Leavenworth 2014

After a five month photo hiatus, I’ve returned! Spring has returned to the Pacific Northwest and the east slopes of the Cascade range are the first areas to have wildflower displays. I’ve made a trip to the Leavenworth area for the balsamroot blooms an annual occurrence but the timing for this can vary wildly from year to year. Last year, I visited around April 20th and conditions were virtually peak but several years ago, May 15th was the timeframe for peak conditions. This year’s peak blooms probably occurred around April 30th but MANY flowers were in prime conditions during my visit on May 3rd.

The balsamroot flowers in Tumwater Canyon and at Leavenworth Ski Hill (and the adjacent trails) all looked good. I normally would also visit Ollala Canyon near Cashmere but did not this year. A friend of mine did visit the previous weekend and conditions looked to be good out there as well. This year, I wanted to photograph something different. I decided to re-visit a location up Eagle Creek Road that proved to be fruitless last year- East Van Creek. It’s a location I found using Google Earth and looked to have the same type of conditions where the balsamroot flowers normally are found.

I was excited to see that this year, the flowers were out and numerous. A short but steep 300 foot ascent up a slope brought me up to a six acre meadow of balsamroot. To the southwest, Canon Mountain peaked over an intermediate ridge. To my southeast, the summit of Chumstick Mountain was visible. The area retains a natural look despite having been logged at some point in the past. To have this flower meadow all to myself for hours was spectacular. The meadow was pretty much all balsamroot but there were patches of lupine including one white lupine (the second I’ve ever seen in 15 years of wandering in the Cascades).

Arrowleaf Balsamroot and lupine, East Van Creek.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Canon Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Canon Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and lupine, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and log, East Van Creek.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and rare white lupine, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and lupine, East Van Creek.

2013 in Review

Where have the last 12 months gone? 2014 is almost here and I’m a little behind with my year-end retrospective! Over the last 12 months, I didn’t get out quite as much as in previous years as I had to strike more of a balance between photography and the rest of life. That being said, I’m very happy that I was able to incorporate several “firsts” for me. Towards the beginning of 2013, I finally bought a GoPro video camera. I originally bought it for shooting video while snowboarding but I’ve come to REALLY enjoy using it to capture time lapse sequences while out on my traditional photo outings. It’s simple but quite capable and the camera & mini-tripod don’t add much weight to my regular pack. Now I always have my GoPro with me!

Outside of the addition of a GoPro, my other notable achievement was a series of “first” visits. After wishing and thinking about it for a number of years, I finally was able to visit the Tapto Lakes basin and Whatcom Pass deep in North Cascades National Park. I also was able to visit a series of new locations during my annual spring trip to the Columbia River Gorge and greater Mount Hood area. Among my highlights there was my first visit ever to Panther Creek Falls on the Washington side of the Gorge. I also finally made a trip to Mount Saint Helens (my first visit back to the blast zone since moving to Washington in 1999). Lastly, I visited Mount Hood for peak wildflower blooms instead of the usual trek to Paradise at Mount Rainier.

Without further ado, here are the ten photos I’ve selected for 2013:

1.) Coleman Pinnacle – Mount Baker Wilderness

Coleman Pinnacle - Mount Baker Wilderness
Without a doubt, this is my favorite photo from this past year. Even with a telephoto lens, this was a challenging photo since I was looking into the sun. Converting the photo to black & white was a no brainer decision and I’m very pleased with out this turned out.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

2.) New Year’s Sunset 01 – Mount Baker Wilderness

New Year's Sunset 01 - Mount Baker Wilderness
For the first day of 2013, I made the snowshoe hike out to Artist Point on the north side of Mount Baker. I had high hopes for sunset which seemed all but dashed until about 10 minutes after sunset when things got really interesting. One of the great solitary moments for me during the past year.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

3.) Symmetry – Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Symmetry - Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

This photo was taken during my first of two visits to Cayada Mountain which is located just outside the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park. This visit was in late spring when we could drive fairly close to Coplay Lake despite the lingering winter snowpack. The lake has a series of snags out in the open water and the calm water & wind contributed to ideal conditions for this mirror reflection.

I still haven’t completed my writeup about Cayada Mountain so look for it (and more photos) in the future.

4.) Oxalis Carpet – Mount Hood National Forest

Oxalis Carpet - Mount Hood National Forest

This was a macro type photograph that I took along the Clackamas River Trail in the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon. This particular stretch of trail travels through a wonderful section of Old Growth forest. I really loved the “swoosh” lines that the oxalis provided.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

5.) Panther Falls – Gifford-Pinchot National Forest

Panther Falls - Gifford-Pinchot National Forest

My first ever visit to Panther Creek Falls in southern Washington. Photos can’t do justice to the size and beauty of this waterfall! The scramble down to this particular vantage point was a little too exciting (I actually turned back once) but I’m really happy with the photo I was able to capture.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

6.) Sunset in Paradise Park – Mount Hood Wilderness

Sunset in Paradise Park - Mount Hood Wilderness

Another first- a trip to the wildflower meadows of Paradise Park on Mount Hood. I was rushed and not as familiar with the location so I hunkered down in the first meadow (which was fantastic). The best views were back towards the west like in this photo. I will definitely be back here!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

