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.

Elusive Mount Hood

I spent a lot of time driving around Mount Hood on my recent trip but not a lot of time actually SEEING it. This first photo came about during my attempt to reach the Top Spur trail head. The winter snowpack still were lingering so I was turned around by snow about a half mile from the trail head. At the point of my turnaround, however, the road is located very near the spine of a ridgeline. I bushwhacked up to the top of the ridge to take a look around. Once on the ridge, I didn’t find a viewpoint of Mount Hood like I had hoped. Actually, the forest here was creepy with no understory and lots of dead limbs on the lower sections of each tree. I was all packed up and ready to head back down when the sun broke free from the persistent clouds and presented me with beautiful god rays. As fast as I could, I got all my gear out of my backpack just in time for the sun faded away before I could snap even one picture. I figured that if it happened once, it would happen again. I waited patiently and, sure enough, another outburst of god rays appeared. This time I was ready! I stayed around long enough for a third episode of god rays before feeling satisfied that I had captured the moment.
God Rays, Mount Hood National Forest (Black and White conversion)
God Rays, Mount Hood National Forest
Earlier in the day, I poked around Lolo Pass Road and encountered some really dynamic conditions. Valley clouds were lifting quickly up and across the road from time to time. This was also occurring throughout the Sandy River valley. Perfect conditions for a timelapse! Here it is:

On the last full day of my time down around Mount Hood, the weather looked like it might be breaking up as sunset drew closer. I saw the summit for the first time on my trip from near the Mount Hood Meadows Ski Area. I decided to hang out and retreated to the Bennett Pass Snow Park. I shot this peek-a-boo of Mount Hood from there:
Mount Hood framed by storm clouds from the Bennett Pass Snow Park
I had set up my GoPro for another timelapse and everything was going great until the clouds walled up and swallowed Mount Hood once again. Time to relocate! Here’s my abbreviated timelapse:

Hoping to take advantage of the lee side effect, I headed north on Highway 35 and turned off on Brooks Meadow Road (FS Road 44). A few years ago, I stumbled across an old clearcut that offered a great view of Mount Hood. I arrived but still had no mountain. Nonetheless, it was quiet and peaceful so I watched sunset while my GoPro snapped off another timelapse. The mountain never appeared but the clouds sure put on an entertaining show:

I packed up and headed back down to Hood River to make my way back to my motel. While I was driving through Parkdale, I looked up at my rear view mirror and, despite the darkness, there was Mount Hood clear as could be! I immediately pulled over and pulled out my camera and telephoto lens. This was happening during “blue hour” (the hour immediately after sunset) so while I could still see the mountain, it wasn’t possible to use autofocus. Using my Liveview setting, I dialed in focus as best as I could and then began taking several shots. After 15 minutes or so, sporadic clouds began popping up between my location and the mountain. This was a great way to end my day.
Mount Hood during the blue hour from Parkdale, Oregon

Snow Day

Spring is officially here- but I managed to make it through the entire winter without enjoying a single day on the ski slopes. I had to go at least once so I made it happen on Friday. Not a whole lot to say about this; a beautiful day up at Mount Baker with partly sunny skies and about 4″ of new snow to start the day. After my break for lunch, I spent some time photographing Mount Shuksan before the clouds swallowed it whole. The afternoon brought the snowy weather back and eventually the expansive views completely disappeared. The ski area shut down at about 4pm and before I headed home, I stopped off at Hannigan Pass Road. I hoped to check out a particular spot overlooking the North Fork Nooksack River where Mount Shuksan is visible. The mountain wasn’t visible but I did experience a crazy snow squall that passed through my location despite the presence of sunshine. Very cool experience! A great day and just what I needed..
Mount Shuksan and the White Salmon Creek valley from the Mount Baker Ski Area
Clouds drifting over Shuksan Arm
Shadow and sunlight on Mount Shuksan's lower slopes beneath Winnies Slide
Mount Shuksan summit pyramid and clouds
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
I also put together a little snowboarding video from my day on the slopes which you can view here:

The Elusive Moon

Mount Baker Wilderness
Frog Mountain
This past weekend brought the sun-starved Northwest a magnificent weekend. Lot’s of sun and warm (ok, spring-like) temperatures. Hallelujah! How did I celebrate this momentous weekend? By visiting the deep winter snowpack, of course. To be more specific, I wanted to shoot sunset from Artist Point. I’ve meant to do it all winter but things just haven’t come together like this weekend. As luck would have it, a full moon would also be rising after sunset in the vicinity of Mount Shuksan. Winning!

