Castle Peak North Cascades

Manning Park Winter Photography

Manning Park Winter Photography

Castle Peak North CascadesCastle Peak North Cascades #64796  Purchase

Last week I made a trip to Manning Provincial Park for winter photography and skiing fun. Weather forecasts were for cold temperatures and a good amount of fresh snow. Perfect conditions to make some new winter photos.

Manning Provincial Park is a large park in southern British Columbia. It encompasses the northern reaches of the North Cascades Mountains, along the U.S. Washington State border. On the U.S. side the mountains present a rugged appearance with high jagged peaks. However, in Manning Park the range mellows out into high mountains with more rounded summits. Just north of the park the North Cascades ends, and gives way to the Thompson Plateau.

Gibson Pass Ski Area, Manning Provincial ParkGibson Pass Ski Area Lifts  #64771  Purchase

Skiing Manning Park

In summer hikers in Manning Park can find some great trails offering high views and meadows of wildflowers. In winter the park offers a network of cross country ski trails in addition to the small Gibson Pass downhill ski area. Backcountry skiers and snowshoers can also find fresh snow and solitude on the Fat Dog ski route to the Brothers Mountain group.

On this trip I took advantage of both the Nordic trails and downhill ski runs. Manning Park’s Gibson Pass Ski Area offers a bit of a unique experience in the Pacific Northwest. Most ski areas in this region receive a copious amount of heavy wet snow, often referred to as Cascade Concrete. Manning Park, on the other hand, often has colder powdery snow, due to its more inland location.

A few of other things sets Manning apart. For one it has a laid back retro feel perfect for families, and avoiding adrenaline junkies. Also, while the big resorts like Whistler Blackcomb charge a staggering $180 (Canadian) for a single lift ticket, Manning charges only $59 (Canadian). Plus, there are usually no lift lines. On my recent midweek visit, I skied directly onto the chair each time! The downside to these benefits is that there are only two chair lifts, with only one operating in midweek. The vertical drop is a modest 1400′.

North Cascades Winter, Manning Provincial ParkManning Park in Winter  #64780  Purchase

Winter Photography in Manning

While the Nordic trails are fun, they usually don’t offer much in the way of landscape photography. Therefore I made a point of taking advantage of the views offered from the top of the ski lifts. From the ridge top the views south into the Washington North Cascades are very good. The two dominant peaks in that direction are Hozomeen Mountain and Castle Peak. Further off west are the jagged peaks of the Mount Spickard, Mox Peaks, and the northern Pickets, in North Cascades National Park. To the north are the rounded summits of Three Brothers and Big Buck Mountains.

To photograph the twin summit towers of Hozomeen and the Pickets you’ll want to be on the ridge top early in the morning. However, unless you hike up to the ridge before dawn you’ll be limited by the ski lift schedule. The lifts open at 9:00 so you’ll miss sunrise. Of course depending on lighting and snow conditions you can still make good photos throughout the day. If you want to get to the top only for the views, you can purchase a one trip lift ticket for $10.

Later in the afternoon both Castle and Frosty Mountains will begin to receive warmer light. Note that until late spring the north faces of Castle and Hozomeen will be mostly in shadow.

North Cascades Winter, Manning Provincial ParkManning Park in Winter  #64783  Purchase

Timing is Everything

While having great light is always imperative in photography, another important consideration for winter photography is timing the snow conditions. In winter most of the landscape will have a blanket of snow over it. However, trees and forests without snow on them will become black holes for light against all that white.

In my opinion and experience the best conditions can be had just after a storm dumps fresh snow on the trees. This sounds simple and obvious, but it can be tricky. Often in the Northwest a warmer wet snowstorm is followed by sunny conditions, which melts snow off tree branches very quickly. That pristine scene can be gone within a few hours!

Frosty Mountain North Cascades British ColumbiaFrosty Mountain Manning Park  #64791  Purchase

Colder drier locations such as the Rockies present another dilemma. The snow can be so cold and dry that very little to no snow may adhere to tree branches. Unlike the coastal Northwest where wet snow acts like glue on everything. In cold locations and conditions a slight breeze can also remove the snow as easily as warm sunshine.

In the end winter photography can be much more fickle than photographing spring wildflowers or perfect autumn color. Depending on weather patterns where you live or are able to travel to, there may be only a couple of good opportunities a season. So keep a close eye on those forecasts and be ready to go at a moments notice!

North Cascades Winter, Manning Provincial ParkManning Park in Winter  #64778  Purchase

If You Go to Manning Park

Driving time to Manning Park is about 4.5 hours north of Seattle, and two hours from Vancouver. Winter camping is available, as are RV hookups at Gibson Pass Ski Area. Manning Park Resort also offers excellent lodge and cabin facilities, along with a restaurant grocery store and gas. Cell phone signal is limited to the immediate lodge area.