7.) Bear Mountain – Wild Sky Wilderness

Bear Mountain - Wild Sky Wilderness

The Wild Sky Wilderness is only a few years old and lives up to its name since there are virtually no trails into the wilderness at this time. I wanted to start capturing some of its beauty before the trail network starts to appear so this was my first attempt. This was worth the wasp sting I received while ascending to this prominent point.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

8.) The Darkest Dark – North Cascades National Park

The Darkest Dark - North Cascades National Park

This trip was a long time coming and I was determined to make it happen this year. The old photos of Mount Challenger by Bob & Ira Spring and Harvey Manning have been an obsession for quite a while and the reality lived up to the billing! The sky at night in this remote portion of North Cascades National Park were very dark and the star show was amazing as this photo of Mount Challenger will attest. This backpacking trip was memorable for many reasons.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

9.) Salmon Season – North Fork Skykomish River Valley

Salmon Season - North Fork Skykomish River Valley

I continue to experiment with my poor man’s underwater housing- a 10 gallon aquarium. The more I get to work with it, the better I feel I’m getting. This particular photo was from a short but productive session this fall.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

10.) Christmas Tree – Mount Rainier National Park

Christmas Tree - Mount Rainier National Park

Being in a forest during a light snowfall is a very calming experience. This particular scene presented itself on my hike out from Green Lake in Mount Rainier National Park. This lightly flocked tree in particular stood out to me.

I still haven’t completed my writeup about this particular trip so look for it (and more photos) in the future.


It’s always difficult to narrow down a list of ten photos from a potential pool of hundreds but that’s my list. For more photos from my 2013, I’ve put together a slideshow video:


Thanks for reading, watching, and all your support in 2013!

BC on Ice

Last year was my first visit up to the Harrison Mills vicinity in British Columbia, Canada. Every year from mid-November through December, thousands of Bald Eagles descend on this area to feast on returning salmon. It’s one of the largest gatherings of eagles outside of Alaska and last year did not disappoint. I had targeted two weekends to visit this year and ended up not making the first weekend. The second weekend came and promised sunny but cold conditions. Just like last year, I made plans to meet up with Michael Russell.

The week leading up to our trip out to Harrison Mills was the coldest stretch of weather the Pacific Northwest has experienced in the last 15 years. Environment Canada even issued what they call is an “arctic outflow” warning for the early part of the day. It’s basically a technical sounding term for really cold winds originating from the interior coming down the Fraser like a runaway freight train. As we crossed the Fraser on Highway 11, we got our first view of how the day would go: icy. The river had wide stretches of ice as as we could see up and down stream.

East of Derouche, we pulled off the highway to check a certain slough and it was solidly frozen over. We started to realize that if the water was frozen over, the eagles probably weren’t going to be able to dine on salmon! As we drove through Harrison Mills, eagles were few and far between. We pulled off at Harrison Flats where last year we enjoyed quite a nice show of eagles. This year….not so much. There were a half dozen eagles hanging out in the trees but only one lone eagle feasting on a salmon. Lucky for us, that happened to be right below the pullout in front of us. For at least 10 minutes, we were treated to a great photo opportunity.

Bald Eagle eating salmon at Chehalis Flats near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
Bald Eagle taking flight at Chehalis Flats near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
Bald Eagles at Chehalis Flats near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
The eagle flew away and suddenly it was pretty quiet. It seemed like a good time to load up and keep looking. We stopped by Kilby Provincial Park and it was also free of any eagles. We drove around to the other side of Woodside Mountain to check out Mountain Slough. Nothing but cold winds. It was pretty clear that the day of eagle watching was over and it was time for Plan B. Michael suggested that we head a little further east to Hope and check out Silver Lake Provincial Park for sunset. That sounded good to me so off we went.

Silver Lake Provincial Park lies 4 miles up Silverhope Creek and features Silver Lake which is nestled at the base of several prominent mountains. The canyon leading to Silver Lake runs north/south and is heavily incised so it doesn’t get much sunlight in winter. Just shy of the turnoff to the park is Eureka Falls, which is a waterfall that directly spills into Silverhope Creek. Not surprisingly, the waterfall was completely frozen on this day but you could just make out water running down below the ice. Anything looking wet was actually ice so you had to be extra careful with footing.

Having had our fill with Eureka Falls, we turned out attention to Silver Lake. The access gate and spur road leading to the park was just up ahead from Eureka Falls. The access gate was open and the road snow-free and that allowed us to drive the remaining half mile to the park’s entrance gate. We parked next to Sowerby Creek which also had plenty of interesting ice formations. In retrospect, I wish I had taken a little time to photograph them. We returned to my truck after sunset but it was too dark by then. The lake and campground is just a five minute stroll beyond Sowerby Creek.

Frozen Eureka Falls along Silverhope Creek near Hope, British Columbia
Frozen Eureka Falls along Silverhope Creek near Hope, British Columbia
Hope Mountain at sunset, Silver Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia
Silver Lake is a nice sized lake (about 95 acres in size) in a very peaceful setting. High peaks line both sides of the valley but the most prominent peaks (Hope Mountain, Wells Peak, and Mount Grant) tower above the eastern shore of the lake. The lake was well frozen, though we weren’t about to test the thickness of the ice. Sunset was largely cloud free except to the south where a few wispy clouds hung out. Sunset was nondescript but it was peaceful and we had the whole area to ourselves. It only got colder once sunset was done so it was time to call it a day and head home.

