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.

Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness
In 2008, the Wild Sky Wilderness was established by Congress after several years of grassroots lobbying. The areas set aside as wilderness lie largely in the southeast corner of Snohomish County and extend some of the protections that exist thanks to the Henry M Jackson Wilderness. The Wild Sky is comprised of three individual units- Ragged Ridge, Eagle Rock, and West Cady. The Eagle Rock and Ragged Ridge units are both characterized by steep and rugged terrain and the West Cady unit is characterized by miles of alpine meadows. The Eagle Rock unit is surrounded by roads (Index-Galena Road to the west & North, Highway 2 to the south, and Beckler River Road to the east) but lacks any easy access to its interior. Sure, logging’s historical infrastructure of now decommissioned roads provide some small amount of access but this area is devoid of any hiking trails. The creation of a trail plan was required when the wilderness was created but it will be several more years before any of the trails identified get constructed.

I’ve been interested in exploring the Wild Sky for a little while and finally got started this past weekend. I started with photographing Bear Mountain, which is in the northeast corner of the Eagle Rock unit. Using some of the existing forest service roads as a start, my final destination was the ridge line of San Juan Hill. During my research with Google Earth, it appeared to me that there were some open patches located around one of the high points on the ridge. The first thing I encountered on my visit was a decommissioned road. This was aggravating since I checked the Forest Service’s Motor Vehicle Use Map before leaving that morning and it is still shown as drivable. Guess I’d be hiking just little more than I had anticipated.
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Troublesome Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness, Columbia Mountain (back center), Kyes Peak (back right) in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness
Since they are no trails, the directions were basic: climb uphill until it levels out. The steepness was pretty unrelenting. Many of the trees on the slope were almost J shaped due to the downward pressure that the winter snowpack puts on the trunks. It was a sweat filled 50 minutes to climb the 600 feet to gain the high point for this portion of the ridge but it quickly became worth it. The ridge top did indeed have several clear outcrops that looked both west and to the north. Even better, there were several weather snags that could be used as foreground elements for my photos.

The weather was certainly dynamic. There was a 30% chance of rain and, minute by minute, the amount of blue sky patches would change. It was perfect for a time lapse so I tucked my GoPro behind the base of one of the snags and fired it off. It was quite rewarding to get this peek into the wild interior of the Eagle Rock unit. The clouds did prevent us from enjoying views of Glacier Peak and some of the other more prominent peaks in the distance. Although we didn’t see any, there was evidence that mountain goats had spent some time up on the top (a few tufts of white hairs in the lower branches of a tree).
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (center) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (center) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (center) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
After a healthy amount of time, I ended my time lapse and we packed up our stuff. We weren’t on the “true” summit of San Juan Hill but it wasn’t too far from us to the south. The ridge line is forested but travel wasn’t too bad thanks to the large amount of airy huckleberry shrubs. We even followed a faint trail or game trail for most of our traverse. We were close to the true summit but the point of diminishing returns had been reached. Neither of us felt particularly compelled to reach the highest point (it appears to be 100% forested anyways). The travel back down slope to the decommissioned road wasn’t as bad as our original ascent.

There was still some time left in the day and I decided that it was also high time that I visit the middle portion of the North Fork Skykomish River valley. It’s another place I’ve wanted to visit but haven’t been able to because the road (Index-Galena Road) had been closed to public access for several years due to flood damage. We made our way to the Troublesome Creek Campground. Across the road from the campground is a short nature loop trail along both sides of the creek. The water is clear and a brilliant shade of turquoise at times and the surrounding forest also has some interest as well. I thought there was a waterfall along Troublesome Creek but apparently it’s located along a different creek in the area. Oh well!
Bear Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Troublesome Creek in the North Fork Skykomish River valley
Boulder detail along Troublesome Creek in the North Fork Skykomish River valley
After coming home, I got a big scare- my memory card failed to read successfully. Oh god. Several weeks ago, I had a similar situation with my GoPro’s memory card. I turned to a card recovery program (RescuePro Deluxe) and it worked a miracle. Would lightning strike twice? Well- just about! I ended up losing a handful of images but I was able to recover the vast majority of them. After four years or so, I guess it was time to retire the memory card. There’s a lesson in there- retire your memory cards before you regret it!

