Weather Woes at Hemlock Lake

Our intrepid group smiling in spite of the rain and snow.

Bunchberry (Cornus unalaschkensis) just getting started. Last year’s leaves remain flattened on the groud, while the showy flower bracts are just developing atop the new year’s growth.

In my last post, I was lamenting about the three weeks of dry weather in May causing the lower elevations to dry out rapidly. So you’d think I’d have been thrilled to finally have some rainy weather. Well, I was, but unfortunately the rainiest day turned out to be Saturday, June 10, the day I was leading a hike to Hemlock Lake in the North Umpqua area for the Native Plant Society of Oregon Annual Meeting. I was really dreading going up there, especially when the forecast included a possible chance of thunderstorms. Since I’d had to shorten my trip the previous week, I didn’t have a chance to pre-hike Hemlock Lake and figure out what we were going to do. The full Yellowjacket Loop trail is over 5 miles—we surely wouldn’t do that in the cold rain. Luckily the president of the Umpqua Chapter had gone up a few days before, so at least I knew the road was okay.

As we drove the long, 11 miles of gravel up to the trailhead at about 4400′, the women in the front seat were watching the car’s thermometer and giving us an update on the outdoor temperature, “41°… 40°… 39°…”. When we arrived at the trailhead, it said 37°—not the kind of weather I’m used to going out in! There were 9 of us. I don’t think anyone was looking forward to going out in the winter-like weather, but many had come a long way to participate in the Annual Meeting and wanted to see some native plants. And having spent so much time getting up to Hemlock Lake, I felt we couldn’t turn around and head back yet—no matter how miserable it was.

The wet meadows at Hemlock were filled with marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) and mountain shooting stars. I so wish we’d had a sunny day so everyone could have enjoyed the flowers and seen what a beautiful place this is.

As we headed out through the campground into the first meadow, we realized it was actually snowing. I was very thankful I had run back to my car to get an umbrella before we left in the morning. Several others were also prepared with umbrellas and were just a tad bit more comfortable than those who were more exposed to the elements. It was rather comical when several people with umbrellas tried to gather together to look at the same plant—not a circumstance I’ve encountered before! I made a plea to whomever might have any sway over the weather that we could have at least a half-hour break… and lo and behold, it actually stopped raining for a while!

We tried to look at what plants were out there, including early blue violet (Viola adunca) and Gorman’s buttercup (Ranunculus gormanii) beneath a big sweep of mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi). It was still quite early in the season and while a few patches of snow remained, I had no luck finding a flower on the extremely early-blooming steer’s head (Dicentra uniflora) although the leaves were scattered about. I had really wanted people to get to see some interesting snowmelt species as long as we were here so early in the flowering season—the road to Hemlock Lake had only melted out entirely the previous week. There were still a number of glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) in bloom, but they were rather worse for wear from the soaking rain. We managed to stay out an hour and a half and explored three meadows before the rain came back in earnest and we had all had enough and returned to the cars for lunch.

At Wolf Creek Falls, I discovered a gorgeous marbled ginger (Asarum marmoratum). Usually the pale coloring on the edges is only along the veins.

Since we came out to see plants, I had to come up with something else to do, so we made stops along the road, at Wolf Creek Falls, and at a serpentine spot closer to Glide. These areas are more closely associated with the Klamath-Siskiyou flora, and we saw such specialties as Umpqua mariposa lily (Calochortus umpquaensis), chatterbox or stream orchid (Epipactis gigantea), and Henderson’s triteleia (Triteleia hendersonii) that you won’t find in the Cascades. While it continued to rain on and off, it wasn’t as bitterly cold down at lower elevations, the thunderstorms never developed, and we managed to time our stops between showers, for the most part. All in all, it was a pretty good field trip with a great bunch of flower lovers and interesting plants. A much better day than I had anticipated!

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