Thursday, June 13, 2013

57 pounds!

May 31st through June 2nd, I went to the field with my Advisor, Travis Columbus. We had prepared a week before going out to the field a 3 night/ 4 day backpacking adventure into the Kiavah Wilderness. Travis calculated how much water we should carry, because we were uncertain if we would find any filterable water sources in the Scodies. This it is a very, very, very dry year and it best to be safe than sorry.
Travis loaded his backpack with 14 liters and I carried in 9 liters. I should have carried in 12 liters but I did not think my back would be able to handle the weight without breaking. Travis carried something like eight pounds of food and I packed the bare minimum, enough for one person. Plus, I had all of the collecting supplies.
The night before we embarked on our adventure I had the worst time trying to sleep. I think I only got about 2-3 hours of sleep. The problem was, I was so excited to get back out to the Scodies. It was that kind of excitement kids get when they find out that they are going to Disneyland. The Scodies are kind of like my Disneyland. I get to hike around, explore, collect, and camp  What is there not to be excited about?!

Day 1

I picked up the field vehicle and Travis, bright and early on Friday. The first thing Travis says is, "my pack originally weighed 64 pounds, so I got it down to 57 pounds." Whoa! Seriously! I thought my pack was heavy! Come to find out, Travis also had a difficult time getting sleep too. He was just as excited to get outdoors and try out his new backpacking gear.

The drive up highway 395 was was smooth sailing. We drove up Sage Canyon and parked at the end of the canyon. We geared up, put our boots on and placed our heavy packs on our backs. We then cross-county hiked up the decomposed granitic slopes of the canyon in search of plants.

Can you see the truck? Center of picture, at base of slope, in front of trees
The first couple of minutes of the climb were pretty rough, I had to adjust myself to the heavy weight.  After awhile, the hike uphill was not bad. Travis navigated the terrain and I followed in his tracks. These hillsides were producing lots of Eriogonum. It was obvious that the hillsides get covered with these 3-4 species of Eriogonum in a good rain year. As we were hiking up the hillside, Travis exclaimed that he found a skull. It was awesome! We think it was a mountain lion skull.
Skull of a former Scodie resident
At noon we reached a ridge-top and ate lunch. Travis nodded off and I wandered off to explore a giant rock outcrop. Not too much was happening in the outcrop, but when I ventured back to our lunch site Travis was gone. He went to explore the west facing slopes of the adjacent canyon. He came back and said he observed many things flowering. We made our first major collecting efforts at this site and then carried on uphill in search of the plateau.

I love the rock formations here!
The view looking southeast down Sage Canyon
We reached another ridge after climbing uphill a little way and found some beautiful white Keckiella blooming at the base of large boulders and also a large pink cobwebby Circium. The Cicium was being visited by a couple of hummingbirds. At this collecting site Travis and I sat down to press our collections. It was a gorgeous spot to sit and press the spiny Circium.

Hey there Keck!
Travis pressing

After pressing the specimens we headed yet again, uphill. As we were going up, Travis noticed that we were hot-on fresh bear tracks. The bear tracks were huge! Fortunately, we didn't get a glimpse of the massive animal. We eventually reached a drainage that had signs of being cooler and wet. Juncus, Carex and Salix were there as well as Potentilla, Stachys, and Rumex.  This spot was a treasure trove. We were losing day-light and Travis suggested we comeback to the spot in the morning to collect. We agreed and headed upslope a bit and found the perfect camping spot.

Probably one of the best places I have spent the night. Such an amazing view of the valley below
We set up camp, ate dinner, I pressed the remaining specimens while Travis set-up his tricked-out sleeping arrangement on the ground. I jumped in my hammock, kicked of my boots and it was lights out.

Day 2

In the morning we headed down to the amazing treasure trove drainage. The Fremontadendron were beaming in full flower and the drainage looked even better in the morning light.

Good Morning, Travis and Erika!
As we were exploring the drainage Travis was telling me about rattlesnakes and their behaviors. Right then he says calmly and cooly, "oh look, a rattlesnake." I'm thinking in my head, "WHAT? WHERE! WHAT!" He motioned for to me go around him to get a good look at it. Travis then said, "Wow, that is one of the largest ones I have seen." He then proceeds with, "Get a picture of it." I gather my cool (I didn't freak out) and my camera and begin to snap away. The rattlesnake was really large and it wasn't even bothered by us. It was just taking its morning stroll through the wash. What a beauty. 