Oregon’s Paradise

Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Late July to early August is the time that meadows across the Cascade Mountain range come alive with wildflowers. Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park is perhaps the most well known location for wildflowers here in the northwest but it’s by no means the only location. A few years ago, I learned of a meadow on Oregon’s Mount Hood that’s home to an amazing display of beargrass, which is a grass like perennial but actually a member of the Lily family. Beargrass “blooms” follow a cycle so the number of beargrass that do bloom each year will vary. Once every so often, a super bloom will occur resulting in an impressive display and 2009 was such a year in a place named Paradise Park on Mount Hood.

Located in the Mount Hood Wilderness, Paradise Park is a four mile hike north from the famous Timberline Lodge via the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s actually quite an interesting hike in a number of ways. A typical wildflower hike starts low and climbs high but trekking out to Paradise Park starts high, loses 1,100′ of elevation, and then regains 1,000′ to reach the start of the meadows. The other aspect of this hike I found interesting was the variety of ecological zones that the hike travels through. The first mile or two traverses across a corrugated alpine pumice landscape followed by a brief re-entry into high elevation forest. This brings you to the rim of the impressive Zigzag Canyon, which is where the Zigzag River has cut down nearly 1,000 feet down through volcanic deposits. The 4,800′ bottom of the canyon crosses through classic western Cascade forest before reversing the experience on the way up to Paradise Park.
Zigzag Canyon, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Zigzag Falls in Zigzag Canyon, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers along the South Fork Lost Creek in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
I was ultimately inspired to make my first visit by a hiker’s comment on the Portland Hikers forum (a great resource for hiking in Oregon) which indicated that the wildflowers were at peak condition right now. While there would be no beargrass blooms, I felt a change of pace from the rat race of Mount Rainier’s Paradise was in order (more on that in another blog post). Forecasts pointed to good weather for the most part but always with a “chance” of thunderstorms. My plan was to overnight in Paradise Park one night, hike out the next day, drive around the mountain and do it all over again at another meadow-y setting. Sure enough, I set out under sunny skies with an ever growing cloud above Mount Hood. Temperatures in the upper 70s made the hike a bit toasty, particularly with heavy pack. I’ve tried to pare down the weight of my backpacking set but I think I have a bit more work to do!

Even with 40+ lbs on my back, I found myself an hour later at the rim of the Zigzag Canyon (2.3 miles from my starting point at Timberline). After a break and some photos, an hour later I was crossing the Zigzag River and beginning my climb up to Paradise Park. The mid afternoon sunshine was still cooking so my climb up to Paradise Park took close to another 90 minutes. It seemed like I would never reach Paradise Park but eventually I turned the corner and there it was. Now, before I continue, I feel the need to explain something. Photographers use a lot of adjectives to describe scenes such as amazing, grand and stunning. So much so that they, perhaps, loose their impact.
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Despite my numerous outings over the last five years, I will admit that the number of times I’ve been truly moved by the scene in front of me have been few. What’s my definition of “moved”? I’d say it’s the desire to share what you’re experiencing with someone you hold dear. It’s wishing someone was with you at that moment because it’s the only way they can ever truly understand why you do what you do. Rounding the corner as the first meadow of Paradise Park came into view was one of those moments for me (only my second time this year). As picturesque as any meadow I’ve ever seen, I just wanted to drop everything and just stare. The sweat and fatigue of the journey to get here was but it was so, so worth it at this moment.

If I was to get ready for sunset, I needed to get going and set up camp. Not too far after entering Paradise Park is the South Fork of Lost Creek and the first campsites found in Paradise Park. The creek was lined with all sort of wildflowers along with one of the finest campsites I’ve ever seen. As good as it seemed, I decided to keep going, at least until the crossing of the North Fork of Lost Creek. Again, the creek was lined with wildflowers but the campsites were much more exposed. There was still a threat of thunderstorms so the prudent thing to do was to retreat back to the more sheltered campsites along the South Fork. I set up my camp and took a little nap before setting back out to the first meadow for sunset.
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Last light towards the west from Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Sunrise and wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Behind the Paradise Park Loop Trail signpost is a way path that meanders up through the meadow towards Mississippi Head and the rest of Mount Hood. The flowers here were thick, in perfect form, and consisted mostly of Lupine, American Bistort, Arnica, and some sporadic Indian Paintbrush. As I’ve grown fond of doing, I brought along my GoPro so that I could also shoot a time lapse series. The only downside of this is that you have to pick a spot and stay there. Sometimes this doesn’t work out to your advantage. At this lower location in the meadow, the focal point are the flowers and Mount Hood; not much else is visible due to the treeline which is literally all around you.

