Sheep Lake Hike Trip Report - September 6, 2019General ·
Fourteen Yakima Auduboners headed up the Chinook Pass Highway to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to Sheep Lake and beyond. Rain threatened on the drive up to the pass and it began to rain lightly as we approached the parking area. I radioed the group spread out in four cars seeing if group consensus might be to head elsewhere, such as Bumping Lake. There seemed to be absolutely no interest in an alternate plan, which totally shocked me. At the parking lot at Chinook Pass, I noted everyone donning their waterproofs, so our course was determined. We set out on the trail in a steady, light rain, as if this was a completely normal activity.
After mid-August, PCT “through hikers” starting at the Mexico/ California border (typically in mid-April) reach this part of the trail. We encountered a number of these intrepid folks hiking very briskly northwards. Most broke stride for only for the briefest moment, long enough to answer a couple questions such as “where and when did you start,” and “where are you from?” As it turned out, the 10 or so I queried hailed mostly from various countries in western Europe!
We neither heard nor saw birds for the most part on the way into Sheep Lake, no doubt due to the rain. Ellen spotted an early migrant Golden-crowned Sparrow in the Mountain Ash thickets. Farther along the trail, we all stopped to hear a Sooty Grouse uttering its extraordinarily low-pitched hoot: “whump…whump…whump.” September is indeed late for mating rituals by this “chicken,” which more typically displays from April through July. We pressed on east along the side hill, grown to subalpine fir and Alaska cedar along with an understory of mountain ash (with a very mediocre berry crop this year), huckleberries (again a modest berry crop), and bear grass. The fabulous wildflower show was essentially over; this is a July and August phenomenon.
Farther along the sidehill traverse on the steep south-facing slope to Sheep Lake, Ellen heard the unmistakable ringing call “chee-vlee” from Pine Grosbeaks. In the rain we picked out three of these scarce boreal finches atop a fir tree. The views were poor due to the rain and poor light, but I was elated because this finch was my top target bird for the trip. We made a stop in the dramatically different forest type not far below Sheep Lake. Here, snowline lasts much longer than on the initial traverse and the subalpine firs are largely replaced by mountain hemlock and Pacific silver fir, clearly a “wetside” community. The rain began to let up and soon it began to clear!
Four in the group headed on up to Sourdough Gap a mile and a half up the PCT. The “gap” group quickly reached their goal at the lower edge of the Alpine Zone. They added Cassin’s Finch to our trip list. Too, as a bonus, they found the dwarfed huckleberries up high had a much more bountiful and tasty huckleberry crop!
The rest of us sauntered around pretty Sheep Lake or relaxed and watched Canada Jays (formerly Gray Jay) come in, expecting tasty morsels. Clark’s Nutcrackers flew in to the scene, as if curious, but soon departed. Meanwhile, the Sheep Lake contingent added an American Kestrel perched atop a hemlock on the skyline. A Cooper’s Hawk also came in, and seemed to be intent on snatching a Canada Jay. Golden-mantled squirrels and chipmunks provided entertainment, too. By now it was bright, sunny, and warm, and we all were pleased we could dry out nicely. What a difference from the morning rain!
— Andy Stepniewski