailhead. This year the berm was more serious, so I parked at the road. Next time I'll be more obnoxious and drive around: the road is now quite passable all the way to the trailhead. The way the Forest Service and the road people have things set up, almost everybody walks up 2 miles or so of old overgrown roadbed. It switchbacks up the mountainside on a grade designed for the brakes of the logtrucks, not the legs of the hiker, until the Putvin Trail cuts the road at about 2600'. The Putvin Trail is tough. It is among the steepest trail in Olympic National Forest, and in many respects, it is the best. Climbing about 4000' in a bit under 4 miles does not initially sound too bad, until you consider that at least a mile of this distance meanders thru Alpland, on very gentle slopes and level traverses.

I imagine that the route is divided into 4 stages, each about the same distance: the road to the trail, the trail thru the steep woods, climb to the alpland meadows and the climb to the lake. To this we add a fifth: the slope above the lake. Each of these sections is clearly cut off by some major change in the landscape, and 2 of them are marked by significant obstacles that serve as emotional gateways from one world to the next. The transition from the road to the trail is clearcut: a brutal series of switchbacks lead to a long, steep, occasionally exposed uphill trudge which ascends the ridge with almost no switchbacks and few proper logs to rest on. Winding your way uphill, the steps defined by the exposed roots of closely spaced trees, you might as well be climbing stairs. The descent is somewhat more problematic, especially if its raining. Once you get thru these woods, you have to climb a 350' headwall, some of the route actually involving hands and feet rock climbing and real exposure. In a torrential spring rain or when there is snow on the ground, it is a serious obstacle. Above this is the zone we call Blueberry Hill, in late September this hillside is one of the best patches of the purple-black high-bush black huckleberries in the known world. One of the commending features of this particular berry patch is its apparent and unfortunately total lack of bears. I do not know if this is a result of loggers making this part of the world too ugly for bears, or this valley being just too easy for hunters to get to, or the new scourge of Poachers illegally harvesting Bears for their Gallbladders and other organs, for use in $500 an ounce Oriental Remedies, but whatever the reason, bear shit is getting to be a scarce commodity in the Olympics.

After the BlueBerry Hill episode, which can reasonably be expected to consume half of the time it takes to get from the headwall to the Lake, if not the whole trip from the car to the lake, the trail enters Classic Olympic Alpland, and winds its way thru a hanging garden, across several slow-moving streams and between several small ponds filled with frogs and tadpoles, surrounded by lush mossy meadows. Alpland ends abruptly at another headwall, this one made of dirt and because it is covered with beargrass, lupine, and other sorts of Marmot food, can be a serious ankle biter. The route switchbacks up this slope, which is an ecstatic glissade in the spring, and finally enters the "Valley of Heaven" in which resides the "Lake of the Angels". When we first started coming up here, this whole basin was in the National forest, but now it's become part of the Park. The Park boundary is down in Alpland, where you cross Whitehorse Creek. There is a rumor that next summer there will be a Ranger Station up here, like the one at Glacier Meadows on Olympus. It makes sense to me: the place probably needs to be protected from the savage hoards, and I'd certainly give A LOT to get to spend a whole summer up here, if I were the lucky Ranger in question, but it will definitely cheapen the place. We were used to seeing people there, and we have rarely had the place to ourselves for more than a day, but this year, after delights of the basin got written up in SignPost Magazine, the number of people who chose to visit Lake of the Angels went up by something like an order of magnitude, and the feeling of utter solitude it used to offer, is history, at least on perfect sunny weekends.

There used to be lots of mountain goats up here, too. They were quite a nuisance, tearing up the meadow in their craving for hiker-piss. There were no signs to explain to people that the goats would dig enormous gravelpits in the course of mining the meadow for every molecule of pee-salt left on the ground, and directing them to pee on big rocks or in the old firepits the uninitiated leave in the meadow. It seems that quite a few goats were airlifted out last year and the meadow around the lake seems to be a little less shredded, but there are still at least 4 of them living up on the side of Mt. Stone. We meet hunters on the trail every fall, both gun hunters and bow hunters, and so far we have not met any who are drunk or disorderly, but so far, we haven't seen anyone get anything.

This year, in our highest-ever camp, we saw the haystacks and drying racks of rodentors. Many of the high-country's smaller residents do not really hibernate. They do slow down a little, but they do not fall asleep, and as a result, they must consume a lot of food to support their metabolic activity and heat their caves. So this time every year, they cut down the Lupine and Wild Onions and dandelions and various other plants, after the flowers are gone, but before the seeds have turned black: right at the peak of their energy storage.

