Hiking and Botanizing in Summer 2020

by Bill Finch

Corral Mountain 9-11 August 2020

Recovering from a hip replacement done on June 5, my wife told me it was time to get off my lazy butt and hit the trail or I wouldn't get in any hiking at all this year. My daughter, Jane, got wind of the trip and talked her way into going along.

turnoff the 4wd
Turning off the fourwheel drive road

The purpose of the hike was to try to find Lewisia leeana on Corral Mountain near Courtright Reservoir. Our destination was Long Meadow, just a few miles from the Maxson Trailhead. I had never stayed there, but I had seen many parties camping there when passing through the meadow while going to and from the Red Mountain Basin. Our pace was slow. I had not been walking enough since surgery to develop strength and endurance. We reached first water in Long Meadow and I was whipped. I told Jane to find us a camp spot and within less than five minutes she had found one with a fire ring, a great rock kitchen table, and several nice flat spots to choose from for our tents.

Jane's Camp
Jane showing off the kitchen table for the campsite she found

Jane was fairly miserable that night. She had chosen a lighter weight sleeping bag than I had recommended and suffered the consequences. After a leisurely breakfast, we packed our knapsacks with emergency gear, water, and lunch and headed toward the base of Corral Mountain. The cross country route up the mountain was slowed by numerous deadfalls, dead branches, and thickets of stunted trees. Finally, as the grade of the slope increased and the forest thinned, we saw our first Lewisia leeana.

first Lewisia leeana
Bill pointing at first Lewisia leeana found on Corral Mountain

It and all subsequent plants were pitiful in this pitifully dry year. Some had dried stems but others looked like they had never bloomed. Nonetheless, some of the quill-shaped leaves of L leeana had been cropped off. Animals have been desperate, too.

Cropped  Lewisia leeana
Desperate animals ate Lewisia leeana in this dry year

It inspired me to taste one myself. They shouldn't be called bitteroot. They are bitterplant. Of course, Jane made me taste the root, too. I'll never have to do those taste tests again. We walked toward the summit until the views opened up and Jane could see the surrounding country.

nice view
Nice view from upper slope of Corral Mountain

We made a few more botany observations for iNaturalist and decided it probably wasn't worth the effort to get to the summit.

red elder
Red elderberry on Corral Mountain

On the way down the mountain, it started to rain and continued the rest of the afternoon. We reached camp and Jane started a fire in the rain. She found dry kindling and larger sticks and had a good fire going by the time the rain stopped. That night, Jane slept warmer in just about all our extra layers. While filling our water bottles for the trip back, we discovered a large patch of alpine gentian.

alpine gentian
One of many alpine gentian, Gentiana newberryi, blossoms found near our camp

The hike out seemed to take forever. We got to the trialhead and agreed that it had been a good trip.
10 August 2020 Observations

Dinkey Lakes 20-23 August 2020

After a smoky drive to the Cliff Lake Trailhead, I hiked toward Dinkey Lakes, not knowing what to expect. Would I be turned back by a fire? Would I be in good enough condition to make it to Dinkey Lakes?

I made it to the base of the sitchbacks below Cliff Lake and found that the stream was dry. I have always taken a water break there and I wasn't looking forward to going up the switchbacks dry. By two o'clock, I was at the top of the switchbacks and looking forward to a water break at Cliff Lake. A little before three, I found a great campsite.

alpine gentian
Cliff Lake camp

It was big enough for a small army and it had a nice rock for cooking and a great flat spot for sleeping. I talked to a couple of forest service guys who were doing an inventory of camp sites near Cliff Lake - it's a very heavily used area. I was too tired to go on to Second Dinkey Lake, my usual destination on trips to Dinkey. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading a novel. Apparently the smoke is coming from northern California, filling up the San Joaquin Valley, and spilling into the Sierra Nevada high country.

The smoke had cleared a little the next morning. A little before nine, I reached the pass into the Dinkey Lakes Basin. It was full of smoke but at least I could see blue sky - if I looked directly up. After a long talk with a fellow hiker next to Second Dinkey Lake, I finally started setting up camp at around eleven in the morning. The forest service crew I'd seen the day before passed by and I mentioned how I'd seen lots of alpine gentian flowers on the trip. One of them posted to iNat but he hadn't noticed them yet.

I decided that this was a good day to read and I managed to finish the book I had started the day before. It wasn't a bad experience and it kind of reminded me of several days I spent in Rome 54 years earlier reading the Fountainhead, or was it Atlas Shrugged.

On day three, I got serious. There were high clouds, but the smoke cleared out. I took the trail to First Dinkey Lake and along the way I ran into another patch of alpine gentian and a creek that produced ice-cold water, probably from a nearby spring. I passed by First Dinkey Lake.
First Dinkey Lake
First Dinkey Lake with Three Sisters in the background

At nine, I took the trail that branches off to Coyote Lake. Within 15 minutes, I spotted Lewisia leeana in a lodgepole pine desert. Like all the rest of its observations during the trip, this plant was drying up and had no flowers. At 10am I started off trail and headed for the top of the ridge which consisted of a rocky lodgepole pine desert.

rocky lodgepole desert
The ridge north of First Dinkey Lake was a rocky lodgepole desert

The landscape was as dry as any I've ever seen in the Sierra. At 10:26, I started to find a lot of L. leeana at about 9,700 feet elevation. As I continued north down the ridge, I continued to find L. leeana and other species of dried plants. I turned east and then back south making several more observations as I returned to First Dinkey Lake.

more lodgepole desert
Lewisia leeana persisted in more lodgepole desert on the way back to First Dinkey Lake

As I got closer to trail I ran into a patch of alpine gentian in a dry meadow that went on for hundreds of feet, at least that's what I said in my audio journal.

field of alpine gentian
Hundreds of alpine gentian in shorthair meadow on the way back to First Dinkey Lake

I was back to camp at Second Dinkey Lake by 4 pm.

It was smoky on my way out on the fourth day of the trip.

I think the highlight of the trip was all the alpine gentian that was blooming. It's such a pretty and subtle plant, often hiding in grass and daring to be found. I tanked up on water at Cliff Lake, knowing that there would be none for the rest of the trip. I was back at the trailhead by 3 o'clock.

20 August Observations
21 August Observations
22 August Observations
23 August Observations

25 October 2020