Saturday October, 13We left Winthrop on Friday, headed for the geographic center of Washington – the town of Cashmere. The Chelan County Fairgrounds in Cashmere was the only accommodations we could get on this busy Octoberfest weekend. It is a 300 site field with full hook-ups. Fortunately there is only a handful of rigs here so we don’t feel crowded. We can stay until Monday morning, when the kennel club is taking over the entire campground. They didn’t have to ask twice. Monday we move definitively south.We weren’t quite ready to leave the area and decided to look around this southern area a little more. A visit to the local forrest service office for recommendations sent us up to Forest Service Road 1912, off of Highway 97. Here we found a confusing array of FS roads that, between the Garmin and our road atlas, eventually brought us to our goal of finding Hainy Meadow. We were also looking for potential camping sites. Yes, more frozen stuff. Gotta work with what is there. The road started up through heavy forest. This being Saturday, there were times we had to wait-out streams of traffic on this dirt road. It was narrow, but had plenty of turnouts for getting by others. Hainy Meadow was 15 miles in, and navigating these crisscrossing FS roads was difficult. Our atlas had some of the roads, Garmin had some, neither showed exactly where the meadow was, but Mary’s diligent navigation work did eventually get us there. For a long while the road was pretty boring. Only occasional larch were spotted and there was little other autumn color to be seen. We found one FS campground, but the elevation and heavy tree cover excluded it from consideration. The road eventually crossed a large talus slop whee panoramic views could be seen. Much of the forest is burned here, leaving large swaths of dead trees, but the fires have also opened up the landscape, giving the larch room to grow here. After much consternation about just where we were and how far it would be to get back, we finally made it to the meadow. Not a real exciting day-trip and too long a drive left us a bit tired for anything more than to drive back to camp to end our day. Over the next few days we will be making our way to John Day Fossil Beds – Painted Hills Division, in Oregon. It’s a favorite stop with a very different landscape than what we’ve been experiencing here in Washington. We have a week-and-a-half left on this road trip.
Tuesday, October, 9
We avoided doing any hiking the day after the Dock Butte hike. The beautiful weather of Saturday, turned into the wet, not quite rain, cold dreary Sunday. We spent the day catching up on image processing, writing and reading. There were still more hikes on the east side of the Cascades we wanted to do, so we headed back for a few more days. Weather was supposed to be clearing and we wanted to use those days for hiking.
We spent a couple of days in Winthrop. On Monday, weather was still kind of iffy. We visited the nearby Forest Service office to see if we could get some advice on a nice larch drive. The ranger there recommended a drive up Highway 20 to the area of the Loup Loup Campground. In winter this area is a snow park and the paved access road is for snowmobiles.
It turned out to be a great way to get off the busy main road and have a pleasant drive where we could stop mostly at will, walk around and investigate without having to dodge traffic. We first tried a few forest service roads off highway 20 as we drove up to Loup Loup. Several were showing nice larch from the highway, but getting the right angle was difficult and the roads we chose were more suited to off-road vehicles rather than the RAV. Much of the forest around here has either burned or been managed, meaning undergrowth has been removed. While it really helps in making clean compositions, I find I don’t like the unnaturally open looking result. The larches at this lower elevation seemed different than what we’ve seen at the 5-7 thousand foot level. They looked more like sugar-pine tree trunks with larch branches. They were thicker, more symmetrical and exhibited some nice levels of layered branches. Hybridization with western larch is apparently the answer. While there are no subspecies of larch, they are genetically different trees from their high elevation versions. This access road eventually moved out of the thickest larch area, so we turned around and went looking for the Loup Loup turnoff. Unfortunately, we found the road we wanted to drive was gated just a mile into it. We looked around another short road nearby, but the trees were not as accessible nor plentiful along there. The clouds were thickening again, dulling the light, so we called it a day.Next up – our hike to Cutthroat Lake.