On this night, this didn’t work in my advantage. The large billowing clouds from the afternoon had pretty much disappeared by sunset. Minus the clouds, there wasn’t much left to capture and reflect the warm light of sunset. Behind me, though, the skies were filled with pinks and oranges. I worked my surroundings as best as I could before calling it an evening. Clouds seeped back in the darker it got and I pretty much knew that any star photography wasn’t going to be an option. I was tired enough that I didn’t have a big problem with that.
Sunrise and wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Sunrise and wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Waking up at 4:45am the next morning, I hiked back to the same meadow for sunrise serenaded by the cooing of a mourning dove. It was quite evident that I was in for a gray sunrise. Still, there was little wind and the no bugs. True sunrise greeted me with a few moments of light rain. This area was so nice that I had been toying with the idea of extending my stay one extra night. The weather (and myself, frankly) wasn’t looking too good so I kept with the decision to hike out and head home. Before breaking camp, I continued furthered up the path to the upper slopes. I found it interesting that the wildflowers (primarily asters) were actually a little bit past prime and somewhat “burned” out. Lower slopes normally burn out before the upper slopes simply because that’s the way the snowpack melts back during the course of summer.

By the time I had packed up camp and hit the trail, the sun appeared. A bit bittersweet but frankly it didn’t last too long. Most of the uphill hike out was graced by cloudy skies which did keep me a bit cooler. Even with dubious forecasts, I crossed paths with lots of people hiking in towards Paradise Park. After returning home, I found that that Timberline Lodge received 2.5″ of rain during the time I would have still been out there had I extended my stay. One thing I sometimes do after a trip is re-examine my “research” on an area to better understand and merge the on the ground reality I experienced and the textual or other information I had leading up to my visit. I discovered AFTER the fact that there were two waterfalls in the Paradise Park area which I could have photographed. Doh! Even with such a quick introduction to the area, I know I’ll be back. Acres of wildflowers that I didn’t have to share with anyone? Why would I NOT return??! I would highly recommend a visit to Paradise Park!
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest

Lastly, I’d like to give a special hat tip to Oregon photographer Wesley Picotte who generously shared some of his knowledge with me while I was researching my trip. Check out his great work also from the Pacific Northwest. Thanks again, Wesley!

Lunar Light

Last week, forecast sites on the internet were projecting some active auroras, even for northern Washington State. A promising forecast and clear skies only convinced me more to head out so I went to someplace REALLY good. I’ve known about this area up the Baker Lake drainage for over a year and I’ve been waiting for conditions and opportunity to come together. The night before my visit, I discovered another spot to set up using Google Earth which was not far away from my original ID’d location. As it turned out, the location turned out to be a great spot. All I needed to do was wait for darkness and for the auroras to show up.

The sun set but a transitioning 3/4 moon kept the landscape somewhat illuminated. This was great for my general night landscape photos since I do like to have some amount of detail in my foregrounds at night. I kept watch in my folding chair, swatting away mosquitoes (which were a bit aggressive while it was still light) throughout the night. The moon stayed up until 1:30am. Again, this was great for my general shots of Mount Baker or Mount Shuksan but for the auroras I was hoping to see. After the moon had set, the Milky Way and even more stars came out- but not the auroras. It was now about 2am and if the auroras were to appear, it would have happened by this point. I rattled a couple more frames off before I decided to call it a night and head home. I was pretty crushed that they did not appear but, on the other hand, I found an even better location to photograph them. I guess next time I’ll be REALLY ready!..
Mount Shuksan and the Sulphide Glacier as night falls. North Cascades National Park
Mount Baker and Ursa Major
Mount Baker and Ursa Major
Mount Shuksan and the Sulphide Glacier under stars. North Cascades National Park
Mount Baker and Ursa Major
Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan night sky panorama


Sometime in the early 2000s, I witnessed the Aurora Borealis for the first time from my house in Everett. It was nothing like the photos you see from Alaska or Norway but no less fascinating. Over the last few years, I’ve paid closer attention to the watches and notices that come out when the aurora activity is strong enough to be seen from Washington with the hopes of photographing them. Far too often, clouds and our typical northwest weather have prevented me from seeing or photographing them. Last night, forecasts for auroras were favorable but it wasn’t until I saw a photo tweeted by the National Weather Service Seattle of the auroras over Seattle that I got off my butt and out the door to look for them. A photo from a friend in the area only hastened my departure.

