Mount Baker

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!

Huntoon Point

Now that winter is firmly under way, I paid my first visit of the winter to Huntoon Point and Artist Ridge near the Mount Baker Ski Area. Things looked pretty discouraging for sunset since most of the color developing was well south of us in the central part of the Puget Sound. Without much warning, things began to change. The color began to creep east towards Hagen Mountain and Mount Blum. Suddenly, color exploded over Table Mountain, and then Goat Mountain and Mount Larrabee, followed finally by Mount Baker itself. The color was fleeting and I had to move quickly from composition to composition. The last hurrah of sunset finally faded away 15 minutes after sunset and the increasing cold signaled that it was time to head home.

No two days are ever the same which is all the more reason to keep making regular visits to locations you love to photograph..
Mount Baker from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Pugh and Whitechuck Mountain in the distance at sunset from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Hagen Mountain at sunset from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Sunset colors high above Mount Larrabee and Goat Mountain from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Sunset colors high above Mount Larrabee and Goat Mountain from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Baker at sunset from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Baker at sunset from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Baker at sunset from Huntoon Point, Mount Baker Wilderness
Lastly, a little time lapse of Mount Shuksan:

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

The Fourth Time

Mount Shuksan and Mazama Mountain from Huntoon Point
I am a glutton for punishment, and this winter has more than proven this to be true. I returned to Artist Point near Mount Baker for the fourth time this winter hoping for great light and interesting conditions. I had no reason to think that things would go any different than two of my previous three outings. The weather forecasts projected 63% cloud cover around the time of sunset thanks to an advancing storm front. The best light and drama happens during these transitional times such as this; I just threw my hands up and said why not?

As you might imagine, the snowshoe trip out to the ridge gets pretty routine after three previous trips in such a relatively short period. The snow was a weird conglomeration of rain altered, fresh snow, and hoar frost. We made decent time on the hike and arrived at the end of the ridge about 3 hours before sunset. While Mount Shuksan largely enjoyed sunny skies, Mount Baker had a persistent cloud layer hugging its northeast flanks. In addition to taking photos, I wanted to continue to experiment with the time lapse features of my GoPro Hero 3. Upon arrival, I set up GoPro on my panning Ikea kitchen time and set off a 20 minute timelapse of Mount Shuksan:

After this one finished, I set up for another time lapse, this time focused on Mount Baker. I wanted to shoot this for a similar amount of time (20-30 minutes) but I had to cut it short because some snowshoers appeared from nowhere below my vantage point. Lucky for me, they were out of frame and I was able to stop recording before they appeared. The clouds were starting to drift through the area more and more. This was my sign to switch over to my SLR.

During the middle part of the afternoon, I focused on the Mount Baker area since the clouds were more dynamic. The sun was directly overhead and that proved to be a bit problematic. The sunlight was bleeding into the upper portion of my frame despite the fact that I was using my telephoto’s lens hood. To overcome this issue, I decided to use my 0.6 graduated ND filter. This is hardly an exact science so there were a series of trial and error shots to finally get the hang of compensating for the light bleed. We had heard some rockfall coming of the backside of the Shuksan Arm at one point in the afternoon. Needless to say, a large boom from the direction of Mount Shuksan had both of us swinging our cameras around. All that we could capture was a billowing cloud of snow rising up from the Lower Curtis Glacier area.

As the afternoon got later, the weather was following the projected forecasts rather closely. Stronger cloud bands were now lingering around Mount Shuksan, often obscuring the summit period for brief periods of time. Mount Baker would prove to be more elusive the rest of the afternoon and brief glimpses of the summit or one of it’s flanks was the norm. We were still blessed with a rather large open “window” in the sky to the right of Mount Baker so the changing light of sunset did reach Mount Shuksan. The slopes where we were located had widespread amounts of hoar frost and I really wanted to capture this in some manner and I tried to do this with a curvy slope just below our spot on the ridge. In order to get the composition, I had to include the sun directly in the frame. I realized there would be some lens flare in the photos but it turned out to be a bit more than I would have liked.

