This week in mid September saw the first frost on the meadows on the summit signaling the end of a very short summer and the start of autumn. With snow on the ground until July, there were really only about 10 weeks of real summer weather this year. In those short weeks, there has been a natural compression of the normal summer which was really evident in the summit wildflowers. In a normal year with about 16 weeks of real summer there is a growth progression of wildflowers that bloom all over the summit starting with the Camas Lilies, followed by the lupine, mallow, columbine, yarrow, paintbrush, penstemon, tiger lilies, asters and ending with the berries. This summer nature had to compress that progression into 10 weeks and the result was an overlapping explosion of wildflowers that made hiking the area a delight. This year the “spring” flowers were blooming with the “summer” flowers making the whole summit a mixed bouquet. The end of September is usually the driest time of the year on the summit with much of the vegetation turning brown and drying up. It is strange to see the grasses still green and the abundance of flowers still remaining in many areas of the summit. At the higher elevations where the snow has only recently melted, there are still flowers just starting to bloom (the hike up to Frog Lake overlook is a good example).
As the official start of autumn is on the calendar for this week, it looks like there will be a quick transition on the summit. Although there are many more flowers than usual, it is clear they are quickly going to seed. This is easy to tell by the time spent removing burrs from the dogs after a hike. The grasses in the meadow have browned and the berries are coming out, to the delight of the birds and bears. It is not clear if there will be much of an Indian summer this year, but as the days get shorter and the nights colder, the leaves should start turning on the bushes in the next two weeks. As we go into October the Aspens should also begin to turn, streaking the summit with flames of yellow. While this is not New England with it’s vast forests of deciduous trees, the summit can put on its own autumnal show. A drive up old Forty from Donner lake on a crisp October morning can be spectacular. The aspen groves down by Big Bend and Cisco Grove are also impressive. The hiking trails bordered by the lush green grasses and bushes of summer will now be lined with the yellow and red leaves of bushes preparing for another winter.
Summer is my favorite time on the summit, maybe because it is shorter and more intense here than in many other places. This year it was even shorter than usual, and it really does seem like we hardly knew ya before you were gone.