North Cascades National Park

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!

Tapto Lakes

Mount Challenger and the Challenger Glacier in North Cascades National Park at sunset
“If you want blood, you got it” – AC/DC

This report is a bit longer than normal, for reasons that will become obvious.

A visit to Tapto Lakes and Whatcom Pass in North Cascades National Park has been on my wish list for a number of years. Each year I thought to myself that this was the year I’d make a go of it but never did. My regular backpacking partner hates the “rigidity” of NPS backpacking and also had knee surgery. If I was to do this, I would have to do this solo. Could I do it? It’s a two day approach and I’ll admit, this was a bit daunting to me. None the less, this was finally was my year and through a series of unrelated events, the timing of my trip coincided with clear and sunny skies. My plan was such:

Day One: Hannegan Pass Trailhead to U.S. Cabin Camp
Day Two: U.S. Cabin Camp to Tapto Lakes
Day Three: Tapto Lakes
Day Four: Tapto Lakes
Day Five: Tapto Lakes to Copper Creek Camp
Day Six: Copper Creek Camp to Hannegan Pass Trailhead

I headed out Sunday morning and stopped off at the NPS / FS Center in Sedro-Woolley only to be told that they don’t issue any permits for that area (FYI- you need to go to the Glacier Visitor Center for that). It’s still on the way so no big deal; An hour or so later, I stopped in Glacier to get my permit and, thankfully, I was able to get all of my plan permitted. Another hour or so later, I was headed up the trail towards Hannegan Pass.

The frontside trail up to Hannegan Pass is in great shape with still water available along the trail (not at the number of opportunities as earlier in the summer however). Flowers have been pretty much done for a little while but the views never go away. From Hannegan Pass onward, everything was new to me. After descending to the National Park boundary and Boundary Camp, the trail re-enters the forest and begins its descent. That descent seemed pretty blunt and I remember thinking that I wouldn’t look forward to this on my way back out.

The trail’s descent does ease a little as you approach Copper Creek camp. After a hydration break, I started out on the final 2.6 miles to U.S. Cabin Camp. The forest in the Chilliwack River valley is beautiful. At times, it’s mossy and with a diverse understory. Lots of big trees, too. My time seemed to also coincide with an explosion of mushrooms. Hundreds of them were everywhere and all sorts of varieties (I’m no mycologist). The size of some of these things was incredible.

Mount Challenger in North Cascades National Park at sunset
Constellation Orion over Mount Challenger in North Cascades National Park
Milky Way over Red Face Mountain in North Cascades National Park
Another thing there was plenty of was blowdown. It looks like the Park Service didn’t get much trail maintenance done either on the Chilliwack or Brush Creek Trail this year (sequestration anyone?). Much of the downed wood could be stepped over but there were a few times between U.S. Cabin and Graybeal Camp where you had to remove the pack to negotiate your way through it. Late in the afternoon, I arrived at U.S. Cabin and eventually found my site for the night. The forest around the camp is also beautiful and the quick stroll out to the Chilliwack River offers a few views of Copper Ridge high above or Mineral Mountain back up valley.

I had a pleasant night at U.S. Cabin with the exception of one party near the stock camp who was hooting & hollering like they were dispersed car camping. Eventually, they also settled down for the night. I was tired after the long day and part of me still wondered if I had it in me to make it up to Tapto Lakes. The next morning I headed out about 8:30 and took the obligatory cable car ride across the Chilliwack. Good times! Beyond here, I took a brief break at the Brush Creek bridge crossing for a few pictures and then continued on to Graybeal Camp.

From Graybeal, the fun ends and the work begins- 3 miles and 2,000’ of gain to Whatcom Pass. Much of the way is in forest so that does shield you from the sun. Make no mistake- in the middle of the day, it’s still warm so my progress with a full pack was slow. Views open up and teaser views of Whatcom Pass, Whatcom Peak, and Tapto Lakes basin above begin but that turn off for Whatcom Camp seemingly would never come. FINALLY, about 4:30pm I made Whatcom Pass. There’s no signage at the pass so it’s a little understated. I admired the Little Bear Creek valley to the north during a break before doubling back for the waypath up towards Tapto Lakes.

