Monday, August 24, 2009

The North Circle - Glacier National Park

What a trip! It was truly a blessing to experience such an area near the height of flower season. We had an incredible time, and came back with more than a handful of stories that will surely last us a lifetime.

Life has been busy since I've been back, and I am thoroughly late in posting this. I've had numerous deadlines to catch up on, photos to edit, and more trips to accommodate. As I write this I am packing for an extended trip to the Oregon Coast.

Unfortunately, life has thrown a new challenge my way that has also consumed much of my time. A loved one has suffered a terrible accident and her life has been forever changed. What began as a fall and minor head injury with a routine visit to the hospital has been anything but that. It escalated into an extended stay in the Intensive Care Unit at Harborview Medical Center while recovering from emergency brain surgery. As I write this, she has been rushed back to the hospital yet again. I've lost count of the number of times this has happened. The complications have been numerous.

It's these events that have made it difficult for me to sit down and recount all the special moments, emotions and nuances of such a special trip. Though the memories are fresh, my attempts to offer them in the illustrious narration they deserve have proved feeble at best. I had an excellent hiking partner and witnessed some of the most incredible scenery our backcountry has to offer. We made lemonade out of lemons on more than one occasion.

Life isn't all flowers. But the flowers are there to remind us how special life can be. I like flowers. And as husband and father of two, I've learned to never take them for granted.

Let's get this thing back on track now - what do you say?

I posted a detailed trip report here, and would encourage you to check it out for the hiking details and logistics. Why? Because I don't intend to duplicate those details here. Instead of a hiker's perspective, I would like to present the area from a photographer's perspective. Uh oh, I can feel those creative juices beginning to flow!

For those that have never driven the Going To The Sun Road, it is an amazing experience. And there is no better finish line than Logan Pass. It truly was a shame to simply park the car there and walk away. Ok, I did dilly dally in the meadows above for a little bit - but not enough to count!

The first leg of our trip was along The Garden Wall. This is a section of trail that has been blasted out from the rock (much like the highway below) and is a must hike for anyone visiting the park. The beauty is that you can hike it as far or as little as you wish. Oh, and a secret? The trail is fairly wide and sports a hand line for those feeling they need the extra security. Do it! ; )

The images of flower meadows you have viewed thus far have all been from Granite Park. Granite Park and Fifty Mountain were both INCREDIBLE for flowers! Both offered superb photography.

Granite Park offered the backdrop of The Garden Wall with its sloped meadows, as well as the Livingston Range across the valley. Meanwhile, Fifty Mountain offered Mt. Kipp in the background and gentler meadows. Both proved very interesting.

The advantage of starting this trip at Logan Pass is the elevation gain. The disadvantage is that you enjoy your desert before the main course. Granite Park and Fifty Mountain are definitely desert!
The biggest difference between Granite Park and Fifty Mountain, despite distance, is probably the result of the chalet. At Granite Park you feel like you haven't quite left the tourons behind. By Fifty Mountain, you definitely have. Fifty Mountain is 12 miles and over 2,000' gain from Granite Park. Oh, and the elevation? It's all gained at the very end! But the reward...

From Fifty Mountain we elected an alternate route from the traditional trip. Rather descend 3,000' down to Goat Haunt and climb 3,000' back up to Stony Indian Lake, we elected to climb over the shoulder of Mt. Kipp and shortcut to Stoney Indian via Sue Lake.

I first saw images of Sue Lake in Will Landon's book Glacier Panorama. As a large format panoramic photographer, he spent a lot of time there and produced some beautiful images. I have been drawn to this area ever since.

Of course, our trip didn't go as planned. The weather turned and we did the entire climb and descent in limited visibility. We arrived at the lake quite satisfied of our accomplishment, but I must admit to some dejection at not having photography opportunities after all our effort.

Or would we? I was amazed to stick my head out of the tent the next morning, only to find clear skies! My dilemma was that we had pitched tent in thick fog and I had little knowledge of my surroundings. This made it hard to plan morning photography and I was unprepared. But I tried to make the best of it.

Sue Lake was a challenge to photograph as the area is so up close. It definitely requires a wide angle lens. I certainly learned from my trip and have compositions in mind for my next visit. That's right, I said my next visit!

Our experience at Sue Lake was probably the highlight of our trip. Funny I couldn't convey that in my photographs. I can certainly see how such an area would cater to the likes of a panoramic photographer such as Mr. Landon.