I selected a spot just west of Monroe near Frylands because of its expansive view towards the north and northwest. Not a bad choice for a spot close to home! Some low fog started creeping in from the east which added a bit of interest to the foreground.
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013

This was my first real opportunity to photograph and process photos of auroras. From what I’ve been able to piece together, processing of aurora photos isn’t much different than processing for other night or astro-photographs- it all boils down to personal preference. My personal preference is that my night skies still look dark. To accomplish this, I choose a white balance temperature that’s on the cold side. The photos in this post all use a temperature of 3500k and that’s been my personal preference for a while now. Why even bring all this up? Well, I wanted to explain why my photos of the auroras look different than any of the others that are floating around from this event. For example, my friend’s photos show lots of purple in addition to the typical greens. Piecing it all together, I suspect that he was using a warmer white balance such as the Cloudy or Shade preset. As an example. here’s a side by side comparison of one of my photos using my preferred white balance (3500k) on the left and Daylight (5500k) on the right:
Aurora Borealis over fields west of Monroe, Washington, 6/28/2013
I don’t recall seeing any purples last night so that’s an example of why I lean towards a cooler white balance for my night shots. Today’s cameras are very sensitive and can capture features (especially at night) that our eyes can’t see. That being said, it is about personal preference. This just happens to be mine. 🙂

Return to Mount Saint Helens

Mount Saint Helens from the Castle Lake Viewpoint, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount Saint Helens was the last stop on my recent trip south to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. Any longtime reader of my blog will know that I have a special reverence for Green Lake in Mount Rainier National Park but Mount Saint Helens is the true reason that I eventually moved to the Pacific Northwest. Back in college, I really became intrigued by the eruption and subsequent recovery of the landscape following the event. I studied geography in college with an emphasis in computer mapping and remote sensing. At that time, no one had done an analysis of the recovery using remote sensing (basically an analysis using satellite imagery) and this really surprised me given the 20 year plus archive of imagery at that time. Anyways, it was this seed that actually encourage my first ever visit to the northwest.

Although I’ve climbed the mountain from the south side several times since moving up here in 1999, my last visit to the blast area was in 1997 or 1998. I was definitely overdue for a return visit! What I decided to do was head to Johnston Ridge for sunset, hang out overnight for some star photography and then shoot sunrise before finally heading home. I still had an entire day to get to Johnston Ridge so I made another trip up the Lewis River drainage to explore a little more. The initial weather was pretty good for stream and waterfall photography with mostly cloudy skies and nice, even light. Far too quickly, however, it changed to mostly and completely sunny skies. On my way up the valley, I stopped off near the Ape Caves and visited the Trail of Two Forests interpretive trail. I almost visited it last year while up in this area but a busload of school kids at the site kept me going. On this day, I had the area to myself.
Lava tube, Trail of Two Forests, Gifford-Pinchot National Forest
Forest Floor, Gifford-Pinchot National Forest
Forest Floor, Gifford-Pinchot National Forest
The trail is a small, 1/4 mile boardwalk trail with several interpretive signs pointing out several volcanic features from a previous lava flow event such as lava tubes, log dams, and tree molds where the base of trees used to be (before being burned by the lava). It was a nice spot to explore and I did manage to come away with this shot of one of the lava tube openings. After completing the trail, I headed further up the Lewis valley making several stops to poke around. The forest floors here are rich with vanilla leaf and I’m a sucker for trying to capture a representative scene of this. Today was no exception…

