Glacier Peak


My last photo taken on Green Mountain of Avalanche Lilies - May 2006
After moving to Washington State in 1999, one of the first “new” hikes I was introduced to was the Green Mountain trail in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. After a quick forest portion, the hike opens up to a wonderful steep meadow with huge views towards Glacier Peak. For the hardier, the trail continues through an upper basin and concludes with a 1,000 foot climb up to the summit of Green Mountain and an old fire lookout. The meadows are rich in diversity and density and they have always left me in awe. In 2003 and again in 2006, Western Washington encountered “100-year” flood events which ravaged both the lowlands and the mountains. In the Suiattle River valley, the main access road to the trailhead (Forest Service Road 26) washed out in several locations. These washouts effectively cut off access to the trail for all but the hardiest of people due to the additional 13 miles of road walking required to reach the official trailhead.

Although federal repair funds were secured relatively soon after the damage, the repair process drug out many years due to the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process for the environmental permitting of the proposed repairs followed immediately by an environmental group’s legal challenge against repairing the road. Even when all of this was resolved, it took 2 years to complete all of the necessary repairs. In late October, the repairs were finally complete and access was finally restored. Winter is fast approaching and the window for visiting Green Mountain is closing. The partly sunny forecast for Saturday was more than enough reason to make a trip to Green Mountain a reality.
Green Mountain's southwest ridge and developing sunset
Dome Peak at sunset, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Dome Peak, Sentinel Peak, and the Downey Creek valley at Sunset
I suspected that others would also have the same idea to visit Green Mountain but I didn’t expect THAT many people would be of like minds! Parking at the trailhead was like a rock concert with cars parked everywhere. During our hike up, we counted close to 100 people whom we passed as they made their way back down. Despite the constant passing of hikers, everything special about this place was still there. Rounding a corner of the trail would re-ignite a memory about what was just around the corner. The anticipation of reaching the meadows was high and only magnified as the forest began to give way. After so many years, the forest finally gave way to wide open skies. Far below us, the roar of the Suiattle River were the only sounds.

Hiking was slow & steady with the constant view of Glacier Peak. At the upper margin of the meadow, the trail passes through a stand of Alaska Yellow Cedar which have a wonderful distinct smell to them. Beyond the cedars, the trail skirts the forest for a short climb up to the small basin below the summit of Green Mountain. Once again, the anticipation of seeing the small tarn basin built as we got closer & closer to the small crest at the edge of the basin. The basin is somewhat sheltered so it still was retaining a thin coating of snow from one of the early fall snows. The three miles to this point have a moderate rate of ascent but the next section of trail that gains 600′ up to the summit ridgeline is the steepest stretch of the entire hike.
Glacier Peak at Sunset from Green Mountain
Sunset Clouds over White Chuck Mountain (L) and Three Fingers (R)
Sunset over the North Central Cascades from Green Mountain, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Our slow & steady pace up to this point was putting us slightly behind schedule. I wanted to be up on the summit ridgeline for sunset so that I had multiple options available to me for whatever would happen during sunset and I definitely wanted the ability to photograph Dome Peak, which is located to the east of Green Mountain. It’s NOT easy to pick up the pace on the steepest stretch of trail with a 30 pound pack but that’s what I had to do. During the course of our hike, the weather went from partly sunny to high overcast to darker clouds from the advancing storm front. Doubts had been starting to develop as to what would happen during sunset but the persistence of a clear portion of the horizon to the southwest continued to give hope.

