Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Sound of a Tree Falling in the Forest

Hiker meets tree. Photo by Terry Rude
Last weekend, my neighbor sent me picture and a note about some trees down along Iditarod Trail section that borders the eastern shore of Bear Lake. I do a lot of walking on this trail since the trailhead is a quarter mile from my house, but I was out of town so it wasn’t until Tuesday that I could walk down there and inspect.
Some might be wondering how I could be on the Iditarod Trail when I’m five miles north of Seward. Doesn’t the Iditarod Trail start in Anchorage or Wasilla or Willow? Nope, sorry Sally. The Iditarod Trail originates in Seward where the Steamships brought miners, mail, and supplies during the gold rush and this is where the gold, and the winners and losers in the gold rush boarded the ship for Seattle.  That trail is now an National Historic Trail and, lucky for me, runs right along the shore of Bear Lake.

Back to our story.  My dog snape and I decided to check out the fallen tree situation, and Tuesday morning we walked the broad trail that follows the south shore of Bear Lake, listening to the swans talking and enjoying the blue sky day. At the southeast corner of the lake, the trail meets the main Iditarod coming in from Nash Road at the head of Resurrection Bay.

The trail is a bit of a mess here because a couple of years ago during one of our fall floods, the creek left its bed and decided to follow the Iditarod Trail to Bear Lake. Now that part of the trail has been replaced by a rocky streambed.

From this point north the trail follows the eastern shore of the lake and is more narrow and closed to ATV traffic. Snape and I were wading mud holes and stepping over roots as we followed the meandering trail and catching fine views of snow-capped peaks, spruce grouse, and the waterfowl coming and going on the lake. About a mile and a quarter from the trailhead, we came to the tree blocking the trail.

Well, this is not just some little tree blown down across the trail.  This is a major slide involving maybe a dozen trees that have uprooted, broken off and or slide down the hillside. Even up hill from the trail, massive trees have been toppled. The reason is obvious. These magnificent spruces and hemlocks are anchored by roots that are set in less than a foot of soil on sloping bedrock.  Soak that soil with days of heavy rain and add winds of more than thirty-five miles and hour and it’s amazing there are any trees left on that hillside at all.

Anyone using the trail for the next few months will be forced up a steep slope on a nasty bushwhack for a couple hundred yards, or they will be climbing over under around and through several massive root wads.  

Probably fifty yards of trail is covered by this slide involving probably a dozen trees.  Some of the trail is gone as well, pushed down hill to join some of the trees laying in the lake.  Another reminder that everything is temporary in a glacial valley subject to torrential rain, heavy snow, and storm force winds.

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