Sunday, September 27, 2009

America's Best Idea...our National Parks

A lot has been said in the preceding weeks about the expected greatness of Ken Burns PBS special on the National Parks. Well, this week it starts! I hope many of you find the time to maybe enjoy this six-part series on the history of our National Park Service. I certainly am looking forward to not only the historical coverage behind the human nature in us that led to what we have today, but also the great photography!

I'll start sharing soon with you the exact details

for each of the program presentations that I will be doing throughout October in coordination between PBS/KCTS and the King County Library System - check back soon for more information!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

More of the same - great peak tagging in the South-Central Cascades!

Back at it again with Dennis! Just a few days after our last trip we headed back to the exact same region SE of Greenwater to explore not two, but this time three peaks up the FR 70 territory! Three great hikes, one stellar fall hiking day in the warm sun while the lowlands were socked in under the marine layer of fog/clouds that we could see all day. Raptors soared past us on the summit of Colquhoun Peak at this former lookout site.

We enjoyed hitting the PCT a mile high at 5220’ Windy Gap and zip south, around, and then up Pyramid Peak where the spectacular rocky summit area surprised and delighted us.
Then we cruised more forest service roads to a ridge we eyeballed early in the morning from Colquhoun which we declared needed roaming. Soon we found ourselves in alpine delight with late afternoon light as we strolled and grunted along Sawmill Ridge! Is there anything wrong with a nap at 4:00pm? I should say not, and to that, what another great day it was in the South-Central Cascades!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

George, Noble, and Kelly

I think after the weather we had on Monday hiking in the area NE of Mount Rainier, I'm thinking we will have a wonderful fall of weather before El Nino kicks in for a great winter of hiking! The day couldn't have been any more perfect - sunny and "hot" but not overly warm and a nice breeze. No bugs either now that they have had a few bad bouts of weather to fight.

I headed back out with good friend Dennis as we explored two areas off of FR 70 just south of Greenwater east of SR 410. First up was a backdoor way in to the Noble Knob area yielding the most amazing huckleberry feasting I’ve ever seen! Then we hiked around George Lake, up and over Noble Knob to complete a loop back. Still having a good part of the afternoon left we headed across the valley to zip up to check on the progress with the Kelly Butte lookout restoration. Another grand 3.5 mile hike with fall colors, light winds, and views galore!

I think it’s time to head out again tomorrow – likely more under appreciated peaks in this same FR 70 area. Not only has this all been a lot of fun, but it is all great new data and photographs for me to use in upcoming future new editions of the Day Hiking books.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Griffey kind of a day

It was the day after the clearing storm moved eastward away from our region…. OK, so I can’t quite write like Snoopy when he started so many of his “It was a dark stormy night…” stories over the past 40 years! But it WAS the day after a dumping of rain and the sky had cleared and tickets were in hand to go to the Seattle Mariners vs. New York Yankees MLB game at Safeco Field with my son! We were eager to go since we had yet to see Ken Griffey Jr. play this year – the other games our DH was Mike Sweeney since we were facing a left-handed pitcher. Not today!

And what a day it was for Griffey, easily being his best game of the entire season. He starts off with a double to hit in Jose Lopez for RBI #1 on the day, then next inning slams the door shut on the Yankees with a three-run home run. Oh, tossing in one other hit that almost was another HR and a walk, he had a pleasant 2-for-3 day with 4 RBI’s – and two Bauer Boys thoroughly enjoying their cameras from our nice seats taking photos!

What a special way to spend a day with my son, the big time baseball player and stat nut himself. We’ll be back in 2 weeks for the season finale just in case it is Griffey’s last game before waiting in line for the Hall of Fame!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Might it be autumn yet?

Maybe by looking at the plant life in the mountains you won't quite yet think fall is in full swing. Sure, there are some colors starting to show as vine maples are red in a few places, huckleberries are barely starting to turn crimson but for the highest elevations where vivid red is already happening. But the wildlife is not waiting for some weatherman to indicate to them things are changing – they are busy doing their thing! Wait at most any ridge along the Cascade Crest east slopes and you’ll see numerous raptors soaring over them in their migration southward (turkey vultures, many hawk species, etc…). And as the photo shows, hiking virtually any trail will show signs of the Douglas Squirrel busy dropping the huge fir cones to the ground to then later scurry down to get the seeds out of. A hike into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to Melakwa Lake yesterday brought me to this lovely cone, and while looking at it two other cones came crashing down from high in the trees above me – bombs away and watch out!

