Monday, November 7, 2022

Fall Colors Along the North Cascades Highway

Image of Maple Pass, North Cascades
Lake Ann from below Maple Pass,
North Cascades.
Each year many people enjoy driving the North Cascades Scenic Highway in late fall to view the beautiful colors. This drive is beautiful any time of year but fall offers something a little more special.

The pinnacle of the fall colors may arguably be in the region of Rainy and Washington Pass in early October.  Here the larches turn golden and the berry plants at their feet a beautiful crimson red.  It's a sight to behold and one that keeps tourists coming back for more year after year.

For motorists out for a Sunday drive, the Washington Pass Overlook cannot be missed.  Just a short walk from the parking lot is the jaw-dropping, in your face view of Liberty Bell and its vertical north face with groves of golden larches just below its base.  If you are lucky, you can catch this monolith with a dusting of snow up top!

Silver Star Mountain and Kangaroo Ridge can also be viewed to the east, as well as Highway 20 steeply descending a swith-back below Early Winters Spires on its way down to the Methow Valley.

Image of Blue Lake and Liberty Bell
Blue Lake below Liberty Bell and 
Early Winters Spires.
For those willing to stretch their legs a bit, there are several hikes in the area that offer great rewards!  The easiest of which is Blue Lake near Washington Pass, with views of Liberty Bell and Early Winters Spires towering above the lake and colorful larches.  Don't be intimidated by the climbers hauling ropes and technical gear up the trail!  This is also the approach route for climbers wishing to tackle the various routes up these peaks.  But at a well-signed junction they take a hard left and begin their earnest climb to the base of these peaks, leaving you alone with your thoughts the rest of the way to the lake.  Don't forget to check out the tarn above!

More popular are trails west of Blue Lake at Washington Pass, as witnessed by the number of cars parked along the side of the road, sometimes for a mile or more on weekends.  These trails are right across from each other - Maple Pass to the south and Cutthroat Pass to the north along the PCT.

Maple Pass is by far the most popular of the two, though both are beautiful and offer incredible rewards.  It's a 6.5-mile loop trip with 1,800' elevation gain.  Or you can do a one-way in and out hike if you choose.  The culmination is the view in the first image above, as well as views deep into the North Cascades to the south.  One can also take a side trip to Wing Lake below Black Peak at a junction a saddle before the final climb to the pass.  Wing Lake is the only area that camping is legal - no camping at Maple Pass.

Image of Cutthroat Pass in Fall
Fall larches below Cutthroat Pass, with
Cutthroat Peak in the distance.
To the north is the final leg of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for thru-hikers, starting from the Mexico border and hoping to finish before the snows start.  If you encounter grizzly looking backpackers, say hi - they might have many stories to share!

This trail climbs ever so gently to the open slopes of Cutthroat Pass - 10 miles, 1,960' elevation gain.  The views begin ~ 2 miles before the pass and may slow your pace substantially!  Gold and red dominate the landscape in season.  Camp sites are located above the pass, both north and south (they are dry - bring water).  The views are fantastic, especially of Silver Star Mountain and Kangaroo Ridge.  For even better views, walk an additional mile to Granite Pass with stunning views of Tower Mountain and Golden Horn, and yes, more larches!

If it can be arranged with two vehicles, one can make this a one-way trip by descending to the east down to Cutthroat Lake and eventually the trailhead at Cutthroat Creek - 10.5 miles.

Further west is the trailhead for Easy Pass which, though beautiful, is not that easy - gaining 2,800' in just 3.5 miles (7 miles round trip). But the views are spectacular at the narrow larch-covered saddle.  For better views, wander the meadows above the ridge and views out to Mount Logan in the heart of the North Cascades.

Image of Silver Star Mountain at Sunset
Sunset on Silver Star Mountain from Cutthroat Pass.
For other options a short distance away, consider checking out Twisp Pass and Stiletto Vista.  This requires driving down to the town of Twisp and turning onto the Twisp River Road and following it to the end.  The hike to the pass is 9
miles round trip, 2,400' elevation gain.  But you will want to continue on to Stilleto Vista a short distance above for the views down to Bridge Creek and across to Logan and Goode.  Larches abound and you can visit the former lookout site.

Nearby, approached by the same road is Copper Pass.  This is another fantastic larch destination in the fall but must be earned.  The trail gains 3,100' in just 5 miles.

Image of Liberty Bell and Early Winters Spires
Early light on Liberty Bell and Early Winters Spires from
the Washington Pass Overlook.
For other ideas, consider driving up the Chewuch River Road out of Winthrop for many more hikes into larch country.  Don't miss checking out the Thirtymile Fire Memorial!

