Hike to Slate Mountain
On Sunday I joined the California Native Plant Society along with the Botanist for the
Sequoia National Forest and Wildlife Biologist for the Tule River & Hot Springs
Ranger Districts for a hike up to Slate Mountain. There were 14 people who went on
the hike and we met at Quaking Aspen Campground at noon. It was an amazingly
beautiful day, there were big fluffy clouds in the sky and it was warm but there was a
cool breeze a blowin.
Slate Mountain is a prominent landmark as viewed from Camp Nelson; I always thought
it looked like it guarded over the community. The Summit Trail is an old one, before
there were roads Forest Service rangers road over it by horseback to reach places
like Quaking Aspen. Now it is a National Recreation Trail. It's not a heavily used trail,
however, and in parts it looked like the bitter cherry and mountain whitethorn were
going to take back the trail.
The thing that is most special about Slate Mountain is it is within the Slate Mountain
Botanical Area. Most of the high Sierra is composed of granitic rock. Well, as you can
guess, Slate Mountain is composed of slate and other metamorphic rock. Different
rock and mineral types create different soil and thus growing on the slopes of Slate
Mountain are three rare plants - Purple Mountain Parsley, Twisselman's Buckwheat,
and Unexpected Larkspur. In fact, Twisselman's buckwheat only grows in two small
populations, one on Slate Mountain and the other near the Needles.
The hike to the top of Slate Mountain is about 4 miles one way and you gain around
2,000 feet. The trailhead is near site 23 in Quaking Aspen Campground. After 1/4
mile you reach an old road and you must turn right on this road and walk about 300
yards and then you'll see the trail take off to the left again.
It is wonderful to watch the transformation in the forest as you hike from 7,000 to
9,000 feet. The trees and understory plants change. White fir gives way to red fir.
Sugar pine gives way to western white pine. Where it is dry manzanita and kinnick
kinnick are the main understory plants. Where it is moist pyrola and spotted coral
root orchid grow.
After about mile 2 and a series of switchbacks you reach a small saddle and some nice
big logs to sit on and take a break. The trail then contours up the south side of the
ridge and soon becomes quite rocky. This is where all three of the rare plants that we
were seeking grow. The parsley had already bloomed and fruited but we found its
seed balls that kind of look like dandelion heads. The larkspur had faded but was still
quite pretty. The buckwheat was in full bloom.
After the rocky area the trail is really steep for a short period then you are in a
thick red fir and western white pine forest on the northern slope of Slate
Mountain. It took us about 4 hours to reach the saddle just to the west of Slate
Mountain. Here the trail down to Bear Creek takes off to the west. A few of us
attempted the scramble to the top. Then we had a snack and headed back down.
I loved how the evening light settled on the forest on the way down. There are
several meadows along the lower portion of the trail and the flowers in them were
just lit up so beautifully.
We made it down by 6:30 or so. I was so glad I went, they were a great group of
people to hike with!
|Sequoia National Forest
Botanist Fletcher Linton
examines the Twisselman's
|View of the Needles from the
Slate Mountain Trail
|Taking a breather at a rocky
|Wild Onion Allium
Its strong fragrance greeted us along many
portions of the trail
|Robin Galloway, Wildlife & Fisheries Biologist
on the Tule River & Hot Springs Ranger
Districts, is the one standing on the left,
Fletcher's standing on the right
|Brilliant red Bridge's Penstemon
|Taking a break near the top
The woman standing is Joan Stewart
of the CNPS
|The late afternoon light made patterns
across the carpets of Kinnick Kinnick