North Cascades

Snow Day

Spring is officially here- but I managed to make it through the entire winter without enjoying a single day on the ski slopes. I had to go at least once so I made it happen on Friday. Not a whole lot to say about this; a beautiful day up at Mount Baker with partly sunny skies and about 4″ of new snow to start the day. After my break for lunch, I spent some time photographing Mount Shuksan before the clouds swallowed it whole. The afternoon brought the snowy weather back and eventually the expansive views completely disappeared. The ski area shut down at about 4pm and before I headed home, I stopped off at Hannigan Pass Road. I hoped to check out a particular spot overlooking the North Fork Nooksack River where Mount Shuksan is visible. The mountain wasn’t visible but I did experience a crazy snow squall that passed through my location despite the presence of sunshine. Very cool experience! A great day and just what I needed..
Mount Shuksan and the White Salmon Creek valley from the Mount Baker Ski Area
Clouds drifting over Shuksan Arm
Shadow and sunlight on Mount Shuksan's lower slopes beneath Winnies Slide
Mount Shuksan summit pyramid and clouds
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
I also put together a little snowboarding video from my day on the slopes which you can view 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!

Snow Returns to the Valley

Things in the North Fork Nooksack River valley were looking more normal after what probably will be the last significant lowland snow event. My day up on the slopes at the Mount Baker Ski Area were unfortunately cut way short due to an equipment issue. I packed up and then headed back down into the valley to scout around. Razor Hone Creek has thwarted my efforts to reveal its treasures several times but I spied a relatively easy access point to try out. I feared a laborious wallowing effort and it proved to be true. In the absence of snowshoes, every step sunk down to the crotch. I had to fill my post hole with snow and then tamp it down with my foot to come up with a stable base. Drawing closer to the creek, I didn’t hear it. I feared that the creek had become buried by the 5+ feet of snow during the previous week. Retreating back to the road, I walked back to the bridge over the creek and confirmed that the creek was, indeed, buried. On to the next location!

Back down in the valley, I stopped at a location I have visited before (but not this winter). It’s the western end of short stretch of rapids along with a modest slot canyon. An unnamed creek originating high on Excelsior Ridge also flows into the river at this spot. The fresh snow was nicely piled up on the boulders in the river:

Fresh snow along the North Fork Nooksack River
I didn’t find much new or very compelling so I moved on. Close to spot where I took one of my favorite panoramas of the river, I explored a short stretch of river located between that location and a second location I looked at earlier this winter. Right away, I noticed this small cave which had a dense number of icicles inside of it. The rain was trying to turn to snow but wasn’t being very successful.

Icicles cling to a sheltered nook along the North Fork Nooksack River
From here, I decided to head upstream and that required negotiating around a large logjam. On the other side was the tail end of a stretch of rapids. In the middle of the river was a piece of wood, partially frozen and covered with snow which reminded me of a gun from a World War II warship.

Fresh snows along the North Fork Nooksack River
Fresh snows along the North Fork Nooksack River
Fresh snows along the North Fork Nooksack River
Fresh snows along the North Fork Nooksack River
Fresh snows along the North Fork Nooksack River
By now, my jacket, gloves, and shell pants were getting close to saturation which signaled to me that it was time to go home. It wasn’t the greatest of days but it’s another check mark in my attempt to really know the 5+ mile stretch of the river between Nooksack Falls and Hannigan Pass Road. It’s been a great experience getting to know this area more in depth. I’m usually surprised at what I discover and it’s often no more than 30 yards from the busy highway.

The Wet Sack

Fresh trace snow along the bank of Bagley Creek
So there it is. One photo from this weekend.

Pacific Northwesterners are an odd lot. Commercials like this wouldn’t be so funny if it wasn’t true. Anyways, I recently ordered a cross country ski package and after a lengthy delay due to the midwest snowstorm, it finally came. I was eager to try things out so I made plans with a friend to head up to the Salmon Ridge Sno-park. The Bagley Creek area can be accessed via their groomed trails and it’s mostly level or gently sloping so it’s a good place to learn the ins & outs of cross country skiing.

After a lengthy period of calm weather, this weekend brought a good storm system. On paper, the snow level would be just above the elevation of the sno-park but I hoped the Mount Baker area would make its own weather and perhaps lower the snow to the sno-park. It didn’t. My friend figured this would be the case and so he described our outing as a visit to the Wet Sack (instead of Nooksack). After having to double back to Maple Falls from Glacier to purchase the daily sno-park permit, we pulled into an empty parking lot at the sno-park. On the way, we drove through varying intensities of rain but it was just light rain at the parking lot.

After gearing up, we were off. Now, I’ve been snowboarding for 14 years but have never skied before. Having two independently moving planks under your feet is pretty weird. It took a while to find the proper center of balance but I managed to NOT fall on the way out to Bagley Creek. Cross country skiing is surprisingly efficient. We had travelled a fair distance before I even had broken a sweat or elevated my heartbeat. The worst thing I encountered were burning calf muscles (just like the first day of ski season).

