It reminded me of Last Chance to See, a charmingly tragic adventure book by Douglas Adams whereby he searches out some of the last populations of endangered animals in their native habitat. I was on a top secret mission with my botanist friend and former Olympic National Park biological sciences technician coworker, Katie. Our optimistic goal was to confirm a population of rare plants last sighted in 1992 near where a proposed trail was being investigated. And we were optimistic. Needless to say, the trail was never built so the location remains deeply inaccessible. Two other expeditions had failed to reach the described location. The GPS mapping systems have improved considerably since then, meaning they weren’t so great back then when the satellites’ locations were being scrambled by the US government and one needed to look up the daily correction. So we had, at most, moderate confidence in the exact location, although all we had to go off of was indeed the exact pinpoint on a topographical map with coordinates.
One suspension bridge, one gigantic Douglas Fir tree, one river crossing where we debated wading across in water up to our waist but decided on crawling across logs like bears, and one endless quarter mile and very steep slope of bushwacking through Devils Club later, we found the gps spot… but not the plants. Twelve hours of plant hunting expedition for naught save friendship and memories … whew!
When we arrived at our pinpoint destination after much force of will dealing with the environs, the detailed slope aspect and micro topography were incongruous to the location. We were originally prepared to scout around, however the terrain was so difficult (3 hours to travel 1/4 mile) that we were unable to make more than a couple exploratory detours off our compass setting.
The associated species were compatible with the plant we were searching for, however in the end, while we did make it to the location of the last sighting, we were unable to confirm (or deny) that the population still exists.
We made it out safely and had a great time (in that kind of way where you’re battered and bruised and thankful to be alive) but neither of us are anxious to go back again for further hunting, such was the beastliness of this off-trail wilderness cliffside.
A perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you plant hunting Katie!