Deception Creek

Early Winter at Deception Creek

Deception Creek in Winter, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
` (storms full of warm, tropical moisture originating near the Hawaiian Islands) which promptly melt away any snowpack that starts to build. Winter is about 3 weeks behind schedule but is FINALLY establishing itself. I had some trouble deciding where to go for my first winter outing but eventually decided on Deception Creek up the Highway 2 corridor. I’ve visited twice before (including during winter) but my winter visit was cut short of my goal due to time constraints.

I’ve described the hike before but long story short- during the winter, the trailhead is not accessible during winter because snow removal operations build a snowbank along Highway 2 where the trailhead turnoff is. The quarter-mile walk along the highway is the worst (and potentially dangerous) part of any winter outing. Thanks to El Nino, no highway walk was required because I could turn off the Highway and park off of the highway. There wasn’t much of a snowpack down along the highway but it did thicken up a bit as we hiked up and approached the summer trailhead. It would have been nice to have visited when the ice along the creek was more substantial but there still were remnants in many spots.

Unlike my previous winter visit, I did make it to a small waterfall and pooled section of the creek. I spent quite a bit of time working some more intimate compositions based on the boulders along the margin of the creek which still had icy perimeters. I didn’t get an early start on this day so it was now late in the afternoon and time to head home. On the way back out, I did stop at one spot which had some icy pendants hanging down off of a log at creek level. It’s always nice to visit this spot because it doesn’t get many winter visitors and yet it’s so close to the busy highway. Even with that proximity, the busy sounds of the highway quickly fade away. Most would never know about it…
Deception Creek in Winter, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Ice Capped Boulder in Deception Creek, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Deception Creek in Winter, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Deception Creek in Winter, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Ice Pendants above Deception Creek, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Baring Mountain and low clouds above the South Fork Skykomish River valley east of Index, Washington
Baring Mountain and low clouds above the South Fork Skykomish River valley east of Index, Washington

Sunny Deception Creek

Last winter I visited the Deception Creek Trail in hopes of reaching a particular waterfall in order to capture it in a winter setting. That attempt ended prematurely due to time constraints. This winter I never really had the chance to try again until this past week. I didn’t have high hopes since our weather has finally shifted away from full-time snow & rain to a more transitional phase. I parked near the Deception Falls picnic area and started my hike up to the trailhead. It’s always a bit dangerous to be walking along a road with a 60mph speed limit but drivers are considerate for the most part.

The hardest part is also the most hilarious- ascending and crossing the snowbank created by the highway snowplows. This year, that equates to climbing up onto a four foot high bank consisting solely of unconsolidated snow with the consistency of sugar. Once atop the bank, I donned my snowshoes and took two steps. And quickly sank down to my waist. Whoops. While one snowshoe was outside of my little burrow, my other snowshoe was buried by backfilled snow and became an impromptu deadman anchor.

Deception Creek breaking free of winter
Waterfall on Deception Creek
Sunlight dappled rapids along Deception Creek
I spent the next 5-10 minutes digging out my foot by hand in the glorious sunshine. Having freed my foot and retrieved my snowshoe from the black hole of snow, I regrouped and mushed forward to the trailhead. There was about 3 feet of snow out in the open but that diminished slightly to about 2 feet once I was in the forest. Due to the snow filled access and limited parking, I was assured of a solitary experience. The skies above were partly cloudy so sunshine would beam through the old growth forest from time to time.

I followed some old snowshoe tracks along the official trail and made my way deeper into the forest. In short order, I passed the spot I turned back from last winter. Sure enough, the spot I coveted was only a short distance further. Doh! I climbed up into position and began to fire away. As anticipated, the snowpack was “spring dirty” with fir needles and cones. The wide shots will have to wait until next winter so I focused more on isolating little scenes throughout the area.

