Return to Loletta Peak

The gash down the side of Loletta Peak is quite impressive. Amazingly, many plants occupy the steep rocky slope. In the near view is Balm Mountain (you can spot it by the logged triangle from quite a ways), while pointy Mt. Thielsen can be seen much farther to the southeast.

This large vole gave me just long enough to take its photo before disappearing into its hole below in the rocky area at the east end of the Loletta Lakes plateau. Does anyone know what species it is?

While I haven’t gotten out as much as usual this summer (work, drought, heat, now smoke as I write this), I did have some goals that I’ve been working through. After not being able to go up to most places in the Calapooyas last year because of all the treefall, and having missed out on the recent trips up Coal Creek Road for the Burke Herbarium Foray, what I was most anxious to do was to go up Coal Creek Road 2133. And since I hadn’t been up on Loletta Peak since 2015 (see Another Exciting Day in the Calapooyas), that was really my top priority. Happily, on July 3, Molly Juillerat was free, and, having never been to Loletta Peak, she was looking forward to seeing someplace new. As the ranger for the Middle Fork District of the Willamette National Forest, she’s been telling the Forest Service folks to go out and explore and get to know their district, something we both love to do. The boundary between the Middle Fork District and the Diamond Lake District of the Umpqua National Forest goes right across the top of Loletta Peak, making this is the southern edge of the district.

We were both concerned about heading out into the Hills Creek area over the July 4th holiday weekend, but surprisingly, it was really quiet. The low level of the lake probably deterred a lot of recreationists. On the way up Coal Creek Road, we had to pass through the giant fallen tree that volunteer extraordinaire Chad Sageser had cut through just in time for the foray. It really was huge for one person to deal with. Thank you, Chad! It was a tight squeeze in the Forest Service rig, but we passed through without incident. Sometimes we complain that the people who clear the road leave so little room to spare, but when you think about how many hours it took to cut and move the wood without causing the tree to slip farther down the hill (several days in this case), it is amazing they can get the job done at all.

The unusual and very uncommon (in Oregon) Gray’s bedstraw. With its blue-gray pubescent leaves, you might think that’s where it got its name. My guess is that it is actually named after 19th-century botanist Asa Gray, like so many other plants

When we got to the campsite where we usually park, it was already occupied by a man and a dog. While we waved at one point, since Molly’s dog Loki was with us and we weren’t sure if they would get along, we steered clear and didn’t stop to chat. Too bad—I discovered later the occupant was Chuck, a reader of this blog that I knew liked to fish up in the area. We’d e-mailed a number of times but never met—and alas still didn’t! Hopefully, we’ll bump into each other again one of these days.

Looking north along the south ridge are lots of good butterfly plants like coyote mint and northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum).

It was a relatively hot day, but we made it up the steep and loose slope to the top of the peak okay. Our biggest concern was for Loki and his bare paws, but he was a trooper. There were lots of butterflies on the coyote mint (Monardella odoratissima) and other lovely flowers, but it is too hard to wander about the loose rock, so I didn’t stop to look at butterflies until reaching the more level summit. After 5 years, it was so great to get up there again. Such a great view, cool rock features, lots of butterflies, and so many wonderful plants. After walking down the south ridge and stopping for some lunch, we headed over to the very top of the peak area. Our timing was perfect for the rarest plant I’ve found in the Cascades, Gray’s bedstraw (Galium grayanum). I always try to relocate uncommon plants and was able to find the high-elevation large-flowered wirelettuce (Stephanomeria lactucina) in early bud, but I had no luck in my search for the kelloggia (Kelloggia galioides) I’d seen on previous trips. We also spotted the remains of the very early-flowering Siskiyou fritillary (Fritillaria glauca), but they were mostly dried out.

Loki couldn’t wait to get to a creek on our way down from the summit. You can just see the road at the bottom.

