June 7, 1975
Jim Mulchinock and I got underway about noon after the cougar episode. All day I kept realizing I’d seen a cougar but it’s still so strange that it hasn’t really registered. The weather was the same intermittent clouds we’ve had all week but now, at dusk, the sky is clear.
I’d forgotten how many avalanche slopes we had to cross on the trail. They’re best at this time of year while the alder foliage is still sparse and the spring beauty, white and yellow violets and clematis are blooming. We heard a lot of Wilson’s and Townsend’s warblers on the way, saw small grizzly tracks at the Floe Creek bridge, two Stellar’s jays in the dense alder brush, and noticed a bit of marten sign on the first little way. Heard an olive-sided flycatcher on the way up.
A couple was ahead of us. We met them as we started up the final switchbacks after eating our lunch by a stream crossing. They had apparently walked past Floe Lake and turned back thinking it was still ahead of them, as their tracks showed later, and they told us there was a lot of snow ahead. Shortly thereafter we found it, but it actually made the switchbacks easier to cope with than otherwise since you concentrated more on each step than on the actual climb. At one point we stopped and watched a grey-crowned rosy finch preen on a fallen fir tree right in front of us. There were several deadfalls to clamber over. We heard pine grosbeaks and golden-crowned kinglets calling a lot, and at one time there were a varied thrush and a hermit thrush singing in the same place. Also several winter wrens.
We were weary and bruised when we reached the top in snow up at least to our waists. We were usually on top of it but when sank through you ran a grave danger of never being seen again. The old larches and firs in the low afternoon in the late afternoon sun, and acres of glistening snow were almost unbelievable, with the silver-blue Rockwall swirling around behind it. We plodded down the slope, opened the cabin and made ourselves at home, and now I’m too tired to care much about adding anything more to this, except that I still can’t believe I saw a cougar stalking a coyote this morning.
A porcupine has girdled a few firs and left quills all over the snow around the cabin. There were mouse droppings all over the cupboard and the food left behind by the wardens had been eaten into. We cleaned it all up, got a fire going and played cribbage for a while. After dusk the Rockwall still seemed to give off its own faint radiance, with a single star in the darkening sky above and absolute silence over the white lake and slopes below.
June 8, 1975
Got up at nine and the sky was blue and it was warm out, after a night spent alternately sleeping and listening to the porcupine that lives downstairs. We tried to ski up to a snow pass southeast of the lake but ran into terrain a bit too steep for us. We saw three barn swallows patrolling through a barren valley, and several more rosy finches.
After a brief discussion we decided to explore the ridge going east from Numa Pass. There was a long plod up through the fir and larch parks, following old healed-over blazes on trees that kept getting smaller and smaller. There was some open ground near the pass and the whistles of Columbian ground squirrels were everywhere. We saw a few nutcrackers and a single raven doing stalls and spins over Numa Mountain. After a cold lunch on a cold knoll we went along a long ridge that came to a point looking out onto the Floe Creek valley and the valley of the creek you cross on the way up here. There was goat sign there. We saw robins. We could see the thread of the trail leading to Ball Pass.
Next we went across wide meadows to Numa Pass where a single coyote had recently gone over into the Numa valley. Later on we found its tracks along the edge of Floe Lake. After Numa Pass we did some of the most fantastic downhill skiing I’ve ever done, down long winding bowl-shaped valleys and down a wide talus fan that we had climbed up. We followed the creek down to the lake and found a goat with a newborn kid on a rocky outcrop at the head of the lake. The kid could hardly even climb.
At about half past five we got back to the cabin, wind-burned and happy, to find eight other naturalists getting ready to set out on skis. I gave mine away and sat down to write a while. The others saw a moose on the way up. My binoculars have condensation in the right lens as a result of one of my falls. Not amusing.
This has really been a fine day.
For some strange reason “trespassers will be prosecuted” is written on the inside of the door, where you can’t see it until you’ve trespassed.
We had a huge supper of chili and rice pudding after which there was a snow slide on the Rockwall and I slept on the porch. Grey-crowns and siskins are the commonest birds here. Globeflower buds were peeking out of last year’s dead ground cover where the snow was melted up high. We met a couple from Oregon who are spending the night in the shelter up the hill.
June 9, 1975
We were all up by eight and wasted the morning gluttonously stuffing ourselves on bacon, eggs, bread and delicious floppy pancakes which were more like crepes, made by Larry. It was almost eleven before we finally got underway, and the sky was blue with the sun hinting at what it would be doing to us later.
