August 04, 2007

Mowich/Wilkeson Area

The weather forecasts were all over the map, so I had no idea what to expect. I wanted to believe the cloudy predictions but I was skeptical. Inspired by a photo posted at NWHikers, I headed to the Mowich Lake area of Mount Rainier to hike Spray Falls. First, I had to drive to the nearby Carbon River Ranger Station to pick up a new annual park pass. Carbon River is indeed gated at the entrance, but there were enough cars in the parking lot to force me to park on the road. It seems even walking the washed out road is enough draw people to that area.

Much to my surprise, they no longer sell the $50 pass covering all parks. Instead, it's either a pass just for Mount Rainier or a much more expensive multi-agency pass, part of which I already had with my Northwest Forest Pass. Since the drive to Carbon River had showed that the sunny forecasts were proving to be more accurate, I decided to bail on the Spray Falls hike and thus didn't need a park pass today, so I opted for neither. I decided to spend the day continuing my explorations around the park for views of the mountain.

I started north of Carbon River, hoping to climb up to near the Clearwater Wilderness boundary, but the road is closed very near the bridge from the winter floods. Next I headed up to Mowich Lake just to get a look, since I hadn't been there in a while. The parking lot was already packed, so I wasn't really disappointed in not doing the hike. Unfortunately, the mountain itself was already obscured in clouds, despite the sunny blue skies everywhere else. Once again, scouting would be difficult, but was my only option.

There's a network of Forest Service roads between the roads to Carbon River and Mowich Lake that I decided to explore. The map showed at least one road that connected the two, but the entire area is a mesh of roads and unmaintained trails that run up to the top of a nearby hill that promised potential views of Rainier. That area is also home to the Evans Creek ORV area, so I wasn't sure of the state of the roads.

I thought I took the through road to Carbon River, but that turned out to not be the case. This would become a familiar theme for the day. The road was pretty bad, but not the worst I'd driven. There were a lot of 4x4 and dirt bike trails leading off into the forest, and the farther I went the worse the road got with washouts and blowdowns. There was one place where I literally had to stop and get out to see if the CRV could handle it. I could make it across, but I wasn't sure I would make it back if I needed. As long as this really was a through road, and this was the worst of it, I would be fine. Turns out, it wasn't. I wasn't on the through road, I was on a side spur -- one that eventually ended -- and I had to turn around and backtrack all the way to Mowich Lake Road. Fortunately, I made it back across the washout, but it was a close call and I scraped the undercarriage hard enough to get out and inspect it.

Cascade on Evans Creek

The one saving grace was Evans Creek itself. About a half mile in, the spur road I'd mistakenly taken crosses the creek and I swear it looks like Utah. The rock is red sandstone, and the creek has cut channels into it, revealing amazing patterns and colored striations. It looked like something out of Zion National Park. I spent at least an hour shooting there, but much of that time was waiting for the sun to disappear behind the fast moving clouds. One cascade upstream in particular caught my attention, and I spent most of my time there searching for the best composition. Even with the periodic cloud cover, it was too bright to shoot downstream -- I just couldn't close the aperture enough to allow the slow shutter speeds I needed -- so I took snapshots to document the area for future outings. It was an amazing place, and surprisingly isolated considering the proximity of the ORV area. I love finding little treasures like that.

Evans Creek Channel Cascade and Striated Rock on Evans Creek

Next I headed to Wilkeson to explore the FS-7710 area northwest of the park, or so I thought. There are few creeks or views to use as landmarks in that area, so I was forced to use junctions and turns in the road to try to find my location on the map. The problem was, nothing seemed to fit, and I was getting the distinct feeling I was lost. It wasn't until I saw a small worn sign pointing to "G*LE CREEK" that I realized I was in a completely different road system! I had take a wrong turn way back in Wilkeson and was one road west of where I'd intended. In fact, I'd run completely off my map!


So I headed back down and over to the next road system and continued my explorations. Most of the area is clearcut, but none of the roads went high enough to see over the ridge line into the park. It looked like some of the roads used to, but they had deteriorated enough they were impassable to all but 4x4 vehicles. I stopped along one to enjoy the solitude and spent some time photographing the wildflowers along the side of the road. I believe they were foxglove. I did explore far enough to see that the roads to the western side of the Clearwater Wilderness are open, despite the gates marked on the map.

