Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness
In 2008, the Wild Sky Wilderness was established by Congress after several years of grassroots lobbying. The areas set aside as wilderness lie largely in the southeast corner of Snohomish County and extend some of the protections that exist thanks to the Henry M Jackson Wilderness. The Wild Sky is comprised of three individual units- Ragged Ridge, Eagle Rock, and West Cady. The Eagle Rock and Ragged Ridge units are both characterized by steep and rugged terrain and the West Cady unit is characterized by miles of alpine meadows. The Eagle Rock unit is surrounded by roads (Index-Galena Road to the west & North, Highway 2 to the south, and Beckler River Road to the east) but lacks any easy access to its interior. Sure, logging’s historical infrastructure of now decommissioned roads provide some small amount of access but this area is devoid of any hiking trails. The creation of a trail plan was required when the wilderness was created but it will be several more years before any of the trails identified get constructed.

I’ve been interested in exploring the Wild Sky for a little while and finally got started this past weekend. I started with photographing Bear Mountain, which is in the northeast corner of the Eagle Rock unit. Using some of the existing forest service roads as a start, my final destination was the ridge line of San Juan Hill. During my research with Google Earth, it appeared to me that there were some open patches located around one of the high points on the ridge. The first thing I encountered on my visit was a decommissioned road. This was aggravating since I checked the Forest Service’s Motor Vehicle Use Map before leaving that morning and it is still shown as drivable. Guess I’d be hiking just little more than I had anticipated.
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Troublesome Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness, Columbia Mountain (back center), Kyes Peak (back right) in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness
Since they are no trails, the directions were basic: climb uphill until it levels out. The steepness was pretty unrelenting. Many of the trees on the slope were almost J shaped due to the downward pressure that the winter snowpack puts on the trunks. It was a sweat filled 50 minutes to climb the 600 feet to gain the high point for this portion of the ridge but it quickly became worth it. The ridge top did indeed have several clear outcrops that looked both west and to the north. Even better, there were several weather snags that could be used as foreground elements for my photos.

The weather was certainly dynamic. There was a 30% chance of rain and, minute by minute, the amount of blue sky patches would change. It was perfect for a time lapse so I tucked my GoPro behind the base of one of the snags and fired it off. It was quite rewarding to get this peek into the wild interior of the Eagle Rock unit. The clouds did prevent us from enjoying views of Glacier Peak and some of the other more prominent peaks in the distance. Although we didn’t see any, there was evidence that mountain goats had spent some time up on the top (a few tufts of white hairs in the lower branches of a tree).
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (center) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (center) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (center) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
After a healthy amount of time, I ended my time lapse and we packed up our stuff. We weren’t on the “true” summit of San Juan Hill but it wasn’t too far from us to the south. The ridge line is forested but travel wasn’t too bad thanks to the large amount of airy huckleberry shrubs. We even followed a faint trail or game trail for most of our traverse. We were close to the true summit but the point of diminishing returns had been reached. Neither of us felt particularly compelled to reach the highest point (it appears to be 100% forested anyways). The travel back down slope to the decommissioned road wasn’t as bad as our original ascent.

There was still some time left in the day and I decided that it was also high time that I visit the middle portion of the North Fork Skykomish River valley. It’s another place I’ve wanted to visit but haven’t been able to because the road (Index-Galena Road) had been closed to public access for several years due to flood damage. We made our way to the Troublesome Creek Campground. Across the road from the campground is a short nature loop trail along both sides of the creek. The water is clear and a brilliant shade of turquoise at times and the surrounding forest also has some interest as well. I thought there was a waterfall along Troublesome Creek but apparently it’s located along a different creek in the area. Oh well!
Bear Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Troublesome Creek in the North Fork Skykomish River valley
Boulder detail along Troublesome Creek in the North Fork Skykomish River valley
After coming home, I got a big scare- my memory card failed to read successfully. Oh god. Several weeks ago, I had a similar situation with my GoPro’s memory card. I turned to a card recovery program (RescuePro Deluxe) and it worked a miracle. Would lightning strike twice? Well- just about! I ended up losing a handful of images but I was able to recover the vast majority of them. After four years or so, I guess it was time to retire the memory card. There’s a lesson in there- retire your memory cards before you regret it!

