Twin Lakes Alice-Toxaway Lakes Loop Trail Sawtooth Mountains

Alice-Toxaway Loop Backpacking Photography

Alice-Toxaway Loop Backpacking Photography

Twin Lakes Alice-Toxaway Lakes Loop Trail Sawtooth MountainsTwin Lakes #66175  Purchase

The final destination during my time in the Sawtooth Mountains was the classic Alice-Toxaway Loop. I could say that I saved the best for last, but that wouldn’t be accurate. The hikes to Baron Lakes and Sawtooth Lake were equally spectacular. All three destinations have something unique to offer the backcountry visitor.

The Alice-Toxaway Loop sits at the southern end of the range.  It is roughly 17 miles long, travels over one mountain pass and visits four gorgeous alpine lakes. Aside from the main trail there are several attractive side trips possible. The most popular being to Imogene Lake over a second pass.

The loop takes usually takes 2-3 days to complete. Some backpackers do the loop in two days, or even day hike or run the loop in one day, but to me that is ridiculous. Isn’t the pace of life today fast enough? It is not difficult to hike in one or two days, but you will be rushing through some of the best scenery of the Sawtooths, on a thoroughly enjoyable trail. For me taking less than three days would be unthinkable. I allotted five days, but spent four days due to poor weather on the last day.

Alice-Toxaway Loop Sawtooth Mountains IdahoAlice-Toxaway Loop #66053  Purchase

Hiking to Alice Lake

The loop can be done in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. I chose clockwise since I was eager to spend a couple of nights at Alice Lake at the beginning. Starting at Petit Lake from the Tin Cup Trailhead the trail follows the lake shore then enters the forest for a brief spell. From the start to Alice Lake the trail has numerous creek crossings which can be difficult early in the season. Soon the trail begins to climb and the views open. Certainly, one of the best of these is a view far across the valley to the White Cloud Mountains and Wilderness.

Alice Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoAlice Lake #66110  Purchase

After this the trail continues a pleasant climb through rocky terrain, dotted with wildflowers and babbling streams. Soon enough the trail levels out and passes by several small ponds near the outlet of Alice Lake. All along this stretch the landscape is dominated by the lofty spire of El Capitan. Here, and at Alice Lake, there are many great places to set up camp. I chose one further along the trail at Alice Lake near some of the best photo ops. I spent the rest of the day relaxing and scouting for photo compositions.

Alice Lake camp Sawtooth MountainsCamping at Alice Lake  #66072  Purchase

Alice Lake camp Sawtooth MountainsCamping at Alice Lake  #66086  Purchase

There were some great spots along the far end of the lake for photography. However, from that perspective El Capitan had a more rounded appearance. Hiking back to near the lakes outlet it displayed a more impressive horn-like spire.

El Capitan Sawtooth Mountains IdahoEl Capitan, Alice Lake  #66114  Purchase

On to Twin Lakes

After a couple night spent at Alice Lake I moved on to Twin Lakes. Twin Lakes is a very short hike from Alice, about a mile and around several hundred feet  higher. Some say Twin Lakes has the better views, but that’s all subjective. I think Alice and Twin are equally impressive, they just have different personalities.

Backpacker Twin Lakes Sawtooth Mountains IdahoBackpacker at Twin Lakes #66137  Purchase

The focal point for photography was the impressive unnamed horn shaped peak across the lake. I spent a good deal of time scouting and lining up compositions for evening and morning light. Along the way I came across a huge gnarled old White Bark Pine. I just couldn’t pass up making some photos of its lumpy distorted trunk.

Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) Sawtooth Mountains IdahoWhite Bark Pine #66141  Purchase

The next morning I awoke before dawn and set up my gear in a preselected site and waited for dawn. There were some beautiful clouds and soft light to work with. Utilizing a wide lens I was able to use angles and shapes to from the peak across the lake.

Twin Lakes Alice-Toxaway Lakes Loop Trail Sawtooth MountainsTwin Lakes #66170  Purchase

Unfortunately more clouds soon moved in and it became apparent that the weather would be making a change. After finishing up photography and breakfast I packed up camp and set out for the next destination on the loop, Toxaway Lake.