I also found going uphill to also be less strenuous compared with walking on foot or snowshoeing. The only thing I can’t do comfortably is go downhill and that’s largely due to the fact that I have never skied before. I just can’t master the Pizza!

The further we traveled, the harder the rain become. By the time we reached Bagley Creek, the rain was falling about as hard as it could and we were both pretty soaked. We dismounted and headed into the forest along the creek to find some shelter. After some lunch, it started to sleet a bit and we mulled over what to do. My backpack glistened from all the water that was saturating it. I didn’t relish the thought of pulling out my gear in this weather!

In the end, we decided to hike a ways downstream to scout the lower stretch of river. The going was tough due to postholing through the snowpack. We traveled down about 100 yards and looked down at the scene I’ve photographed above. I was immediately drawn to the trace snow randomly covering a stretch of the gravel beach alongside the creek. After some careful zigzagging down the slope, we hit beach and I quickly set up to take a few shots.

I was now on my third set of gloves and knew it was just time to head back to the truck as fast as possible. Back on the trail, we geared back up and began our way back. My friend noticed that his cross country gear had failed so he had to walk out while I practiced my technique a bit more. Eventually we made it back to the parking lot and were completely drenched. The parking lot was a sea of slush and we stripped down our gear as fat as humanly possible.

It was a divine feeling once we began to feel the heater’s warmth. It took most of the 2 1/2 hour drive just to physically feel dry! Despite the brutalness of the conditions, it was actually fun! I picked one of the worst days of weather to learn how to cross country ski. Things should get only get better with much better conditions. I already have some plans for next weekend which I’m hoping will pan out nicely.

Oh- yes, I did fall but only once!

In the Clouds..

While Razor Hone Creek thwarted me yet again (there’s a double waterfall drop I’ve been eyeing but it’s dangerous to access), I was fortunate enough to enjoy some of the beautiful weather around the Mount Baker Ski Area and photograph some of the wild cloud formations that where trailing all around Mount Shuksan. It was a glorious bluebird type of day with unusually light crowds within the ski area. Over the course of just a couple hours, the constantly changing clouds kept creating dramatic views of Mount Shuksan.

I took about 20 or so shots of the scene but after reviewing the shots I realized that the photos would be better suited for conversion to black & white. The photos are fairly monochromatic to begin with with shades of blue dominating. The sunshine was also casting some dramatic shadows across the steep slopes of Mount Shuksan. A black & white conversion would help accentuate these features and increase the overall “power” of the scene.

During my early days of processing my photos, I used Photoshop Elements to perform my black & white conversions. The Elements version I’m familiar with (Version 6) provided a few quick settings for certain styles/looks and then a couple sliders to tweak them as desired. All along I knew that Photoshop CS was supposed to be a more powerful tool for black & white conversion. Once I finally stepped up to the full version of CS5, I found the black & white conversion process a bit daunting. Gone were the presets that I could start with and, in their place, were a number of sliders which at times seemed to do nothing!

There had to be some better way to do this and so I decided to download the trial version of Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro. This program is really an add-on to Photoshop CS (or Elements) and it’s sole purpose is to convert photos to black & white while providing the most flexibility in an easy to use manner. It’s not cheap (currently $180 but there are a few discount codes you can get from the web) but it gets high praise for the job it does.

Once you fire up the filter, the Nik Software dialog loads your photo (AND respects the Smart Layer functionality of CS!) along with a few dozen presets that you can chose to start your conversion with. Now, truth be told, a number of the filters don’t seem terribly useful (there are several sepia type filters based on different color tints for example). After playing with the options, I kept gravitating towards the “High Structure” style preset.

I found that the High Structure preset did a great job and I didn’t feel the need to make any drastic changes. There were some additional options such as simulating a variety of black & white film grains (I tended to like the Kodak 100 TMAX Pro) but I ultimately decided NOT to use one of these filters because it added TOO much grain for these particular images. Turns out that the only adjustment I felt I needed to make was to reign in the highlights just a little bit for one particular photo to prevent them from washing out.

Despite the impressive power and ease at which you can convert your photos, I’ve had a few glitches that I have yet to explain while using Silver Efex Pro, namely a cryptic error message telling me that the product had failed. This would typically happen when the filter dialog was loading or when I was ready to apply the filter. There was also a time when the dialog wouldn’t open but it added the filter into the list of layers in CS5. I frankly don’t know what caused this but usually a restart of CS5 would suffice. I will be purchasing a copy of Silver Efex Pro (a new version is just about to ship) and I just hope that these little quirky issues don’t follow me with the full version.

Anyways, here are the photos I chose to convert to black & white:

Clouds swirl around the summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan. Converted to black & white using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro
Clouds swirl around the summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan. Converted to black & white using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro
Clouds swirl around the summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan. Converted to black & white using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro
Clouds swirl around the summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan. Converted to black & white using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro

Deep at Bagley Creek

View Larger Map in New Window

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Scroll to top