In the minutes leading up to the actual time of sunset, we lost good light and color on Mount Shuksan and just plain lost Mount Baker. The last good light left was interacting with clouds hovering between Lasiocarpa Ridge and Skyline Divide. As most sunsets go, however, the light slowly faded away and the cold gray of night was taking over. In fact, just minutes after official sunset, clouds began QUICKLY overtaking our ridge. It was a little startling, actually. I didn’t want to be hiking back along the ridge by braille and thankfully this didn’t happen. I had a couple night photos in mind prior to our trip and the clouds put the kibosh on those plans. Still- after three mostly failed attempts, this day felt pretty good!
Mount Hagan in the distance. Taken from Huntoon Point
Hoar frost slope and Mount Shuksan from near Huntoon Point
Coleman Pinnacle along Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness.
Icefall crashes onto the Upper Curtis Glacier, Mount Shuksan
Filtered sun over Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Shuksan and clouds in afternoon light from Huntoon Point
Backcountry ski track along Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Baker and Ptarmigan Ridge in clouds, Mount Baker Wilderness
Clouds over Ptarmigan Ridge. Taken from Huntoon Point
Hoar frost and Ptarmigan Ridge. Taken from Huntoon Point
Mount Shuksan during magic hour light. Taken from Huntoon Point
Mount Shuksan during magic hour light. Taken from Huntoon Point
Last light of sunset and clouds over Lasiocarpa Ridge

New Years Sunset

South Twin Sister. Converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex 2
Panorama of South Twin Sister (L), Hayden Peak (C), and Little Sister (R). Converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex 2
Mount Baker from Huntoon Point on Kuhlshan Ridge. Converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex 2
Lately I’ve a a run of photographic bad luck. Before Christmas, I visited Mount Rainier National Park and came away with no photos. I followed that up this past weekend with a hike up to Artist Point for sunset. Forecasts called for clearing skies an hour before sunset so dramatic skies could be in play. I was welcomed by wind and near whiteout conditions at Artist Point. Adding insult to injury, the skies did begin to clear out but that happened well after I had turned around and made it back to my truck. I couldn’t get shut out a third time, could I? To test that theory, I returned to Artist Point on New Years Day where the forecast was for “mostly clear” skies. On my way there, I couldn’t help but stop along Highway 9 to photograph the Twin Sisters Mountains. As I have learned, clear skies and sunshine may not be great for color photographs but they can be great for black & white photos.

I arrived at the Heather Meadows parking lot at the Mount Baker Ski Area and skies weren’t clear. To be more specific, they were “mostly overcast” and actually trending towards cloudy. Where the hell did this come from?? A bad omen but I still had a couple hours til sunset so anything could happen. Doning my snowshoes and a sense of deja vu, I headed yet again up towards Artist Point. It looked like many other people had the same idea (watching sunset from Artist Point) because I noticed just as much uphill traffic as people heading down. After a couple more days of sun and no new snowfall, the snowshoe routes were packed down a bit more and quicker. Even with the 30+ pounds of crap in my backpack, I made good time and reached the Artist Point parking lot in 1 hour 15 minutes (roughly 1.3 miles and ~1,000 feet of gain). The route up to Artist Point is, for the most part, benign but I am constantly shaking my head in disbelief as I watch people hike the direct route up towards Huntoon Point through the most dangerous terrain possible. The ridge between Huntoon Point and Artist Point gets SEVERELY wind loaded. Now throw in the switchbacks of the summertime road and you now have terrain traps. You’re asking for trouble by crossing this zone. In fact, in 2003 three people were caught in a slab avalanche which ultimately killing one of them. This is why I always head straight towards the parking lot, taking the short, steep headwall just left of the Blueberry Chutes or contouring around the headwall and doubling back at the first chance.

Anyways, at Artist Point, I admired the view south down the Swift Creek valley towards Baker Lake but also lamented the change in the weather. It was now completely overcast everywhere except towards the far south. My dreams for a colorful sunset were dashed. I still had time to kill before sunset so I headed out towards Huntoon Point. Along the way, I scoped out the various trees encased in ice just like the trees in the Finnish Lapland. Eventually, I topped out on Huntoon Point’s 5,247 foot summit. Despite skies which still weren’t clearing out, I was determined to take at least some photos. I began my hike back towards Artist Point but stopped along the way to photograph the gigantic ice trees. One grove in particular hand a number of interestingly shaped limbs which I used to frame Mount Baker in the distance.
Ice encrusted trees and Mount Baker from Kuhlshan Ridge. Converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex 2
Ice encrusted trees and Mount Baker from Kuhlshan Ridge. Converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex 2
Ice encrusted trees and Mount Baker from Kuhlshan Ridge. Converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex 2
The only color to be seen was over 50 miles to the south/southeast and so I made the judgement call to head back to my original viewpoint over the Swift Creek drainage where I figured I could come up with some sort of composition. I passed another couple enjoying the views with some hot beverage and set up my camera to begin shooting. After a while, the couple near me headed back to their car and the clouds above Mount Baker had the faint hint of reflected color. More time went by and the color began to slowly build up. I couldn’t believe it- the color turned a fiery, vibrant red! I was cold to the point of my teeth almost chattering but I quickly attacked the developing scene in front of me. This metamorphosis of color lasted about 15 minutes. It faded away and I felt extremely lucky to have witnessed it. I should know better, especially since I have been witness to these types of displays before. None the less, it always leaves me in awe when it does happen.

