On the Rock

…some early fall observations

Mid-April, taxes are filed, the government didn’t close down, and the sun is shining. A good day to head up the West Glacier Trail in search of purple mountain saxifrage, whose pink flowers are among the first to appear in spring (pussy-willows are the very first). Much of the snow was gone, so we walked along the lakeshore for a mile or so and then cut uphill to the trail.

At the bench, the group decided in favor of dropping down to lake level again, rounding the bay with the big beaver lodge, and going up on the first ridge beside the beaver pond. And there, just above the pond, we found the first blooming purple mountain saxifrage. Soon we were seeing dozens of them on the barren rocky outcrops, with more to come into bloom in the next few weeks.

A bumblebee zoomed by but didn’t visit the saxifrage flowers. Perhaps she wanted to visit the multi-flowered catkins of the earliest-blooming willows.

At the beaver pond, there is a route up the cliff to the top of the ridge, but our group chose our old way. Past that pond, we scrambled up the alder-covered ramp to the next level. The rock terrace here is pocked with small ponds. A pair of mallards had secluded themselves in one of the ponds, well sheltered by shrubbery, but our coming spooked them and off they flew. Here we found more saxifrage, as well as lovely ‘gardens’ of moss and lichens.

At the end of the rock terrace is a crack in the cliffs that gives easy access to the top of the ridge, not far from the end. Here we sprawled in the sun for a leisurely refueling, in preparation for what we knew would be a bushwhack back along the ridge.

And indeed it was bushwhacking at its best, thrashing through the alders that filled the dips between rocky outcrops. So errant twigs snatched my glasses from my face, or knocked off my cap, or snagged on my pack, to the accompaniment of muttered imprecations. However, we rejoiced in the absence of leaves, which were still tightly furled in their buds, so we could more or less see where we were going. Here we found a robin, a plump squirrel, porcupine scat, and some old bear scat full of chewed up ground cone.

On the outcrops were numerous deposits of small scat pellets, not quite as round as hare scat and not in good hare habitat, se we deduced they’d been left by mountain goats. On one outcrop, we found a pile of tiny pellets right next to a pile of bigger ones, suggesting that a nanny with a kid had rested there. Our deductions were reinforced a little later, when we looked back toward the end of the rock peninsula and saw five ambulatory white spots. Three of them scampered agilely up and over the crest of the ridge and disappeared.

Looking down toward the toe of the glacier, we could see the edge of the rather new colony of gulls. Gulls still nest on the southern face of the rock peninsula, but as the vegetation gets taller and denser there, the gulls get fewer. A few years ago, they began a new nesting colony on bare rock closer to the ice.

We regained the West Glacier Trail via the ‘social trail’ that slants up the hillside through the alders. Here, however, the alders are my friends, providing convenient hand-holds.

This trail crosses a steep rock that even the mountain goats go around, judging from white hairs caught in the brush below the rock. Now, however, some thoughtful folks have installed a climbing rope that greatly facilitates passage over this spot.