Pierce County

Carbon River Old Growth

I recently made the laughable decision to hike the Carbon River old growth forest in Mount Rainier National Park on a rainy day. This is a very special place for me and despite the difficulties of visiting it, I always seem to find something new to see. Here’s a small set of photos from that wet day:
Carbon River valley old growth, Mount Rainier National Park
Carbon River valley old growth, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park
Green Lake during rain showers, Mount Rainier National Park
Weathered stump, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park
Old growth and young trees, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Showtime at Mazama

Mazama Ridge is in prime wildflower conditions. I had loftier goals for this day but the weather forecast didn’t come close to materializing. Though dry, the mountain was wrapped in clouds the entire day with only two brief windows of visibility. On my way to Mazama Ridge, I made a quick stop at Silver Falls along the Ohanapecosh River:

Silver Falls along the Ohanapecosh River
Ohanapecosh River before the plunge off of Silver Falls
I arrived at the Reflection Lakes area and geared up. A bit of a breeze made conditions feel more like fall than summertime and the clouds were persistent at about 5,300 feet. The damaged log footbridge at the base of the climb up to Faraway Rock washed downstream so it’s actually safer to cross now. Flowers were mostly spent around the Reflection Lakes and up to Faraway Rock.

North of the rock, the wildflowers come into prime. As many people have predicted & discussed, the wildflowers this year are “normal” at best and nowhere near the show or density of last year. Still, I was pleasantly surprised at what I discovered. Flowers along the ridge were at peak conditions and hadn’t begun to degrade. In fact, the upper third of the ridge still had some flowers coming up. This is definitely the week to visit & experience.

First meadow - Mazama Ridge
Lupine in bloom - Mazama Ridge
Indian Paintbrush framed by False Hellebore leaves
Lupine and False Hellebore
Path to upper meadows - Mazama Ridge
Foggy meadow - Mazama Ridge
Fog and flowers - Mazama Ridge
More elevation, more flowers - Mazama Ridge
I did make the brief side trip down to the junction with the Skyline Trail and the creek that flows from Sluiskin Falls. The flowers here are also glorious with a lot of valerian in bloom. Along the creek, pink monkeyflower can be found in pockets.

Pink Monkeyflower near the Skyline Trail
Pink Monkeyflower near the Skyline Trail
Streamside Indian Paintbrush
On my way back to Reflection Lakes, I hoped that the clouds might clear out but they did not. I did come across a black bear working the margins of one of the meadows.

Late Afternoon and the Tatoosh Range
Black bear - Mazama Ridge
False Hellebore - Mazama Ridge

After that, I was a bit more vocal on my solo hike out. I stopped once again at Faraway Rock since sunset was only minutes away. There was no direct sunset light but it was being reflected off of the various clouds which made for some interest. The full moon had also risen a fair amount into the sky which created some photo opportunities with the east end of the Tatoosh Range.

Clouds drifting through the Tatoosh Range
Full moon rising above Stevens Peak and the Tatoosh Range
Full moon over the summit of Stevens Peak
Unbelievably, as I got ready and packed up my camera for the final hike out, a red fox came trotting up the trail right next to me and proceeded to examine the area around me. I was stunned to see this and thought about dragging out my DSLR for a second. I figured it would be gone by the time I was ready to shoot so I grabbed my point & shoot instead. I only snapped a few quick stills before I switched to shooting video which I have also posted below. I’d recommend watching the video. So much cooler than the photo!

Red fox at Faraway Rock

Red Fox – Mount Rainier National Park from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

The day wasn’t what I had hoped for but was still filled with several memorable moments!

Beneath the Stars at Mount Rainier

Two weeks off of my trip to Spray Park, I returned to Mount Rainier hoping to find the wildflower season underway. Having been reminded of the Perseid meteor shower’s arrival, I moved up my visit to incorporate some night time up at Sunrise. I arrived at the Sunrise area close to midnight and found quite the party atmosphere. Lots of people had the same idea about viewing the meteor shower. The Park Service is also repaving several of the pullouts and parking lots so half of the Sunrise Point parking lot was unavailable. I moved on to the Sunrise Visitor Center where there was more parking.

I took a three hour nap and then hiked up the trail towards Sourdough Ridge to set up for the meteor shower. With no moon out, the sky was dark and the stars were out in full force. The meteor shower was a bit underwhelming. They would appear every now & then but I guess I expected more of them and more often. My camera is 3-4 years old and, unfortunately, shows it age when it comes to high ISO photography.

At F4 and 1600 ISO, my exposure times extended out to 3 minutes or so in order to get a decently exposed image. The current slew of cameras now can push ISOs out to 3200 and do so very cleanly so I’m anxious to see what Pentax announces in about a month at the Photokina trade show. Anyways, I made the most of it for about an hour or so before hiking out along the Silver Forest trail to find someplace to set up for sunrise.