The bright sun made it painfully obvious that I wouldn’t be photographing much else of what I had hoped to. I turned around and began my drive back to I-5 to make my way to Johnston Ridge. Just before you reach the Volcanic Monument, you pass Weyerhaeuser’s Forest Learning Center perched atop a cliff overlooking the Toutle River valley with the mountain in the distance. It’s free and does have some nice views so it’s worth a stop at least once. Keep in mind they are a commercial logging company so the center is a bit of a “hooray for us” PR piece where they strongly tout their reforestation efforts. While they are impressive, monolithic stands of Noble Firs doesn’t necessary qualify as “recovery” from an ecosystem perspective and takes on a somewhat Children of the Corn appearance (in other words, eerie).
Barred Owl (Strix varia) in the Lewis River Valley, Gifford-Pinchot National Forest
Mount Saint Helens from Johnston Ridge, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount Saint Helens from Johnston Ridge, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
As I approached Coldwater Lake, I was greeted by an intersection with my travel direction blocked by a manned and closed gate. I did not remember this from my last visit so I pulled over to go talk with the Forest Service employee. After setting me straight with directions, I was asking him about my intended plans for the evening. I was informed that, although they do not close a nightly gate, the Johnston Ridge area is closed to the public from 9pm to 7am. So much for my night and sunrise plans! Sunset on this evening was literally minutes before 9pm and that pretty much restricted my options for sunset. From the Visitor Center, I walked west and found one spot with some wildflowers in the foreground. I had some time to work with so I headed east from to see what other options there may be. I didn’t want to go too far east because parts of the ridge would begin to block some parts of the Plains of Abraham. I eventually found another spot with some Indian Paintbrush in bloom and set up my camera as well as my GoPro for a timelapse.

I started my timelapse and sat down to watch sunset. Things were looking good- stringy, wispy clouds were scattered across the sky. About a half hour before sunset, those wispy clouds had been pushed further east and I wasn’t left with much. The light on Mount Saint Helens just smoothly changed from white to yellow to orange to pink without much fanfare. The time of sunset arrived and I technically had just minutes to be back at my truck and leave. I forced myself to stop my timelapse and quickly packed up my gear for the hurry hike back to the parking lot. There was a slight rebound in the light and it killed me that I couldn’t really stop and photograph it (or capture it with my timelapse). At one point on my way back, I had a view down at the parking lot and my truck was the only car in a lot that held hundreds of cars. Today, I would be the last person to leave Johnston Ridge. Before I did, however, I enjoyed the silence a little bit longer. I expected to see a Forest Service employee sweeping the area clear but that didn’t happen. I really wanted to stay but…I left.
Mount Saint Helens from Johnston Ridge, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument

Mount Saint Helens from the Castle Lake Viewpoint, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
But where to go for my night and sunrise plans? Weighing my options, I made my way back to the Castle Lake Viewpoint. I arrived to an empty parking lot (and it would stay empty overnight and through sunrise). Now it was a matter of waiting for it to get dark and for the stars to come out. At 10:30-11pm, it was finally dark enough to start experimenting. Ideally, I was looking to take a photo with the Milky Way arching above the mountain but that looked to be hours away. Several sequences in, I attracted a visitor. Although I never saw it, the yelp from a (presumed) coyote kept sounding off in the darkness off to my right. At one point, the yelps suddenly were off to my left. All right, I admit- this was a bit freaky. About a half hour after my visitor made its vocal appearance, high clouds really started to roll in from the west. Soon enough, I lost any chance to take more star shots. I took that as my cue and hunkered down in my truck for a cat nap.

To my surprise, I got about 4 hours of sleep and woke up at about 3:30am to a crescent moon which had risen. I could see my surroundings better and could also see that those high clouds were still around. To the east, however, was a nice sized clear window. I really was hoping that the sunlight would flood through and reflect off of the cloud ceiling. For ONCE I was ready and in position! Once again, I started my GoPro and waited for the light show. And waited. And waited some more. Still waiting. Oh- it tried! I could see a faint show of color immediately near the horizon but not the explosion I was so eagerly awaiting. I held out hope but no dice. Once it officially was sunrise, I waited just a little longer to make sure I was shut out. I was- but there was a subtle surge of orange color. I set back up and focused on the mountain where the color was a contrast to some brooding clouds behind and to the east of the mountain.

