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.

Thorton Lakes

Last minutes of sunset over Pinnacle Peak, Paul Bunyan's Stump, Neve Peak, The Haystack, and The Needle (L to R)This past weekend I visited the Thorton Lakes region within the North Cascades National Park. I’ve never been there before but the promise of good views (including north towards the Southern Picket Range) was too intriguing. The great views don’t come without a price. The hike follows an old logging road for a few miles before bringing a steady uphill slog. Five miles and 2,500 vertical feet later, the ridge surrounding the Thorton Lakes basin is reached. From this point, a half mile and 500 foot descent takes you to the offical campground along the shores of Lower Thorton Lakes. The other option is a steep, climbers trail up towards the summit of Trappers Peak.

My primary interest was to stick around for sunset but I also wanted to get up Trappers Peak for those good views of the Thorton Lakes and the Southern Picket Range to the north. I was taking a little bit of a chance heading here because I didn’t have much intel about falls colors. I scoured older trip reports on to get a sense of what might be possible but the results weren’t conclusive. Making matters worse, a recent trip report from Cascade Pass showed great fall color. My decision was to roll the dice and still head for Thorton Lakes.

West slopes of Trappers Peak from the ridge above Lower Thorton Lake, North Cascades National Park
X Mountain from the ridge above Lower Thorton Lake, North Cascades National Park
Fall color on the benches above Lower Thorton Lake, North Cascades National ParkThe access road off of Highway 20 is fairly rough with several washboard sections but not impossible for passenger vehicles. The old road section turned trail is a nice warm up for the steady ascent to come. Once the trail turns away from the Thorton Creek valley, the trail suddenly becomes very quiet. Views out from the forest don’t really exist save for some fleeting glimpses across the valley at Big Devil Peak. After the trail crosses the Park Service boundary, it enters a small bowl below the ridge that surrounds the lakes. A hiker on their way down told us we had 20 minutes left until we reached the ridge. It didn’t seem believable but- it was.

I received my first disappointment upon reaching the trail junction between the path down to the lake and the path up to the peak. I expected the ridge to be much more open than it actually was. Instead of smaller subalpine trees, the ridge contains mostly larger trees with few unobstructed views down towards Lower Thorton Lake. If I was to get shots of the lake, they would have to be from the trail up towards Trappers Peak.

Fall color at the base of X Mountain, North Cascades National Park
The Haystack and The Needle, North Cascades National Park. The foreground ridge separates the Ladder Creek (L) and Newhalem Creek (R) drainages
Ladder Creek drainage cast in shadow, North Cascades National ParkThe next bit of disappointment was the lighting. The goal was to shoot sunset so we started our hike in the afternoon. By the time we gained the ridge, the sun had traversed far to the west. To photograph the west side of the basin, I had to point my camera into the sunlight and this adds a significant amount of haze to the photos. These two factors alone stopped me from trying to photograph the lake. With the late afternoon, I was beginning to realize that Trappers Peak would not be a reachable destination. Time and exertion would tap me out before I could get into a great position for photos.

There was still some time before the “magic hour” of light before sunset and that was enough to attempt to climb up to the intermediate knoll between the ridge and the summit. This led to my next disappointment of the day. While information on the internet states that there is a trail to the summit, it does elude to the fact that there are some “interesting” sections of the trail. The ascent up to the intermediate knoll is one such section. The crux of this section is where the trail ascends a 100 foot tall gully. Climbing the gully is generally class I-II but a specific move or two might be considered class III. I found it to be serious enough that I wasn’t as comfortable with the thought of down climbing this section after the sunset.

Newhalem Peaks and Klawatti Peak from the Thorton Lakes vicinity, North Cascades National Park
Southern Picket Range from below Trappers Peak, North Cascades National Park
West McMillan Spire in the Southern Picket Range, North Cascades National ParkSunset was still a little ways off which meant there was no reason not to hike “just a little further.” I really wanted to get my glimpse of the Southern Picket Range. After a few false benches, I turned a corner and got my glimpse. I got a few quick shots and then hurried back down to return to a spot further down the ridge for sunset. As we down climbed, I saw a side path which finally gave a relatively unencumbered view of Lower Thorton Lakes. Even though the sun had set enough to cast the entire basin in shade, getting a nice shot of the scene was still a challenge. Warm sunset light was really starting to show off on the rugged ridges back across the Skagit River to our south so I didn’t spend much time on the lakes. Another time, I suppose..