Rapids along Deception Creek
Deception Creek waterfall detail
Deception Creek detail
As I finished up, a very quick snow squall drifted through while the sun continued to shine. A great, fun day but it was time to head back. Once back at my truck, I thought about making another stop just a bit further east but talked myself out of it. On the drive back to town, The summit ridge of Mount Index was knifing through some passing white clouds. I pulled over and took some shots thinking they might make some nice black & white photos. Behind me, the summit of Baring Mountain was doing the same thing.

I was more than happy with the day so I packed up and called it good. Just another great day in the Cascades!..

North Peak of Mount Index and clouds
Impressive north face of Mount Index
Clouds swelling above the summit of Baring Mountain
Mount Index and clouds

Snows of Deception

Deception Creek, that is. I didn’t have much time this weekend aside from a half afternoon. A period of lowland snow and mini-cold snap made me consider a trip to the Deception Creek trail up the Stevens Pass Highway (US-2). I’ve been here before but that was in the summertime. I thought this would be a cool place to visit on a nice snowy day so I gave it a go.

The biggest problem with going here in the winter is access. A short forest service road climbs to the trailhead but it’s not plowed in the winter. Complicating matters, there is virtually nowhere to park along this stretch of the highway during winter due to plowing activities. Add in a lot of traffic headed up to the Stevens Pass ski area and you get a nervous walk along a busy highway.

After hugging the snowbank for a third of a mile, I gladly left the highway for the forest service road. The road had a foot plus of powder so breaking trail even with cross country skis was a slow affair. Just under an hour found me in the parking lot below the eerily buzzing powerlines overhead. I decided to walk the trail instead of ski it since there’s too much tight up & down. In the forest, the snow depth eased a bit it was still calf-deep.

The trail parallels Deception Creek, never straying too far from its banks. There are several large old growth douglas fir trees and I was reminded of some of the winter scenes typical in Sequoia National Park. The trail was fairly easy to follow but I ended up losing it where the creek had previously washed over it. I was hoping to make it up to the log bridge over the creek but time was running short. I’ll have to return some other day when I can devote more time to exploring.

I almost hesitate to share these photos because, frankly, they’re rushed and a bit of a compromise due to the time constraints. Meh. Here ya go!..

Deception Creek in a fresh winter coat
Deception Creek in a fresh winter coat (two image blend for depth of field).
Snowfall in the Deception Creek valley
Small waterfall along Deception Creek
Small waterfall along Deception Creek
Ice and fresh snow along Deception Creek
Fresh snow on rocks in Deception Creek

Tye is High

…and I’m moving on. Sorry- couldn’t resist the pun.

This past weekend’s weather brought a series of strong pineapple express weather systems. For those of you not from the Pacific Northwest, a pineapple express storm is one that originates from the area around Hawaii (hence the pineapple reference) and brings a lot of moisture and high snow levels. These storms sometimes quickly follow snow storms which bring rain on snow events and that spells major flooding.

This weekend’s storm brought moderate flooding to the Skykomish River basin and I decided to head up the valley along Highway 2 to check things out. Despite the “moderate” tag, the river levels were REAL high, seemingly higher than the record events of just a couple years ago. I first tried visiting Alpine Falls along the Tye River east of the town of Skykomish but the down spray from the falls was just too great for photography.

From there, I moved on to the Deception Falls Picnic Area to check things out. Located at an elevation of about 2000 feet, it’s closed in the winter due to snow but one can usually park outside the entrance along Highway 2 and (CAREFULLY) cross the busy highway and walk in. I’ve visited on two other occasions, one of which was during a flood event back in November of 2008. By far, conditions on this day were the highest water levels I’ve seen. Quite impressive!