Finally up on the ridge, I needed to take a small waypath down the ridge for a short distance to gain some more open views. This eastern side of the ridge was still retaining some fall snow and that made a few of the traverse moves more interesting than I would have liked. Moving slowly and purposely, I made my way down the ridge until I reach the point where I could photograph west, south, or east. It was within an hour until sunset so I had to work quickly to set up my GoPro for my sunset time lapse. This was my first outing with a new GoPro accessory the Lee Bug Filter System, which provides a polarizing and 3-stop Neutral Density filter options for use with GoPro Hero 3s (and 3+s). The GoPro cameras do not have the same dynamic range as larger, more traditional cameras. During many of my previous sunset/sunrise time lapses, the scenes are typically unbalanced with a dark foreground and a horizon / sky that borders on being overexposed. The Lee system’s ND Grad filter should help address this issue and enable me to capture a more balanced composition.
Sunset over the North Central Cascades from Green Mountain, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sunset over the North Central Cascades from Green Mountain, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sunset Clouds over White Chuck Mountain (L) and Liberty Mountain (R)
I fumbled around and set everything up as quickly as I could. I gambled on a composition that would stretch from Dome Peak on the left side over to Glacier Peak to the right. Now that the time lapse was under way, I could now pull out my camera and begin photographing the developing sunset. The narrow break in the clouds to the west was beginning to show the early stages of color but everywhere else seemed to be stuck in grey and stormy clouds. The color continued to progress and it was becoming clear that my focus would mainly be towards the west. Thankfully, I did keep my head on a swivel and was aware of a brief but glorious few minutes when the full power and color of sunlight spilled across the area (including behind me on Dome Peak and towards the north near Mount Buckindy. Sadly, this development didn’t last and further develop like I hoped. You can see it as a brief flash in my time lapse.

As disappointing as that was, it was become QUITE clear something special was going to happen back towards the west. That slow build of color that I photographed at sunrise near Index a few weeks ago was going to happen here as well.

Green Mountain Sunset Time Lapse – 11/8/2014 from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

April Leftovers

I built up a little backlog during the month of April so here’s a quick hit series of photos.
Big Four Mountain
Big Four Mountain detail
Sunny spring day and Big Four Mountain
Skykomish River Valley near Sultan
Cumulus clouds over the summit of Mount Pilchuck
Mount Stickney and Wallace Falls
Mount Pilchuck summit detail
High above the Skykomish River valley near Sultan
Mount Stickney and Wallace Falls
Sunset from Monroe
Storm clouds over Mount Pilchuck from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Sunset clouds over Lord Hill from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Sunset clouds over Lord Hill from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Full moon rising above Haystack Mountain
West Face of Vesper Peak (L), Glacier Peak (C), and Morning Star Peak (R) from Monroe, Washington
Mount Baker Ski Area Vicinity
Spring melt along Razor Hone Creek
Moss on Maples, North Fork Nooksack River valley
Moss on Maples, North Fork Nooksack River valley
I also made this timelapse from my lofty perch above the Skykomish River valley:

Captain Point

It’s been almost a full month since my last outing so to remedy this, I visited a little-known summit named Captain Point. I know *I* had never heard of it before this past week. I had been examining some aerial imagery looking for ideas for this weekend when I noticed the unbelievably green meadow just east of the Captain Point summit. The meadow has a southern aspect so, with this absence of summer we’ve experienced, the odds were better that this spot might have some wildflowers by now.

Overview of the Captain Point mountain. The true summit is hidden behind the high point in the upper left.
Captain Point rises to a height of just over 5700 feet and sits in the Martin Creek valley, a tributary to the Tye River. It is also situated just outside the Henry M Jackson wilderness which ultimately means that it has been, and continues to be, logged. The results are certainly an eyesore but the network of roads do provide relatively easy access to the high country. Ah- but there is a catch! More specifically, an access gate.

This small drainage suffers from checkerboard ownership- one Forest Service section is surrounded by sections under private ownership. The Forest Service’s road (Road 6710) ends in the Martin Creek valley bottom, 2500 feet below the summit of Captain Point. Judging by trip report searches, the summit receives few visitors and the open/closed status of the gate seems to change which each report. I had mentally prepared for hiking the road to our destination but as we reached the gate, it was open!