Cutthroat Lake Hike
Thursday, October, 11
We left Winthrop Wednesday morning to return to Klipchuck campground for 2 more days. Our final hike in the northern Cascades will be a new one for us. It is rated as an easy 4 mile roundtrip hike to Cutthroat Lake, with a 650’ elevation gain.
In the few days we were away from this campground, half of it had closed. Our favorite campsite was now behind a gate. In the remaining loop, we did find a nice large fairly open site where I should be able to get enough sun for the panels.This time of year, cloudless skies mean cold temperatures. It was a very still morning, and even at 9 am, in the shade of the valley, frost still clung to everything. On the railing of the bridge over Cutthroat Creek, the frost stood on end as if it too was trying not to touch anything metal. The trail was one of the easiest to walk on this trip. It was wider than most, not very rocky, nor full of wet slippery roots. It rose steadily most of the way, but was gradual, so hardly noticed. Frost on everything again stole my attention for a time, but it wasn’t long before the sun reached us and everything melted. But by now we were getting into views of the surrounding area and the larch were lit with morning sun. They simply glowed. The trail would plunge into forest for a time, then cross an open area revealing more views. Once at the top of the ridge, it leveled out for a quarter mile before reaching the lake. It’s another Lake-in-a-Bowl kind of place, with steep mountains dropping to larch infused pine forest at lake edge.Wonderful grasses in the still waters of the lake created nice patterns and reflections. Large boulder seemed to float on the opposite shore. We lunched here and enjoyed the quiet spot. Only a few hikers were seen on the trail on the way up but most seemed to be going on to Cutthroat Pass and beyond instead of stopping at the lake. We were alone. After lunch, we tried to walk around the lake a bit more but the trail seemed to peter out after a time. It became more of a bushwhack. I don’t like tromping through such fragile areas if thee is no path, so we turned around. We backtracked back down the trail a ways, before trying another branch trail pointing to the lake. About a quarter mile later we came upon new angles of the lake and shoreline.
Friday, October 5A day after our Sauk Mountain hike, we had a late morning inside the rig before venturing out. It was quite overcast, cool and drizzly. We did a drive into North Cascades National Park, but neither of us was particularly motivated to photograph much. We drove as far as the power station town of Newhalem and stopped for a time at the hydroelectric plant there. Many years ago, the owners created a kind of illuminated fairy garden amongst the forest and extensive waterfalls behind the plant. The illuminated part has gone away, leaving a sort of abbreviated botanical garden on one section of the property. Here we found a wonderful row of maple trees planted along a walkway. The five trees each turning a different shade of autumn. We walked the grounds a bit more. There is a short trail that leads into the steep forest behind the plant, but a fire some years ago has left it kind of trashed looking. The powerful cascade of water coming down the mountain falls, is clogged with wicked looking logs, so is not terribly attractive as waterfalls go. We headed back to camp, looking forward to out hike tomorrow.