To the west, a few high clouds added some interest in the warm, orange light. To our south and the east, that light was more pinkish but with clear skies. The best displays were located to the east on the upper slopes in the vicinity of Paul Bunyan’s Stump and towards the southeast near Eldorado Peak and Klawatti Peak. The lack of any rain in the region has allowed for the development of some haze which really accentuates colors during sunsets. Even with this haze, we were able to clearly see Whitehorse Mountain and Three Fingers 36 miles to the southwest.

Trappers Peak and the Southern Picket Range, North Cascades National Park
Whitehorse Mountain and Three Fingers Mountain, 36 miles towards the southwest from the Thorton Lakes vicinity, North Cascades National Park
Lower Thorton Lakes and fall color, North Cascades National ParkAbout a half hour after official sunset, the colors in the earth shadow subsided and it was time to hike out. I was not looking forward to this since I had some concerns about following the trail on the way back out in the dark. Below the ridge, the forest proper isn’t heavily vegetated so there were a few times when it was quite easy to make a turn off trail. Thankfully, we managed to make the descent back to the decommissioned road without any navigational incidents. We reached the trailhead a little bit more than 2 hours after leaving the ridge.

The day didn’t quite go as I expected but that seems to be my modis operandi. I’ll return at some point but for now, I think it’s time to hunt down some fall color..

The Haystack (L) and The Needle (R) in the last minutes of sunset, North Cascades National Park
Last sunset light to the west from the Thorton Lakes vicinity, North Cascades National Park
Looking across the Skagit River valley at the last minutes of sunset
Last light of sunset over Eldorado Peak (far R), Klawatti Peak (C), and Primus Peak (far L), North Cascades National Park

Winds of Change at Mount Hood

Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. Three hours until sunset. What do you do?It was three hours until sunset and this is how things were shaping up. What to do? After finishing up my hike to Ramona Falls, this was my dilemma. Although the mountain was fairly socked in, you can see that there is a tall lenticular cloud structure building up behind it. I decided that, when sunset did come, the lenticular cloud was probably going to be highlight. Clearly from this vantage point, I wasn’t going to see much; i needed to move but where? On the first day of my trip, I drove the entire length of Lolo Pass Road to the actual pass and this gave me the knowledge of where I could photograph the mountain, and what to expect. From this simple action, I now knew that I should head to the last viewpoint nearest the pass. It situated me in a more northerly position instead of the northwesterly position that the photo above was taken at. As I drove to my destination, I passed another photographer who had staked his claim not far from where I was previously. I had to smile because I knew that my destination was going to be better suited for what was to come. Boy was I right! The next hour until sunrise was a photographing frenzy. I kept alternating shots between my Sigma 17-70mm lens and my Pentax DA 55-300. The colors from sunset definitely not the best I’ve ever seen but the cloud movement and dynamics certainly were. The wind currents kept changing the view in front of me, almost like shaking an Etch-A-Sketch. True to my hunch, the tall lenticular cloud behind Mount Hood acted like a magnet for any of the colors of sunset. Minute by minute, there was always something to photograph. Like many sunsets, this one just faded away without fanfare. I honestly didn’t expect much of a sunset but I was dead wrong. I’m just glad that I had done a little bit of homework to put me in the best possible position to take advantage of it!
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 53 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 41 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 22 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 20 minutes before sunset
Clouds converging over Mount Hood. 17 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 16 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 12 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 11 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 10 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 8 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 6 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 5 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 3 minutes before sunset

Up, Down, and Around Mount Hood

During my recent trip down to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, I actually spent more time around Mount Hood than down along the Gorge. Here’s a compilation of photos from several of my Mount Hood related outings-

Tom Dick Harry Mountain Sunset
 I climbed to the top of the mountain in hopes of a sunset at the end of the first day of my trip. I got a late start from the Mirror Lake trailhead but made good time up to the lake. Beyond the lake, I tried keeping the brisk pace but it was wearing me down. The trail was patchy snow for the first half but that snow was sitting on the trail like a huge humps. Just below the 6′ tall rock cairn, the trail was completely snow covered and the slog was on. More than once I thought about abandoning my effort but I kept at it. I ended up topping out about 20-25 minutes before sunset. There was no sunset to be had on Mount Hood but Mount Jefferson to the south was receiving some nice light and had a nice lenticular cloud on its lee side. I stayed until sunset was officially over and then headed down as quickly and safely as I could.