Want to Learn More?

Would you like to learn more about photographing in Manning Park and or winter photography? I offer full day, half day, and multi-day photo tours and instruction. Check out my Private Instruction/Tours page for more info, or contact me directly. I would love to help you take your photography to the next level and shoot like a pro!

Mount Shuksan in winter North Cascades

Photographing Heather Meadows Winter Landscapes

Photographing Heather Meadows Winter Landscapes

Mount Shuksan in winter North CascadesMount Shuksan From Austin Pass #64716  Purchase

Heather Meadows Recreation Area is located adjacent to the Mount Baker Wilderness in the North Cascades. Magnificent scenery and numerous hiking trails are the highlights of this special place. In summer visitors can drive to Artist Point on Kulshan Ridge for incredible views of Mount Baker in one direction, and Mount Shuksan in the other. Further down is one of the most iconic mountain scenes in the world, Mount Shuksan reflected in Picture Lake.

In winter Heather Meadows is just as popular a place to visit. The adjacent Mount Baker Ski Area is open, and throngs of backcountry skiers and snowboarders search for untouched powder. January usually provides some breaks in the winter storms, so it’s a good time to make the trip up.

I’ve been visiting Heather Meadows in winter for over twenty years. Mostly for photography but also for the pure exhilaration of the views and crisp cold air. Even though I’ve skied up to Artist Point on Kulshan ridge numerous times I always find something new to photograph. Different lighting conditions and reshaping snow pack will always dress up the scene in a new way. All the photos in this post were made a few weeks ago on a crisp day in late January.

Mount Shuksan in winter North CascadesMount Shuksan and snowdrift Kulshan Ridge #64337  Purchase

Up near the ridge you can find wonderful shapes and patterns in the ever changing snowdrifts. If you are lucky enough to visit just after a heavy storm you’ll also see old growth mountain hemlock trees encased in snow and ice. Also, if you are extraordinarily lucky you may get a glimpse of a steam plume from Mount Baker’s volcanic crater glowing in the evening light!

Swift Creek Valley North Cascades WashingtonSwift Creek Valley from Kulshan Ridge #64728  Purchase

Winter Travel Gear Tips

If you go there are a few things to keep in mind. Snowshoes, backcountry skis, or split-board snowboards are the most efficient means of getting around. Skinny cross country skis, or booting it in for even a short distance from the parking lot is exhausting in the deep snow, you’ll be drenched in sweat within minutes. Artist Point is less than two miles and 900′ elevation gain from the parking lot. However, with all your extra winter travel gear that distance can seem much longer.

Don’t even think of going  during poor weather! Whiteout conditions, heavy wet snow, and increased avalanche danger does not make for an enjoyable outing. It seems every year there a couple of fatalities directly attributed to those types of conditions. The main route up to Artist Point and Kulshan Ridge is usually safe from avalanches. However, under certain conditions a few areas can  be dangerous.

I won’t get into too much detail regarding essentials, but make sure you take the following:

  • Extra warm clothes, it can be windy and much colder on the ridge.
  • Plenty of liquids to stay hydrated
  • High energy snacks
  • Insulated pad to sit on
  • Avalanche beacon, probe, shovel, and knowledge of how to use them.
  • Knowledge of current weather and avalanche forecasts
  • A partner, especially important if you’re new to the area in winter, or venture beyond Artist Point
  • Common Sense!

Nooksack Ridge in winter North Caascades WashingtonNooksack Ridge from Heather Meadows #64748  Purchase

Photo Gear and Tips

Just like photographing wildflowers in spring or colorful fall foliage, winter photography is all about timing. Maybe even more so. I’m always on the lookout for good conditions. Such as after a good storm covers the trees and peaks in a fresh blanket of snow. Of course it must not be too warm or the snow will quickly melt off the trees and leave them black silhouettes against the white snow.

Photographing from Artist Point, Mount Baker is best photographed in the early morning. Mount Shuksan is best photographed in late afternoon to evening. For Shuksan late winter or early spring is preferred, since the angle of the sun won’t be as low. You’ll get more light on the glaciers then.

For lower down in Heather Meadows morning light can be optimal. Some of the best conditions I’ve seen here are when low clouds or fog are just beginning to lift.

Backcountry skiing North Cascades WashingtonBackcountry skier and tracks North Cascades #64732  Purchase

If you are envisioning untouched pristine snow in your photos you’ll have to get there very early, and immediately after a good snowfall. Backcountry skiing and riding has exploded over the years. Therefore, even the most remote and steepest backcountry terrain is tracked out by midmorning. It’s now nearly impossible to make a photo anywhere in the Heather Meadows area without numerous tracks everywhere.

Before digital I often trekked the meadows and up to the ridge with a 4×5 large format camera, and all its the weighty accessories. Several times I even did it with a full overnight winter pack! Digital has simplified and lightened the load somewhat. Here are a few basic items I always bring along.

  • Tripod
  • Polarizing filter
  • Some form of remote release
  • Plenty of microfiber lens cleaning clothes, you will drop things in the snow!
  • Extra batteries

Want to Learn More?

Would you like to learn more about winter photography? I offer full day, half day, and multi-day photo tours and instruction. Check out my Private Instruction/Tours page for more info, or contact me directly. I would love to help you take your photography to the next level and shoot like a pro!

American Border Peak and Mount Larrabee in winterCanadian Border peak and Larrabee Peak #64754  Purchase

Liberty Bell Mountain North Cascades

New Images Autumn North Cascades

New Images Autumn North Cascades

Liberty Bell Mountain North CascadesLiberty Bell Mountains, North Cascades  #64469  Purchase

My final group of images from 2018 is now online and ready for viewing. As with the past several new releases I have added a selection of highlights to the New Images Gallery. You can see even more by visiting the Washington Gallery or searching by keyword/location.

This past year I have been very fortunate to have been able to visit some exciting new locations in the Midwest and Appalachian Mountains. However, it somehow seems fitting that the year is finishing up with a successful fall trip on my home turf. Washington Pass and Rainy Pass along North Cascades Highway are two of the most scenic sections of the state. This area holds many fond memories for me, so I’ll jump at any chance I can get to photograph there. On this most recent visit in early October I was lucky to have both fresh snowfall and sub-alpine larches at their peak color.

Liberty Bell Mountain North CascadesLiberty Bell Mountain from Washington Pass Overlook  #64568  Purchase

The other location included in this set is even closer to home, Heather Meadows Recreation Area. Just an hour up the road, I’ve been their many dozens of times, for photography, skiing, and hiking. This area of easy access can be very crowded in every season. So on this occasion I hiked the Ptarmigan Ridge trail on a quiet Monday in spectacular fall weather. The next morning I photographed near the ski area just as a few clouds drifted in to herald a change of weather.

Alpine Larches North CascadesSub-alpine Larches North Cascades  #64608  Purchase

Cutthroat Pass Larches, North CascadesBlack Peak and sub-alpine larches, North Cascades  #64521  Purchase

Table Mountain North Cascades WashingtonHeather Meadows Recreation Area #64649  Purchase

Heather Meadows in autumn North CascadesTable Mountain, Heather Meadows Recreation Area  #64642  Purchase

 

Whatcom Peak North Cascades National Park

Whatcom Peak North Cascades National Park

Whatcom Peak North Cascades

Whatcom Peak North Cascades National ParkTapto Lake North Cascades National Park  #61501  Purchase

Here are a few more images from last year’s trip to Whatcom Pass in North Cascades National Park. After going through my files recently I noticed that these images were still in the “sketching” phase of processing. Sometimes looking back at images over time sheds new light on interpreting the feel of subject matters.

To read more about this special place read my earlier post on Whatcom Pass and Tapto Lakes. Now I’m off for several day photographing back at Washington Pass along North Cascades Highway.

Whatcom Peak North Cascades National ParkWhatcom Peak North Cascades National Park  #61502  Purchase

Whatcom Peak North Cascades National ParkTapto Lakes Basin North Cascades National Park  #61515  Purchase

Mount Challenger North Cascades National Park

Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2

Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park

Mount Challenger North Cascades National ParkMount Challenger, North Cascades National Park  #61740    Purchase

Several weeks ago I was finally able to make a return visit to Whatcom Pass and Tapto Lakes. In the heart of North Cascades National Park, Whatcom Pass is quintessential North Cascades wilderness. It rises out of deep untouched forest valleys to jaw dropping views of rugged glacier clad peaks. From Part 1

Exploring Tapto Lakes Basin

Tapto Lakes is one of those locations that many hikers dream about visiting. Remote, high in the subalpine, and surrounded by rugged snowcapped peaks, the lakes have all the features of a classic backpacking destination. Tapto Lakes sit in a basin about 800′ above Whatcom Pass. The basin contains on large lake and several smaller lakes set in a heather filled subalpine meadow. The basin is shaped somewhat like an amphitheater, with the main show being the stupendous views of Mount Challenger and Whatcom Peak. Situated in a designated cross-country zone by the park service, with a permit you are free to camp anywhere among the lakes, though with a few caveats.

After investing two days of hard work reaching the lakes I woke up rested and refreshed. Content on not having to hike anywhere with a full pack I took in the view and planned my day. Of course since my main reason for being here was landscape photography I woke up early to survey the light. I had already identified several excellent spots to run to in the event of some great morning light. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case on my first morning, so I had lots of leisure time to explore all the lakes. My usual modus operandi is to spend most of the day scouting out and lining up possible compositions. I then try to assign a priority to them and work from top down when the lighting becomes appropriate. My first evening had some very nice light, enabling me to photograph some classic reflections of Whatcom Peak.

Whatcom Peak North Cascades National ParkWhatcom Peak, North Cascades National Park  #61499    Purchase

The View North

On my second day I decided to move camp to a higher location. My map showed a very small lake not far away in its own small talus fringed basin on Red Face Mountain. It appeared to offer even more commanding views, along with quick access to a ridge on Red Face Mountain. The short hike up was definitely worth it. The lake still had some snow along one side and also had some good composition qualities. I quickly found an excellent spot to set up camp, after which I hiked up to the ridge.

North Cascades National ParkBear Mountain and Reveille Lakes, North Cascades National Park  #61536    Purchase

As I crested the ridge I was presented with incredible views of the wild peaks to the north. Dominating the view was Bear Mountain and the jagged needle-like spires of Mox Peaks and Silver Peaks. Far below the precipitous and crumbling ridge were the turquoise colored Reveille Lakes. All of this territory was completely devoid of trails, a true wilderness only accessible to the most determined mountaineers. I sat there for quite some time, contemplating how fortunate I was to be in such a special place. I got up after a while and headed back down the slope, wondering if I’ll ever return.

Waiting for Light

Back down at the lake the day was wearing on and it was time to set up some compositions. Some clouds had moved in and were swirling arounds the summits of nearby peaks. I was hopeful they wouldn’t completely sock in everything before sunset. I moved to the back of the lake where Whatcom Peak cast a nice reflection in the still waters. Waiting to see what would happen I photographed a series of images in which the clouds and reflection created a sort of Rorshach effect. Although the light didn’t have a dramatic saturation of color, I did like some of the subtle pastel tones. All in all it was a very satisfying day.

Whatcom Peak reflection North CascadesWhatcom Peak cloud reflection, North Cascades National Park  #61603    Purchase

Whatcom Peak reflection North CascadesWhatcom Peak cloud reflection, North Cascades National Park  #61630    Purchase

Middle Lakes

The next day feeling that I accomplish my goals and not wanting to overly duplicate images, I packed up and moved on. A bit east of Tapto Lakes are a few more small lakes, the most accessible being Middle Lakes. I decided to spend my last day here before heading back. Climbing back up to the ridge I turned and bid a somewhat sad goodbye to the lakes I had dreamed of revisiting all those years.

Middle Lakes turned out to be an easy short mile or so further, there was only a steep rock slope to cross to add a bit of excitement. When I reached upper Middle Lake I found the setting to be somewhat desolate. Surrounded by steep slopes on three sides and a boulder filed at the outlet, there didn’t seem to be any good campsites. I moved on to check out the lower lake. The lower lake was more attractive, but it too afforded little flat ground for camping. However, when scouting for campsites I noticed an odd mound near the lake outlet with intense iron red soil. There appeared to be springs emanating from the mound. The main spring had formed small red mineral terraces similar to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. I felt the water but it was cool to the touch.

Mineral spring North CascadesMineral Spring, North Cascades National Park  #61666    Purchase

Mount Challenger North Cascades National ParkSwirling clouds over Challenger Glacier, North Cascades National Park  #61711    Purchase

I ultimately found a nice spot for the night among boulders and heather meadows with a commanding view of Mount Challenger. For a mountain with such an imposing glacier it seemed that its elevation should be more than 8236′. During my entire stay in the area I noticed a nearly constant flow of  clouds near its summit. Apparently for such a modest height Mount Challenger tends to make its own weather, partly explaining the huge glacier. Most of that afternoon and evening I enjoyed and photographed a show of mists whimsically curling around the summit. To commemorate my trip to this special place I made several photos of my campsite, including a couple with the tent illuminated.

Backcountry camp North Cascades National ParkIlluminated tent and Mount Challenger, North Cascades National Park  #61751    Purchase

Hiking Out

The next day it was time to head out, retracing my steps down to Whatcom Pass and into the Chilliwack River Valley. Although I was filled with a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, I was also sad to say goodbye. I faced a long day of hiking filled with retrospection on this and my first trip to Whatcom Pass many years back. Once again a highlight was riding the cable car across the river. After around ten miles I reached Copper Creek Camp, tired with plenty of hot spots on my heels and toes. The next day I faced the stiff climb back up to Hannegan Pass and then the final miles out to the trailhead where my truck waited.

Nearing the pass I began to meet more hikers. Many of them were just beginning trips similar to mine. You could easily see the excitement in their faces, anticipating the wonders that were waiting for them. Of course I stopped to chat and helped stoke their excitement by passing on some of the highlights from my own trip. Then it was down the pass for the last five miles of the trip. Although I was out of North Cascades National Park and in the Mount Baker Wilderness, it was easy to sense civilization was close. I began to see more people on a wider well maintained trail. I got back to my truck in a few hours, in a parking lot that had dozens of cars in it.

Tired but happy I began to drive home. I began thinking how soon I might get a chance to go back to Whatcom Pass.

Backcountry Camp North Cascades National ParkCampsite on Red Face Mountain, Whatcom Peak in the distance, North Cascades National Park  #61589    Purchase

Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2

Whatcom Peak North Cascades National Park

Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 1

Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National

Whatcom Peak North Cascades National ParkWhatcom Peak reflected in Tapto Lake # 61497    Purchase

A Long Awaited Journey

Everyone has a place they dream of, somewhere that holds a special spot in their heart. At some point in their lives, usually at a young age, they see a picture or read a story about a place that for various reasons grabs their imagination. They carry it with them over the years and hope someday for the chance to visit it in person. For me it has always been mountain wilderness. And not just any run-of-the-mill mountain wilderness. It had to have a primordial feel. Dark mysterious forests, raging rivers, and rugged peaks with jagged rock summits jutting out from expansive glaciers. For me the North Cascades fit the bill perfectly. It was this vision that drew me to Whatcom Pass many years ago.

Mount Challenger, North Cascades National ParkChallenger Mountain, North Cascades National Park  #61459    Purchase

Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 1

Several weeks ago I was finally able to make a return visit to Whatcom Pass and Tapto Lakes, in North Cascades National Park. In the heart of the park, Whatcom Pass is quintessential North Cascades wilderness. It rises out of deep untouched forest valleys to jaw dropping views of rugged glacier clad peaks. Far away from any road town or cell signal. My first visit was way back in the late eighties and I’ve been wanting to go back ever since. There have been many reasons for my delayed return, not least of which is the long tiring hike accompanied by swarms of flying insects.

Unlike most backpacking trips this one has a few major ups and downs in addition to covering lots of miles. The first day climbs a pass and then descends deep into another valley. The next day you must climb all the way up to another pass, then higher to the lakes basin. In all you’ll cover around 40+ miles and about 8500′ of elevation, including side trips, before returning to the trailhead. A very strong hiker could make it in two days, most people allow three to four days. My primary goal was for photography and relaxation so I gave six days to accomplish this trip. Aside from the photography thing I always feel that if you work so hard to get some place why hurry to leave? Take your time to relax and enjoy the surroundings!

Hannegan Pass trail North CascadesHannegan Pass Trail through Ruth Creek Valley, Mount Baker Wilderness  #54291    Purchase

Hiking to Hannegan Pass

On the first day I made an early start, hoping to make it through the brushy Ruth Creek Valley before the black flies awoke. It’s about five miles and 2000′ up to Hannegan Pass, along a very scenic trail that sees very heavy foot traffic. I’ve been up this trail to the pass nearly a dozen times and never get tired of the open views of rugged Nooksack Ridge. About halfway up you begin to see snowcapped Ruth Mountain guarding the head of the valley. Ruth Mountain itself is a popular destination for hikers climbers, and skiers in early season. Although I’m not much of a mountaineer I managed to hike up the glacier to the summit several years back. From the top you get an incredible view of Mount Shuksan and it’s glaciers spilling into Nooksack Cirque. Truly awe-inspiring!

North Cascades National Park entrance signEntering the park #61415    Purchase

Down the Chilliwack Valley

On reaching Hannegan Pass I took a rest to have a snack and dry off my sweat soaked shirt. I also chatted with a group of volunteers that were part of a trail maintenance crew. From here it’s all downhill into the wild Chilliwack River Valley, losing all that hard-won elevation. Shortly after leaving the pass I finally entered North Cascades National Park, indicated by a weather beaten-wooden sign. The hike down into the valley is through a beautiful untouched fragrant forest of silver fir, mountain hemlock and grand fir. The feeling here of true wilderness is very tangible, even the trail seems wilder. From the pass I needed to travel another five miles to U.S. Cabin camp, my first night’s destination.

Old growth forest North CascadesOld growth forest Chilliwack River Valley, North Cascades National Park  #61421    Purchase

Ten miles is about my limit for hiking with a full mutli-day pack, so I was glad to reach the camp and set up my tent. Amazingly there were very few bugs so far and I was able to relax and eat dinner along the river unmolested. I was even able to make a few photos of the impressive forest at this camp. That night I turned in early in anticipation of a grueling hike the next day. I had to hike another seven miles and over 3000′ up to my next and ultimate destination, Tapto Lakes above Whatcom Pass.

The next morning I again got up early to hit the trail. The first stop of the day was the unique crossing of the Chilliwack River via a hand operated cable car. I don’t know how common these contraptions are but for most hikers it’s a highlight of their trip. Later in the season crossing the river on foot wouldn’t be very hard, but why pass up such an interesting experience? Two hikers and their packs can fit in the car which is operated by pulling on a rope. It’s pretty easy getting across the first half since the cable sags down a bit.  After that you begin to pull your weight up to the opposite side. By the time I got the car docked on the platform my arms were pretty tired from pulling. Of course I had to make sure I got a few photos before moving on.

Cable car North Cascades National ParkChilliwack River cable car, North Cascades National Park  #61427    Purchase

Climbing to Whatcom Pass

After the river crossing it’s back to work again on the trail, which now goes through a very brushy section. Years ago, on my first visit, the chest high brush was covered in morning dew. After a half an hour of hiking I was soaking from the waist down. A few miles later the climb to Whatcom Pass begins in earnest. The trail begins to rise from the valley bottom and gradually views open up to rugged Easy Ridge. After what seems like an eternity Whatcom Peak comes into view and the terrain begins to take on a subalpine look. I arrived at Whatcom Pass exhausted and again drenched in sweat from the climb.

Brush Creek Trail near Whatcom Pass North Cascades National ParkWhatcom Pass Trail, North Cascades National Park  #61764    Purchase

I still had another mile and 800′ feet of elevation to travel to my camp at Tapto Lakes. At this point I was wiped out and wasn’t sure if I could make it. The trail to the lakes is more like a climbers route, with sections so steep you need to pull yourself up by root and branches. While deciding if I had the energy I spoke with a few other backpackers doing the cross-park hike to Ross Lake. Like me they spent the whole morning climbing up to Whatcom Pass. However, they only paused briefly to take in the views before heading down again into the adjacent valley.

Again I though to myself, what’s the point in all the work if you hurry past the best parts? The previous day I met a woman doing the Pacific Northwest Trail. This 1200 mile long trail starts at Glacier Park in Montana and ends at the Pacific Ocean. Like the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and Appalachian trails, you need to hike a set number of miles each day to complete it. During our brief conversation I couldn’t help admiring her determination and stamina. At the same time I also felt a bit sorry for her that she needed to hurry through such beauty to stay on schedule.

Mount Challenger North CascadesChallenger Mountain and Whatcom Peak, North Cascades National Park  #61443    Purchase

At Tapto Lakes

By this time I felt physically and mentally rested enough slog up to reach my camp at Tapto Lakes. Taking it very slowly, the climb proved easier than I anticipated. Soon enough the views exploded to include Mount Challenger and the imposing rock buttresses of Whatcom Peak. A short 200′ descent into the basin brought me to beautiful Tapto Lakes. The day was still young so I took my time and leisurely explored the area to find the best campsite. The only other people there was a small group staying at the pass below. They had day hiked up to the lakes to take in the views and a quick dip in the frigid lake waters. When they left I had the entire place all to myself!

Time to rest and take it all in, and do nothing but marvel at the rugged beauty that spread before my eyes. At last I returned to the place that held my imagination spellbound for nearly 28 years.

Coming up in part two: Exploring and photographing at Tapto Lakes.    Click here to read part two

Tapto Lakes North Cascades National ParkTapto Lake, North Cascades National Park  #61455    Purchase

Read Part 2 here!

Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 1

Liberty Bell Mountain Washington Pass

Washington Pass North Cascades

Washington Pass North Cascades

Liberty Bell Mountain Washington PassLiberty Bell from Washington Pass   #61304   Purchase

My last post featured a hike up to Maple Pass along the North Cascades Highway of Washington State. This post will feature the second part of that short trip. Not far up the road from Rainy Pass and the Maple Pass trailhead is one of the premier areas of the North Cascades, Washington Pass. Sitting at 5477′ this is the high point of the North Cascades Highway. It also features one of the best views of dramatic mountain scenery in the state accessible by vehicle. During the winter months the pass closes due to deep snows and hazardous avalanche conditions.

Proudly guarding the pass is Liberty Bell Mountain and its attendant peaks, The Minute Man and Early Winters Spires. All of these and surrounding peaks are composed of a pinkish type of granite carved from the Golden Horn Batholith. The quality of rock attracts climbers from all over the globe, and in early spring ski mountaineers.

