After moving to Washington State in 1999, one of the first “new” hikes I was introduced to was the Green Mountain trail in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. After a quick forest portion, the hike opens up to a wonderful steep meadow with huge views towards Glacier Peak. For the hardier, the trail continues through an upper basin and concludes with a 1,000 foot climb up to the summit of Green Mountain and an old fire lookout. The meadows are rich in diversity and density and they have always left me in awe. In 2003 and again in 2006, Western Washington encountered “100-year” flood events which ravaged both the lowlands and the mountains. In the Suiattle River valley, the main access road to the trailhead (Forest Service Road 26) washed out in several locations. These washouts effectively cut off access to the trail for all but the hardiest of people due to the additional 13 miles of road walking required to reach the official trailhead.
Although federal repair funds were secured relatively soon after the damage, the repair process drug out many years due to the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process for the environmental permitting of the proposed repairs followed immediately by an environmental group’s legal challenge against repairing the road. Even when all of this was resolved, it took 2 years to complete all of the necessary repairs. In late October, the repairs were finally complete and access was finally restored. Winter is fast approaching and the window for visiting Green Mountain is closing. The partly sunny forecast for Saturday was more than enough reason to make a trip to Green Mountain a reality.
I suspected that others would also have the same idea to visit Green Mountain but I didn’t expect THAT many people would be of like minds! Parking at the trailhead was like a rock concert with cars parked everywhere. During our hike up, we counted close to 100 people whom we passed as they made their way back down. Despite the constant passing of hikers, everything special about this place was still there. Rounding a corner of the trail would re-ignite a memory about what was just around the corner. The anticipation of reaching the meadows was high and only magnified as the forest began to give way. After so many years, the forest finally gave way to wide open skies. Far below us, the roar of the Suiattle River were the only sounds.
Hiking was slow & steady with the constant view of Glacier Peak. At the upper margin of the meadow, the trail passes through a stand of Alaska Yellow Cedar which have a wonderful distinct smell to them. Beyond the cedars, the trail skirts the forest for a short climb up to the small basin below the summit of Green Mountain. Once again, the anticipation of seeing the small tarn basin built as we got closer & closer to the small crest at the edge of the basin. The basin is somewhat sheltered so it still was retaining a thin coating of snow from one of the early fall snows. The three miles to this point have a moderate rate of ascent but the next section of trail that gains 600′ up to the summit ridgeline is the steepest stretch of the entire hike.
Our slow & steady pace up to this point was putting us slightly behind schedule. I wanted to be up on the summit ridgeline for sunset so that I had multiple options available to me for whatever would happen during sunset and I definitely wanted the ability to photograph Dome Peak, which is located to the east of Green Mountain. It’s NOT easy to pick up the pace on the steepest stretch of trail with a 30 pound pack but that’s what I had to do. During the course of our hike, the weather went from partly sunny to high overcast to darker clouds from the advancing storm front. Doubts had been starting to develop as to what would happen during sunset but the persistence of a clear portion of the horizon to the southwest continued to give hope.
Finally up on the ridge, I needed to take a small waypath down the ridge for a short distance to gain some more open views. This eastern side of the ridge was still retaining some fall snow and that made a few of the traverse moves more interesting than I would have liked. Moving slowly and purposely, I made my way down the ridge until I reach the point where I could photograph west, south, or east. It was within an hour until sunset so I had to work quickly to set up my GoPro for my sunset time lapse. This was my first outing with a new GoPro accessory the Lee Bug Filter System, which provides a polarizing and 3-stop Neutral Density filter options for use with GoPro Hero 3s (and 3+s). The GoPro cameras do not have the same dynamic range as larger, more traditional cameras. During many of my previous sunset/sunrise time lapses, the scenes are typically unbalanced with a dark foreground and a horizon / sky that borders on being overexposed. The Lee system’s ND Grad filter should help address this issue and enable me to capture a more balanced composition.
I fumbled around and set everything up as quickly as I could. I gambled on a composition that would stretch from Dome Peak on the left side over to Glacier Peak to the right. Now that the time lapse was under way, I could now pull out my camera and begin photographing the developing sunset. The narrow break in the clouds to the west was beginning to show the early stages of color but everywhere else seemed to be stuck in grey and stormy clouds. The color continued to progress and it was becoming clear that my focus would mainly be towards the west. Thankfully, I did keep my head on a swivel and was aware of a brief but glorious few minutes when the full power and color of sunlight spilled across the area (including behind me on Dome Peak and towards the north near Mount Buckindy. Sadly, this development didn’t last and further develop like I hoped. You can see it as a brief flash in my time lapse.
