Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Early Winter at Deception Creek

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

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

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

2013 in Review

Where have the last 12 months gone? 2014 is almost here and I’m a little behind with my year-end retrospective! Over the last 12 months, I didn’t get out quite as much as in previous years as I had to strike more of a balance between photography and the rest of life. That being said, I’m very happy that I was able to incorporate several “firsts” for me. Towards the beginning of 2013, I finally bought a GoPro video camera. I originally bought it for shooting video while snowboarding but I’ve come to REALLY enjoy using it to capture time lapse sequences while out on my traditional photo outings. It’s simple but quite capable and the camera & mini-tripod don’t add much weight to my regular pack. Now I always have my GoPro with me!

Outside of the addition of a GoPro, my other notable achievement was a series of “first” visits. After wishing and thinking about it for a number of years, I finally was able to visit the Tapto Lakes basin and Whatcom Pass deep in North Cascades National Park. I also was able to visit a series of new locations during my annual spring trip to the Columbia River Gorge and greater Mount Hood area. Among my highlights there was my first visit ever to Panther Creek Falls on the Washington side of the Gorge. I also finally made a trip to Mount Saint Helens (my first visit back to the blast zone since moving to Washington in 1999). Lastly, I visited Mount Hood for peak wildflower blooms instead of the usual trek to Paradise at Mount Rainier.

Without further ado, here are the ten photos I’ve selected for 2013:

1.) Coleman Pinnacle – Mount Baker Wilderness

Coleman Pinnacle - Mount Baker Wilderness
Without a doubt, this is my favorite photo from this past year. Even with a telephoto lens, this was a challenging photo since I was looking into the sun. Converting the photo to black & white was a no brainer decision and I’m very pleased with out this turned out.

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

2.) New Year’s Sunset 01 – Mount Baker Wilderness

New Year's Sunset 01 - Mount Baker Wilderness
For the first day of 2013, I made the snowshoe hike out to Artist Point on the north side of Mount Baker. I had high hopes for sunset which seemed all but dashed until about 10 minutes after sunset when things got really interesting. One of the great solitary moments for me during the past year.

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

3.) Symmetry – Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Symmetry - Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

This photo was taken during my first of two visits to Cayada Mountain which is located just outside the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park. This visit was in late spring when we could drive fairly close to Coplay Lake despite the lingering winter snowpack. The lake has a series of snags out in the open water and the calm water & wind contributed to ideal conditions for this mirror reflection.

I still haven’t completed my writeup about Cayada Mountain so look for it (and more photos) in the future.

4.) Oxalis Carpet – Mount Hood National Forest

Oxalis Carpet - Mount Hood National Forest

This was a macro type photograph that I took along the Clackamas River Trail in the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon. This particular stretch of trail travels through a wonderful section of Old Growth forest. I really loved the “swoosh” lines that the oxalis provided.

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

5.) Panther Falls – Gifford-Pinchot National Forest

Panther Falls - Gifford-Pinchot National Forest

My first ever visit to Panther Creek Falls in southern Washington. Photos can’t do justice to the size and beauty of this waterfall! The scramble down to this particular vantage point was a little too exciting (I actually turned back once) but I’m really happy with the photo I was able to capture.

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

6.) Sunset in Paradise Park – Mount Hood Wilderness

Sunset in Paradise Park - Mount Hood Wilderness

Another first- a trip to the wildflower meadows of Paradise Park on Mount Hood. I was rushed and not as familiar with the location so I hunkered down in the first meadow (which was fantastic). The best views were back towards the west like in this photo. I will definitely be back here!

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

7.) Bear Mountain – Wild Sky Wilderness

Bear Mountain - Wild Sky Wilderness

The Wild Sky Wilderness is only a few years old and lives up to its name since there are virtually no trails into the wilderness at this time. I wanted to start capturing some of its beauty before the trail network starts to appear so this was my first attempt. This was worth the wasp sting I received while ascending to this prominent point.

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

8.) The Darkest Dark – North Cascades National Park

The Darkest Dark - North Cascades National Park

This trip was a long time coming and I was determined to make it happen this year. The old photos of Mount Challenger by Bob & Ira Spring and Harvey Manning have been an obsession for quite a while and the reality lived up to the billing! The sky at night in this remote portion of North Cascades National Park were very dark and the star show was amazing as this photo of Mount Challenger will attest. This backpacking trip was memorable for many reasons.