Toxaway Lake

Immediately the trail begins a switchback climb up to a 9000′ pass. From here the views are spectacular. Below are Twin Lakes, set in a bowl surrounded by jagged peaks and ridges. The pass area would make a great spot to camp but after a short while I needed to move on.

Alice-Toxaway Lakes Loop Trail Sawtooth MountainsTrail above Twin Lakes #66198  Purchase

Toxaway Lake is several miles further on from the pass. The trail down passed through some beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers. I was disappointed to see how far down the trail descended, and it soon became apparent that Toxaway Lake would be just below the tree-line. Getting nearer the lake mosquitoes became a problem for the first time on the trip.

After what seemed like a long hike I finally arrived at the lake and began looking for a campsite. Further on  down the lake is a junction which heads up to Imogene Lake, and many other in the adjacent basin. I must have passed up the main camping area since near the outlet I had some trouble locating a suitable spot. When I did find one it was just when it began to rain. During the rest of the day and most of the next morning it rained steadily. Any chance of meaningful photography at Toxaway Lake was gone.

Twin Lakes Sawtooth Mountains IdahoTwin Lakes #66185  Purchase

The Hike Out

The next morning the rain eased up a little but clouds still shrouded the surrounding peaks. I took advantage of the break in rain, packed up and headed down the trail. Long sections of the trail were now muddy ponds and streams. Eventually the rain stopped but the clouds still hung low.

The trail continued  a gradual descent as it passed Farley Lake. I was disappointed to have missed out on photographing at Toxaway Lake, and now Farley Lake would also be a casualty of the weather. After Farley the trail descended more rapidly and entered deep forests of pine. It passed through an enormous avalanche path made during the previous winter. Huge trees snapped like match sticks were laying everywhere.

Alice-Toxaway Loop Trail Sawtooth Wilderness IdahoAlice-Toxaway Loop #56141  Purchase

The last section of the trail seemed to be the longest and most uninteresting. A monotonous hike through lodgepole pines, a tricky stream crossing, and then a climb over and down a ridge to the trailhead at Petit Lake. Along the way I came across an interesting sight, a large group of backpackers all sleeping in separate hammocks. There must have been six to eight hammocks  spread out among the trees. They reminded me of some sort of giant insect cocoons! I must admit that they didn’t look like the kind of shelter I would enjoy being confined to during the previous day of rain.

The Alice-Toxaway Loop was now in the bag, and it lived up to its reputation in every way. I would highly recommend this trip for beginners and advanced backpackers, it has all the elements that hiking dreams are made of!

Little Redfish Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoLittle Redfish Lake #66227 Purchase

Now, after two weeks of Backpacking and photography in the Sawtooth Mountains I was just about ready to wrap things up and move on. However, I was treated to one final glorious morning of photography at Little Redfish Lake. As usual I was there before dawn and ready. As the sun came rose it lit up the clouds in pinks, purples, and then orange, and yellow. A truly wonderful finale to one of the most memorable group of hiking trip I’ve ever done.

As a celebration I made a brief stop at Sunbeam Hot Springs, and had a good soak along the Salmon River. Now on to the main attraction of this trip, the Wind River Range of Wyoming!

Sunbeam hot springs Salmon River IdahoSunbeam Hot Springs  Idaho #66250 Purchase

If You Go

As I said in my previous post, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness are unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Sawtooth and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

To get to Tincup Trailhead hikers parking lot, drive about 18 miles south of Stanley on U.S. 75 and another two miles west along FR 208. The small scenic town of Stanley Idaho makes a great base for trips into the Sawtooths. Lodging, groceries, restaurants, outdoor gear stores, and a great bakery are in town. Redfish Lake Lodge also has many similar amenities.

As mentioned earlier in this post, the Sawtooths are an extremely popular destination. Not only for hikers and backpackers, but also for tourists, front country family camping, river rafters, and fishing. During the height of summer just about every campsite, both front country and backcountry will be filled before noon. Therefore, make your plans accordingly to avoid frustration.

One of the best perks of the area are the numerous natural and wild hot springs. Soaking in one along the Salmon River is one of the greatest post hike activities.

Check out more of the photos from this trip in my Idaho Archives.
All the photos in this post are available as Fine Art Prints and for commercial licensing.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

Little Redfish Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoMount Heyburn, Little Redfish Lake #66244  Purchase

Alice-Toxaway Loop Backpacking Photography

 

Baron Lake Monte Verita Peak Sawtooth Mountains

Baron Lakes Backpacking Photography

Baron Lakes Backpacking Photography

Baron Lake Monte Verita Peak Sawtooth Mountains Baron Lakes Backpacking PhotographyBaron Lake Sawtooth Mountains  #66032  Purchase

After a successful trip to Sawtooth Lake I was itching to get back on the trail and see more of the Sawtooth Mountains. The question was where to go next. There are plenty of tantalizing destinations in the Sawtooths. To explore them all you would need at least a full summer. Like most people with limited time I wanted to visit the best of the best, and return later for more in depth exploration.

With about two weeks available I knew that the famous Alice-Toxaway Loop was a must do. There were also several very attractive destinations in the Redfish Lake area. Cramer Lakes and Saddleback Lakes were two of those. However, the hike to Baron Lakes looked like it would provide several elements I was after. First and foremost was a good variety of photographic subject matter. Three lakes and one mountain pass is better than a straight hike into just one lake. Secondly, I wanted the hike in to be moderately challenging, but not exhausting. I was, after all, carrying plenty of heavy photo equipment on my back, aside form the usual camping paraphernalia. So Baron Lakes it was.

Redfish Creek Canyon Trail Sawtooth Mountains Idaho  Baron Lakes Backpacking PhotographyRedfish Creek Trail  #65999  Purchase

Hiking to Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

To get to the start of the Baron Lakes trail, or any destination along Redfish Creek Valley you have two options. On one hand you can begin at the hikers parking lot near Redfish Lake Lodge. Or for $17 roundtrip you can take a water taxi from the lodge to the trailhead at the head of Redfish Lake. This option will save you about five miles of hiking. Like a lot of others I opted for the water taxi. On a beautiful warm summer morning it was tempting to just rent a canoe or kayak and leisurely explore the lake. But I was there to grunt and sweat my way up a hot and dusty trail instead.

After an initial climb the trail levels out a bit for the first few miles. At Flatrock Junction the trail splits. Continuing on the main trail will take you to Cramer Lakes, the right fork ascends to Alpine, and Baron Lakes. Here is where the real work begins. The trail begins to switchback up to Alpine Lake, first through meadows and then along a cliff wall partially shaded by trees.

My first night was spent at Alpine Lake, yes there are two lakes sharing this name in the Sawtooths. Although the lake is set in a picturesque bowl I was a bit disappointed in this location. This is a popular destination and most of the NE side of the lakeshore has been pounded to dust by overuse, and the open forest here doesn’t provide much opportunity for solitude.

Baron Divide Trail Sawtooth Mountains IdahoBaron Divide Trail  #65051  Purchase

The next day I awoke and packed up early. I was eager to leave the dismal campsite and reach Baron Divide before it became too hot. This climb to the divide is pleasant, passing several ponds and grassy meadows along the way. Finally at the divide the fabulous scene of Baron Lakes and Monte Verita Peak came into view. It was a long switchback hike down to the lakes along boulder fields and flower meadows. This is truly one of those stretches of trail that backpackers dream of.

Hiker at Baron Lake Sawtooth Mountains Idaho  Baron Lakes Backpacking PhotographyBaron Lake  #66043  Purchase

At Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

Upper Baron Lake is a great destination with good campsites, but the middle  lake has the views I was anticipating for photography. Most of the campsites are on the North side of the lake and are close to the lake outlet. Fortunately I was there early enough to find a secluded spot further on along a small bay. For most of the morning I had the lake all to myself, but by evening every available space that could hold a tent was occupied. Despite highly visible trailhead signs prohibiting campfires at least one group felt the need to build one and fill the area with smoke.

Baron Lake Warbonnet Peak Sawtooth MountainsWarbonnet Peak  #66029  Purchase

There are many possibilities for exploration from the lake. A short climb behind the camps offers great views down to the lower lake, and Baron Creek Valley with the imposing bulk of Baron Peak dominating the scene. Monte Verita and Wabonnet Peaks offer exciting scrambling and climbing routes. Hiking around the shore you can also climb back to the upper lake for a pleasant loop trip. Of course you also can just sit and enjoy the view or try your luck at fishing.

