My Side of a Mountain

Original Publication DATE: 8/3/2012

On average, air temperatures decrease 500 times faster over altitudinal gradients than latitudinal gradients in North America (MacAuthor 1972). So, for example, traveling 150 miles north in North America approximates a decrease in temperature comparable to gaining 1600 feet of altitude. (O’Donnell 2003). This also means that altitudinal vegetation zones in the mountains of North America are 500 times narrower than latitudinal zones–what is created in this climatic scenario are the quentessential microsites. But there are other factors at play in the temperate coastal environments of the Klamath Mountains. Altitudinal generalizations are often exaggerated to the untrained eye because as one climbs skyward a stark landscape appears as ancient ultramafic and mafic rocks become more common, and restrict plant growth. This nurtures the feeling of subalpine–even below 7,000′ at a latitude of 42o N.
Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), serpentine ridgeline, and sunset…

The northern portion of the Siskiyou Wilderness represents an area of great botanical diversity resulting from its unique geographic position (proximity to the coast and extreme vertical relief) and complex and diverse geologic composition. Chester A. Ground (1972) identified 343 species of plants in 3 square miles around the mountain my college buddies and I decided to climb in late July 2012.  Just like my childhood fictional hero Sam Gribley, we escaped to a place near and dear to my heart, and–though not for an entire winter–for enough time to share space and time with the unique and diverse biota of the Klamath Mountans. We were in for a treat as the weather was cool and clear, plants were in bloom, and wildlife was active.

Bolander’s Lily (Lilium bolanderi) in the lower-elevation serpentine forest.
California lady’s slipper (Cypripedium californicum) growing in and around small seeps and streams.
Climbing into the botanical area along a serpentine ridgeline, above a beautiful meadow (full of bears by the way).
Rosy Siskiyou sedum (Sedum laxum) enjoying the sparsely populated serpentine soil.
Brittle sandwort (Minuarta nuttalli) might just be the perfect plant for a rock garden because of its often perfect pin-cushion form.
Near the summit of my favorite mountain (on the southeast flanks) the serpentine soils briefly hides its heavy metals to allow a small grove of noble fir (Abies procera) to thrive. First seeing this small grove of trees during an ascent in 2004–it has continued to live in my dreams ever since.
Alaska-cedar (Cupressus nooktatensis) thrive near the summit, but only with a shrubby or matlike bauplan. This population is near the southern extent of the range of the species. The big-shouldered canyon of Clear Creek cuts to the Klamath River in the background.
The subalpine, south-facing cirque holds noble fir (Abies procera), Brewer spruce (Picea breweriana), western white pine (Pinus monticola), Jeffrey pine (Pinsu jeffreyi), mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menzisii), Alaska-cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis), and Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia).
Where snow near the summit was receding, the western pasqueflower (Anemone occidentalis) was blooming (seen here setting feathery seeds).
The mountain also holds numerous hillside fens nurturing cobra lilies (Darlingtonia california)–this fen was around two acres.
Cobra lilies (Darlingtonia california) in bloom in a flowery fen–with a distinct (and very popular) cirque in the blurry distance.
Sublime summer sunset with miles of mountain shadows.


  1. Ground, C. A. 1972. A study of the flora of Preston Peak, Siskiyou County, California.MS thesis, Pacific Union College.

  2.  MacAuthor, R. 1972. Geographical Ecology. New York: Harper & Row.

  3. O’Donnell, James. 2003. An ecological study of Preston Peak’s flora: establishing baseline data for climate change research on subalpine vegetation. Thesis (M.S.)–Southern Oregon University.

AUTHOR: Gambolin’ Man
DATE: 8/3/2012 6:09:51 PM
What a fine, fine exploratory foray, Michael!
AUTHOR: Watertank
DATE: 8/3/2012 7:13:21 PM
Great article and photos. Now I finally know the name of the “Dr. Suess Truffula Trees” plant that I saw on the PCT south of Crater Lake- Western Pasqueflower (Anemone Occidentalis), Thanks!
AUTHOR: Susan Moskaly
DATE: 8/21/2012 7:08:30 PM
Michael, just discovered your book and am entranced! Looking forward to future outdoor exploration and plant identification, inspired by your writing. My sister, by the way, is a naturalist and founded/runs a nature preserve system in southern Ohio. Check her out:

Susan- Thanks for the kind words and I’m glad you are enjoying the book and it is taking you into the field. I can’t tell you how much it means to read comments such as yours! Happy plant exploring.                  –Michael