Dock Butte Trail
Saturday, October 6As was predicted, the day dawned bright. There was heavy fog again in the valley where we were, but not as thick as earlier in the week. We had a longer drive this morning to reach the Dock Butte Trailhead. 20 miles of highway and 10 on twisty forest service roads. These FS roads were in much better shape than the road up to Sauk Mountain. All of this to hike up another 1,200 feet on a 4-mile out-and-back hike.As usual, the first 3/4 mile switchbacks up through the heavily forested mountain. The trail here is full of slick tree roots and can be rocky with a few drop-offs. I’ve been on much worse however. As the forest begins to thin, a few tarns emerge among the diminutive meadows. The surface was still partially frozen from overnight cold, and ice crystals decorated the top. A good place to catch breath. We came across a couple more ponds, each with different ice patterns to play with. The trail continued through more colorful meadows as the trail rose steadily. Not as steeply as the first part, but unending uphill. I kept being distracted by tiny frost-tinged plant life, or neon back-lit color on either side of the trail. The first real views of Mt. Baker came along, but the mountaintop would not put in an appearance. The best I got was a brief look at an upper edge, then it was gone. It was obscured the rest of the day. As we climbed higher, the views opened up and we could better see the mountain peaks all around us. As was the case during the last hike, on one side of the trail we could photograph frozen stuff, on the other, brilliant color. Looking closely at some huckleberry plants, I noticed little frozen water droplets on the frost covered leaves. They were beginning to thaw as I watched. I eventually caught up with Mary having a little break on a large boulder. Way up behind her, I could see our eventual destination. It looks pretty daunting, but the way the trail is laid out, it is not a really difficult hike – except for one section just below the summit where the rock juts upward. Some dicy rock scrambling over slick stone is required to get to the top. It’s a very short distance to scramble, but a little scary looking. Once up that last bit of trail, we arrived at the top and the panoramic views all around. There was still a fair amount of haze/smoke over the Baker Lake valley, but everywhere else was quite clear. There were just a couple of guys at the top who were quite talkative. They were amateur ham radio operators, who had set-up antennas and transmitters, trying to contact other radio operators on surrounding peaks near us. It’s a sort of game they play to gather points in order to attain “Mountain Goat” status for having transmitted from high-points. Dock Butte equals 6 points, while Mt. Baker gets you 10. Mountain Goat status equals 1000 points. While we were there, more people began showing up. I thought today being Saturday, we would see a lot more people on the trail than there were. When we first got to the parking area this morning, there was already several cars in the lot. 3 more showed up while we were getting ready. It seems most took the branch trail off to Blue Lake instead of the longer, steeper Dock Butte hike. We met several who intended to hike to the lake, but missed the branch trail. There are no signs to indicate which branch trail leading off into the forest is the correct one. Also, this trailhead is called Blue Lake, with no sign for Dock Butte. We also met a few who hiked up from Blue Lake – but there is no marked trail to do that. The sky wasn’t getting any clearer, so we started our hike back. This direction went much quicker of course, but there were more stops made for details and views. We will be heading back to Winthrop on the eastern side again. The weather is supposed to calm down for the next few days, so we hope to get in another larch hike before we begin to make our way home. Stay tuned!
Back to Northern Cascades – West Side
Wednesday October 3We left our creekside campground late morning on Wednesday, headed back to the northern Cascade mountains. This time to the west side. The weather forecast was sounding better for the north after last nights light rain. It was cold again last night where we were, but as we began traveling up to Stevens Pass, we could see how cold. Looked to be a few inches of new snow blanketing the mountains. At the pass, we managed to pull the LD and Rav into a turnout to take in the scene. Fortunately the road was clear and we had no problem getting through.There are few easy ways to get from one side of the Cascades to another, and it took all day to get to Howard Miller Steelhead Park. This county park is right on the Skagit River near the town of Rockport. It is very tidy with water/electric and a dump station. Great to have the hook-ups during these extended grey days. The park was pretty empty when we arrived, but the reservation board showed it to be nearly booked for the weekend. There were 3 lesser sites (parking on wet grass) available for Friday and Saturday so we took one, but will have to move.