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

9.) Salmon Season – North Fork Skykomish River Valley

Salmon Season - North Fork Skykomish River Valley

I continue to experiment with my poor man’s underwater housing- a 10 gallon aquarium. The more I get to work with it, the better I feel I’m getting. This particular photo was from a short but productive session this fall.

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

10.) Christmas Tree – Mount Rainier National Park

Christmas Tree - Mount Rainier National Park

Being in a forest during a light snowfall is a very calming experience. This particular scene presented itself on my hike out from Green Lake in Mount Rainier National Park. This lightly flocked tree in particular stood out to me.

I still haven’t completed my writeup about this particular trip so look for it (and more photos) in the future.

It’s always difficult to narrow down a list of ten photos from a potential pool of hundreds but that’s my list. For more photos from my 2013, I’ve put together a slideshow video:

Thanks for reading, watching, and all your support in 2013!

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!

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


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

Squire Creek Pass

This spot has been on my list for awhile now. The sunny weekend just seemed to be the perfect reason for finally making a visit. Well, that and the new delivery of my Pentax K-5 SLR! After trying to learn all the menus and settings, it was time to try it out. The pass is somewhat unique in that two trails provide two very different hiking experiences. Most people hike up the front side using the Squire Creek valley but a shorter (albeit more grueling) hike is using the Eight Mile trail which starts in the Clear Creek valley. A massive landslide in 2002 added an additional 3 miles roundtrip so the Eight Mile Trail seems like a more direct route in. It’s direct, all right….

On paper it’s only 2.2 miles and 2,200 feet to the pass. Everything starts out mellow as the trail follows an old logging road. The trail enters the Boulder River Wilderness at about 0.4 miles and enters a forest with MASSIVE Western Red Cedars. The diameter of trees is most impressive. This tree is one of the largest I’ve seen anywhere:

Old-Growth Western Red Cedar - Eight Mile Trail in the Boulder River Wilderness (iPhone picture)
The trail steadily climbs up & over roots and rocks arriving at Three O’ Clock Rock at about 0.6 miles. The main attraction here is the large exfoliation dome that offers rock climbers several routes to attempt. This spot also offers up some of the first views of the area (including Whitechuck Mountain down the Clear Creek valley). There were still a few small signs of fall color left so we soaked in the views before moving along. From here, the trail really gets ugly. More roots, more rocks, and now add mud into the equation.

Three O'Clock Rock along the Eight Mile Trail to Squire Creek Pass
Fall color near Three O'Clock Rock - Eight Mile Trail
Scene across the Eightmile Creek valley
Plodding along, the mirage of more & more blue sky ahead keeps you going. At about 1.5 miles, you reach the edge of the subalpine meadows that stretches out for the remaining distance up to the pass. The area is littered with large exposed rock slabs, often with water running over them. Splendid for a summer outing but a bit more precarious when the temperatures are much lower. In the shade, the water turns into ice. After a series of small ups & downs, you reach Squire Creek Pass- an immense bench of solid rock.

Summits of Three Fingers from Squire Creek Pass
Whitehorse Mountain across the Squire Creek valley
To the west lies the east face of Three Fingers, the crown jewel of this hike. To the northwest, a rarely seen side of Whitehorse Mountain. Behind you to the east, a better view of Whitehorse Mountain as well as the upper portion of Glacier Peak. A forested knoll extends to the north and a series of parkland benches rises to the south, completing the view.

Salish Peak across the Squire Creek valley - Boulder River Wilderness
Detail on one of the Three Fingers summits
Fall color was hanging on primarily in the form of huckleberry leaves. Due to the sporadic nature, I found it hard to find a good composition which included the better looking spots of color. Most impressive is the lookout on top of one of the Three Fingers, a tiny speck of white compared to the massive east face.

Unnamed tarn and Whitehorse Mountain above Squire Creek Pass
After eating some lunch, we climbed southward although I wasn’t feeling that well. We came across a couple nice sized tarns which did offer a few reflection possibilities. Fall days are short so it was soon time to turn around and head back. We made it up to the pass in about 3 hours and only took 2 hours on the way down (despite the constant punishment your joints take).