Awe doesn’t keep you warm so it was time to go! It was already dark enough to don my headlamp for the hike out. My hike out was peaceful except for the crunch of snow beneath my snowshoes. Across the Bagley Lakes basin, I could make out the headlamps of two skiers making an ascent of Mount Herman for some night time turns. This was a fabulous way to start the new year!

Welker Peak and the cloud covered Baker Lake valley from Artist Point
Mount Baker and Swift Creek drainage from Artist Point
Post-sunset color over Mount Baker from Artist Point
Post-sunset color over Mount Baker from Artist Point
Post-sunset color over Mount Baker from Artist Point
Fading Post-sunset color over Mount Baker from Artist Point
Fading Post-sunset color over Mount Baker from Artist Point

Waiting for Auroras

Late afternoon high above the Baker Lake valleyAuroras are trademarks of the high latitudes such as Alaska, Norway, and Canada. It is much rarer to see them at the lower latitudes of places like Seattle. After a tremendous solar burst last week, that’s exactly what was forecasted for the weekend. Sometime in the early 2000s, I saw some aurora activity from the front yard of my house in Everett and it was mesmerizing. I desperately wanted to capture the auroras above some of our fine northwest scenery.

There have been some near misses in terms of seeing auroras over the last couple years and that gave me some time to figure out where to go. Over time, I finally found my “spot” in the Baker Lake vicinity of Mount Baker. My location looked to have a great view of both Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker and was fairly accessible. Predictably, the weather slowly degraded as Saturday arrived. Clouds would be bad enough but persistent afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains really threatened to ruin any chance we had.

Clouds and the Twin Sisters range in late afternoon light
Partial view of Mount Shuksan in late afternoon lightAs the afternoon went on, the storm activity seemed to tail off and so we gave it a go. Surprisingly, the Forest Service roads were bone dry; the thunderstorms never dropped their payload in this area. Despite some concerns about having to hike on snow to our destination, everything ended up being snow free. Even better, the site I had researched turned out to be great. Mount Baker remained cloaked behind thick clouds but Mount Shuksan had a horizontal slit across its mid flanks. I think the struggling optimists inside of us hoped that the pockets of blue sky were the beginnings of a clear night sky.

Below us, the Baker Lake valley was filling with clouds and gradually creeping up the valley sides. Sunset drew closer and closer bringing color to the various clouds across the sky. As daylight continued to fade, so did our hopes for clear skies in this area. After sunset, the clouds finally swallowed us whole. It was still early enough to come up with a Plan B. It was tough but some reports of clear skies back down in Snohomish County lured us back closer to home. The Mount Pilchuck trail head was our Plan B and two hours of driving later, we were there.

View across the Baker Lake valley in late afternoon
Twin Sisters range and clouds as sunset approaches
Twin Sisters range and clouds as sunset approachesClear skies were directly overhead but clouds filled the northern skies. no auroras were visible to the naked eye. Or were they?…..While taking some night shots, my peripheral vision seemed to catch a shimmer in the sky. Clouds were still thick so I wasn’t sure what I saw. On one of my shots, there was a small green orb. The auroras! Sadly, that would be all that we would see. It was now pushing 2am; we now accepted the bitterness of defeat and drove home. Hopefully soon, the skies will cooperate and we will capture the auroras. One of these days…

Mount Baker's east slopes and a cloud filled Baker Lake valley
Mount Baker fades from view
Mount Shuksan at sunset
The summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan pokes above the clouds at sunset
Aurora borealis peeking through cloudy skies at Mount Pilchuck

Top Ten Photos of 2011

2011 is quickly coming to an end and it’s time to reflect. Last year was a very productive year, and I made many outings throughout the year. There was only problem- this pace was simply not sustainable. As 2011 moved along, I sought a greater balance between my photographic pursuits and the other things in my life. It’s been a weird transition but it has helped removed some of the stressful feelings I have felt while pushing myself to keep the momentum going.