Sauk Mountain Trail
Thursday October 4Yesterday’s grey, rainy day was replace by a sparkling morning – above the fog that is. It was heavy in the campground when we awoke. Usually that would mean we’d go out looking for images, but because of today’s 1,200’ 2.5 mile hike, we decided to skip the early morning walk for the larger hike ahead.Sauk Mountain trail is reached after following an 8 mile heavily potholed and switchbacked forest service road. Oh and it’s quite narrow. But once up the 4000’ elevation gain to the trailhead, it becomes clear how wonderful this hike can be. Most of this hike is made up of long switchbacks that traverse a very steep and wide meadow. The trail is narrow all the way up and it feels like one little slip could lead to a long slide. The autumn color didn’t seem to be at peak here. Not as intense as 2 years ago. But this year we found pockets of frost in every shadow on the steep hillsides along the trail. A cold morning at camp meant a freezing morning up on the trail. It wasn’t cold in the sun though. We could photograph the shadowed hillsides while standing in the sun. A treat to be able to keep warm and take lots of rests in-between switchbacks. Frost clung to edges of ferns, vine maple and huckleberry. We found icicles forming of tree limbs and rock outcroppings. It was a bit odd concentrating on the details of the flora frosted for autumn, while walking up this panoramic mountainside. We continued up the trail, constantly alternating between views of the valley from up high and looking at the minutia of the undergrowth. Once up past the switchbacks, the trail levels a bit and moves through more meadow/forest mix terrain. We found a lunch spot overlooking Sauk Lake and watched clouds forming and moving around the valley. Moving further upward, we were now hiking above the tree and snow-lines. The rocky trail was still easy to follow as it wound up to he pinnacles at the end. From the top, commanding views of the river valley below. We arrived at this ending viewpoint early afternoon and enjoyed the views for a time before turning around for the walk down. Along the way we stopped to locate the source of the distinctive whistle we were hearing. This little pika was quite content to sit on his rock in the warm sun. The trip down went pretty fast, but we stopped again for views that had changes a bit since coming up the trail. Checking out the still frozen areas, i found the exquisite little ice sculpture, reminding me of a seahorse. It was maybe the size of a half-dollar and nestled into some star-like plants. Nearby, water, frozen over twigs, created a sort of icefall. Arriving back at the now quite busy trailhead, we broke out the coffee and enjoyed the views of the dried fern hillsides and panoramic views of the valley before heading back down the 8 miles of forest service switchbacks.Our next hike is another favorite from 2 years ago – Dock Butte. It is another 1200’ accent, but this time, a 4 mile round trip.
Lake Wenatchee and Stevens Pass
Monday, October 1
Because of almost certain sustained rain in the north, we decided to move a bit south and spend some time in the Central Cascades where rain was much less likely. We found a very nice Forest Service campground very near the shores of Lake Wenatchee. It is still quite cold here, but other than light showers last night, looks to be a dry couple of days. The campground is nearly empty. Amazing what a little rain and cold will do.Monday morning we set out for a short hike around the lake. The trailhead was just a few miles down the road from us. It runs through Wenatchee State Park – which is also just across the road from our camp. A short drive to the trailhead and we were walking through the groomed forest within the state park.The groomed thinning allowed for lots of new undergrowth to flourish, and this time of year it means lovely bursts of color.Mult-colored vine maple is most abundant, but birch is turning now as well as multiple other shrubbery. The 2.5 mile trail is wide and very easy to walk. It meanders through colorful forest for a time before breaking out to the lake itself. Todays gloomy cloud cover, while not producing any rain, has made the lake look rather dull. So back into the forest we went.
It was still early afternoon and we wanted to see more. Clouds were increasing though, so we decided on a drive-look over to Stevens Pass on WA-2. The pass itself was kind of disappointing. The heavier cloud cover obscured much of the mountainside and no roadside pull-outs meant pulling off was to risky. The color just wasn’t happening here. We drove on to Deception Falls just a few miles further. The falls actually pass under the highway as they cascade down the mountain.There was really one vantage to make pictures, and that involves walking under the overpass on a steel walkway to a platform. There is also a short half-mile path that ran along the river an through the very mossy forest. As the trail switchbacked down to the river, I came across a small set of made objects sitting on a log. Seeing them brought to mind language and communication. What would a civilization look like who used these objects to communicate? Down along the river I found a nice frothy cleft of water and rock. As we finished the short loop, light rain began falling. It wasn’t going to get better this late in the day, so we returned to camp for the night. It’s really amazing how much time we can spend of stuff like this. Even today when the photography was not going particularly well, we managed a few nice images.