Kangaroo Ridge, Washington Pass MeadowsKangaroo Ridge from Washington Pass #61316   Purchase

The aesthetic beauty of the area also attracts photographers, me being one of them. Most visitors new to the pass generally head to the dramatic views of the overlook area. However I enjoy the peaceful solitude of the adjacent meadows and the wonderful compositions it offers. The meadows are the headwaters of State Creek and can be classified more as wetlands. Photographing on the spongy ground requires very light steps to protect the delicate plants. Another requirement is a willingness to get your feet wet and a tolerance for swarms of flying biting insects!

Liberty Bell Mountain Washington PassLiberty Bell reflected in State Creek #61365  Purchase

Autumn is also another great time to visit as the subalpine larches fringing Liberty Bell are turning gold. However the sun is then at a lower angle and doesn’t illuminate much of the north face of the mountain. When the road opens in spring you can also get an idea of how the pass looks in winter conditions.

Washington Pass North CascadesWashington Pass #61343  Purchase

Hikers on trail North Cascades

Maple Pass North Cascades

Maple Pass North Cascades

Hikers on trail North CascadesHikers on Maple pass Trail, North Cascades  #61268  Purchase

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit a few of my favorite areas along the North Cascades Highway. The first being a wonderful day hike up to Maple Pass. It’s been quite a number of year since I did this hike, and since the trail was extended into a loop trip I was excited to check it out. I won’t get into the details of the trail except that it quickly gets you up into the alpine and offers some of the best views in the North Cascades. Being one of the first to the pass it wasn’t long before a steady procession of hikers appeared. I usually try to avoid weekend hikes due to the crowds but in this instance it was nice to meet lots of nice folks. In addition I was able to include hikers in some photos to add to my recreation files.

Hikers on trail North CascadesHikers admiring view from Maple Pass Trail, North Cascades  #61284  Purchase

As you’ll notice in the photos I mixed up the processing a bit from my usual style. Since these were all made during midday it seemed a good opportunity to try out a high key look. I’m a firm believer of photographing in all types of light and getting creative with different types of processing to fit the occasion. Beautiful dramatic evening light is great but you’re not stretching your artistic boundaries if that all you do. Of course my next post will most likely include some of that very style!

North Cascades seen from Maple Pass TrailNorth Cascades from Maple Pass  #61260  Purchase

Black Peak, Lake Ann North CascadesBlack Peak and Lake Ann, North Cascades #61302  Purchase

Maple Pass North Cascades

Image Lake Glacier Peak North Cascades

Glacier Peak and Image Lake

Image Lake and Glacier Peak

Image Lake Glacier Peak North CascadesGlacier Peak Image Lake #58240   Purchase

Image Lake Glacier Peak North CascadesImage Lake Glacier Peak  #58240   Purchase

Recently I made a five-day backpacking trip to one of my all time favorite areas in the North Cascades, Image Lake . Located in the Glacier Peak Wilderness this is one of the classic views of lake mountain glacier in the Northwest. Image Lake is rivaled only by a few other spots such as Picture Lake/Mount Shuksan, and Tipso Lake/Mount Rainier. The big difference here is that you’re not likely to run into crowds, or more than a couple other people for that matter. My last visit to this outstanding location was back in 2000 and I’ve been wanting to get back there ever since.

Image Lake Glacier Peak North CascadesGlacier Peak  Image Lake #58248   Purchase

Due to a series of winter floods, subsequent lack of repair funding, and environmental studies, the Suiattle River access road has been closed for nearly 12 years. I’m not very optimistic that the road will remain open for long. The whole length of the river valley is made up of ancient volcanic debris from past eruptions of Glacier Peak. During the rainy fall and winter months the river routinely eats away at this easily eroded material. Despite extensive repairs there are still several areas where the road is still very vulnerable. It won’t take much, I’m afraid, to put it out of commission again.

Hiking In

Image Lake on Miner’s Ridge is a fairly long backpacking trip that requires at least several days to justify the effort. The total roundtrip mileage is about 32 miles with 4500′ of elevation gain, most of it in the last five miles. Of course there is much more to see than just plopping down at the lake so figure on adding several more miles and another thousand feet or so of elevation to that. On all three of my visits I encountered parties that did it in two days. However, I really don’t see the point of carrying a full load that far and high to take a quick look around and head back the next day. I consider three days a minimum.

Hiker on suspension bridge Suiattle River Trail North CascadesBackpacker on Canyon Creek Bridge #58176   Purchase

The first nine or ten miles travels along the Suiattle River through gorgeous old growth forest with massive trees. One of the highlights comes when crossing Canyon Creek on a very well built suspension bridge. Such a large and sturdy structure is rare in the wilderness. Horses also use this trail so it needs to be able to stand up to heavy weights. At around ten miles the real work begins, non-stop switchbacks from the river valley to the top of the ridge. Fortunately the upward grind is in the shade of forest almost all the way up. On this trip it was fairly cool with heavy overcast and fog. However, the intense humidity had me sweating like a pig while just putting my packing on! When I got to camp I was soaking with sweat.

