Glorious Day at the Summit of Cone Peak

The steepest part of the 700′ climb up to the summit from the trail is when you’re almost at the top. But you want to go slowly to look at all the flowers anyway.

Sheila and I were intrigued by this dead tree. Pileated woodpeckers commonly make rectangular-shaped holes in dead trees, and there were some higher up, but I’ve never seen them carve up a tree so thoroughly. We thought it looked like a totem pole. You can see the huge pile of wood chips at the base. There was a smaller one on the other side of the trail.

Sheila Klest and I had planned to go to Cone Peak the previous week, but I had to cancel at the last moment after barely sleeping the night before. Even if I could have handled the long drive and hike, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it on two hours of sleep. It’s tough finding a time when Sheila can get away from her native plant nursery, Trillium Gardens, so I was relieved she was able to reschedule to go up there with me on Thursday, June 13. Coincidentally, that the was the exact date and day of our previous trip (see A Rainbow of Colors at Cone Peak and Iron Mountain), but we hadn’t made it to the summit that time, and the bloom season was a little farther ahead of this year.

I had wanted to get up there as early as possible to see the first flowers while there were still a few snow banks left. My early-season trip with Sabine Dutoit back in 2008 (see Top of Cone Peak Starting to Bloom) is still one of my favorite experiences. While it was later in June, that was an above-average snow year, so we walked over snow drifts with snowmelt species blooming in the newly bare spots to get to the top of Cone Peak where the bloom was gorgeous. What makes Cone Peak such a great place to see very early flowers is that you can hike from a paved road that is cleared of snow in June. Most of my other high-elevation spots require going up long gravel roads, so the earliest plants are often done before the roads are clear of snow and downed trees.

I rarely see the lovely Sheridan’s green hairstreaks (Callophrys sheridanii) with their sparkly jade wings, but for some reason, they are reliable on Cone Peak early in the season (All my old reports from this area include a photo of one!). Their caterpillars feed on the abundant buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.) on the slopes. We saw more of these than any other species of butterfly.

Postponing a week cost me the chance to recreate that earlier trip (maybe next year?), but the weather was just perfect, the view fantastic, the flowers were outstanding, and I was in the company of a great friend. We were both thrilled to see so many flowers and to still be able to find a few glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) and other snowmelt species. We saw butterflies as well. It hasn’t been a very good butterfly year so far on my other hikes. I can’t imagine a day being more perfect. 

The meadows along the trail were filled with Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) and harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida). Browder Ridge can be seen just a little farther south.

I urge people going to Iron Mountain to consider doing the Cone Peak Loop, or like we did, just skipping Iron Mountain altogether and going up and off-trail to the summit of Cone Peak. Other than a friendly party of 3 humans and 2 dogs, we never saw anyone else, even though the Tombstone Pass parking lot was pretty full. And there are at least half a dozen interesting species of plants you won’t see lower down. Enough words—just check out a small selection of the 360 photos I took that day to see how great Cone Peak is at the top!

It can be hard to notice these miniature white annuals among all the attention-grabbing colorful perennials. I believe this Plagiobothrys is Pacific popcornflower (P. hispidulus), which I’ve seen in a tiny form elsewhere where there was good snow cover early in the season. Most of the common popcorn flowers in western Oregon seem to occur at lower elevations.

I’ve never noticed beetles taking an interest in Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii), but there were dozens of tiny gray and black beetles searching for pollen and/or nectar in the little flowers. There are at least a dozen just in this photo. They appear to be a kind of soft-winged flower beetle (Listrus sp.). There’s an good article about them in the excellent website, 10,000 Things of the Pacific Northwest: Listrus sp.

Field chickweed (Cerastium arvense) and western groundsel (Senecio integerrimus) were blooming extensively on the slopes of Cone Peak. On the left, the slightly taller summit of Echo Mountain can be seen to the east with South Peak in between Cone Peak and Echo Mountain. Snow-covered Mount Washington can be seen in the distance on the right.

Sheila admiring the beautiful display of spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) and larkspur on the way up. The Three Sisters are just appearing.

Looking back down to the south, you can see the trail going through the meadow way down below. Iron Mountain with its recognizable pillar rock is to the right.

I had hoped to find smooth douglasia (Douglasia laevigata) still in bloom, but there were just a few flowers left in the dike rock at the top.

Gordon’s ivesia (Ivesia gordonii) is uncommon in Oregon. Cone Peak is the only place it grows in western Oregon. It’s a member of the rose family. From the summit, we could finally get a good view of Mount Washington and the Three Sisters, along with many other High Cascade peaks.

As we headed back down the trail, we noticed lenticular clouds had appeared. These are stationary lens- or lentil-shaped clouds that form when strong winds hit moisture above mountains. Some say they are occasionally mistaken for UFOs!

4 Responses to “Glorious Day at the Summit of Cone Peak”

  • Leigh Blake:

    Glorious HIKE!!! So glad…and grateful to have these wonderful “shots” of PERFECT gardens!!! I’m sorry I misspelled “Phytophthora” in my last response..I did a ‘bit’ of research and found that only one is thought to be damaging… only to Port Orford Cedar…

    Thank you for another beautiful hike…Beautiful photos…wonderful plants and butterflies…

    THANK YOU!!

  • FYI, Ivesia gordonii grows in at least one other place in western Oregon: I’ve seen it on the Nasty Rock Trail. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/52545642

  • Hi Adam,

    That’s great to hear and thanks for letting me know! I’ll pass it on to OregonFlora so we can get it on the map. If you have any other unusual sightings that you don’t see on the OregonFlora website maps, please send them to info@oregonflora.org, preferably with a photo and lat/long if possible. At present, we have no way to link to iNaturalist.

  • Hi Leigh,

    Well, there’s also the very damaging sudden oak death (Phytophthora ramorum). Sad to say, I’m sure more pathogens will continue to invade Oregon and damage our wild places as well as our gardened ones.

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