Mount Index

Trying for the Trifecta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunny Deception Creek

Last winter I visited the Deception Creek Trail in hopes of reaching a particular waterfall in order to capture it in a winter setting. That attempt ended prematurely due to time constraints. This winter I never really had the chance to try again until this past week. I didn’t have high hopes since our weather has finally shifted away from full-time snow & rain to a more transitional phase. I parked near the Deception Falls picnic area and started my hike up to the trailhead. It’s always a bit dangerous to be walking along a road with a 60mph speed limit but drivers are considerate for the most part.

The hardest part is also the most hilarious- ascending and crossing the snowbank created by the highway snowplows. This year, that equates to climbing up onto a four foot high bank consisting solely of unconsolidated snow with the consistency of sugar. Once atop the bank, I donned my snowshoes and took two steps. And quickly sank down to my waist. Whoops. While one snowshoe was outside of my little burrow, my other snowshoe was buried by backfilled snow and became an impromptu deadman anchor.

Deception Creek breaking free of winter
Waterfall on Deception Creek
Sunlight dappled rapids along Deception Creek
I spent the next 5-10 minutes digging out my foot by hand in the glorious sunshine. Having freed my foot and retrieved my snowshoe from the black hole of snow, I regrouped and mushed forward to the trailhead. There was about 3 feet of snow out in the open but that diminished slightly to about 2 feet once I was in the forest. Due to the snow filled access and limited parking, I was assured of a solitary experience. The skies above were partly cloudy so sunshine would beam through the old growth forest from time to time.

I followed some old snowshoe tracks along the official trail and made my way deeper into the forest. In short order, I passed the spot I turned back from last winter. Sure enough, the spot I coveted was only a short distance further. Doh! I climbed up into position and began to fire away. As anticipated, the snowpack was “spring dirty” with fir needles and cones. The wide shots will have to wait until next winter so I focused more on isolating little scenes throughout the area.

Rapids along Deception Creek
Deception Creek waterfall detail
Deception Creek detail
As I finished up, a very quick snow squall drifted through while the sun continued to shine. A great, fun day but it was time to head back. Once back at my truck, I thought about making another stop just a bit further east but talked myself out of it. On the drive back to town, The summit ridge of Mount Index was knifing through some passing white clouds. I pulled over and took some shots thinking they might make some nice black & white photos. Behind me, the summit of Baring Mountain was doing the same thing.

I was more than happy with the day so I packed up and called it good. Just another great day in the Cascades!..

North Peak of Mount Index and clouds
Impressive north face of Mount Index
Clouds swelling above the summit of Baring Mountain
Mount Index and clouds

Jumpoff Sunset

North face of Mount Index's North Peak in winter
Summit of Mount Index's North Peak in winter
I stayed closer to home this weekend and decided to check out the potential for a new spot I found via Google Earth. Gunn Peak, Merchant Peak, and Baring Mountain are the most recognizable peaks in the Skykomish River valley foothills. Due to their prominence, they can capture and reflect the golden light of sunset. The valley in this area is fairly narrow with some level of terracing. During my searches with Google Earth, I spied a small hill in a clearcut that appeared to be easy to access.

It was only a 25 minute drive so I gambled with Saturday’s sunset to check it out. I haven’t spent much time in this area, mostly because of a controversial gate issue associated with a Forest Service Road (FS Rd 62). It’s a public road but one that provides access to the checkerboard of private ownership that exists in some portions of the central Cascades of Washington State. The timber company who owns these in-holdings expressed concerns to the Forest Service in the past about the danger to its employees from (illegal) target shooting. To the dismay of many, the Forest Service allowed the timber company to eliminate public access to one of it’s own roads.

Gunn Peak and the Lewis Creek Basin
Baring Mountain and Klinger Ridge
Anyways, in the last year or so, the interim gate closure was finally eliminated and access has been restored. I have to admit, though, that I’m still a bit leery of the gate and still feel the idea of being “locked in”. I went for it anyways, and was soon parked at the gate to the secondary spur road that I would be walking up to reach my destination. It was an easy 10-15 minute walk and I was soon greeted with a nice, expansive view of the valley below me.

On my far right was the impressive north face of Mount Index’s North Peak. The left side of my panoramic view was highlighted by Jumpoff Ridge and it’s most notable summits- Gunn and Merchant Peak. Finally, the sloping summit of Baring Mountain and Klinger Ridge were visible further up the South Fork Skykomish River valley. It was quite breezy and clouds were shading Jumpoff Ridge when I first arrived. I was on site about an hour before sunset so I had plenty of time to wait for conditions to change.

Panorama view of Jumpoff Ridge. Gunnshy, Gunn Peak, Heybrook Ridge, Merchant Peak (left to right)
Last light at sunset on the summit of Mount Index's North Peak
Luckily, they did change and the sun broke through the clouds as sunset drew closer. This particular sunset was only a six on a 1 to 10 scale but I really only wanted to check the spot out; anything beyond that would have been pure gravy! As summer gets closer and the days get longer, I might be visiting this spot more since it is so close and easy to visit..

Sunset colors over the logged slopes in the Proctor Creek vicinity
Last color of sunset over the logged slopes in the Proctor Creek vicinity

The Week of Light

This past week brought us a newscaster’s dream- Snowmageddon! Before that, however, was a week in which the Puget Sound was treated to a number of days with brilliant sunrises and sunsets. From here in Everett, the potential for great vantages of the Cascade mountains with the Snohomish River valley in the foreground exist but come with challenges. These views from publicly accessible locations are very limited; those spots that remain usually have some sort of constraints in the form of powerlines or street light poles.

The best vantage I could come up with was just above I-5 along Broadway Avenue in the vicinity of Evergreen Cemetery. Here, the problem are the light poles along I-5. Here are a collection of shots, almost all from this location. Some of the wider shots do have the poles in them. Not much you can do about that!

Winter sunrise over the Cascades and Snohomish River valley
Winter sunrise over the Cascades and Snohomish River valley
Winter sunrise over the Cascades and Snohomish River valley
Winter sunrise over the Cascades and Snohomish River valley
North face of Mount Rainier at sunset from Everett (80 miles away)
North face of Mount Rainier at sunset from Everett (80 miles away)
I had hoped for some of the typical morning valley fog that usually occurs in the Snohomish River valley to add to the interest. The fog did show up on the second morning but was waaaaay thicker than I would have wanted. It almost obscured the mountains!

Sunrise over the Cascades with thick valley fog
Sunrise over the Cascades with thick valley fog
Sunrise over the Cascades with thick valley fog
Sunrise over the Cascades with thick valley fog
I was just about home on Friday evening when it looked like sunset might get interesting. I decided to just go home instead of heading to a nearby park in anticipation of sunset. Boy- that was the WRONG move! The sunset was so mind blowing that it was a trending topic on Twitter that evening. I quickly realized the error of my decision so I tried to snap a couple shots from my back..

The last minutes of a mind blowing sunset from Everett, Washington
The last minutes of a mind blowing sunset from Everett, Washington

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