It’s nearly summer and for all the mountain dwelling people of the northern hemisphere, the season offers a short window of opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of remote snow laden areas.
Smack dab in the heart of Idaho, is a chunk of public land administered by the U.S. Forest Service that has more Wilderness and road-less acres than in any other place in the lower 48 states. The areas known Sawtooth Wilderness, Frank Church Wilderness, Gospel Hump Wilderness and Selway Bitteroot Wilderness form a vast network of public lands that are protected by a congressional act; the Wilderness Act of 1964. All told, 4,130,299 acres of Wilderness are protected from urban development. Instead, these areas serve as a refuge for plants and animals and are the headwaters to many major river drainage’s. To help ensure this, traveling in Wilderness is done by foot and animal power only.
This image was taken after 5 days of hiking over high elevation passes, mountain summits and great glaciated lake basins. While descending a great pass littered with car and house sized boulders shed from the 9000′ + mountains above, the remnants of an ancient White Bark Pine was found protruding from a great crack in the granite. This particular tree was at one time, growing in isolation, at a higher elevation than all other trees in the basin. For decades, this tree had persisted while all other trees in the area had naturally withered in the harsh conditions, deep snow and recurring avalanches. White Bark Pines are a hearty species and are capable of growing in very harsh climates, high elevations and with very poor soils. This particular tree had reached over 80” in diameter growing directly out of solid granite. When I turned to enjoy the phenomenon I was greeted with a visual symphony of light, color, texture, earthy smells and immense grandeur.
The scientific community has expressed concern over White Bark Pine as large portions of the population succumbs to insect pathology and disease associated with changes in climate throughout it’s range. White Bark Pine is intimately connected to the Clark’s Nutcracker (a bird that collects, eats and caches the trees seeds) and Grizzly Bears, whom regularly dig up the Nutcracker’s seed caches as a food source. Some worry, that if the trees decline, so too, will the Nutcracker and the Grizzly.