I grabbed a friend and we made our way up to the Mount Baker Ski Area. I always have the best plans in mind when I start but good ‘ole Murphy makes an appearance. The hike from the ski area parking lot up to Artist Point takes me a little more than an hour, and another half hour to make it out to Huntoon Point. Our start time of 6:15pm didn’t bode well (sunset was at 7:50pm). At 7:10pm, we were about halfway up the last steep pitch below the Artist Point. The light was entering the “magic hour” but we clearly weren’t where we had hoped to be.

Sunset light on the Nooksack Ridge
Shadows creep up Mount Shuksan as sunset approaches
After some debate, we decided to settle down nearby so we didn’t miss any photo opportunities. While we couldn’t get a view of Mount Baker, we still had a great view of Mount Shuksan as well as the many peaks to the north and northwest. The high slopes of Mount Shuksan absorbed some nice, warm orange light before it quietly faded into the coming night. Some occasional winds chilled us to the core and I began to evaluate the second component of our evening- moonrise. Apparently I misread my moonrise app and thought moonrise was at 9:12pm (roughly an hour wait). When I checked the time again, it was 9:42pm.

Neither of us relished the idea of waiting close to 90 minutes up here for the moon to rise so we decided on Plan B. It was too dangerous to (cross county) ski back down to the parking lot so we walked out instead. My friend originally thought we should take our moonrise photos from Picture Lake buuutttt the 25 foot high snowbanks surrounding the lake convinced him otherwise. I knew of a particular turnout along the highway between the lower and upper lodge which has a nice full view of Mount Shuksan so that’s where we headed.

Mount Shuksan and the Lake Ann area
Shuksan Arm and Mount Shuksan
I stamped out a platform in the roadside snowbank and set up my camera. In addition to moonrise shots, I wanted to get a photo of the stars above the mountain so that’s what I worked on. One common technique is to take two photos, one photo taken with a high ISO to capture the stars in the sky and then a second photo at low ISO to capture your foreground of interest. The two different photos are then blended together in Photoshop to come up with your finished photo. In order to keep the stars “stationary” in your photos, the exposure times have to be no more than 20-30 seconds. The high ISO (1600 and above) and a wide open aperature of F2.8 is what makes this happen.

Provided you have a newer camera, this is the easy part! The harder part, at least for me, is determining the length of exposure for the foreground part of the photo. Using an ISO like 100 requires a lengthy exposure time to sufficiently expose the scene. I haven’t practiced night sky photography enough so I have to experiment to get things right. Many cameras have a “feature” built into them to reduce noise on long exposures. This is accomplished by taking a second photo after your first photo for the same length of time, but as a black image. The theory is that any noise becomes apparent and the camera can then subtract that from the first image taken.

Earth shadow rises behind Mount Shuksan
Mount Shuksan Earth shadow panorama
The problem with long exposure noise reduction is that for a 4 minute exposure, you have to wait another 4 minutes for the black reference image to be taken. This makes it difficult to hone in a proper exposure through trial and error. Most cameras allow you to disable the noise reduction feature so this is recommended since you can do a better job using Adobe Camera Raw and third party plugins within Photoshop. I experimented for about an hour but it was clear the moon wasn’t going to crest above Mount Shuksan anytime soon due to a low trajectory. We still had close to a 3 hour drive home so we hurried to pack up and get going. After dropping off my friend, I finally got home at close to 2am.

I wasn’t all that excited at the time about the photos I shot but I changed my tune as I spent time processing them. It turned out to be a great caper on the day.

Cool tones of twight on Mount Shuksan
Stars over Mount Shuksan (25s @ F2.8, ISO 3200 Double processed RAW file)
Rising moon behind Mount Shuksan (15s @ F2.8, ISO 200 Double processed RAW file)

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!