To view these images and many more of the North Cascades, please feel free to visit my North Cascades Gallery.

As always, thanks for looking and I hope to see you on the trail!

Monday, August 29, 2022

Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountains

Image of Saguaro Cactus at Sunset
My first visit to Saguaro National Park and surrounding areas was a much different experience for this Pacific Northwesterner, whose only previous experiences were that of Utah and northern Arizona.  Needless to say, the cactuses are much smaller and different species in those regions.

Saguaro National Park is actually divided into two sections - east and west, divided by the city of Tucson.  I had never seen such a thing.

Our first outing was a trek up Sabino Canyon on what started as a rather cool and breezy day.  It was pleasant but crowded.  There is a parking fee that can be paid in cash, check or over your phone to their website. Cell phone service is hit and miss though, and I paid for parking three times for my single visit because after hitting the submit button my browser just kept spinning and never sent me to the payment received page.  I returned to the hotel to find three email acknowledgements in my inbox!

I would recommend arriving early to beat the crowds and the heat.  Definitely bring lots of water.  While our hike started out cool and breezy, it quickly warmed up as we climbed up the canyon.

Image of Saguaro cactuses near Gates Pass
The next day I set out on a loop hike up to Wasson Peak, ascending King Canyon Wash Trail to the King Canyon Trail and finishing on the Norris Trail to the summit.  It was a very windy day, especially at or near the passes and ridgetops, and the strong breeze was cold when the sun went behind the clouds.  The views were amazing though and the few people I encountered were very friendly.  

I spent as much time as I could stand on the windy summit before descending down the Norris trail back to the junction, then continued thru the notch and down an incredibly scenic stretch to catch the Sendero Esperanza Trail, which cuts back over to the King Canyon Trail Wash Trail.  However, instead of following it all the way back, I finished my descent by taking the Gould Mine Trail back down to the road and parking lot.  Glad I did!  What a fun hike!  I definitely recommend it and will do it again myself, hopefully on a warmer day.

While I did take my camera gear with me on this hike, it never came out due to the flatness of light in often overcast skies.  Lots of phone pics though!

Image of Sunset from Gates Pass Overlook
The next evening, I returned to this area to photograph sunset from an overlook I scouted the previous day - Gates Pass Overlook.  This overlook, besides providing nice compositions of Saguaro cactuses in the evening light, also offers an incredible vista to the west to watch the setting sun.  As it turns out, it also attracts a crazy amount of people at sunset, some of whom began double-parking and blocking people in rather than parking in the overload parking lot across the highway (a minute walk).

We didn't get to witness much cloud action on this night.  Those that were present in the evening disappeared before sunset.  Still, I was surprised to catch some red in the sky as the last of the sun vanished behind the distant ridge.

The next day began my photography trips to Saguaro National Park proper after having scouted them the day before.  I started my morning in Saguaro East, closest to the hotel and the better morning location, in my opinion.

The Cactus Forest Loop Drive in Saguaro East in a must drive!  It's a paved road that is mostly one-way thru ever-changing scenery as the elevation changes.  The Rincon Mountains serve as a wonderful backdrop thru most of the drive.  There are also many trails to explore.

That evening I returned to Saguaro West for sunset, driving the gravel/dirt Hohokam Road to The Valley View Overlook trail.  A quick hike up to the ridge scored me the silhouetted cactus image at the top of the page, and a pleasant walk out in the dark.

The next day was departure day to catch our flight home.  But I awoke to witness the most dramatic light I had experienced the entire trip!  I quickly set my camera and tripod up on the hotel balcony and began shooting away!  A storm had rolled in overnight, offering rain throughout.  But as the morning sun rose, some of its rays would sneak thru the dark clouds for a couple of moments before fading away.  My experience has been that such an occurrence is usually short-lived.  However, this went on for a couple of hours, making packing difficult!  Slowly, the sun began to win battle and it was off to the airport.

Image of a Lifting Storm Over the Tucson Mountains
You can view these and more of my images from this area in my Southwest Gallery.  You can also see other images from my collection at

As always, thanks for looking! 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Southern Picket Range

Image of Southern Picket Range
The southern Picket Range from Mount Fury.
The wild and magnificent Picket Range is a classic sub-section of the north Cascades and considered one of the most isolated areas in the continental United States. The range is typically grouped into the southern and northern range.  Both are spectacular.