Mount Hood and Mirror Lake from the summit of Tom Dick Harry Mountain
Mount Jefferson and lenticular clouds at sunset from the summit of Tom Dick Harry Mountain
Mount Jefferson and lenticular clouds at sunset from the summit of Tom Dick Harry Mountain
Mount Jefferson and lenticular clouds at sunset from the summit of Tom Dick Harry Mountain
Ramona Falls
My first visit to this waterfall. This area of Mount Hood fascinates me because it seems like it is located in a rain shadow. The trees are a little more spaced with more pine. I arrived at the falls in the afternoon so I had a mix of sun and shade across the falls. To counter this (and to get the silky water effect), I used my 0.6 Graduated Neutral Density Filter. It still requires some extra Photoshop processing to come up with something presentable but it is possible. Abstracts like the ones shown here are probably the primary compositions but I did like my composition with the stump in the foreground and the falls in the background. Again, tricky lighting but still doable!

Ramona Falls
Ramona Falls Detail
Ramona Falls Detail
Ramona Falls Detail

Highway 26 Corridor
This year’s trip was a little later than my previous trips and one of the benefits of this was seeing some Pacific Rhododendron in bloom. These photos are from a stretch of Highway 26 just east of the town of Rhododendron. It was late in the afternoon so I even had a little bit of dappled sunlight through the forest.

Confluence of the Zigzag River and Still Creek, Mount Hood Area
Confluence of the Zigzag River and Still Creek, Mount Hood Area
Pacific Rhododendron in bloom near Rhododendron, Oregon
Pacific Rhododendron in bloom near Rhododendron, Oregon
Pacific Rhododendron in bloom near Rhododendron, Oregon
Pacific Rhododendron in bloom near Rhododendron, Oregon
Old Salmon River Trail
This trail is described as having the most accessible old growth forest in Oregon. Located just a few quick minutes off of Highway 26 near Welches, the trail runs along the Salmon River for several miles and frankly surpassed any expectations I had. My visit was about 90 minutes before sunset and it was a huge mistake! Next year, I’ll devote an entire day to exploring the Salmon River. The forest is so lush and diverse that there’s a lot to take in and observe. Until then, enjoy these photos..

Along the Old Salmon River Trail
Along the Old Salmon River Trail
Scouler's Corydalis along the Salmon River
Scouler's Corydalis along the Salmon River
Salmon River, Mount Hood area
Salmon River Boulder and Big Leaf Maple
Moonrise over the Salmon River at sunset

The Week of Light

This past week brought us a newscaster’s dream- Snowmageddon! Before that, however, was a week in which the Puget Sound was treated to a number of days with brilliant sunrises and sunsets. From here in Everett, the potential for great vantages of the Cascade mountains with the Snohomish River valley in the foreground exist but come with challenges. These views from publicly accessible locations are very limited; those spots that remain usually have some sort of constraints in the form of powerlines or street light poles.

The best vantage I could come up with was just above I-5 along Broadway Avenue in the vicinity of Evergreen Cemetery. Here, the problem are the light poles along I-5. Here are a collection of shots, almost all from this location. Some of the wider shots do have the poles in them. Not much you can do about that!

Winter sunrise over the Cascades and Snohomish River valley
Winter sunrise over the Cascades and Snohomish River valley
Winter sunrise over the Cascades and Snohomish River valley
Winter sunrise over the Cascades and Snohomish River valley
North face of Mount Rainier at sunset from Everett (80 miles away)
North face of Mount Rainier at sunset from Everett (80 miles away)
I had hoped for some of the typical morning valley fog that usually occurs in the Snohomish River valley to add to the interest. The fog did show up on the second morning but was waaaaay thicker than I would have wanted. It almost obscured the mountains!

Sunrise over the Cascades with thick valley fog
Sunrise over the Cascades with thick valley fog
Sunrise over the Cascades with thick valley fog
Sunrise over the Cascades with thick valley fog
I was just about home on Friday evening when it looked like sunset might get interesting. I decided to just go home instead of heading to a nearby park in anticipation of sunset. Boy- that was the WRONG move! The sunset was so mind blowing that it was a trending topic on Twitter that evening. I quickly realized the error of my decision so I tried to snap a couple shots from my back..