We passed a couple of other parked cars as drove drove back down the park access road. As I crossed the bridge over Silverhope Creek, I noticed something wrong- the gate was closed. Oh oh. I parked on the bridge and we got out to go look at the gate. Yeeup, definitely closed. And locked. WTF! I had no tools with me so this suddenly became a bad situation. Michael mentioned that he saw some discarded items back up where we parked outside the park’s entrance that we might be able to use to bust the lock. I certainly had no better options to offer so we headed back uphill to go retrieve the objects.

We encountered the two other cars coming downhill as we headed back up. They were both Hope area locals and were NOT happy when we told them that we were all locked in. We told them about our “plan” and continued uphill as they drove down towards the gate. Having loaded up a metal t-bar post with a concrete base, we headed back downhill to the gate. We arrived to find only one car and a wide open gate. What the hell happened??! As it turns out, the second person (who had an older full size pickup) was angry enough about the situation that he either rammed the gate or nudged up to it and punched it open. Either way, we were free once again!

Seeing how it was -12°C / 10°F outside, I was relieved that we didn’t have to hike back down to Hope to find a pair of bolt cutters. That was certainly a fitting way to end a day filled with adjustments. The gate wasn’t signed at all so why it was closed on us is still kind of a mystery. One of the Hope locals mentioned something about local logging operations which had concerns about their equipment getting vandalized up in the area so maybe one of their people locked us in without bothering to check. Whatever the case, I’ve learned a valuable lesson- CARRY BOLT CUTTERS!

Mount Grant at sunset, Silver Lake Provincial Park vicinity, British Columbia
Mount Grant and Silver Lake at sunset, Silver Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia
Hope Mountain and Silver Lake at sunset, Silver Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia

Huntoon Point

Now that winter is firmly under way, I paid my first visit of the winter to Huntoon Point and Artist Ridge near the Mount Baker Ski Area. Things looked pretty discouraging for sunset since most of the color developing was well south of us in the central part of the Puget Sound. Without much warning, things began to change. The color began to creep east towards Hagen Mountain and Mount Blum. Suddenly, color exploded over Table Mountain, and then Goat Mountain and Mount Larrabee, followed finally by Mount Baker itself. The color was fleeting and I had to move quickly from composition to composition. The last hurrah of sunset finally faded away 15 minutes after sunset and the increasing cold signaled that it was time to head home.

No two days are ever the same which is all the more reason to keep making regular visits to locations you love to photograph..

Mount Baker from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Pugh and Whitechuck Mountain in the distance at sunset from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Hagen Mountain at sunset from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Sunset colors high above Mount Larrabee and Goat Mountain from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Sunset colors high above Mount Larrabee and Goat Mountain from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Baker at sunset from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Baker at sunset from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Baker at sunset from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Lastly, a little time lapse of Mount Shuksan:

Pink Salmon

Fall colors are an obvious sign of fall but the return of spawning salmon is also a tall tale sign of fall. Based on a tip, I made my first visit of the season up the North Fork Skykomish River outside of Index to photograph the salmon. I’ve outlined my idea and process of photographing salmon in a previous blog post (which you can read here) and I think I get better each successive time. Mostly because I learn something new each time. On my last outing, I learned that I didn’t have enough counter weights to combat the ballast that the tank has in the water. On this attempt, I learned that prolonged time in the water will produce condensation on the inside of the tank’s glass. I’ve read that applying some Rain-X might help with the condensation so I’m going to try that next time (which will hopefully be next weekend).


Returning salmon along a side channel of the North Fork Skykomish River near Index, Washington
Returning salmon along a side channel of the North Fork Skykomish River near Index, Washington
Returning salmon along a side channel of the North Fork Skykomish River near Index, Washington
Returning salmon along a side channel of the North Fork Skykomish River near Index, Washington
Returning salmon along a side channel of the North Fork Skykomish River near Index, Washington

Tapto Lakes

Mount Challenger and the Challenger Glacier in North Cascades National Park at sunset
“If you want blood, you got it” – AC/DC

This report is a bit longer than normal, for reasons that will become obvious.

A visit to Tapto Lakes and Whatcom Pass in North Cascades National Park has been on my wish list for a number of years. Each year I thought to myself that this was the year I’d make a go of it but never did. My regular backpacking partner hates the “rigidity” of NPS backpacking and also had knee surgery. If I was to do this, I would have to do this solo. Could I do it? It’s a two day approach and I’ll admit, this was a bit daunting to me. None the less, this was finally was my year and through a series of unrelated events, the timing of my trip coincided with clear and sunny skies. My plan was such:

Day One: Hannegan Pass Trailhead to U.S. Cabin Camp
Day Two: U.S. Cabin Camp to Tapto Lakes
Day Three: Tapto Lakes
Day Four: Tapto Lakes
Day Five: Tapto Lakes to Copper Creek Camp
Day Six: Copper Creek Camp to Hannegan Pass Trailhead

I headed out Sunday morning and stopped off at the NPS / FS Center in Sedro-Woolley only to be told that they don’t issue any permits for that area (FYI- you need to go to the Glacier Visitor Center for that). It’s still on the way so no big deal; An hour or so later, I stopped in Glacier to get my permit and, thankfully, I was able to get all of my plan permitted. Another hour or so later, I was headed up the trail towards Hannegan Pass.

