Mount Bonneville and Little Bonneville Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming

Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range

Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range

Mount Bonneville and Little Bonneville Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range  #66272  Purchase

The second part of last summer’s Rocky Mountain photo tour took place in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. This spectacular section of the Rockies contains 40 peaks over 13,000 feet, the largest glacier in the American Rockies, and over 1300 named lakes. All spread over three wilderness areas.  Several areas can get downright crowded with hikers and climbers. However, there are numerous trails that rarely sees any boot traffic.

My first destination in the Winds was to one of those quiet spots, Bonneville Basin. While planning my stay in the Winds I was looking to visit an area that was new to me with good photo potential. I had seen photos of this area online and I was immediately impressed by it’s rugged  beauty and remote feel.

There are a couple of trailheads accessing this area, Scab Creek and Big Sandy, both entail long miles of hiking to get to Bonneville Basin. I opted for Big Sandy, since it starts higher and I was already familiar with it. The Big Sandy trailhead accesses one of the most popular areas in the Winds, Cirque of the Towers. I knew what to expect here, well over a hundred vehicles. Consequently they were overflowing the parking lot and lining the road for nearly a mile. Therefore I arrived very early in the morning and found a spot right next to the trail kiosk.

Backpacker, Wind River Range, Wyoming Bonneville Lakes Wind River RangeOn the Fremont Trail near Dad’s Lake #66325  Purchase

Backpacking to Bonneville Lakes

Backpacking trails on the west side of the Winds can be somewhat deceiving. On a map you will see trailheads starting at around 9000′ with your destination around 10,000′. The length of your hike may be anywhere from 5-15 miles. This may lead you to believe that a relaxing hike with minimal elevation gain awaits you. But, in most cases you would be dead wrong.

The Big Sandy Trailhead sits at 9080′, Bonneville Basin is at 10,500′, a mere 1500′ higher. However, in the 17 miles to the basin you will hike a roller coaster of a trail. My rough tally was around 3000′ of elevation gain. The good news is that much of the distance you will be hiking at or above tree-line, with awe inspiring views most of the way.

Wind River Range, WyomingUnnamed lake along Fremont Trail benchland #66257  Purchase

The first seven miles or so is shared with groups of backpackers doing the extremely popular Hailey-Washakie Loop. Solitude begins at the cutoff point near Marms Lake. From here on I met few other hikers, several of which were doing the Continental Divide Trail, or CDT. I always envy these hikers. Although they are on a trip of over 1000′ miles their packs are tiny and weigh next to nothing. Mine, however, is a great burden weighed down with heavy camera gear.

Sunburst rays over Mount Bonneville and Little Bonneville Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingLower Bonneville Lake #66285  Purchase

At Bonneville Lakes

After a making a final grueling climb on the second day, the sight of Lower Bonneville Lake  was a nice reward. I should note here that until this point the trip was not truly in the mountains  proper. Although it feels like you’re in the mountains as you hike the benchland, the real peaks are just to the east, along the Continental Divide. However, it wasn’t until I was at Bonneville Lakes that the big craggy peaks were all around me.

It was a bit of a surprise to see that in the entire lakes basin I saw only one other tent, and that party left in a few hours. Subsequently I had the entire area all to myself. Lower Bonneville Lake, in my opinion, is the most scenic of the three lakes in the basin. With small islands dotting the lake, and the spires of Mount Bonneville in the background, it is truly an impressive scene.

Mount Bonneville upper Bonneville Lake Wind River Range WyomingMount Bonneville and Upper Bonneville Lake  #66296  Purchase

To reach Upper Bonneville Lake requires some route finding skills. Beyond the lower lake there is a faint trail that approaches a headwall to the right of an obvious waterfall. At that point it fades out. I ended up backtracking a bit until I found a break in the cliffs filled with a steep boulder field. Here I scrambled up to the top where it was an easy walk to upper Bonneville Lake.

Little Bonneville Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingLower Bonneville Lake #66308  Purchase

Here in the true alpine the terrain takes on a barren look. The upper lake is all cliffs and boulder fields, with only a few grassy areas to add color. Although another lake, Sheila, is a short way higher up, I didn’t bother to check it out. Making my way back down to camp was a bit trickier since I had a difficult time finding the appropriate break in the cliffs again.

