Whitehorse Mountain


My last photo taken on Green Mountain of Avalanche Lilies - May 2006
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.
Green Mountain's southwest ridge and developing sunset
Dome Peak at sunset, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Dome Peak, Sentinel Peak, and the Downey Creek valley at Sunset
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.
Glacier Peak at Sunset from Green Mountain
Sunset Clouds over White Chuck Mountain (L) and Three Fingers (R)
Sunset over the North Central Cascades from Green Mountain, Glacier Peak Wilderness
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.
Sunset over the North Central Cascades from Green Mountain, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sunset over the North Central Cascades from Green Mountain, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sunset Clouds over White Chuck Mountain (L) and Liberty Mountain (R)
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.

Green Mountain Sunset Time Lapse – 11/8/2014 from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

Squire Creek Pass

This spot has been on my list for awhile now. The sunny weekend just seemed to be the perfect reason for finally making a visit. Well, that and the new delivery of my Pentax K-5 SLR! After trying to learn all the menus and settings, it was time to try it out. The pass is somewhat unique in that two trails provide two very different hiking experiences. Most people hike up the front side using the Squire Creek valley but a shorter (albeit more grueling) hike is using the Eight Mile trail which starts in the Clear Creek valley. A massive landslide in 2002 added an additional 3 miles roundtrip so the Eight Mile Trail seems like a more direct route in. It’s direct, all right….

On paper it’s only 2.2 miles and 2,200 feet to the pass. Everything starts out mellow as the trail follows an old logging road. The trail enters the Boulder River Wilderness at about 0.4 miles and enters a forest with MASSIVE Western Red Cedars. The diameter of trees is most impressive. This tree is one of the largest I’ve seen anywhere:

Old-Growth Western Red Cedar - Eight Mile Trail in the Boulder River Wilderness (iPhone picture)
The trail steadily climbs up & over roots and rocks arriving at Three O’ Clock Rock at about 0.6 miles. The main attraction here is the large exfoliation dome that offers rock climbers several routes to attempt. This spot also offers up some of the first views of the area (including Whitechuck Mountain down the Clear Creek valley). There were still a few small signs of fall color left so we soaked in the views before moving along. From here, the trail really gets ugly. More roots, more rocks, and now add mud into the equation.

Three O'Clock Rock along the Eight Mile Trail to Squire Creek Pass
Fall color near Three O'Clock Rock - Eight Mile Trail
Scene across the Eightmile Creek valley
Plodding along, the mirage of more & more blue sky ahead keeps you going. At about 1.5 miles, you reach the edge of the subalpine meadows that stretches out for the remaining distance up to the pass. The area is littered with large exposed rock slabs, often with water running over them. Splendid for a summer outing but a bit more precarious when the temperatures are much lower. In the shade, the water turns into ice. After a series of small ups & downs, you reach Squire Creek Pass- an immense bench of solid rock.

Summits of Three Fingers from Squire Creek Pass
Whitehorse Mountain across the Squire Creek valley
To the west lies the east face of Three Fingers, the crown jewel of this hike. To the northwest, a rarely seen side of Whitehorse Mountain. Behind you to the east, a better view of Whitehorse Mountain as well as the upper portion of Glacier Peak. A forested knoll extends to the north and a series of parkland benches rises to the south, completing the view.

Salish Peak across the Squire Creek valley - Boulder River Wilderness
Detail on one of the Three Fingers summits
Fall color was hanging on primarily in the form of huckleberry leaves. Due to the sporadic nature, I found it hard to find a good composition which included the better looking spots of color. Most impressive is the lookout on top of one of the Three Fingers, a tiny speck of white compared to the massive east face.

Unnamed tarn and Whitehorse Mountain above Squire Creek Pass
After eating some lunch, we climbed southward although I wasn’t feeling that well. We came across a couple nice sized tarns which did offer a few reflection possibilities. Fall days are short so it was soon time to turn around and head back. We made it up to the pass in about 3 hours and only took 2 hours on the way down (despite the constant punishment your joints take).

Unnamed tarn and Three Fingers from above Squire Creek Pass
Unnamed tarn and Three Fingers from above Squire Creek Pass
Everyone should probably make it up there at least once to enjoy the views in silence and solitude. As for the new Pentax SLR, I need to go on a few more outings to give more of a review. Ergonomics are great but its operation is different, especially coming from their K10d. Photo quality seems pretty good, though!

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