Approaches to any of the mountains in the Picket Range are extremely difficult, requiring extreme off-trail travel and often technical mountaineering skills (especially the northern group) and considerable elevation gain due to their relief.  But the rewards they offer are...did I say spectacular?

The southern Picket Range's most beautiful and dramatic side is its northern slopes and faces above a wild and trail-less McMillan Cirque.  This cirque must be seen from above to be truly appreciated.  Sheer ruggedness is what usually comes to mind.  To see this side requires a long lakeside hike or boat ride and then a backpack up the Big Beaver trail.  From there one needs to know where to leave the trail (unsigned) and travel cross-country to find the creek (often river) crossing, which can be raging in typical climbing season and log crossings can be difficult to find.  Once across, jungle-like bushwacking climbing awaits the climber in order to attain higher sub-alpine slopes where travel finally eases, but the difficulties are not over.  Patches of thick slide alder must be crossed to approach Access Cirque - a common camp area.  Above this cirque are steep gullies that are often ice-filled until late in the season and require extreme care and technical gear.

The best views are on the ridges below Luna Peak, Luna Peak, or in this case the summit of Mount Fury.  It's a tough 2-3 day approach, but rewards those determined to accept the challenge.  And the photography opportunities are endless!

This image was recently licensed for worldwide us in a recreational publication, I am proud to say.

You can see this image and more from this area in my North Cascades Gallery.

Hope to see you on the trail!


Saturday, August 13, 2022

Cannon Beach Reflection

Image of Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach
Haystack Rock at sunset from Cannon Beach, Oregon.
Cannon Beach along the Oregon coast is a popular place to visit and an icon for Oregon tourism publications.  And for good reason!  Excellent lodging and restaurants abound in this tourist town, adding to the attraction of their world-famous beaches and parks.

Summer months can be pretty crazy at times as one might suspect.  But for photography and weather, summer actually isn't the best time to visit.

Summer brings warm temperatures for sure, but with it comes the heavy fog bank that often engulfs the coast during this time.  The fog is typically very localized, often dense on the beaches but nonexistent just a short way inland.

Spring and summer provide more favorable conditions.  Winter can also be quite favorable, as is the case here.  This image was taken in winter right around Christmas!

Speaking of tourism publications, that's exactly where this image was recently licensed to!

To see more images of this fabulous area, feel free to visit my Oregon Coast Gallery.

You may also view my complete website at Mountain Scenes Photography, Don Geyer, Mount Rainier, Images, (

 As always, thanks for looking!

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Castle Geyser in Yellowstone NP

Image of Castle Geyser Yellowstone
Castle Geyser
Castle Geyser is one of the oldest Geysers in Yellowstone National Park.  Its eruptions are a height of 90 feet and happen every ten to twelve hours.  During a late afternoon eruption, it's possible to catch a rainbow as a bonus!

Located in Upper Geyser Basin, Castle Basin is one of many geysers in the area and is a nice break from the crowds around Old Faithful.  Don't miss nearby Crested Pool!

This image was recently licensed to a Brazilian editorial publication.

To view more images from this area, feel free to visit my Yellowstone Gallery.  And of course, many more images from other National Parks and scenic areas can be viewed at my website.

As always, thanks for looking!

Sunday, December 12, 2021

NEW! 2022 Wall Calendar!


Image of Don Geyer's Western Landsacpes 2022 Wall Calendar
I'm excited to announce that my NEW 2022 wall calendar is now available for purchase!

This is probably the calendar I have been most excited about in a long time.  All new images from such fantastic places as Mount Rainier NP, Olympic NP, Grand Teton NP, Death Valley NP, Banff NP, Glen Canyon, Mount St. Helens NM, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, North Cascades, Oregon coast and more!

These images include many special trips that I hold dear to my heart and can't help but smile from the memories.  I hope you will enjoy them too!

It's not too late to order this calendar as a Christmas gift (though I wouldn't wait much longer)!  To order your own copy, please go to:  Western Landscapes 2022 Wall Calendar (

Happy Holidays to all, and here's to a better year in 2022!

As always, thanks for looking and I hope to see you on the trail.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Cherry Blossoms at University of Washington

Image of University of Washington Cherry Blossoms
 The Cherry Blossoms on the University of Washington's Seattle campus are a sight to behold.  Each year they seem to gain in popularity as groves of people make their way to what is known as The Quad toward the center of campus.  Cherry blossoms actually exist all across campus, but this is where they are concentrated in large volume.

In normal years on a nice sunny weekend day the crowds resemble those of a concert or football game!  Television news cameras broadcast video from the air as helicopters capture images from above.