We headed up to Numa Pass through a sparkling sunny larch park where fox sparrows sang on all sides. George and Jim passed me halfway there and got to the pass just ahead of me. Erasmus was delighted with the view and scenery – he couldn’t stop talking about it. He and Eddie were the only people who didn’t burn, and that was only because their Tanzanian skin is already pretty dark.
While cascade after cascade of snow crumbled from the sides of the Rockwall and went booming into the fans below – the boom always reaching you a few moments after you’d seen the impact – we skied and skied and skied. It was without any qualifications the best day of skiing I’ve ever had, with the sun shining and the snow granular and undisturbed and lying in long, smooth bowls.
Eventually we all regrouped and loaded ourselves up again to head down Numa Creek. There was a long run through a series of tilted bowls to the rim of a rather awesome cliff. Apparently there was a hiker last year who did himself a lot of damage going down the same cliff in the wrong spots and sure enough, we missed where the trail goes down. Instead, we found a place where the cliff was still cliff, but was covered with snow. Here we descended very nervously with me, for some crazy reason, leading. I made two and a half traverses safely, then my cockiness vanished in a cloud of wet snow as I went sliding, rolling and tumbling the remaining hundred yards down. Everybody, myself included, expected me to dead or close to it but nothing broke, although my pack picked up about ten pounds of snow.
It took us a long tedious hour before we were all down, and then we found that there was another cliff again. All this time a boreal owl was tootling disinterestedly across the valley below, completely unaware of and unconcerned by us. Other creature’s lives don’t mean much to nature, and ours are no more important than theirs. We found a long avalanche chute that was dry and followed this down to the valley floor which was, at this point, covered with a long lobe of white chunks of old avalanches, reaching up to the barren scattered rock of Numa Mountain. It was a magnificent wild place, but hard to move through. There were old bear tracks here, and the tracks of the coyote.
Here we had the problem of finding our trail to get home on. We pushed through the willow and alder thickets along the creek for about a half mile, at which point I got separated from the others. I followed the creek for a while longer but it kept getting deeper and steeper and harder to stay near, so I cut off to the right through the woods. There followed a couple miles of the most agonizing, exhausting bushwhacking I’ve ever done, walking for yards and yards on fallen logs, or splashing through mossy melt pools and springs, or getting bogged down in snow, and all the time my skis kept getting tangled in the branches overhead, until I was getting a little frustrated. And all the time I was angling farther away from the stream, hoping to cross the trail.
At length I came out onto an avalanche slope that was an utter panic of smashed, twisted, strewn-about trees. I forced my way across it diagonally to its foot without finding the trail. I struggled from its foot through an old tangled forest to the creek, without finding the trail. It was now 5:30 PM so I waded across the stream wearing my boots and finally found the trail on the other side. The others hadn’t been down it yet so I set out merrily sloshing my way toward the highway.
The scenery at this end of the trail was quite spectacular but I was pretty tired and didn’t stop too much. At the Tumbling Pass junction I stopped to gently prod a porcupine with my ski pole as he scrambled up a tree. He made a heartbreaking, bawling sound, almost babylike, so I left him alone. He’d eaten most of the plywood trail signs at the junction.
The hermit thrushes were singing everywhere but as often as not you’d only hear the loud first note and the rest of the phrase would be lost in the sound of water flowing below the trail. I kept one beady eye open every time I passed an avalanche slope (and there are some beauties here) and was finally rewarded by the sight of a black bear and three cubs, two hundred yards above me. She was aware of me, and kept her eye on me, but didn’t seem too concerned.
An hour and a half after I found the trail, George, Jim and Erasmus caught up with me and the rest of the walk was like a forced hike as twilight sneaked down from the peaks to try and trap us. We found more old grizzly tracks about a mile from the end of the trail, so that we began and ended with grizzly sign. Also lots of marten scats, a moose track and a few elk tracks.
At the bridge by the Vermilion River Erasmus pointed out a porcupine feeding unconcernedly on a little shrub on the ground. It was the first time I’d seen a black porcupine without his quills displayed, but they were up in a flash when he noticed us and then he went scurrying off into the woods.
The rest of the day was a mixture of eating like pigs, complaining of aches and pains, having showers, and going to bed. Which is where I am now as I finally get to close this slave-driving book.
June 10, 1975
Again today the coyote spent a long time making crazy sounds around the bunkhouse. Jim, Heather, Pat and I went up and saw it in the horse corral where there are also two horses., waiting to have a cougar over for dinner.