Davidson's Penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii)and Mount Fernow from below the summit of Captain Point
Spreading Phlox (phlox Diffusa) from below the summit of Captain Point
We drove on past the gate began climbing. The road is in fairly good shape with a few rough sections that probably require true 4×4 instead of Subaru AWD due to large amounts of rock and off-camber conditions. My original plan was to follow a lower spur road leading to the bottom of the meadowed slopes and we reached this junction in no time. From this vantage, it did not appear as though there were any flowers in the meadow. It was snow-free and definitely green but no hint of other color.

Davidson's Penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii)and Mount Fernow from the summit of Captain Point
Davidson's Penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii)on the summit of Captain Point
My friend convinced me to drive further up the road since we both knew there was a large landing where 5 spur roads came together. As we came upon the landing, small patches of snow were present alongside the road. I decided that the landing would be the furthest we would drive since I wasn’t sure we would have the ability to turn around. This cut our elevation gain to only 900 feet from truck to summit. Much better than 2500 feet!

Davidson's Penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii)and Mount Fernow from the summit of Captain Point
Glacier Peak from the summit of Captain Point
The first road switchback after the landing was a solid 2-3′ snowbank. Beyond this, however, the road was snow-free and in a relatively short amount of time we reached the saddle between the true and satellite summits. Here we were treated to even greater views of Mount Fernow and the north face of Mount Rainier. We also were treated to a few wildflower displays of Sitka Valerian, Spreading Phlox, and two varieties of Penstemon. After taking some photos, we packed up for the final ascent of the true summit.

Mount Baker peek-a-boo between Kyes Peak (L) and Sloan Peak (R) from the summit of Captain Point
Summit of Scorpion Mountain from the summit of Captain Point
About 20 minutes later, we topped out on the summit of Captain Point. From this lofty but unassuming perch, we were treated with 360 degree views. The north slopes were still covered with winter’s snows. Just about every major Cascade peak was visible- Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and Mount Stuart. Although a bit hazy, we were also able to see The Brothers mountain in the Olympics which was 90 miles away. Closer to us, we spied a couple of hikers on the summit of Scorpion Mountain and one careless individual who was shooting targets illegally on one of the logging roads to our northeast.

Careless person target shooting in the vicinity of Captain Point
The Brothers in the Olympic Mountains (90 miles away) from the summit of Captain Point
The summit block had some small patches of Davidson Penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii) which were perfectly positioned for a great composition of Mount Fernow’s east face. Mosquitoes were out in force and seemed to take a liking to me. I tried my best to ignore them but eventually I had enough! Almost an hour later, we were back at my truck. On our way back down, we were admiring the ridgeline east of us and wondering about what appeared to be a lake. A road network zigzags up the length of the ridge and seemingly came close to this particular lake.

Mount Daniel (L) and Mount Hinman (R) from the summit of Captain Point
Panorama looking north from the summit of Captain Point
On our way out of the valley, we decided to try and reach this lake via the road network. We passed a nice stream crossing (presumably the creek that drains the lake) and just as we broke out into the logged slopes, we were met by a LOCKED gate. The lake would not be visited on this day but I did want to briefly stop at the creek we had crossed.

Embro Creek in the Martin Creek valley
Embro Creek in the Martin Creek valley (four exposure blend for dynamic range)
The creek upstream of the road was currently in shade so I quickly jumped on the opportunity. As I was doing that, my friend noticed some small falls just about 50 yards further upstream. After finishing up next to the road, we hiked up to the falls area. The area had some interesting rock formations to photograph. The bright sunshine was still filtering through the forest canopy so all my shots were bracketed sets of 3-4 individual exposures.

Embro Creek waterfalls (three exposure blend for dynamic range)
Embro Creek waterfall
We did have to end the day early so we packed up and headed home. I was really surprised and happy with what we found up this valley. Expect to find this spot show up in future posts. Next up for me will probably be the full moon and Perseid meteor show which occur on the same day this year- August 13th. Weather permitting, I have some plans for this night that I hope work out!

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