Stillwater Bluffs with Jason Addy
by Jason Addy 30 May 2023
A stunner of a day at the Bluffs! Fifteen members attended and I ramble along as the guide. The weather was perfect, a bit of cloud, a lot of sun, and cool ocean breezes.
We started at the mailboxes on Stillwater School Rd. I talked about the history of Stillwater the community and then the Stillwater Bluffs land (District Lot 3040) specifically. I mentioned that it is owned by a logging company whose only interest is to sell it. Our only hope to save it is to let as many people know about it and to create political pressure such that the only acceptable sale would be for the purposes of making it a park.
We walked down the trail to the rocky beach in the middle of the Bluffs, and on the way, I showed a quick example of how to use iNaturalist to find and or document various organisms. I mentioned that there is a Stillwater Bluffs Biosearch project on iNaturalist that takes all the data that anyone reports on the Bluffs, and adds it automatically. https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/stillwater-bluffs-biosearch. One species recorded there is a psylocibin mushroom. Another was the Rough-Skinned Newt. It has one of the deadliest neurotoxins on Earth.
At the beach I mentioned that the beach is reported to have been used in the past by orcas to rub their bellies, just like they do currently on other beaches further north of here. Also, the beach has an ancient weir built of rocks across it just above the lowest tides. Randy Mitchell thought it was likely for catching eulachon.
From the beach we continued around the outer bluffs in a counter-clockwise loop. Along the next section of trail, we came to a massive old growth Douglas Fir. The forest that surrounds it is very stressed by its proximity to the ocean and although it is true old growth, its trees are all very scrawny. That is except for this massive fir. The bark on it is extremely thick and Randy Mitchell told us how the bark is shed as the tree bends to the coastal winds.
The forest trails ends as the route enters the top of Moss Mountain. Moss Mountain is the 50ft high bluff that gives this area its name. It is popular with rock climbers. We saw a dead bee (tiny one of uncertain species) on a flower and I told of how I first saw a similar scene and found out about the creature that killed it. It is a crab spider, and it is able to change colour to match the flower on which it waits to sting its prey.
We noticed too that the cedar forest was still not recovered from the heat dome that hit us two years ago.
At the top of the bluffs we saw a death camas. It has a toxin that will kill you if you eat it. I talked about how the first nations along the coast collected other camas bulbs that look the same when not in flower (which is when they collect them). The way they made sure not to collect death camas was to meticulously weed the beds when they were in flower.
We passed a Zen pond on the way back into the forest and I pointed out that the crack in the wall of the pond had very old coins in it that have been chemically destroyed from something in the water that runs down the wall. The pond was very dry, which is completely unheard of for a May weekend.
Once we entered the forest, we were rewarded with massive old growth Douglas Fir trees and some very large boulders. I pointed out some routes that boulderers climb on the one that is called “The Bulldozer.”
From the forest we took a short side trail to the base of Moss Mountain and the amazing cliffs that are the namesake of Stillwater Bluffs.
After many photos were taken, we popped back up into the forest and checked out a patch of old dried Dyer’s Polypore mushrooms growing on the forest floor beneath the biggest Douglas Fir tree at the bluffs.
We made our way out of this forest and down a steep loose path to the base of another cliff (Catcheratcha). I frantically looked in all the cracks for Alligator Lizards but found none. This lizard’s blood will cure Lyme Disease in young ticks in their first stage of life which keeps them Lyme free for life.
Libby McDowell asked about the seaweed that I once posted from this area and we went down to the rocks on the shore to pick and eat the nori seaweed. It was tasty but also salty.
I mentioned that the massive rock blocks that fell off of Catcheratcha have made a maze of caverns and dead end cracks that the seals use to hunt fish. They chase them into a dead end or narrowing crack and traps them.
We decided to continue on the rocky foreshore instead of taking the short-cut path through the mossy clearing and forest. Along the short we saw common juniper with some berries on them. We talked of stew, gin and chutney.
Soon we came to a small forest of Arbutus, and noticed how they have a fungal infection that is taxing them, but so far are not killing them. Neofusicoccum arbuti is the fungus that causes these cankers.
Near the end of our trip, just before we cut across the back of the bluffs, we stumbled on a magnificent tiger lily at the top of The Stacks climbing cliff.
This place is magic and anyone who goes there will agree.
On this Saturday we explored a place that has a Camas with several steroidal alkaloids that will lower your blood pressure to the point of death. A psylocibin mushroom that can cause ecstasy and can also help with depression and anxiety. A newt that has tetrodotoxin the same toxin as a puffer fish. Eat it and you die. A Lizard whose blood can cure Lyme Disease. If its food that you are looking for, the sea is a great place to start. All the seaweeds on this coast are edible and many are tasty, and in the forest, come autumn, there are a few choice mushrooms to be foraged.
We scratched the surface together, and I hope to visit again soon. I hope you do too.