The last minutes of a mind blowing sunset from Everett, Washington
The last minutes of a mind blowing sunset from Everett, Washington

Top Ten Photos of 2011

2011 is quickly coming to an end and it’s time to reflect. Last year was a very productive year, and I made many outings throughout the year. There was only problem- this pace was simply not sustainable. As 2011 moved along, I sought a greater balance between my photographic pursuits and the other things in my life. It’s been a weird transition but it has helped removed some of the stressful feelings I have felt while pushing myself to keep the momentum going.

Now, our fickle Pacific Northwest weather kind of helped me out because summer really didn’t arrive until late July! One of the photos below is a typical view during late July / beginning of August instead of the middle of September when it was actually taken. Earlier in the year, I made a small investment in myself and signed up for a weekend class in image processing led be Sean Bagshaw. You can read more about that class in my review of his classes found here but I’ll just say this was a significant event in my development and advancement as a photographer. His teachings finally helped me tackle a sunset photo of Mount Rainier (also below) that frustrated me ever since I took the photo back in February. I finally have a version I like!

I have also really enjoyed getting more familiar and competent with my Pentax K5 dSLR. Its capabilities have really amazed me and I really think it will serve me well for several years to come. Pretty much all my photos this year with the exception of a few weeks in September were taken with my K5. On to the photos! In no particular order…

1.) “Shuksan Swirl – North Cascades National Park”

Shuksan Swirl - North Cascades National Park
The 2010-2011 winter provided me with several wonderful candidates for conversion to black & white and this was one of them. Taken from the White Salmon Lodge parking lot at the Mount Baker Ski Area, the gusty winds kept changing the fabulous view of Mount Shuksan.

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

2.) “Tahoma Glow – Mount Rainier National Park”

Tahoma Glow - Mount Rainier National Park (updated version)

Probably the most wonderful sunset of the year but the hardest photos to process. Taken from the Ricksecker Viewpoint within the park, the mountain finally revealed itself as the peak of sunset colors spread across its flanks. This was a great moment to experience, and the second such sunset that a certain friend joined me on. I’m starting to think he’s a good luck charm!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here. These photos won’t reflect my re-work though!

3.) “Peek-a-Boo – Washington Park, Anacortes, Washington”

Peek-a-Boo - Washington Park, Anacortes, Washington

Taken in the municipal park located just beyond the San Juan ferry terminal in Anacortes, this macro-esque shot made the best of an otherwise flat display of shooting stars along the rocky shoreline. I was immediately drawn to the repeating patterns of the plant leaves against the solitary bloom rising up.

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

4.) “The End Around – Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area”

The End Around - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

I’ve begun an annual trip to the Columbia River Gorge in the spring and this photo comes from a deeper exploration of Ruckel Creek. This photo was also a little precarious to take- I was standing on a wet log with my tripod fully extended but the legs near collapsed together. I really wanted to capture the motion of the creek as it moved around the logjam.

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

5.) “Ipsut Creek – Mount Rainier National Park”

Ipsut Creek - Mount Rainier National Park

This photo was an early product from easily the most grueling outing of the year. I managed to convince my friend to join me on the 10 mile bike ride and 14 mile roundtrip hike & bike up to Moraine Park in the northwest sector of Mount Rainier National Park. This creek provides the water for use at the Ipsut Creek Campground at the end of the now closed Carbon River Road within the park.

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

6.) “The Wall – Mount Rainier National Park”

The Wall - Mount Rainier National Park

Fast forward several hours from the time of the previous photo, this was the reward for all the long hours of travel. Although we were racing to stay ahead of a storm system rolling in, the mountain did stay clear long enough to enjoy the fruits of our labor!

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

7.) “Fall Upon Church – North Fork Nooksack River Valley”

Fall Upon Church - North Fork Nooksack River Valley

I found this viewpoint about 2 years ago but hadn’t been able to time a visit with the peak of fall color. This year I got pretty close!

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

8.) “Mossy Feet – Mount Rainier National Park”

Mossy Feet - Mount Rainier National Park

I almost did not take this photograph. I was hiking out from a somewhat disappointing early winter visit to Green Lake in Mount Rainier National Park and light in the old growth forest was beginning to diminish. I was pretty wet from the rain/sleet mix I had been out in for hours but I was just struck by the “glow” of the moss on this particular Western Red Cedar tree.