Icicle Gorge and Tumwater Campground
Wednesday, October 3
|A very cold and sunny morning was waiting for us when we awoke. Outside, ice formed on any surface holding last evening’s raindrops. We didn’t rush to rise until the shine started to. Once the ice melted, we got moving and managed to get out on the road. We headed to Icicle Gorge and a trailhead 17 miles up in there somewhere. Along the way we stopped a couple of times for views of the Wenatchee River. It’s about the first sun we’ve seen in last few days. Icicle Creek Road starts out in the town of Leavenworth, but quickly heads out towards the mountains. Once in the canyon, the road turns to gravel and narrows. There are plenty of turnouts and wide spots for passing. Quite a few campers out here as well. Many looked long-term. At the start of the canyon, there was little foliage turning color, but as we gained altitude, more and more were seen. We found our trail with no problem. The entire loop is 4.5 miles and looked to be pretty easy, but we decided to do only a portion of the trail that follows Icicle Creek. We could hike to a bridge the crosses the creek and decide whether to go on from there.
I had in mind more flowing water pictures, and at the bridge we found some nice vantage points to work from. The creek (not sure a torrent like this should be considered a creek exactly), thunders through a chute of solid rock. It has created potholes and worn smooth rock revealing interesting veins of quartz. A good piece of time was spent here. We continued on the trail a little further to an overlook of the creek. From here, the trail turned back toward the starting point, but on the other side of the creek. Mary decided to turn around here, but I wanted to walk the rest of the trail back to another bridge. Mary would meet me there, cutting about a mile off my extended hike. There was some nice color here and there, but little access to the water from this side. In fact, the trail leaves the river completely for a time before coming back at the next bridge. Just as I was walking across the bridge, Mary pulled up from where we had parked at our original starting point. Here at the bridge I found pine needles getting caught on a submerged log and being guided along the edge as a stream before being released at the end. I made a few versions of it. We were done for the day. Not real energetic for us, but a nice day.On the way back to camp, we decided to stop for a time at the Tumwater campground. We’d heard this was a great location for autumn color, but when we arrived, we found it closed. We parked outside the gates and walked around inside. The place looked to have been closed for a very long time. We found out later it was closed after a large fire elsewhere. It seems it would often be in the path of flooding caused by the now denuded mountainsides. It has been closed for several years now. The color here was not spectacular, but good for a few more images. Tomorrow, we hike another favorite: Sauk Mountain trail.
Thursday, September 27Another beautiful day greeted us this morning. Scarcely a cloud in the sky. It will be a great day for another of our favorite hikes. The Blue Lake trail is a 5.3 mile out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of 958’. It is a pretty gradual gain over the 2.6 miles up and is sort of typical of hikes around here as far as terrain goes. We started in heavy forest and slowly curved our way up the mountain. Occasional breaks in the forest provided nice views from time to time. It is another contrasty day, so finding angles to photograph from is harder.We were on the trail by 9 am and really glad we were. This is a very popular trail and there were several cars already in the lot when we arrived. Several hikers passed us by the first mile, and we could hear more further down the trail. The first larches started appearing about halfway up, but there were only a few areas to stand without trampling the delicate heather growing all around.We kept climbing up the trail, stopping occasionally to catch breath and look around. Before we knew it, we were at the lake. There was only 2 other people there when we arrived, and they soon left. We started making images around the lake while we had it to ourselves. We had maybe 20 minutes before people started streaming in.
As more folks arrived, we backtracked to where the Tarn Loop trail branches off from the end of the Blue Lake trail. We couldn’t hike this loop 2 years ago because of snow we didn’t want to slog through. But today it was open and clear. It is maybe a quarter mile loop around several alpine tarns and starts off with a steep little incline that opens to new views of the lake and Liberty Bell Mountain Group. No one seemed to be coming up the trail behind us and it quickly got nice and quiet as the voices from the viewpoints faded off. We had our lunch in this higher vantage to the sound of pika chirps coming from the boulder field behind us. Walking along the trail, we found branch trails dropping down to the lake. We lingered here for a time making pictures of reflections and getting some nice views of the mountain group. The lake surface went from smooth to rippled constantly, and reflections did the same.
