Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Marmot Olympics

"Marmota olympus". That's what they say, a big squirrel. I didn't know that. Them. Them facts. I didn't know them. Now I do.


Just up one side of Hurricane Hill and a little down the other, there be marmots.

Not Hurricane Hillary or Tropical Depression Hilary. None of that. Part-time hurricanes come and go up topside, but no depressions. No depressions because you feel good there, but occasional hurricanes, and not tropical either. "Temperate latitude" hurricanes. They come through every now and then.


This would be in Olympic National Park in western Washington state. I didn't know about temperate latitude hurricanes until a couple of years ago. True. Cliff Mass of the University of Washington mentioned it on one of his weekly weather talks, but oddly, the term "temperate latitude hurricane" does not occur on his blog.


Maybe he changed his mind about the term, or hasn't gotten around to writing about it, but there have been some big storms blowing through the area. (See link below.)


Anyhow, marmots are sleeping by then. Come winter, they sleep. Come summer, they munch grass and whistle. November is usually the stormiest month, but by then there wouldn't be much to eat, and normally there would be significant snow on the ground. Both good reasons to try sleeping it off.


"Whistle pigs", "woodchucks", "hoary marmots" — all closely related. I didn't know until yesterday that the olympic marmot was distinct: "it occurs only in the U.S. state of Washington, on the middle elevations of the Olympic Peninsula", according to Wikipedia. But I guess so, it is distinct, a little.


Hurricane Hill is off a bit to the west of Hurricane Ridge and its visitor center, which is accessible by paved road from the city of Port Angeles. The trip is about 15 miles (24km), though the direct distance is around a third of that. (A windy road to a windy spot.)


From Hurricane Hill there are good views of the Elwha River valley, including part of what used to be Lake Mills behind Glines Canyon Dam before the dam got taken down. You can look at the Bailey Range and peek at Mt Olympus, but I've never seen any gods over there, just more pointy rocks and snow. Might be worth another look some day.


Marmots is mostly it. Get out on the grassy parts, see something lumpy moving around, get whistled at, and maybe it's a marmot. If not, then that's a good time to turn around and go home, but so far it's been marmots and they've minded their own business and I've never tried to tickle any.


The trail does continue west, down a long slope to the Elwha Ranger Station, and on the day I grabbed these photos there was a group of three or so headed that way. Looked like a dad and two daughters.


I followed for a while, but the trail gets really steep after it enters the forest on the west side, and I didn't have any reason to go way down there, so I returned to hanging with the marmots. Might be a fun trip to do sometime.

The Olympic marmot is thought to have originated during the last glacial period as an isolated relict population of the hoary marmot in the Pleistocene ice-free refugia...The Olympic marmot is about the size of a domestic cat; adults weigh from 3.1 to 11 kg (6.8 to 24.3 lb) and are from 67 to 75 cm (26 to 30 in) in length, with the average being 71 cm (28 in). It is the largest marmot...The coat is double-layered, consisting of soft thick underfur, for warmth, and coarser outer hairs.

Olympic marmots eat meadow flora such as avalanche and glacier lilies, heather blossoms, subalpine lupine, mountain buckwheat, harebells, sedges, and mosses. They prefer green, tender, flowering plants over other sources of food, but roots are a large part of their diets in the early spring when other plants have not yet appeared.

And so on. (Info from Wikipedia.) Pretty nice for squirrels.


Olympic marmot

Columbus Day Storm, 1962

  • Winds exceeding 150 mph and a storm equal to Hurricane Katrina.
  • Huge forests leveled.
  • Dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries.
  • Thousands of homes and buildings destroyed or seriously damaged.


Me? Breathing. Still breathing. Working on that today.
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