Follow by Email

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

TWC latest edition now available online

The "Spring" 2011 issue is a bit late. It was held-up for last minute changes to The American Alps Challenge event announcement.

N3C members will get their paper copies soon, but you can see an online preview now at:

In This Issue:
  • President’s Report — Marc Bardsley
  • It's in the air — John S. Edwards
  • Celebrating crumbling roads in the backcountry — Robert Kendall
  • Swamp Mountain: Perspectives on the Skagit river, source of Northwest life, livelihood and quality of life — Tom Hammond
  • Massive overbuilding threatens North Fork Sky road — Rick McGuire
  • American Alps Challenge, September 24
  • A brief history of the Wild Cascades: A call to action — Tom Hammond
  • In memoriam: Conway Leovy
  • NCCC joins intervention against Black Canyon hydro proposal — Rick McGuire
  • The Suiattle lawsuit: why it happened, what is at stake, and what comes next — Kevin Geraghty
  • Grizzly bear sighting confirmed in the North Cascades last fall — Mark Yuasa, The Seattle Times
  • Books and video available
  • NCCC membership application
  • You're invited! NCCC membership event, Dec. 9

Sunday, August 21, 2011

North Cascade Glacier Climate Project, 2011

The 28th consecutive North Cascade Glacier Climate Project field season is underway, and I was fortunate enough to have the founder and director of the Project, Professor Mauri Pelto, include me for the glaciers in the northern sector, on the flanks of Mount Shuksan and the NE side of Kulshan (Mount Baker).
The team this season includes Pelto, his son Ben who is considering his options for graduate school, daughter Jill, soon to be a freshman at university in the NE, and Ian Delaney, headed to graduate school this Fall. As with recent years, the team will be joined by various researchers and interested people during the course of the three weeks that are required to survey the nine glaciers across the North Cascades. The glaciers are chosen on the basis of location (wet West to dry East, South to North), aspect (S facing slopes through to N facing slopes) and type (avalanche fed vs. “traditional” slope).

This marked the first time since I joined the project in 2004 that I wouldn’t meet the team to start the season at the Columbia Glacier in the Monte Cristo region. Work, timing, and a desire to see Shuksan and Kulshan up close pushed me to join at the second stop, the Lower Curtis Glacier on the SW flanks of Shuksan. From there, we’d traverse across “The Interface” to the Sholes Glacier and the mighty Rainbow Glacier on Kulshan. The Interface is where 90 million year old schist and gneiss of Shuksan contacts the one million year old andesite flows of Kulshan. So cool to have these contrasting mountains so proximate to each other, and the different terrains involved.
Did I say proximate? In mountain terms they are very close together, but in human terms, the distance makes for plenty of heavy, hard hiking. More so this season because the snow pack is at record levels for this time of year. Yep, this is the most snow seen in August in the 28 years of the Project, and probably since the 1974-75, or earlier. I was forced to park at the ski area, adding some two or three miles to the hike, but more importantly, making the logistics of hauling/resupplying from the Shuksan portion to the Kulshan portion difficult—we usually carry minimum food and such to Shuksan and then reload at the car, which is normally available between the two trailheads. This year the trailhead (Artist’s Point) is under about five meters of snow!
As anyone who lives in the Puget Sound region can attest, this has been the “no summer” summer. And herein lies the key to glacier existence and survival in our area—for it is not a huge Winter snowfall that makes for big snowpack and glaciers, it is the heat, or lack thereof, in summer that dictates snowpack survival from one year to the next (glacier positive mass balance). I think Seattle has hit 80F less than five times this year, and it shows in the North Cascades.