Van Trump Park

This past weekend, I had hoped to take advantage of the virtually full moon with a trip down to Mount Rainier National Park. I opted to head for a new location within the park and decided on Van Trump Park on the mountain’s south side. The wildflower meadows of Van Trump Park have looked nice in photos I’ve seen and the viewpoint offered by Mildred Point also looked mighty impressive. The area can be accessed by two different trails but the more “direct” route is via the trail up to Comet Falls.

The Park Service says that it’s 1.8 miles to Comet Falls and then another 0.8 miles up to Van Trump Park with a total elevation gain of 2,000 feet. The waterfalls make this a very popular hike and I had some doubts about finding a parking spot during the middle of the afternoon. As luck would have it, there were two spots available so we quickly grabbed one of them. Washington has been experiencing its own “heat wave” so the temperature was in the 80s to start our hike. Thankfully, the hike is mostly forested which helps moderate the temperatures slightly.

Van Trump Falls from the trail to Comet Falls - Mount Rainier National Park
Van Trump Falls from the trail to Comet Falls - Mount Rainier National Park
Van Trump Falls from the trail to Comet Falls - Mount Rainier National Park
The trailhead itself is just west of Christine Falls and stays close to Van Trump Creek once it finally crosses the creek. Ascent is steady but manageable except the last 1/3rd of the distance to Comet Falls where some switchbacks increase the rate of elevation gain. Van Trump Creek is very pretty with constant twists, turns, and drops. About 200 yards before Comet Falls, the trail crosses and East Fork of Van Trump Creek and just below the triple falls of Van Trump Falls (also known as Bloucher Falls).

We dropped packs to take a break and to take some photos. The creek here has some nice back & forth movement over bedrock. After finishing up, we traveled around the corner for our first good look at Comet Falls. The main waterfall is main attraction but just downstream from Comet Falls are two sizable waterfalls in succession. Immediately around the Comet Falls area was a real nice display of wildflowers including Lupine, Arnica, Cow Parsnip, Sitka Valerian, and American Bistort. It may be September but the falls still had a nice amount of volume to it.

Wildflowers and Comet Falls - Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier from Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier from Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park
We were somewhat pressed for time so I wasn’t able to really explore the compositions available around Comet Falls. On paper, the trail gains MORE elevation than the hike up to Comet Falls but it didn’t feel that way. The toughest part above Comet Falls was tempered by the ever expanding views and wildflowers. The trail finally levels off and then arrives at a junction. To the left, the trail winds its way towards Mildred Point (another 0.9 miles away) and to the right lie the expanding meadows of Van Trump Park. We managed to arrive about an hour before sunset so we had some time to head further into Van Trump Park to look for good displays of wildflowers.

The trail into Van Trump Park ends officially in 0.3 miles but the path continues onward and upward. Shortly after this point, the trail bisects a real nice meadow so we decided to stop here. One thing I thought I’d never see- Avalanche Lilly blooms in prime condition in SEPTEMBER! Although our day had been largely bug free, the meadow was a different matter. I think the mosquitoes knew that their season was shorter than normal so they were fairly aggressive. Through in some warm weather and odds are you’re getting a lot of bites because you’re not wearing long sleeves of pants!

Wildflowers in Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park
Wilson and Van Trump Glaciers - Mount Rainier National Park
Kautz Chute and Wapowety Cleaver - Mount Rainier National Park
Sunset was fairly sublime and didn’t offer much dramatic light over Rainier or the Tatoosh to the south. We hastily made a retreat from the clouds of mosquitoes and then leisurely hiked back down to Comet Falls. The moon had risen above Cushman Crest to our east but wasn’t rising very fast. About halfway down to Comet Falls, we stopped to put on our headlamps and continued on. Reaching Comet Falls before the moonlight did, we stopped to assess our options. I wanted to take some moonlit shows of Comet Falls and that seemed like it would be a LONG wait.

