Table Top Mountain Trail Flora – May 25, 2024

A few small, lone spruce trees on the flat summit of Table Top Mountain in the White Mountain National Recreation Area. The groundcover is still brown, scattered with dark talus rocks and the landscape seems to go on forever under lightly overcast skies.
Sparse spruce and the seemingly endless landscape in the White Mountain National Recreation Area, Alaska

Cat and I headed to the Table Top Mountain Trail late on Saturday, May 25. It had been rainy in Fairbanks most of the day, and although it was still overcast when we left, the rain had stopped.

When we arrived at the trailhead, the skies had cleared to a bright blue. The sun felt warm, but the wind quickly cut through any heat we got from it.

We started hiking the four-and-a-half-mile trail clockwise at about 5 pm. The foliage had just started greening up, and most of the leaves were not fully open yet, some still just budding. I often walk this trail in late May or early June and usually see lots of wildflowers, but I wasn’t very hopeful this time, seeing how brown most of the groundcover still was.

I remarked that we might only see about three species blooming, likely near the top, as many of the alpine species are early bloomers. Just a minute later, we came to a small clearing full of fewflower fumeworts and yellow thimbleweed. I had really put my foot in my mouth. By the end of the hike, we had counted 12 blooming species (full list at the end).

Fewflower fumewort (Corydalis pauciflora)
Yellow thimbleweed, sometimes known as yellow anemone (Anemone richardsonii)
Tall trees at the edge of a burn area and the alpine zone along the Table Top Mountain Trail.
Arctic sweet coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus)

While on the ascent, we leapfrogged a few times with another large group, including one of the kids in my climbing club. He didn’t recognize me until I mentioned his name as we passed. To be fair, I look completely different since I cut my hair and shaved my beard earlier this week.

The trail on the west side of the loop was mostly dry and free of mud and snow. There was a little remaining snow above the tree line, but not as much as in past years. A couple of years ago, in mid-June, there was enough snow to have a fun glissade down from the summit spur trail back to the loop. There was still some snow this year, but not enough to make it worth the slide (ending abruptly in brush and rocks).

Nakedstem wallflower (Parrya nudicaulis)
Woolly lousewort (Pedicularis lanata)
Narcissus anemone (Anemone narcissiflora)

Woolly lousewort (Pedicularis lanata) and narcissus anemone (Anemone narcissiflora) covered the tundra on the way to the top. Occasionally, we spotted some northern kittentails (Synthyris borealis) and arctic willow (Salix arctica). The blue sky had mostly disappeared, and the wind started to pick up on the ridge.



The flat-topped Table Top Mountain

The wind was really ripping at the top. Nothing seemed to be blooming except for sparse and tattered northern kittentails. Naturally, Cat rolled her eyes at me again when I made her pose for a selfie with me at the Fairbanks Trails Challenge sign. I mean, why else were we hiking?

I didn’t see many flowers on the descent, although that’s probably mostly because we were hiking faster. It was going on 7 pm, and we had a dog and cat to feed at home before they tried to eat each other. The trail was much wetter and had water flowing on much of it on the east side of the loop. Despite the water, it still wasn’t too muddy, so I won’t complain about it.

Cat on the descent through the talus
Silver snags – dead spruce trees along the trail

In summary, it was a great hike and we’re having a great start to our wildflower season! This area of the White Mountains (and the whole Steese corridor) is such a fantastic place for wildflowers, especially in June. I’m excited to spend a few more days out here this spring as I continue working on my Alaska Wildflower Guide.

Wildflowers

Anemone narcissiflora – narcissus-flowered anemone
Anemone richardsonii – yellow thimbleweed
Arctous rubra – red bearberry
Corydalis pauciflora – fewflower fumewort
Diapensia obovata – pincushion plant
Kalmia procumbens – alpine azalea
Parrya nudicaulis – nakedstem wallflower
Pedicularis lanata – woolly lousewort
Petasites frigidus – arctic sweet coltsfoot
Ribus triste – swamp red currant
Salix arctica – arctic willow
Synthyris borealis – northern kittentails

Dryas octopetala – eight-petal mountain avens (some blossoms were starting to bud, but I didn’t see any open yet)

Other notable (non-flowering) species

Juniperus communis – common juniper
Lycopodium lagopus – one cone clubmoss

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