Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Note Cards for the Holidays!

If you are looking for note cards in time for the holidays, look no further!  I offer boxed note card sets from Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, Mount St. Helens National Monument, and Mount Baker.  These are perfect for sharing the beauty of our beloved Pacific Northwest mountains!

These 6" x 4-1/2" folded notecards are printed on acid free, 100% cotton-fiber for archival quality, and are suitable for framing.  They are very elegant, and include mailing envelopes.

These sets are available for $12.00 per box, and can be viewed in detail and purchased here.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cathedral Lake in Fall, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades

Upper Cathedral Lake is one of the most photographed scenes in the Pasayten Wilderness, especially in the fall when the larch trees turn a brilliant gold against the backdrop of Cathedral Peak and Amphitheater Mountain.  The still evening waters of the lake reflect the scenes well.

There are several ways to approach the lake.  Since the approach from Cathedral Provincial Park in Canada is illegal (and logistically challenging), we'll rule that one out.

A lengthy, though scenic approach is from Horseshoe Basin.  This also requires driving to Tonasket near the Canadian border east of the Pasayten Wilderness - a long drive from the Seattle area.

The next common approaches are from north of Winthrop, driving the Chewuch River Road.  There are two trails leaving this road that will get you to Cathedral Lake:  The Chewuch River trail and the Andrews Creek trail.
The Chewuch River trail is the slightly shorter trail - 20 miles to the lake, with an elevation gain of 3,929'.  Though lacking in views most of the way, it is likely the safest trail for travel on breezy/windy days.

I followed the 100 Hikes recommendation of Harvey Manning and Ira Spring and hiked in via the Andrews Creek trail.  This route takes you over scenic Andrews Pass and arrives at Upper Cathedral Lake - 21 miles and 4,900' gain later.

Unbeknownst to me (poor research on my part), the entire valley of Andrews Creek (and more) was burned in the 2003 Farewell fire.  This created two unforeseen issues for my trip.

The first challenge was beginning my hike in the evening with plans to camp along the trail a short ways in.  The valley is carpeted in downed trees and churned up rocks.  There is no bare ground to be find until about 5 miles in.  I found a nice, flat sandy area very near the former 5.5 Mile trail junction marker (the side trail has been obliterated - at least down low).

The second issue was with the few remaining upright trees.  While my hike in was under calm conditions, my retreat was in high winds with blowing snow.  I nervously listened to the sound of creaking and groaning trees the entire way out (14 miles of burn), and counted 5 loud crashes behind me - one only 100 or so yards away.

That being said, hiking over Andrews Pass, though mostly burned, was quite scenic.  Historic Spanish Cabin was also a nice treat to visit.

No matter which route you choose, it is a long haul and you will want to pick your camera gear wisely with weight in mind.  I benefitted mostly from my 24-70mm lens, and some from my 17-40mm lens.  I was happy with my choices.

Cathedral Lake is definitely the highlight of the area and the area to focus on.  Don't forget Cathedral Pass. 

The downside of beginning your stay here is that the other lakes won't impress.  If Cathedral Lake is the dessert, the other lakes are more like the vegetables; Lower Cathedral Lake is down in a forested hole, and Remmel Lake is in open, rolling tundra with little supporting cast.

I camped at the west end of the lake for the views of Cathedral Peak across the lake.  There were many compositions I wished to play with here, and I had a lot of fun doing so.

One thing I found out about the lake is that it has a LOT of fish in it, and towards evening they begin their feeding frenzy very near the shore, frustrating you if a wide-angle reflection shot is on your menu.  Good luck with those jumping fish!

Another composition I wished to work was from the other side of the lake, looking back on Amphitheater Mountain.  I never got the opportunity to do so though, as a system moved in, which I knew was forecast to stay awhile.  I exited a day early, leaving this opportunity for another time.

I also would have liked to spend more time photographing around Cathedral Pass - a short 10 minute walk from the lake.  I highly recommend exploring this area, and even consider the easy scramble up Cathedral Peak.

While I wasn't impressed with Remmel Lake, there is a very scenic basin full of larch above it under the summit of Amphitheater Mountain on the south side.  To get there, walk the trail back toward the Lower Cathedral Lake junction, and find the junction with trail #565.  This trail stays mostly level as it traverses beautiful alpine country around the west shoulder of Amphitheater Mountain, before climbing up its gentle south slope up into this scenic upper basin.

As for wildlife, goats frequent the area and were regular visitors to my campsite.  I never saw them though.  They always visited during the night hours, and all attempts to rush out of my tent and catch sight of them with my headlamp proved futile.  As soon as I got back in my tent, I could hear their hooves come racing back, likely hoping I had urinated somewhere close by.

Evening offers the best light for this area.  The morning sun arrives late thanks in large part to Amphitheater Mountain running along the south side of the lake.  The sun didn't hit my tent until shortly after 10:00 am.