Mount Bonneville Wind River Range WyomingMount Bonneville, lower Bonneville Lake #66283b Purchase

Frustrating Light and Heading Out

Back at the lower lake I had one more evening and morning left for photographing Mount Bonneville. Photography-wise the trip so far was a bit frustrating. This was mainly due to a lack of good light during golden hour and a nearly constant wind whipping up the lakes surface. Every day from mid-morning to early evening there were some promising cloud formations. But for the most part they either dissipated too soon or were in the wrong part of the sky. The area around Mount Bonneville itself only had a few tantalizing wisps to accent any compositions during the golden hour.

Retracing my route on the hike out I enjoyed a sense of accomplishment. Meeting others on the trail I passed on information on how beautiful the lakes were, and inquired about other areas. The last night was spent at Dad’s Lake, a pleasant spot with lots of fishing potential, but not many views of the big peaks.

Fremont Trail near East North Fork RiverFremont Trail near East North Fork River #66311  Purchase

Arriving back at the trailhead the parking lot was still packed with cars and parties of hikers and climbers eager to start on their own Wind River Range adventure. I chatted it up a bit with some of them, then headed back to Pinedale for some good food. I also replenished supplies since I would soon be starting on the longest backpack of the trip. Two days later I would be on the trail to Island Lake and Titcomb Basin in the Central Wind River Range.

If You Go to Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range

The total length of this five day trip came to around 40 miles, with roughly 6000′ of elevation gain. This also included a side trip to the upper Bonneville Lakes Basin and wandering around Dad’s Lake.

The Big Sandy Trailhead is located 57 miles south of Pinedale. About 27 miles of it is on dusty gravel roads, with the last 10 miles being rough and narrow. There is lots of traffic, and on the last segment you must remain alert on curves for oncoming cars, and especially for horse trailers. There are excellent campsites in the last few miles before the trailhead. I took advantage of them so as to organize my gear and also to get a parking spot and early start the next morning.

Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in mid-August. Also be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. I had beautiful warm sunshine, but due to the elevation the wind was very cold. Consequently I was hot on one side and chilled on the other.

The town of Pinedale makes a great base for multiple trips into the Winds. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to one of my favorite outdoor recreation stores, the Great Outdoor Shop. It’s stocked with everything needed for a successful trip, including a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Don’t visit Pinedale without dropping in! Right next door to the great Outdoor Shop is the best place to got for a post-trip meal, the Wind River Brewing Company. They have excellent burgers and great brews!

Unnamed lake along Fremont Trail Bridger Wilderness Wind River RangeUnnamed lake along Fremont Trail benchland #66262  Purchase

And now for a short lecture. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range 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.

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

Mount Bonneville and Little Bonneville Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingMount Bonneville Bridger Wilderness #66270  #Purchase

Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range

 

 

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 area 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 area 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

Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan Idaho

Sawtooth Lake Backpacking Photography

Sawtooth Lake Backpacking Photography

Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan IdahoSawtooth Lake #65880  Purchase

The first destination on my summer photography tour of the Rocky Mountains was the Sawtooth Range of central Idaho.  I had been to the Sawtooths for photography several times in the past.  However, this was to be my first foray into the famed backcountry. With ample time available my plan was to make several backpacks into several of the most scenic locations. The first destination I chose was Sawtooth Lake.

Sawtooth Mountains IdahoTrailside view of Sawtooth Mountains #65987  Purchase

Hiking to Sawtooth Lake

Sawtooth Lake is the largest backcountry lake, and one of the most popular in the Sawtooth Wilderness. It is also probably one of the shortest backpacking destinations. The distance from trailhead to the lake is about 4.5 miles, with 1750′ of elevation gain. Depending on your physical condition and pack weight the trip could be anywhere from easy to moderately difficult. The first half of the hike is fairly easy and passes through the cool shade of forest. However at around 3.5 miles things get serious with a switchback climb to Alpine Lake.  Sitting in a cliff ringed bowl at tree line Alpine Lake is a nice destination in itself. Some hikers decide to base camp here and then day hike up to Sawtooth Lake. I decided to take a pass since I was eager to see Sawtooth Lake.

Alpine Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoAlpine Lake Sawtooth Mountains  #65988  Purchase

At the junction to Alpine Lake the trail really gets down to business. For the last mile or so the trail switchbacks steeply up a ridge to Sawtooth Lake. Although it is a bit of a grind it is also the most scenic part of the trail. Here the trees thin out and offer great views of the rugged peaks and ridges. The views make this last stretch go quickly despite the steep climb. If you started out later in the day this section can also be hot with the sun beating down on you.

At Sawtooth Lake

When the trail levels out it meanders through a pleasant subalpine landscape of  cool streams and small ponds. From here it’s less than half a mile to the lake. If you’ve arrived later in the day you should probably take advantage of any open campsites available in this area. A good reason to get as early a start as possible. Nearly all backcountry camps in the Sawtooths fill up very quickly. If you arrive late you may not find a spot and be tempted to camp in an undesignated area. Please don’t do this as the vegetation is extremely fragile.

Sawtooth Lake hiker, Sawtooth Mountains idahoSawtooth Lake and Mount Regan #65930  Purchase

After a short hike through this area I arrived at the fabled view of Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan. It was a thrill to see this sight in person after viewing pictures of it for many years. While I wanted to just sit and take it all in I immediately went down to the business of finding a campsite. Although I arrived early the best sites with a lake view were already taken. A few minutes of checking out the area yielded a great site among boulders and trees a short distance from the lake.

Photographing At Sawtooth Lake

Upon setting up camp, relaxing, and having a bite to eat, it was time to begin scouting the lake vicinity for photo ops later in the day. Two spots which seemed to offer good photo compositions. One was a little south along the shore by a big boulder field, the other higher up at the head of the lake on the trail to McGown Lakes. This second spot was where I decided to set up for evening light.

Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan IdahoSawtooth Lake Afterglow #65888  Purchase

The trail to McGown Lakes begins at the lake outlet and climbs thorough rocky bowls dotted with wildflowers. Soon it begins a wide open traverse through scree fields below an unnamed peak. In an area with beautiful views in all directions this was one of the best. The entire lake was spread out below with Mount Regan as an impressive backdrop. I set up my tripod here and relaxed for a fews hours as the evening light came on. I was very fortunate to have some nice wispy clouds at sunset to accentuate the composition. A wonderful end to my first day in the Sawtooths.

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoSawtooth Lake #65898  Purchase

The next morning I set up in the boulder filed along the lake shore. I arrived before dawn and was disappointed to see an empty cloudless sky. But here I was, so I waited patiently hoping for some nice light. Fortunately some nice clouds appeared and it turned out to be a beautiful morning. Returning to camp I noticed that all the others in the area were still sound asleep. It’s always nice to have a beautiful sunrise to yourself, but I feel sorry for those who sleep in and miss it.

Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan IdahoMount Regan Sawtooth Lake #65922  Purchase

At the south end of Sawtooth Lake

After breakfast I decided to move on to the other end of the lake. A short scenic mile brought me to the south end of Sawtooth Lake. Most hikers don’t seem to bother with checking out this end so I had it all to myself. I found a nice established camp  among some giant boulders and began exploring the area. I was especially interested in hiking a little further south along the trail to see if there were good views across the valley to Baron Peak. The hike below Mount Regan trough open rocky terrain was exciting, but the trail soon began to drop into the valley. There were nice views of Baron Peak but not what I had hoped for.

Sawtooth Lake night sky Sawtooth Mountains IdahoNight sky over Sawtooth Lake #65938  Purchase

That evening the sky was disappointingly cloudless. To make up for it I decided to take my first shot at night sky photography. The next morning I again set up before dawn in a cloudless sky. Very frustrating but again I waited and hoped. Incredibly just at dawn a few clouds appeared. What looked at first like a boring morning turned into a nearly two hour frenzy of photography. Cloud patterns and light continued to change and I came away with plenty of new and exciting images.