First light on Whatcom Peak at sunrise in North Cascades National Park
Driftwood scene along the shoreline of one of the Tapto Lakes in North Cascades National Park
Sunset on Mount Challenger and Whatcom Peak from Tapto Lakes in North Cascades National Park
I didn’t quite know what to expect of the trail from the pass up to Tapto and I can tell you I wasn’t ready for what it actually is: a waypath. Actually, it’s more like a fisherman’s trail during your ascent through the trees immediately above the pass with a few select class III moves thrown in for good measure. Not what you want after a long day on the trail and with a full pack. After making the turn off from the East Lake spur, I was taking a break on a boulder when some brush crackling upslope away from me caught my ear.

About 60 yards away, a nice sized black bear was grazing on huckleberries (ripe everywhere, BTW) and making his/her way down in the direction of Whatcom Pass. At first, the bear didn’t notice me but as I fumbled my water bottle and it ping ponged off several rocks, it became aware of me. A friendly salutation was met with indifference and it continued grazing. This would be the only bear I would see the entire trip. After FINALLY getting my first view of the Tapto Lakes basin, I got the rude surprise that my effort wasn’t over. There’s still a fair amount of switchbacks to descend to finally get into the basin. Coming off of the severe rains several days before my visit, parts of the trail were slick and I promptly banana peel slipped onto my ass.

As photography was my primary goal, I knew I wanted views of Challenger from my camp so I set out for the west end of the basin and settled in on a grassy pad located below Lemon Lime Lake (as referenced in this previous NWHikers thread). Sunset my first night was probably the “best” of my three nights, only because there were a few clouds to reflect some of the alpenglow light. The entire rest of my trip would be under cloudless skies.

Sunset on Mount Challenger from Tapto Lakes in North Cascades National Park
Constellation Orion over Mount Challenger from Tapto Lakes in North Cascades National Park
Constellation Orion over Mount Challenger from Tapto Lakes in North Cascades National Park
Overnight, I got up around 3:30am to shoot some stars over Challenger & Whatcom Peak. My three sunrises would be carbon copies- cloudless and not that exciting (but still wonderful to watch). Tuesday was my first full day of two in Tapto Lakes basin and I basically spent the day doing laundry, filtering water, and just lounging around. The true effort to make it up to Tapto from Whatcom Pass eliminated any desired to hike out of the basin until the end of my time in the basin.

Monday and Tuesday nights were both breezy as soon as the sun had set but Tuesday was especially blustery. It was like a freight train coming from the east and, honestly I was concerned when I left my tent that a strong gust might rip it away (I ended up putting a heavy rock inside as I shot some more stars). On Wednesday afternoon, I made the trek up to the ridge of Red Face Mountain. The hike up wasn’t too bad and not particularly sketchy. In fact, the only sketchy part was standing on the ridge looking north towards Indian Mountain and the headwaters of Indian Creek. The cliff drops abruptly so I didn’t linger long.

The next morning, I packed up and began my two day hike out. After Whatcom Pass, I enjoyed the downhill pace of the hike back down to Graybeal. In the middle portion of the trail between Graybeal and Whatcom Pass, the trail crosses through some extensive brushy avalanche slopes. As I tend to do, I clank my poles together to make noise since I’m travelling solo. About 20 feet from the end of the final brushy, rocky section of trail, the unthinkable happened.

Tapto Lakes basin from Red Face Mountain in North Cascades National Park
Mount Challenger from Red Face Mountain in North Cascades National Park
Mount Challenger at sunset in North Cascades National Park
As I clanked my poles together, I planted my left foot onto a rock. While intentional, my foot moved and that was unintentional. Like a calving glacier or a building imploding, I began to fall left (downhill) and I couldn’t plant my left pole in time.

“Oh sh!t..”