My itinerary was as follows:

I arrived at the TH and began my hike at 4:30 pm, with hopes of getting a few miles under my belt before sunset.  I reached camp 5.5 miles in around 7:15, shortly after sunset.

The next morning I started out at 7:30 and hiked the remaining 14.5 miles to Cathedral Lake, arriving shortly after 2:00 pm.  This gave me plenty of time to set camp and explore composition possibilities for that evening.

I spent the next day exploring around the other lakes as previously mentioned, as well as the pass above.  These are all in pretty close proximity and don't take long.

That evening, as expected, a system moved in after sunset (giving me great cloud action at sunset).  I awoke to a dusting of snow in the morning, and icy cold conditions.  Knowing the system was forecast to stay for a couple of days, and having nothing further to spend my day exploring, I decided to bail. 

I figured I could make the 21 miles out to the road in a single day, but knew I had the option of camping along the way if needed.  I left camp in blowing snow at 7:10 am, and reached the road around 3:30 pm, with blowing snow all but the last 4 miles.  This was a pretty motivated retreat, but I really didn't want to camp another night in the burn area, especially in high winds.

My final word of recommendation is to pack warm if visiting this area in the fall.  At 7,400' elevation, Cathedral Lake is open to sudden changes in the weather, and the area can turn winter-like at a moment's notice.

Hindsight:  It likely would have been safer to exit via the Chewuch River trail and hike the short road distance back to my vehicle.

I also wish I had explored the area around Apex Pass and the Tungsten cabins and mine.  From Cathedral Pass, Apex Pass didn't look like much, and was at a lower elevation.  I did not learn about the Tungsten cabins until after my return.  Again, a reason to re-visit.

Finally, I'm glad I made visiting the Thirtymile Fire Memorial a priority during my visit (see previous post).  I highly recommend you do too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Remembering the Thirtymile Fire and Lives Lost

Only July 10th, 2001, four firefighters lost their lives in a fierce fire that suddenly and unpredictably changed direction, trapping them in the Chewuch River Valley.  The loss of innocent lives devastated their families and friends, and the communities they were trying to protect.  It was a sad day in Washington and firefighting history.

I still remember where I was when this devastating event took place.  I was in the North Cascades doing the Eldorado - Austera traverse; a high alpine traverse over several glaciers in one of the park's most wild of places.  We summited four summits in one day on this glorious trip.  We had a high camp at Klawatti col, with an amazing view of Eldorado and the massive Eldorado glacier before us.  Life was grand.  We didn't want to leave.

Shortly after descending, we heard the news.  It took all the wind out of our sails.  Talk about a reality check right to the gut.

An abandoned campfire was blamed for the cause of the fire, which, in tinderbox conditions, erupted quickly and ferociously into a devastating firestorm that swept up the Chewuch River valley.  Fourteen firefighters and two hikers became trapped when the fire suddenly changed direction and surrounded them, cutting off their escape route.

Down the road where firefighters were running in retreat, the wall of fire advanced at an estimated rate of 125 feet per minute under the strong winds.

This is the short version.  From here, the details get complicated.  I highly recommend visiting John McLean's website.  Warning:  Even his website is "can't put it down" reading.

Fast forward to 2014, I found myself planning a trip to the Pasayton Wilderness for the first time since this historic event.  Call me late to the dance.  While I was excited about my venture into this new land, targeting a lake famed for its larches, I also was determined not to leave without visiting the memorial I had heard about, honoring these brave firefighters.  My trip would be incomplete otherwise.

First I must set the stage by describing my hike up Andrews Creek and the sheer awe I felt upon viewing the scene.  I had no idea the size of the fire, or that it even jumped over to this drainage.  As I rounded a bend and got to a vantage where I could see up the valley, there were nothing but burnt trees as far as the eye could see - from valley floor all the way to the ridge top.  It didn't end.  13 miles later as I neared Andrews Pass, the hillsides remained the same; nothing but devastation.  This fire was massive; beyond anything I had imagined.

Back at my vehicle 42+ miles later, it was time to seek out the memorial and pay my respects.

Driving up the road, I first came to the roadside pullout signs.  I don't typically stop for these, but this time I just had to.  The signs were incredible, with amazing photographs of the firestorm and firefighters, and very detailed accounts of the events that unfolded.  I found myself re-reading each one, buying time for my senses to catch up, and trying to fathom the size and magnitude of this catastrophe.

As I neared the last two signs, I noticed the pullout was paved and there was a small walkway leading away.  It was the time of truth.  My heart grew heavy.

As I read the last two signs, I became aware that I was standing in the middle of where the event took place.  My SUV was parked in the exact spot as a van, who's lone occupant survived the ordeal with only a melted license plate frame.  Above me on the boulder field was the scene where the emergency shelters were deployed, ultimately succumbing to the heat of the fire.  Below me was the river, where refuge was sought.  Where did those hikers come from out of nowhere, complicating the survival plan?  It was intense reading.