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

9.) “Rock Garden – Mount Baker National Recreation Area”

Rock Garden - Mount Baker National Recreation Area

Taken during my first ever trip up to Park Butte on Mount Baker, I was faced with a quandary at sunset. I wanted to make it out to a specific tarn that Lee Mann has made famous with one of his photographs but I knew that I would not be able to make it in time to take advantage of any of the sunlight light. I decided to look around where I was and found this nice view.

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

10.) “Van Trump Park – Mount Rainier National Park”

Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park

A classic view..but in September?? Such is the case with this photo. This was another “first visit” for me to this parkland west of Paradise on the mountain’s southern flanks. The only thing missing from the photo is any evidence of the voracious mosquitoes who were frantically trying to extract as much blood as possible from my body.

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

And here’s one more..

11.) “Surrounded – South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley”

Surrounded - South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley

On the hike up to Pinnacle Lake in the North Central Cascades, I was struck by how the fern leaves radiated outward from this sea of False Lily of the Valley.

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

Park Butte Sunset

Mount Baker peek-a-boo from the Baker Lake Road
Mount Baker and wetland from the Baker Lake Road
Fall is starting to appear here in the Pacific Northwest but so far we only have the morning fog and cooler temperatures. Friday evening saw a wonderful sunset over the Puget Sound and, with a developing high pressure ridge, I thought there might be a chance for a repeat performance. After debating where to go, I decided on the Park Butte area on the south side of Mount Baker. As it is, I’m one of the few people that HAVEN’T visited the Park Butte Area.

Like Mount Rainier, the glacier capped Mount Baker is visible from many locations around the Puget Sound. The southern flank of the mountain is adorned with the Easton, Squak, Deming, and Talum Glaciers. For mountain climbers, the Easton Glacier is the most popular and default route up the mountain. For Hikers, Park Butte holds a fire lookout and a great view of Mount Baker and the Twin Sisters to the Northwest from a 5400′ high point on the mountain. For either type of outdoor enthusiast, the journey starts at Schriebers Meadow at 3300 feet and a fairly level wander through acres of huckleberry meadows.

Mount Baker reflection in Morovitz Meadows
Mount Baker from Morovitz Meadows
After about 0.8 miles, the trail crosses a series of braids that make up Rocky Creek. The name is quite appropriate because rocks and boulders are everywhere. The rippled landscape reminds me very much of hiking on the slopes of Mount Adams or Mount Saint Helens. After another quarter mile or so, the trail begins to switch back up to gain access to Morovitz Meadows. After about 1.5 miles of switch backing, you reach a trail junction with the Scott Paul Trail. This secondary trail also begins at Schriebers Meadows but takes a 6 mile meandering loop up into the alpine environment before its terminus at the Park Butte Trail. Pay close attention to this intersection during daylight if your plans are to shoot sunset and hike out. More on that later!

From the Scott Paul Trail junction, the views open up impressively. The Black Buttes rise abruptly in the distance in front of you and Mount Baker itself is lies through some small alpine trees on your right. As we entered the meadow, there was some fall color in the huckleberry leaves but the actual huckleberries were still very green! It seems as though last winter’s snowpack was very stingy and didn’t go willingly. The only wildflowers I remember seeing were some Sitka Valerian in prime bloom along a small creek.

Mount Baker and the Railroad Grade from Morovitz Meadows
Mount Baker sunset from near Park Butte
A little ways further, you reach another trail junction. This is the main turnoff for all the mountain climbers- the Railroad Grade (named for its steady rate of ascent like a railroad). The Park Butte trail continues across a large open basin before it switchbacks up to a plateau alongside the actual Park Butte lookout ridge. Before that, however, I became tempted to try some reflected mountain shots in a small pool of water in the meadow. We didn’t time our hike correctly so the “golden hour” was just starting.

I took my shots (too quick as I look back on them!) and then did my best to quickly ascend to the plateau. The plateau is about 25 acres in size and very open with three decent sized tarns. The southernmost tarn was made famous by the great Pacific Northwest photographer Lee Mann with this photo (look for “1213 Koma Kulshan”). As much as I don’t care for shooting “icons”, this is where I wanted to go on this day. My hope was that I could find a different take on this view or something different altogether.