Aug 4-6, Lower Curtis Glacier

I enjoy hiking snow, and this year the snow is some of the best I’ve ever seen—firm, with little breakthrough/postholing. The trip in to base camp at Lake Ann was no exception, and the team arrived a few hours after me, around sunset. Measurements at the Columbia had been limited due to the snow, but this would not be the case on the Lower Curtis, and indeed, the snow allowed us to access the terminus. It was so spectacular to walk beside blue towers of ice, huge layered fins stretching a neck-straining 20 meters vertically above us—raining water constantly, and throwing stones off at random, unmoving, but never still.
The terminus has retreated laterally 117 meters since 1985, and has retreated visibly since I first saw it in 2004—some 30 meters gone in seven years—that’s 30 meters wide by 20 meters high, by a couple hundred meters long…gone.
We were joined on the glacier by a guy who follows the project via the internet, and lives in Edmonds (apparently quite a climber). He had two 12 year old boys with him (both his sons?)—very cool parent, this guy. Talk about providing life lessons and skills!
The day was spent evaluating the glacier—clearly this will be a positive mass balance year. The final numbers are still pending, but we’re looking at about plus one meter MB.
I should note the weather. Throughout the five days I was out, and indeed, what appears will continue for the entire length of the project, the weather was perfect. Marine layers would flex in and out of the area, driven by diurnal heating and weak flow off the Pacific. It made for spectacular atmosphere/land interaction, with clouds forming and dissipating all the time, every day. Evenings would usually clear off and stay clear until a few hours after sunrise. The rest of the time, clouds would shift and drift around the high peaks and glaciers, threatening nothing more than a chance at missed award-winning photos.
Fortunately, I had the camera at the ready most of the time and captured some amazing images. It is so fun to be standing in warm sun one minute, only to be engulfed by a thin veil of cloud, still able to see for miles, all objects sporting a halo of glowing vapor. Surreal. Ground mists would arise from the snow each evening, a layer about a meter deep of cloud, tinged orange with alpenglow. It’s all about the water, and this was a magical experience with the most important molecule we know.

August 6-8, Sholes and Rainbow Glaciers

The fact we had to hike all the way from Shuksan to Kulshan in a day was both a blessing and a curse. We were looking at more than 11 miles with full packs, most every step on snow. As it was, we did about eight miles, most of us dragging a bit. We recognized camping this far from the Sholes and Rainbow would likely result in less time on the glaciers; but also recognized the snow drives back the foot that’s slow, and would be so deep on the glaciers that we wouldn’t have to take as many measurements. Indeed, Mauri cut a day off our time at this site knowing we wouldn’t have as many readings to take.
It was neat to hike all the way from one mountain to the other—not many people can say they’ve done that, and it was special to start the day on Mount Shuksan and end it on Kulshan. Upon arrival in camp, we were joined by two ptarmigans. Or more accurately, we joined two ptarmigans on Ptarmigan Ridge, and they were kind enough to share their spot with us. At points through the afternoon they were literally within a meter or two of the tent, picking away at flowers and tender shoots just emerging, an oasis of food and solid ground in a sea of snow. Curiously, they were sporting summer plumage despite the fact there is only about 10% of the normal amount of dark ground melted out from the white snow. We surmised their body clocks only have so much time for mating and such, and thus aren’t driven by conditions on the ground year to year (it sounds and seems obvious, but not always so—the scientific process being what it is!).

Sunday found us making our way to the Sholes.

We discovered small areas of flowering lupine and assorted wildflowers, a welcome splash of color in an otherwise austere world of snow and rock. The Sholes was buried—one specific area that is normally blue ice at this time of year was under three meters of snow. Indeed, as Mauri noted, he’d never hiked so far to get so few probe measurements--about six to fix the position and boundaries of “the blue ice area”. We lunched at the Portals, overlooking the Sholes to the N, and the Rainbow Glacier to the S. It became obvious that we would not make it on to the Rainbow proper—it was already early afternoon, and a round-trip to get any probing or crevasse evaluation would take us hours—likley right up to dark. So we did some photographic assessment (tons of snow, terminus a bombed out snow shelf) and I agreed to come back at the end of September to do further photo comparison work.
Estimate there will be plus one meter MB for the Sholes, Rainbow unknown at this time.
We did not see the usual herds of mountain goats (normally number in the dozens), an indication the snowpack is keeping them out of their normal summer range. We did see a raptor (believe hawk) snatch up a pica or marmot, and also saw a coyote—it was running incredibly fast across a steep snow slope.
We only saw three people in the three days on Kulshan—the snow has thrown a lot of hikers off the trail. Understandable, considering there were times on the trail that I was gripping my ice-ax tightly, using the pick to get purchase on a particularly steep section of traverse.
At the parking lot Monday, the USFS asked about my car—they were about to form a search party for the owner since it had been there for so long. No need for a search party, just a shower and some clean clothes.
[There were many other interesting encounters with climbers, wanna-be climbers, and others, and of course the meaningful conversations with the team members, but I won’t go in to that here—trying to get these reports short. I will say I am so thankful and grateful to Mauri for being included on the project, and his honest and frank friendship. I am also thankful for the ability and desire to visit these places.]



Sunday, August 14, 2011

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest public meeting Seattle, August 13th

Considering it was a nice summer Saturday morning, there was a healthy turnout--about 75 people, including many from area conservation organizations, and some from the NCCC board. Most folks were concerned about removal of LSR designation, winter recreation that is motorized (noise issues) vs. non-motorized. Quiet is a value we should have in backcountry planning and designation.
And of course folks were concerned about the paucity of Wilderness recommendations.
Instead of Wilderness, the forest plan has a "Backcountry" designation.