I had not seen pictures of the memorial leading up to my visit, so I didn't know what awaited me.  My expectations were of a very classy, well-done memorial honoring the efforts of the firefighters who lost their lives.

As I rounded the corner of the paved walkway, I was surprised at what I saw.  The memorial was decorated with remembrance items from fire departments, search and rescue organizations, respectful individual visitors, and more.  The sight was overwhelming.

What's more, all these years later and there are no signs of disrespect to be seen.  No graffiti, no vandalism, just an outpouring of love and a collection of undisturbed remembrance items, from signed t-shirts to personal notes and offerings.

If you find yourself in the Winthrop area of Washington, the Thirtymile Fire Memorial is a must visit.  Your emotions will take over, and I dare you to leave with a dry eye.

The memorial is easily found.  Turn up the West Chewuch Road (county road), which turns into forest service road #51.  The memorial is 21 miles up the road, on the left side.

Don't miss it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reflecting on Flower Season at Mount Rainier in 2014

Early light on Mount Rainier above flower meadows on Mazama Ridge in Mount Rainier National Park, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Mount Rainier and flowers on Mazama Ridge.
I spent a good deal of time at Mount Rainier National Park in August, searching for vivid displays of flowers.  With the dry year we've had, it wasn't the strongest year for them.

I typically start in Yakima Park at Sunrise in mid to late July, as well as Spray Park and the Tipsoo Lake area.  But these areas were all considerably late this year.  I didn't make it up to Spray Park this year, but the flowers that that did arrive in the Sunrise area did so around the first week August.

Early light on the Tatoosh Range above lupine meadows on Mazama Ridge, Mount Rainier National Park, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Early light on the Tatoosh Range from Mazama Ridge.
The Paradise area seemed to come into its own around the second week of July.  As with the previously mentioned areas, there wasn't much variety.  Lupine was the predominant flower in most areas.

The exception was Mazama Ridge, where a mixed variety of flowers carpeted the rolling meadows.  Lupine was still the dominant bloom, but paintbrush, asters, pink heather and more could also be found.

I spent several mornings on Mazama Ridge at sunrise, arriving at Fourth Crossing by 4:30 am and hiking up to the ridge in the dark with my headlamp.  I typically shot until about 8:30 or so before retreating back to the parking lot in search of new adventures for the day.

Mount Rainier above pink heather on Mazama Ridge in Mount Rainier National Park, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Mount Rainier and pink heather on Mazama Ridge.
Surprisingly, I encountered very few photographers each of these mornings - with one of the mornings even being a Saturday.

I photographed at some familiar locations, and also explored some new areas, which I am excited to return to.

While Mount Rainier is the grand spectacle and the focal target of most photographers, the Tatoosh Range can also be very nice.  One morning I purposely kept my back to Rainier the entire morning, focusing solely on the Tatoosh Range.  In many ways, it was a refreshing approach that challenge my vision and creativity.

Early light on the Tatoosh Range above pink heather on Mazama Ridge in Mount Rainier National Park,Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
The Tatoosh Range and pink heather.
Of course, one can also head further up the Skyline Trail for more flower opportunities.  I didn't venture up there this year, as I've spent time up there the last couple of years.  Certainly, there are nice scenes to be had up there.

I also took time to visit other areas around the park, including Comet Falls, the Eastside Trail, the Naches Peak Loop, Burroughs Mountain and Pinnacle Saddle.  These offered a wide variety of photography, which I find keeps things fresh.

Early light on the Tatoosh Range above pink heather on Mazama Ridge in Mount Rainier National Park,Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
The Tatoosh Range from Mazama Ridge.
One place that has been high on my list the last few years to photograph is the tarn below the summit of Plummer Peak (often referred to as the Pinnacle Saddle tarn).  Previous years I've climbed up to the tarn only to find it dried up.  So, one morning after coming down from Mazama Ridge, I decided to go up and scout the tarn with a quick reconnaissance trip, less camera, for an evening return.

I arrived to find perfect shooting conditions in the mid-morning light, only I didn't have my camera! While frustrated, I found much humor in the predicament.  Lesson learned.  I returned the next morning to make amends.

Mount Rainier reflected in a tarn below Plummer Peak in the Tatoosh Range, Mount Rainier National Park, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Mount Rainier reflection.
For those that aren't familiar with this scene, the reflection isn't obvious.  In fact, many climbers familiar with the tarn from scrambles up Plummer Peak weren't aware of that it offers a reflection.  One actually has to get very low to the ground to see it.

The challenge of the tarn shot on this day was that a sloped snow bank completely covered the ground on its south side.  In order to get low (and at the risk of falling in), I had to lay facing downslope on the snowbank to compose the shot - which I found not to be easy.  But patience and perseverance paid off.

I hope you enjoy these images.  Many more images are available for viewing in my Mount Rainier Gallery.