With the sun lower in the sky, I hoped I would be able to return to Evans Creek and be able to shoot the photos I'd missed, but upon arrival I wasn't so sure. It was still plenty bright in the area, and Rainier was still in hiding, so sunset photos were out. The headache I'd been tolerating all day turned from annoyance to troublesome, so I decided to call it a day. Evans Creek was a good enough discovery for the day, but I would have to return.

July 28, 2007

Scouting Rainier Northeast

Today was another day of sunny skies with clouds shrouding Rainier, so I decided to scout another area outside the park for views, this time to the northeast. I'd explored the area around Sun Top minimally before, but that day had been completely overcast and the gate closed. This time proved better for views, but just as tricky for access. There was some kind of footrace along the road, and the parking lot at the top was overflowing. I was able to scout enough from a turnout to see the logging scars in the foreground that marred an otherwise great view of Rainier and knew there were no photos there.

Rainier From Sun Top

Those logging scars were on Huckleberry Mountain and promised better views into the park, so I headed down FS-73 and explored all the side roads and spurs. There's an intricate network of roads where FS-73, FS-74 and FS-74 converge and several of the spurs end near the park boundary. These promised views into the park without a scarred foreground, and several of them did indeed turn out to be decent access points with potential for sunset photos.

Mt Rainier and West Fork White River

There were some interesting clouds hugging the ridge tops across the West Fork White River Valley, and I wanted to cross over to explore around the Clearwater Wilderness for additional viewpoints, but much to my surprise, the entire length of FS-74 is closed due to the floods. The person I talked to at the closure said the bridge had washed out upstream and it would probably be several years before the road was repaired. Until then, all the roads to the west of the river were inaccessible, including access to Clearwater Wilderness -- and all the trails therein. I ended up exiting the road network via FS-75 so I could head down to Sunrise for evening photos, and caught a hazy glimpse of Rainier from Haller Pass.

Mt Rainier From Haller Pass

On the way to Sunrise, I drove up to the Crystal Mountain ski area and explored the small amount of roads there. They proved to be uninspiring, without so much as a view into the park, but I did find one that connected with the road network near the Goat Falls Trail. I always wondered where that road went. I made it to Sunrise Point as the clouds were rolling in, and I had hopes of the sunset light arriving before the clouds obscured the area, ala Kolob Canyons at Zion. I only managed a quick photo of Dege Peak as they rolled in, and after driving the road between Sunrise and Sunrise Point several times looking for breaks in the fog, I finally conceded defeat.

Dege Peak in Clouds

July 21, 2007

Glacier Lake Trail

The main event for the day was hiking the Glacier Lake Trail. Here's the trip report I posted at NWHikers:

Glacier Creek is rather photogenic downstream where it meets Johnson Creek, so when I saw a trail seemingly following it upstream to its headwaters in Glacier Lake, I put it on the top of my list. I had hoped this would be a trial along a creek, rather it is a trail to a lake. In fact, there is only one point along the trail where the creek is accessible at all and in the second half you are far enough away you can't even hear it.

The trail starts on an offshoot of Johnson Creek Road (FS-21) in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, south of Packwood. According to the map, it's only a net 700' elevation gain in 2 miles, but that is rather deceptive. From the trailhead, it immediately plunges downhill to Glacier Creek (the steepest part of the hike is climbing back up this part) then undulates with the terrain. About half way to the lake, it crosses into the Goat Rocks Wilderness and climbs steadily upward to the lake.

Almost the entire hike is in a lush mossy forest, and there is much evidence of damage from the winter windstorm. There are a large number of down trees, but thankfully the trail has been cleared and is easily passable in all but one or two spots. It was very humid, which kept me from cooling off for most of the hike, and while the mosquitoes weren't bad, they were persistent -- always two or three every time I stopped to rest.

The coolest part of the hike is just before the lake where, according to the Forest Service website, a rockslide about 600 years ago created a large boulder field that dammed the creek and created the lake. The trail passes through this boulder field, which is now covered in thick moss. There's lots of exploring to be had here if you are so inclined. I climbed around a bit, but ultimately headed to the lake, There are more boulders at the lake, but the most noticeable features there are the massive number of vine maples. That place must be fantastic in the fall.