The frontside trail up to Hannegan Pass is in great shape with still water available along the trail (not at the number of opportunities as earlier in the summer however). Flowers have been pretty much done for a little while but the views never go away. From Hannegan Pass onward, everything was new to me. After descending to the National Park boundary and Boundary Camp, the trail re-enters the forest and begins its descent. That descent seemed pretty blunt and I remember thinking that I wouldn’t look forward to this on my way back out.

The trail’s descent does ease a little as you approach Copper Creek camp. After a hydration break, I started out on the final 2.6 miles to U.S. Cabin Camp. The forest in the Chilliwack River valley is beautiful. At times, it’s mossy and with a diverse understory. Lots of big trees, too. My time seemed to also coincide with an explosion of mushrooms. Hundreds of them were everywhere and all sorts of varieties (I’m no mycologist). The size of some of these things was incredible.


Mount Challenger in North Cascades National Park at sunset
Constellation Orion over Mount Challenger in North Cascades National Park
Milky Way over Red Face Mountain in North Cascades National Park
Another thing there was plenty of was blowdown. It looks like the Park Service didn’t get much trail maintenance done either on the Chilliwack or Brush Creek Trail this year (sequestration anyone?). Much of the downed wood could be stepped over but there were a few times between U.S. Cabin and Graybeal Camp where you had to remove the pack to negotiate your way through it. Late in the afternoon, I arrived at U.S. Cabin and eventually found my site for the night. The forest around the camp is also beautiful and the quick stroll out to the Chilliwack River offers a few views of Copper Ridge high above or Mineral Mountain back up valley.

I had a pleasant night at U.S. Cabin with the exception of one party near the stock camp who was hooting & hollering like they were dispersed car camping. Eventually, they also settled down for the night. I was tired after the long day and part of me still wondered if I had it in me to make it up to Tapto Lakes. The next morning I headed out about 8:30 and took the obligatory cable car ride across the Chilliwack. Good times! Beyond here, I took a brief break at the Brush Creek bridge crossing for a few pictures and then continued on to Graybeal Camp.

From Graybeal, the fun ends and the work begins- 3 miles and 2,000’ of gain to Whatcom Pass. Much of the way is in forest so that does shield you from the sun. Make no mistake- in the middle of the day, it’s still warm so my progress with a full pack was slow. Views open up and teaser views of Whatcom Pass, Whatcom Peak, and Tapto Lakes basin above begin but that turn off for Whatcom Camp seemingly would never come. FINALLY, about 4:30pm I made Whatcom Pass. There’s no signage at the pass so it’s a little understated. I admired the Little Bear Creek valley to the north during a break before doubling back for the waypath up towards Tapto Lakes.


First light on Whatcom Peak at sunrise in North Cascades National Park
Driftwood scene along the shoreline of one of the Tapto Lakes in North Cascades National Park
Sunset on Mount Challenger and Whatcom Peak from Tapto Lakes in North Cascades National Park
I didn’t quite know what to expect of the trail from the pass up to Tapto and I can tell you I wasn’t ready for what it actually is: a waypath. Actually, it’s more like a fisherman’s trail during your ascent through the trees immediately above the pass with a few select class III moves thrown in for good measure. Not what you want after a long day on the trail and with a full pack. After making the turn off from the East Lake spur, I was taking a break on a boulder when some brush crackling upslope away from me caught my ear.

About 60 yards away, a nice sized black bear was grazing on huckleberries (ripe everywhere, BTW) and making his/her way down in the direction of Whatcom Pass. At first, the bear didn’t notice me but as I fumbled my water bottle and it ping ponged off several rocks, it became aware of me. A friendly salutation was met with indifference and it continued grazing. This would be the only bear I would see the entire trip. After FINALLY getting my first view of the Tapto Lakes basin, I got the rude surprise that my effort wasn’t over. There’s still a fair amount of switchbacks to descend to finally get into the basin. Coming off of the severe rains several days before my visit, parts of the trail were slick and I promptly banana peel slipped onto my ass.

As photography was my primary goal, I knew I wanted views of Challenger from my camp so I set out for the west end of the basin and settled in on a grassy pad located below Lemon Lime Lake (as referenced in this previous NWHikers thread). Sunset my first night was probably the “best” of my three nights, only because there were a few clouds to reflect some of the alpenglow light. The entire rest of my trip would be under cloudless skies.


Sunset on Mount Challenger from Tapto Lakes in North Cascades National Park
Constellation Orion over Mount Challenger from Tapto Lakes in North Cascades National Park
Constellation Orion over Mount Challenger from Tapto Lakes in North Cascades National Park
Overnight, I got up around 3:30am to shoot some stars over Challenger & Whatcom Peak. My three sunrises would be carbon copies- cloudless and not that exciting (but still wonderful to watch). Tuesday was my first full day of two in Tapto Lakes basin and I basically spent the day doing laundry, filtering water, and just lounging around. The true effort to make it up to Tapto from Whatcom Pass eliminated any desired to hike out of the basin until the end of my time in the basin.