With fall colors beginning to emerge, there are still many reasons to get up and photograph around The Mountain.  Be sure and take advantage of it!

Hope to see you on the trail!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bison in Yellowstone National Park

One of the pleasures of visiting Yellowstone National Park is getting to experience the bison in their natural setting, probably the oldest and largest bison herd in the United States.

The herd is actually divided into two sub-herds that are mostly isolated from one another.  The Northern Herd ranges from the northern entrance of the park near Gardner, Montana, through the Black Tail Plateau and into the Lamar Valley.

The Central Interior herd, pictured here, ranges from the Madison River valley into the Hayden Valley, and Upper and Lower Geyser Basin.

The scene of bison, or American Buffalo, in such a wild classic setting as Yellowstone, is unforgettable.  Maybe this is why such an image is so attractive to marketers in the tourism industry.  They want images that reach out to their audience and make them want to be there.  Does this image (or any similar image) make you want to drop what you are doing and go?  It does me.

This image was recently licensed for worldwide usage for a travel client in the travel & tourism industry.  I took it early one morning along the Firehole River along the Fountain Flat Drive in Yellowstone.  It was a pretty special morning, and one that still seems like yesterday to me.  Often, the camera just fell to my side as I watched these animals in their natural environment, even watching them crossing the Firehole River, sometimes just to cross back again a short time later.

I also photographed several young calves as they grazed near mom.  They were a joy to watch.

I will share a funny story about this image.  I took this image (and many, many more) from the side of the road, using my truck as a blind, standing on the driver's side door step and shooting over the top with the door half closed.  I was so focused on and inebriated by this scene that I failed to pay attention to what was happening behind me.  Suddenly I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and saw a huge beast of a bison approaching!  It was on the other side of the two-lane road, walking down the shoulder, but still waaaay too close for my comfort level!  I immediately relocated around to the other side of my truck, shared with the bison in this picture, as safe as that might be!

If you haven't already, I hope you get to have a bison viewing experience of your own at Yellowstone some day very soon.

You may view more images from Yellowston National Park in my Yellowstone Gallery.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Visiting Comet Falls in Mount Rainier National Park

Comet Falls amid the destruction of 2012.
While visiting Mount Rainier last week, I revisited one of my favorite waterfalls in the park - Comet Falls.  I have always held a special place for Comet and Spray Falls.
I hadn't visited this waterfall since the devastating slide of 2012 which closed the trail for an extended period of time.

As I climbed thru the trees and emerged into the open basin of Comet Falls, my heart sank.  Trees were sheared off below the trail, and the banks of Van Trump creek are littered with fallen trees and dead undergrowth, making a most unsightly foreground, and forming a barrier to accessing the creek for creative compositions down low.  It was a sad scene to decipher.  There was certainly some awesome forces at play here.

On previous visits, I had included the creek below the waterfall in my images, creating an interesting composition that wasn't just "another pretty waterfall".  You would really have to work for such a shot now, and I'm not sure you could entirely eliminate the devastation no matter how you composed the shot.

Comet Falls prior to the devastating slide.
Sporting a bad wheel, I was reluctant to try and negotiate all the downed trees to access the creek or work for a composition that didn't include the destruction.  From the scouting I did (including hiking several of the switchbacks up toward Van Trump Park), it didn't seem possible.

I've included a pre-slide image to the right.  It's an unorthodox composition, mind you.  Traditionally, photographers would only include the unobstructed double waterfall, which was easy to attain.  Such is no longer the case.

Hopefully, time will heal these wounds and Comet Falls will once again be a waterfall that photographers seek from far and wide.  It's deserving.  Just not today.

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!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Lakes, Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Mount Daniel and pink skies above Lower Robin Lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Mount Daniel above Lower Robin Lake before sunrise.
Robin Lakes are a set of high alpine lakes in the Alpine Lake Wilderness of Washington State, and are a special place to visit.  They are tucked away in an open granite basin below Granite Mountain.

The lakes are most commonly approached from Salmon La Sac, north of Cle Elum.  They are often referred to as the "little Enchantments", and for good reason.  The resemblance is striking, and the famous view out to Mount Daniel is striking.

The hike to the lakes is not easy.  In fact, it's physically demanding and requires navigational skills - especially if visibility is poor.  The trail climbing up to Tuck Lake is a root grab on a trail that doesn't believe in switchbacks, and the final path to the Robin Lakes largely follows cairns as it climbs a ridge, then gulley, and finally open granite slab.

Mount Daniel at twilight above Lower Robin Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Mount Daniel above Lower Robin Lake at twilight.
To get to the lakes, drive the Salman La Sac Road to road's end at the Deception Pass TH.  Hike the Deception Pass Trail 4-1/2 miles alongside Hyas Lake and climb nearly to the pass, where a signed junction with the Tuck & Robin Lakes trail awaits you.  Now the fun begins.  Pack lots of water on a hot day.