In the end, we both made to decision to hike out. We had to really watch our footing on the way out so it took longer than I expected to make it back out. The trailhead was quiet and deserted except for my lone truck. It was just after 9pm, and we decided to drive up to Ricksecker Point to admire the mountain bathed in moonlight. Despite a virtual full moon, the moonlight wasn’t that strong. A smoggy haze made the mountain appear like one of those landscape paintings in the background of a 1950s movie.

Wildflowers in Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park
Sunset from Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier in moonlight from Ricksecker Point - Mount Rainier National Park
I’m currently using my old dSLR body (my Pentax K-5 is getting a warranty repair at the moment) and night photography is not one of its strong points. We spent about an hour or so at the view point as I experimented with different exposure lengths. I just wasn’t getting any good shots and we needed to decided whether to car bivy for a sunrise shot the next day or head back home. I ended up voting for the long drive home. The thought of driving back through South Hill / Graham / Kent / Renton / Bellevue on a Monday morning didn’t appeal to me.

This was a nice first trip into Van Trump Park. Pressed for time, we weren’t able to make it all the way out to Mildred Point. This is something I’d like to correct sometime in the future (the vast canyon view from there looks fantastic). The wildflower display here might not be as stunning as Paradise or Mazama Ridge but the greater potential for solitude more than makes up for it.

Mount Rainier Biathlon

My first connections to the Pacific Northwest began with a visit to the Carbon River valley portion of Mount Rainier National Park. My first visit to Green Lake as well as the hike to the snout of the Carbon Glacier left such an impression that I wanted to make this area my home. Through the years, I’ve made repeated visits to both. I had wondered about what lay beyond the glacier’s snout and one summer, I made my first hike up to Moraine Park.

Tucked away alongside the Carbon Glacier, Moraine Park starts about 5300 feet and is bordered to the south by Moraine Ridge at 6000 feet. The Wonderland Trail bisects the area and I’d hazard a guess that the majority of its visitors are Wonderland Trail hikers on their way to Mystic Lake and destinations beyond. I have made the hike to Moraine Park three times before. My first time, I was blown away by the display of Avalanche Lillies along the trail in lower Moraine Park. On another visit, I explored Moraine Ridge (the high point on the Wonderland Trail in this area) and eventually found myself perched above the sprawling Carbon Glacier and the formidable Willis Wall and north face of Mount Rainier.

My last visit was five years ago. Since then, the active nature of the Carbon River down in the lower valley damaged the Carbon River Road so severely that the National Park Service finally gave up on the road. These days, if you want to visit Moraine Park, you must hike or bike the 5 miles of the road AND THEN hike 8 miles. Through the years, this has been a pretty big deterrent but my fading memories of the views finally compelled me to return.

My last visit was with my point & shoot so I really wanted to capture the views with my latest SLR gear. Luckily, I was able to convince a friend to join me on this long outing which I’ve dubbed the Mount Rainier biathlon. I know we needed an early start so I met him in South Hill at about 7am. From there, we made our way to the Park’s Carbon River entrance. To my surprise, the small lot next to the ranger station was already full so we parked alongside the road just inside the gate. We geared up and set out on our bikes around 8:30.

Ipsut Creek and Ipsut Falls - Mount Rainier National Park
Carbon River and Mount Rainier - Mount Rainier National Park
I’ve hiked the road several times on my way to Green Lake and biking the road definitely made quick work of the distance! The road is steady (but gently) uphill so I knew the ride back would be low effort and a relaxing end to the whole outing. The road has about 3-4 major sections of damage but otherwise is a gravel road still in good condition. The damaged sections a little tricky to navigate due to large amounts of cobble and sand. As you reach the Ipsut Creek Campground (road end and trail head), you navigate through some of the most severe damage. After just over an hour, we reached the campground where we locked up our bikes to an eye hook at one of the camp sites.

Now it was time to travel on foot. The first quarter mile of trail has always struck me as some of the prettiest stretch of the Carbon Glacier Trail. The flood damage of recent years has changed that. Throughout the day, I found myself telling my friend “wow- that’s different” a number of times. Although I’ve hiked the trail a number of times, I never stopped at Ipsut Falls. We made the brief side trip and the dappled sunlight through the trees really made a beautiful scene.

