Beckler River

Fall- Meet Winter

First snowfall on Vine Maple leaves - Quartz Creek Trail, Mount-Baker-Snoqualmie National ForestFall is here! So is winter??

My little road trip to photograph fall color coincided with the first real storms we in the Pacific Northwest have encountered in over two months. Those storms came with the first snow for the mountains, too. Our plan was to head over to Leavenworth for their famous fall color and make a side trip or two on the we(s)t side of the pass. Our first stop was to check out the upper North Fork Skykomish River valley via Jack Pass. Fall color conditions up the Highway 2 corridor (as well as up the Beckler River valley) still have some room to improve this week but our lack of recent precipitation have done a number on our trees as well. Many vine maples crumpled and dropped their leaves before transforming into the oranges and reds they’re known for.

Saturday’s weather was supposed to be gray and stormy so perfect conditions for photographing the fall color. We expected to encounter snow going over Stevens Pass (at 4,000 feet) and based on the forecasts, I figured we’d get close to the snow level going over Jack Pass but be just underneath the snow level (Jack Pass tops out at 2,500 feet). As we approached the pass via the Beckler River Road, the trees were flocked with snow. So much for avoiding the snow until Stevens Pass! The snow remained more of a visual attraction and hadn’t really accumulated on the road. The snow disappeared fairly quickly as we descended the north side of Jack Pass.

First snowfall on Vine Maple leaves - Quartz Creek Trail, Mount-Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
First snowfall along the Quartz Creek Trail, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
First snowfall along the Quartz Creek Trail, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National ForestCrossing the North Skykomish River, we could see that the north slopes of Bear Mountain were flocked with snow fairly close to the bottom of the valley (about 1,600 feet). We turned onto Forest Service Road 63 and drove the remaining four miles to its end. After crossing the bridge over Goblin Creek, the snow flocked trees returned. The fall color I had anticipated (hoped) for near the end of the road was largely done but there were sporadic examples of vine maple color with snow. Bonus!

The road ends at a large parking area for three different trailheads- Quartz Creek, West Cady Ridge, and North Fork Skykomish River Trail. There was a mobile home (!) parked in one part of the parking lot but we otherwise had the area to ourselves. We decided to check out the area around the Quartz Creek trailhead and found a gold mine of possibilities. We spent about an hour at different spots before getting on with our day. Before leaving the North Fork Skykomish, we stopped at a great talus field at the base of Excelsior Mountain’s north slopes.

North Fork Skykomish River and early Snowfall near Excelsior Mountain, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Early snowfall and fall color along Forest Service Road 63, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Early snowfall on Vine Maple leaves along Forest Service Road 63, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National ForestA few years ago, I timed things right and the whole talus field was filled with orange color. This year, however, the color was largely over. Lucky for me, the cloudy conditions and snow flocked trees still presented some opportunities to take advantage of. In the back of my mind I kept thinking of the snow falling on Jack Pass so I didn’t want to spend a ton of time here. Traversing back over Jack Pass was uneventful. At the last minute, we made a quick stop were Johnson Creek flows into the Beckler River. The opposite bank (west bank) usually has a real nice grouping of vine maple and this year was no exception (though colors were just a wee bit beyond peak).

The day was quickly passing so it was time to head up and over the Stevens Pass. Conditions up there were snowy and windy but not really affecting travel. I had to pull over in the vicinity of the Stevens Pass Nordic Center because the upper slopes of Nason Ridge were a beautiful mix of snow, fall color, and green forest. After a few quick photos, the wind and snow from the pass caught up with us! The cloud of snow crept in and sucked the contrast out of the scene in front of me. That was enough so back in the truck and down the hill towards the blue sky and sunshine of the east slopes!

Beckler River fall color near Johnson Creek, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Confluence of Johnson Creek and the Beckler River, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Fall to winter transition on Nason Ridge, Wenatchee National ForestThe stretch of Highway 2 in the vicinity of Nason Creek and the community of Merritt was awash in fall color. It was really quite amazing and the only regret from the day was that we did not stop to look for photo opportunities in this area. The day was getting shorter and our plans included Tumwater Canyon and Icicle Creek Canyon. The color in Tumwater Canyon wasn’t bad but the lighting sure was. The sun was directly above the ridges, creating lots of harsh transitions from sun to shade. I couldn’t find anything compelling to shoot so we continued on to Icicle Creek Canyon.

My friend has spent a lot of time climbing up and down the valley but this was my first visit. The road travels some 18 miles up valley through spectacular scenery. The valley is deeply incised; relief between valley floor and adjoining ridges can range between 3-5,000 vertical feet! Displays of fall color are fairly constant throughout the valley although it is spaced out. At the upper end of the valley where the road turns back west, the southern valley slopes are littered with larch. In fact, some larch can be found in the vicinity of the Rock Island Campground along the road.

Fall to winter transition on Nason Ridge, Wenatchee National Forest
Icicle Creek downstream of Eight Mile CreekI was a bit overwhelmed by it all and found it hard to find anything to photograph. The same lighting issues from Tumwater Canyon carried over to Icicle Creek Canyon. The end result was a lot of looking but not much photographing. Time was also a factor because I still wanted to travel back over Stevens Pass while it was still light. That didn’t leave a whole lot of time. Hopefully I’ll be a little better prepared for future visits in the area. While my trip to the Leavenworth area didn’t yield much, my trip to the upper North Fork Skykomish River valley on a whim was something special. It ended up being the highlight of the day for both of us. I don’t know if the colors will last into next weekend so if you’re going to go check them out, it’s better to go sooner than later!