The stats on the route are 14 miles round trip, 3,200' elevation gain.  Of course, nearly all the elevation is gained the last 3 miles, so the stats can be a little misleading.

For photographers, this means you will want to choose your gear wisely in order to minimize weight.  This can be tough, because I can give you reasons to bring just about every size lens!

Morning alpenglow on Mount Daniel above Lower Robin Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Morning alpenglow on Mount Daniel above Lower Robin Lake.
I had the advantage of having been here previously and new (mostly) what to expect.  My 24-70mm lens proved to be my work horse, and was used for all the images shown here.  I brought my 17-40mm lens in hopes of doing some night photography, but found the sky too bright during my visit due to the times of the moon rising and setting.

I did not bring my 70-200mm lens due to weight concerns.  So when the 12 goats, including 5 kids, arrived at my camp and chose to visit me the duration of my stay, I was  mostly helpless to photograph them!

Morning alpenglow on Mount Daniel above Lower Robin Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Compositions are a bit limited at the lakes, but not confining.  Granite Mountain is mostly a pile of scree from this side.  So while it catches nice evening light, it is not the most appealing subject.  Add some dramatic clouds and this would all change of course.

The granite lakeshore at both the lower and upper lake make for some nice abstract or close-up photography, especially in diffused light.

For filters, you will want to bring a 2-stop split neutral density filter with you at minimum.  A polarizer could also be useful under certain lighting conditions, though I did not use mine during my visit.

These images will be up on my web site soon.  You will be able to view these and many other images from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in my Central and South Cascades Gallery.

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mount St. Helens - a Worldwide Tourist Destination

Mount St. Helens above flower meadows of lupine and paintbrush on Johnston Ridge, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington, USA.
How far away is tourism promoted for Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in our state of Washington?  As far away as Australia and New Zealand!

This image, taken from Johnston Ridge, is currently being used in a travel brochure abroad.  Johnston Ridge is a great place for wildflower photography in early to mid-July, far earlier than many other areas on west side of the Cascades.  Shown here is a meadow of lupine and paintbrush, and several other flowers.

Johnston Ridge is accessed from I-5 near the town of Castle Rock.  Follow State Highway 504 52 miles to road end, at the Johnston Ridge Visitor Center.

Many more images from this area can be viewed in my Central and South Cascades Gallery.

As always, thanks for looking!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Flowers at Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier above avalanche lilies at Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, Mount Rainier National Park, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Update Aug. 6th:  I toured the park today after my original backpacking plan fell through on the west side.  Paradise looks ahead of Sunrise for flowers this year, which I have never seen before.  I suspect Paradise is going to be looking pretty good in another week.

On the Sunrise side, the flowers look magnificent along the Sunrise road, until shortly before Yakima Park (Sunrise).  Then they basically disappear.  Strange. 

There are no flowers to speak of around Tipsoo Lake, and thus, I would assume it to be the same on the Naches Peak trail, since they have coincided in the past.

My hunch is that this is going to be a down year for flowers due to the dry summer we have had.  I hope to be wrong.

It is proving to be a strange year for flowers at Mount Rainier.  The flower displays typically associated with early August have not arrived, and likely are another 1-2 weeks out. 

How can this be with the early summer we have been blessed with?  Most likely, it is the extreme dry spell we have had.

Flowers in the Sunrise and Tipsoo Lakes area, which usually peak in late July, are still not at peak.  The same can be said for Spray Park.

Mount Rainier above avalanche lilies at Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, Mount Rainier National Park, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
Mazama Ridge is still sporting lots of snow.

Flowers at Paradise are just beginning to emerge near the parking lot.

Indian Henry's was still only sporting avalanche lilies a week ago.  I suspect the main show is still another week away.

Emerald Ridge has looked very nice in recent images I have seen.  This doesn't surprise me as it is usually one of the earliest spots to bloom.

Evening light on Mount Rainier reflected in a tarn at Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, Mount Rainier National Park, Cascade Range, Washington, USA.
It will be interesting to see how the flower shows play out this year around the mountain.  Will the different varieties all be on the same schedule?  Or will they be staggered as they sometimes are.

The good news is we still have a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks.

Hope to see you on the trail!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Discover the East Side of Mount Rainier National Park

The trails off Highway 123 on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park can be the loneliest trails in the park once trails of the high country have become available for hiking.  Who wants to be buried in forest when supreme panoramic views can be had of our state's crown jewel, as well as other peaks well beyond the park in every direction?  But on days when clouds shroud the high country and limit views, the lower Eastside Trail and spur trails can be at their best. 

There are no views of Rainier from these trails.  Instead, these trails offer the visual splendor of vibrant greens and the fresh aromas of western red cedar, western hemlock and Douglas fir to captivate the senses.  And if that is not enough, the rushing streams and thundering waterfalls may send your senses into overload!