Mount Rainier & the Milky Way
Milky Way
Milky Way over Sourdough Ridge
Mount Rainier - Perseid Meteor Shower 2010
Flowers at Sunrise were starting the Daisy / Aster phase. There wasn’t much lupine in bloom except for the perimeter of the timber atolls. The wildflower bloom doesn’t look like it will come close to last year’s show. Towards the end of the trail, I found some spots with stumps & logs to add some foreground interest. For the start of a very hot weather period, this particular morning was cold with a constant light wind.

Mount Rainier from the Silver Forest
Mount Rainier from the Silver Forest
I had hoped that there might be some valley fog down in the White River valley but that never materialized. Sunrise itself had some nice coloration but otherwise wasn’t special. After the initial warm light gave way to morning sunshine, I hung out to take in the view and listen to the birds which were beginning their days as well.

Pre-dawn - Mount Rainier
First Rays - Mount Rainier
Climbers on the Emmons Glacier Route
Sunrise from Sunrise
New day at Mount Rainier National Park
New day at Mount Rainier National Park
After hiking back to the parking lot, I decided to hike out along Sourdough Ridge to Frozen Lake. I saw a photo someone had taken at the lake and thought it might offer some possibilities with Mount Rainier in the background. After the initial climb to the spine of Sourdough Ridge, you’re rewarded with some views to the north of Huckleberry Basin as well as Glacier Peak and Mount Baker. An additional short stretch of climbing brings you to the crest of the ridge and then a gradual descent into the basin of Frozen Lake.

View north into Huckleberry Basin from Sourdough Ridge
I was bitterly disappointed with the lake. Apparently the lake is now a “water supply” resource and so no one is allowed within 15-20 feet of the lake’s shoreline (reinforced with a wire fence all around its perimeter). Bummer. With no photo opportunities at the lake, I reassessed my plans and decided to continue along the trail up to First Burroughs Mountain. The area around Frozen Lake is interesting since it is the intersection of several backcountry trails. The Wonderland Trail crosses paths here and drops into Berkeley Park to the north.

Panorama on the trail to First Burroughs
Deer resting in a grove of trees near Frozen Lake
I made my way up the trail towards Burroughs and crossed one short snowfield which had a small ledge cut into it. After that, another longer snowfield continued out of sight. Given the early morning and my lack of true hiking boots, I decided not to continue. Returning to my truck, I packed up and headed over to Chinook Pass.

Panorama of conditions at Tipsoo Lake - 8/13/2010
Conditions at Chinook Pass were disappointing. Any “peak” bloom is still a week away (if at all!). It’ a far cry from last year, for sure. After surveying Tipsoo Lake, I joined the Naches Peak Loop trail, starting on the backside of Naches Peak and hiking out towards the tarn. To reinforce the point, Avalanche Lillies are still in bloom scattered along the trail. Just like at Sunrise, it’s a banner year for Indian Paintbrush but not much else. Bugs, on the other hand, seemed to be out in force along the loop trail and at the tarn.

General wildflower conditions along the Naches Loop Trail - 8/13/2010
Given the conditions I saw, I decided to cut my plans short and not pursue sunset from the Paradise area. Hopefully the next week will bring about the conditions necessary for final blooms!

Side note: this past week I finally upgraded my photo processing to Adobe’s CS5. It’s been a bit of a slow learning curve to adapt my previous workflow to the desired workflow within CS5 but the end result is pretty impressive. I’ve just scratched the surface with it but I’m very glad I bit the bullet for the upgrade.

5 Minutes in Spray Park

Weather in the mountains can change very quickly. On this day, we were treated to one of these transformations as fog gave way to a glorious sunset in less than 5 minutes.

Based on some internet reports about conditions, I decided to head down to Spray Park in Mount Rainier National Park to check out conditions and hopefully shoot sunset. I was able to convince a friend to join me on this endeavor (the forests here are bogeyman quality once it gets dark!) so we set out from the trailhead at Mowich Lake around 5pm. Earlier in the week, Mount Rainier was blessed with nice light around the time of sunset but on Saturday, the clouds were very stubborn around the mountain, offering a short glimpse of its glaciated slopes every now & then.

As we hiked in along the trail, we passed dozens of people who had spent the day at Spray Park. They described the flowers as good in spots but in between the earlier phase of lillies and the lupine / wildflower phase- and no mountain views. In a while we stopped at the Eagle Cliff viewpoint and saw a very thick cloud layer around 6,000 feet.

Creek along the trail to Spray Park
We pressed on and eventually arrived at the sidetrip to Spray Falls (my first visit to the falls). The red rock in the narrow canyon really provides a dramatic setting for the wide, fanning waterfall which originates from the subalpine parklands of Spray Park. We got our feet wet crossing the creek to explore a better view of the falls. Quickly snapping a photo, it was time to head to our primary destination: Spray Park.

