With the variable weather we have been having and the amount of time I spend outdoors, I've been lucky enough this year not to get caught out in one of the numerous rain squalls...knock on wood. If you are out and about remember that the weather can change quickly- so be prepared- even if there isn't a cloud in the sky at the trailhead. This photo was taken on the top of Chumstick Mountain looking towards Cashmere and The Enchantments.At the top of Swakane, Nahahum, Derby and Eagle Creek is Chumstick Mountain. It is kind of anomaly for this area, because after starting out in sagebrush in the valley, you can drive through miles and miles of forest, and end up in the sagebrush again. At 5,810 feet it is taller than the surrounding mountains, and a high elevation subspecies of sagebrush dominates much of the peak. This subspecies- mountain big sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana, is very closely related to the Wyoming big sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis, commonly found at lower elevations, but has adapted to life higher up- where the temperatures are cooler, summers are shorter and the snowpack deeper. The most noticeable difference between the two sagebrush- is the mountain big sagebrush has a very flat top to it- with all the flower stalks arising from the same level on a shrub, while Wyoming big sagebrush shrubs are more rounded, with varying heights of branches and flowering stalks coming from the plant. Amazing what a difference in perspective can make- to a person and for plants too. On the same mountain dominated by mountain big sagebrush, the north facing slope is (was) forested. Though not absolutely sure, I believe it burned most recently in 2006- little trees are coming back, while the skeletons of the old forest stand watch. Because of our cold, wet spring and the high elevation there were still patches of snow, and only the first of the wildflowers were just coming out while in the valleys below they have gone to seed- such as this yellow avalanche lily, Erythronium grandiflorum. Along with the mountain sagebrush, there is a whole suite of plants that occur here but not in the forest below. It is thought that part of the reason for so many species that only occur in Central Washington (endemic) is that some of our mountains and valleys during the last glaciation 10,000 to 110,000 years ago were ice free and supported small, isolated populations of plants. Chumstick Mountain is believed to be one of these glacial island refuges for species, that helped plants survive over the course of the last ice age- 100,000 years. During that time period many plants evolved into new species on these "islands" in a sea of ice.
Besides the usual early bloomers, there is also the largest population of snow Douglasia, Douglasia nivalis var. nivalis, that I have ever seen. Uncommonly I find this plant, always along ridges, and usually there are only about 10 plants or less. Here it is the star of the show- at least early in the season when in bloom- gracing the ridge lines and rock outcrops in a pink cuteness that only a 2 inch tall primrose could do. Another common name for this plant is snow dwarf-primrose. This plant is quite rare and only found in the Wenatchee Mountains and Douglas County.
The increasingly heavy use of the area surrounding Chumstick Mountain by motorcycles is apparent driving up to it, with a free-for-all of trails going every which way- but especially on ridge lines. A worrisome trend given the fact that many of our endemic native species grow nowhere else but ridgelines and other natural forest openings. Please help protect our wonderful natural heritage and stay on established trails and roads, no matter what your mode of transportation.