Mount Baker sunset from near Park Butte
Mount Baker sunset from near Park Butte
As I finally got to the edge of the plateau, the sunset light was really starting to change and I had a decision to make- attempt to make the quarter mile cross country hike to the tarn or find a composition where I was. The sunset was cloud free and almost at the best light so, rather than risk coming back with nothing, I decided to find something where I was. Quite luckily, I happened to like the scene that spread out in front of me. I noticed a rocky hump off trail so I rock hopped to make my way over to it.

The ridge line directly behind me had already put me in shade so I knew that I needed to use one of my neutral density grad filters. I decided on my Lee 0.6 soft edge and began to take shots. After the last warm light on Mount Baker faded, I packed up and sought out my friend, who had continued on ahead of me and onto the plateau. I forgot to check the time for moonrise and quickly found out that this wasn’t it. Before making the hike out, I quickly looked around for a panorama composition. Truthfully, I’m pretty happy with how this turned out!

Mount Baker sunset from near Park Butte
Sunset light travels up the Easton and Deming Glaciers on Mount Baker
The temperature really started to fall once the sun went down. I didn’t get too far back down the trail before turning on my headlamp. The trail was fairly moist and mucky at times so I wanted to be sure of my footing. The trail may be a freeway during the day but it’s a ghost town at night. This DEFINITELY is bear country and a hiking trip report from the day before mentioned crossing paths with a bear about the base of the switchbacks.

For this reason, my friend and I were pretty chatty and noisy on the way out. We passed the trail junction with the Railroad Grade and then the junction with the Scott Paul Trail. We entered the forest but, after a while, something seemed off. Neither of us remember a creek being so close, loud, and visible alongside the trail. We crossed the creek and then the trail started climbing. The became a bit more narrow as well. What the hell??

Last light of sunset on the summit of Mount Baker
Mount Baker panorama at dusk from near Park Butte
We stopped to think about where we were. As near as I could figure, we must have turned ONTO the Scott Paul trail rather than go past the trail junction. We backtracked along the trail, past the creek and then soon were back at the junction we missed. Apparently it was a sharper switchback in the trail than I remembered during the daylight! Almost immediately, we recognized things along the trail which confirmed we were back on the right track. Making steady progress, we talked, yelled, and clanked our hiking poles to make our presence known.

90 minutes after starting our hike out, we arrived at the trailhead (sans any wildlife encounters). The views here really are amazing and I can’t believe I waited this long to make my first visit!

Mount Rainier Lemons

Lemons. Whattaya do you do with them??

I was really looking forward to some plans I had made with a friend this weekend to return to the Ohanapecosh River valley in Mount Rainier National Park to revisit Silver Falls and possibly the Grove of the Patriarchs. We made this hike about two winters ago but I never made it across the hiking bridge to the closer viewpoint of the falls. Leading up to the weekend, the weather forecasts were calling for snow at a low elevation followed for sunshine for the day of our hike. I was excited.


Two years ago, we turned onto SR-123 from US-12 and had to immediately park because the highway was snow covered. This year, in the dead of winter, it was completely snow free so we kept driving. We didn’t see ANY snow the entire way up to the gate at the entrance of the park. I thought we’d be able to get a nice cross country ski in on our way to the falls but there was no snow to be seen anywhere.

Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park along SR-123 on February 19, 2011
Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park along SR-123 back on February 16, 2009
This was a big letdown but we decided to hike up the road without our skis. We had traveled about 0.75 miles before we encountered any snow on the road and probably another 0.25 mile for it began to build a solid base. It was still thin, and that was reinforced by a Park Service truck which sped past us and then turned into the Ohanapecosh Campground. Just before the turnoff for the Stevens Canyon Road, you reach the trailhead for Silver Falls (2.25 miles from the winter gate).

As the trail dives into the forest away from the road, the snow disappeared. In fact, the short trail to the falls were pretty much free of snow and there were barely any patches of snow in the vicinity of the falls. This “La Nina” winter has really done a number on us in the Pacific Northwest. It should have been snowier in the mountains but it never has delivered. The log bridge crossing over the Ohanapecosh was snow free; 2 winters ago, it had a 3-4′ mound of snow up to its railing.

On the far side, we settled in at the viewing area and I attempted to take some photos. The sun had crested the eastern ridges and was shining brightly on the falls. The photo taking was extremely tough and I resorted to taking bracketed exposures. These weren’t the conditions I was expecting (or hoping) for but an interesting thing began to happen. The spray from the falls was beginning to develop a rainbow and, as the sun rose more, it was getting stronger.

