Get ready for Larch Madness!
I know, I know. You're thinking, "Huh? Typo. You meant 'March Madness,' right? That doesn't make much sense either though. It's months away from March. Also, this is usually about adventure, not basketball. You've certainly gone mad!"
Maybe, but not about this. Larch Madness is that special time of year in the mountains when the needles of the larix occidentalis, the western larch, turn golden yellow. It lasts for only a few weeks when the weather turns colder. With such a short window to see this unusual sight, it's no wonder it drives hikers crazy. Here are some tips for getting your larch fix without going any more crazy than you need.1. Pick your spots before Larch Madness. As you're adventuring in the mountains, note where you see larches. Since larches lose their needles over the winter they have a distinctive look as they grow new needles in the spring and summer. Consider what access will be like in the fall and whether the area will be accessible if there's early snow.
- If you don't see any larches during the summer (or don't like to repeat a hike), research where larches grow and plan a trip there. I like to pick the hardest hike I can manage given the conditions. The reward is so much sweeter when you have to work for it and it helps to spread the impact of boots on the ground.
2. Watch trip reports on sites like Washington Trails Association, The Mountaineers, Oregon Hikers, and social media. Although the prime viewing for larches can vary by location, you can get a pretty good sense for when to go based on what other people are seeing.
3. Watch the weather. Use sites like the National Weather Service to find a day that looks right. Many consider low temperatures and blue skies to be ideal for viewing larches. Add some snow on the ground and it can be magical. Remember that mountain weather is fickle and can change quickly so go prepared. (And what better way to be prepared than to carry it all in a Deuter backpack?)
4. Go when nobody else is going. If you have the luxury of going early on a weekday, do that. Especially when visiting well-known larch destinations, trails can fill quickly. It's not uncommon to find cars spilling down the sides of the road when the parking lot is full. Even better than going when nobody else is going is going where nobody else will go. The harder the hike, the fewer people you'll see.
5. Share what you see... within reason. These are sub alpine locations and they can be fragile environments. It's great to encourage a love of the larch, but not necessarily exactly where you find them. Check out Leave No Trace's social media guidance before you post.
Do your research, bundle up, and head to the mountains. Soon you'll be on the larch march and going mad for these deciduous conifers. If you don't get out there this year, start planning for next.