Unnamed tarn and Three Fingers from above Squire Creek Pass
Unnamed tarn and Three Fingers from above Squire Creek Pass
Everyone should probably make it up there at least once to enjoy the views in silence and solitude. As for the new Pentax SLR, I need to go on a few more outings to give more of a review. Ergonomics are great but its operation is different, especially coming from their K10d. Photo quality seems pretty good, though!

Mountain Loop Highway

I’ve made several trips to the Darrington area during the last month so I felt like looking for fall color along the Mountain Loop Highway between Barlow Pass and the Whitechuck River. Fall colors continue to be AWOL. Most maples are losing their leaves before they get to change their color. Along the rivers, the vine maples have dropped most of their leaves.

The fall color that I’ve heard about has been in the higher elevations and primarily huckleberry and mountain ash. My deepest foray into the mountains brought me up to the 4,000′ level in the Dan Creek watershed and, to my surprise, I didn’t find any fall color there as well! It’s truly been a fall to forget for fall color.

Some friends had told me about a small little waterfall in the Verlot vicinity so I made a quick stop to check it out:

First Falls - Verlot area
First Falls - Verlot area
After that, I continued east and then headed up towards the Headlee Pass trailhead since there’s a nice valley view just before reaching the trailhead. In the past, the mountain ash has provided fall color but not this year (I’m beginning to sound like a broken record!). What WAS cool were some low clouds drifting through the valley and the forested slopes. I spent a little bit of time watching and trying various compositions:

Clouds and forest - South Fork Stillaguamish River headwaters
Clouds and forest - South Fork Stillaguamish River headwaters
Afterwards, I went over Barlow Pass and stopped at spot that finally had some fall color. In my previous drives through this area, I’ve noticed the unusual red rocks & boulders here in the South Fork Sauk River so it was nice to finally stop and check it out.

South Fork Sauk River
South Fork Sauk River
Just before reaching the confluence with the Whitechuck River, I made a quick sidetrip to check out the North Fork Sauk River Falls:

North Fork Sauk River Falls
North Fork Sauk River Falls panorama
Closer to the Whitechuck River, some small vine maples in the forest caught my eye:

Vine Maple - Sauk River valley
Vine Maple - Sauk River valley
I was really hoping to get up high to get some fall color but even up high in the Dan Creek drainage yielded nothing. Low clouds even denied me of some fine views of Whitechuck Mountain. It was getting late so I turned around and headed home. On the way out, I stopped (inadvertently!) at the same spot along the South Fork Sauk River and shot a few more photos of the red rock & fall color.

South Fork Sauk River
South Fork Sauk River
South Fork Sauk River
South Fork Sauk River
It’s been difficult deciding on where to go these past few weekends. I’m hoping to have better luck this weekend.

It is fall..

…but it’s not very obvious. At least not in the North Cascades. After spending the day bouncing around the North Fork Nooksack River valley, I suspect that fall colors will be disappointing this year. Labor Day weekend was my last outing so I was eager to get out again. I decided to attempt to revisit a section of Ruth Creek with a friend in order to access some more difficult terrain that I know would yield some great photos. Forecasts were leaning towards nice sunny weather but I decided to give it a go.

On the way, we stopped off to check fall color conditions on Church Mountain:

Fall colors begin - Church Mountain
Fall colors begin arriving on the upper slopes of Church Mountain
The forecasted 63% cloud cover was more like 0-10%. The stretch of Ruth Creek proved to be quite formidable and our attempts to enter it’s guarded treasures were futile. Despite wearing chest waders, I only managed a few photos from here:

Ruth Creek
Ruth Creek
Defeat came quick but there was still a fair amount of day left. We poked around another forest service road before ending up at Artist Point with hundreds of other tourists. It was tough being there and watching people pick wildflowers and wander wherever they chose to.

Early fall color on Excelsior Ridge
Snags and fall color - Kulshan Ridge
Mount Shuksan from Kulshan Ridge
Mount Shuksan from Kulshan Ridge
A storm front was coming in (witnessed by the very strong winds at Artist Point) so we both thought there might be a chance for a striking sunset. I decided we should head to Cougar Divide to try our luck. We made haste to the trailhead and arrived about an hour before sunset. About a half hour later, we had arrived at the viewpoint that I like to shoot from.