Silver Falls rainbow along the Ohanapecosh River in Mount Rainier National Park
I kept firing off bracketed exposures from the top of the cliff. There are some rock slabs below but they appeared to be icy and very slippery. My friend explored it further and found out that there was a narrow but safe access along the rocks to a better vantage of the falls. I gathered up my gear and headed down to the spot my friend had described. It was better but the spray that was generating the rainbow was also coating the front of my lens rather quickly.

Silver Falls rainbow along the Ohanapecosh River in Mount Rainier National Park
Clear waters of the Ohanapecosh River in Mount Rainier National Park
Thus began a repetition of wiping off the front of my circular polarizer, rotating around, and taking my bracketed shots. I’ve done this dance several times before so now I always carry three microfiber cloths with me to help ensure I always have a dry cloth. We spent about an hour at the falls before hiking out. Originally I expected this to be a day long affair but the lack of snow really sped up our outing. Originally, I had hoped that we would finish with enough time to head a little further east on US-12 to the Palisades viewpoint for sunset but now….now we could double pack and head towards the mountain for sunset and I knew where we should go: Ricksecker Point.

This, of course, didn’t prevent us for still visiting the Palisades since it’s just around the corner from the SR-123 / US-12 intersection. The Palisades are a neat volcanic feature right along US-12. Across the small canyon from the viewpoint is an exposed columnar volcanic formation. There’s also a nice bonus view of Mount Rainier in the distance. The timing of our visit couldn’t have been WORSE because the sun was directly overhead of the formation. Photographs were impossible without glare I ended up with just this lone shot of the Palisades and this zoomed panorama of Mount Rainier:

Mount Rainier as viewed from the Palisades Viewpoint along US Highway 12, west of White Pass
Detail of the Palisades formation at the Palisades Viewpoint along US Highway 12, west of White Pass
The day was starting to get long so we needed to double back towards the Longmire entrance of Mount Rainer National Park. North of Morton, I noticed some puffy clouds were developing around the west flank of the mountain at around 5-6,000 feet. By the time we entered the park, it was too late to make it up to Paradise so I made Ricksecker Point our primary destination. This spot is a short loop road that has a couple turnout viewpoints of Mount Rainier, the west end of the Tatoosh Range and the Nisqually River valley to the west. In the winter, this road isn’t plowed so it provides a short opportunity to cross country ski. By this time of the afternoon, we had the backside of the loop all to ourselves.

The few clouds I had seen back near Morton turned into a thick mess at Ricksecker Point, obscuring the mountain. The views were otherwise fabulous and we came across an interesting set of animal tracks. If anyone knows what they are, please leave a comment! Only thing I could come up with was maybe a raven hopping across the snow & returning in the same track:

Unusual animal tracks in the snow at Ricksecker Point in Mount Rainier National Park. Please leave a comment if you know what it was!
Tatoosh Range ridgeline east of Eagle Peak in Mount Rainier National Park
Anyways, the afternoon light was beginning to warm up so we made are way back in hopes that the mountain was once again visible. It wasn’t- but the light was transforming into that classic pink winter light. I concentrated on the view towards the west but Mount Rainier began to show through some expanding windows in the clouds. I shifted locations and then concentrated on Mount Rainier. At the best time possible, the clouds began giving way and we were treated to it’s snowy slopes basking in pink light. Just magnificent!

Nisqually River valley in late afternoon light from Ricksecker Point in Mount Rainier National Park
Beginning of alpenglow light on the south slopes of Mount Rainier. Photo taken from Ricksecker Point
Mount Rainier revealed before the peak of sunset. Photo taken from Ricksecker Point
Mount Rainier Alpenglow from Ricksecker Point
Alpenglow light on the southern slopes of Mount Rainier. Photo taken from Ricksecker Point
Mount Rainier Alpenglow from Ricksecker Point
Mount Rainier Alpenglow from Ricksecker Point
Due to the NPS policy of shutting the gate in Longmire nightly, we couldn’t stick around too long after the show ended. We hurried back to my truck and drove back down the hill before the 6:30pm closure. The day turned out to be NOTHING like what I had envisioned. By remaining flexible and knowledgeable about where I was going helped me salvage the day. In fact, I ended up with some photos that I never would have taken had I followed through with my original plans!

In other words…make some lemonaide!

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