Harrison Bald Eagles

Bald eagles feasting on salmon near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
This past weekend, I joined Michael Russell of Michael Russell Photography for a trip up to the Harrison Mills vicinity in British Columbia to view and photograph the annual bald eagle visit. Billed as one of the largest congregation of bald eagles in the lower mainland, up to 10,000 eagles descend upon a 2 kilometer stretch of Harrison River where it meets the Chehalis River. There’s an official festival in honor of their return during late November but the actual eagle counts are at their highest during the weeks that follow.

The eagles are spread out over a vast marsh / estuary so there isn’t one spot to visit for viewing. As the stories usually go, the eagles typically hang out at large distances away from the road or the limited viewing locations behind the Eagle Point housing subdivision. Thankfully for me, Michael has been in the area before and had a few ideas for stops which I otherwise would not have known about. We were also blessed with dry (but cold) weather during our visit.
 Bald eagles feasting on salmon near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
Two bald eagles spar while flying near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
Bald eagle cruises over a salmon filled channel near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
On our drive east to the Harrison Mills vicinity, we counted a number of eagles along the slough which parallels Highway 7 between Dewdney and Derouche. We eventually stopped along Morris Valley Road a little bit north of the Sandpiper Golf Course. Here we were treated to a dizzying display of activity. A core group of a dozen bald eagles were feasting on salmon along a small channel and were surrounded by dozens (if not hundreds) of sea gulls. Scattered through all of the trees surrounding this open area were even more eagles surveying the scene.

The skies above us were always dotted with a soaring eagle or sea gull and there was never a dull moment. The banks of this channel were littered with the bones of hundreds of dead fish and yet there were still more salmon swimming in the clear water. We enjoyed this spectacle for nearly an hour until it every bird was spooked into the air by three hunters walking across the estuary on their way back to their vehicles. This was a definitely a bummer but it did force us to look elsewhere. We decided to drive a little further east to the bridge over the Chehalis River. On the way, however, my girlfriend spotted an eagle sitting atop a solitary snag in a wetland. After finding nothing along the Chehalis, it was an easy decision to double back to that solitary eagle.

Bald eagles feasting on salmon near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
Fresh snow atop Mount Woodside near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
Bald eagle soars across the sky near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
The snow-capped top of Mount Woodside made for a nice background behind the eagle. After exhausting our opportunities here, we doubled back to the Eagle Point subdivision to check out the observation viewpoints along the edge of the Harrison River. As we reached the first viewpoint, we had an encounter with THAT guy. You know THAT guy- he’s the one with the expensive gear and has no time (or patience) for anyone except himself. In this situation, this photographer had two Nikon pro bodies, a three foot long telephoto prime lens, a Jobu gimbal head, and an attitude big enough to handle two bodies at the same time. Here’s how the conversation went as we came upon him taking up the center portion of the viewing platform:

Us: “How’s it going? Find any good viewing locations?”
Him: “For what? Moose? Bear?…”
Us: “uh, Eagles..”
Him:(pointing above and behind himself without looking to a tree with eagles) Over there.”
Us: “ok, thanks.”

I wouldn’t expect something to give up info about a secret spot but there’s absolutely no reason to be a complete Richard to someone else. This guy could have said anything to us but chose to be a smart-ass. After that wonderful exchange, it would come as no surprise that he eventually appeared at another spot we were set up at and walked around and in front of us without any concern about any shots we may be taking. Someday, karma will catch up with this guy…

Bald eagle perched on a cliff above Morris Valley Road near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
Bald eagle in snag with a snow-capped Mount Woodside in the background
Bald eagle in snag with a snow-capped Mount Woodside in the background
The day was nearly over but there was still enough time to check out Kilby Provincial Park. While there weren’t any eagles at the park, my girlfriend once again noticed a couple eagles feasting on salmon alongside the Highway 7 bridge over the Harrison River. As our last gasp of the day, we doubled back to the bridge. There are some trees along the road which I thought would conceal our arrival; unfortunately, most of the birds present moved on the minute we stopped. Luckily, a lone eagle perched atop a piling stuck around and posed for us for a few minutes longer.

After that, I chatted with Michael for a while before the cold and other time commitments prompted us to part ways. Every time I visit Canada, I’m humbled by it’s vast beauty and diversity. I’m hoping to return later this winter to check out the snowy owls near Boundary Bay. Special thanks once again to Michael Russell for playing tour guide during our outing! If you haven’t check out his work, please visit his website.

Bald eagle and snag reflected in open water near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
Bald eagle in snag with a snow-capped Mount Woodside in the background
Waterfowl along the Harrison River near Harrison Mills, British Columbia
Bald Eagle atop a piling along the Harrison River and Highway 7 near Harrison Mills, British Columbia

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