It was also pretty special to have the place all to ourselves as they only issue one permit per night for the entire Sue Lake Bench. It was hard to leave this special place, especially under beautiful sunny skies!

Stoney Indian Lake awaited us next and proved quite beautiful. Unfortunately, our views were limited to a few hours after our arrival. Thick clouds then rolled in and cloaked the area for the rest of our visit, offering only a brief 20 minute pardon the next morning. I grabbed my camera and ran down the lake shore to some meadows in hopes of opportunity.

We left Stoney Indian Lake and climbed back over Stoney Indian Pass in clouds. However blue sky began to appear as we descended the other side toward Mokowanis Lake. Waterfalls were the main attraction as we descended the Stoney Indian Trail toward Mokowanis Lake. Atsina Lake was quite lovely as well.

The Mokowanis valley can be rather challenging to photograph. It doesn't really offer the spectacular flower meadows of Granite Park, Fifty Mountain or Stoney Indian Lake. It has spectacular waterfalls, but they are distant and partly obscured unless willing to venture off-trail. It's also a steep, rugged valley until Glenns Lake is reached. Still, I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.

Mokowanis Lake is a beautiful turquoise colored lake, much like Atsina Lake. Unfortunately, weather didn't allow much photography for me here. We enjoyed the solitude though. In fact, we were late breaking camp due to the sharing of yet more stories over breakfast. Day 6 of our trip and we still had a lot to talk about. Now that is special.

Cosley and Glenns Lake were nothing special in my mind. Glenns Lake might be longer than the map depicts. That's just my opinion. ; )

The valley changes below Cosley Lake. The trail transitions from forest to fairly open prairie. The fragrances are different too. You notice these things after being up high, probably because they are so different.

The final crossing of the Mokowanis River must be forded. Smiles appeared on our faces as we were greeted with this new exercise. It added yet another story to share from our trip. There was also something that felt historic about it, that you were following in the footsteps of frontiersmen who came before you and blazed the route that we now take for granted.

The ford was wide and shallow, only becoming knee deep on the far side.

We left the Mokowanis River for the Belly River at this point, climbing south along forested trail toward Elizabeth Lake.

Along the way we were greeted with spur trail to Dawn Mist Falls. This is a must see waterfall. In fact, I really should have spent more time photographing it. It was getting late and camp was sounding attractive. The sun also began to become a more consistent presence, casting its harsh light on the water and rocks. It turned out to be short lived.

We arrived at Elizabeth Lake and, despite being the last arrivals for the evening, found a premium campsite along the lake. Actually, they are all premium campsites with the exception of one that is tucked away in the trees on the opposite side of the food prep area.

Storm clouds rolled over the mountain tops of Ptarmigan Wall at the opposite end of the lake, and soon I found myself sitting down on the lake shore with camera watching as the evening sun painted the peaks and sky.

Our last night served mixed emotions for me, and I think Greg too. We were excited to be heading out the next day, but I was also saddened that our trip was coming to an end. I even commented to Greg that I still had enough food for several more days (and I did!).

My evening at Elizabeth Lake was a reflective one (pun intended). So much had happened during our trip. It was fun to sit and watch the evening sky while remembering each one. Granite Park, Fifty Mountain and Sue Lake stood out in my mind, but there were memories from all parts of the trips.

The next morning we climbed the steep trail up towards Ptarmigan Tunnel and enjoyed photographing its upper stretches. What an amazing piece of work.

We crossed through the tunnel and were welcomed by to entirely different world. After a morning of steep rock and cliffs, we were greeted by parkland meadows.

We exited amongst flowers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

NW Boat Travel

Yeah, I know. How does this fit into "Mountain Scenes" anyway? Well, it doesn't by definition I suppose. However, my photography has become more divirsified over the last few years to include other subject matter that interests me as well. This has given me more reason to get out and shoot!

This photograph of some racing sailboats was taken near the Des Moines Marina and is yet another image to be used by NW Boat Travel. It appears on their web site at

I've been working with Vernon Publications for a while now, and have appeared in the Seattle InfoGuide the last couple of years. The Seattle InfoGuide is a publication sold around the greater Seattle area tourist shops and hotels, and is well worth the pickup if looking for things to do in the Puget Sound area.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back from Glacier National Park!

I've just returned from an incredible trip to Glacier National Park in Montana! We enjoyed seven days in the backcountry, doing a variation of the North Circle. Each day was an exciting new experience and adventure!

The image above was taken upon our arrival at Logan Pass. Can you see the rams in the distance?

I hope to share the details of my trip soon. Let the image editing begin!