We awoke at Camp 1 at 6:00am on October 22nd, 2013 to brilliant blue skies and great anticipation of ending this day well above 8,000′, assuredly amongst a palette of plants adaptive to zone 8. Our bees were back in full force by the time we sat for breakfast so I was glad to begin hiking again up the ridge shortly before 8am. A twelve mile hike with nearly 4,000′ of vertical gain would keep us occupied for most of the day. Shayne had developed a lower intestinal infection and began a course of Ciprofloxin and one of the porters had become very ill with malaria. Our drinking water was no longer that of pristine glacial-fed rivers but from a hole dug in mucky depression and scooped from the bottom. Though it was boiled, it had the taste and color of a very inexpensive and smoky single-malt scotch.
The ridge was steep and thusly the flora did not evolve slowly but in enormous jolts. Seemingly at every point when we tacked in opposite direction another familiar and exciting species appeared. Maianthemum (Smilacina) fusca was the first of a triad from this genus observed this day. By mid-day, a second species, with upright stems deeply saturated in red and short terminal panicles appeared (species tbd) while later in the day, and nearing our camp were the first specimens of the gigantic M. oleracea. (more on this species later)
True Solomon’s Seals, Polygonatum, grew epiphytically on virtually every vertical substrate available. The largest of these I considered to be Polygonatum oppositifolium with pairs of evergreen leaves along stems to 3′. Somewhat smaller in stature, with up to four leaves at each node, was Polygonatum tesselatum, carrying quantities of fruit ripening to a rich gamboge. Shorter yet was a ubiquitous species whose seed I collected under P. punctatum while a demure evergreen with only a single pair of narrow leaves will probably prove to be in the genus Heptapolygonatum.
It was during this hike that we saw our first Rhododendrons, a genus that we expected would soon dominate the surrounding flora as we gained in altitude. Being perhaps one of the most unenlightened on the genus Rhododendron of anyone I have every met ( I prefer that my Rhododendrons to be in full blossom and possessing embossed labels before I put a name to them ) this lower elevation, tree-like species may have been R. gesnerianum of which Frank Kingdon-Ward describes from his travels here in the early years of the last century.
Along the ridge this day, I identified remnants of the white Camellia-like blossoms as to belonging to the genus Schima. Though the specimens from which these had fallen towered above us, allowing no examination of foliage, we did take a considerable amount of time to gather its round, woody capsules from the forest floor. Being quite wet and thusly quite heavy, this collection added considerable weight to our packs, making even more disappointing the fact that not a single viable seed was found inside when we were at last afforded the opportunity to dry them ten days later.
In similar fashion, we identified the enormous ovate shards of lace on the ground, leaves of which all but the veins had decomposed, as belonging to that of Magnolia. Though we scoured this ridge during the days to come for viable seed of this species, identified later through photographs by Richard Figlar, as belonging to Magnolia rostrata, we came up completely empty handed; certainly the result of an early flowering followed by an hyper-extended monsoon.
There were other plants of note in blossom on this day as well. At least three species of autumn blossoming Arisaema, or Jack-in-the-Pulpits, were at their zenith. I am well acquainted with this ‘genre’ through my time in northern Vietnam from which previous collections have proven to be surprisingly adaptable to the PNW.
It was a titillating day through and through and the hours, and miles, seemingly flew by. We arrived to our camp site occupying a relatively broad and flat portion of the ridge in heavy rain. The site name, Khantankmyit, references the Lisu name for Coptis teeta, a small evergreen herb in the Raununculus family. As Shayne and I organized our tent and belongings, several of the porters were already busy collecting this plant that they would take home, dry and ultimately sell or trade to the Chinese who covet its ophthamological properties.