Big Four Mountain

Panorama of the north face of Big Four Mountain Spring means warmer temperatures. And warmer temperatures mean avalanches! This is what prompted me to make a trip up to Big Four Mountain this past weekend. Tucked in the heart of the North Central Cascade Mountain Range, the mountain features an impressive 4,000 foot vertical face on the mountain’s north side. The view is amazing, and in the early 1920s, one of the early industry magnates from Everett thought it would make a great location for a hotel. The Big Four Inn was constructed near the base of the mountain, burned down in 1949, and was never rebuilt. Today, the site of the inn has become a “picnic” area and the only remnant of the inn is the fireplace which still stands in a large open field. For more info about the inn and its history, click here.

The mountain and inn site are located about 25 miles east of Granite Falls and accessed via the Mountain Loop Highway. During winter, the road is closed and gated at Deer Creek (about 2 miles shy of the site). We weren’t sure what to expect for travel conditions since the last report was by the Forest Service almost 2 weeks ago. Optimistically, we brought some cross country skis hoping for a nice glide out and back. As I mentioned a few posts ago, the low elevation snowpack has been melting quick. Here on the Mountain Loop Highway, we experienced the same thing and had to carry our skies a couple times during the initial part of our trip out.

Upper portion of Big Four Mountain. Converted to black & white using Nik's Silver Efex 2
Big Four's north face. Converted to black & white using Nik's Silver Efex 2
Upper portion of Big Four Mountain. Converted to black & white using Nik's Silver Efex 2The skies were clear, the sun was out, and it was getting warm. When we arrived at the picnic area, we had the whole place to ourselves. I decided to set up in the shade of the old fireplace. I spent my time taking several frames for some potential panoramic photos of the face before turning to my telephoto lens and some more intimate scenes of the mountain. We had hoped to witness some nice sized avalanches off the mountain; in reality, it looked like we might have been a week or two late for that. With time, we started to hear cracks and rumbling in the general vicinity of where we were at.

We did have a time constraint so we packed up and headed up the trail towards the Ice Caves viewpoint, which is located near the base of the mountain. The ice caves are a summertime phenomena in which melting snow water hollows out the large piles of avalanche snow that accumulate at the base of the mountain. Caves form and last throughout the summer due to the shade afforded by the mountain. The caves are dangerous and fatalities do happen; the most recent death was a young girl in 2010. This link has a lot of nice old photos of the ice caves over time as well as the Big Four Inn. Once at the viewpoint, our time was limited, and we left within ten minutes. The viewpoint is much too close to the mountain for photography (and safety for that matter!).

Satellite ridgeline of Big Four Mountain. Converted to black & white using Nik's Silver Efex 2
Hall Peak, just west of Big Four Mountain
Snowmelt waterfall and avalanche debris pile at the base of Big Four MountainI was actually a bit eager to head back to a particular spot back out along the highway, about a half mile before the picnic area. Here, the South Fork Stillaguamish River makes a sweeping turn in the foreground with Big Four in the background. The sun wasn’t overhead but wasn’t too far from it. I had to use my graduated neutral density filter technique to slow down my exposure times. The landscape version seemed to work out well but the portrait version had a weird artifact in the lower right corner where the sun reflected on the river’s surface. I don’t know if it was a reflection off one of my ND Grad filters but I was able to correct this in Photoshop with some dodging and burning.

South Fork Stillaguamish River and Big Four Mountain
South Fork Stillaguamish River and Big Four Mountain