Red willow-herb brightens the rocky, glaciated terrain in upper Royal Basin.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings...” John Muir
The lure of mountains persists, for good reason. Valleys and coast are far below, trees no longer block views, and jagged, snow-capped peaks rise to the sky. You’re in the alpine, a zone stretching from treeline to the highest peaks, where bright clumps of low-growing wildflowers decorate a backdrop of rock and snow.
Life on the Edge
Conditions in the alpine would be hard for humans to endure, yet the wildflowers and the wildlife that call this zone home are well-adapted. Wiry grasses, sedges and flowers are often arrayed in vertical stripes, due to freezing and thawing of thin mountain soils. Above, tiny ferns and flowers cling to rocky ledges, and on the highest peaks the only life form may be a bright orange blotch of crustose lichen. Wildflowers strategies include:
- Hugging the ground to avoid the drying winds
- Having small waxy or hairy leaves to conserve moisture
- Having bulbs or tap roots to store energy over winter and fuel growth each spring
- Being able to grow at cold temperatures and even while snow-covered
- Forming their buds the year before
Where to See the Alpine Zone
Both the Obstruction Point Road at Hurricane Ridge and the Deer Park Road provide access to the alpine zone. (Both roads are gravel, steep and narrow; neither is suitable for RVs or trailers.)
Many of Olympic's wilderness trails also offer access to ridges and summits throughout the Olympics. Wherever you explore this lofty zone, look for the following wildlife and wildflowers.