I discovered that what the USFS calls "Backcountry" (Golden Horn area for example) takes in to account areas without roads, manages them to stay roadless, and emphasize non-motorized summer recreation, but also calls for winter motorized recreation in those same areas.

Also, USFS didn't make recommendation for more wilderness across lands they acknowledge are of Wilderness quality due to concerns about mineral rights, both existing mines in the Azurite and upper Canyon Creek areas (remediation is underway), and potential areas that have suitable minerals for mining, notably in the Liberty Bell area. That is, the USFS doesn't want to generate a conflict of laws between the General Mining Law of 1872 and Wilderness--areas like that already exist (surface governed by Wilderness, subsurface has legitimate patents, and the ensuing battles to meet both laws in direct conflict). As well, motorized interests and existing roads provide access that make Wilderness designation difficult. Finally, there is wildfire concern, and having the ability to fight fires in areas that are adjacent to communities.

Frankly, these issues are not in effect in many of the areas we want to see designated as Wilderness, including Mad River, Cedar drainage, and the upper Skagit and upper Methow drainages (see Golden Horn, Tower MOuntain, Mount Hardy, L:berty Bell, Early Winter Spires).

And really, consideration of mineral rights and potential mining in the Liberty Bell area? I wonder how many residents of the Methow will change their tune and support Wilderness or National Park status for these spectacular lands if planning moves forward for mining this area. Has anyone seen how often the (modern, environmentally aware) Buckhorn Mine has been in compliance for water quality effluent since it began operation?
Answer: not once.

Stay tuned, the comment period lasts until September 28th, so make your voice heard!

Send comments to:

Forest Plan Revision
Okanogan Valley Office
1240 Second Avenue South
Okanogan, WA 98840

Okanogan Valley Office: 509-826-3275
Deborah Kelly, Plan Revision Public Information Specialist: 509-826-3275
Margaret Hartzell, Plan Revision Group Leader: 509-826-3275

TTY: 509-826-3765




Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Meet Forest Service officials on August 13, and tell them you want more Wilderness!

THIS SATURDAY August 13 there will be a public meeting in Seattle regarding the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Plan Revision.  The Forest Service is accepting written comments until September 28 on its Proposed Action, but this is the only public meeting that will be held on the west side of the Forest. 

This is the first time in Washington State that the public has had the opportunity to comment on the agency’s Wilderness recommendations through the Forest Plan process.  So it is important to be heard!  

The Wilderness recommendations in the Proposed Action are a good start, but they omit too many iconic wildlands like the Mad River, Liberty Bell, Golden Horn, Cutthroat Pass, the Sawtooth Crest, Nason Ridge and the upper Teanaway. Please tell the Forest Service that you want these places added to the Wilderness recommendations.

At the August 13 meeting, Forest Service representatives will provide a brief presentation about the Proposed Action and the public comment process. You will also have the opportunity to learn more through one-on-one conversations with the land managers. After the meeting, Washington Trails Association and the Mountaineers will be co-hosting a free BBQ.

What: Okanogan-Wenatchee & Colville National Forest Open House & Cookout
When: Saturday August 13, 10 am - 12:30 pm, followed by a free BBQ from 12:30pm - 2:30pm
Where: Magnuson Park, Mountaineers Program Center, 7700 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle.
Why: Opportunity for the public to get involved in planning forest management for the next 15-20 years, by talking with land managers about what this plan means to you.
For more information on the Proposed Action, including maps of the agency’s Wilderness recommendations, see the National Forest website:

Unfortunately, the Proposed Action does not address snowmobile use.  Please tell the Forest Service to use land allocations or some other mechanism to manage the balance between winter motorized and non-motorized recreation. It would be unacceptable to ignore this growing management issue based on the higher impact technology of these machines and increasing incidence of Wilderness trespass by snowmobiles for the life of this Forest Plan which will be 15-20 years.

We support the Wilderness recommendations that the Forest Service make in its Proposed Action.  These include the Rock Creek portion of the Entiat roadless area, some Pasayten additions, and some Alpine Lakes additions (Cashmere Mtn, Scatter Creek, Beverly Creek).  However, many key areas were omitted from the agency’s Wilderness recommendations.  These areas are worthy for their scenic and ecosystem values.  Critical headwaters of some of the most important rivers in the region should be included in Wilderness, as they provide a livelihood and a quality of life for all residents of the State of Washington. 

If and when you tell the Forest Service about places you want added to the Wilderness recommendations, it is important to state the names of specific places, and if you have personally recreated there, be sure to say so!