Monday and Tuesday nights were both breezy as soon as the sun had set but Tuesday was especially blustery. It was like a freight train coming from the east and, honestly I was concerned when I left my tent that a strong gust might rip it away (I ended up putting a heavy rock inside as I shot some more stars). On Wednesday afternoon, I made the trek up to the ridge of Red Face Mountain. The hike up wasn’t too bad and not particularly sketchy. In fact, the only sketchy part was standing on the ridge looking north towards Indian Mountain and the headwaters of Indian Creek. The cliff drops abruptly so I didn’t linger long.

The next morning, I packed up and began my two day hike out. After Whatcom Pass, I enjoyed the downhill pace of the hike back down to Graybeal. In the middle portion of the trail between Graybeal and Whatcom Pass, the trail crosses through some extensive brushy avalanche slopes. As I tend to do, I clank my poles together to make noise since I’m travelling solo. About 20 feet from the end of the final brushy, rocky section of trail, the unthinkable happened.


Tapto Lakes basin from Red Face Mountain in North Cascades National Park
Mount Challenger from Red Face Mountain in North Cascades National Park
Mount Challenger at sunset in North Cascades National Park
As I clanked my poles together, I planted my left foot onto a rock. While intentional, my foot moved and that was unintentional. Like a calving glacier or a building imploding, I began to fall left (downhill) and I couldn’t plant my left pole in time.

“Oh sh!t..”

I hit belly first like Pete Rose sliding into a base, frantically trying to grab vegetation to stop my motion. Before I could grab anything meaningful, a small rock stopped me by saying hello to the side of my head. I was stunned at what had just happened but I was at least stopped. I sat up and felt the side of my temple behind my left eye. Looking at my hand, I saw some blood. I wiped it away and felt again; more blood. Damn.

I floundered in my attempts to climb back up to the trail (mind you I still have a 40lb pack on my back) but eventually did. Ok- I know I’m bleeding but I still had my balance; that’s a good sign, right? Thankfully, literally just around the corner was a small creek with cool water. I dropped my pack and used my bandana to clean the blood away. I reached for my iPhone and used the Facetime setting to snap a selfie to see what I had done to myself. Oh oh. That’s not good. Not BAD, but probably not good either. At this point, I began “cold compression” on the wound area by constantly soaking the bandana in cold water and applying it to the wound areas.


Challenger Glacier at sunset in North Cascades National Park
Looking down Little Beaver Creek valley from Whatcom Pass in North Cascades National Park
After 20 minutes of this, any bleeding had slowed and I decided I would continue to hike (my balance was still good) down and stop at Graybeal Camp to break out my first aid kit and figure out what to do. I put my sombrero hat on to cover most of the wound areas and after only a mile, I strolled into an empty Graybeal. At the primo campsite along the creek, I broke out my first aid kit and my iPhone yet again to actually see what the hell I needed to do. Another photo reassessment. The wounds weren’t actively bleeding and the swelling that was present wasn’t alarming. It stung and sucked but I still felt relatively normal. I got lucky. I applied some antibiotic and then cobbled together a knuckle & two standard band aids to cover the most serious wounds.

Now I was faced with a new dilemma- should I tell my girlfriend or not? I’ve used the inReach satellite messaging device since it was release for iPhones a couple years ago and this trip was no exception. Throughout the trip, I regularly checked in and apprised her of my whereabouts. I decided that I would text her and tell her about the incident but reassure here that I was ok and would continue on to Copper Creek as I had planned.

During the next 20 minutes, I played satellite 20 questions with a woman whose professional background includes nursing. There’s NO assuring someone with that background, especially when the injury in question is located someplace you can’t really see (“how deep is the wound?”, “what did you hit?”). By now, it was about 12:20pm and I couldn’t to sit around. I needed to get going to Copper Creek.
Giving blood in North Cascades National Park
Self applied first aid at Graybeal Camp in North Cascades National Park
Once again on the trail in the Brush Creek valley, my hiking pace on level and downhill trail sections was still fairly strong. I kept passing milestones- Brush Creek bridge, cable car, U.S. Cabin. Even as I finally encountered the elevation gain necessary to reach Copper Creek, I still kept a steady pace. I really began to think about the possibility of making the LONG push all the way out to the Hannegan Pass trailhead.

At 3:30pm, I reached Copper Creek. Four hours until sunset- could I hike the 3 miles and 2,000 vertical feet and make Hannegan Pass before dark? If I could, I knew I could suck it up and make the final 4 miles downhill to the trailhead. Away I went. I was in a zone, focused on left foot, right foot. Little further, break. A little further, break. Boundary Camp finally appeared and so did Hannegan Pass. 1 more mile and 700’ of gain.

Just prior to 7pm I pushed up an over the pass and started down the Ruth Creek side. I texted my girlfriend of my status and then hunkered down for the slog ahead. I tried to cover as much trail during the remaining daylight as I could safely and swiftly. At 2 miles from the trailhead, I made my final stop and topped off my water. Darkness now settled in and my headlamp showed the way. I slowed my pace since the trail is pretty rocky and I didn’t need ANOTHER spill.

The last mile would never end. In the dark, the trail I’ve hiked several times looked like nothing familiar. Where’s that avalanche debris you hike through?.. Suddenly, my headlamp reflected off of a car’s reflectors and then the wilderness sign-in box appeared. Oh my god, I just hiked 18.4 miles with a full pack (my new personal best). It was 8:50pm. Relief is dropping your pack into your truck and not having to put it back on.

