July 6, 2018
The downed tree effectively obscured the trail for several yards, draping green branches across the path in tangled extravagance.
As we edged around its top, Jay exclaimed, “Look at these cones!” He brushed the tips with an exploring finger. “They’re soft! And look! The cones are growing upright, even though the tree is laying on its side. What kind of tree is this?”
Leaving Jay to identify the tree, I walked the length of the trunk. Looking back from the root ball, I was startled at how far away Jay appeared. This was one tall tree!
“It’s a Pacific silver fir! It can spend up to a century of its life as a sapling, but eventually it will outcompete the Douglas fir and hemlocks to become the dominant tree species. The cones grow upright at the very tops of the tree, and they disintegrate up there, they don’t fall to the ground.” Jay caught up to me, phone in hand.
“That explains why I haven’t seen bunches of cones laying around!” I shared a grin with Jay, happy in newfound knowledge.
The trail clung to the ridges most of the day, contouring back and forth across the tops of the mountain arms, only gaining and dropping a few hundred feet. On the windward sides, fresh breezes cooled our faces and effectively banished our winged escort. But on the lee sides of the ridges, swarms of enthusiastic blood suckers vied for our attention, urging us to increase our pace again and again.
Mid-afternoon brought us to the shoulder of Cowhorn Mountain. We met a group of four hikers and one dog who had just climbed to the peak. “It’s great!” One woman assured us. “Definitely worth the climb!”
I eyed the knife-edged ridges above and shook my head. “You’re braver than I am!”
After contouring around Cowhorn Mountain, Jay and I stopped to consult the map. Ahead of us, the trail dropped about 1,000 feet in elevation, zigzagging downward towards a series of small lakes and ponds. Definitely mosquito territory.
I looked across the breezy ridge where we sat. “I know it’s early, but what about stopping here for the day? This wind feels lovely, and we have hiked 12 miles already.”
Jay grinned at me. “I’m in no hurry to meet the swarms waiting for us below. This looks good to me.”
July 7, 2018
As we descended into dense, well-watered greenery, winged denizens swarmed to meet us. Already clothed in rain gear and insect repellent, I gritted my teeth and batted at our admirers.
Bird songs echoed through the tree tops. I knew the haunting flute-like call of the Swainson’s thrush, but another common call was a mystery to me. The bird sounded as if it was saying, “Mc-BE-du! Mc-BE-du!”
“Listen!” Jay turned to me. “Can you hear our theme song?” Mimicking the pitch of the mystery bird, he called, “Mos-QUI-to! Mos-QUI-to!”
(Later, in the luxury of unlimited electricity and internet, Jay found the call, finally identifying the olive-sided flycatcher. I also learned that the Swainson’s thrush is sometimes called the mosquito thrush for its voracious insect appetite.)
Here are two sites if you’d like more information about these birds. Jay and I especially enjoyed the recordings of the songs in these sites.
Six miles of racing the mosquitoes brought us to the shore of Summit Lake. We stopped for a photo opportunity on a small peninsula.
A bird winged past me, landing on the shore, then hopping over a rock into the undergrowth. It bobbled and teetered as it walked, perhaps looking for food? I managed one quick picture before the bird flew off, enough to help me later identify it as a spotted sandpiper. Here is a link with fascinating facts (and a better picture).
The north end of Summit Lake had a stiff breeze blowing across. We gratefully stopped at the Forest Service campground, deciding to eat lunch insect free, even though it was only 10:30 a.m.
“Do you reckon we might get above the mosquitoes as we climb the shoulder of Diamond Peak?” Wistfully I looked at the far away peak.
“I don’t know,” Jay replied. “When I hiked this in 2012, I don’t remember mosquitoes. I do remember quite a few snow fields. It will be interesting to see what it’s like this year.”
Finishing our lunch, we girded up and dove back into the forest. Six miles later, we stopped at Mountain Creek to refill water bottles. At 7,031 feet altitude, this was the highest the trail would take us on Diamond Peak. We had only seen small patches of snow, and the mosquitoes had stayed respectfully behind once we had reached the mountain’s shoulder. However, stopping at the creek gave the little terrors free reign to attack as we busied ourselves with Aquamira and water bottles. Quickly we completed our chore and fled, hiking at high speed until we reached the next windy ridge top. Even there, a few extraordinarily athletic mosquitoes found us.
“This is crazy,” Jay observed. “Let’s just keep hiking until evening. I don’t want to stop for more than a moment.”
Another six miles found us physically tired and emotionally drained. Hidden Lake offered a campsite, with the possibility of a slight breeze. Gratefully, we turned off the trail and pitched our tent. Once again, my appreciation of our fabric abode soared as I climbed in, escaping the onslaught of bloodthirsty companions.
July 8, 2018
Morning brought a scant breath of wind across the water. I opened my eyes, enchanted to see a faint mist rising from Hidden Lake, disappearing into a cloudless purple dawn.
Then my eyes focused upon the undergrowth next to the tent. I watched in horror as first two, then eight, then a dozen, twenty, thirty mosquitoes emerged from under leaves and branches, making a straight line for the netting of the tent door.
A quote from Lewis Puller, one of the most decorated Marines ever, seemed appropriate here. “They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by the enemy … They can’t get away from us now!”
I’m afraid the enemy managed a few bites in unmentionable places before we were able to hit the trail this morning. Once we started hiking, we didn’t stop for six and a half miles, until we reached the luxury of Shelter Cove Resort and Campground beside Odell Lake.
We stopped at Shelter Cove, glad to escape mosquitoes and recoup after nine days on the trail. We had three more miles to hike in order to reach Highway 58, where Jay’s sister and brother-in-law would pick us up tomorrow for a visit with family and yet another week of cat-sitting. I was glad to spend the rest of this day enjoying the lavish wind and sun at the lake shore, as well as treats such as hot food, showers, electricity, and internet!