Washington Pass North Cascades

Washington Pass North Cascades

Liberty Bell Mountain Washington PassLiberty Bell from Washington Pass   #61304   Purchase

My last post featured a hike up to Maple Pass along the North Cascades Highway of Washington State. This post will feature the second part of that short trip. Not far up the road from Rainy Pass and the Maple Pass trailhead is one of the premier areas of the North Cascades, Washington Pass. Sitting at 5477′ this is the high point of the North Cascades Highway. It also features one of the best views of dramatic mountain scenery in the state accessible by vehicle. During the winter months the pass closes due to deep snows and hazardous avalanche conditions.

Proudly guarding the pass is Liberty Bell Mountain and its attendant peaks, The Minute Man and Early Winters Spires. All of these and surrounding peaks are composed of a pinkish type of granite carved from the Golden Horn Batholith. The quality of rock attracts climbers from all over the globe, and in early spring ski mountaineers.

Kangaroo Ridge, Washington Pass MeadowsKangaroo Ridge from Washington Pass #61316   Purchase

The aesthetic beauty of the area also attracts photographers, me being one of them. Most visitors new to the pass generally head to the dramatic views of the overlook area. However I enjoy the peaceful solitude of the adjacent meadows and the wonderful compositions it offers. The meadows are the headwaters of State Creek and can be classified more as wetlands. Photographing on the spongy ground requires very light steps to protect the delicate plants. Another requirement is a willingness to get your feet wet and a tolerance for swarms of flying biting insects!

Liberty Bell Mountain Washington PassLiberty Bell reflected in State Creek #61365  Purchase

Autumn is also another great time to visit as the subalpine larches fringing Liberty Bell are turning gold. However the sun is then at a lower angle and doesn’t illuminate much of the north face of the mountain. When the road opens in spring you can also get an idea of how the pass looks in winter conditions.

To see more images from this series please visit my New Images Gallery, where you can also purchase prints and licenses for commercial uses.

Washington Pass North CascadesWashington Pass #61343  Purchase


Skagit River Gorge North Cascades

Skagit River Gorge North Cascades

Skagit River Gorge #53819 Skagit River Gorge North CascadesSkagit River Gorge #53819

In my last post I covered a spring wildflower trip to the Methow Valley on the east slopes of the North Cascades. This time I will be talking about last week’s trip to the Skagit River Gorge and Diablo Lake, located in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area on the west side of the North Cascades. All of these areas are easily accessible via State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway.

As with the Methow Valley, the west side of the North Cascades offers great opportunities for spring photography, along with gorgeous lower elevation day-hikes, fishing, boating and general sightseeing. On this trip I concentrated on several areas where I needed some new photographs to add to my portfolio, mainly the Skagit River Gorge and the Hydro-electric dams of Seattle City Light. The Gorge itself between the town of Newhalem and the Diablo Dam is a fascinating area. Before the dams were built the Skagit River flowed full force through this narrow chasm, however the creation of the dams diverted the flow through a tunnel carved into the side of the mountains to facilitate the operation of the powerhouse in Newhalem. Except for the rare occasion of unusually high water levels the river channel contains a small flow of water with several still pools in spots. It’s these still pools that have some interesting photo possibilities, here the still water is a deep emerald green set amongst giant moss covered boulders and old growth forest. While the Gorge remains green throughout the year it’s especially magical in spring when the new leaf growth and ample rainfall intensifies the colors. Photographing here during the few weeks the colors are this saturated can be quite difficult however. Since this a narrow gorge providing access to more open areas to the east it is often quite windy, spoiling the tranquil affect. In a testament to the constant wind there are trees along the river totally lacking branches on their windward side. Another serious hazard when photographing along the river is the danger of spillways on the dam upstream opening without warning, causing the rushing water to flood the channel. There are ample warning signs along the road to remind visitors of the danger.

Diablo Dam North Cascades #53786 Skagit River Gorge North CascadesDiablo Dam #53786

There are three dams that make up the hydro project, Gorge, Diablo, and Ross. Diablo is the most accessible and photogenic, it provides vehicle access to the opposite side of the river where there are many hiking trails, and also access to the renowned North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. I find this dam photographically interesting for several reasons, after crossing the top you can make some excellent compositions which includes the dam and snowcapped peaks of the North Cascades. Also from this vantage point on certain rare occasions when the spillways are opened you can see the full force of the river cascading into the deep ravine below. One of  my favorite aspects of this dam however is the placement of lamp posts, fashioned in an art deco like style, along the rim of the structure. Aside from making some interesting architectural compositions they create a wonderful mood at dusk when turned on, whether seen from the dam itself or further off from the overlook with Diablo lake in the foreground.