We are asking the Forest Service to add the following areas to the Wilderness recommendations:

In the Methow River drainage:
* West Fork Methow River and surrounding peaks, including Mount Hardy, Golden Horn and Holliway Mountain.
* Main stem Methow River, to include Tower Creek, Tower Mountain, Straight Ridge, Cataract Creek, The Needles (Peaks) and Leap Creek.
*Early Winters Creek arm of the Methow River and surrounding peaks, including Liberty Bell, Early Winters Spires, Copper Point, Kangaroo Ridge and the Silver Star massif.  Also Pine Creek, Cuthroat Creek and Cutthroat Peak.
*Cedar Creek, to include those aspects of Silver Star and surrounding peaks.

 Pond Meadow

In the Stehekin River drainage:
*Bridge Creek arm of the Stehekin River to include State Creek, Cutthroat Peak, Whistler Mountain, Stiletto Peak and all areas outside the National Park boundary.

The entirety of the upper Skagit River watershed should be recommended for Wilderness, as this represents the third largest river on the west coast of the contiguous United States and supports some of the largest runs of wild salmon in lower 48 states.  Skagit headwaters include:
* Tower Mountain, Mount Hardy and Swamp Creek.
* Porcupine Creek, Porcupine Peak (Peak 7762), Cutthroat Peak, Whistler Mountain.
* Granite Creek arm of the Skagit River, to include all fronting mountains such as Black Peak, Corteo Peak, Fisher Peak, and NW through Elija Ridge, Panther Creek, Gabriel Peak, Beebe Mountain and associated creeks.
* Canyon Creek, to include Majestic Mountain, Mount Ballard, Azurite Peak, Slate Creek, and Mill Creek.

In the Twisp River drainage and north side of Lake Chelan:
* Copper Point, Lincoln Butte, Twisp Mountain, Hock Mountain, Gilbert Mountain, Abernathy Mountain and Crescent Mountain, to include all of the forks of the Twisp River.
* Sawtooth Crest, Horsehead Pass, Crater Lake, Eagle Lakes, Boiling Lake, Cooney Lake, Golden Lakes Loop, Martin Peak, Safety Harbor Creek, Uno Peak, Foggy Dew Creek

 Whistling Pig Meadow

In the Entiat and Chiwawa River drainages and south side of Lake Chelan: 
*North Fork Entiat River, including Fern Lake, Crow Hill, Graham Mountain and Pyramid Mountain (8,245 feet), the highest peak in the Cascades a hiker can reach by trail. (addition to Glacier Peak Wilderness).
*Entiat River, Myrtle Lake, Duncan Hill (addition to Glacier Peak Wilderness).
*Devils Smokestack, Garland Peak (addition to Glacier Peak Wilderness).
*Mad River country, including Mad Lake, Mad Meadow, Blue Creek Meadow, Whistling Pig Meadow, Marble Meadow, Pond Meadow, Klone Peak, Shetipo Creek, Three Creek, Cougar Mountain (addition to Glacier Peak Wilderness).  In 1990, the Forest Service admitted that the Entiat Roadless Area has “high potential for wilderness [designation] as an individual area or as [an] addition to existing wilderness.”  1990 Wenatchee Forest Plan, Appendix C, at C-139.
*McCall Mountain (addition to Glacier Peak Wilderness)

South of Lake Wenatchee, these lands should be added to the Wilderness recommendations:
* Nason Ridge, Merritt Lake, Alpine Lookout, Rock Mountain  
* Devils Gulch, including Mission Creek
* Icicle Ridge, Chiwaukum Mtns, Lake Ann, West Fork Teanaway, Middle Fork Teanaway, Esmerelda Basin, DeRoux Creek, Bear Creek (additions to Alpine Lakes Wilderness)
*County Creek and Morse Creek (addition to Norse Peak Wilderness)
*Bumping Lake and Deep Creek (addition to William O. Douglas Wilderness)
*Tenday Creek (addition to Goat Rocks Wilderness)

We will post more information here as we approach the September 28 comment deadline.  

Thank you for submitting your comments to the Forest Service!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Relay race won't be part of The Challenge this year... sorry

We regret to inform you that we have cancelled the relay race portion of the American Alps Challenge for 2011.  Registration for the race has been low, and the organization that had been making the arrangements has determined that it will not be able to operate it this year. Sorry to any of you who may have been thinking of joining us. Keep in mind, N3C will joing North Cascades Institute in hosting NCI's 25th Anniversary Picnic on 9/24, and we'll be working with Skagit Audubon to do the nature and birding hikes. Latest info at: