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!