I hit belly first like Pete Rose sliding into a base, frantically trying to grab vegetation to stop my motion. Before I could grab anything meaningful, a small rock stopped me by saying hello to the side of my head. I was stunned at what had just happened but I was at least stopped. I sat up and felt the side of my temple behind my left eye. Looking at my hand, I saw some blood. I wiped it away and felt again; more blood. Damn.

I floundered in my attempts to climb back up to the trail (mind you I still have a 40lb pack on my back) but eventually did. Ok- I know I’m bleeding but I still had my balance; that’s a good sign, right? Thankfully, literally just around the corner was a small creek with cool water. I dropped my pack and used my bandana to clean the blood away. I reached for my iPhone and used the Facetime setting to snap a selfie to see what I had done to myself. Oh oh. That’s not good. Not BAD, but probably not good either. At this point, I began “cold compression” on the wound area by constantly soaking the bandana in cold water and applying it to the wound areas.

Challenger Glacier at sunset in North Cascades National Park
Looking down Little Beaver Creek valley from Whatcom Pass in North Cascades National Park
After 20 minutes of this, any bleeding had slowed and I decided I would continue to hike (my balance was still good) down and stop at Graybeal Camp to break out my first aid kit and figure out what to do. I put my sombrero hat on to cover most of the wound areas and after only a mile, I strolled into an empty Graybeal. At the primo campsite along the creek, I broke out my first aid kit and my iPhone yet again to actually see what the hell I needed to do. Another photo reassessment. The wounds weren’t actively bleeding and the swelling that was present wasn’t alarming. It stung and sucked but I still felt relatively normal. I got lucky. I applied some antibiotic and then cobbled together a knuckle & two standard band aids to cover the most serious wounds.

Now I was faced with a new dilemma- should I tell my girlfriend or not? I’ve used the inReach satellite messaging device since it was release for iPhones a couple years ago and this trip was no exception. Throughout the trip, I regularly checked in and apprised her of my whereabouts. I decided that I would text her and tell her about the incident but reassure here that I was ok and would continue on to Copper Creek as I had planned.

During the next 20 minutes, I played satellite 20 questions with a woman whose professional background includes nursing. There’s NO assuring someone with that background, especially when the injury in question is located someplace you can’t really see (“how deep is the wound?”, “what did you hit?”). By now, it was about 12:20pm and I couldn’t to sit around. I needed to get going to Copper Creek.
Giving blood in North Cascades National Park
Self applied first aid at Graybeal Camp in North Cascades National Park
Once again on the trail in the Brush Creek valley, my hiking pace on level and downhill trail sections was still fairly strong. I kept passing milestones- Brush Creek bridge, cable car, U.S. Cabin. Even as I finally encountered the elevation gain necessary to reach Copper Creek, I still kept a steady pace. I really began to think about the possibility of making the LONG push all the way out to the Hannegan Pass trailhead.

At 3:30pm, I reached Copper Creek. Four hours until sunset- could I hike the 3 miles and 2,000 vertical feet and make Hannegan Pass before dark? If I could, I knew I could suck it up and make the final 4 miles downhill to the trailhead. Away I went. I was in a zone, focused on left foot, right foot. Little further, break. A little further, break. Boundary Camp finally appeared and so did Hannegan Pass. 1 more mile and 700’ of gain.

Just prior to 7pm I pushed up an over the pass and started down the Ruth Creek side. I texted my girlfriend of my status and then hunkered down for the slog ahead. I tried to cover as much trail during the remaining daylight as I could safely and swiftly. At 2 miles from the trailhead, I made my final stop and topped off my water. Darkness now settled in and my headlamp showed the way. I slowed my pace since the trail is pretty rocky and I didn’t need ANOTHER spill.

The last mile would never end. In the dark, the trail I’ve hiked several times looked like nothing familiar. Where’s that avalanche debris you hike through?.. Suddenly, my headlamp reflected off of a car’s reflectors and then the wilderness sign-in box appeared. Oh my god, I just hiked 18.4 miles with a full pack (my new personal best). It was 8:50pm. Relief is dropping your pack into your truck and not having to put it back on.

