Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sampling Grass - Environmental History on the Chilkoot #2

Looking north from the pass in the morning we followed our trail along Crater Lake and saw, just below the sharp peak, thick clouds swirling through the Notch. We were glad that part of the trip was behind us. However, we had little time for dreaming and set to work. Christine, a long time patrol warden, was our guide and she sent us to places where we might find interesting grasses. We started in the remains of a small cabin, possibly the Northwest Mounted Police post established in the pass during the gold rush. Raf, our ecologist, eagerly and carefully entered the remains and began sampling the vegetation.

Grass is notorious difficult to accurately identify and it is important to catch it during its seed phase. Unfortunately, even in mid-August, it is still spring at the summit and while everything is flourishing the seeds have not yet formed on the grass. Nevertheless we find samples of the same grass later in the week at lower elevations where summer is advanced and they are seeding. It is one of the wonders of the trail that walking is not only about distance, you also move through the seasons as you cross the pass.

Although it is early for grass, much of the snow is gone and we can see some of the well preserved old tins from the gold rush.
At the end of each day Raf enters his samples into the plant press and carefully notes location, type and additional notes on the grasses. At the Chilkoot Pass we enjoy the comfort of the Warden shelter, but in other locations more rustic adaptions to field conditions are necessary. Even in more trying circumstances Raf retains his smile and good humour.

In addition to her duties as historian Karen also took on then logistic responsibilities, preparing our grocery list, making sure it was purchased and sent by helicopter to the Pass earlier in the summer. And at the summit she also takes on the mantle of chef. I like washing dishes on the trail myself, sometimes its the only chance to wash your hands in warm water.

Yumm!. Sausage stew with dumplings.

After two days at the Pass we begin moving down the trail to sample other sites. Near Crater Lake we visit the site of a transfer station where there was a blacksmith shop and what seems to be stables and accommodation for teamsters. Interestingly while the grasses appear to be local species, and not imported volunteer hay as I supposed, they are largely confined to sites that were disturbed during the gold rush. The association between vegetation and cultural activity seems strong and we are pleased to begin thinking about how this might work.
Christine and Rick, Karen's Dad and ecological scientist volunteer, probably talking about grass.
The Crater Lake transfer point site. The Chilkoot Pass visible as the dip in the horizon above.

Rick and Raf doing a grass count.
At Happy Camp we awake in fog again but the wild flowers continue to draw us back to the pleasures of our field work. We head north through the canyon where our party splits. Christine and Raf ford the river to visit the Long Lake encampment while Rick, Karen and I hike over the Long Lake ridge to do a preliminary survey of horse sites near Deep Lake. As the morning advances the clouds breakup and we have warm sunshine for the first time on the trip.
Leaving the clouds and damp cold of the Pass behind.
Raf, at first hesitant, expresses his happiness as he makes it across the river ford without getting his boots wet thanks to Christine's magic plastic bags and plenty of duct tape.
The trail north. Another day and we'll be in Lindeman. There is a shower at Lindeman.


  1. Looks like fun dad. Reminds me of the vegetation surveys I did up in the Ogilvies with Val and the crew. Wish I could have put a ecological history/cultural influence slant on that research - though there weren't too many visitors up that way.

  2. Hi David,
    What fun to run across your blog today and see your friendly face and Raf and Karen's big smiles on the Chilkoot Trail. What a great evening we had a Lindeman! I hope you're all doing well.
    Best wishes,
    Ava P Christl

  3. Mahsi for your note. It was a great summer and the evening spent in the Lindeman "art studio" with you was a fun and interesting way to think about the place. The Chilkoot Artist residency has really taken since then, heard there were over a hundred applicants this year. Take care Ava.