Thursday, September 13, 2012
Poodle Dog Pass
On Saturday, August 18th, my wife and I and two members of the Washington Native Orchid Society, one of them the founder of the society, hiked the trail to Silver Lake in Henry M. Jackson Wilderness on the west slopes of the Cascades, a part of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. We were looking for the rather insignificant but rare Chamisso's Orchid, Platanthera chorisiana which had been reported from that location in 1981.
The hike is eighteen miles round trip, and we had hoped to do the first four miles on bikes, but had to leave them at the end of the first mile where the old bridge was washed out and the trail was just a track through the woods. We could have gotten them through and over the log that replaced the bridge, but one of us had had a flat tire, and so we decided just to hike in, four miles on the old road and another five miles beyond the ghost town of Monte Christo and up the pass.
The hike was strenuous, gaining 3500 feet of elevation in 5 miles. The trail goes through Poodle Dog Pass, turning south to Silver Lake or north to Twin Lakes. My wife and I hiked only to Silver Lake (I a part of the way toward Twin Lakes), but we were exhausted and gave it up while the other couple went on. Before leaving, however, we searching every boggy area at Silver Lake for this small and elusive orchid. We also had our lunch and a rest on the hill above the lake which was still partly frozen.
The information we had for Chamisso's Orchid from the herbarium at Washington State University was not very helpful. It only mentioned bogs southwest of Poodle Dog Pass at 4700 feet (no GPS's back then). The orchid itself is only 10-15 cm tall and green, with tiny flowers, so finding it involves some serious searching. I had seen it once before on Vancouver Island, so knew what I was looking for, but had never seen it in Washington, nor had anyone for quite some time.
I have not been able to find out the origin of the name "Poodle Dog Pass." One description of the trail suggests, tongue-in-cheek, that a poodle fell to its death on the steeper and more dangerous part of the trail around Twin Lakes, but no one seems to know the truth. Whatever the name, the views of the Monte Cristo Peaks, especially Columbia Peak and Silvertip Peak are spectacular, and the difficult hike worthwhile just for the views and scenery.
Sadly, we did not find the orchid, but as always, found plenty to photograph and enjoy, including the spectacular scenery and the old silver mining ghost town of Monte Cristo. The town flourished for a short time in the late 1800's until the silver deposits there were exhausted. It is now maintained for its historical interest though the buildings that remain are not open to visitors. Visiting the town requires that four mile hike or rough ride on a mountain bike since the old road is partially washed out.
One of the best finds of the hike was a number of Gnome Plants (Hermitomes congestum), a very rare saprophyte (it's not even listed in my wildflower book for the area) that grows close to the ground and is without leaves or chlorophyll. I had not seen this plant before, nor had the people we were with. There were not a lot of wildflowers blooming but at Silver Lake we found the Bird's-beak Lousewort, a relatively rare wildflower I had not seen before.
With a nine mile hike ahead of us, my wife and I did made good time on the way out. It was a hot day, however, and we did not make many stops for photos. We did find some unusual fungi, my wife's favorite photographic subject and back in Monte Cristo we took some time exposures of 76 Creek, but even without many stops it seemed a long way back to our bikes and the last mile back to the car. The hike is, however, one we want to do again as an overnight backpacking trip.
Most of the pictures posted here are my wife's. I did not take very many pictures, since we were hiking with others and they wanted to make it to Twin Lakes. Normally we would hike at a slower pace with a lot of time for pictures, but we did not want to delay them.