Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Visiting Snowgrass Flats, Goat Rocks Wilderness

Evening alpenglow on Mount Adams above the flower meadows of Snowgrass Flats at sunset, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Evening alpenglow on Mount Adams above Snowgrass Flats.
It's been many years since I've visited Snowgrass Flats in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, and I have never done so in flower season.  This year, it was time to change that.

I chose to do this trip on a Fri - Sat (with the option of extending it through Sun) in hopes of avoiding some of the weekend crowds vying for a campsite.  Snowgrass Flats is a very popular hike, and no one will find themselves lonely on the trail during the summer season.  You will meet all types of people.

My plan was to camp high along the Pacific Crest Trail in hopes of photographing along or near the crest at sunrise/sunset.  However, upon reaching the junction with the PCT, I was blown away by the flower meadows.  I decided this was where I wanted to shoot, and immediately found a nearby camp.

I enjoyed hiking up to Elk Pass and scrambling up Old Snowy that afternoon, noting many, many vacant campsites along the way - some very scenic.  The issue in mid-August, I would soon learn, was water.  The snow patches had mostly melted up high, and the streams coming down were barely a trickle or completely dried up.  I eventually found a source, but it took considerable off-trail exploration.  Many parties elected to descend down into the forest for water - as far as Goat Creek?

Mount Adams above flower meadows in Snowgrass Flats, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Mount Adams above flower meadows in Snowgrass Flats.
The sky was active most of the afternoon with low clouds blowing in and out.  Rainier was obscured by thunder clouds, and they seemed to be stretching further south towards me, though not quite reaching.  I hoped this would continue into the evening, and it did. It was a beautiful evening to be in the mountains.

After last light, I tucked myself into my tent for the evening, but did not sleep much.  A loud party camped near me kept me awake until 1:30 am with their loud conversation.  They weren't obnoxious, just not very considerate.  My decision was made not to extend my visit an extra day.

I got an early start down the trail the next day, and was blown away by the amount of traffic coming up the trail, including many, many dogs (one group of trail runners had 6 large unleashed dogs, to the chagrin of other dog owners.  The dogs were not obedient and kept running off into the woods, forcing the runners to stop and loudly call for them over and over.)

My take:

Snowgrass Flats is a beautiful area to visit in early to mid-August.  The flower show is excellent!  I would recommend the trip as a backpack, with the mindset that you likely will not have a "wilderness experience" unless you go off the beaten path (Cispus Basin, perhaps?).  Most of the visitors seemed to be day hikers, so if you can put up with the mid-day crowds knowing things will calm down later in the evening, you will likely have a nice visit.  This also puts you in prime position for sunset photography without the hassle of hiking out in the dark.  Weekdays are better than weekends.

Hiking distance is 4 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,100' - all at the end.

I would probably camp a little higher along the PCT next time, where water was a little more available and the crowds thinner.

The best photography opportunities are in the evening.  Spend your afternoon casually strolling and scouting for your spot.  There is so much to choose from!  Undoubtedly, you will find a composition with Mount Adams as your centerpiece as it graces the skyline to the south and is poised tall above the meadows.

All size lenses work here, as long as you are willing to carry them.  I only used my 24-70mm lens on this trip, which was perfect for what I was trying to do.  A 2-stop GND filter will come in handy if you are planning to shoot in the golden hour.  Don't forget your tripod!

Hope to see you on the trail!

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