Carbon Glacier snout - Mount Rainier National Park
North face of Mount Rainier and tarn from Moraine Ridge - Mount Rainier National Park
Pressing on another two miles we reached the junction with the trail that crosses the river valley and joins the Northern Loop Trail. At some point the “traditional” trail to the Carbon Glacier became damaged so, for now, hikers are rerouted across to the north side of the valley. I have to admit that the north side is prettier and more aesthetic. After about 1.5 miles, we reached the snout of the Carbon Glacier. The wildflowers alongside the trail here were about prime and putting on a nice show. We rested a bit in preparation for the climb up and into Moraine Park.

While the day had been pleasant and cool to start, the climb up away from the snout was in the sun and the sweat began to pour. After another mile, we reached the Dick Creek camp and the shade of the forest for the final switchback climb to Moraine Park. Your arrival in Moraine Park is the crossing of Moraine Creek. Suddenly the forest is a bit more open and parkland. The trail travels up a gully between what I guess are two older lateral moraines.

North face of Mount Rainier and the Carbon Glacier from Moraine Ridge - Mount Rainier National Park
Storm clouds and Mount Rainier from Moraine Ridge - Mount Rainier National Park
In this lower portion of Moraine Park, we finally hit some snow patches but nothing substantial. As a testament to our non-summer, I guess that we were perhaps a week shy of “prime” Avalanche Lilly conditions. Many were in bloom but still more were preparing to bloom. We enjoyed the pleasant stroll that leads you up to the large 13 acre meadow below Moraine Ridge. This meadow provides you with your first BIG view of the north face of the mountain. Suddenly, all the large old growth trees you hiked past seem small.

At the far side of the meadow, a short series of switchbacks take you up to the 6,000+ saddle (also part of the divide between the White River and Carbon River drainages). While the Wonderland Trail continues downhill another 0.6 mile to Mystic Lake, a way trail heads west past a couple tarns and steadily climbs up through the subalpine parkland. After cresting a knoll with a worthy view of its own, the path grows a bit more fainter and drops down into a small tundra-like basin. Climbing through stunted heathers and wildflowers, there’s just one final scramble up the lateral moraine to one of the best views in the park.

Mount Rainier and Carbon Glacier from Moraine Ridge (portrait version) - Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier and Carbon Glacier from Moraine Ridge (landscape version) - Mount Rainier National Park
Throughout our push to this point, we saw clouds slowly creeping up from the lower Carbon River valley. As we dropped our packs and I broke out my camera gear, the clouds caught up with us. They lifted faster than I was able to set up for my first shot. Luckily, we had some time to spare before our turnaround time of 5pm. In a few minutes, the clouds parted like they tend to do in the mountains and we were treated to clear views of the mountain and glacier. We had the entire view to ourselves and the only sounds were the large waterfall across the valley from us and the ping-ponging of rocks within the Carbon Glacier below us.

We soaked in the sights as much as we could but eventually we had to turn back. After spending most of the day ascending nearly 4800 vertical feet, the descent went much faster. I had passed on taking a particular shot from the lower end of the Moraine Park meadow on our way up because I thought it would be better light on our way back. We were racing to beat the upwelling clouds and I thought we would just beat it. Turns out I was wrong. As I swung my tripod out of my backpack, the clouds drifted in. I was only able to rattle off just two shots before the clouds obscured the mountain permanently.

Mount Rainier and Carbon Glacier from Moraine Ridge - Mount Rainier National Park
Carbon Glacier detail - Mount Rainier National Park
My friend noticed this one tree in the area whose bark had been peeled away like a banana by a bear. It definitely made a curious sight. The time for photography was over and now it was time to hike out. We had a LONG way to go and not many more hours of daylight. The cumulative effects of the day were already wearing on me. After replentishing our water, we set out. One by one, we again passed milestones from earlier in the day.

Our last break was the final bridge across the Carbon River, 2 miles from the trailhead. I felt completely spent but light was fading like sand through an hourglass. I had given a time estimate to my girlfriend about when we would be done and I knew that we would be off- A LOT. One last time, we stood up and plowed onward. At this stage of fatigue, auto-pilot mentality clicks in. The scenery fades away and my only focus is on my footing to prevent a trip or stumble. The closer we got to the trailhead, the darker the forested sections of trail got.