As disappointing as that was, it was become QUITE clear something special was going to happen back towards the west. That slow build of color that I photographed at sunrise near Index a few weeks ago was going to happen here as well.
Fall colors are an obvious sign of fall but the return of spawning salmon is also a tall tale sign of fall. Based on a tip, I made my first visit of the season up the North Fork Skykomish River outside of Index to photograph the salmon. I’ve outlined my idea and process of photographing salmon in a previous blog post (which you can read here) and I think I get better each successive time. Mostly because I learn something new each time. On my last outing, I learned that I didn’t have enough counter weights to combat the ballast that the tank has in the water. On this attempt, I learned that prolonged time in the water will produce condensation on the inside of the tank’s glass. I’ve read that applying some Rain-X might help with the condensation so I’m going to try that next time (which will hopefully be next weekend).
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.
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).
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!
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!
Sometime in the early 2000s, I witnessed the Aurora Borealis for the first time from my house in Everett. It was nothing like the photos you see from Alaska or Norway but no less fascinating. Over the last few years, I’ve paid closer attention to the watches and notices that come out when the aurora activity is strong enough to be seen from Washington with the hopes of photographing them. Far too often, clouds and our typical northwest weather have prevented me from seeing or photographing them. Last night, forecasts for auroras were favorable but it wasn’t until I saw a photo tweeted by the National Weather Service Seattle of the auroras over Seattle that I got off my butt and out the door to look for them. A photo from a friend in the area only hastened my departure.
I selected a spot just west of Monroe near Frylands because of its expansive view towards the north and northwest. Not a bad choice for a spot close to home! Some low fog started creeping in from the east which added a bit of interest to the foreground.
This was my first real opportunity to photograph and process photos of auroras. From what I’ve been able to piece together, processing of aurora photos isn’t much different than processing for other night or astro-photographs- it all boils down to personal preference. My personal preference is that my night skies still look dark. To accomplish this, I choose a white balance temperature that’s on the cold side. The photos in this post all use a temperature of 3500k and that’s been my personal preference for a while now. Why even bring all this up? Well, I wanted to explain why my photos of the auroras look different than any of the others that are floating around from this event. For example, my friend’s photos show lots of purple in addition to the typical greens. Piecing it all together, I suspect that he was using a warmer white balance such as the Cloudy or Shade preset. As an example. here’s a side by side comparison of one of my photos using my preferred white balance (3500k) on the left and Daylight (5500k) on the right:
I don’t recall seeing any purples last night so that’s an example of why I lean towards a cooler white balance for my night shots. Today’s cameras are very sensitive and can capture features (especially at night) that our eyes can’t see. That being said, it is about personal preference. This just happens to be mine. 🙂
I shot sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett on Good Friday and a good Friday it turned out to be! I had been thinking about it for a few days but the cloud cover had been a little too thick towards the east. This day, however, had a good balance and really put on a show:
I also set up my trusty GoPro to record a time lapse while I was shooting. That also turned out pretty neat!
I spent Friday and Saturday night’s out with my girlfriend chasing sunset in the Cascades. In both cases, the sunset’s came up short and meekly went away. It should come as NO surprise that Sunday evening, while sitting at the computer working on something, my girlfriend came up to me and asked, “Steve, do you have your camera? Come quick!..”
Sure enough, I get to the back porch to see an enormous radii of god rays and layers upon layers of puffy clouds. Ah yes- the sunset I wanted came a day late. Monroe gets some fantastic sunset light but (honestly) doesn’t have much going for it for foreground compositions. The best thing I could do was walk over to the ball fields behind Frank Wagner Elementary and maximize the sky in my photos. Enjoy!..
I tried to shoot sunrise yesterday from Everett but things didn’t work out as well as I would have hoped. Skies were partly cloudy but those cloudy parts were east towards the mountains. Despite the presence of higher clouds, the sunlight never reflected off of them so that’s why I’m naming this “cloudrise” instead of sunrise! Making the best of it, I did notice some more interesting cloud formations towards the southeast of my location..