October 13, 2006

Harts Pass

I wanted to get a taste of the upcoming larch season, and I'd heard that the Okonogan National Forest on the east side of the North Cascades was a great place for viewing, particularly in the Methow Valley. I made the long but nice drive out to Washington Pass on the North Cascades Highway and envisioned dropping down into Early Winters Valley surrounded by larches.

That turned out to not be the case. There were some scattered larches in the upper reaches of Washington Pass, around Liberty Bell and the eastern ridges, but not nearly as much as I'd expected. I still had plenty of time to drive to the Methow Valley and all the way up to Harts Pass, but I was in a loaner car while mine was in the shop, and it was not trail car -- a Toyota Carolla. I decided to give it a shot anyway. I could always turn back if the road got too bad for the car, and the first part was paved from what I remembered.

Flagg Mountain and Methow Valley, Autumn (Snapshot) The early part of the road is a standard drive through a lowland eastside forest, mostly of pines. There are a few campgrounds on the Method River that I stopped by, remembering the last time I'd been there, a few years ago, when the river was almost completely frozen and the picnic tables were covered in inches of large frost crystals. But as the road starts to gain elevation, breaks in the trees allow views over the valley and I found a nice photo that I had forgotten. Unfortunately, the sky was too hazy and the sun too bright to get anything more than snapshots. It's a shame because the trees in the valley had turned and it was a very photogenic site. I will definitely have to come back for this photo some time.

The upper valley looked like it had once been a fantastic place for viewing larches, but it had been ravaged by fire in what looked like only a few years ago. The entire valley was a matchstick forest of charred trunks and scarred ground, from ridge to ridge. It was quite an interesting site but the light was too bright to try photos. Maybe on the way down.

Other than one place where I had to be careful of fallen rocks, the road was fine all the way to Harts Pass. The pass is just a jumpoff area, however, leading to several different destinations in the upper mountains. The place I remembered best was Slate Peak. It's a zigzig drive up an open mountain side leading to a lookout tower surrounded in 360 degrees by views of the surrounding peaks and ranges. I spent several hours taking snapshots and, once the sun set more, taking photos in the area. The larches here were scattered as well, but I managed to find a few at peak color and work them into some pictures.

Point B and Larches, Autumn
Larches, Autumn

I did spend some time taking photos on the way back down the valley. The evening sunlight really made the burned forest feel ethereal, but I had a difficult time finding photos. The low angle of the sun in the ridged terrain made for a lot of shadows. One mountain in particular did stick out, so I focuesed on it and tried to make the best of it.

Point A and Burned Forest
Point A and Burned Forest

After the valley was in shadow, I raced back to Washington Pass to see if I could catch Snagtooth Ridge bathed in the golden sunset light I'd seen the last time I was in the area, but I just missed it. The entire ridge was in shadow by the time I arrived.

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