I am just back from a remarkable adventure in the Sierra Nevada mountains! I joined my plant taxonomy professor Bob Patterson’s Flora of the Northern Sierra Nevada class for a day. We hiked to the top of the Sierra Buttes – my favorite hike that I try to do at least once a year. It was extra special this summer joining a group of botany enthusiasts and my former botany professor! The floral displays were spectacular, including my favorite patch of Sierra primrose (Primula suffrutesence) near the summit. It was incredibly windy and cold during our hike, so only a small group made it to the top of the lookout tower at 8,587 feet. But those of us who did enjoyed the stunning 360 degree view – we could see the Sutter Buttes to the west, Sierra City 5,000 feet below, and the Sardine lakes 2,800 feet below. And for the first time jumping in the lakes after our 6 hour hike didn’t seem so appealing. The hike includes a 2,078 foot elevation gain – about 5 miles roundtrip. http://alltrails.com/trail/us/california/sierra-buttes-lookout-from-pct-trailhead
I have been going up to the SFSU Sierra Nevada Field Campus (SNFC) almost every summer since 1996, when I first took Professor Patterson’s class. (My plant ecology Professor Tom Parker took us up there for a weekend field trip in fall 1995). The SNFC is one of my favorite places in California – a little field campus along Highway 49 about an hour north of Lake Tahoe, nestled beside the North Fork of the Yuba River (where I always try to pitch my tent during the summer months). There are dozens of classes biology, art, writing, and natural history classes taught be the leading experts in the country. And in fall a few professors like myself take our ecology students up for weekends to explore the ecology of this diverse montane region. The SNFC has really evolved over the years and is really vibrant now as it is run by my colleague and friend from grad school, J.R. Blair and his amazing staff. http://www.sfsu.edu/~sierra/
When I contacted J.R. to find out if I could tag along with Bob’s flora class for a day or two, he told me about the big hike planned for Saturday – the Death March to the caves on the back side of the Buttes where a rare fern lives. I said sign me up – I’m there for this botanizing adventure! And no doubt, this was indeed one of the highlights of my summer. My colleagues from SFSU Tom Parker and Mike Vasey and Brett Hall from the UCSC Arboretum led 20 of us on a wild 12 mile hike up the South facing slope (well cliffs really) of the Buttes in search of a State endangered fern (green spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes-ramosum) that is only known to grown in CA in a couple of caves on calcareous cliff. Tom, Mike, Brett and their grad students have made this an annual event – one that I definitely didn’t want to miss and will be joining again. We had amazing weather – mid 70s with a slight breeze – and the group was eager to find the fern and botanize along the way. 16 out of 20 of us made it to a refreshing lunch stop near a waterfall. We then began our real adventure, boldering straight up to find the infamous fern caves. We were elated when we finally found one of these fern caves at about 2:30pm! This was enough for most, but a few of us stayed to look for more caves. We missed dinner at the field campus, but what an adventure we had in the snow, boulders and alpine floral displays. Great fun botanizing and hiking was had by all on this amazing day in the Buttes! Can’t wait to do it again next summer.