Overcast days are the best days to visit this area for photography.   The clouds filter the harsh sunlight, creating nice even lighting.  Add some mist or drizzle to the equation and you will have a lucky treat indeed.  The forests on this side of the mountain are much drier than other areas as they are located east of the Cascade crest.  Often when rain is in the forecast for the park, I have arrived here only to find dry cloudy conditions with the sun trying to pop through.  In fact, many photography ventures have been cut short when the sun won the battle!

To further reward photographers and hikers alike, Deer Creek, Chinook Creek and the Ohanapecosh River offer numerous waterfalls and cascades to enjoy.  Side streams such as Kotsock Creek, Boundary Creek and Olallie Creek provide further opportunities.  These streams all have one thing in common; they are swift moving and can be roaring in spring and early summer.  Care should be taken as a slip and fall into one of these streams could be very dangerous

Photographers can leave their gradual neutral density filters at home, but should consider a polarizing filter absolutely essential equipment - worth returning home for if forgotten!  A polarizer will make the greens and yellows of the forest pop with increased saturation.  It will also take the glare of the water, and slow your shutter speed a couple of stops to further blur waterfalls and cascades to give them that nice ribbon effect.  I personally use a Singh-Ray warming polarizer and have been very pleased with the results I've gotten.  But any polarizer will do the job.

Of course, with these slower shutter speeds also comes the necessity of a sturdy, well anchored tripod.  Anchored?  Yes.  The forest floor can often be soft and even spongy, allowing settling of the tripod legs with the slightest of bumps - including the simple act of releasing the shutter button (use the timer function of your camera or better yet, a remote shutter release).  Hanging a stuff sack filled with heavy items from the center post of your tripod will help anchor it and minimize undesired movement and camera shake.

There are many access points for the these trails along Highway 123, beginning at Cayuse Pass.  Traveling south, just past the tunnel at Deer Creek is the Owyhigh Lakes trailhead.  Further south is the Silver Falls cutoff trail.  All of these offer their own special features and are worth checking out.

More images from Mount Rainier National Park and surrounding wilderness can be viewed in my Mount Rainier Gallery. 

For further photography ideas in the park, be sure to check out my book Mount Rainier, which offers my tips on when and where to photograph in the park and neighboring wildernesses.

And of course, many images from all over the western U.S. and Canada can be found on my website at www.mountainscenes.com.

Happy shooting!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In Memory of Karen Sykes, 1945 - 2014

Karen Sykes - photo by Alan Bauer
I first met Karen in 2007 - March 13th, 2007 to be exact.  It was a special day because it marked my first time hiking with her and another new friend, Alan Bauer.  Little did I know that both would become very good friends and colleagues.
I met them at the Preston Park and Ride on this morning, and immediately knew it was going to be a fun day.  Karen was full of silliness, laughter, and many stories on that drive.   We all were, in fact.  I credit Karen for starting it.  Karen was also full of questions as she wanted to learn about me.  3-1/2 hours on the road seemed to fly by in 15 minutes.
Steamboat Rock was our destination, and it did not disappoint.  We met another friend, Kim Brown, at the parking lot, and off we went.  For most of us, our goal was the view at the top.  For Karen, it was all the exploration on the way, as she elected to loop around the top, eventually meeting back up with us at the viewpoint overlooking Banks Lake.  I’m sure she was thinking, “Why the hurry when there is so much more to see?  The views aren’t going anywhere.”  That was Karen.
Karen and I mostly stayed in contact via e-mail, which she would typically sign Cairn, in jest.  I too became a follower of her Thursday write-ups in the pages of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  We didn’t hike together as much as we would have liked, but we always shared our trip stories and photos and found time to chat or get together.  One of those times was a book party at the Mountaineers to introduce their new Day Hiking series.  Alan Bauer, Dan A. Nelson and Craig Romano were being featured for their respective books, with each taking turns speaking about them and later, signing copies.  Karen suggested we attend to support Alan.
We arrived early and ran into our friends Kim Brown and Steve Payne.  The silliness began.  Karen stopped us before the door.  She wanted to make a dramatic entrance that would catch Alan off-guard and make him laugh – even embarrass him if possible.  She suggested we enter doing cartwheels.  And she was serious!  We shook our heads and said we were NOT doing cartwheels.  So instead, we coupled up, interlocked arms and walked in stiff as boards, chest held out, two by two, as if we were royalty walking the carpet, drawing Alan’s laughter.  But the moment I remember most is when an associate we both new saw us, and hurriedly approached and pointedly asked me how my wife and kids were, while looking at Karen, our arms still hooked together.  I don’t think I ever heard Karen laugh so hard!
Karen Sykes - photo by Alan Bauer
I also became Karen’s “go to” IT guy whenever she was having computer programs.  She had a very old computer – an ancient computer, which was basically full and crawled at a snail’s pace.  Couple that with dial-up modem that sometimes connected successfully at as high as an 18.8 connection, and, well, you get the idea.  She would get so frustrated with it at times, and simply have to walk away to calm down.  But if she didn’t have time to walk away due to a deadline she was working on, my phone rang.  And my phone rang often! (And if I didn’t pick up, well, that is what the redial button was for!)  Eventually, my brother built her a new computer as a gift with components he had laying around.  It was nothing special, but to Karen, it was a hot rod.  She needed to wear a seat belt when she sat down in front of the keyboard!  (I suggested we paint flames on the sides.)  Karen was in heaven, and simply ecstatic.  I still got the panic phone calls periodically when something didn’t go right, but not nearly as often.