The lake itself was rather uninspiring. I tried once to push through the brush to the shore but got into some nettle and decided it wasn't worth it. Rather, I found a flat mossy boulder and splayed out for a while. The breeze was blowing enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay, and a light drizzle finally cooled me off. I had the entire place to myself, so I just laid there and enjoyed the solitude and silence. I even dozed off for a short nap. That was the best part of the trip by far.

I only stopped for photos in one place, just inside the wilderness boundary, where the trees and moss caught my eye.

Tree and Fern in Moss

I kept my camera out on the way back down so I could take some snapshots.

Glacier Lake Nice Resting Spot
Trail Through Boulder Field Trail Through Boulder Field Vine Maple Arch Over Trail Wilderness Sign Tree Oddity

Afterward, I wasn't quite ready to call it a day, so I spent some time exploring FS-48 along Hall Ridge, since it promised potential views of Glacier Lake from above. This turned out not to be the case, however, as the road became impassable and the forest too thick before I reached any viewpoints.

Packwood Lake From Snyder Mountain

I took some other side roads just for exploration's sake, and spent a few minutes at Hager Lake on FS-4830. I considered following the road on to where it connects to FS-1260 and loops back to Packwood, but instead I decided to drive FS-48 to its end on top of Snyder Mountain to see if it offered any views of Rainier. Unfortunately, it didn't. But it did offer a nice view of Packwood Lake in the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

July 14, 2007

Scouting Rainier Southeast

I started the day by heading to the newly opened Stevens Canyon Road at Mount Rainier, to see what kind of flood damage remained. Surprisingly, the only noticeable washout was in one place along the eastern edge of the valley where part of the road had slumped down hill, now protected by a wall of barriers and a stop sign for the one lane road.

I stopped at Box Canyon to use the restroom and on a whim decided to jump the low fence to check out the view downstream from an exposed granite outcropping, hoping it to be better than from the official viewpoint. It was a nice overlook for the debris slope leading down to the river and the forest beyond, but nothing of the river itself. I could see what looked like a relatively easy path down the talus closer to the river and decided to try it. It was precarious in parts, and I am far from surefooted, but I eventually made it down the slope to the river edge itself.

There was a mass of whitened driftwood logs from the floods at a bend in the river, and the sandy shore was volcanic gray. Climbing over the mass of logs onto the boulders jutting from the river, I found the view I had always speculated about -- the view up the narrow canyon from the river. While it was nice, it wasn't the view I had imagined, but still I kicked myself for not bringing my camera and at least documenting the view. The climb back up to the parking lot was much harder than it looked, particularly in the hot sun without having eaten lunch, and I had to stop to rest several times.

In the bright midday sun, I decided to head out of the park and scout for views of Rainier from the southeast. I ended up across US-12 south of Packwood, in the FS-46 road network on the side of Coal Creek Bluff. There were some decent views from clearings on the switchbacks up FS-4612, even if they were rather far away, but clouds were now blanketing the mountain enough that I couldn't quite place it on the horizon. I tried to do some impromptu creek hunting along FS-410 along Coal Creek despite the sun, but the road abruptly washed out at the first major tributary. Another victim of the floods.

Scouring the map for a closer viewpoint, I settled on Laurel Hill, back on the northern side of US-12, just outside the southeast corner of the park. The most promising road was an offshoot of FS-4510 up the face of the hill, but once on the road I realized that Backbone Ridge was too near and too tall, blocking most of the view. Deep ruts in the road from the winter floods prevented me from making it to the end, but by then I already had another destination in mind.

The main road up Cortright Creek (FS-45) circled around behind Laurel Hill and climbed to the top, termiating near its summit on the map. It was a long drive, and flood damage was very evident in two areas of slumped hillside that had been cleared from the road. It wasn't until I made it farther up the road that I realized it was the road itself that had slumped, taking out half the road in two different spots. Fortuantely they were still safely passable, but any more slumping and it won't be. The trailhead for the Cortright River Trail is beyond them so there is hope they will get fixed. I stopped at the trailhead for a moment, but I was unable to find the trail, even with a delapidated trailhead sihn pointing me in the right direction.