Now, our fickle Pacific Northwest weather kind of helped me out because summer really didn’t arrive until late July! One of the photos below is a typical view during late July / beginning of August instead of the middle of September when it was actually taken. Earlier in the year, I made a small investment in myself and signed up for a weekend class in image processing led be Sean Bagshaw. You can read more about that class in my review of his classes found here but I’ll just say this was a significant event in my development and advancement as a photographer. His teachings finally helped me tackle a sunset photo of Mount Rainier (also below) that frustrated me ever since I took the photo back in February. I finally have a version I like!

I have also really enjoyed getting more familiar and competent with my Pentax K5 dSLR. Its capabilities have really amazed me and I really think it will serve me well for several years to come. Pretty much all my photos this year with the exception of a few weeks in September were taken with my K5. On to the photos! In no particular order…

1.) “Shuksan Swirl – North Cascades National Park”

Shuksan Swirl - North Cascades National Park
The 2010-2011 winter provided me with several wonderful candidates for conversion to black & white and this was one of them. Taken from the White Salmon Lodge parking lot at the Mount Baker Ski Area, the gusty winds kept changing the fabulous view of Mount Shuksan.

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

2.) “Tahoma Glow – Mount Rainier National Park”

Tahoma Glow - Mount Rainier National Park (updated version)

Probably the most wonderful sunset of the year but the hardest photos to process. Taken from the Ricksecker Viewpoint within the park, the mountain finally revealed itself as the peak of sunset colors spread across its flanks. This was a great moment to experience, and the second such sunset that a certain friend joined me on. I’m starting to think he’s a good luck charm!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here. These photos won’t reflect my re-work though!

3.) “Peek-a-Boo – Washington Park, Anacortes, Washington”

Peek-a-Boo - Washington Park, Anacortes, Washington

Taken in the municipal park located just beyond the San Juan ferry terminal in Anacortes, this macro-esque shot made the best of an otherwise flat display of shooting stars along the rocky shoreline. I was immediately drawn to the repeating patterns of the plant leaves against the solitary bloom rising up.

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

4.) “The End Around – Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area”

The End Around - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

I’ve begun an annual trip to the Columbia River Gorge in the spring and this photo comes from a deeper exploration of Ruckel Creek. This photo was also a little precarious to take- I was standing on a wet log with my tripod fully extended but the legs near collapsed together. I really wanted to capture the motion of the creek as it moved around the logjam.

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

5.) “Ipsut Creek – Mount Rainier National Park”

Ipsut Creek - Mount Rainier National Park

This photo was an early product from easily the most grueling outing of the year. I managed to convince my friend to join me on the 10 mile bike ride and 14 mile roundtrip hike & bike up to Moraine Park in the northwest sector of Mount Rainier National Park. This creek provides the water for use at the Ipsut Creek Campground at the end of the now closed Carbon River Road within the park.

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

6.) “The Wall – Mount Rainier National Park”

The Wall - Mount Rainier National Park

Fast forward several hours from the time of the previous photo, this was the reward for all the long hours of travel. Although we were racing to stay ahead of a storm system rolling in, the mountain did stay clear long enough to enjoy the fruits of our labor!

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

7.) “Fall Upon Church – North Fork Nooksack River Valley”

Fall Upon Church - North Fork Nooksack River Valley

I found this viewpoint about 2 years ago but hadn’t been able to time a visit with the peak of fall color. This year I got pretty close!

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

8.) “Mossy Feet – Mount Rainier National Park”

Mossy Feet - Mount Rainier National Park

I almost did not take this photograph. I was hiking out from a somewhat disappointing early winter visit to Green Lake in Mount Rainier National Park and light in the old growth forest was beginning to diminish. I was pretty wet from the rain/sleet mix I had been out in for hours but I was just struck by the “glow” of the moss on this particular Western Red Cedar tree.

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

9.) “Rock Garden – Mount Baker National Recreation Area”

Rock Garden - Mount Baker National Recreation Area

Taken during my first ever trip up to Park Butte on Mount Baker, I was faced with a quandary at sunset. I wanted to make it out to a specific tarn that Lee Mann has made famous with one of his photographs but I knew that I would not be able to make it in time to take advantage of any of the sunlight light. I decided to look around where I was and found this nice view.