Image of University of Washington Cherry Blossoms
But this is not a normal year of course, due to the pandemic.  To increase my chances of avoiding any crowds, I chose to go on a weekday, and arrive well before sunrise.  This was a wise choice as I had the entire area to myself as I began clicking away.  Soon another photographer showed up and then we were two for quite some time.  When I left after a couple hours of shooting, their might have been a dozen total people in the area (not counting joggers or students passing thru).  Everyone wore masks.
Image of University of Washington Cherry Blossoms
The time of season for these beautiful trees to reach their peak bloom can vary.  Typically, early April is their prime time.  But I have seen them hit peak in late March some years, and closer to mid or late April other years.

If you live in the area, you can't escape the reports on TV on when they are hitting.

If you are not a photographer (or even if you are), the school has done a really cool thing this year.  In hopes of keeping the crowds down during the pandemic, they installed a web cam high above!  I love this vantage!

Image of University of Washington Cherry Blossoms
There are lots of things to play with composition wise here.  Shooting architecture can be much different than landscape photography in some ways.  Others, not so much.  I like to let my imagination run free and try new things.  Traditional "landscape" compositions like the first couple images above seem to come easy to me.  But then there are other options, such as up close and personal, and peak-a-boo shots thru the blooms of the trees.  The sky is the limit!

Image of University of Washington Cherry Blossoms
The Victorian style architecture of the buildings on this campus really compliment the setting, and are fun objects to shoot in their own right.  

I think I focused a lot more on "shooting high" during this visit, both to capture these beautiful buildings, and also because of what seemed like a sea of "Mask Up" and "Social Distance" signs spread across the ground.  Yeah, there was a downside to visiting during this time.  Some people would move the signs to get them out of their composition, such as hide them behind a tree.  Then move them back once they were finished.

Others, such as me, tried to place them in such a way that they could be easily removed in Photoshop with the spot removal tool or content-aware fill.  The more plain the background behind the image is, the easier this task becomes. Complexity can add challenges.

Finally, what lens to use.  I say bring them all!  I mostly used my 24-70mm.  But I did play with my 70-200mm a bit for close-ups.  Wide angle lenses might have been the most popular for others during my visit.  But you would want to have people in your images, or plan to spend a lot of time in front of the computer removing them!

Image of University of Washington Cherry Blossoms
I hope you get a chance to visit this wonderful place in the coming years.  If you do, I recommend a weekday, and go early (the crowds come mid-day on).

Bring your patience and be respectful of others, of course.  You might have to wait for another photographer to finish, the person taking the selfie to move on, or the group of friends trying to get their group shot just right!  I've even seen wedding pictures being taken here!  No mater, take a deep breath and enjoy the moment.  It will be worth it!

If you would like to view more images from my galleries, please feel free to do so at

As always, thanks for looking!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Western Landscapes 2021 Wall Calendar

 My new 2021 wall calendar is out!  It includes images from all over the western U.S. and Canada, including Mount Rainier NP, Olympic NP, North Cascades NP, Death Valley NP, Canyonlands NP, Assiniboine PP, Yoho NP and more!

You can purchase this calendar here!  Right now you can save 15% by using the code WINTER15!  This is only for a limited time!

I've been creating these calendars to share my travels for several years now, and the project just keeps getting more exciting for me each year. 

In fact, it's hard to choose which images to include as I have so many favorites and keep building on them.

You can view these images and more by visiting my website at  Prints are available.

As always, thanks for looking and enjoy the holidays!  Stay safe!

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Golden Lakes Loop in Chelan Sawtooths


Image of Upper Eagle Lake Reflection, Chelan Sawtooth
Reflection in Upper Eagle Lake
This last October I ventured into a new area of our mountains in Washington for the very first time - the Chelan Sawtooth.  What an amazing place in fall!

I must preface my story with the fact that I came directly from the Rainy Pass area along the North Cascades Highway, where trailhead parking lots were beyond full.  Parked cars could be seen on both sides of the highway, stretching as far as a quarter mile away - on a weekday.  It was crazy.

Image of Upper Eagle Lake reflection, Chelan Sawtooth
Reflection in Upper Eagle Lake
The Chelan Sawtooths offered a much different atmosphere.  This became evident as soon as I turned off Highway 97 onto a series of forest service roads that seemed to go forever.  I arrived at the Eagle Lake TH to a nearly full parking lot and disappointment set in.  Crowds were what I was hoping to avoid.

I would soon learn that most trail traffic consisted of day hikers and mountain bikes.  The only backpackers I encountered my first day was a family on their way out, that told me I would likely have the place nearly to myself.  They would not be wrong.