John Koenig and I have discussed finding an easier way up to the summit a number of times. There are three ridges heading off the summit. The short but steep one we came up from the northeast and the two that are part of the crest of the Calapooyas. The long one to the south leads to Balm Mountain. The other one goes down to the northwest. After looking at the maps, Molly and I decided this would be a good time to try heading down to the road that way. It was easy enough to follow the main ridge into the forest, and it wasn’t too steep heading down, but to our right, it looked awfully steep to head straight down to the road. We headed to what looked like a saddle on our maps (the best use of a cell phone in my opinion!), where there were gentler contours leading down to the road. When we reached it, it was relatively easy to go straight down to the road. On the way down, a creek appeared in the drainage—just what a hot dog needed to cool off! We followed the creek down to the road just above Loletta Lakes—piece of cake. Next time, I’ll have to try heading up that way.

At the edges of the wetland, there were two kinds of what we used to call common or seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), but, now that they have been split into separate species, I need to look at them more carefully. You can see the differences in the calyx, with the smaller one covered with spots. The large one appeared to be a perennial. The smaller one was growing in drifts and was probably an annual. My guess is the first is now Erythranthe guttata, while the second is E. microphylla. But I’m still waiting for someone to write a treatment for the Flora of Oregon before I can be sure. Note also the insect sneaking into the photo!

On our way into the wetland, I spotted this Lorquin’s admiral caterpillar on subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens), a species I hadn’t realized they used. I’m really curious what the purple thread-like thing is tangled on its right “horn.”

It was only about a half-mile back down the road to the car. But before heading home, we wanted to check out the wetland area by the campsite. It was still very fresh and wet. The mountain shooting stars (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) were mostly finished—the perfect time to look for Sierra Nevada blues, who use the shooting star as their host food plant. We headed to the north end of the wetland, and there they were! At least a dozen little blues were dancing around. What I think of as their favorite nectar plant, bistort (Bistorta bistortoides) wasn’t quite open yet, but there was a lot of sticky tofieldia (Triantha occidentalis) in full bloom. Similar to the bistort, it has dense clusters of small white flowers, ideal for a small butterfly, and that’s what they were nectaring on.

It was very relaxing spending an hour or two watching butterflies and other insects and poking around looking for plants. It was a reward of sorts after the tough climb and braving the heat on the peak. Loki, meanwhile, was engaging in his favorite pastime—trying to yank sticks out of the ground. He was much happier with his feet in cool mud instead of on hot rocks.

Here’s an adult Lorquin’s admiral in the same general area.

A lovely female Sierra Nevada blue nectaring on sticky tofieldia.

While near the campsite, we also explored some of the areas around the wetland and the east-facing rocky slope where John and I found the rare buttercup-leaved suksdorfia (now with a new name, Hemieva ranunculifolia). Like most everything else on the rocky slope, the suksdorfia was about done and pretty crisp because of the dry spring. While Molly and Loki rested in the shade a bit, I spent a little while collecting seeds, including some blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora). I was very surprised to stumble upon a very large vole of some type. He/she might have been about 5″, not including its tail—much larger than the ones I see in my garden occasionally. It didn’t seem too scared and allowed me photograph it. It’s always exciting to see mammals, which are usually out of sight in the middle of the day. All in all, it was a terrific day for all three of us. Molly and I talked about how our summer botanizing would probably get cut short by fire, as it in fact has, but I’m so glad that we were able to get up to this wonderful area.

Loki isn’t satisfied with picking sticks off the ground. He prefers the challenge of pulling dead branches that are still rooted. It took a while, but he did manage to dislodge this one and was very proud of his accomplishment. The flowers in front of him are sticky tofieldia.

2 Responses to “Return to Loletta Peak”

  • Ernst Schwintzer:

    Looks like a wonderful outing. Great pictures.
    A link to a map locating Loletta Peak would be helpful.

  • Hi Ernst,

    Here’s a link to the location of Loletta Peak:
    Loletta Peak

    You can find Loletta Lakes, just to the northwest, on any map. The wetlands we explored are just to the north across the road.

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