Mount Baker from Cougar Divide
Summit of Mount Baker wrapped in clouds
Sunset started wonderfully with a cloudcap and other clouds swirling around Mount Baker. To the east, Mount Shuksan’s summit pyramid was already firmly in the grip of cloud cover. Back down the Nooksack Valley a cloud bank was building up, adding to the interest. I promised my friend solitude at this location but we ended up running into 7 others at the viewpoint! Most left upon our arrival and, after a few minutes, we had the place to ourselves.

Mount Baker from Cougar Divide
Approaching front from Cougar Divide
Just prior to the point of brilliant pinks and peak sunset colors, it all shut off like a light switch. I suspect the sun dipped behind a cloud bank along the horizon which shut us out. This seemed to be confirmed by looking north towards Canada where we could see the pink colors that were eluding us!

Storm clouds after sunset - Cougar Divide
Storm clouds after sunset - Cougar Divide
I spent a few more minutes after sunset taking some shots before we made our way out. The moon was rising to the east but I couldn’t capture any decent shots. The day was done and all that was left was the long drive back home. That, and replacing the flat I got just prior to crossing the Wells Creek bridge. I really hope that the fall colors arrive!

Deep at Bagley Creek

View Larger Map in New Window

Labor Day marks the traditional end of summer but our weather must be “gifted” since signs of fall have been noticeable for as week or two. Weekend forecasts had been called for gray and showery conditions so a return trip to Bagley Creek with a friend was penciled in. My first visit was a quick one a couple weeks ago but the scenery was stunning and seemed to have potential for even more. During that first visit, it looked like there were some drops and waterfalls just out of sight so some more thorough exploration was in order.

On the way to Bagley Creek, I decided to visit a location I discovered in an old out-of-print book. The location is a rock outcrop which contains fossilized imprints of plant leafs. I’ve never heard of something like this in the Cascades and the ease of access makes it pretty incredible. Through the years, I suspect that most of the quality examples (such as what was in the book’s photo) have been taken home by careless individuals. In order to preserve what remains, I’m electing NOT to reveal its location and simply share some photos.

Fossilized Ferns - North Fork Nooksack River Drainage
Fossilized Leaf - North Fork Nooksack River Drainage
Fossilized Palm leaf imprint - North Fork Nooksack River Drainage
It was very cool to see and touch some of the history of the Cascades. We cut our time short and made our way to Bagley Creek. I wanted to check out two things- the stretch of creek immediately upstream of a forest service road & then a second stretch of the creek further upstream which had a nice sized waterfall. Before wading upstream, we checked out the scene just below the bridge:

Bagley Creek
Bagley Creek
Plunge pool - Bagley Creek
Bagley Creek
Looking upstream from the bridge, one can make out a nice 6′ drop so it was time to wade upstream to investigate it further. As it turns out, a nice amphitheater contains the drop. Just below the drop, however, a plunge pool at least 6′ deep prevented any further travels. After a few more photos, I headed back to the bridge to move on to the second location.

The second location is basically just around the corner. Accessed off of a decommissioned logging road, the forest is dense and makes travel difficult. The waterfall proved elusive yet again due to steep sidewalls and deep waters. We were there and had more time so we followed the old road which paralleled the creek downstream.

We would walk down 50 feet, then pop over to the water’s edge to survey the scene. Our first location provided some really interesting rock formations:

Bagley Creek rock formations (portrait view)
Bagley Creek rock formations (landscape view)
In stream rock formations - Bagley Creek
The next location downstream had one of the deepest plunge pools I’ve seen. I believe this location is roughly where Razor Hone Creek joins Bagley Creek. I managed to get some nice photos despite the sun’s off and on appearances.

We reached one of the bridges used as part of the winter cross country ski trails and then turned around. We now know that this area is accessible during the winter so it might be on the list of places to visit this coming winter!

Bagley Creek
Bagley Creek waterfall
I’ll be taking a break for the next two weeks to attend to some other commitments so look for a new post later this month!

It is August, isn’t it?

