Precipitation levels across the West Coast during winter 2016/17 were among the record levels of my lifetime. Washington was not an exception, and snow in the high subalpine meadows that are the Cascades Butterfly Project’s focus remains solid, and still covers the ground. Where there is snow, plants will not grow. Butterflies that rely on nectar from those wildflowers under the snow are not quite ready to emerge for the season.
Though temperatures are high and the snow has been melting for months, the transects we are supposed to frequent are still devoid of the butterflies and wildflowers that we are interested in monitoring, and so we are not yet able to begin our official surveys.
That doesn’t mean we had nothing to do. While I waited for snow to melt, I was offered the opportunity to head back to North Cascades National Park to participate in a Canada Lynx monitoring project. The goal of the project is to capture photos of the lynx using cameras set on trails above 3000 feet in elevation, which is where researchers believe the lynx are using those trails to travel. Our job was to set the camera traps.
We set out on the long, narrow, and deep Lake Chelan in a ferry and arrived at a very small town called Stehekin, which would be our starting point. From there we split, each team of two equipped with cameras and destined for a different high elevation trail. The task had seemed simple when we discussed it prior to leaving: we take cameras up the mountain, camp, place them, and return. As we approached our hiking location, we learned that it wouldn’t be quite so simple. Our first day’s hike was only about 7 miles, but it climbed to an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet. This is nothing we hadn’t prepared for; the average elevation gain for trails heading up the mountains near Stehekin seemed to be around 1000 feet per mile. What we hadn’t prepared for was the temperature. It was about 97 degrees in the middle of the day and the climb; with heavy gear, a limited water supply, and under a tight schedule, was difficult. Heat seemed to radiate from everything, and shade was rare because the section of the forest we climbed through burned in the 2015 fires. We arrived at our destination, Juanita Lake, after dark and quickly prepared for the next day. Hiking on relatively flat trails to place cameras was a relief after a hard day. We later descended the mountain and swam in Lake Chelan before camping near Stehekin at Purple Point.
With the lynx cameras placed, I had the opportunity to participate in other exciting work near Stehekin. Roger Christopherson, Wildlife biologist at North Cascades, invited me to help him perform surveys on known Osprey and Bald Eagle nests in the area. In what was the highlight of my week, we hopped on an old boat with a big motor and a small hole in the floor to visit each of the nest locations. When we arrived at the first location we quickly learned that it would be nearly impossible to count the hiding nestlings from below the nests at lake level. I offered to hop out and check on the nests from above, so while Roger fished in the boat, I scaled the cliffs above the nests to get a better view.