Mount Saint Helens and night glow from the Castle Lake Viewpoint, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount Saint Helens as sunrise approaches from the Castle Lake Viewpoint, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
So now it was finally time to head home. Hold on- why did that car stop? As I scanned the slopes below where the car stopped, I finally saw what they were looking at: a herd of elk heading down to the Toutle River valley. Comically, I run and get my camera & telephoto lens and set up again. My telephoto lens at 300mm was still a bit too far but you work with what you have. I was fortunate enough to capture a sequence of some playful sparring between a couple of young elk. Ok, now I’m REALLY leaving! A few hours later I was back in the Puget Sound and back on the grid. My phone was catching up with all its notifications and one of them was a message from a friend from the previous night. The message I didn’t get was an alert to look for the auroras. So- while I was enjoyed cloudy skies, the auroras were out and being photographed by people as far south as Crater Lake in Oregon. Perfect. My luck sometimes….
Mount Saint Helens from the Castle Lake Viewpoint, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Young elk sparring, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument

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:


Surprise Creek winter scene
Surprise Creek winter scene
President’s Day found me one mile up the Surprise Creek drainage near Stevens Pass. I’ve been up this valley once before, but that was during the summer. I’ve wanted to return but I hadn’t really considered returning in winter. I’m not sure why- it actually enjoys pretty easy year round access due to its proximity to the small “rail yard” near the mouth of the BNSF Cascade Tunnel’s west end. For some reason I expected to be alone as if this was my brilliant idea and mine alone. The six other cars present proved me wrong.

Fresh snow and no rain still make for a pretty good outing so away I went. My lone previous visit during the summertime only provided me with a rough familiarity of the hike. As a pleasant surprise, the trail was very well marked due to a stamped down snowshoe trail. The valley is largely within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and has some pretty big trees to admire along the way. After a mile of travel, the trail begins to skirt the run outs of several avalanche prone side slopes. I don’t think the first couple run outs are that hazardous but beyond this point, the exposure steadily increases. This outing was also an opportunity to try out some time lapse possibilities with my newly purchased GoPro Hero 3 Black camera. The first large clearing (where two opposing avalanche run out meet in the valley bottom) had lots of interesting mounds and textures and was a perfect place to stop and explore.
Snowy tree along Surprise Creek
Snow covered boulders along Surprise Creek

Someone was a genius and figured out that you can easily modify an Ikea kitchen timer to become a panning base for time lapses (here’s the link) so I set up my GoPro to capture a 30 minute / 180 degree time lapse. The settings I used on my GoPro were the 7mp (wide) resolution and 2 second shot interval. I also used the ProTune option and tweaked the white balance using their CineForm Studio processing software. I have to admit that I’m pretty happy with the results:

While my GoPro was doing its thing, I wandered around the clearing to study the various landforms. It was untracked and pristine, and the large boulders buried underneath the snowpack created a variety of pillowy mounds fanning out around a huge boulder.

Skies were very flat and gray so sunlight was not going to help bring bring out the detail of the snow’s surface. I already knew that the shots I was taking would require Nik’s Silver Efex 2 plugin for conversion to black and white. It seems a bit silly to convert a photo of basically a black & white landscape into a black and white photo but plugins like Nik (or Topaz’s Black & White Effects) just seem to extract the fine detail out of the snow’s surface. I was a bit frustrated during my attempts to capture what I was “seeing”; the overall stillness and serenity of my surroundings, however, tempered those frustrations. After my GoPro time lapse had completed, I packed up and headed further up the trail. Soon enough, I recognized a few signs to let me know that I had traveled at least as far as my lone summertime visit. I spied a couple potential photos but judged the set up for them to be too hazardous. The lateness of the afternoon was also catching up with me so it was time to turn around.

There’s a nice, tall waterfall just around the corner from the trail head that I wanted to visit but ended up bagging it. Some other time (maybe even this winter). Upon reviewing my photos from the trip, I was most drawn to the photos which showcased the texture that fresh snow possess. These certainly weren’t the shots I was expecting to find during my outing but they were a nice challenge to capture. Winter is turning the corner and these kinds of opportunities are winding down and that does sadden me a little. Snow has such a magical quality to it and its ability to completely transform the land is amazing. I’m already looking forward to my next opportunity, whenever and wherever it may be.