Larch fall color, upper Icicle Creek Canyon
Larch fall color, upper Icicle Creek Canyon

North Fork Rapid River

Making lemonade again…

Car troubles foiled my original plans (you should NOT have to replace a factory alternator at 48k miles but I digress) so I settled on exploring the North Fork Rapid River, upstream of the Rapid River Road bridge. Brilliant sunshine ensured horrible conditions for photography but trips like this are still valuable since they answer the question about the worthiness of pursuit in better conditions.

In this case, the answer is most definitely yes! I really like what I found and plan to return once the understory leafs out a bit more and the skies are greyer and overcast (it sounds a bit wrong to be wishing that but those are the optimal conditions!)..

North Fork Rapid River
North Fork Rapid River
North Fork Rapid River
North Fork Rapid River
Reflection pool - North Fork Rapid River
North Fork Rapid River (Portrait View)
North Fork Rapid River (Landscape View)
Bleeding heart along the Rapid River Road
Bleeding heart and alder along the Rapid River Road
This weekend finds me down along the Columbia River Gorge for a whirlwind of hikes and photography so I hope to return will many great photos!..

Frog Mountain and the Upper Beckler Watershed

Having studied the weather forecasts, Saturday was projected to be a dry day as a lull between storm systems. The snow level would also drop so I figured some early snowfall shots might be in order. During my visit last week, I noticed a mountain just east of Jacks Pass which had red tinted meadow slopes near the summit. The mountain is named Frog Mountain and, from looking at maps, it could be scaled halfway on a series of abandoned logging roads.

On my way to Jacks Pass, I could see that portions of the very top did have fresh snow and the weather seemed to be clearing out more. I was hoping that some visual navigation would be possible once the old roadway faded away. The first challenge was finding the entry point of the road. From Jacks Pass, the old road begins clearly but that leads to a huge open area littered with way too much target practice debris- shell casings, clay pigeons.

Frog Mountain from the upper slopes of the San Juan Hill ridge line
Traveling along the old logging road on Frog Mountain
This made me very nervous because I didn’t want to be heading back only to be BEHIND some people firing guns. Anyways, I found the entry point which had grown over, making it less obvious. Once on the old road, however, it was still fairly well defined. Young alders are filling in the road surface but the going isn’t too bad. Without signage, some decisions had to be made at a few of the road spurs but I made good time along the road section.

I reached what I decided was the end of the road in short order but was not encouraged by what I saw. Above me, the more mature forest above the regenerating clearcut I was in was pretty thick, and there was no direct line of sight to the upper slopes. Being alone and without my GPS, I thought better of continuing. After that decision, I did spy a road spur that continued further upslope. I determined that one spur dead ends in a clearcut but the second spur is promising. I will have to check it out some other time.

I made it back down fairly quickly and still had most of the afternoon so I explored some of the other Forest Service roads in the area. Always good to know what’s out there for future pursuits!

Fresh snow on the upper slopes of Frog Mountain
Fall color along an avalanche track on Troublesome Mountain
Rugged slopes of the Troublesome Mountain massif
Fir seed cones
Boulder Creek
Waterfall on Boulder Creek
Waterfall on Boulder Creek

The next storm system starting making its appearance in the late afternoon and on my way home, I across two rainbows at two different locations. Pretty cool!..

Rainbow just outside of Gold Bar

Soggy Cascades

Despite the 100% certainly of rain, I ventured into the Cascades for a forest hike. The heart of the Central Cascades and the end of Forest Service Road 63 is what attracted my attention. At the end of that road are several trailheads: West Cady Ridge, North Fork Skykomish River, and Quartz Creek. Of those options, I decided on Quartz Creek after some research on the web. The normal access to this area is provided by the Index-Galena Road near the town of Index (also identified as Forest Service Road 63) but an alternate route is now required due to the 2006 flood damage.

Access is now achieved via the Beckler River Road (Forest Service Road 65) which goes up and over Jack Pass (2,000 feet) and then intersects FS Rd 63. This was my first visit to this area and it’s simply amazing. Fall color is now really taking off all along the Beckler River as well as the upper North Fork Skykomish River valley and the road is in really great shape. In what seemed like short order, I arrived at the trio of trailheads.

I was surprised by the absence of rain at the trailhead. After gearing up, I headed out on the trai, which was also in great shape. The Quartz Creek trail makes its way up the valley towards Curry Gap, a distance of about 4.5 miles. Not too long after starting, the rain began and alternated between stronger and lighter cells.

Quartz Creek
During my research, one of the trip reports I read mentioned a log which was large enough and hallowed out that it allowed someone to get inside of it. After finding it along the trail, I decided to get in for a photo opportunity:

Forest window
I pushed further along on the trail and was taking some additional photos when thunder and lightning made an appearance. It was loud and it was close so I immediately packed up and scampered back to the trailhead. Since I had some extra time, I looked a little closer at the surroundings as I headed home. I was so impressed by what I saw, I returned the next day to take more photos (which I’ll post later this week).

Talus slope in fall color
Boulder Creek rapids
Vine Maple along Boulder Creek
Forest snag
Red tailed hawk
Forest scene

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