As the snow levels finally begin to recede (slightly) and warmer temperatures hold, higher elevation hiking trails are opening up. With the late summer arrival, many of the popular spots for day hikes are just becoming passable and the wildflowers are just now leaving the lower hills on their march upslope. The Twisp Lookout summit is carpeted with bitterroot and creamy buckwheat (my favorite flower).
This week’s wildflower is a rare and delicate specimen that can easily be overlooked as it often hangs out in the shade and can be obscured by taller vegetation. The Columbia Virgin’s Bower, blue clematis, or Bell Rue (Clematis columbiana) is a type of clematis vine with striking purple petals. Despite the bright, large purple flowers, the plant is slender and often growing amidst the shadow along the ground of other plants or climbing on a tree.
I am a frequent hiker, and while I have seen the blue clematis before, this year it’s been jumping out at me. The purple blossoms may catch your eye, but the delicate vine and leaves of the plant easily blend into the surrounding brush. Perhaps the added June rains have given it extra vigor. The vines like to grow along slopes under the canopy of trees or in part sun.
All clematis plants, which are part of the buttercup family, are poisonous. It’s reported that indigenous use of the plant included making a poultice for bruises and skin sores, though the related and more common white clematis was apparently more effective. The blue clematis can be planted as an ornamental plant and indeed its horticultural cousin is quite popular.
The late summer and rains have created higher water conditions and faster flows for this time of year. This presents a safety concern for casual floaters who would normally be seen floating down the lazy currents by mid-July. Not this year. The river still presents some serious technical stretches and PFDs (personal floatation devices) are a minimum safety assurance for this time of year; basic river awareness and safety is necessary for a community that loves and recreates on the river.
To create a community of water safety and awareness, John Crandall (fish biologist and river enthusiast) organized a recent Swift Water Rescue Course at Twisp Park. According to John, the training equips recreational boaters, paddlers, kayakers and SUPers to basic river safety rescue techniques, introducing and practicing situations that might be encountered on the river.
Like an avalanche class for backcountry skiers, Swift Water Rescue provides a baseline for how to be safe in a white-water environment. The more people with basic skills and knowledge, the safer it is for everyone. Assessing how to travel through white water, like swimming a rapid, wading through currents, rescuing swimmers, gear and boats are covered in the class.
The recent class was offered by Wilderness Rescue International, taught by Nate Ostis. River safety classes are offered throughout the year in rivers around the West, check in with local outfitters like Methow Rafting, Wet Planet, or Wave Trek to find an upcoming class.
Coming up on Aug.13, the annual Methow River Clean Up and Appreciation Day returns. Volunteers are asked to sign up on volunteermethow.org for a day of cleaning and loving the river. Participation from the Methow Restoration Council, Methow Rafting and Methow Recycles along with local river enthusiasts will provide sites for trash disposal as volunteers can chose how to participate in the clean-up efforts, by boat, body or board.