After changing and a quick bandana bath, I started my drive home. There’s a small pocket of cell coverage where the Hannegan Pass Road meets the Mount Baker Highway so I text’d my girlfriend that I was driving home. At almost midnight on the dot, I was parked in front of her place. Once inside, she had her medical supplies ready and took a look. I was sure she was going to say that we needed to head to the ER for some stitches but she thought it looked good and didn’t need them. Whew. Actually, she was impressed with what I basically improv’d as first aid.

She cleaned out the wound areas, steri-stripped it, and bandaged it up for the night. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a tetanus shot so, at her desire, I got one the next morning. And that ended my first ever trip to Tapto Lakes. Despite a career best day of hiking, I incredibly felt GOOD the next morning. No extreme soreness, no knee pain. I have no idea how this could be.

A few more days removed from the trip, I still feel pretty normal with no ill side effects. My wounds seem to be healing nicely and look better. I was certainly lucky, no doubt about that. I’m not going to overthink my incident because it’s going to happen at some point or another. Mine was a fluke and not the result of stupidity. In the end, it was certainly a trip that I will not soon forget. I have yet to really go through my SLR photos but I think they won’t hold up much against the experiences and emotions of my trip. It was an arduous test and I passed it. That’s good enough for me.


Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness
In 2008, the Wild Sky Wilderness was established by Congress after several years of grassroots lobbying. The areas set aside as wilderness lie largely in the southeast corner of Snohomish County and extend some of the protections that exist thanks to the Henry M Jackson Wilderness. The Wild Sky is comprised of three individual units- Ragged Ridge, Eagle Rock, and West Cady. The Eagle Rock and Ragged Ridge units are both characterized by steep and rugged terrain and the West Cady unit is characterized by miles of alpine meadows. The Eagle Rock unit is surrounded by roads (Index-Galena Road to the west & North, Highway 2 to the south, and Beckler River Road to the east) but lacks any easy access to its interior. Sure, logging’s historical infrastructure of now decommissioned roads provide some small amount of access but this area is devoid of any hiking trails. The creation of a trail plan was required when the wilderness was created but it will be several more years before any of the trails identified get constructed.

I’ve been interested in exploring the Wild Sky for a little while and finally got started this past weekend. I started with photographing Bear Mountain, which is in the northeast corner of the Eagle Rock unit. Using some of the existing forest service roads as a start, my final destination was the ridge line of San Juan Hill. During my research with Google Earth, it appeared to me that there were some open patches located around one of the high points on the ridge. The first thing I encountered on my visit was a decommissioned road. This was aggravating since I checked the Forest Service’s Motor Vehicle Use Map before leaving that morning and it is still shown as drivable. Guess I’d be hiking just little more than I had anticipated.
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Troublesome Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness, Columbia Mountain (back center), Kyes Peak (back right) in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness
Since they are no trails, the directions were basic: climb uphill until it levels out. The steepness was pretty unrelenting. Many of the trees on the slope were almost J shaped due to the downward pressure that the winter snowpack puts on the trunks. It was a sweat filled 50 minutes to climb the 600 feet to gain the high point for this portion of the ridge but it quickly became worth it. The ridge top did indeed have several clear outcrops that looked both west and to the north. Even better, there were several weather snags that could be used as foreground elements for my photos.

The weather was certainly dynamic. There was a 30% chance of rain and, minute by minute, the amount of blue sky patches would change. It was perfect for a time lapse so I tucked my GoPro behind the base of one of the snags and fired it off. It was quite rewarding to get this peek into the wild interior of the Eagle Rock unit. The clouds did prevent us from enjoying views of Glacier Peak and some of the other more prominent peaks in the distance. Although we didn’t see any, there was evidence that mountain goats had spent some time up on the top (a few tufts of white hairs in the lower branches of a tree).
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (center) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (center) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (center) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
After a healthy amount of time, I ended my time lapse and we packed up our stuff. We weren’t on the “true” summit of San Juan Hill but it wasn’t too far from us to the south. The ridge line is forested but travel wasn’t too bad thanks to the large amount of airy huckleberry shrubs. We even followed a faint trail or game trail for most of our traverse. We were close to the true summit but the point of diminishing returns had been reached. Neither of us felt particularly compelled to reach the highest point (it appears to be 100% forested anyways). The travel back down slope to the decommissioned road wasn’t as bad as our original ascent.

There was still some time left in the day and I decided that it was also high time that I visit the middle portion of the North Fork Skykomish River valley. It’s another place I’ve wanted to visit but haven’t been able to because the road (Index-Galena Road) had been closed to public access for several years due to flood damage. We made our way to the Troublesome Creek Campground. Across the road from the campground is a short nature loop trail along both sides of the creek. The water is clear and a brilliant shade of turquoise at times and the surrounding forest also has some interest as well. I thought there was a waterfall along Troublesome Creek but apparently it’s located along a different creek in the area. Oh well!
Bear Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Troublesome Creek in the North Fork Skykomish River valley
Boulder detail along Troublesome Creek in the North Fork Skykomish River valley
After coming home, I got a big scare- my memory card failed to read successfully. Oh god. Several weeks ago, I had a similar situation with my GoPro’s memory card. I turned to a card recovery program (RescuePro Deluxe) and it worked a miracle. Would lightning strike twice? Well- just about! I ended up losing a handful of images but I was able to recover the vast majority of them. After four years or so, I guess it was time to retire the memory card. There’s a lesson in there- retire your memory cards before you regret it!