False hellebore and Spray Falls
The first 2 miles to Spray Park has minor ups and downs but the last 0.5 mile push to Spray Park from Spray Falls switchbacks up 700 feet. Spray Park has several terraces to it and the trail works its way up through them before reaching the divide that separates Spray Park from Seattle and Mist Parks. Leading up to our visit, I spent some time studying the imagery in Google Earth looking for potentially interesting locations. I ended up identifying three locations to pursue and the first one was near the entrance to the Spray Park area.

It turned out that the features I saw in the aerials weren’t as photogenic from ground level as I had hoped. The meadow WAS beautiful with several nice areas of blooms. This meadow was an area that also was part of the headwaters for Spray Creek. The mosquitoes were aggressive in this area so I covered up before getting out my camera gear.

Avalanche Lillies - Spray Park
Spray Creek in Spray Park
I took a couple photos of Avalanche Lillies and Spray Creek and then noticed my friend saying something to me that I couldn’t make out. I walked closer to him and could finally make out what he was saying… “THERE’S A BEAR….20 YARDS OVER THERE…” …and he pointed towards a grove of trees across a small creek.

Oh oh. Apparently this meadow had a guardian and wasn’t that pleased to see visitors. The bear had snorted a couple times at my friend who had not seen it due to a well concealed rest area in the trees. We decided to make a slow but quick retreat and try our luck elsewhere. Before leaving, I tried to get a photo of Smokey the Bear:

This is my meadow!
Mount Rainier through a quick cloud window
We rejoined the trail and continued to climb into Spray Park. Each step brought us deeper into the cloud bank which was thick and stubborn. We had a brief window through the clouds of Mount Rainier at one point but it quickly closed. We had Spray Park all to our self and it was quite a feeling. It was dead calm and quiet, which was at times erie. Arriving in the heart of Spray Park, we made our way to the second location I had identified. We passed a large tarn which intrigued me due to the large rocks in the shallows and the reflection of the trees lining its edge.

Tarn reflections - Spray Park
We continued but the wildflower blooms weren’t there. The clouds above and around us continued to thicken. We retreated back to the main trail and suggested a rest stop so I could eat a bit. Conditions did not look like they would improve for viewing sunset. I was finishing up my sandwich when I thought I saw some pale blue sky above us. I thought it was an optical illusion but then I turned to look at the mountain.

There it was! I quickly stopped and gathered up my camera and tripod. I ran around in full panic mode looking for a composition. I settled on one location and began to fire off shots.

8:34pm and 12 seconds:

A mountain revealed- 8:34pm and 12 seconds
8:34pm and 40 seconds:

A mountain revealed- 8:34pm and 40 seconds
8:35pm and 5 seconds:

A mountain revealed- 8:35pm and 5 seconds
8:36pm & 17 seconds:

A mountain revealed- 8:36pm and 17 seconds
Wow. The transformation was nothing short of spectacular. As the mountain was revealed, the warm, pink light of sunset was in all its glory. You’ll notice that the photo compositions kept changing. I had to do this because of another photographer who appeared out of nowhere and planted himself right in my frame. A definite bummer but this was no time to pout.

Last light on Mount Rainer
If the light show on Mount Rainier wasn’t enough, beautiful scenes were happening all around us. To the west, we discovered that we were now above the clouds as an endless sea of clouds extended towards the horizon. Behind us, fiery clouds glowed above Hessong Rock *AND* clouds were leaking over the ridge from Mist Park. We ran around looking for different compositions but in short order, the glorious light on Rainier faded away.

Sunset's glow above Hessong Rock
Fog and fire
I turned my attention to the west and took a few shots of the sea of clouds before packing everything up for the hike out. It was 9:14pm and sadly time to go so, with my bear bell and headlamps on, we hiked out. The darkness of the forest is amazingly creepy and I was thankful to have a partner with me during the hike out. Ninety minutes later, we were back at my truck and on our way home.

Last memories - Spray Park
As photo trips go, this didn’t go as well as well as I had hoped. I do rank this sunset as one of the top five that I’ve had the pleasure of shooting. Five minutes can make a world of difference!

Banff Mountain Festival 2010 Honor

I’m VERY excited to announce that my photo, “Forest from the Tree” has been selected for an Honorable Mention for this year’s Banff Mountain Photography Competition! There were 2,500 hundred submissions and only 17 photos total were selected. The exhibition will take place from October 30th through November 7th at the Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta. In addition to this showing, the photographs will also tour selected cities across North America.

I plan on attending this event in person so expect a report from it as well as updates about the touring aspect of this competition!

Click for a larger view
For more information about the taking of this photograph, you can read my original blog post here.

I will be out of town this coming week so there won’t be a new post until after next weekend!

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!

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