Springtime in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness

  • April 29, 2017
  • Posted by Avery Mickey Immersion Leader

April 5th, 2017. 6am. The crew met at the office bright and early. Tools and gear were loaded the day before. We packed last minute items, jumped in the rigs, and headed off for Choice Airlines. There we met Hank and the small, rickety looking plane he would fly us into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness with. The first three of us loaded into the plane with just enough room for four seats and our backpacks and tools. Within minutes we were over Hamilton flying into one of the dramatic canyons which characterize the Bitterroot Mountains. Hank followed the canyon up till all the mountains below were covered in the last remains of winter. Then just as quickly the white snow retreated farther and farther until it was only on the highest mountain tops and we were in Idaho, landing at Shearer Guard Station.

The landscape we dropped into was dominated by steep hillsides and mountains carved out by the glaciers of the last ice ages. The roaring Selway River swept across the valley floor. Ponderosa Pines stretched across the landscape with the occasional Douglas-fir creating open, dry hillsides. Sticking up from the forest floor were numerous nondescript stalks of various shrubs whose leaves were still encased in sticky buds. Many buds still close to the forest floor have been nibbled off by deer and other creatures taking advantage of new life in the forest after the long winter. Early wildflowers were sprinkled amid the new woody underbrush. In the shade stark white trilliums stood out against their green leaves and the brown duff and pine needles below and swaths of green dotted the bright, vibrant yellow of glacier lilies catching the eye. In the sun the ground was speckled with hardly noticeable white and blue specks called blue-eyed marys and the occasional spring yellow of a buttercup or sky blue of some penstemon. Even some arrowleaf balsamroot rosettes were beginning to emerge through the duffy ground.

Closer to the valley bottoms and by the many small streams running off the steeps hillsides, the forest changed. The open, sunny slopes became shaded and damp. Grand Firs and western redcedars blocked out all but a scarce amount of light. Many of the trees were black and charred at the bases, scarred from past forest fires. Green heart shaped leaves of arnica and wild ginger rosettes clustered amongst dense woody brush. Hardly seen, small patches of yellow monkey-flowers or early blue violets hid behind shaded moist stumps.


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