It was while working on her computer one day that Karen learned of a photography book I had recently authored, entitled "Mount Rainier" through Hancock House Publishing.  She asked if she could review it for the Seattle PI.  I excitedly said yes, and furnished her with a copy.  Karen gave it a wonderful review, supporting it with several of my pictures, and recommended it to all her readers.  It was the first review of my book, and the one I most cherish to this day.  I still have the original newspaper copy (the review can still be easily found online).
Then one day, Karen’s walls came crashing down.  She was notified by the Seattle PI that her services would no longer be needed.  Karen’s heart broke.  She contacted me right away and confided in me all her emotions and fears.  She was surprised, hurt, angry, worried, and…afraid.  Writing about the outdoors was her life and passion, and after 13 years with the PI, it was all being taken away from her in one sudden swoop.  She didn’t see it coming.
Karen needed to write and she didn’t know what she was going to do.  She not only needed to write, she needed to write with purpose.  It had to be beneficial and be appreciated by others.  She was afraid of being forgotten.
Once the storm and panic settled, Karen realized she needed to keep her writing in the public eye.  She got the idea to start a blog, and enlisted my help to get it set up.  It was slow going at first, and there was much frustration when things didn’t work or “disappeared when she hit a button or something”.  But the results of her turmoil speak for themselves.  If you haven’t perused her pages, I encourage you to do so.
It was very soon after that Karen began hearing the rumors.  Her termination from the PI was part of a much bigger thing.  The PI was closing its doors.  This was a tremendous shock to Karen, and her hurt was replaced by sadness and concern for her friends and colleagues that were about to suffer the same fate as her.  The world could be cruel at times.
The PI announced a final good-bye party, attended by invite only.  Karen received an invite, but couldn’t decide if she wanted to attend.  She felt uncomfortable with it, yet part of her felt the closure and seeing others, some possibly for the last time, was important.  At the 11th hour, she hesitantly decided she wanted to go – if I would be her guest.  I was happy to oblige.
Karen Sykes - photo by Alan Bauer
The event was not what we expected.  It was a party and it was festive!  I wrote about it shortly afterward.  Karen only knew a handful of people there, since she freelanced from her home and didn’t have much interaction with those in the office.  But we quickly found out that many, many people knew of her and were anxious to meet her!  Karen was a bit embarrassed by all the attention, but her spirits were soaring through the ceiling.  Her smile was a permanent fixture on her face the entire evening.  I was so happy for her.
As we all knew she would, Karen forged ahead with her writing and picked up many new projects.  She began contributing to the Seattle Times and other publications.  Visit Rainier soon became a favorite client for her, offering her reason to get out on the trail often.
Karen had other interests as well.  She liked to write poetry and aspired to someday have it published in a book.  She was an avid runner around West Seattle, recently logging 13 mile runs.  Yes, 70 years old and running the equivalent of half marathons.  Karen wasn’t one for sitting around.  She would go stir crazy.
On June 18th, Karen met her fate doing what she loved.  Her final adventure took place in Mount Rainier National Park, on a hike to Owyhigh Lakes with her boyfriend Bob.  Karen did not return. 
There are more questions than answers as to what happened on that day.  And most likely, many of those answers will never come.
I will miss Karen.  I will miss her joyous smile and infectious laugh.  I will miss her quest for adventure and seeking to notice details along the way that others might overlook.  I will miss her kind heart and goodwill to those around her whom she found so important in her life.  And, I’ll miss those damn phone calls.
Rest in peace, Karen.  You have touched the lives of more than you ever could have imagined, and will be sorely missed.
Memorial Information

Celebrate the life and legacy of Karen Sykes at the Seattle Mountaineers on July 14, 2014. Share stories and experiences with friends at 6:30 PM, with a program beginning at 7:00 PM.  

Please send photos of Karen Sykes for incorporation in a slide show to Heidi Walker at fotogirl.heidi@gmail.com

And don't forget to share reminiscences of Karen at NW Hikers Trail Talk or at

See you there.



Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Butch Cassidy Festival at the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site

Warrior Peak above paintbrush in Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, Wyoming, USA.
Warrior Peak in Cirque of the Towers.
Butch Cassidy, or Robert Leroy Park as he was born, was a notorious bank robber, train robber, and leader of the Wild Bunch Gang in the Old West.  He grew up near Salt Lake City, Utah, but later lived in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

In 1890, Cassidy purchased a ranch near Dubois, Wyoming.  The ranch was across the state from the notorious Hole-in-the-wall, a natural geographical formation that outlaws commonly used for protection and cover.  Many suspect Cassidy’s ranching, which he was never financially successful at, was simply a front for illegal activities with Hole-in-the-Wall outlaws.

In 1894, Cassidy was arrested in Lander, Wyoming, for stealing horses and possibly for running a protection racket among the local ranchers.  He served 18 months in the Wyoming State Prison in Laramie – the only prison to ever incarcerate Cassidy.

The Wyoming State Prison is one of the oldest buildings in Wyoming, having been built in 1872.  It first served as a federal penitentiary before becoming a state prison.  Today, the facility is open to the public, designated as the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site.

Windy Peak reflected in Cook Lake at Sunrise.
The Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site is open daily from May 1st through October 30th.  It offers both guided and self-guided tours for a small admission fee.

Beginning June 14th, the prison will host the Butch Cassidy Festival.  A special dedication of their new exhibit “Butch Cassidy:  Who Was That Guy?” will happen at this time.  I am proud to say that two of my images from the Wind River Range will be a central part of the display, celebrating the very area that Butch Cassidy called home.

The first image is of Warrior Peak above paintbrush in Cirque of the Towers, a popular rock climbing destination and a favorite area for photographers and backpackers.

The second image is from a much less visited, yet highly scenic area on the east side of the range.  The scene is Windy Peak reflected in remote Cook Lake at sunrise.  Cook Lake is located above Smith Lake and the Popo Agie River valley.

You can view these images and more in my Wind River Gallery.

Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Palouse Falls, the Official State Waterfall of Washington State!

A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA. Palouse Falls is a magnificent waterfall located along the Palouse River in the southwest region of Washington State, about 4 miles upstream from its confluence with the Snake River.  It resides in Palouse Falls State Park, a park that provides full viewing access to the falls from a viewing platform and a paved path along the canyon rim.

The falls are 198 feet in height, and owe their history to the great Missoula Floods that swept across the Columbia River Plateau periodically.  Previously, the river flowed through the Washtucna Coulee to the Columbia River.  This coulee is now dry.  During the Pleistocene epoch, the Missoula Floods diverted the river over the south valley wall of the original canyon, channeling a new course to the Snake River, and creating Palouse Falls in the process.

A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.
The waterfall seems to be rapidly gaining in popularity in recent years.  A primitive road full of pot holes used to access the park.  That road has been graded and oiled now, and RVs and tour buses can be commonly seen in the parking lot.  Thanks to some Washtucna elementary school students who lobbied the state legislature, Palouse Falls became the official state waterfall of Washington State earlier this year – February 12, 2014 to be exact.  This will surely pick the curiosity of Washington residents who have not yet visited this waterfall.

 I find the waterfall is best viewed and photographed in the spring time when water volume is at its peak – April and May are ideal.  Early May brings the addition of wildflowers to the area.  Snakes are also common beginning in mid-April or so (be careful!).  By summer the falls can be but a trickle in comparison.

A close-up of the thundering waters of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.
On sunny spring days, a beautiful rainbow forms at the base of the waterfall in mid afternoon.  This is my favorite time to photograph the falls.  You can position the rainbow where you wish simply by changing your vantage point.  Of course, the rainbow also moves as the angle of the sun changes.  Definitely bring a polarizing filter to capture the vibrant colors of this light spectrum.

If you are fortunate to have interesting clouds in the sky in the morning or evening, you’ll have a great opportunity to compose a panoramic image encompassing the waterfall, entire pool and even the canyon downstream if you choose.  In order to capture the full dynamic range, you will need to bring split neutral density filters for this, shoot HDR, or employ the method of stacking images in Photoshop.
I attempted some night photography during my last visit in April, but there was too much light pollution nearby to pull this off.  I would love to hear if anyone has been successful with this.
A train passes through a carved out route in the Palouse near Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.

Finally, don't forget to check out the periodic trains, best viewed from the bridge before the parking lot.  The trains run pretty regularly and you can usually hear their low rumble well in advance if you pay attention.  Watching the nearby train traffic light can tip you off as to the direction of the next train.

The railroad tracks are quite the engineering feat.  Since trains require relatively flat track, they can't handle the rolling hills, bluffs and ravines of the Palouse very well.  So instead, a route was carved (blasted) into the plateau to form an open top tunnel.

As I wrote about in a recent post, yellow-bellied marmots are everywhere around the falls and very fun to watch and photograph.  If you missed it and don't see it below, you can find the post here.
You may view more images of Palouse Falls, the rolling hills around the Palouse, and more in my Central and Eastern Washington Gallery.

In the meantime, here are a few images from my recent visit.  Enjoy!
A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.

A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.

A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.