Snow covered boulders along Surprise Creek
Snow microscapes along Surprise Creek
Snow microscapes along Surprise Creek

Narrow your focus

I visited Artist Point and Huntoon Point this weekend but was shut out by the weather yet again. Since I have no photos to share, I decided to write this post which I’ve thought about for a little while now. One bit of photographic advice that you’ll hear about in landscape photography is shooting with a telephoto lens. Basically, you’re focusing (no pun intended) on some specific portion of a larger scene. I’ve read this advice numerous times before but I’ve never seen this concept illustrated so here’s my attempt to do just that!

I’ve selected three different examples where I’ve come away with some telephoto photos. For each example, I also have some wide angle shots which will provide some overall context. Let’s start with a photo I took a couple years ago on my first trip to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. This waterfall is located along the Johnson Canyon trail and is situated a bit downstream of the Upper Falls:
Wide angle view of waterfall in Johnson Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada
This photo is taken at a 24mm focal length (on an APS-C sensor) and a photo that can stand on its own merits. This shot is actually the first one I took when I came upon this scene. As I’m prone to do, however, I sit down and study the scene in front of me. Eventually, I was struck by the complementing colors of the rock and long exposure trails of the white water. Through some iterations, I eventually came across my final scene:
Tighter shot using my telephoto. Johnson Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada
Now let’s look at the original scene with a rough overlay of the area that the telephoto shot covers:
Wide angle view of waterfall in Johnson Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada. Approximate telephoto shot extent is shown in red
Next up is photo which has been one of my most popular. It was taken one spring at the Mount Baker Ski Area in the North Cascades of Washington State. As you can see, I started out with a wide angle shot of this weathered snag with Mount Shuksan in the background. On the right hand side in the background is a peak which has the local name of Hemispheres:
This photo was taken around 11am and the sun was still rising in the sky. The slopes of Hemispheres attract many backcountry skiers and snowboarders and, in this light, you can see why. The slopes are full of rollovers and undulations. Eventually, I was attracted to one small patch of trees and the combination of light and shadows at the transition to a steeper section of slope. The final scene was this:
Tighter shot of Hemispheres using my telephoto. Mount Baker Ski Area
Once again, let’s look at the overall scene along with an overlay highlighting the telephoto shot’s extent:
Hemispheres from the Mount Baker Ski Area. Red highlight approximates the telephoto shot's extent

My last example also comes from the Mount Baker Ski Area vicinity. Last spring, I hiked into an overview of the White Salmon Creek valley and Mount Shuksan. I created this panorama and converted it to black and white:
Mount Shuksan and White Salmon Creek valley panorama

Would you believe I got two additional photos out of the area represented by that panorama? Let’s look at the two additional shots:
Shuksan Arm telephoto shot

Finally, let’s look at the panorama one more time along with the overlays for the two telephoto shots:
Mount Shuksan and White Salmon Creek valley panorama. Red extents approximate the two telephoto compositions
So there are three examples of a “wide” landscape scene hiding additional compositions in plain sight. The only thing missing is your vision and your telephoto lens. The key is being able to recognize when a scene in front of you has that depth and finer details and that’s something that I believe you’ll develop with time. Hopefully this post has shed some more light on the concept of using telephoto lenses in landscape photography!

Top Ten Photos of 2012

It’s the end of 2012 and time to look back upon the previous year and pick out some favorite photos. They primarily are personal favorites but some of my choices were well received but others who viewed them. As for the year itself, I branched out a little bit, both geographically and subject-wise. I was able to pursue wildlife photography a little more with trips to Boundary Bay in British Columbia for the Snowy Owl irruption and my first ever trip to Yellowstone National Park.

1.) Big Four Mountain – South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley

Big Four Mountain - South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley

Taken from a spring outing, I was hoping to capture some avalanches coming down the impressive 4,000 foot high north face of Big Four Mountain. This conversion to black & white using Nik’s Silver Efex 2 worked well.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

2.) The Tree and the Log – Boundary Bay, British Columbia

The Tree and the Log - Boundary Bay, British Columbia

This was taken in the late afternoon during my first ever visit to Boundary Bay, British Columbia to see and photograph the large gathering of Snowy Owls. The incoming fog white washed the entire scene but this lone tree stood out in stark contrast.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

3.) Early Bird’s Worm – Everett, Washington

Early Bird's Worm - Everett, Washington

A sunrise shot from this fall, I was running a few minutes behind what I wanted and the color was already starting in the sky as I drove to this location. Thankfully, I was able to set up just before the peak display of colors.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