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

10.) “Van Trump Park – Mount Rainier National Park”

Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park

A classic view..but in September?? Such is the case with this photo. This was another “first visit” for me to this parkland west of Paradise on the mountain’s southern flanks. The only thing missing from the photo is any evidence of the voracious mosquitoes who were frantically trying to extract as much blood as possible from my body.

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

And here’s one more..

11.) “Surrounded – South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley”

Surrounded - South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley

On the hike up to Pinnacle Lake in the North Central Cascades, I was struck by how the fern leaves radiated outward from this sea of False Lily of the Valley.

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

Park Butte Sunset

Mount Baker peek-a-boo from the Baker Lake Road
Mount Baker and wetland from the Baker Lake Road
Fall is starting to appear here in the Pacific Northwest but so far we only have the morning fog and cooler temperatures. Friday evening saw a wonderful sunset over the Puget Sound and, with a developing high pressure ridge, I thought there might be a chance for a repeat performance. After debating where to go, I decided on the Park Butte area on the south side of Mount Baker. As it is, I’m one of the few people that HAVEN’T visited the Park Butte Area.

Like Mount Rainier, the glacier capped Mount Baker is visible from many locations around the Puget Sound. The southern flank of the mountain is adorned with the Easton, Squak, Deming, and Talum Glaciers. For mountain climbers, the Easton Glacier is the most popular and default route up the mountain. For Hikers, Park Butte holds a fire lookout and a great view of Mount Baker and the Twin Sisters to the Northwest from a 5400′ high point on the mountain. For either type of outdoor enthusiast, the journey starts at Schriebers Meadow at 3300 feet and a fairly level wander through acres of huckleberry meadows.

Mount Baker reflection in Morovitz Meadows
Mount Baker from Morovitz Meadows
After about 0.8 miles, the trail crosses a series of braids that make up Rocky Creek. The name is quite appropriate because rocks and boulders are everywhere. The rippled landscape reminds me very much of hiking on the slopes of Mount Adams or Mount Saint Helens. After another quarter mile or so, the trail begins to switch back up to gain access to Morovitz Meadows. After about 1.5 miles of switch backing, you reach a trail junction with the Scott Paul Trail. This secondary trail also begins at Schriebers Meadows but takes a 6 mile meandering loop up into the alpine environment before its terminus at the Park Butte Trail. Pay close attention to this intersection during daylight if your plans are to shoot sunset and hike out. More on that later!

From the Scott Paul Trail junction, the views open up impressively. The Black Buttes rise abruptly in the distance in front of you and Mount Baker itself is lies through some small alpine trees on your right. As we entered the meadow, there was some fall color in the huckleberry leaves but the actual huckleberries were still very green! It seems as though last winter’s snowpack was very stingy and didn’t go willingly. The only wildflowers I remember seeing were some Sitka Valerian in prime bloom along a small creek.

Mount Baker and the Railroad Grade from Morovitz Meadows
Mount Baker sunset from near Park Butte
A little ways further, you reach another trail junction. This is the main turnoff for all the mountain climbers- the Railroad Grade (named for its steady rate of ascent like a railroad). The Park Butte trail continues across a large open basin before it switchbacks up to a plateau alongside the actual Park Butte lookout ridge. Before that, however, I became tempted to try some reflected mountain shots in a small pool of water in the meadow. We didn’t time our hike correctly so the “golden hour” was just starting.

I took my shots (too quick as I look back on them!) and then did my best to quickly ascend to the plateau. The plateau is about 25 acres in size and very open with three decent sized tarns. The southernmost tarn was made famous by the great Pacific Northwest photographer Lee Mann with this photo (look for “1213 Koma Kulshan”). As much as I don’t care for shooting “icons”, this is where I wanted to go on this day. My hope was that I could find a different take on this view or something different altogether.

Mount Baker sunset from near Park Butte
Mount Baker sunset from near Park Butte
As I finally got to the edge of the plateau, the sunset light was really starting to change and I had a decision to make- attempt to make the quarter mile cross country hike to the tarn or find a composition where I was. The sunset was cloud free and almost at the best light so, rather than risk coming back with nothing, I decided to find something where I was. Quite luckily, I happened to like the scene that spread out in front of me. I noticed a rocky hump off trail so I rock hopped to make my way over to it.