Deception Creek side channel overflow at the Deception Falls Picnic Area - January 2011

High waters of this Deception Creek side channel lap against the bottom of a trail bridge - January 2011

Tye River high water surges along - January 2011

There are two observation platforms along the loop interpretive trail that highlight the river’s power during times like these. The first platform is located in an area where the river runs headlong into a rock wall, forcing it into a 90 degree turn. Compare yesterday’s flow versus a normal flow from two years ago:

High flows along the Tye River smash into the 90 degree turn - January 2011 (1/250th sec @ F13, ISO 12,800)

Normal winter flow along the Tye River at the 90 degree turn - December 2008

Quite a difference! Just a little further upstream is another platform where the Tye River flows over a waterfall and bends around a corner. Now compare yesterday’s flow versus high flow back in November of 2008:

High flows along the Tye River at the Deception Falls Picnic Area - January 2011

High flows along the Tye River at the Deception Falls Picnic Area - January 2011

High flows along the Tye River at the Deception Falls Picnic Area - January 2008

Once again, quite a difference. I made my way towards the Deception Falls along Deception Creek but the amount and force of the water was too great. The down spray was intense and the churning waters were actually splashing over the pedestrian bridge that leads you to the viewing area. My Pentax may have 77 weather seals but it can’t keep a camera safe from THAT much abuse! It was getting late in the afternoon and I wanted to make two more stops on my way back into town. I first stopped at a roadside wetland west of Skykomish. Ended up not getting very much (aside from even MORE soaked from the rain). I guess it looked cooler at 60mph!

Roadside wetland along Highway 2 west of Skykomish

Roadside wetland along Highway 2 west of Skykomish

My last stop SHOULD have been my first stop. Just west of the town of Index, there’s a spot along the Skykomish River where Kayakers park and launch into the river. In the middle of the river at this location is a huge (and I mean 2 story HUGE) boulder. On my way up earlier in the day, the river’s torrent was splashing up and OVER the top of this large boulder. I had to get a photo of this but decided to wait until my return trip.

BIG mistake.

Over the preceding four hours or so, the river level subsided enough such that the river was no longer splashing over the top. In the failing light, I was only able to snap a couple quick shots, and most weren’t up to snuff due to bad focus and some vegetation between me and the river which I could not avoid:

Skykomish River envelopes the huge boulder a few miles downstream of Index

Moral of the story is STOP AND TAKE THE PHOTO!

Surprise Creek

My last trip to Deception Creek was so nice that I decided to head one drainage over to the east and check out Surprise Creek. Located at the upper end of the Tye River Valley, it’s located in the vicinity of where the railroad punches through the Cascades through a tunnel. The trailhead starts underneath the BPA transmission lines but quickly dives into beautiful forest and finally enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The trail is about 5 miles in length and eventually reaches the highlands and some upper lakes near the Pacific Crest Trail. It does steadily gain elevation as you head up valley but does so at a somewhat leisurely pace. After about 2/3rds of a mile, you finally gain sight of Surprise Creek. After a mile, the trail switches sides of the creek and continues upstream. During my trip, I only continues another half mile or so upvalley due to time constraints. The warm, sunny day made for difficult photography but its definately worthy of future trips and additional exploration…

Small Waterfall on Surprise Creek
Surprise Creek Waterfall
Devils Club along Surprise Creek
Surprise Creek (Vertical Shot)
Surprise Creek (Horizontal Shot)
Surprise Creek

Deception Creek

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I decided to stay closer to home and explored Deception Creek. This creek is the source for the popular Deception Falls located between the town of Skykomish and Stevens Pass along Highway 2. I’ve made a few trips to Deception Falls (as I’ve posted before on my blog) but I’ve never visited the trail that travels up up the Deception Creek valley. The trail generally stays within earshot of the creek but I decided to stay much closer to the creek during my exploration.

Deception Creek
Deception Creek
Within a short distance, the trail enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and soon climbs up and away from the creek. I decided to leave the trail at about the point where the log bridge crosses the creek. I have to say that this bridge is one of the most “elegant” I’ve seen out on the trails!

Log Bridge over Deception Creek
Deception Creek
Deception Creek
Deception Creek
Deception Creek
Huckleberry above Deception Creek
Deception Creek

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