The approach to Upper Eagle Lake was a hot, dry one.  I would have preferred an earlier start, but dems da berries!

Image of Upper Eagle Lake reflection, Chelan Sawtooth
Reflection in Upper Eagle Lake
Views really opened up the last mile or so of trail and helped take my mind off the work up.  Soon I was at the junction and turned right to gain the upper lake at 7,110'.

I arrived to find some dayhikers lining the shores of the lake in the campground, enjoying the afternoon sun and the escape from suburbia.  I think I chatted with most of them - all super nice.  One by one the left and I was left alone.

I did some evening photography of the area, but it was very clear that morning would be the best light.  Still, it confirmed that the lake's backdrop was east facing and allowed me to start planning my morning.

The next morning was spectacular as expected and my photography actually started with moonlight, not sunlight!  Can you pick which image(s) above?

Image of Panorama of Cooney Lake and Fall Larches
Phone pic of Cooney Lake from a ridge high above
Soon it was time to pack up and move out.  I had a long day ahead - longer than even I realized!  I descended back to the main trail, then climbed up and over 7,590' Horsehead Pass and dropped down to Boiling Lake.  The views from the trail this entire stretch were amazing.

There was a couple camped at the lake.  We exchanged nods as I took my first break of the day.  Just a quick bight before moving on.

After descending down to a creek crossing and ascending the other side, the country soon became wide open.  Grass meadows extended far and wide with very few trees.  Views to the prominent peaks of the North Cascades were amazing!

Image of Martin Lake reflection, Chelan Sawtooth
Reflection in Martin Lake
Soon the trail began a to switchback steeply to gain the 8,000' saddle below the summit of Switchback Peak.  The views from the saddle were incredible, with better views back towards the North Cascades and into Canada, but also east down to Merchant Basin and out to Central Washington.  This made an excellent snack stop, and is where I encountered my first mountain biker.  We exchanged quick pleasantries and then he was on his way.  He was doing my trip in reverse, and got a late start!

The descent into Merchant Basin was quite steep, and soon I began encountering more mountain bikers.  All were super nice and always gave me the right away - stepping off the trail and hoisting their bikes above them.  I honestly felt guilty watching parties of 5 or so doing this, when I was travelling solo.  I began reversing the rule of etiquette so as not to inconvenience.

After a traverse above Merchant  Basin (the trail only descended part way into it before reaching a junction), Cooney Lake came into view in all its splendor.  The area was golden!

My descent continued down towards the lake and traversed past it on the south side.  Part of me wanted to go explore it, but I was tired and needed to get to Martin Lake, my destination for the evening.

Image of Martin Lake reflection, Chelan Sawtooth
Reflection in Martin Lake
I finally reached the Martin Lakes junction and found a place to sit and nibble on some food.  Soon a lady came up the trail from below, followed by her husband.  They had the same destination in mind.

They were from Spokane and we share many stories, including of the Idaho Sawtooths, where I had recently spent time and they were regulars.

Soon I excused myself, donned my pack, and headed up to find home for the evening.

I arrived at the lake to find it vacant, and dropped my pack at a lakeside site.  Soon the other couple arrived as well, and we elected to be neighbors.  We picked up the conversation where we left off.

Image of Martin Lake reflection, Chelan Sawtooth
Reflection in Martin Lake
That evening I traversed around the south side of the lake and found a composition I really liked with some dead snags along the shore (above).  I was fortunate to find the scene with reflective waters, as they disappeared quickly.

The winds picked up and lasted through the night.  My expectations for morning reflections disappeared.  But to my surprise, they greeted me as I poked my head out of my tent!

I enjoyed a spectacular morning with a show of pink clouds to the east that was second to none!  I watched them in fascination and envy for much of the morning, wishing I was in a location to photograph them.  But the fact is, they were the reason for the fantastic light that I did receive.

Image of Martin Lake reflection, Chelan Sawtooth
Reflection in Martin Lake
Soon the show was done and it was time to pack up and begin my descent back to the TH.  

My exit was uneventful, thought I did pass the most people of my entire trip - all heading up for the weekend.  I smiled as I realized I had timed my visit perfectly.  I also smiled to know that on one of the most popular times for fall colors near Rainy Pass in the North Cascades, I escaped the area to find solace and peace in a new area, with colors at absolute peak.  It was a fantastic trip.

Final stats for the trip were 26.1 miles, 5,640' gain.