After changing and a quick bandana bath, I started my drive home. There’s a small pocket of cell coverage where the Hannegan Pass Road meets the Mount Baker Highway so I text’d my girlfriend that I was driving home. At almost midnight on the dot, I was parked in front of her place. Once inside, she had her medical supplies ready and took a look. I was sure she was going to say that we needed to head to the ER for some stitches but she thought it looked good and didn’t need them. Whew. Actually, she was impressed with what I basically improv’d as first aid.

She cleaned out the wound areas, steri-stripped it, and bandaged it up for the night. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a tetanus shot so, at her desire, I got one the next morning. And that ended my first ever trip to Tapto Lakes. Despite a career best day of hiking, I incredibly felt GOOD the next morning. No extreme soreness, no knee pain. I have no idea how this could be.

A few more days removed from the trip, I still feel pretty normal with no ill side effects. My wounds seem to be healing nicely and look better. I was certainly lucky, no doubt about that. I’m not going to overthink my incident because it’s going to happen at some point or another. Mine was a fluke and not the result of stupidity. In the end, it was certainly a trip that I will not soon forget. I have yet to really go through my SLR photos but I think they won’t hold up much against the experiences and emotions of my trip. It was an arduous test and I passed it. That’s good enough for me.

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

Top Ten Photos of 2012

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

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

Big Four Mountain - South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley

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

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

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

The Tree and the Log - Boundary Bay, British Columbia

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

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

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

Early Bird's Worm - Everett, Washington

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

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

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

Pinnacles and Tree - Clear Fork Cowlitz River Valley

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

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

5.) Spreading – Lewis River Valley

Spreading - Lewis River Valley

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

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

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

Brilliance at Boundary Bay, Boundary Bay, British Columbia

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

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

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

Fall, Meet Winter - North Fork Skykomish River Valley

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

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

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

Shuksan Arm and Mount Shuksan - North Cascades National Park

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

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

9.) Another Day – Yellowstone National Park

Another Day - Yellowstone National Park

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

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

10.) Thorton Lakes Fall – North Cascades National Park

Thorton Lakes Fall - North Cascades National Park

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

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

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

11.) Evening Commute – Yellowstone National Park

Evening Commute - Yellowstone National Park

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

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

12.) Mount Jefferson Sunset – Mount Jefferson Wilderness

Mount Jefferson Sunset - Mount Jefferson Wilderness

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

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

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

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

Thorton Lakes

Last minutes of sunset over Pinnacle Peak, Paul Bunyan's Stump, Neve Peak, The Haystack, and The Needle (L to R)This past weekend I visited the Thorton Lakes region within the North Cascades National Park. I’ve never been there before but the promise of good views (including north towards the Southern Picket Range) was too intriguing. The great views don’t come without a price. The hike follows an old logging road for a few miles before bringing a steady uphill slog. Five miles and 2,500 vertical feet later, the ridge surrounding the Thorton Lakes basin is reached. From this point, a half mile and 500 foot descent takes you to the offical campground along the shores of Lower Thorton Lakes. The other option is a steep, climbers trail up towards the summit of Trappers Peak.

My primary interest was to stick around for sunset but I also wanted to get up Trappers Peak for those good views of the Thorton Lakes and the Southern Picket Range to the north. I was taking a little bit of a chance heading here because I didn’t have much intel about falls colors. I scoured older trip reports on to get a sense of what might be possible but the results weren’t conclusive. Making matters worse, a recent trip report from Cascade Pass showed great fall color. My decision was to roll the dice and still head for Thorton Lakes.

West slopes of Trappers Peak from the ridge above Lower Thorton Lake, North Cascades National Park
X Mountain from the ridge above Lower Thorton Lake, North Cascades National Park
Fall color on the benches above Lower Thorton Lake, North Cascades National ParkThe access road off of Highway 20 is fairly rough with several washboard sections but not impossible for passenger vehicles. The old road section turned trail is a nice warm up for the steady ascent to come. Once the trail turns away from the Thorton Creek valley, the trail suddenly becomes very quiet. Views out from the forest don’t really exist save for some fleeting glimpses across the valley at Big Devil Peak. After the trail crosses the Park Service boundary, it enters a small bowl below the ridge that surrounds the lakes. A hiker on their way down told us we had 20 minutes left until we reached the ridge. It didn’t seem believable but- it was.