Oregon’s Paradise

Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Late July to early August is the time that meadows across the Cascade Mountain range come alive with wildflowers. Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park is perhaps the most well known location for wildflowers here in the northwest but it’s by no means the only location. A few years ago, I learned of a meadow on Oregon’s Mount Hood that’s home to an amazing display of beargrass, which is a grass like perennial but actually a member of the Lily family. Beargrass “blooms” follow a cycle so the number of beargrass that do bloom each year will vary. Once every so often, a super bloom will occur resulting in an impressive display and 2009 was such a year in a place named Paradise Park on Mount Hood.

Located in the Mount Hood Wilderness, Paradise Park is a four mile hike north from the famous Timberline Lodge via the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s actually quite an interesting hike in a number of ways. A typical wildflower hike starts low and climbs high but trekking out to Paradise Park starts high, loses 1,100′ of elevation, and then regains 1,000′ to reach the start of the meadows. The other aspect of this hike I found interesting was the variety of ecological zones that the hike travels through. The first mile or two traverses across a corrugated alpine pumice landscape followed by a brief re-entry into high elevation forest. This brings you to the rim of the impressive Zigzag Canyon, which is where the Zigzag River has cut down nearly 1,000 feet down through volcanic deposits. The 4,800′ bottom of the canyon crosses through classic western Cascade forest before reversing the experience on the way up to Paradise Park.

Zigzag Canyon, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Zigzag Falls in Zigzag Canyon, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers along the South Fork Lost Creek in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
I was ultimately inspired to make my first visit by a hiker’s comment on the Portland Hikers forum (a great resource for hiking in Oregon) which indicated that the wildflowers were at peak condition right now. While there would be no beargrass blooms, I felt a change of pace from the rat race of Mount Rainier’s Paradise was in order (more on that in another blog post). Forecasts pointed to good weather for the most part but always with a “chance” of thunderstorms. My plan was to overnight in Paradise Park one night, hike out the next day, drive around the mountain and do it all over again at another meadow-y setting. Sure enough, I set out under sunny skies with an ever growing cloud above Mount Hood. Temperatures in the upper 70s made the hike a bit toasty, particularly with heavy pack. I’ve tried to pare down the weight of my backpacking set but I think I have a bit more work to do!

Even with 40+ lbs on my back, I found myself an hour later at the rim of the Zigzag Canyon (2.3 miles from my starting point at Timberline). After a break and some photos, an hour later I was crossing the Zigzag River and beginning my climb up to Paradise Park. The mid afternoon sunshine was still cooking so my climb up to Paradise Park took close to another 90 minutes. It seemed like I would never reach Paradise Park but eventually I turned the corner and there it was. Now, before I continue, I feel the need to explain something. Photographers use a lot of adjectives to describe scenes such as amazing, grand and stunning. So much so that they, perhaps, loose their impact.

Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Despite my numerous outings over the last five years, I will admit that the number of times I’ve been truly moved by the scene in front of me have been few. What’s my definition of “moved”? I’d say it’s the desire to share what you’re experiencing with someone you hold dear. It’s wishing someone was with you at that moment because it’s the only way they can ever truly understand why you do what you do. Rounding the corner as the first meadow of Paradise Park came into view was one of those moments for me (only my second time this year). As picturesque as any meadow I’ve ever seen, I just wanted to drop everything and just stare. The sweat and fatigue of the journey to get here was but it was so, so worth it at this moment.

If I was to get ready for sunset, I needed to get going and set up camp. Not too far after entering Paradise Park is the South Fork of Lost Creek and the first campsites found in Paradise Park. The creek was lined with all sort of wildflowers along with one of the finest campsites I’ve ever seen. As good as it seemed, I decided to keep going, at least until the crossing of the North Fork of Lost Creek. Again, the creek was lined with wildflowers but the campsites were much more exposed. There was still a threat of thunderstorms so the prudent thing to do was to retreat back to the more sheltered campsites along the South Fork. I set up my camp and took a little nap before setting back out to the first meadow for sunset.

Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Last light towards the west from Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Sunrise and wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Behind the Paradise Park Loop Trail signpost is a way path that meanders up through the meadow towards Mississippi Head and the rest of Mount Hood. The flowers here were thick, in perfect form, and consisted mostly of Lupine, American Bistort, Arnica, and some sporadic Indian Paintbrush. As I’ve grown fond of doing, I brought along my GoPro so that I could also shoot a time lapse series. The only downside of this is that you have to pick a spot and stay there. Sometimes this doesn’t work out to your advantage. At this lower location in the meadow, the focal point are the flowers and Mount Hood; not much else is visible due to the treeline which is literally all around you.

On this night, this didn’t work in my advantage. The large billowing clouds from the afternoon had pretty much disappeared by sunset. Minus the clouds, there wasn’t much left to capture and reflect the warm light of sunset. Behind me, though, the skies were filled with pinks and oranges. I worked my surroundings as best as I could before calling it an evening. Clouds seeped back in the darker it got and I pretty much knew that any star photography wasn’t going to be an option. I was tired enough that I didn’t have a big problem with that.