I will say that this trip opened my eyes to many potential future trips in the area.  This is an area I would definitely like to explore more.

I hope my story helps you in planning a future trip to this area.

See you on the trail!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Fall in the North Cascades!

Fall colors above Rainy Lake
The North Cascades are a fabulous place to spend time in the fall with vibrant colors all around.  The fall season begins as early as mid September in some areas, and lasts to mid-October in others.

A visit to areas around Mt. Baker in mid-September will find the berry leaves on fire.  Some of my favorite hikes for these are Boulder Ridge, Rainbow Ridge, Park Butte and Ptarmigan Ridge.  I'm sure there are more!

As the month of September moves on, many more places begin to turn vibrant red throughout the range.  By the end of the month, hikes near Rainy and Washington Pass along the North Cascades Highway (SR-20) become VERY popular destinations (too popular - go on a weekday and go early or late in the day).

The arrival of October sends most fall color enthusiasts into pandemonium!  Not only are the reds still typically vibrant, the needles of larch begin to turn gold.  Peak for the larch are typically close to mid-October.  By the time they are truly at peak, much of the reds will have likely disappeared in my experience.

Larch are found on eastern side of the Cascades only, mostly (if not entirely) north of I-90.  In the North Cascades, excellent places to view them are near Washington and Rainy Pass, as well as hikes reached from Winthrop, Twisp and Carlton.

Fall colors below peaks of the
North Cascades
Early October is also a fantastic time to make the drive to Artist Point, located at the end of the Mount Baker Highway (Highway 542).  There are no larch here, but picture perfect scenes exist right from the parking lot for those not wishing to hit the trail.

Of course every year can be slightly different on the timing, mostly based on temperatures and weather patterns.  The amount of precipitation during the summer months can also play a huge factor on the quality of colors.

In my experience, the biggest challenge to viewing late season colors are the big white snowflakes!  It can snow at any time in the upper elevations of the Cascades.  But the North Cascades seem to be especially prone to it, and likely in early to mid-October.  I have tried to revisit one of my favorite larch viewing backpacks on multiple occasions.  While my first visit at peak time went off perfectly, all my subsequent attempts have ended in being turned back by deep snow or storms.  So I've learned not to take anything for granted!

There are some things to be careful for during this time.  First off, it is hunting season.  So if you are visiting an area outside of North Cascades National Park, be sure to where bright clothes to be easily seen.

Mount Shuksan Reflection
The second is to be prepared for cold temperatures.  Sunny and nice days can be even colder than snowy days due to the lack of cloud cover insulating the air.  This is especially a concern in early mornings and late evenings.  Even if it is comfortable outside when you start out, be sure and throw some warmer layers in your pack, including jacket, hat and gloves.

As always, thanks for looking!  You can view more of my images from the North Cascades in my North Cascades Gallery.

Hope to see you on the trail!


Sunday, October 11, 2020


Image of mother black bear
A mother black bear with her two cubs behind her.
 I love photographing bears!  Well, let me back up.  I love seeing bears on a hike or backpack.  For me, it adds to the experience of the trip and generally guarantees me coming home with a smile on my face, no matter how the rest of the trip may have been.

Being able to photograph bears takes the experience to an all new level.  It also requires much more planning, preparation and heavier camera equipment than I would typically take on a hike.  This is because larger lenses are required.  I would say a minimum 300mm lens to be successful, but larger would be better.

Image of black bear cub eating berries
A bear cub reaches high up for berries on a bush.
My "go to" lens is my 200mm 2.8 lens coupled with a 2x teleconverter, equaling 400mm total focal length.  This allows me to photograph from a safe distance away so as not to disturb the animals in their natural environment.  

The three images appearing here were taken over about a 40 minute span, requiring much patience to catch the glance of the bear.  I missed a couple of opportunities, admittedly.  Three quality images in 40 minutes of work?  Yep.  Because the bears were at ease and pretty much ignoring me.  Coming back with 30 quality images would mean I likely had the bear's undivided attention, which would mean I was disturbing them and causing undue stress, not to mention risking my own well-being.

These images were recently taken from a trail at Mount Rainier National Park.  Much of the time was actually shared with a volunteer park staff member as we watch the cubs feed!  We were both pretty giddy and had permanent smiles on our faces!

Image of black bear cub
A bear cub glances around its surroundings while nibbling
on berries.
This brings up another helpful hint when wishing to photograph bears.  Truly wild black bears in the Pacific Northwest are typically afraid of their own shadow.  They spook easily and run at the slightest sound or movement.  I have found the best places to photograph bears are in national parks where they are somewhat accustomed to the presence of humans.  I have enjoyed my best opportunities in Yellowstone, Olympic and Mount Rainier, and close to populated areas of the parks (not in the backcountry).

