Old Growth Forest

Intro to Winter

The first “big” snow storm of winter came rolling through Washington State this past weekend. Based on the forecasts, I decided a trip back to Green Lake in Mount Rainier National Park might be in order. Besides, it’s been two years since my last visit. This time, I opted to bring my mountain bike instead of hiking the 3 mile road to the trailhead.

Large fungus along Green Lake Trail, Carbon River valley, Mount Rainier National Park
Large fungus along Green Lake Trail, Carbon River valley, Mount Rainier National Park
I actually wanted to do some photography down in the old growth forest along the road but I didn’t find the time to do it. I think I’ve finally accepted that I need to devote an entire day just for that; the shorter amount of daylight really limits how much time you really have in a dark place such as the Carbon River valley forests. The day started mostly dry with some occasional drops during my bike ride in. After my first photographic stop a short way in, the rest of my hike (and day) would be under steady rain.

I made the requisite stop at Ranger Falls (roughly the halfway point up to Green Lake) and was happy to come away with a couple nice shots. The first was the “standard” view of the falls but the rainy, overcast conditions provided great light. In addition, the waterfall seemed to have more flow than I could recall seeing during my previous visits. I also made a second shot with which I attempted to incorporate a cedar trunk into the right side of the scene. Not exactly sure why the right side of the falls is clipped by the trunk (I think there was a reason I couldn’t move to the left to recompose).

Ranger Falls along the Green Lake Trail, Carbon River valley, Mount Rainier National Park
Ranger Falls along the Green Lake Trail, Carbon River valley, Mount Rainier National Park
The rain falling at Ranger Falls felt heavy and it turned to sleet as I started hiking away from the falls. Snow was beginning to stick on the ground in the random openings of the forest’s canopy. I encountered a bit more snow on the ground in the vicinity of the log bridge over Ranger Creek but this was still a far cry from the several inch amount I had hoped to encounter.

I arrived at a mostly bare Green Lake. The skies were definitely brooding with alternating periods of rain and snow showers. Gusty winds were also sweeping across the lake so I found a little dry shelter to sit down and snack a bit. It should come as no surprise that while I was snacking, the low clouds parted a bit and offered a few long range glimpses up the valley towards the Tolmie Peak lookout.

Green Lake adorned with the first snows of Winter 2011-12. Mount Rainier National Park
Green Lake adorned with the first snows of Winter 2011-12. Mount Rainier National Park
I tried to quickly gather my gear but by the time I was in position to shoot, the conditions had changed back to less than ideal. The weather was really starting to wear on me so it was time to head home. On the hike out, I still was observant of my surroundings and was tempted to stop several times. There were only 2 more hours of daylight left and I knew that any exposure would require 30 seconds.

This forced me to forgo a few shots but I had to stop for one more photo. Along the trail, this mossy cedar trunk just spoke to me. I loved the gently curving lines of the trunk along with the complete carpet of moss. What little daylight that was penetrating the forest canopy seemed to make the moss on the ridges of the trunk glow.

Mossy Cedar trunk along the Green Lake Trail, Carbon River valley, Mount Rainier National Park
Old growth windfall along the Green Lake Trail, Carbon River valley, Mount Rainier National Park (Iphone 4S photo)
I still had about another mile left on the hike out so I just marveled at all of the new windfall since my last visit. It’s not just any windfall- it’s OLD GROWTH windfall. The size and dynamics of these big trees falling is unbelievable. Having reached the road, I stowed my gear and hopped on my bike for the speedy ride back to the park’s entrance. It looks like I should have gone on this trip this coming weekend based on the current forecasts. Oh well- for so few photos, I’m happy to come away with two nice shots!

Old growth windfall along the Green Lake Trail, Carbon River valley, Mount Rainier National Park (Iphone 4S photo)

Lewis River Drainage

Before heading home from my mini-trip to Oregon, I made my first visit to the Lewis River area in the South Cascades of Washington State. Located just southeast of Mount Saint Helens, the Lewis River has a number of waterfalls (including a few that are over 150 feet in height) and forest diversity that has always intrigued me. Prior to my trip I had identified a number of locations to visit knowing full well that I probably wouldn’t be able to get to all of them. The weather forecast was for improving weather and sunshine and it turned out to be even nicer than the forecasts.