I received my first disappointment upon reaching the trail junction between the path down to the lake and the path up to the peak. I expected the ridge to be much more open than it actually was. Instead of smaller subalpine trees, the ridge contains mostly larger trees with few unobstructed views down towards Lower Thorton Lake. If I was to get shots of the lake, they would have to be from the trail up towards Trappers Peak.

Fall color at the base of X Mountain, North Cascades National Park
The Haystack and The Needle, North Cascades National Park. The foreground ridge separates the Ladder Creek (L) and Newhalem Creek (R) drainages
Ladder Creek drainage cast in shadow, North Cascades National ParkThe next bit of disappointment was the lighting. The goal was to shoot sunset so we started our hike in the afternoon. By the time we gained the ridge, the sun had traversed far to the west. To photograph the west side of the basin, I had to point my camera into the sunlight and this adds a significant amount of haze to the photos. These two factors alone stopped me from trying to photograph the lake. With the late afternoon, I was beginning to realize that Trappers Peak would not be a reachable destination. Time and exertion would tap me out before I could get into a great position for photos.

There was still some time before the “magic hour” of light before sunset and that was enough to attempt to climb up to the intermediate knoll between the ridge and the summit. This led to my next disappointment of the day. While information on the internet states that there is a trail to the summit, it does elude to the fact that there are some “interesting” sections of the trail. The ascent up to the intermediate knoll is one such section. The crux of this section is where the trail ascends a 100 foot tall gully. Climbing the gully is generally class I-II but a specific move or two might be considered class III. I found it to be serious enough that I wasn’t as comfortable with the thought of down climbing this section after the sunset.

Newhalem Peaks and Klawatti Peak from the Thorton Lakes vicinity, North Cascades National Park
Southern Picket Range from below Trappers Peak, North Cascades National Park
West McMillan Spire in the Southern Picket Range, North Cascades National ParkSunset was still a little ways off which meant there was no reason not to hike “just a little further.” I really wanted to get my glimpse of the Southern Picket Range. After a few false benches, I turned a corner and got my glimpse. I got a few quick shots and then hurried back down to return to a spot further down the ridge for sunset. As we down climbed, I saw a side path which finally gave a relatively unencumbered view of Lower Thorton Lakes. Even though the sun had set enough to cast the entire basin in shade, getting a nice shot of the scene was still a challenge. Warm sunset light was really starting to show off on the rugged ridges back across the Skagit River to our south so I didn’t spend much time on the lakes. Another time, I suppose..

To the west, a few high clouds added some interest in the warm, orange light. To our south and the east, that light was more pinkish but with clear skies. The best displays were located to the east on the upper slopes in the vicinity of Paul Bunyan’s Stump and towards the southeast near Eldorado Peak and Klawatti Peak. The lack of any rain in the region has allowed for the development of some haze which really accentuates colors during sunsets. Even with this haze, we were able to clearly see Whitehorse Mountain and Three Fingers 36 miles to the southwest.

Trappers Peak and the Southern Picket Range, North Cascades National Park
Whitehorse Mountain and Three Fingers Mountain, 36 miles towards the southwest from the Thorton Lakes vicinity, North Cascades National Park
Lower Thorton Lakes and fall color, North Cascades National ParkAbout a half hour after official sunset, the colors in the earth shadow subsided and it was time to hike out. I was not looking forward to this since I had some concerns about following the trail on the way back out in the dark. Below the ridge, the forest proper isn’t heavily vegetated so there were a few times when it was quite easy to make a turn off trail. Thankfully, we managed to make the descent back to the decommissioned road without any navigational incidents. We reached the trailhead a little bit more than 2 hours after leaving the ridge.

The day didn’t quite go as I expected but that seems to be my modis operandi. I’ll return at some point but for now, I think it’s time to hunt down some fall color..