Photographing at Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

Since this was my first visit my goal was to photograph the classic view of Baron Lake with Monte Verita in the background. It doesn’t get much better then that. I just had to scout out the best compositions and wait for some good light.

Milky Way Baron Lake Sawtooth MountainsMilky Way over Baron Lake  #66011  Purchase

Evening was pleasant, but there was very little light illuminating the spires of Monte Verita. It became apparent that at this time of year the best light would come in the morning. After sunset I took the opportunity to do some night photography. The location was perfect, since the Milky Way was just to the left of Monte Verita at a pleasing angle.

At sunrise there was a very attractive sprinkling of small puffy clouds reflected in a mirror smooth lake surface. As the sun rose the clouds were continually changing patterns, keeping me busy photographing Rorschach-like compositions.

Baron Lake Monte Verita Peak Sawtooth MountainsBaron Lake #66034  Purchase

Hiking Out

I spent another night at the lake, but since it was Sunday everyone else had Packed up and left. Therefore I had it all to myself, with plenty of time to anticipate the grueling climb back up to Baron Divide. The next morning that climb wasn’t too bad since I once again had a successful trip in the bag, and the views were still spectacular.

Like every other hike, descending Baron Divide was somewhat sad since the views were behind me and the trip was coming to a close. As a took one last look at the lakes and peaks I was hoping to return soon. All the way back down the trail to Redfish Lake I was all smiles, eager to speak with other hikers about the beauty they would soon see. By the time I reached the water taxi dock the day was hot, so the boat ride back was a cool relief.

Redfish Lake Lodge boat dock, Redfish Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoRedfish Lake Marina  #65995  Purchase

By then my mind was occupied by thought of pizza, a cold beer, and the Alice-Toxaway Loop hike.

If You Go

As I said in my previous post, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness are unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Sawtooth and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

To get to Redfish Lake hikers parking lot, Redfish Lake Lodge and water taxi drive about 6 miles south of Stanley on U.S. 75 and another two miles along FR 214. There are plenty of campsites near along Redfish Lake and Little Redfish Lake.

The small scenic town of Stanley Idaho makes a great base for trips into the Sawtooths. Lodging, groceries, restaurants, outdoor gear stores, and a great bakery are in town. Redfish Lake Lodge also has many similar amenities.

As mentioned earlier in this post, the Sawtooths are an extremely popular destination. Not only for hikers and backpackers, but also for tourists, front country family camping, river rafters, and fishing. During the height of summer just about every campsite, both front country and backcountry will be filled before noon. So make your plans accordingly to avoid frustration.

One of the best perks of the area are the numerous natural and wild hot springs. Soaking in one along the Salmon River is one of the greatest post hike activities.

Check out more of the photos from this trip in my Idaho Archives.
All the photos in this post are available as Fine Art Prints and for commercial licensing.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

Milky Way Baron Lake Sawtooth MountainsMilky Way over Baron Lake  #66010  Purchase

Baron Lakes Backpacking Photography

Titcomb Basin wildflowers Wind River Range Wyoming

New Images Wind River Range

New Images Wind River Range

Titcomb Basin wildflowers Wind River Range Wyoming Titcomb Basin Wildflowers #66559  Purchase

The second group of new images from my Rocky Mountains photo tour is now online and ready to view. Click this link to view them.  This group represents close to three weeks of backpacking photography in the Wind River Range of Wyoming.

If you have been following my blog over the past several years you’ll know that  the Winds have been on my “must return to list” for quite some time. They are an extensive high elevation mountain range encompassing three wilderness areas. There are enough peaks lakes and glaciers in the Winds to keep a photographer busy for an entire lifetime.

Squaretop Mountain Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain  #66997   Purchase

This was my fourth trip to the Winds, and by far my most successful. The past trips were plagued by poor light and or smoke from wildfires. However, this time there were plenty of opportunities to photograph in exceptional light.

Here is a list of the locations from this trip. After I finish the next edits of Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks I’ll be following up with more posts detailing each of the trips from this tour.

  • Bonneville Lakes Basin
  • Island Lake/Titcomb Basin/Indian Basin
  • Green River Lakes/Green River/Squaretop Mountain

And of course, all images are ready and available as Fine Art Prints and for Commercial Licensing.