That’s great unless you’re trying to photograph waterfalls. There’s nothing you can really do about it except change your plans so that’s what I did. Vanilla leaf is much more common in the forests of the South Cascades and I’ve always wanted to do some macro-type photography of them. Just beyond the Forest Service Rd 90 / Rd 83 junction, I saw a roadside mass of vanilla leaf so I pulled over to check it out. Although it was most shaded by the forest, some of the leaves were being backlit by the morning’s sunshine.

Vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla), Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Vanilla leaf and inside out flower (Vancouveria hexandra), Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Backlit vanilla leaf, Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Washington State
The wind was calm, even with the occasional vehicle zipping by at 50 miles per hour, and this allowed me to keep my ISOs at a lower number. This batch of vanilla leaf still hadn’t bloomed but the leaf patterns were more than enough to keep me interested. After I was satisfied, I packed up and headed to my first and most desired stop: Curly Creek Falls. Before picking up an out of print roadside attraction guidebook, I had never heard of the falls which I find a little surprising considering how cool it is.

The falls are located just a couple miles upstream of the Swift Reservoir, and are the location where Curly Creek joins the Lewis River. What really makes this waterfall special is the natural arch located about halfway down it’s face. It’s a very rare sight and one I’ve been eager to view firsthand. My old guidebook describes a scramble down to the river and waterfall’s edge but I elected to NOT attempt this since the bright sunshine wasn’t going to give me optimal conditions. I opted to view the falls from the official viewpoint located along the opposite bank of the Lewis River. Lighting was tough but I managed to have a brief moment when a cloud blocked the sun.

Curly Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Just up the hill and around the corner from the falls is the McClellan Viewpoint, which provides an unobstructed view of Mount Saint Helens to the northwest. About a quarter-mile to the northeast is Rush Creek and the site of one of those large waterfalls. Accessing the falls requires a bushwhack approach which I attempted but quickly had to turnaround due to a cliff dropoff. I was alone and decided to return some other time when I had a partner with me and better light.

Mount Saint Helens from the McClellan Viewpoint, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Rush Creek, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Moving on, I did stop off where Rush Creek flows underneath Forest Service Road 90. The creek is quite large, almost river-like and quite photogenic upstream of the road. By now, the day was getting long and so I made my next stop my last: Big Creek Falls. At a height of 130 feet, the falls are impressive and easily accessed thanks in large part due to an interpretive loop trail. I actually had the entire place to myself which was great. The upper falls were still in full sun and the spray from the falls was throwing up a nice rainbow (sadly the rainbow could not be photographed due to its position).

Big Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Wide view of Big Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
The waterfall is impressive enough but the forest here has some really big old growth trees. Having done what I could with the falls, I explored the forest. Beyond the interpretive loop trail, another trail follows the canyon rim down towards the Lewis River. Eventually I had to turn back since I still had a 3+ hour drive back to the Seattle area. I barely was able to scratch the surface so I hope to return later this summer once the snowmelt water levels subside a bit.

Huckleberry shrub, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) returning from winter dormancy, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Low Oregon Grape (Mahania nervosa), Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Forest scene, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State

Less traveled path to Mount Rainier Waterfalls

Mountain forecasts called for showers so it was time for some waterfall photography. Using Bryan Swan’s excellent Northwest Waterfall Survey website, I found an area in Mount Rainier National Park with a high concentration that was new to me. I originally wanted to visit this area last fall but the first snows of the year closed State Route 123 and my access. The area is the north end of the Eastside Trail which begins on the south end at the Stevens Canyon entrance to the park and travels all the way north to Cayuse & Chinook Pass.

Six miles south of Cayuse Pass, a trailhead at Deer Creek allows you to drop down into the valley and begin your hike. The trailhead is more known for being the backside hike up to Owyhigh Lakes but it intersects the Eastside trail at the Deer Creek campground in the valley floor. From the trailhead, the roar of Deer Creek gets louder until you are afforded a great view of Deer Creek Falls. A few more switchbacks down bring you to the Deer Creek campground and the trail intersections.

Deer Creek Falls
Old Growth - Eastside Trail
Deer Creek Falls
My original plan was to hike south along the Eastside trail to Stafford Falls and then return to explore the opportunities around the triple confluence of Deer Creek, Chinook Creek, and Kotsuck Creek. Along my way, I passed a couple returning from Ohanapecosh Falls and based on their recommendation, I decided to extend my hike south to there. The forest here is somewhat open but lush. Vanilla Leaf and oval leafed huckleberry dominates the understory. Huge trees are common but not widespread throughout the area.