Carbon Glacier detail - Mount Rainier National Park
Carbon Glacier detail - Mount Rainier National Park
We finally passed the turnoff for Ipsut Creek and I knew we were finally down with the hike. Of course, we still had 5 miles of road to navigate in the dark. Both of us came prepared with headlamps so we did the best we could. There is nothing like absolute pitch black darkness and pale LED light to make you unsure of how to ride a bike. I think I would have felt safer with training wheels! Within a short distance away from the campground, I stopped abruptly and promptly fell over. I heard a sickening sound which I assumed was a piece of camera gear breaking.

No time to check- have to keep moving. The undamaged portions of the road went by as smoothly as could be expected. The occasional section of sand and cobble would instill fear and several near misses were averted. The whole dark bicycle ride out was somewhat of a surreal experience. We rode wobbly side by side to combine the lighting of our headlamps. The huge old growth trees in the peripheral of my vision looked like fog and the whole road ahead seemed to be a featureless landscape.

Last glimpses of Mount Rainier from Moraine Park - Mount Rainier National Park
Moraine Park tree stripped of its bark by a bear - Mount Rainier National Park
After making our way through the last damaged section of road (first on the way in), we were able to comfortably coast our way back to the ranger station and my truck. Eventually, the reflectors on the access gate came into view and we were back at my truck. Time? 10pm on the nose. A very, very long day had finally come to an end without any severe injuries. Granted, I could barely walk and I was 3 hours over the time I said I would be done hiking but still a successful day.

Reaching Moraine Park has always been a serious effort and with the road’s demise it has become even more so. Three backcountry camps lie within 4 miles of Moraine Park so I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit to anyone.

Winter won’t leave

Ever since the calender made it official and told us that it’s springtime, the weather has actually reverted back into winter. It’s the 21st of April and snow levels are STILL dipping down below 1000 feet and we haven’t had a single high temperature of 60 degrees. Thankfully I love winter! Coming into the weekend, I had some interest in shooting some scenes of skunk cabbage, one of the sure signs of spring.

Cornice along the Shuksan Arm. Converted to black & white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
As it turned out, the spots in the upper North Fork Nooksack River valley I was thinking of were still solid snow and not accessible. It’s sure been a jeckyl and hyde winter! Up at the Mount Baker Ski Area, crowds have dwindled down to mostly the diehards despite a substantial snowpack. For yet another weekend, the weather proved to be dramatic and offered periods of cloud, sun, and even light snow.

Clouds straddle a ridge of Mount Shuksan. Converted to black & white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
Maybe I never really paid attention before but this has been one heck of a winter for scenes of clouds lapping over and around the impressive summit of Mount Shuksan. The sun’s path through the sky also changes which now lights up the snowy slopes of the Shuksan Arm enough to add dramatic shadows. The spring sunshine really brings out all of the subtleties of these slopes. As you can see from some of these shots, they are reminiscent of the jagged mountains of Alaska, Karakoram, or Himalayas.

Summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan peeks through clouds. Converted to black & white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
I kept seeking and taking shots while the light allowed for it. Of course, these photos were color but the interplay of clouds and mountain just beg for a black & white treatment. I recently received my copy of Nik’s Silver Efex 2 so I went for it. After finishing up at the ski area, I revisited Razor Hone Creek. Incredibly enough, the creek still lies buried underneath the multiple feet of snow that covered it last month. This spot usually has a nice 10 foot waterfall but not on this day:

Razor Hone Creek buried in snow
Back down in the valley, I stopped along the river at a location I never realized existed (partly because it’s typically buried under more snow). It’s nothing more than an unofficial “party” spot along the river and is a pullout inside a grove of large old growth cedar trees. The river here is fairly calm with a few gravel bars. Lucky for me, the upstream valley slopes were still flocked with fresh snow:

Small driftwood pile along the North Fork Nooksack River
Red river cobbles along a gravel bar on the North Fork Nooksack River
Gravel bar along the North Fork Nooksack River
I wanted to go scout some of the Middle Fork Nooksack but that ended up having to wait until another time…

In the Clouds..