Trillium North Cascades #53779 Skagit River Gorge North CascadesTrillium #53779

Several excellent hikes in the area provide relaxing outings and photo opportunties into valleys of beautiful old growth forests along rushing creeks. Some of my favorites are Stetattle Creek, Thunder Creek and the Big Beaver trail of Ross Lake. Thunder Creek trail is highly recommended as a day hike as far as McAllister Camp, from there it penetrates deep into the heart of North Cascades National Park to Park Creek Pass and beyond. Along the way there are old growth groves of giant Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir, and tantalizing glimpses of glacially fed Thunder Creek rushing through narrow chasms. In spring the displays of a wide variety of  forest wildflowers is impressive.

All of the above makes for an excellent photo outing of one to several days and can help keep you occupied while the high eye watering country is still emerging from the winter snows.

To see more photos from this trip go to our Washington Archive or use the Search feature to find a specific subject or location. All of the images on this post and website are available as fine art prints and commercial licensing.


Newly Published Work

Newly Published Work: Yesterday I received a copy of the 2013 Scenic Washington Visitor’s Guide featuring two of my images. One image is from the Palouse and the other of North Cascades Highway. It’s especially nice to have these images featured in a visitor’s guide of my home state!

On a side note I’ll be returning to photograph the Palouse this June after several long years absence. The Palouse is quite different from the coastal vistas and dramatic peaks and forests on the western half of the state. It is a photographers paradise of rolling wheat fields. In spring the fields carpet the hills in vibrant greens and dot the landscape with wildflowers. Later in summer they turn into amber waves of grain, both versions offering great photo opportunities.

2013_scenic_wa_palouse Newly Published Work


2013_scenic_wa_ncascades_highway Newly Published Work


Liberty Bell Mountain in Winter

Liberty Bell Mountain North Cascades #681 Liberty Bell Mountain in Winter

Liberty Bell from Washington Pass 681

Liberty Bell Mountain in Winter : This weekend I was working on a new winter portfolio to add to my website for some clients and included this image from way back in my large format days. Liberty Bell Mountain in the North Cascades is mostly seen and photographed in summer and fall, this is because from November through late April the North Cascades Scenic Highway where it’s located is closed. While the two passes along the highway get a little more snow than others further south the highway is closed mainly due to several areas of extreme avalanche danger.

When the road is finally cleared and opened in spring the passes are still very much in winter’s grasp. This image, although made in early May, gives a glimpse of what Liberty Bell and Washington Pass looks like in a winter cloak.



Early Winters Creek North Cascades

Early Winters Creek North Cascades: When you’re out hiking and photographing in the wilderness you may come across many surprises, such as a herd of elk, a unique wildflower, or a pristine alpine pond that wasn’t on a map. However one surprise you probably don’t expect to come across is the long forgotten wreckage of a small airplane. This was the case many years ago when I first explore the headwaters of Early Winters Creek in the North Cascades. From the trail I noticed what appeared to be a pile of garbage left by some large group, but on inspection it turned out to be the wreckage of a small two seater plane. Now I’ve come across mine shafts old rusty mining equipment and general pieces of garbage but this was a first. Since at that time I was using large format cameras and I didn’t want to waste precious film on this scene, the crash was relegated to memory. Also since there was no internet and Google back then I didn’t check for a report.

A couple of weeks ago while photographing fall color in the Washington Pass area I needed to return to  Early Winters Creek to check out the views from the pass. So I made it a point to see if the wreckage was still there and get some photos for documentation. It was still there and I spent some time snooping around. One thing I noticed that seemed strange was that most of the wreckage was just the fuselage and some wiring, there was no sign of the engine or propeller. I guess that those parts were hauled away for inspecting the cause of the crash. Here is the NTSB link to the final report on the accident.

1980's plane crash wreckage, North Cascades Washington #50149 Early Winters Creek North CascadesEarly Winters Plane Crash #50149

1980's plane crash wreckage, North Cascades Washington #50153 Early Winters Creek North Cascades

Early Winters Plane Crash #50149

1980's plane crash wreckage, North Cascades Washington #50147 Early Winters Creek North Cascades

Early Winters Plane Crash #50147

1980's plane crash wreckage, North Cascades Washington #50150 Early Winters Creek North Cascades

Early Winters Plane Crash #50150


New North Cascades Images

New North Cascades Images: In my last post I spoke of how I was looking forward to going back to my photographic roots in the Northwest by spending some prime time along the North Cascades Highway. Now that I’m back and all the new images have been edited I can safely say that it was time well spent! It was wonderful to return to several spots in the Washington and Rainy Pass areas that I haven’t seen for almost twenty years, places that made me giddy with excitement and wonder in my not too distant youth.