Chinook Creek
Vanilla Leaf - Eastside Trail
Chinook Creek Cascades
Chinook Creek Cascades
Chinook Creek Cascades
My first stop south was an area known as the Chinook Creek Cascades, the beginning of which is where a trail bridge crosses the creek. The creek encounters a series of drops through a tight rock formation and the clarity of the water only accentuates the scene. From here, Stafford Falls is another 0.5 mile to the south. It’s not quite visible from the trail but it can be heard when volumes are high (such as on my visit). A short way trail veers off to the left which brings you to an elevated perch. The scene is somewhat reminiscent of Punchbowl Falls in Oregon since it has a nice drop into a large circular bowl before emptying downstream.

Stafford Falls
Stafford Falls from below
Another way trail leads you down to the water’s edge. The rock around the Stafford Falls bowl is solid rock with sheer walls but near the outlet there is a small platform in the rock to take pictures from. After some lunch and additional photos, I made my way south to the Ohanapecosh Falls (another 1.5 miles south from Stafford Falls). The trail continues with lush portions of forest along with some dark stretches with no understory.

Eastside Trail south of Stafford Falls
Vanilla Leaf along the Eastside Trail
The middle portion of the distance gets quiet as the trail is high above Chinook Creek and not quite close enough to Ohanapecosh River but it soon begins to roar as you draw close. The trail crosses the river just above the very top of the two-tier waterfall. The river here is deep, blue, and fast so a slip here would result in serious injury. Despite the spectacular nature of the falls, the Park Service does not have a developed viewpoint for the falls. A clear view of the entire falls can be had but you must travel south of the falls a couple hundred yards (and potentially off trail).

Ohanapecosh River just above the falls
Ohanapecosh Falls
A steady rain greeted me at the falls and by the time I was finished, I was soaked along with my backpack and gear. I began my (uphill) hike back to the trailhead. Although it was late in the afternoon, I made one last stop on my way back. I remember seeing what appeared to be another waterfall off trail before I had reached Stafford Falls. It turned out that my suspicion was correct and a short diversion brought me to it creekside.

Chinook Creek
Chinook Creek
From here, I kept my head down and hiked out back to my truck. The 0.4 mile hike UP from the valley floor to the trailhead is a bit cruel at the end of a long day but it doesn’t take too long. Despite the fowl weather, it was a great day of solitude and sights in Mount Rainier National Park. I ended up not visiting some locations I wanted but I know I’ll be back- there’s way too much to explore!

As a side note, there won’t be a post next week as my numerous outings from the past few weeks has also created a pile of domestic duties I need to work on!

April Powder

15″ of fresh snow and bluebird conditions in April at Mount Baker are hard to pass up. Here are some more shots from around the ski area. This time around I was more focused on small intimate scenes rather than grand views:

April Powder - Mount Baker Ski Area
Lonely Trees - Hemispheres
Curves - Hemispheres
Swift Creek Drainage
Backcountry snowboarders hiking out of the Swift Creek drainage
On my way home, I stopped off at an unsigned trail which enters some beautiful old growth. I couldn’t explore all of it but it had some interesting sights:

Three trees
Roots growing around a knot on an old-growth Douglas Fir
Interesting overturned tree stump

Surprise Creek

My last trip to Deception Creek was so nice that I decided to head one drainage over to the east and check out Surprise Creek. Located at the upper end of the Tye River Valley, it’s located in the vicinity of where the railroad punches through the Cascades through a tunnel. The trailhead starts underneath the BPA transmission lines but quickly dives into beautiful forest and finally enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The trail is about 5 miles in length and eventually reaches the highlands and some upper lakes near the Pacific Crest Trail. It does steadily gain elevation as you head up valley but does so at a somewhat leisurely pace. After about 2/3rds of a mile, you finally gain sight of Surprise Creek. After a mile, the trail switches sides of the creek and continues upstream. During my trip, I only continues another half mile or so upvalley due to time constraints. The warm, sunny day made for difficult photography but its definately worthy of future trips and additional exploration…

Small Waterfall on Surprise Creek
Surprise Creek Waterfall
Devils Club along Surprise Creek
Surprise Creek (Vertical Shot)
Surprise Creek (Horizontal Shot)
Surprise Creek

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