Rainier From Laurel Hill (Snapshot) Continuing on toward the end of the road finally brought me to the views I'd sought. There are several points along the latter part of FS-45 that are clearcut and open up to views into the park of both Rainier and Little Tahoma. The clouds had begun to break, so I was able to grab snapshots enough to document the area. There are plenty of place to camp, so this could prove to be an excellent destination for sunrise photos. I dutifully documented the view from each of the viewpoints from the road fork to the end of the road, and even explored the lower fork enough to realize the good views from were above.

Maiden Hair Fern I drove back along Stevens Canyon Road on my way back, as the sun was setting behind the clouds that still huddled around the mountain. This gave me the cloudy conditions needed to photograph a roadside cliff face decorated with maiden hair fern I'd noticed several times over the last few years, but had never bothered to stop. These turned out to be my only serious attempt at photography for the day, but they only turned out mediocre. Even though I knew there were good shots there, I just couldn't seem to find them.

June 29, 2007

Jonhson Creek Road

After a tough couple of weeks, I needed to get away for a while. I managed to get a Friday off and cloudy weather was predicted, so another day of creek hunting was just the medicine I needed. I wasn't sure where exactly I was headed until I got to Sumner and was forced to chose. I wanted to go somewhere new, or at least somewhere I hadn't seen in so long it seemed new. I thought about heading down to the Lewis River, but I didn't realize until looking at the map how far south that was. Still, I headed in that general direction, without a real destination in mind.

I ended up on Skate Creek Road (FS-52) in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It's a pretty major thoroughfare down to Highway 12, but I've never seen it so desolate. I saw almost no one there at all. It's a nice drive along the creek, and I stopped at one place to investigate a waterfall on the opposite side. A footpath lead down the steep slope to the creek side, but the underbrush got thick and thorny very quickly. I considered bushwhacking father, and even started chopping through with my makeshift walking stick, but it wasn't good enough for that much effort. I made a little side trip up Butter Creek (FS-5270), based on vague memories of the creeks from the last time I was there, but the winter floods had carved deep trenches in the road and I had to turn around just after the main creek crossing.

Glacier Creek I wandered next down to Johnson Creek Road (FS-21), across Highway 12. I'd been here before, but I only remembered the creek crossing near the snow park, so everything south of there was new to me. The Glacier Creek crossing was very photogenic, so I stopped there to shoot a while. I wanted to follow an offshoot (FS-2115) farther down the creek, but blowdowns blocked the way. Walking the road showed it was indeed very photogenic, but I couldn't find a safe way down to the creek. The map showed a trail (#89) that follows the creek up to Glacier Lake, but I didn't have my hiking gear with me so it would have to wait. It's definitely on my list now.

I followed several small offshoot roads that either went nowhere or were blocked by blowdowns or washouts. One lead to a nice solitary camping spot on a cliff face overlooking the valley. That would be a nice place to camp. The road along Deception Creek (FS-2130) was longer and looked promising, but turned out to be the same. I crossed several washout areas that were rather dicey, but ultimately had to turn around at a major washout on the first creek after the big bend. I had hoped that the road crossing upstream on Deception Creek would be a decent shot, but now there was no way to reach it. Without a trail or other destination on this road, I wonder if they will ever fix it.

Unnamed Waterfall Then I dropped down into the North Fork Cispus River area following FS-22, a nice winding road down the valley. None of this looked familiar at all, although I remembered the far western section. The St. John and St. Michael creek crossings were decent but not photoworthy, but the creeks coming off Horseshoe Point were another matter. The first waterfall reminded me of one I'd seen at Rainier. It was about twenty feet tall and there was a strategically placed piece of wood at the base of the fall. I wanted to shoot up the creek, but there was a large and unattractive pile of debris just down from the base, so I had to hike up the creek to shoot over it. Shooting up in the light rain proved a little difficult, but I did manage to keep the lens dry enough for a few shots. There was another waterfall at the next creek crossing, but my batteries were running low and I decided to just take a few snapshots to record it. It would be difficult to shoot with the vegetation and debris, and as this was more exposed, the wind was blow the falling water right into the lens.

