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Mount Dickerman Trail — October 2004

By Holly Zox

The Pacific Northwest, with its evergreen conifer-dominated forests is not noted for autumn color. Furthermore, our dominant deciduous tree, red alder (Alnus rubra) drops its leaves before coloring. Our maples may not compare to those in New England, but the buttery yellow of big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) and orange and red of little-leaved vine maple (Acer circinatum) are particularly vivid against the evergreen backdrop. Both occur on the Mount Dickerman Trail, along with a host of other coloring leaves on this fall foliage hike, Northwest style.

The Dickerman Trail is also noteworthy in traveling from low elevation (1825') in the Western Hemlock Zone to subalpine parkland (5723') at the summit. Abundant younger Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) suggests a disturbance, in this case a forest fire early in the 20th century. Aspect and topography exert a powerful influence on local climate, and vegetation zones exist much higher on the south-facing, gentler slope the Dickerman Trail climbs than they do on the Perry Creek Trail, which traverses Dickerman’s steep, north face.

Though the south slope may be gentler, the trail is steep, and switchbacks from the valley to the summit. Look for diversity in the forest from openings such as seeps and rock outcroppings. The darkest forest floor is home to several non-green saprophytes including candystick (Allotropa virgata) and pinedrops (Pterospora andromedea). An avalanche chute framed by western yew (Taxus brevifolia) at about two miles lights up the gloom with a swath of golden senescing devil’s club (Opoplanax horridus) with its racemes of bright red berries. Another island of diversity within the forest matrix occurs under a steep basalt cliff, where mountain-boxwood (Paxistima myrsinites) and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) intrude into the Western Hemlock Zone. Look for dirty socks (Eriogonum pyrolifolium) growing in the volcanic rocks of a seep near the cliff.

The trail soon levels in an area of snow accumulation. See here huckleberry/heather meadows aflame with the red fall leaves of Cascade huckleberry (Vaccinium deliciosum), and tree islands of Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis), Alaska cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis), and mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana). The trail then steepens again and enters subalpine forest, lit in October by Sitka mountain-ash (Sorbus sitchensis), and finally subalpine parkland and the summit.

The snow that brings about the changes in vegetation can begin to accumulate in the subalpine on Dickerman in October. Unless you possess the mountaineering skills to travel on steep snow, don’t continue to the summit if snow-covered. Also beware of snow cornices that occur as wind blows snow out over the edge of the mountain’s steep, north face. Come prepared for winter mountain conditions, with the 10 essentials, sturdy boots, warm and dry layers, ski poles, and extra food and water for this strenuous but not difficult 8 mile round-trip hike. Directions: drive the Mountain Loop Highway east from Granite Falls to the trailhead and parking lot on the north side of the highway just past milepost 27.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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