Peak Bloom

Every sport has its own Grail moment – its own ideal, defining event, which players strive toward and spectators applaud. For golfers, it’s a hole-in-one; for baseball players, a triple play; for basketball players, a three-point shot that hits nothing but net. For surfers, it’s the perfect wave.

For wildflower addicts, it’s peak bloom.

Wiggins’s tiger lily and tower delphinium at a spring in Grouse Gap.

“Peak bloom” is technically defined simply as the time when the most flowers are blooming, but that stark sentence doesn’t begin to capture the term’s nuances. It is different for every place; for a given place, it is different for every habitat; for a given habitat, it is different for every year. A wet year will delay it; a dry year will bring it on early. A rainstorm at the wrong time may defeat it completely. The conditions that trigger blooming can vary dramatically from species to species, so the actual mix of flowers present at peak bloom for a given locality is almost always different each year. Depending on that mix of species, the display may be soft and muted, or it may be a riotous extravaganza of color and form. Or anything in between.

All this is by way of explaining why, only two weeks after our most recent previous trip to Mt Ashland, we were back again last Thursday. The push came from our longtime friend and fellow wildflower fanatic Diane Meyer, via a post on Facebook. Diane had just come back from the mountain with a camera full of pictures. “If you plan to visit Mt Ashland,” she wrote, “go NOW.”

We went. It didn’t hurt that we could do it as a half-day trip, which allowed us to get to the weekly Medford farmers’ market in the morning.

There is not much to say about the actual hike. We left Medford under a heavy overcast that was expected to get heavier, so it was a surprise to find the mountain basking beneath blue skies decorated by little puffy clouds. We parked the Bolt at the Mt Ashland Campground, dropped down the hill to the Pacific Crest Trail, and followed it around to the trailhead just off Road 20 in Grouse Gap; from there we climbed cross-country to the long, rocky ridge that juts west from Mt Ashland at the Rabbit Ears – picked up the mountain-bike trail along that ridge – took the trail back to the Mt Ashland summit road – and walked the road back to the car. Total distance was a bit over three miles, not much by our standards. The flowers on the ridge were disappointingly far past peak (remember what I said about different habitats?). The flowers in the Grouse Gap meadow system were….well, prepare yourself, and then check out the pictures.

Along the Pacific Crest Trail in Grouse Gap.
Along Road 20 near its junction with the Mt Ashland summit road.
Tower delphinium along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Grouse Gap meadows.
Mt Shasta across a field of Alice’s fleabane in Grouse Gap.
Clockwise from upper left: coyote mint, monkshood, orange agoseris, Oregon checker mallow.
Sulphur flower and Siskiyou owls’ clover.
The Grouse Gap meadow system, from the Mt Ashland summit road. Sulphur flower overrunning just about everything in sight.

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