Unnamed Waterfall

My last stop of the day was at Timonium Creek on a spur road (FS-2208) following back up the North Fork Cispus River on the other side. I had been here before and hadn't shot for some reason. The rain was steady and my batteries low, but I wanted to give it a show anyway. There are potentially several shots there that I can see, but without a better zoom or a telephoto, I can't shoot them from the bridge. I pushed through the vegetation to the creek edge, but it was so thick I couldn't find a view of the shots I wanted. I tried both upstream and downstream, and even hiking down to where it met the Cispus, but I just couldn't find the right locations. Frustrated and lenses fogged, I gave up and went back to the car. Next time, I will get you next time.

Rainbow and Tree Silhouettes The rain broke on the way home, and the setting sun gleamed through the clouds. I had visions of a dramatic clearing storm on Rainier, similar to what I'd seen at Kolob Canyons in Zion, but what I got was a rainbow -- one of the most brilliant rainbows I'd ever seen. The colors were so bright it almost hurt my eyes. I stopped at an empty field with a distant barn and setup my gear, composing as fast as I could (also reminiscent of Kolob Canyons), but I grabbed a couple of shots before it was gone. Disappointed, I kept driving and watched the increasing sunbreaks for a second chance. Instead of turning left at Elbe, I turned right toward Rainier and had barely made it out through town when another rainbow appeared. I found as good a places as I could to shoot, using a couple of trees as silhouettes, and managed to get off a dozen shots before it faded.

Rainbow and Tree Silhouettes

An interesting thing I learned today: you can completely remove a rainbow from a photograph by rotating the polarizer to the right spot. Makes sense, but I had no idea.

June 16, 2007

Copper Creek

Beargrass Yet another cloudy Saturday, so I decided to head for Copper Creek near the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier. This would be my third or fourth attempt to photograph the creek, and I hoped for better conditions this time. My first destination was Osbourne Mountain, however. The conditions were terrible for shooting from the viewpoint I'd found there last year, but I wanted to see if the road was still traversable after the winter floods. There are a couple of tricky spots, but I did make it up to the viewpoint, and there were patches of beargrass starting to bloom along the way. Most were still only half open, but at the peak of the hill at my viewpoint, there was a prominent one fully opened, and I stopped to shoot it.

While I was in the area, I also wanted to see if the road to the Glacier View was open, and I made it all the way without hitting any snow. I talked to some hikers coming off the trail and they said the snow was still deep on the trail, so that will have to wait until later in the summer for me. There was beargrass all along the Copper Creek Road (FS-59) as well, moreso than on the way to Osbourne, but here too they were still opening.

Mossy Boulder on Copper Creek I spent a majority of the day standing beside or in Copper Creek. The water level was good, and the thick canopy overhead blocked most of the rain. Aside from a few poorly timed sunbreaks, the weather was great for shooting a river. There was a campsite set up on the east side of the creek, but there was no one there at the time. I felt a little conspicuous there, like I was trespassing, but I never needed to get within 100 feet of their gear, or even on the same side of the creek. I explored upstream a bit, but the high winter water levels has stacked quite a bit of debris there and even rerouted part of the flow. But just up from the collapsed shelter the creek was picture perfect, and I spent most of my time here, shooting from several different places.

Cascade and Cedar on Copper CreekCopper CreekCascade and Fern

Afterward, I made a quick trek into the park to see the flood damage for myself. The Nisqually River bed is twice as wide as I remember it, and the Sunrise Point Campground really is gone. The only remnant was a distant picnic table on a piece of land jutting into the river bed. The old Kautz Creek channel was virtually dry, with just a trickle where the entire river once flowed. A few hundred yards up the road, a new section of road crossed the new river bed, flowing through the forest.

There was still quite a bit of snow in Paradise Valley, but the road was open, as was Stevens Canyon Road to Reflection Lakes. The lakes were completely thawed and ice free, but Rainier wasn't visible. Winter still held its grip at that elevation, at least on this day.

June 09, 2007

Boulder River Trail

For my first local outing of the year, given the overcast weather, I decided on the Boulder River Trail. I had hiked the four miles to the old river crossing a few years ago, but what really stuck out in my mind was the waterfall about a mile in. I'd spent time photographing it then, but it was still early in the year and the flow was pretty light at the time, little more than a trickle down the cliff face. Being later this year, I hoped for better flow.