The trail moves uphill a little more, wrapping around several small ponds that make up the tarns. As it rounded one, wide views of the surrounding mountains were revealed. The trail then bends back toward the start and it is a nice easy walk back through forest. People were really streaming in now, so we beat a hasty retreat back down the mountain trail. We had to stop on several occasions to let long trains of bunched up groups go by.As we walked into the parking area, I look up again at Liberty Bell Mountain and saw a couple of paragliders (or whatever you call those propelled sail riders). We watched them circle lazily up there while we sipped our coffee down here.
This was another wonderful hike. I still prefer more dramatic weather conditions, but I was also happy to be able to walk some new areas while up there. Another hike I would love to do again.
More unsettled weather is supposed to come in over the next week and we are planning a couple more days in Winthrop before moving to a different area of the park. I’m not sure what the connectivity will be there, so this may be the last blog post for a week or so.
Wednesday, September, 26After hiking the Maple Pass Trail on Monday, we took Tuesday off. My knees, which rarely hurt, were feeling it this day. It also gave me a chance to write-up the blog, review hundreds of images and process them. The legs were still feeling it on Wednesday, but we were up for another walk – albeit a shorter one. We’d talked to a ranger about possible hikes, and one she recommended was a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Meadows Campground to Grasshopper Pass – a distance of about 4.5 miles out-and-back. Even that is probably more than we want to do, but we can turn around at any point.
To get to the trail, we drove up a 15 mile pot-holed, rough and narrow Forest Service road to get to Meadows Campground. The PCT trailhead is actually another mile past the campground with it’s own parking area. The first thing I noticed once we got up the road a little, was how much smoke was wafting around the valley we’d just left. We’ve had incredibly great clear weather and I thought the previous week of rain had pretty much put them all out. Not quite. Fortunately for our hiking pleasure, the light breeze was keeping out of this valley for now.Further on up the road, we saw our first turning patch of aspen. There aren’t a lot of them around here and this was a small group, but they were nice to see. On the hills above us, was the main attraction – more larch (aka tamarack trees). The real draw of today’s walk is that we don’t have to hike up 1000’ to get to them. The trail leaves right about where the trees begin. There is still elevation gain, but we will be in the trees most of the way.Photographing from the forest road itself proved to be pretty interesting on it’s own. Once we got out of the lowlands, we could see we were in a huge old burn area. Looks like most everything burned here at one time and only low growth flora has returned so far. As we wound closer to the trailhead, much the undergrowth became back-lit and began to glow. I enjoyed the way it interacted with the burned trees.
Once on the trail, we were immediately walking through groves of larch. It was a brilliantly bright day, making it a big contrast challenge, but walking this trail was a pleasure. Extremely well maintained with views all along, we stopped constantly for pictures.Huckleberry, turning autumn red, carpeted the valley and set-off the both pines and larch. There are breaks in the trail where it crosses vast talus slopes. These can often be treacherous to navigate. But here, while the path is narrow, it is also nicely cobbled for flatness, so easy to walk. As is usual, it took us about 2 hours to go about a mile and a half. As the trail wound around the shoulder of the mountain, we were treated to a new valley view. The fire had swept this one as well. Still an impressive view. We stopped for lunch and to take it all in. Each time we stopped we would decide to go up to the next bend, then decide whether to go on. Once we got around this one and saw that all the trees were burned, we decided to turn around. It was still interesting, and I wanted to see what was up ahead, but it was looking like a long decent to Grasshopper Pass and the knees were not up to it today. The walk back was just as enjoyable as the walk in. It was still early afternoon, but the lower sun angle of autumn meant everything was even more back-lit than on the way in. I would have preferred a more overcast sky to provide more even light, but this was still a pretty awesome walk. Driving back down the mountain, we stopped again at an overview. From here we could see the path and remains of the fires that came through. There is much more here to photograph and experience, but it will have to wait for another time.
Tomorrow, we hike another favorite trail – Blue Lake.