Sunrise and wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Sunrise and wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Waking up at 4:45am the next morning, I hiked back to the same meadow for sunrise serenaded by the cooing of a mourning dove. It was quite evident that I was in for a gray sunrise. Still, there was little wind and the no bugs. True sunrise greeted me with a few moments of light rain. This area was so nice that I had been toying with the idea of extending my stay one extra night. The weather (and myself, frankly) wasn’t looking too good so I kept with the decision to hike out and head home. Before breaking camp, I continued furthered up the path to the upper slopes. I found it interesting that the wildflowers (primarily asters) were actually a little bit past prime and somewhat “burned” out. Lower slopes normally burn out before the upper slopes simply because that’s the way the snowpack melts back during the course of summer.

By the time I had packed up camp and hit the trail, the sun appeared. A bit bittersweet but frankly it didn’t last too long. Most of the uphill hike out was graced by cloudy skies which did keep me a bit cooler. Even with dubious forecasts, I crossed paths with lots of people hiking in towards Paradise Park. After returning home, I found that that Timberline Lodge received 2.5″ of rain during the time I would have still been out there had I extended my stay. One thing I sometimes do after a trip is re-examine my “research” on an area to better understand and merge the on the ground reality I experienced and the textual or other information I had leading up to my visit. I discovered AFTER the fact that there were two waterfalls in the Paradise Park area which I could have photographed. Doh! Even with such a quick introduction to the area, I know I’ll be back. Acres of wildflowers that I didn’t have to share with anyone? Why would I NOT return??! I would highly recommend a visit to Paradise Park!

Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest

Lastly, I’d like to give a special hat tip to Oregon photographer Wesley Picotte who generously shared some of his knowledge with me while I was researching my trip. Check out his great work also from the Pacific Northwest. Thanks again, Wesley!

Lunar Light

Last week, forecast sites on the internet were projecting some active auroras, even for northern Washington State. A promising forecast and clear skies only convinced me more to head out so I went to someplace REALLY good. I’ve known about this area up the Baker Lake drainage for over a year and I’ve been waiting for conditions and opportunity to come together. The night before my visit, I discovered another spot to set up using Google Earth which was not far away from my original ID’d location. As it turned out, the location turned out to be a great spot. All I needed to do was wait for darkness and for the auroras to show up.

The sun set but a transitioning 3/4 moon kept the landscape somewhat illuminated. This was great for my general night landscape photos since I do like to have some amount of detail in my foregrounds at night. I kept watch in my folding chair, swatting away mosquitoes (which were a bit aggressive while it was still light) throughout the night. The moon stayed up until 1:30am. Again, this was great for my general shots of Mount Baker or Mount Shuksan but for the auroras I was hoping to see. After the moon had set, the Milky Way and even more stars came out- but not the auroras. It was now about 2am and if the auroras were to appear, it would have happened by this point. I rattled a couple more frames off before I decided to call it a night and head home. I was pretty crushed that they did not appear but, on the other hand, I found an even better location to photograph them. I guess next time I’ll be REALLY ready!..

Mount Shuksan and the Sulphide Glacier as night falls. North Cascades National Park
Mount Baker and Ursa Major
Mount Baker and Ursa Major
Mount Shuksan and the Sulphide Glacier under stars. North Cascades National Park
Mount Baker and Ursa Major
Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan night sky panorama

Auroras!

Sometime in the early 2000s, I witnessed the Aurora Borealis for the first time from my house in Everett. It was nothing like the photos you see from Alaska or Norway but no less fascinating. Over the last few years, I’ve paid closer attention to the watches and notices that come out when the aurora activity is strong enough to be seen from Washington with the hopes of photographing them. Far too often, clouds and our typical northwest weather have prevented me from seeing or photographing them. Last night, forecasts for auroras were favorable but it wasn’t until I saw a photo tweeted by the National Weather Service Seattle of the auroras over Seattle that I got off my butt and out the door to look for them. A photo from a friend in the area only hastened my departure.

I selected a spot just west of Monroe near Frylands because of its expansive view towards the north and northwest. Not a bad choice for a spot close to home! Some low fog started creeping in from the east which added a bit of interest to the foreground.

Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013

This was my first real opportunity to photograph and process photos of auroras. From what I’ve been able to piece together, processing of aurora photos isn’t much different than processing for other night or astro-photographs- it all boils down to personal preference. My personal preference is that my night skies still look dark. To accomplish this, I choose a white balance temperature that’s on the cold side. The photos in this post all use a temperature of 3500k and that’s been my personal preference for a while now. Why even bring all this up? Well, I wanted to explain why my photos of the auroras look different than any of the others that are floating around from this event. For example, my friend’s photos show lots of purple in addition to the typical greens. Piecing it all together, I suspect that he was using a warmer white balance such as the Cloudy or Shade preset. As an example. here’s a side by side comparison of one of my photos using my preferred white balance (3500k) on the left and Daylight (5500k) on the right:

Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
I don’t recall seeing any purples last night so that’s an example of why I lean towards a cooler white balance for my night shots. Today’s cameras are very sensitive and can capture features (especially at night) that our eyes can’t see. That being said, it is about personal preference. This just happens to be mine. :)

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