4 ft. long Panamint rattlesnake, Crotalus stephensi
Rattlesnake land
After collecting a ton of different species in the drainage we went back up to our camp, pressed, packed-up camp and continued our hike uphill. We were getting close to the plateau and collected in very neat rock outcrops as we ascended the hillsides. One particular rock outcrop was striking, patches of Mimulus and Phacelia were protected by these large boulders.

Probably my favorite rock so far
Collecting at the base of the giant rock

We were nearing the plateau and our packs were getting lighter from drinking our water rations. And all of a sudden it happened. We were walking on F...L...A...T ground! I couldn't believe it, it took us a day and a half to reach the plateay and it was covered by a thigh-high scrubby thick stand of Ceanothus. Is was clear that the plateau experienced a massive wildfire in the late 1990s and the major plant to take over after the fire was this Ceanothus. Fortunately for us, the Ceanothus was not armed with thorns. 

Flat Ground! On the plateau. Post-fire succession 
Once we reached the plateau we headed over to a grove of trees because we could see the Pacific Crest Trail near it. Also, we needed a place to rest in the shade to eat lunch. We reached our pit-stop (which was littered with toilet-paper from PCT hikers), sat in the dirt and reluctantly chewed on a Cliff Bar. As we sat there we saw a couple of PCT hikers go by without them noticing us. At this site there were tons, maybe thousands of Allium in the drainage. It was amazing. I have never seen so many Allium.

Toiletpaper land to the right. Allium land in the wash
After we felt rested and hydrated we picked up the collecting tools and began to collect. All of a sudden Travis and I heard a motor coming up the trail. I knew for a fact that ATV's can access the 4x4 trail which is also the PCT and I also knew that larger vehicles could not make it up the road, because I tried once. As the motor was getting closer I thought nothing of it. Then the vehicle came into sight. It was a Jeep liberty of some sort. A Jeep liberty! Travis looked over at me and said, "I thought you said vehicles couldn't get up here?" I was shocked and then I went into denial. Thankfully Travis was a great sport about the fact that we hiked our tails off when we could have drove up. However, it was better that we did hike because we stumbled upon all sorts of neat habitats and plants.

Interesting geology near McIver's Cabin
We rounded up our collecting for the day in an oak grove and headed down the PCT to McIver's cabin. Adjacent to the cabin is McIver's Spring. There was a little puddle of water in the spring, but not much. We explored the spring and rock out-crops near the cabin and took note of the plants we were going to collect in the morning. We set up camp near the cabin, ate dinner and knocked out at twilight.

McIver's Cabin

Day 3

In the morning the birds were chirping and a deer visited the spring. We made tons of collections in the spring. We were also visited by a PCT hiker who was on his way to Canada. I could not believe how many grasses, sedges, and rushes were in the spring. Thankfully I was with Travis, a Poaceae expert! If he was not there I would missed the grass diversity. He was the major contribution to my success on this trip. After rounding up the collecting in the spring we hiked up a peak near the cabin and explored it. We found a mining claim, which must have been McIver's mine. Not much was happening botanically on the peak but as we descended the peak along drainage we did find quite a bit of interesting plants. We decided it was time to head back to the truck down a steep long hike in Sage Canyon. Travis lead the way and we followed a narrow steep slot canyon. It was a very interesting hike out, but also a bit scary due to some spots being a little "sketchy". We found an amazing seep coming out from the side of the canyon wall. Then we stumbled up little pools of water, some 2-3 feet deep, with water trickling. It was spectacular, we found Typha at this location. Next year I will need to dedicate more time to this spot.

Pool of fresh spring water in Sage Canyon
Travis leading the way out
The trek out of the canyon was a little strenuous but overall not too difficult. We made it back to the truck before the sun went down and drove out of Sage Canyon. We were super hungry and headed over to Ridgecrest for a late dinner. Our original intention was to eat at Del Taco since it was almost 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday, but a steak house was open and we mistakenly made a terrible decision to eat there. Thankfully the ice-tea was superb. However, the food not so much. We would have been more satisfied eating at Del Taco. Now I know better.

Back at the truck before twilight
It was an intense and fun three-day backpacking trip. We made over a hundred collections and explored interesting territory in the Kiavah wilderness. Travis was a fantastic field assistant and a great field companion. We got a lot of work accomplished and found interesting plants. I cannot wait to key those grasses ;)