July 22, 2014

"Clive" – The Salt Loving Marmot

Two weeks ago, we were up at Helen Lake, and after settling in for lunch, a very bold marmot approached our group.  We figured it had been fed by other hikers, but it showed no interest in our food.  Instead, it marched over to one of our backpacks and started licking the straps.

We were all pretty surprised, and stayed still to watch. In very short order, it became clear that the marmot had a major salt addiction.  It visited each of our packs in turn, and then decided to try other options, eventually licking one bare arm and one pant leg.  It was fascinating to watch, because we rarely get close to marmots.  Everyone was so enthralled that we decided to give the marmot a name, just for the day.  One of the guests settled on 'Clive'.

Clive discovers the motherlode of salt  –  hiking pole handles
We figured it was a one time craving, like when you've just gotta have potato chips.

But we were back at Helen Lake yesterday, and so was Clive.  His (or her  – it's hard to tell) addiction had not abated, but this time Clive discovered something even better than packs – hiking pole handles.

We have another trip running to Helen Lake this Friday, on July 25, and we will be on the lookout to see if Clive is still there for another rare close-up encounter.

Clive entertaining our gang of hikers on yesterday's hike

Clive the marmot checks out his namesake backpack

July 9, 2014

Cone Crop of the Century, Part III - The Next Generation

Last September, and again this February, we wrote about the bumper crop of cones on our spruce and fir trees during the summer of 2013.

On today's guided hike up to Yoho Lake, we talked about the ability of subalpine fir to germinate in the snow, and to grow a taproot – up to 3 cm long – right after germinating.  This long taproot allows it to get a foothold in the mineral soil that's under all the leaf litter, and makes the fir superb at regenerating in shady, mossy subalpine forests.

subalpine fir with taproot
Well, talking about it is one thing, but seeing it is another.  A few minutes after our discussion, we found ourselves in a patch of snow, and there they were!  Dozens, maybe hundreds, of little fir seeds from last year's bumper crop, happily germinating and growing their epic taproots.

Then, to complete the story, a few minutes later we stopped for good views, and around our feet were baby fir trees, maybe a month old, sprouting their first needles.  My photo is a bit blurry, but you can see the first two needles, ready to start photosynthesizing.

baby subalpine fir, with its first needles