The Haystack (L) and The Needle (R) in the last minutes of sunset, North Cascades National Park
Last sunset light to the west from the Thorton Lakes vicinity, North Cascades National Park
Looking across the Skagit River valley at the last minutes of sunset
Last light of sunset over Eldorado Peak (far R), Klawatti Peak (C), and Primus Peak (far L), North Cascades National Park

Hannegan Peak

After a couple of weeks off, I was eager to get out again. I had wanted to return to Hannegan Peak several weeks ago but it wasn’t in the cards. Hannegan Peak is a 10 mile roundtrip day with 3,500 feet of elevation gain. Once atop the peak, you are treated with tremendous views of the North Cascades, Mount Shuksan, and Mount Baker. Even before reaching the summit, the hike provides views of crystal clear Ruth Creek and snow capped Ruth Mountain.

Panorama of the Nooksack Ridge and Ruth Creek valley
Ruth Mountain ahead (Hannegan Pass in the upper left)
From the trailhead, the trail climbs towards Hannegan Pass over 4 miles. The lower stretch of trail is alive with a wide variety of plants and wildflowers. I saw lots of Columbine, Cow Parsnip, Penstemon, and Tiger Lilly in bloom. The upper half of the hike spends more time in the forest and included Queens Cup and Sitka Valerian in bloom. A half mile before Hannegan Pass lies the turnoff for Hannegan Camp, a backcountry camp in a beautiful sub-alpine setting.

Small seasonal runoff near Hannegan Camp
Stream at Hannegan Camp
The final half-mile up to the pass includes some open meadows which were in between stages- too early for the main wildflower display but too late for the Glacier Lillies. Hannegan Pass proper is a forested pass with some minor views to the northeast. The pass is really just a busy junction. To the right is the way trail that climbers use to climb Mount Ruth. Straight ahead the trail drops down into the North Cascades National Park and the Chilliwack River valley, providing access to Copper Ridge, Easy Ridge, and Whatcom Pass.

Grouse on the Hannegan Peak trail
Halfway point to the top of Hannegan Peak. Highest point in the photo is a false summit
Some of the exposed geology of Hannegan Peak, which was part of the Hannegan Caldera
To reach Hannegan Peak, the trail the heads left from the pass is the choice. From the pass, it’s one mile and another 1,200 feet to the summit plateau. The trail switchbacks through meadows as the views get bigger and bigger. A final snow slope brings you up to the wide summit plateau and a short stroll over to the true summit.

Panorama from the summit looking at Ruth Mountain, Mount Shuksan, and Mount Baker
Mount Blum in the distance
Chilliwack River valley and Whatcom Peak & Mount Challenger in the distance
Geology of Peak 6445
The views from the top are some of finest I’ve seen in the Cascades. A full 360 degrees provide ample eye candy: Goat Mountain, Mount Larrabee, Copper Mountain, Mount Redoubt, Whatcom Peak, Mount Challenger, Mount Blum, Ruth Mountain, Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker and hundreds of other peaks. I spent about an hour on the top taking photos before beginning the long hike out.

Heather in bloom atop Hannegan Peak
Ruth Mountain and heather
Jagged Ridge and part of the Nooksack Cirque
Mount Shuksan
Overview of the Hannegan Pass area (center) and Ruth Mountain
Heading home...

While on the summit, I tried out an iPhone app that I had picked up recently: Peaks from Augmented Outdoors. Using the iPhone’s GPS and compass, it attempts to label mountains and peaks in your vicinity. It works without a cellphone connection so it’s perfect for backcountry use. You can take a snapshot of what you see and then share it later via email or Twitter. I opted for the screenshot of the app in use:

Screenshot of the Peaks app in use
The accuracy of the labels is only as good as the calibration of the iPhone’s compass. In my use, most of the labels were in the ballpark but a few were off what I thought to be a bit much. I didn’t realize it at the time but you can fix errors like what I saw while using the app. Oh well! The app costs $2.99 in the App Store. The only improvement in it that I’d like to see is a slider that restricts the search results from the user by distance. This is a feature of a similar program ( that’s free but requires a cellular network in order to operate.

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