Browder Ridge Summit Worth the Climb

Both the view and the flowers at the summit were outstanding. Mt. Hood can be seen in the distance on the right.

I had planned to go on an overnight camping trip, so I could do two hikes up north, but between an iffy weather forecast and lack of energy, I decided to wimp out—sort of. Instead, I did one long day hike to Browder Ridge on July 26. At over 8 miles and 2000′ of elevation gain, it is one of the longest hikes I’m willing to do. I just don’t have enough time to stop and take photos and study plants at the kind of pace I have to do to get home at a reasonable hour. My husband, Jim, decided to join me, and we made a long day of it. We were warned by another hiker that the bugs were bad, but we never got bitten, and the weather was pleasantly cool.

Our tiniest monkeyflower is Mimulus breweri, not uncommon but easily missed growing in open ground in meadows and rocky areas.

Probably the hardest stretch of this hike is right at the beginning where switchbacks take you up about 400′ of elevation in the first 0.4 miles. It was worse going downhill at the end of the day. There are a number of nice clumps of candystick (Allotropa virgata) in the woods, which should be blooming in the next week or so. There are many things starting to bloom in the woods and bracken meadows on the way up to the first viewpoint, including some beautiful bunchberry (Cornus unalaschkensis). I was not surprised to find that what I had on my list as Stellaria crispa was actually S. obtusa. It’s hardly worth the effort of taking out the handlens and bending over to check, but this is an overlooked species I’ve been tracking the last few years. Its extensive mats with tiny petalless flowers were being swallowed up by the bracken and large areas of fragrant alpine knotweed (now Aconogonon phytolaccifolium) and tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata). The viewpoint rock garden was covered with Delphinium menziesii and Mimulus guttatus. Among these showier flowers were many tiny annuals including some inch-high Plagiobothrys or Cryptantha. I see these from time to time but haven’t ID’d them yet. Lots of small-flowered Lewisia triphylla were out as well (but closed up by the time we returned). The next rocky opening had blooming pumice sandwort (Eremogone [Arenaria] pumicola). This is of interest because the summit ridge is covered with the more widespread mountain sandwort (E. capillaris). These are often confused as the Flora of the Pacific Northwest does not include the former.

An Anna’s blue (what we used to call northern) lunching on Calochortus subalpinus.

On the way to the first rock garden along the east-west ridge, we passed through a gorgeous area of blooming beargrass, its heady scent filling the air. The rocky area itself was covered with flowers, mainly Penstemon procerus, Lupinus arbustus, and Calochortus subalpinus—just gorgeous. I finally stopped to eat here but had trouble sitting down because of a number of butterflies begging to have their pictures taken. The next big south-sloping rocky area was only just beginning to bloom. This is the spot where there are quite a few lovely pink king’s clover (now called Trifolium kingii var. productum). There’s a great view of the main summit ridge as you enter this open area. We could see only a few patches of snow remaining. The meadows beyond were filled with celery-leaved lovage (Ligusticum apiifolium). Copius amounts of western wormwood (Artemisia ludoviciana), with its silvery leaves, will be blooming a bit later.

Turkey peas, a member of the carrot family, is a very early bloomer, its buds ready as soon as it breaks through the snow.

Finally, we reached the intersection that leads to the summit ridge. Here we started stepping back in time. First a number of large-flowered Anemone oregana in white, lavender, and pink. Then fresh Viola orbiculata. Then snowbanks, some as high as 7′ tall, making the trail just a bit tricky to follow. They are melting from underneath, so we also had to be careful where we stepped. We passed through an opening I remember seeing snowmelt species in years ago on a June trip. It had snow around the edges and was filled with Claytonia lanceolata and some Dicentra uniflora. There was still some snow when we emerged from the woods to the edge of the open slope below the ridge cliff, which was dotted with glowing pink clumps of Penstemon rupicola. This open area ranged from another snowmelt species, turkey peas (Orogenia fusiformis), all the way to later blooming Castilleja hispida, more Penstemon procerus, and the large yellow-brown globes of Lomatium dissectum—a new addition to my plant list.

The top of the cliff is reached by heading south 200 yards or so from the summit, here covered with Penstemon procerus.

To get to the summit, you follow the trail all the way to where it meets the ridge. While not an official trail, a small path leads up the ridge to the summit. To my right, the northwest side of the ridge was still covered with snow. I came here late in the summer 4 years ago (well, only a week later by the calendar, but much later in the blooming season) and saw stunning deep blue Gentiana calycosa in bloom here. I found a few non-blooming plants on this trip, but I’m guessing many are still under snow. Other lovers of high, cool rock areas I saw in 2007 here were High Cascade denizens Luetkea pectinata and Hieracium gracile. Another unusual plant on the back side of the ridge is bistort (Bistorta bistortoides). It’s normally found in wetlands, but here were a few blooming in the rocks. Late snowbanks must keep it moist enough to remain here. On the top and east side of the ridge, many plants were in full bloom and it only got better as we finally (!) reached the summit. What a show of Penstemon procerus—like a sea of violet-blue! There were also many bright pink mats of Phlox diffusa, some yellow wallflowers, delicate white sprays of mountain sandwort and more lupines, attracting silvery and Boisduval’s blues. This was why I still do this hike all the way to the top. And the view of the Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and even Mt. Hood was terrific, although there were clouds hovering over some of them (and us much of the day as well).

It’s not as scary on top of the cliff as you might think. Blooming here are mountain sandwort (Eremogone capillaris), cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola), and sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum). Mt. Washington stands in the distance.

Instead of being exhausted at this point, I was anxious to go just a bit farther. It had been many years since I’d been to the top of the cliff, but upon seeing it mostly hidden past some more trees, I remembered finding a small population of Erigeron compositus there. It seemed like a good time to try to relocate it. We had to cross a bit more snow in the low point between us and scramble up some rocks, but it really isn’t very far from the summit. This was the only place I was able to get close to the beautiful Penstemon rupicola, and there was also blooming Eriogonum umbellatum. How strange when there was snow so close by. But, alas, no sign of the little Erigeron. I did, however, find some Arnica on the backside of the cliff that I think is actually streambank arnica (Arnica amplexicaulis). I’ve seen it grow on damp cliffs before, although I usually see it on rocks in the middle of a creek. At this point, we really did have to go, so we high-tailed it back to the car without stopping to look at much of anything else. If only the hike weren’t so long, there are so many corners of this beautiful ridge I would love to explore.

2 Responses to “Browder Ridge Summit Worth the Climb”

  • Janie Thomas:

    We did this hike on 7/22. Spectacular day, no bugs and of course, stunning wildflower displays, esp. the fields Penstemon procerus and P. rupicola like neon lights on the cliff faces. Was it the same Claytonia from the No Umpqua that was so prolific next to the snow melt?

  • Yes, it was, Janie. It’s our only “snowmelt” Claytonia.

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