Island Lake Wind River Range WyomingIsland Lake  #66368  Purchase

Mount Bonneville Wind River Range WyomingMount Bonneville #66273   Purchase

Milky Way over Upper Titcomb Basin Wind River Range WyomingMilky Way over Upper Titicomb Basin #66741  Purchase

New Images Wind River Range

Alpenglow over Marriott Basin, Coast Mountains British Columbia

Marriott Basin Coast Mountains British Columbia

Marriott Basin Coast Mountains British Columbia

Alpenglow over Marriott Basin, Coast Mountains British ColumbiaMarriott Basin alpenglow, #61843    Purchase

Last month I made my third trip into Marriott Basin, in search of new landscape images. Hot on the heels of my recent trip to Whatcom Pass, I wanted to get in as many backpacking photo trips as possible before wildfire smoke returned. This season has been one of the worst in history for wildfires. Both in the western United  States and British Columbia numerous large fires are burning.

Located in the southern Coast Mountains of British Columbia, Marriott Basin is an extensive alpine area. Access to the area is from Cayoosh Pass on highway 99, about an hour’s drive east of Pemberton. Nearby is the extremely popular Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. While the lakes are popular with sightseers and day hikers, the Joffre Group of peaks is wildly popular with climbers and backcountry skiers.

Generally above 6000′ Marriott Basin contains several lakes and numerous peaks for climbing, most notably Marriott Peak. My previous trips to Marriott Basin entailed one overnight backpack to Mount Rohr, technically outside the basin. The other was a winter ski trip to the Wendy Thompson Hut, located at the head of the basin. The Wendy Thompson Hut is operated by the Alpine Club of Canada and is open year round. However, the hut sees most of its visitors during the winter and early spring ski season.

Avalanche warning sign Coast Mountains British ColumbiaTrailhead avalanche warning #61910    Purchase

Marriott Basin Trail

Getting into Marriott Basin is fairly straightforward, with summer access being slightly different from winter. In summer you can drive a couple of miles up a brushy gravel secondary road to the trailhead. Parking and turnaround space is extremely limited and you my need back down the road to find a spot. The total length into the basin from trailhead to the hut is around five miles with about 2000′ feet of elevation gain. I say around and about since I don’t carry a GPS and rely on maps and online trail guides instead. Depending on your fitness and pack weight the hike in can be from 2-4 hours.

Posted at the trailhead is a large sign warning of and explaining avalanche hazards, which generally is of no consequence in summer. Hikers accustomed to hiking on U.S. trail in the Pacific Northwest may be in for a rude awakening. Well marked and easy to follow, the trail receives very little maintenance. Climbing over logs around boulders and muddy areas the trail is pretty rough in places. After a short level spell the trail climbs a headwall very steeply, without switchbacks, trough forest. Near the top of this section is the turnoff for Rohr Lake and Mount Rohr. From here the trail levels off a bit and zigzags around muddy bogs and small meadows until a tricky log crossing of a stream. On my visit the water was low but in late spring early summer the crossing must be quite exciting!

Marriott Basin trail Coast Mountains British ColumbiaMount Rohr junction #61905    Purchase

Marriott Basin trail Coast Mountains British ColumbiaCreek crossing, Marriott Basin Trail  #61892    Purchase

The next section of the trail climbs into the subalpine zone, or the boulder zone as I call it on this trip. As soon as you start breaking out of the trees the trail is almost constantly negotiating rocks and boulders. The constant ups and downs and zigzagging can be very tiring, especially in warm weather. However the views also begin to open up now, above to the ridge tops and over to green Marriott Lake. After reaching the far end of the lake the last bit of climbing to the hut begins. Again, depending on your pack weight this section can feel short or agonizingly long. In all it’s less than a mile and 200′ higher up. A level boulder filled meadow with a meandering stream is home to the hut.

Wendy Thompson Hut British ColumbiaWendy Thompson Hut  #61793    Purchase

Wendy Thompson Hut

The upper lakes were my ultimate destination, so I only paused briefly for a rest and inspection of the hut. Wendy Thompson was a ski patroller and paramedic. She died tragically in 1995 at the age of 33 in a Medivac flight crash in the Queen Charlotte Islands. As a memorial and legacy to Wendy, her parents and the ACC worked with volunteers to build this hut.

