Green Mountain


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.

Trying for the Trifecta

Revisiting the flood damaged Index-Galena RoadThis past weekend I attempted a photographic trifecta-

  1. Scout a location for a possible wintertime shot
  2. Visit the rivers again to check for salmon; and
  3. Shoot sunset from Green Mountain

Forecasts called for good conditions complete with morning fog and sunshine for the rest of the day. Could I be so lucky? Well…..

The morning definitely brought the fog, which would add a noteworthy element to even my test shots. The problem for me was that the fog / low clouds were hugging the sides of the Skykomish River valley and the photo I’ve visualized shoots across the valley. Being the first stop of the day, we decided that we could just switch the order of our visits and come back later in the morning, presumably when the sun would burn off some of the fog. Off we went to the town of Index!

For several weeks now, I’ve been itching to photograph the returning salmon. I hoped a third return visit would be the trick. Nope. Unlike my last visit, this side channel to the North Fork Skykomish River was no longer running at high levels. The only problem was that there still were no salmon to be seen! My friend hadn’t been up here to see the damaged road lately so we hung out and took more photos. It’s amazing to see the power of nature. Just within the last 5-6 weeks, this scene has kept changing.

Revisiting the flood damaged Index-Galena Road
Storm clouds swirl around the summit of Mount Index
Storm clouds swirl around the summit of Mount IndexValley clouds were still fairly persistent so on our way back to town, I head a few miles east of Index to a pullout along Highway 2 with a nice view of Mount Index and Philadelphia Mountain. The clouds were drifting in front and all around the mountains so the view in front of us was constantly changing. It was just about noon so on our way back through Startup, we stopped off for lunch at the Alpen Drive-Inn. Great burgers and shakes. Highly recommended!

We enjoyed lunch so much that lethargy set in. The cloud cover had changed very little from this morning so it was pretty obvious that there would be little to gain from a return visit to our first stop. There was only one place left to go- Green Mountain.

Snohomish County is home to at least a couple geographic features with the name Green Mountain. The first Green Mountain lies within the Glacier Peak Wilderness, about 10 miles north-northwest of Glacier Peak. The second Green Mountain (and our destination) is located above the small town of Verlot, east of Granite Falls. It’s probably more appropriate to refer to it as a ridge but it does have two small “peaks” on either end of the ridge. It rises to an elevation of 4,000 feet and marks the divide between the South Fork of Canyon Creek to the north and the South Fork Stillaguamish River to the south.

Storm clouds swirl around the summit of Mount Index
Fall snow and Fletcher Peak, Boulder River Wilderness
Fall snow and Liberty Mountain, Boulder River WildernessI’ve studied the ridge for a while now in Google Earth and it appeared to offer a closer view of Three Fingers with easy road access. It’s taken a while to act upon my hunch because the Forest Service roads leading up to the ridge have been inaccessible for a few years. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but it almost seems like the Forest Service doesn’t want people up in this overall area. For two years, the primary Forest Service road had been closed to due culvert replacements and other repairs. This summer, a logging sale closed the road for the entire summer. Now, as winter descends on the mountains, the road was finally “open.”

Now, after finally driving the road, maybe I know why the Forest Service might be trying to exclude access to people. Accessing the ridge is accomplished using a spur road (Road 4110) off of the road leading up to the trailhead for Goat Flats (Road 41). Green Mountain has no official trails or attractions so I was quite surprised by the number of people we encountered on the ridge. At almost every nook along the road, we drove past people shooting targets. Apparently it’s legal but still distasteful to come across.

The road up to the ridge top is pretty battered with large potholes, most you can partially avoid but more than once you just have to choose your poison and plow on. We eventually turned the corner for the 2 mile traverse across the ridge towards the east summit. At this point, we reached 3,000 feet and had not hit snow yet. This especially came as a relief since it snowed overnight in pockets across the Skykomish River valley. Half way across the ridge, the snow appeared but didn’t prevent us from continuing. The snow wasn’t deep and several other vehicles had made the drive creating ruts in the snow.

Fall snow and Three Fingers Mountain, Boulder River Wilderness
Fall snow and Three Fingers Mountain, Boulder River Wilderness
Fall snow and Liberty Mountain, Boulder River WildernessThe final push to the summit is accessed by a 0.6 mile long spur road. We reached that junction and I decided that we’d make the final distance on foot since the snow was getting more compacted and icy.  The east summit of Green Mountain was cleared out for installation of a radio repeater. Despite being mostly clearcut, I was disappointed to see a stand of trees still existed to the north which eliminated the direct view of Three Fingers I had hoped for. I poked around the far margin of the clearcut and found a slight window in the forest which did give me that view I had been hoping for.

While we enjoyed direct sunshine on the summit, Three Fingers itself was still shaded and surrounded by storm clouds. The ridges to our east, however, were starting to get great sidelighting and offered some nice views of Liberty Mountain and Fletcher Peak. I quickly returned to the main landing on the summit to take advantage of the conditions. Slowly, direct sunlight was beginning to shine on Three Finger’s slopes and we decided to head back to my small forest window to set up.

Fall snow and Three Fingers Mountain, Boulder River Wilderness
Three Fingers lookout perched on top of the South Summit of Three Fingers, Boulder River Wilderness
Last light of sunset on Three Fingers, Boulder River WildernessAbove and behind us, the clouds were starting to light up with the colors of sunset. Three Fingers enjoyed some warming light but it was clear that this was as good as this evening was going to get. We packed up and headed back to the road near the landing. Through the trees on the summit’s southwestern flanks, the setting sun provided some nice color and clouds. To our southeast, we could see valley fog forming far below us. The snowy road conditions were on my mind so we didn’t linger too long.

Thankfully, the drive out was without incident. I decided to stop one last time at a viewpoint along the road to take some final shots of the Puget Sound and Mount Pilchuck under starry skies. Another day ended completely opposite of the way I had intended. That said, it was still a pretty good day!

Sunset colors through trees on the east summit of Green Mountain
Evening lights of the Puget Sound and stars from Green Mountain
Mount Pilchuck and stars from Green Mountain

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