They arrange them in the sun to dry, in neat, orderly piles, and when they are sure the crops are dry enough that they will not turn into compost in their burrows, they haul them below ground. Summer is history up here at 6000'! Every day, the line the sun can't quite reach marches higher and higher up the north sides of the ridges. You can see it on the leaves of the plants: the dew of the morning never evaporates. I think this is the signal that tells them it's really over. The critters are busy too, shredding fir cones and chopping down the Lupine. The deer and the Elk have left the High Country for the Winter. On this hike we descended about halfway to Lake Mills, and we came upon several paces where sizeable herds had recently bedded down. Some folks we saw on the trail, who carrying binoculars and a crude clarinet-style Elk Caller claimed to have seen 2 4-point Bucks, and we saw similar critters on the road up to the ridge, but most of the grass in the meadows has turned brown now, and I suspect that its the quality of the food that has driven them down the mountain. Now, this is Marmot country, and because Marmots are sloppy animals, we aren't seeing the orderly little haystacks we saw last weekend.

Like 14# to 20# Prairie Dogs, Marmots dig their holes along hillsides between 4000' and 5500', sometimes right in the middle of the trail. They hibernate for most of the winter and emerge in the springtime with their aft sections bleached almost silver from the excrement with which they foul there nests. When I see them, bleached and disheveled, I cant help imagining they are actually propelled out into the Spring by the force of their digestive systems acting against the bottom end of the cave and the back end of the marmot.

Most of the blueberries are gone too, and there are lots of piles of blueberry scat along the trail. It looks like whoever left it had teeth made for chopping, not for chewing, and a gut that was very poorly suited to digesting unchewed blueberries. This time of year, Bearshit looks like something you would filter and make into jam or jelly, all chewed to a purple pulp. This stuff is different, and answers a long-standing question I've had about how the berries propagate: some of them pass intact through the gut of the beast, and start growing in a rich pile crushed berries and other stuff (or else this critter was simply a glutton who was wasting a lot of berries, all of which will get washed away in the rain.)

The smaller critters have been haying, too. You can see all sorts of vegetation decorating the doorways of their nests. This works out very nicely for some of the plants, especially for the Olympic Onions. These Wild Onion plants are about the size of domestic chives and have beautiful, twisted leaves. They grow a single tall shaft with a globe on top made from many small flower-clusters, like a garlic.

Earlier in the cycle, there were fragrant flowers, which were replaced by delicious green fruit-like swellings that eventually ripen into seed. Now, in its final phase, the Onion looks a bit like a dandelion, only each of the dandelion's branching filaments has become the intersection of two panels of thin translucent cellulose, brownish-white like dried flower-petals. Each one is a small trumpet shaped seed holder. These upward pointing "dried flowers" are arranged in groups of threes and fives, perhaps 20 to a plant, and eventually, each of them opens and releases one small black seed. To harvest the green, food-stage seed pods, at their maximum sugar content, the Rodents chop off the central stalk near the top, and leave it to cure in the sum. Because not all the pods ripen at once, a maximally ripe cluster will have some seed pods that are truly ripe, mixed with the pods that are merely perfect food stage.

f__ Dragging the clusters across the rough terrain to their caves distributes all the seeds that are ripe. We might call this system good resource management, but the metaphor does not really apply to things that simply cannot work any other way.I have been wracking my brain a lot this year for solutions to two basic resource management problems: the need for high-altitude greenhouses and the need for a source of supply for old-growth ground cover. Both are desperately needed. Repairs on and around hiking trails, revegetation of burns and restoration of campsites and abandoned roads and other man-made damage all require importing substantial quantities of "old-growth" ground cover plants. Low elevation old-growth ground cover is actually readily available, the problem is simply bridging the gap in the supply chain. A Road-building operation involves destroying all of the plants which live in its path. Could these plants be simply picked up and relocated, abundant revegatation materials would be readily available. Logging operations are currently based on extensive road-building and obviously, making ground-cover relocation (and the survival of the relocated plants) a specified requirement would increase the cost of the building road, but the mechanism for financing such an operation is already in place. Currently, the Forest Service's engineers design and budget all the logging roads, and all budgeted road-building expenses are totally deductable from the price that logging operations pay the Forest Service for the timber they extract, as "essential K-V" (Knudsen-Vandenburg monies, supposedly used to cover the cost of reforestation). This means it does not need to cost the logging company any money at all to initiate a program of harvesting "old-growth ground cover". and in fact, a few companies could become fairly profitable simply selling these plants to the Park Service.

I am imagining a very simple system whereby a different kind of forestry labor is employed, prior to the big demolition act, men with shovels carefully excavate and remove the topsoil and groundcover, and then inventory it and transport it to a nursery environment. The high altitude greenhouse is a much more difficult problem to deal with because suitable real estate for the job pretty much does not exist. Land is either already covered with appropriate vegetation, it cannot support plant-life in forms higher than Lichens, or it has somehow already been defoliated by the activities of people. This leaves few places to locate nurseries. In high impact areas, the easy to reach places like Hurricane Ridge, which are frequented by uncivilized hoards, the obvious and proper solution is pavement. The vegetation the previously occupied the area to be paved needs to be relocated to heal trampled areas. In some fragile meadows, the message of the pavement needs to be reinforced by the installation of fenceposts and possibly even Razor-Wire.

 

 Text and Images Joe Breskin

© 1991