100 Peaks #27: Wildflowers on Cashmere

I’m writing about 100 mountains I love. The full list so far is here.

When I’m feeling like taking it easy, walking in no particular hurry and seeing beautiful things, a hike through subalpine meadows is the perfect option. Cashmere Mountain had been on my list for a long time, and a 20-ish mile hike mostly on a gradual maintained trail with a good friend felt like exactly what I needed one Thursday.

Rebecca picked me up and we drove to Leavenworth, starting the day the way every good leisurely day starts, with quality espresso and biscuit sandwiches. Then we drove to the trailhead and started our way through the trees.

The forests on this less-often-seen side of the Enchantments are thin after somewhat recent burns. Some trees are full of needles, some are burned halfway up, and some stand as singular straight lines sticking out of the vibrant grass, grey vertical stripes into the sky. The sky was perfectly blue with puffy white clouds, so the effect of the thin tree cover was that it was very sunny and warm. It was mid-summer, so the green plush carpet around us was also filled with wildflowers.

Because of the fires that regularly occur in Eastern Washington, the fields were filled largely with flowers that thrive in these disturbed areas, including explosions of fireweed and avalanche lily. Fireweed is so good at thriving in charred soils that it is even used as a land management tool, introduced purposefully to help strengthen the soil after a fire.

Fireweed is a memorable flower, as are some of the other common wildflowers in the PNW. On our hike we saw many often-photographed species, like the dramatic red Columbine, which has captured the interest of people since native people used its seeds as a love potion. One of my favorite flowers is the distinctively fuzzy purple lupine, which has hairs on its leaves to trap water and deflect sunlight. These adaptations are some of the reasons it thrives in areas around Leavenworth.

As we weaved in and out of the dark forest, we also saw some flowers that thrive in the more moist woodsy settings. We saw some cute red skyrockets, designed to attract hummingbirds.

There were a lot of tiny white flower clusters that looked like Queen Anne’s Lace. I remember how floored I was the first time, years ago, I realized these common flowers frequently have tiny wild carrots at the roots! Of course we saw possibly the most photographed flower in Washington, the Indian Paintbrush, of which there are many varieties.

When we exited the undulating meadows and squiggly mossy streams and reached the ridge, the weather was dramatically different. Winds buffeted us so much I felt inclined to hold on to the ridge with my hands to keep from falling. The scramble to the peak was not supposed to be hard, but still, we worried about doing it in the strangely high winds. The pass is called Windy Pass, and I guess it is aptly named. On this particular day, only the ridge was in a cloud, so we could see almost nothing ahead of us. We navigated some pillars on the way to the true summit as ice blowed into our eyes. Nothing could be farther from the weather we had just been experiencing! Luckily the scramble wasn’t quite as windy as other parts of the ridge, and we managed to make it to the summit without too much trouble. Still, it was not sheltered enough to stay there, so we gripped rimey handholds and hustled back down.

Immediately down from the ridge, we re-entered sunny Sound of Music wonderland. We noticed many flowers that seemed more innocuous and which we did not know what to call. The purple bells I later learned are called Harebells, and the tiny cute light-pinkish flowers I’ve passed by for so long are called Phlox. I have long been intrigued by a grass-like plant with long indigo petals, that looks elegant and beautiful just before blooming as well. It turns out this is Camas!

We both wondered about a small, delicate white flower with pink lines on the petals. It turns out this flower has the unappealing and puzzling name Siberian Miner’s Lettuce, or the less common but more apt Candyflower. We also found some small green and red flower clusters that I have been unable to identify! I have never been very good at plant identification, but after living in one place for long enough to encounter the same plants over and over, some of the names are starting to stick. It makes seeing wildflowers on hikes feel a bit like seeing old friends.

One thought on “100 Peaks #27: Wildflowers on Cashmere

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  1. I love taking in all the plant life on a hike. Have never really thought about it until just reading it now about fireweed. That is likely how it is named as it will thrive in the charred soils after a fire. Thank for sharing! 🙂

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