4.) Pinnacles and Tree – Clear Fork Cowlitz River Valley

Pinnacles and Tree - Clear Fork Cowlitz River Valley

This was taken on a spring trip to the Ohanepecosh River valley in Mount Rainier National Park, but is not in the park. This spot is located along U.S. Hwy 12 just a few miles east of the SR-123 turn off for the park. I loved the colors of the lichen on the columnar volcanic rock and the small tree which gave some perspective for size.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

5.) Spreading – Lewis River Valley

Spreading - Lewis River Valley

For the last couple years, I’ve made a side trip to explore the Lewis River valley near Mount Saint Helens on my drive home from the Columbia River Gorge. Near the trailhead for Middle Lewis River Falls, I spied this beautiful Vine Maple growing downslope of the Forest Service road. I loved the vibrant green from the young leaves and how the just gracefully spread around the snag located in front.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

6.) Brilliance at Boundary Bay, Boundary Bay, British Columbia

Brilliance at Boundary Bay, Boundary Bay, British Columbia

Another shot from my visit to Boundary Bay in British Columbia. The next morning after my arrival, I was treated to one of the best sunrises of the year. I felt very fortunate (and lucky!) to have captured this given my unfamiliarity with the location.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

7.) Fall, Meet Winter – North Fork Skykomish River Valley

Fall, Meet Winter - North Fork Skykomish River Valley

This photo was taken during my lone “real” outing for fall colors this year. on a hunch, I thought I should revisit some spots located in the upper drainage of the North Fork Skykomish River here in the North Central Cascades. I remember that one of my wishes for the day was a photo of vine maple color with snow (fresh snow had fallen recently). I was planning on seeking this out near the summit of Stevens Pass along U.S. Highway 2 but I was pleasantly surprised to find these conditions up the Skykomish.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

8.) Shuksan Arm and Mount Shuksan – North Cascades National Park

Shuksan Arm and Mount Shuksan - North Cascades National Park

One of my perennial visits during winter is Artist Point near the Mount Baker Ski Area in the North Cascades. In this image, I loved the contrast between the warm sunset light on Mount Shuksan and the colder shadows that have overtaken the Shuksan Arm ridgeline in the lower foreground.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

9.) Another Day – Yellowstone National Park

Another Day - Yellowstone National Park

Taken from my first ever trip to Yellowstone, this was my second sunrise and first from the Mammoth Terraces located at Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest corner of the park. Sunrise wasn’t that notable due to the lack of clouds but I really liked how the direct light really accentuated the details of the terrace.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

10.) Thorton Lakes Fall – North Cascades National Park

Thorton Lakes Fall - North Cascades National Park

Another first visit this year. Thorton Lakes is off by itself and takes a fair amount of grunt work to reap its rewards. I took this photo from the ridge that surrounds the lower lake and isolates some of the fall color located on the bench slopes between the lower and middle lakes.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

There’s my top ten! As I usually do, I’ll throw in two more bonus photos…

11.) Evening Commute – Yellowstone National Park

Evening Commute - Yellowstone National Park

Taken on the last evening of my visit to Yellowstone National Park. Volatile weather during the day made for dramatic conditions at sunset. I decided to try my luck in the Slough Creek side valley near the Lamar Valley. As I turned onto the dusty road up the valley, we were stopped by bison crossing the road. It turns out that every bison in the lower valley would cross the road right next to the first parking pullout. I was faced with the dilemma of photographing sunset or bison using my Sigma 50-500mm lens. I ended up trying to do both. Most bison shots didn’t turn out but I was happy with the sunset related shots, especially given what I was using.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

12.) Mount Jefferson Sunset – Mount Jefferson Wilderness

Mount Jefferson Sunset - Mount Jefferson Wilderness

During my visit to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood region this year, I hiked up Tom Dick and Harry Mountain for sunset. As usual, I was running behind time wise and really had to bust my butt to make the summit in time for sunset. The last half of the trail was all snow and a lot of work. I made it but sunset wasn’t anything special with the exception of this little scene some 40 miles to my south. I took this shot with my 300mm zoom at 300mm and I just love the shape of the lenticular clouds above the mountain.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

Still want more? Ok. I selected about 70 photos from this past year and put together this slideshow:

Happy holidays everyone and here’s to looking forward to 2013!

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