Clearing 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.
Table 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 Areareports 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 heading up to Artist Point 56540 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!
Summer is nearly over, and now that we’re in that exciting pause before the coming fall season I have some time to catch up on a few posts I’ve been too busy to work on. If you’ve been following my updates you’ll know that most of the height of summer was spent close to home. Specifically the Mount Baker Wilderness of the North Cascades. Fortunately for me this wilderness is only an hour or two drive from my home. Practically in my backyard. During the month of August I photographed the following areas accessed via the Mount Baker Highway:
During the last week of August I was hoping to visit one more spot that might offer good displays of wildflowers. I almost forgot about Heliotrope Ridge. It has been around twelve years since my last visit. And it’s been twenty since I taught a weekend photography workshop there through the North Cascades Institute.
Heliotrope Ridge trail is extremely popular due to the easy and close access to views of the sprawling Coleman Glacier. And also because it is the start to one of the main climbing routes to the summit of Baker. Since I’ve been there before I knew that the best wildflower meadows were up high near the edge of the glaciers and snowfields. I also knew that I would have the place to myself if I went during the week. Sure enough during my three nights on the ridge I saw only one other person wandering around. The few climbing parties that set up camp stuck to the glaciers with eyes on the summit.
The wildflowers of Heliotrope Ridge were markedly different from those on the hikes to Skyline Divide and Hannegan Peak. There I came across fields mainly of valerian, lupine, corn lilies, and heather, but on Heliotrope there was a greater variety of flowers with an emphasis on yellow arnicas. Also since this area is so close to Mount Baker it receives much more snow, therefore the plants had just escaped the confines of winter and began blooming in late August while other subalpine ridges in the area were already well past peak and had gone to seed.
Another thing to do aside from gawking at the views and wildflowers is to wander cross country, there are no trails at this point. Going west along increasingly barren slopes of mixed volcanic rock and crumbly slate there are numerous rushing snowmelt streams. If you are prepared for steep snowfield/glacier travel then continue higher up to the actual crest of Heliotrope Ridge. Here the ridge consists of a wild display volcanic cinders jagged blocks of andesite and lava bombs, looking like it just cooled yesterday. Even better though is the view from the ridge of seldom seen Thunder Glacier and basin below Colfax and Lincoln Peaks, this is truly a wild and lonesome area of Mount Baker!
Mount Baker climber camp on Heliotrope Ridge #54432 Purchase
North Cascades sunrise from Hidden Lakes Peak #54196 Purchase
What a great summer season for photography! Despite canceling my last trip in July to British Columbia, due to wildfires, I’ve been very busy adding lots of new images to my files. While waiting for the wildfire season to moderate I’ve returned to several of my favorite locations in the North Cascades. Since this is the height of summer in the mountains I selected some sub-alpine locations. Good displays of wildflowers and rugged vistas were my goal. These locations are mainly in North Cascades National Park, and the Mount Baker Wilderness.
Late July and August is the driest time of the year in the Northwest. It also has the most predictable weather. Sometimes though this means the weather can be a little too good, with empty blue skies. Great for outdoor activities, but not the greatest for photography. Fortunately my timing was spot on and in a few days I was treated to some fantastic lights shows in the mornings and evenings.
For now I’ll just post some image highlights from the first few locations since I still have tons of editing and processing to do. I also have another summer trip planned to a very exciting new location. That one will put the brakes on any further posts for a few weeks. Stay tuned, and don’t forget that prints and commercial licensing are available for all of these photos!
Pink Heather North Cascades Sunset #542154 Purchase