The ridge line directly behind me had already put me in shade so I knew that I needed to use one of my neutral density grad filters. I decided on my Lee 0.6 soft edge and began to take shots. After the last warm light on Mount Baker faded, I packed up and sought out my friend, who had continued on ahead of me and onto the plateau. I forgot to check the time for moonrise and quickly found out that this wasn’t it. Before making the hike out, I quickly looked around for a panorama composition. Truthfully, I’m pretty happy with how this turned out!

Mount Baker sunset from near Park Butte
Sunset light travels up the Easton and Deming Glaciers on Mount Baker
The temperature really started to fall once the sun went down. I didn’t get too far back down the trail before turning on my headlamp. The trail was fairly moist and mucky at times so I wanted to be sure of my footing. The trail may be a freeway during the day but it’s a ghost town at night. This DEFINITELY is bear country and a hiking trip report from the day before mentioned crossing paths with a bear about the base of the switchbacks.

For this reason, my friend and I were pretty chatty and noisy on the way out. We passed the trail junction with the Railroad Grade and then the junction with the Scott Paul Trail. We entered the forest but, after a while, something seemed off. Neither of us remember a creek being so close, loud, and visible alongside the trail. We crossed the creek and then the trail started climbing. The became a bit more narrow as well. What the hell??

Last light of sunset on the summit of Mount Baker
Mount Baker panorama at dusk from near Park Butte
We stopped to think about where we were. As near as I could figure, we must have turned ONTO the Scott Paul trail rather than go past the trail junction. We backtracked along the trail, past the creek and then soon were back at the junction we missed. Apparently it was a sharper switchback in the trail than I remembered during the daylight! Almost immediately, we recognized things along the trail which confirmed we were back on the right track. Making steady progress, we talked, yelled, and clanked our hiking poles to make our presence known.

90 minutes after starting our hike out, we arrived at the trailhead (sans any wildlife encounters). The views here really are amazing and I can’t believe I waited this long to make my first visit!

Lesser side of Mount Baker

If you’ve visited my photo galleries, you will notice that Mount Baker (and the Mount Baker area in general) is a favorite subject of mine. The vast majority of Mount Baker compositions are taken either from the north or from the south. The west side is seldom seen and for a good reason- access to viewpoints is severely challenged. While a forest service road (Road 38) provides some access to the area, the surrounding ridges and peaks largely lie in private ownership.

One day I was exploring the area with Google Earth and I found a ridge spine which seemed to offer a great view of the mountain without any logging activity in the foreground:

Google Earth view of the west face of Mount Baker
Even better, the spot looked to be a short hike via a decommissioned logging road. On this holiday weekend, I headed out with a friend to put boots on the ground and find out if the view lived up to my own hype. Before the actual hike, I made the brief side trip up the Clearwater Creek valley to show my friend the huge unnamed waterfall I discovered earlier in spring.

Waterfall spilling into Clearwater Creek (portrait view)
Waterfall spilling into Clearwater Creek (landscape view)
Full sun provided its natural challenges with shade and full sun in the same frame. I scrambled down to the creek’s edge to shoot the lowest tier of the waterfall which empties directly into Clearwater Creek. Fortunately, it was early enough in the day that this spot was still shaded by the steep canyon walls. This creek really holds some photographic promise but this brief introduction indicates it won’t give up its goods easily. Water’s edge is mostly bedrock with little to no margin for cross country travel. I might make another trip here later in the summer once the water levels subside a bit to spend the day.

Waterfall spilling into Clearwater Creek and creekside reflections
Having reloaded back into my truck, we headed off and up the logging roads to our destination. The Middle Fork Nooksack River valley is nestled between Mount Baker and the Twin Sisters range. The higher you go, the better the views of the Twin Sisters become. The higher I went, the more neglected the road became. The alder alongside the roads became thicker and closed in. My truck received many new scratches thanks to the alders.

Davidson's penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii) along a logging road high above the Middle Fork Nooksack River
Just when the views of the Twin Sisters couldn’t get any better, Mount Baker finally came into view. The summit was wrapped in cloud but the Black Buttes were visible along with the Coleman and Thunder Glaciers. We arrived at what I determined to be our “trailhead” and we could see our destination only 0.7 miles directly across from us. The sun’s rays were heating up the day (hey- this part of the country hasn’t experienced warm weather for almost 260 days!) and after finding the best entry point, we dove into the forest to pick up the old logging road.

