Swift Creek

This past weekend brought more exploration but closer to home. No doubt photographers in the Pacific Northwest are familiar with the Waterfalls of the Northwest website. While looking through the database of waterfalls, I was drawn into a listing for Rainbow Falls in the vicinity of Mount Baker. It’s described as having a 150 foot drop but also very hard to see due to the deeply incised canyon it empties into. I’ve looked over the topo maps and decided to try and access the falls via the canyon floor by following Rainbow Creek upstream.

The area is accessed by a little used trail- the Swift Creek trail. Long ago, this was the route used to reach Heather Meadows (now the site of the Mount Baker Ski Area) from the Baker Lake region. These days the trail is slowly returning to nature- only the first 2 miles or so receive any maintenance (and its been a few years since the last trail work). It’s a short hike down to Rainbow Creek from the trailhead. The Swift Creek Trail crosses the creek over a very primative log bridge that’s probably not for the faint of heart:

Log Bridge over Rainbow Creek - Swift Creek Trail
From this point, Rainbow Falls is a half mile upstream to the left. In theory. Last fall, I attempted to follow the creek upstream but chose to cross the creek and then follow the far bank. I made it slightly less than halfway before getting cliffed out. This time, I chose to follow the near bank but this also led to the same conclusion- cliffed out. I can say definitively that it’s not possible to reach the falls from the canyon bottom.

With my primary objective out of reach, I decided to cross the creek via the log bridge and head up the Swift Creek trail. This trail is a hidden gem which affords the hike with some quality traits: a lush & diverse forest and solitude. So much solitude that I started to think about bears. The last thing I wanted to do was surprise a bear on the trail so I constantly made noise by banging my trekking poles together.

Following the crossing of Rainbow Creek, the trail heads gently up valley before a brief series of switchbacks that place you into an upper bench of the Swift Creek valley. At this point, some huge cedars are passed alongside the trail:

Click for a larger view
Swift Creek Trail
Since the trail has not received much maintenance, there are some areas of blowdown to negotiate. As I drew closer to Swift Creek, I came across a black bear’s track in the mud:

Click for a larger view
Two miles in, Swift Creek is reached. It’s unclear to me what this crossing used to be like- a bridge? A cable car? In either case, there’s no good way to cross (especially when the creek runs high such as on this day). Even without continuing further, there’s still a lot to see and appreciate..

Looking upstream - Swift Creek
Looking downstream - Swift Creek
The Cauldron - Swift Creek
Swift Creek
Reminants of an old crossing - Swift Creek

Mount Shuksan

While warmer temperatures descended across Western Washington, the weather in the mountains still had the look of winter. Despite the sunshine, a steady conveyor belt of clouds streamed across the upper slopes and summit of Mount Shuksan..

Clouds and Mount Shuksan
Clouds and Mount Shuksan
Summit of Mount Shuksan
On my way home, I stopped to re-shoot this scene of a young fir growing at the foot of an old growth cedar. I shot this scene earlier this winter but snow actually detracted from the composition. I shot this slightly underexposed for the mood and since it helps define the shape of the cedar. I did some minor burning to the extreme righthand side since it was a tad too light in the original photo:

Big Brother
Old Growth Cedar
Lastly, sometimes old ski lift chairs find a new use…

Ski lift chair swing

Marten Creek

This weekend I picked up the Pentax 12-24mm ultrawide lens and so I had to go out and break it in. The weekend brought another storm system so I decided to head up the Mountain Loop Highway outside the town of Granite Falls and revisit Marten Creek. I hiked this last winter but reasons I can’t explain, I never took any photos. As I looked back on it, I remembered that there were some nice stretches along the creek so back I went.

While not a long hike, it does have a steep beginning and along the way, you pass through an ongoing research plot that the Forest Service monitors:

Forest Service Research Plot
The study evaluates the correlation of Douglas Fir growth based on seed sources taken from across the Pacific Northwest. There is a second sign nearby which summarizes what they learned back in 1960. The steepness continues for a bit further and then relents as you enter the upper valley. At that point, exploration of the creek is possible…

Marten Creek
Marten Creek
Marten Creek
Marten Creek
Marten Creek
Marten Creek
Marten Creek
Marten Creek
All in all, a nice afternoon of photo taking despite the steady rain/sleet.

Back to Baker..

Yesterday marked the true start of winter for me- the first day back on the slopes at the Mount Baker Ski Area. Situated in one of the most beautiful environments, both Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan are visible in addition to a number of other dramatic ridgelines. Ample snowfall and a laid back atmosphere make it my favorite ski area anywhere.

Getting there for me requires a fair bit of driving and as luck would have it, I ran smack dab into this:

Accident cleanup..

A logging truck lost its load. Thankfully it appeared to be a solo accident and no one was hurt. Once making it to the ski area, I became re-acquainted to the winter muscle groups that lie dormant during the other parts of the year. Even with largely overcast conditions, there are always photo opportunities…

Mount Shuksan between storm fronts

Emerging sunlight over the Shuksan Arm


More icicles...

Fresh snow in the forest

On the way home, I stopped outside the town of Glacier to explore more of the Horseshoe Bend trail alongside the North Fork Nooksack River. I had to retreat due to failing light but I stopped to take a couple quick photos. Here’s an HDR photo taken after sunset:

North Fork Nooksack River at sunset

Snowy Rocks - North Fork Nooksack River

Happy New Year everyone!

12/20/2008: Deception Falls

I’ll begin my blog with a recap of a trip yesterday. For the better part of the last week, the whole Puget Sound has been firmly gripped in unusually cold weather intermixed with snowstorms. I just haven’t been able to get out to take photos the previous several weeks so I was itching to get out. Saturday’s forecast was for sunny skies, changing in the afternoon so I decided to make a go of it. I decided to go not too far so I headed out Highway 2 towards Stevens Pass.

My original plan was to stop at the Heybrook Ridge lookout trail followed by a stop further east at Deception Falls. I got a late start to the day but skies were clear and cold- 15 degrees on my way through Sultan. Around Gold Bar, the forecasted strong eastern winds made their appearance. The Heybrook lookout is located near the Snohomish / King County, just east of the turnoff for the town of Index. It offers a commanding view of the Skykomish River valley, Mount Index, and Baring Mountain.

As luck would have it, the parking area for the trailhead was covered with 2 feet of snow and not an option. I moved on to Plan B and out to Deception Falls. I’ve only visited the falls twice and those visits were during the last 2 months. Sadly, due to funding issues, the Forest Service seems to only open the parking lot during the peak part of the summer. Winter is no different and finding someplace close to park is even more of a challenge.

I settle on a small pullout about a half mile west of the falls and hiked along the busy highway. The parking lot and trails around the falls area had about 2 feet of powder so having the snowshoes with me was a great help. As I expected, the arrival of winter changed the entire dynamics of the falls. Here are the Upper Falls:

Upper Deception Falls

And the Lower Falls:

Lower Deception Falls

Downstream of the Lower Falls:

Downstream of lower falls

Downstream of lower falls (HDR photo)

Ice build-up where the Tye River makes a 90 degree turn:

Tye River's 90 degree turn

1 10 11 12 Scroll to top