My new website is still a work in progress and I have not uploaded my Wildlife Gallery yet.  Hopefully this will happen soon!  However, you can view my landscape photography from all over the Western U.S. and Canada at

As always, thanks for looking!  Stay safe!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho


Image of Alice Lake reflection, Sawtooths
Alice Lake Reflection.
Edit:  You can now view these images in my Sawtooth Wilderness Gallery!

This trip was my introduction to the Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho, so I wasn't really sure what to expect, other than great scenery.  I was not disappointed to find there was so much more!

It was a nearly 10 hour drive from Seattle, with much of it on two-lane country and forest service roads to the small town of Stanley.  It was a pretty crazy place at 3:00 in the afternoon, with gas station lines up to seven cars deep!  I would highly recommend gassing up and securing your provisions along the way (elsewhere).

I arranged to meet Brian of Sawtooth Transportation at the Redfish Lake TH.  There I would leave my vehicle and be shuttled by Brian to the Pettite Lake TH to begin my one-way backpack.  Brian was awesome and I highly recommend his company if a shuttle is in your plans!

image of Alice Lake reflection, Sawtooths
Alice Lake Reflection.
We arrived at the Pettite Lake TH around 4:00 pm, and I began to weigh my options for the evening.  My hope was to camp at the TH for an early morning start, but this was not an option.  So I got my gear together and began hiking up the Alice Lake trail in search of a place to call home for the evening.  I found one just past the trail register, about a mile in at the far end of the lake.

I didn't get much sleep that night however.  While the lake sports a campground and day use area on this side, the other side consists of summer vacation homes, and the parties went late.

The next morning I got a 7:00 am start up the trail, hoping to arrive at Alice Lake late enough to allow sites to empty, but early enough to snag a nice site.  It worked.  I arrived as the last party left the coveted peninsula, and snagged a site at the far tip with fantastic views of the peaks across the water.  This area began to fill up as the afternoon went on.

Image of Twin Lakes, Sawtooths
Phone pic of Twin Lakes from Snowyside Pass.
I would probably do things differently next time.  There are some beautiful sites at the foot of the lake.  The lake water had a foul taste to it, despite my filtering it.  I soon discovered that one did not have far look to find toilet paper about.  How I am not certain as there is no privacy at these sites.  One has to walk quite away to conduct one's business.

If I have one complaint about the Sawtooths, it's the lack of waste management.  Their are no pit toilets, even in the most popular areas.  This is compounded with the fact that established campsites are commonly within 10 feet (or less) of the water.

After setting camp and resting, I went up and scouted Twin Lakes.  Very nice.  Not nearly as crowded.

I awoke a couple of times during the night to photograph the Milky Way, then awoke early for sunrise.  The previous day had been quite windy all day long at the lake.  But morning brought beautifully still waters that offered the anticipated reflection of the surrounding peaks.

My plan was to head to Imogine Lake this day, but I soon realized it was not going to happen.  I stayed too late in the morning at Alice Lake for photography, and I hadn't adjusted to the elevation yet.  Coming from sea level, ~9,000' was quite an adjustment.  I huffed all the way up to Snowyside Pass and realized Toxaway Lake would have to do.

Image of Toxaway Lake, Sawtooths
Phone pic of Toxaway Lake from the trail to
Sand Mountain Pass.
Toxaway Lake was very crowded.  It proved to be a popular destination for fishermen, boy scouts, church groups - you name it.  Finding a campsite at noon was a challenge.

I set camp and again spent the afternoon resting.  While re-evaluating my itinerary, I came to the conclusion that my next day's destination - Imogine Lake, was not going to work out.  I would have to follow it by hiking all the way from Imogine to Cramer Lakes (13+ miles and climbing over two 9,000' plus passes) the next day to keep my schedule, which I was not confident I could do.  Falling short likely would mean sacrificing Baron Lakes, which I was not willing to miss out on.

So I awoke early the next morning and began the climb up to Sand Mountain Pass.  I felt much better and even had a hop in my step, which put a smile on my face.  It was going to be a good day!

Image of Sand Mountain Pass, Sawtooths
Phone pic at Sand
Mountain Pass.
Sand Mountain Pass was awesome!  I enjoyed a nice break before beginning my descent down to Edna Lake.

Edna Lake was beautiful and mostly vacant.  Lots of nice campsites.  I traversed its shores and continued descending the south fork of the Payette River.