North Cascades Old Growth ForestOld Growth Forest Glacier Peak Wilderness #58192   Purchase

At The Lake

Image Lake itself is nothing to go out of your way to see. It’s a very shallow lake which has a soft sediment bottom, and is usually covered with hatching insects in summer. Image Lake is not the best for swimming, but good to cool your toes off. The real reason that makes the lake so special is its situation on Miner’s Ridge. At about 6000′ high it has a perfectly placed front row seat view of the heavily glacier-cloaked NE face of Glacier Peak.  At 10,541′ Glacier Peak is the most isolated of the five volcanoes in Washington.  It is definitely one of those views you could just sit for hours or days admiring. And since it so far out you’ll most likely have it to yourself! On this trip I had the whole ridge and lake basin to myself for two whole days.

Hiker Glacier Peak Wilderness North cascadesUpper Suiattle River Valley from Miner’s Ridge #58279   Purchase

If you are looking for a truly extraordinary wilderness experience then spend a day or two at the lake before heading east along Miner’s Ridge. This route traverses through high meadows to Suiattle Pass and beyond to Cloudy Pass and glacier fed Lyman Lake. Nearly the entire length of the trail is above tree-line.  Along the way you’ll travel through some of the most astonishing mountain scenery in the North Cascades accessible by trail. Seven to ten days would be perfect to enjoy such a trip and you’ll have memories to last a lifetime.

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Glacier Peak and Miners Ridge

North Cascades backcountry camp Miners RidgeCamp on Miner’s Ridge, Dome Peak in distance #58268   Purchase

Glacier Peak Wilderness backcountry camp Miners Ridge North CascadesMiner’s Ridge camp, Glacier Peak in distance #58317   Purchase

Image Lake Glacier Peak Wilderness North CascadesMiner’s Ridge and Image Lake #58322   Purchase

 

Nooksack Tower North Cascades

North Cascades Washington

North Cascades Washington

As I’ve mentioned in many posts, North Cascades Washington is one of my favorite places to get out and enjoy a rugged wilderness setting, and since I live in Bellingham Washington it is also practically in my backyard. Over the past several weeks I’ve made a few leisurely hikes and backpacks to some of my regular spots. Below are some photos from these trips that help illustrate the wild and rugged nature of this magnificent range. Enjoy!

Nooksack Tower is, in my opinion, one of the coolest and most dramatic looking peaks in the North Cascades. Topping out at a modest 8268′ / 2520m it is an outlier of the Mount Shuksan massif. Nooksack Tower has also been famously  labeled by legendary climber Fred Beckey as one of the most difficult climb in the North Cascades, equaled possibly only by nearby Slesse Mountain (the “Fang”) in British Columbia. In this view from above Hannegan Pass a layer of fresh spring snow adds to the formidable appearance of the tower.

Nooksack Tower North CascadesNooksack Tower #58069  Purchase

Ruth Creek Valley and Nooksack Ridge

Also one of my favorite areas in the North Cascades, Ruth Creek Valley via the Hannegan Pass Trail has some of the greatest views of any low to mid elevation trail in the Northwest. Most other trails at this elevation are deep in dense old growth forest. However, the slopes in this valley are regularly swept clean by avalanches fueled by massive winter snows. This heavily traveled route is also one of the few trails that provide access to the heart of North Cascades National Park. Aside from the great views, Ruth Creek Valley is also notorious for plagues of black flies that swarm around hikers in the heat of summer, be prepared with lots of Deet if you hike here in July or August!

North Cascades WashingtonRuth Creek Valley, North Cascades #58068  Purchase

Backcountry Camping in the Mount Baker Wilderness. This photo is from on the same trip as the two photos above. While it has the looks of a winter setting the amount of snow seen here is typical for late spring in the North Cascades. Most of the higher elevations are not snow free until mid-July, with wildflowers blooming in sub-alpine meadows soon after that. In the distance you can see Nooksack Tower and its relation to the rest of Mount Shuksan.

Backcountry camp North CascadesNorth Cascades Backcountry Camp#58078  Purchase

North Cascades waterfall. This is a typical view just about anywhere in the lower elevations in spring. Lots of snow melt streams and creeks rushing down the slopes into lush green forests. This nameless, as far as I know, waterfall is midway up the trail to Excelsior Peak.

Waterfall North CascadesNorth Cascades Waterfall #58066  Purchase

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North Cascades Washington