While Razor Hone Creek thwarted me yet again (there’s a double waterfall drop I’ve been eyeing but it’s dangerous to access), I was fortunate enough to enjoy some of the beautiful weather around the Mount Baker Ski Area and photograph some of the wild cloud formations that where trailing all around Mount Shuksan. It was a glorious bluebird type of day with unusually light crowds within the ski area. Over the course of just a couple hours, the constantly changing clouds kept creating dramatic views of Mount Shuksan.

I took about 20 or so shots of the scene but after reviewing the shots I realized that the photos would be better suited for conversion to black & white. The photos are fairly monochromatic to begin with with shades of blue dominating. The sunshine was also casting some dramatic shadows across the steep slopes of Mount Shuksan. A black & white conversion would help accentuate these features and increase the overall “power” of the scene.

During my early days of processing my photos, I used Photoshop Elements to perform my black & white conversions. The Elements version I’m familiar with (Version 6) provided a few quick settings for certain styles/looks and then a couple sliders to tweak them as desired. All along I knew that Photoshop CS was supposed to be a more powerful tool for black & white conversion. Once I finally stepped up to the full version of CS5, I found the black & white conversion process a bit daunting. Gone were the presets that I could start with and, in their place, were a number of sliders which at times seemed to do nothing!

There had to be some better way to do this and so I decided to download the trial version of Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro. This program is really an add-on to Photoshop CS (or Elements) and it’s sole purpose is to convert photos to black & white while providing the most flexibility in an easy to use manner. It’s not cheap (currently $180 but there are a few discount codes you can get from the web) but it gets high praise for the job it does.

Once you fire up the filter, the Nik Software dialog loads your photo (AND respects the Smart Layer functionality of CS!) along with a few dozen presets that you can chose to start your conversion with. Now, truth be told, a number of the filters don’t seem terribly useful (there are several sepia type filters based on different color tints for example). After playing with the options, I kept gravitating towards the “High Structure” style preset.

I found that the High Structure preset did a great job and I didn’t feel the need to make any drastic changes. There were some additional options such as simulating a variety of black & white film grains (I tended to like the Kodak 100 TMAX Pro) but I ultimately decided NOT to use one of these filters because it added TOO much grain for these particular images. Turns out that the only adjustment I felt I needed to make was to reign in the highlights just a little bit for one particular photo to prevent them from washing out.

Despite the impressive power and ease at which you can convert your photos, I’ve had a few glitches that I have yet to explain while using Silver Efex Pro, namely a cryptic error message telling me that the product had failed. This would typically happen when the filter dialog was loading or when I was ready to apply the filter. There was also a time when the dialog wouldn’t open but it added the filter into the list of layers in CS5. I frankly don’t know what caused this but usually a restart of CS5 would suffice. I will be purchasing a copy of Silver Efex Pro (a new version is just about to ship) and I just hope that these little quirky issues don’t follow me with the full version.

Anyways, here are the photos I chose to convert to black & white:

Clouds swirl around the summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan. Converted to black & white using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro
Clouds swirl around the summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan. Converted to black & white using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro
Clouds swirl around the summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan. Converted to black & white using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro
Clouds swirl around the summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan. Converted to black & white using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro

Beneath the Stars at Mount Rainier

Two weeks off of my trip to Spray Park, I returned to Mount Rainier hoping to find the wildflower season underway. Having been reminded of the Perseid meteor shower’s arrival, I moved up my visit to incorporate some night time up at Sunrise. I arrived at the Sunrise area close to midnight and found quite the party atmosphere. Lots of people had the same idea about viewing the meteor shower. The Park Service is also repaving several of the pullouts and parking lots so half of the Sunrise Point parking lot was unavailable. I moved on to the Sunrise Visitor Center where there was more parking.

