This trip was mostly a trail maintenance trip, continuing the brushing between Twin Peaks and Ward Peak, particularly the very brushy section in the middle.
I went in at Barker Pass, walking up from Kaspian Campground to the ridge. Not the short way into the wilderness, but useful because the closest spring to my work area is along the PCT/TRT in North Fork Blackwood Canyon. Other springs are nearly dry, and streams are very low, but this one is still doing well, cold snowmelt water out of the talus slope below the ridge line.
I made progress on the brushing last trip, and this trip was able to fill the gaps between other short segments I’d done, leaving only the hardest part to do, the brushed-in ridge line switchback. So I feel good about the work accomplished, everything to the south done. But more to do. I replaced the cutting blade on my nippers before this trip, and it made a big difference. Below, the tools of the trade: nippers, folding saw, worn out gloves, and new gloves. The nippers and folding saw are both Fiskars, which make the best lightweight tools, about a pound each.
The majority of the brush I’m cutting is tobacco brush, Ceanothus velutinous, it grows faster than the others. Bitter cherry also crows fast, but the stems are easy to get to and cut easily. But even the slow growing pinemat manzanita and sagebrush do eventually encroach on the trail. The photos on Flickr (link below) show several of the brush species that I’m cutting, though not the most common tobacco brush. Huckleberry oak and white thorn are very common brush at somewhat lower elevations.
With all the time up on the ridge, I of course had ample opportunities to watch the sunsets, and this section of the ridge is one of the best places. I also watched the patterns of smoke from the fires. Last trip was mostly smoke from the Tamarack Fire to the southeast, with the smoke mostly heading north well to the east. This trip was mostly smoke from the Dixie Fire, well to the north but producing a lot of smoke. Sometimes the Tahoe basin, to the east, was socked in with smoke, sometimes clear. Less often the west slope of the Sierra was smoked in. Fortunately, at least during these weather and fire conditions, the crest is free of smoke most of the time, just a hint of smoke smell from time to time. The smoke does produce some spectacular orange sunsets. Though there are good sunsets any time there are layered clouds to the west, not just layers of smoke.
The weather was also unusual. Monday night it rained off and on throughout and into the next morning. Never heavy, but still enough to require my tarp. This kind of weather is common summertime in some other mountain ranges, but not common in the Sierra. The rest of the week it rained at least once a day, but light rain from the edges of the thunderstorms. The storms were forming over the crest before moving east to the Carson Range, a reversal of the usual pattern. It has been a while since the forest smelled largely of dampness and humus, and it was enjoyable. But the rain was never enough to thoroughly wet the soil, and it is still dry below.
The woolly mules ears are drying to yellow and brown, but not quite dry enough to rattle in the wind, that sure sound of fall. The less common arrowleaf balsamroot, however, is dry and rattling.
Early one morning when walking through a mules ear meadow to my work site, a dark sleek animal dashed across the trail, going downhill and moving very fast. The glimpse was so brief I’m not certain what it was. Probably a weasel, but could also have been a marten or fisher (all are in the same family Mustelidae). I also saw a Clark’s Nutcracker hanging out on the ground. I usually only see them in flight between trees, or in trees, but this one provided a close up view.
Tomorrow I’m headed up to finish off the brushing, probably two solid days of work. Depends on the smoke, however. The crest is often free of smoke, but the hike into the crest from Lake Tahoe level is in the thick of smoke, at least today.
- Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157719653288533
- Granite Chief Wilderness collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157637640215275/