There were a dozen cars at the trailhead, which did not bode well for solitude. A light rain had dogged me on the whole drive up, but the dense canopy overhead kept most of it at bay. The temperature was cool and surprisingly there was none of the predicted wind. Perfect conditions for a photographic stroll through the woods.

The trail is flat for the most part, following along the Boulder River about 50 feet upslope. It's a very photogenic river, but there are few access points to the river edge early in the trail that don't involve a steep scramble through underbrush. It crosses into the Boulder River Wilderness after about a quarter mile, so the hike is pretty serene. Unfortunately, after the first half mile or so the trail is more exposed and the steady light rain had me pretty wet.

Unnamed Falls The waterfall turned out even more spectacular than I had anticipated, spliting into a double stread plunging into the boulder-strewn river. The vegetation was vibrant green under the rain and clouds, and there was still none of the predicted wind. The view from the trailside was picture perfect, and I spent quite a while shooting from there. The steady rain made shooting difficult, but I managed to bungee my umbrella (brought for just such a purpose) to my tripod, serving as a handy if not precarious rain shield.

Unnamed Falls

A little farther ahead, a side trail lead down to the river edge across from the base of the waterfall. It was actually more runoff channel than trail, and the pack full of camera gear made for slow going. The season's underbrush crowded the trail and was full of the day's raindrops, so I was virtually drenched by the time I reached the river.

The scenery of both the lower falls and the view upstream were impressive, but I had a difficult time finding good compositions. I grabbed the camera bag and tripod and walked along the rocky shoreline in the rain, but struggled to find the right shots.

Cascade on Boulder River I was intrigued by a boulder and fallen tree upstream and thought they would make an interesting background to a river scene, but I had a difficult time finding as interesting of a foreground since the river bent out of range. The lower falls proved as difficult to shoot because of the lower angle and shooting directly into the rain. I snapped a few different shots, but felt the better shots were from up on the trail.

Lower Falls By this time I was soaked and my gear was damp all the way through. Keeping the camera lens dry was proving nearly impossible, and I had almost nothing dry to clean it with. Even my lens paper was now wet. After I felt I'd captuired everything there I could, I climbed back to the main trail and ventured a little further. There were a few other side trails down to different parts of the river, but none of them lead to better views. At this point, soaked and hungry, I decided to head back. I wanted to hike to the end again, but I'd accomplished my main goal. The rest would have to wait for better weather.

April 09, 2007

Southwest Utah, Summary

I took a week long photo vacation in southwest Utah, focusing primarily on Zion National Park. The scenery in Zion was much more varied than I expected, and when the weather cooperated, I had plenty of subjects to shoot.

There were mountains...

Court of the Patriarchs, SunriseCourt of the PatriarchsIsaac and Abraham Peaks, Sunrise
The Great White ThroneStreaked WallThe Sentinel
Angels Rest

And canyons...

Shallow CanyonCanyon Wall and PoolCanyon Wall and Pool

And rock patterns and formations...

Pine Tree and Cliff FaceStriated Rock and ShrubRock Patterns and ShrubArch and Dead Tree
Ridge and CottonwoodArch and Cottonwood

And silhouettes...

Silhouette on Cathedral MountainThe Pulpit SilhouetteObservation Point Silhouette

And even water...

The Watchman and Virgin RiverVirgin RiverCascade on Virgin RiverArch, Rocks and Pool
Rocks and PoolUpper Emerald Pool

But I didn't spend all my time in Zion. I ventured into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as well...

Weathered Cliff Face and PlantWeathered Cliff Face and PlantUnnamed CanyonStriated Rock and Boulders

And I particuarly enjoyed the Paria Homesite area...

Mesa and Hills at PariaMesa and Hills at PariaRock Formation and Hills at PariaMesa and Hills at Paria

But my favorite part of the entire trip was the storm breaking at Kolob Canyons...

Nagunt MesaNagunt Mesa ValleyShuntavi Point
Shuntavi Point and Stapley PointTimber Top MountainTimber Top Mountain and Shuntavi Point
Shuntavi PointCanyon on South Fork Taylor Creek

A detailed account of my trip is available here:
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3