Virtual Viewing

Inside Passage Audio Guide
Sub-alpine and Alpine


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Subalpine and Alpine

Looking up at the mountains that rise above the Inside Passage, an open, green landscape stretches across the upper slopes and runs along the ridges. This is referred to as alpine, or alpine tundra. In winter, the alpine is a cold, windy and inhospitable place, but in summer it is visited by a number of birds and mammals.

In the lower reaches of the alpine, patches of ferns and stands of scrubby mountain hemlock and spruce are interspersed throughout lush meadows. Deer, bear, marmot, porcupine, grouse, ptarmigan and other birds summer here, feeding on the abundant and nutritious herbs, flowers and forbs. Crystal-clear streams course through the sub-alpine, and lakes and shallow ponds are nestled into pockets.

Above the sub-alpine meadows, even the small trees disappear, and the lush vegetation gives way to bare rock and a ground cover of hardy, low-lying plants such as heath, moss campion and crowberry. Lichens cling to the rocks. Golden eagles, which favor mountainous environments, are sometimes seen above the treeline. Ravens and bald eagles ride thermal air currents three and four thousand feet upslope and will circle and soar along the ridges. Wolves, bears, wolverines and deer visit this high country and will cross over passes or follow ridges as they move to different areas. Bears, wolverines and wolves have even been seen crossing glaciers and ice fields.

A few animals make their homes on these open ridges and slopes. Flocks of ptarmigan -hardy, chicken-like birds - are fairly common in this high country and nest on the ground in early summer. Marmots dig their dens in talus slopes and under rock outcrops, fattening on the summer vegetation and hibernating during the winter. Mountain goats are the masters of this realm, and their white coats may be spotted against the green slopes or dark cliffs. Winter storms may force them down to the shelter of the upper treeline (and occasionally even farther downslope), but otherwise they stay in the exposed, open, high country, where their agility helps them outmaneuver predators.

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