It’s the end of the first week of August and we’re still waiting for the wildflower blooms at Mount Rainier. The forecast of clouds and rain negated any hopes of grand views or sunsets so it was back into the deep forests of the North Cascades. I originally thought about revisiting some locations in the Highway 2 corridor but I remembered that there were a number of “firsts” for me to still visit up in the North Fork Nooksack River valley.

I came across another website that’s devoted to Pacific Northwest waterfalls and it clued me in on a few waterfalls along Twin Lakes Rd as well as an intriguing waterfall along Wells Creek Rd. Back around July 4th, I had made a visit to the Wells Creek area and attempted to photograph Wells Creek Falls. I was thwarted by thick huckleberry brush and limited views from above but I was determined to make it upstream this time thanks to a pair of waders.

The first stop was the new waterfall located a couple miles upstream of the Wells Creek / North Fork Nooksack River confluence. It is roadside accessible but the actual location is a bit dangerous due to the steep drops into the creek. The biggest appeal to this waterfall was a monolithic rock which rises 10-12 feet above the creek immediately below the falls. On this day, the water levels were pretty high so the rock was submerged for the most part. The weather definitely provided a feeling of fall with the low clouds, steady rain, and the distressed colors of the huckleberries in front of me.

Fungus - Wells Creek Valley
Fungus - Wells Creek Valley
Wells Creek
Wells Creek
These photos of the waterfall are unfortunately soft due to an accident in which the Manual Focus / Auto Focus switch had changed to manual focus while the camera was in my backpack and I didn’t catch the mistake. No matter- I plan on returning later in the fall when levels are lower. From here, it’s just another couple miles up the road to Wells Creek Falls. I slipped on my waders and proceeded up left (or north) bank. About halfway up, my friend & I decided to cross the creek at a short pool stretch of the creek. At its deepest point, the creek was about knee deep but still had a fair amount of force behind it.

It turned out that this was the only fording of the creek required to reach the falls. We arrived at the entrance to the waterfall’s amphitheater and were greeted with a driving rain AND wind driven spray from the waterfall itself. This was going to be a challenge to photograph. I found a spot next to the creek and set up. Any time the lens was exposed, it would immediately accumulate water drops. I lucked out and got the exposure combination correct on the first try (0.5s @ F16) but I had to reset everything a couple times in order to set my circular polarizer correctly and make sure the camera was level.
Wells Creek Falls (landscape version)
Wells Creek Falls (portrait version)
Each time, I had to swing the camera around 180 degrees, wipe off the lens, cover the camera and wait for the residue moisture on the lens evaporate. When ready, I kept the camera covered and swung it around to set up for the shot. I would press the shutter to activate the 2 second timer and wait for the absolute last second in order to remove the cover. This worked well enough to minimize the effect of water droplets in my finished photos.

Wells Creek
We ended up spending a fair amount of time at the falls and were well on our way to becoming waterlogged. This day really felt more like October than August! Our next stop was a lovely two part waterfall along Twin Lakes Rd which is unofficially named Gold Run Falls. At the very top is a 100 foot drop over a series of angled ledges (it reminded me of a pachinko machine so I dubbed it Pachinko Falls). Below this, the creek travels steeply down some angled rock formations.

Steady rain made things miserable. We had good success photographing the lower portion but the main drop proved to be problematic due to the near vertical angle required to compose the shot. I managed to take one water drop plagued shot before beating a quick retreat back to the truck.

Unnamed creek - Twin Lakes Road
Gold Run Falls
It was later afternoon and we were pretty much water logged. I decided to make one more stop in the valley and visited the lower stretch of Bagley Creek where it meets the valley floor. There are supposed to be some nice waterfalls in this area so we headed that way. We initially missed a turnoff and stopped at a spot along Bagley Creek just upstream of it’s confluence with the NF Nooksack River. This spot is downstream of the waterfalls but it proved to be a beautiful stretch of creek with what looked to be its own waterfall drop in the distance.

Bagley Creek
Bagley Creek
Bagley Creek
It was late in the day so we didn’t have time to explore the upstream section of this stretch. We did, however, retrace our route and followed the correct turnoff to reach the location of the waterfalls. The dense forest and steep slopes prevented us from pursuing things fully but there was indeed a very nice stretch of drops and waterfalls. We’ll need to return a later date!

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