The road’s beginning was still fairly well defined thanks to its notching into a hillside. The upslope side still had a drainage ditch and the downslope side of the road dropped away. By the end of the day, we joked to ourselves that the best way to tell where the road was located was to look for one thing: Sitka Alder. It seemed to ONLY grow within the boundaries of the old roadbed. Where it grew, it grew thick and vertically straight (at least initially!).

The road had several culverts (which were removed and set aside on site) which created a series of small obstacle courses. Each crossing required climbing down and back up, all the while crawling over, under, and through alder and willows. Despite the constant slaps in the face by branches, I felt we made good progress. I was able to frequently check our progress using my Motion-X GPS app, which I had prepped for this outing my caching the aerial photos from our hike. This turned out to be a good thing because the ground conditions at times didn’t seem to coincide with what we saw on the ground.

About halfway out we crossed the one true creek in the area and the uphill began. At this point, I also ran out of flagging. Since there was no trail, I brought a bunch of pink flagging strips which I would periodically hang on alder branches to mark our route. I didn’t bring the entire roll with me and hoped that the route would become more obvious and not require flagging. It did break out into some open stretches but the groves of alder continued to dominate and hinder our travel.

After more brush, we reached an old road junction which signaled the start of our more strenuous ascent. My friend had been leading our incursion into the reclaiming forest and by this point, was starting to feel its cumulative effects. We slogged on until we met a junction with a slide path. We took an extended break as I consulted the GPS to determine where we were. I estimated that we could save some distance by traveling straight up the slide path (which joined the last road switchback) but it would obviously be more immediate elevation gain.

We decided to try it since it was clear travel in comparison to the alder slapfest we were enduring. About what we thought was halfway up, we could not definitively see the road switchback above us. I was feeling physically better so I huffed up the remaining distance to scout it. Huzzah! Success. I topped out onto the last road switchback and passed that fact on to my friend. He pressed on and soon enough joined me there. At this point he was really wiped out. I knew we were close so I told him I would press on the remaining distance. If I had a great view of Mount Baker (which I never really knew for certain I would), I was going to blow my emergency whistle four times……..


I walked back towards the landing to blow my whistle again and make sure he heard me. I started to see some of the alder branches shake so I knew he was coming towards me. We strolled around the corner and began to enjoy the view:

West face of Mount Baker and the Warm Creek drainage
West face of Mount Baker and the Warm Creek drainage
Mount Baker west face detail. Marmot Ridge in the foreground
Once again, the summit was capped by clouds but they were fluid. Shortly after setting up my gear and taking my first few shots, the clouds parted over the summit. It was a brief moment but one that was repeated several times during our stay. The view was tremendous and definitely was as good as what I had seen using Google Earth. Below us was the Warm Creek drainage and the creek has an impressive waterfall that drops about 250 feet. It added the perfect accent to the uniform forest in the lower left portion of my wide angle shots.

Assassin Spire on Lincoln Peak, Mount Baker
Large 250 foot waterfall on Warm Creek
Mount Baker west face detail. Marmot Ridge in the foreground
I had an obligation later in the evening and we were running behind schedule. As amazing as it was, we had to turn back. Lost in all of my narrative here is the amazing view of the Twin Sisters. Once again, this side of the Twin Sisters isn’t commonly seen. Before packing up for good, I spent a few minutes taking some photos:

North face of the Twin Sisters
South Twin Sister and the Sisters Glacier
North face of North Twin Sister
Sister Divide and the bowl containing Lake Wiseman
Sisters Glacier detail
The rewards were over and the tribulations began once again. Having flagged most of the route, it helped us on our return journey. Both of us were definitely stumbling around so we resorted to traveling from flag to flag. Despite the severe fatigue, we made good time on our journey back and in one glorious moment, crashed back out of the brush and onto the road where we parked hours before.

My truck from seemingly a world away (but technically 0.7 miles distant)
I would love to return to this spot in the future (although I think I might need to convince my friend to join me!). The big thing I learned from this outing was that this trip can’t SAFELY be done as a sunset or sunrise dayhike attempt. I can only imagine what kind of angle or knee sprain injury would be awaiting me while hiking in the dark. A nice campsite high up at the last road switchback exists but any water would have to be obtained at the lone creek crossing and hauled up to the campsite. All in all, a very successful discovery!

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