One of these places was Wing and Lewis Lakes beneath the imposing faces of Corteo and Black Peaks. I’ve been up to nearby Maple Pass many times in the past and even made one short summer trip to Wing Lake, but I always wanted to come back in the fall and see the display of golden larches ringing the lake. Like many destinations it got put on the back burner in favor of more exotic locations that tempted me. Hiking up all the way to Wing Lake on a rough route is a bit of a grunt over massive bolder fields and a final steep ascent on a moraine, but the beauty and solitude is definitely worth it.

Sunset over Kangaroo Ridge, North Cascades Washington #50257 New North Cascades Images

Kangaroo Ridge, Washington Pass Meadows  50257

Alpenglow over Wing Lake, North Cascades Washington #50003 New North Cascades Images

Wing Lake North Cascades Washington #50003

Subalpine Larch (Larix lyallii) Wing Lake North Cascades #50037 New North Cascades Images

Subalpine Larch at Wing Lake #50037

Another spot that I’ve neglected for too long was the Washington Pass area with it’s small subalpine meadows and classic views of one of the North Cascades icons, Liberty bell Mountain. Over the years I’ve passed by this area many times on the way to other destinations in the N. Cascades, saying to myself that someday I need to spend time here and make some good photos when the light is right. To be fair I have done this a few times but never really came back with the images I wanted. On this trip not only did I get the photos but I also saw a bull moose, only my second moose sighting in the Cascades!

Sunset over Kangaroo Ridge, North Cascades Washington #50244 New North Cascades Images

Washington Pass Meadows 50244

Finally I returned to a place that had me aroused my curiosity every time I drove by. This is the short climbers trail up to Kangaroo Pass. Starting at the hairpin turn beneath the east side of Washington Pass this sweet little area rarely sees a visitor, and if it not were for the sound of traffic on the road you’d swear you traveled back in time before the highway was built when not many even heard of the North Cascades. It’s less than 2 miles and 2000″ elevation gain to the pass and the last ascent over the headwall is viciously steep, along the way you’ll view a new perspective of Liberty Bell and Early Winters Spires, small quite meadows, and a dry lake (in fall) in a basin just below the pass. Early on you can spot the long forgotten crash site of a small single engine plane, everything but the fuselage seemed to be carried out.

Checking the weather just now it looks like there may be a brief break in the weather, hmm, maybe I can run back up there…

You can view more images from this trip at the following links:

Early Winters Spires, North Cascades Washington #50282 New North Cascades Images

Early Winters Spires 50282


North Cascades Fall Photography

North Cascades Fall Photography Tomorrow I’ll be leaving for around ten days of photographing fall color in the North Cascades, primarily the Washington and Rainy Pass areas of the North Cascades Scenic Highway. A place that has always been close to my heart.

It’s interesting how sometimes life brings you full circle. This area was my first experience with the Mountains of the Northwest. Nearly 32 years ago I was just a kid on my way out west from my parents home in Chicago where I grew up. Back then I had dreams of somehow making a living on my own and living in a log home on a small spread in the mountains, a few aspects of that dream actually came true. Anyway until then I had only visited relatives in Bellingham and save for a short drive in the rain up to Mount Baker I had no idea what the Cascades had in store for me. As I drove into Winthrop and then on up Highway 20 it became hard to keep an eye on the road. The scenery seemed so wild and rugged, almost primordial, nothing like the Rockies I recently passed through. I could hardly believe my eyes when pulling over at Washington Pass to get out and gape at the granite monoliths of Liberty Bell and it’s attendant peaks. It certainly didn’t get any easier as I drove west and views of Colonial Peak’s glaciers and the turquoise of Diablo Lake came into view.

Hart's Pass autumn sunset North Cascades Washington #864 North Cascades Fall Photography

Autumn Sunset from Slate Peak 864

Autumn larches North Cascades Washington #4106 North Cascades Fall Photography

Larches in the North Cascades 4106

Since then I spent many years driving up North Cascades Highway and have hiked backpacked and photographed nearly ever trail along the way. I laugh at the idea of needing a GPS since I can pick out and name just about every peak, valley, river, and creek by memory, learned from paper maps I still have. This area has gotten to be one of my dearest friends, but over the years the necessity of expanding my photographic portfolio to other regions has caused me to neglect it. After recently going over my files I realized that although I photographed extensively in the N. Cascades in the 80’s and 90’s I really don’t have many images from there that I could consider portfolio grade. So this fall I’m going back to pay a visit to my old friends and hopefully come back with some portraits they can be proud of!

Northern section of the Pacific Crest Trail Washington #1375 North Cascades Fall Photography

Near Cutthroat Pass North Cascades 1375