Since my last winter visit the ACC made some substantial renovations. They extended the entire length, added solar powered lighting and USB ports. They also replaced the obnoxious smell of kerosene heaters with a wood burning stove. As is usual in backcountry huts one of the tables was covered in maps, guide books, and misc. reading material. Also present was the obligatory cribbage board and multiple decks of cards.

From the hut the work begins again. Access to the upper lakes is via more and bigger boulder fields without benefit of a trail. Some well placed rock cairns mark the way but mostly it’s a pick your own best route deal. Once at the upper lakes it wide open wandering in all directions. I set up camp in a spot suitable for easy access to photo ops of the distant peaks and valley below.

Boulders Marriott Basin Coast Mountains British ColumbiaBoulder field, cairn visible in lower right corner  #61849    Purchase

Upper Marriott Basin

The next day I did some exploring and I set my eyes on  an easy ridge within my comfort level. Hiking and easy scrambling over boulder slopes brought me to the crest with new view to the west and north. One of the reasons I picked this particular ridge was for the unobstructed views of Cayoosh Mountain. Sitting at 8200″Cayoosh  is a fairly bulky chunk of rock with the north and east aspects covered in glaciers. Looking down between me and Cayoosh was a high pass with a small green lake. To the north was a long deep valley with countless peaks on the horizon. Taking in such a view I immediately wished I had my camp set up here! Photographing in good light would be spectacular. I guess I”ll have to make another trip back sometime.

Later back at my camp I settled in to wait for evening light. Although the sky was mostly free of clouds, there was some nice alpenglow present which enabled me to make a few photos. It was nice to watch the progression of layered colors after sunset. First came yellows and oranges followed by purples and blues of the Belt of Venus.

Backcountry camp Coast Mountains British ColumbiaCamping in Marriott Basin #61795    Purchase

Cayoosh Mountain Coast Mountains British ColumbiaCayoosh Mountain #61805    Purchase

Marriott Basin Coast Mountains British ColumbiaUpper Marriott Basin #61815    Purchase

Back at the Hut

The next day I had planned to hike out to my truck but on exploring the area near the hut I decided to stay an extra night. Near the hut were small grassy meadows and a small stream among more boulders. I found a nice campsite near the small stream which held potential for some nice photographic compositions. I tried to make some evening photos but the light was bland, especially with no clouds. In the morning it was apparent that winds had shifted. Smoke once again began to creep across the sky. Although there still weren’t any clouds the light was a bit nicer, with the smoky haze giving a more pastel hue to the scene. I set up my tripod in a few predetermined places and came away with several more photos.

I had a quick breakfast and packed up my gear. Although I wasn’t as successful with photos as hoped I did have a great time. And I did manage to find a new view that was worthy of a return trip.

Backcountry camp Coast Mountains British ColumbiaMarriott Basin Camping #61863    Purchase

Marriott Basin, Coast Mountains British ColumbiaMarriott Basin #61871    Purchase

Lower Marriott Lake Coast Mountains British ColumbiaSmokey haze over Marriott Lake #61884    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

Methow Valley Washington in winter

Methow Valley Winter

Methow Valley Winter

Methow Valley Washington in winterClearing fog near Mazama, Washington #56617  Purchase

Last month I made a quick trip to the Methow Valley in north central Washington for some much needed fresh air exercise and photos. The weather in western Washington had been fairly warm and rainy. So I headed to the east side of the North Cascades for a quick fix of winter conditions.

The Methow Valley is renowned for it’s extensive network of perfectly groomed cross-country ski trails and dependable snow cover. The area is also very popular with snowmobilers and backcountry skiers. They accessthe high country via the closed North Cascades Highway. On this trip I stayed in the upper part of the valley near Mazama area where I knew of several good spots for photographing if the light was right. Here are a few of the highlights from this trip.

Methow Valley barn, WashingtonBarn near Mazama, Washington #56601  Purchase

North Cascades Highway winter road closure near Mazama, WashingtonNorth Cascades Highway winter closure, near Mazama, Washington #56605  Purchase

Cross country skiing Methow Valley  North CascadesCross-country skier on Methow Valley trails #56646  Purchase