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoMorning clouds over Sawtooth Lake #65942  Purchase

Later that morning I packed up and began the hike out. It’s always a little sad for me to leave such a beautiful place, but I was thrilled at having my first trip into the Sawtooths a total success. I savored every step I made on the trail and envisioned my return sometime in the future.

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoMorning clouds over Sawtooth Lake #65954  Purchase

If You Go

Don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). All 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.

Redfish Lake Trailhead parking, lodge, and water taxi drive about 6 miles south of Stanley on ID 21 and turn left on FR 619, then drive another 3 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road. There are plenty of campsites near the trailhead to facilitate an early start.

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. There are also many campgrounds in the vicinity.

Stanley Basin Sawtooth Mountains IdahoSawtooth Mountains from Stanley Basin #65845  Purchase

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

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

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoMorning clouds over Sawtooth Lake #65974  Purchase

Sawtooth Lake 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

Island Lake Wind River Range Wyoming

Trip Update: Wind River Range

Trip Update: Wind River Range

Island Lake Wind River Range WyomingIsland Lake Wind River Range Wyoming #67617

I’m wrapping up nearly three weeks weeks of photography in the main segment of my photo tour, the Wind River Range of Wyoming. This part of the trip was a major undertaking for me. Hiking and photographing in the Wind River Range is quite unlike the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. The Sawtooth’s were three mainly moderate length trips at around 18 to 25 miles each, at 8000′ elevation. The trips in the Wind’s however were about 35 to 40 miles each. Trailheads were  starting at 9500′, with trails eventually reaching 11,500′ elevation. I’m glad I acclimated to higher altitudes in the sawtooth’s first!

Titcomb Basin. Wind River Range WyomingTitcomb Basin Wind River Range  #67957

Unlike previous visits to the Wind’s there was no sign of major wildfires. While the weather was mostly beautiful summer weather, I did experience several instances of exciting evening and morning light.

While in the Wind’s I also continued experimenting with some night photography. I’m new to this genre of photography, but so far I’m finding it very enjoyable. Although I’d much rather being catching some sleep after a long day of hiking, photographing and swatting mosquitoes!

Now that the busy Labor Day Weekend is over I can safely venture into the next part of the trip. This includes Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, followed by the Beartooth Highway.

Locations Photographed in Wind River Range :
Bonneville Lakes
Island Lake / Titcomb Basin / Indian Basin
Green River Lakes

Squaretop Mountain Wind River RangeSquaretop Mountain, Wind River Range  #60106

*The photos appearing on this post are quick on the road edits. However they will be reprocessed  and made available for sale when I return to the office.

*Please note, due to being out of cell or WiFi range for most of this trip I may not be able immediately to respond to any licensing requests, or blog comments. Print orders that are placed while I’m away on this trip will not be shipped until I return to the office. Thank you for your patience and understanding!

Milky Way Wind River Range WyomingMilky Way over Titcomb Basin  #67977

Milky Way Wind River Range WyomingMilky Way over Titcomb Basin  #68234

Baron Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness Idaho

Trip Update: Sawtooth Mountains

Trip Update: Sawtooth Mountains Idaho

Baron Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness Idaho Trip Update Sawtooth Mountains IdahoBaron Lake Sawtooth Wilderness Idaho

Today I’m wrapping up the Sawtooth Mountains segment of my summer photo tour. Eleven days and nearly 50 miles of backpacking into some gorgeous areas yielded plenty of new images. All the effort of hauling heavy camera gear into the backcountry certainly paid off. Tomorrow I’m heading to the Wind River Range of Wyoming. Meanwhile I’ll be checking out a few local hot springs!

Locations Photographed in Sawtooth Mountains :
Sawtooth Lake
Baron Lakes
Alice Lake/Toxaway Lake Loop

*The photos appearing on this post are quick on the road edits, literally I’m on the roadside working to publish this post. However they will be reprocessed and made available for sale when I return to the office.

Sawtooth Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness IdahoSawtooth Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness Idaho

Sawtooth Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness Idaho Trip Update Sawtooth Mountains IdahoSawtooth Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness Idaho

Please note, any print orders that are placed while I’m away on this trip will not be shipped until I return to the office.

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

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

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