I took a three hour nap and then hiked up the trail towards Sourdough Ridge to set up for the meteor shower. With no moon out, the sky was dark and the stars were out in full force. The meteor shower was a bit underwhelming. They would appear every now & then but I guess I expected more of them and more often. My camera is 3-4 years old and, unfortunately, shows it age when it comes to high ISO photography.

At F4 and 1600 ISO, my exposure times extended out to 3 minutes or so in order to get a decently exposed image. The current slew of cameras now can push ISOs out to 3200 and do so very cleanly so I’m anxious to see what Pentax announces in about a month at the Photokina trade show. Anyways, I made the most of it for about an hour or so before hiking out along the Silver Forest trail to find someplace to set up for sunrise.

Mount Rainier & the Milky Way
Milky Way
Milky Way over Sourdough Ridge
Mount Rainier - Perseid Meteor Shower 2010
Flowers at Sunrise were starting the Daisy / Aster phase. There wasn’t much lupine in bloom except for the perimeter of the timber atolls. The wildflower bloom doesn’t look like it will come close to last year’s show. Towards the end of the trail, I found some spots with stumps & logs to add some foreground interest. For the start of a very hot weather period, this particular morning was cold with a constant light wind.

Mount Rainier from the Silver Forest
Mount Rainier from the Silver Forest
I had hoped that there might be some valley fog down in the White River valley but that never materialized. Sunrise itself had some nice coloration but otherwise wasn’t special. After the initial warm light gave way to morning sunshine, I hung out to take in the view and listen to the birds which were beginning their days as well.

Pre-dawn - Mount Rainier
First Rays - Mount Rainier
Climbers on the Emmons Glacier Route
Sunrise from Sunrise
New day at Mount Rainier National Park
New day at Mount Rainier National Park
After hiking back to the parking lot, I decided to hike out along Sourdough Ridge to Frozen Lake. I saw a photo someone had taken at the lake and thought it might offer some possibilities with Mount Rainier in the background. After the initial climb to the spine of Sourdough Ridge, you’re rewarded with some views to the north of Huckleberry Basin as well as Glacier Peak and Mount Baker. An additional short stretch of climbing brings you to the crest of the ridge and then a gradual descent into the basin of Frozen Lake.

View north into Huckleberry Basin from Sourdough Ridge
I was bitterly disappointed with the lake. Apparently the lake is now a “water supply” resource and so no one is allowed within 15-20 feet of the lake’s shoreline (reinforced with a wire fence all around its perimeter). Bummer. With no photo opportunities at the lake, I reassessed my plans and decided to continue along the trail up to First Burroughs Mountain. The area around Frozen Lake is interesting since it is the intersection of several backcountry trails. The Wonderland Trail crosses paths here and drops into Berkeley Park to the north.

Panorama on the trail to First Burroughs
Deer resting in a grove of trees near Frozen Lake
I made my way up the trail towards Burroughs and crossed one short snowfield which had a small ledge cut into it. After that, another longer snowfield continued out of sight. Given the early morning and my lack of true hiking boots, I decided not to continue. Returning to my truck, I packed up and headed over to Chinook Pass.

Panorama of conditions at Tipsoo Lake - 8/13/2010
Conditions at Chinook Pass were disappointing. Any “peak” bloom is still a week away (if at all!). It’ a far cry from last year, for sure. After surveying Tipsoo Lake, I joined the Naches Peak Loop trail, starting on the backside of Naches Peak and hiking out towards the tarn. To reinforce the point, Avalanche Lillies are still in bloom scattered along the trail. Just like at Sunrise, it’s a banner year for Indian Paintbrush but not much else. Bugs, on the other hand, seemed to be out in force along the loop trail and at the tarn.

General wildflower conditions along the Naches Loop Trail - 8/13/2010
Given the conditions I saw, I decided to cut my plans short and not pursue sunset from the Paradise area. Hopefully the next week will bring about the conditions necessary for final blooms!

Side note: this past week I finally upgraded my photo processing to Adobe’s CS5. It’s been a bit of a slow learning curve to adapt my previous workflow to the desired workflow within CS5 but the end result is pretty impressive. I’ve just scratched the surface with it but I’m very glad I bit the bullet for the upgrade.

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