Somehow, I missed the trail junction with the Hidden Lake trail.  I was about 1.5 miles past it when I realized this and had to backtrack.  As frustrating as it was, I had to laugh.  I realized this was going to put my day's mileage above 13 miles - the number I was trying to avoid!  But I felt good about myself and confident.

I arrived at Hidden Lake in not much time and stopped for a break.  I've often heard of the Sawtooth range being compared to the Sierras of California.  But honestly, many areas actually remind me more of the Wind River range of Wyoming.  This was one of them.

The climb from Hidden Lake up to Cramer Divide was a grunt, mostly toward the top.  At 9,500', this would be the high point of my entire trip.  It was beautiful.

The descent down the backside to Cramer Lakes was steep.  I can't say I would want to have to ascend this route, especially on a hot day.

image of Upper Cramer Lake reflection, Sawtooths
Upper Cramer Lake Reflection.
I didn't know much about Cramer Lakes.  They were supposed to be a layover stop for me on my way to Alpine and Baron Lakes.  Little did I know just how beautiful they were!

Despite this day being my longest of the trip, I had no problem finding a nice campsite on the isthmus between the upper and middle lakes.  The views were quite nice, and evening brought some very special light and calm waters on the lake.

I met a group of guys from Portland here, who were basically doing my trip in reverse.  We chatted off and on throughout the afternoon.

Image of Upper Cramer Lake reflection, Sawtooths
Upper Cramer Lake Reflection.
The next morning I got an early start on my descent to Flatrock Junction.  The ford of Redfish Creek was very straight forward, and I set my sights on the steep climb to Alpine Lake.

I wasn't sure what to expect at Alpine Lake, other than the crowds.  Everything I read and heard was that it was a very popular place, and one should seek solitude elsewhere.  Apparently the crowds did not get the memo as I arrived to find it deserted!  I set up camp and had the entire campground to myself until 6:00 that evening, when another group finally showed up.  We were the only two parties for the night.

The day was quite windy and it was evident that there was a change in the weather.  That night I heard the pitter patter of rain drops on my tent for the first time.  It didn't last long, however.

Image of Alpine Lake, Sawtooths
Morning light above Alpine Lake
I awoke to some clouds in the sky and wind on the lake.  There would be no morning reflection, but there was still some nice light.

I soon packed up and hit the trail for Baron Lakes on the other side of the divide.

The views from the divide were excellent and soon I was descending down to Baron Lakes.  Upper Baron Lake was quite nice and sported some awesome campsites just off the trail.  But I continued down to Baron Lake itself, and was thankful I did.  I arrived to find I again had the campground all to myself and would for most of the day, only eventually sharing it with one other party.

Image of Baron Lake reflection, Sawtooths
Baron Lake reflection before sunrise.
There had been some excitement in this area prior to my arrival.  The day before I began my trip, a 4.3 earthquake hit the area.  The earthquake triggered the summit of Baron Peak to fall off the mountain!  You can see in the picture to the left (and below) white streaks on the peak to the right.  This is where all the rock slid down the mountain.  Two different parties captured much of the event on video.  You can easily find it on YouTube.

I found Baron Lake to be spectacular and my favorite lake of the entire trip.  I spent the afternoon wandering around and scouting for photography.  Again I got up several times during the night for star photography.  This was the coldest night of my trip, with the temperature dipping down to 37 degrees F - in August.  The temperature range in the Sawtooths were quite extreme during my trip.  Daytime temps were commonly in the 80's, but nights would be in the low 40's.

Image of Baron Lake reflection, Sawtooths
Baron Lake Reflection.
Morning found a beautiful reflection on the lake that I couldn't get enough of!  I scampered around for different compositions as the light increased on the peaks above, eventually realizing the best was behind me and it was time to move on.

This was my exit day.  I would backtrack over the divide back to Alpine Lake, Flatrock Junction, and descend down to Redfish Lake to catch the water taxi across the lake and back to my vehicle.  Only the section past Flatrock Junction would be new to me.

As I descended, I was amazed at the amount of uphill traffic going to Alpine and Baron Lakes.  I began to realize that the solitude I got to experience may have been the exception to the rule, and considered myself lucky.

Image of Baron Lake reflection, Sawtooths
Baron Lake Reflection.

I arrived at the dock just in time to see the water taxi making its way across the lake toward me.  My trip was done - 47.2 miles and 6 days later, and many memories.

You can now view these images in my Sawtooth Wilderness Gallery!

As always, thanks for looking and I hope to see you on the trail!