Mount Shuksan in winter North Cascades

Photographing Heather Meadows Winter Landscapes

Photographing Heather Meadows Winter Landscapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Travel Gear Tips

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Gear and Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion, If you would like to learn more about photographing in winter I offer individual and small group instruction and tours. Please check out my Private Instruction/Tours page.

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

Whatcom Falls Bellingham Washington

Whatcom Falls Winter Photography

Whatcom Falls Winter Photography

Whatcom Falls Bellingham Washington Whatcom Falls Winter PhotographyWhatcom Falls Bellingham, Washington #64764  Purchase

This week much of western Washington was hit by a series of snow storms. Snow amount totals vary, but my home in Bellingham topped off with around 12″. What’s more is that it’s staying cold throughout the week, keeping it all from melting. For most areas of the country 12″ of snow isn’t a big deal. But for us living in the coastal lowlands snowfall of any amount is exciting!

Whatcom Falls Bellingham WashingtonWhatcom Falls Bellingham, Washington #64762  Purchase

Whatcom Falls is a Bellingham City park that is only about a mile from my home. The falls are the main attraction but the park also boasts a beautiful old growth forest with towering fir and cedar trees, and numerous hiking trails.

The last time I was able to photograph Whatcom Falls in the snow was around 2008. So to take advantage of the situation I visited the falls three times. Photographing the falls any time of year is ridiculously easy. There is a stone arch bridge spanning the creek at a perfect viewpoint. All you need is a tripod, a lens in the 24-55mm range and maybe a polarizer.

Whatcom Falls Bellingham Washington Whatcom Falls Winter PhotographyWhatcom Falls Bellingham, Washington #64765  Purchase

Whatcom Falls Bellingham Washington Whatcom Falls Winter PhotographyWhatcom Falls Bellingham, Washington #64761  Purchase

 

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

Table Mountain North Cascades Washington

Winter Heather Meadows Recreation Area

Winter Heather Meadows Recreation Area

Table Mountain North Cascades WashingtonTable Mountain Heather Meadows Recreation Area 56528  Purchase

Every winter for nearly twenty years I’ve made at least one visit to Heather Meadows Recreation Area. I come here for a variety of reasons, such as being close to home and one of the few places in the North Cascades with relatively easy access to subalpine and alpine terrain. Also because the scenery is some of the best in the state and the ever changing patterns of snow and light make for unique winter photography opportunities.

On this first trip of the 2015-2016 winter season I came mainly to begin getting in shape and acclimated for upcoming ski-photo tours. Last year was a near bust as far as snowpack is concerned, but so far this year winter storms have pounded the mountains resulting in a pretty impressive base. As of this writing the Mount Baker Ski Area reports 146″ in the upper runs, with more storms lined up waiting to dump more snow. The first break in the weather I’ll head back up for a few days of winter camping and photography.

Backcountry skiers North Cascades WashingtonBackcountry skiers heading up to Artist Point 56540  Purchase

Mount Baker in winter North CascadesMount Baker from Artists Point 56535  Purchase

Nooksack River North Cascades WashingtonNooksack River back down in the valley 56544  Purchase

 

 

 

Heather Meadows Recreation Area in winter

North Cascades Winter

North Cascades Winter

Heather Meadows Recreation Area in winter North CascadesTable Mountain North Cascades #1644b  Purchase

This image of Table Mountain was made near the Mount Baker Ski Area during the record snowfall winter of 1998-99. That epic winter the ski area received a whopping 1140″ of snow. I couldn’t find out what the actual base was but it was enough to have people specially hired to dig out the lifts! It should be noted that this total is from November 1, 1998 to May 12, 1999.

If these statistics aren’t impressive enough you should also be aware that Mount Baker itself, would receive many times the amount of snow than the ski area. No wonder it is perhaps the snowiest glacier cloaked peak in the lower 48 states.

Today however is a different story, the record year of 1999 is a distant memory. Last winter Northwest ski areas barely managed to keep open for a partial season. Due to unusually warm temperatures and little snow.

Since we are still in the grip of that same El Niño weather pattern the forecasts don’t look much better for this winter. But lets be optimistic, it’s only the second week in November. The mountains are already receiving snow from fall storms. Albeit in higher elevations and still a little warmer than normal.

In the meantime I’m going to start scheduling some winter photo trips and getting my skis and other gear in shape!

Winter dawn on Mount Baker, North Cascades Washington Mount Baker in winter #47031  Purchase