Monday, September 14, 2009

What do you call a trail with a view of Mount Rainier?

Rainier View I suppose? Well this "original" name is indeed the official trail name of the trail leading S/SW from high up at Corral Pass. I headed up the crazily steep and rough FR 7174 the six miles to Corral Pass as I have always wanted to get up close to Castle Mountain, what is beyond the "Rainier View" part of this trail where everyone who might hike here mainly goes. A beautiful Sunday and only 2-3 other small groups were seen while the parking area just 0.1 mile back down the road for Noble Knob? Packed! That makes sense as that area is also popular with the mountain bike groups. Why not on this glorious smooth easy trail? Well, that's because you enter the Norse Peak Wilderness in just 1/4 mile from the trailhead. This area also offers a great one-way hike opportunity to hike down the Greenwater Trail to Hidden Lake, Echo Lake, and out past the Greenwater Lakes area. Today however I enjoyed going about 1.2 miles beyond the viewing area people lunch at and got up on Castle Mountain as far as I was comfortable to scramble. Well now, the "view" from here was 250% more spectacular than down lower even! I particularly enjoyed the view east at Ravens Roost and that area of the Little Naches River region. You could see the Stuart Range and the other Central Cascades like Mount Daniel just fine as well.

Boy, it looked like a looonnnggg ways down to the White River below me :) A great new hike for the next editions of the Day Hiking books coming eventually!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bear Creek Mountain

No bears, no elk, but bugeling elk all around the drainages! Yesterday a good friend Dennis and myself headed far south to US 12, White Pass, and east to Rimrock Lake. Then the real adventure began as we left US 12, headed up the Tieton Road, then FR 1200, then steeeeep driving up FR 1205, then FR 1204, THEN the excitement of just a plain old fashion terrible dirt road, unlike the rocky gravel ones normally in the forest, that was rutted and with hiding big rocks. Fun those last three miles of FR 1204 were to the end, some long 13 miles from US 12, to the wonderful 6000’ trailhead for Bear Creek Mountain. A trailhead nestled in alpine meadowland from the start! It was entertaining to come to such a remote place on a weekday and find the area near the trailhead pretty well filled up with campers and tents. I’m sure many have their place now for the upcoming high-buck hunt that begins this coming week (ie. High hunt is in areas >5000’ only, and generally lasts 9/15-9/25 each September). For now most were bow hunting and I always enjoy seeing these folks. They are so nice to talk to and I enjoy seeing the tools they carry around – and their camo outfits are fun too! We spoke to maybe a half dozen or more of them during the course of the day. They are true lovers of the outdoors – one gentleman we found just laying at the edge of the first large meadow you hike through at 12:30pm and he had been relaxing since 5:00am listening to nature around him!

We hiked into the Goat Rocks Wilderness boundary in just ¼ mile then continued on the trail skirting along the base of the north ridge leading out from the summit area. After 2.6 miles went up the wonderful alpine setting of volcanic rock, heather, and ash in one steep mile and 1000’ elevation gain and found ourselves on top of 7337’ Bear Creek Mountain in short order. What a view! You look smack into the heart of the Goat Rocks area with Gilbert, Old Snowy, Devils Horn just across the valley to the west! Straight down was the North Fork Tieton River valley and its lush meadows at Tieton Meadows. Mount Rainier to the NW, Mount Adams to the SW, and eastward you could enjoy the line of Russell Ridge, then toward Bethel Ridge, then Clemen Mountain, and extending all the way into the Columbia Basin.

A difficult decision of the day was having to simply leave the summit! But we did have a long drive back out again, so off we went. Thanks for a perfect day in the high country Dennis.
(photos: hiking down from the summit area; meadow approaching Bear Creek Mountain; Mount Adams from reaching the ridgeline; view toward Goat Rocks and Gilbert/Old Snowy/Devils Horn; summit USGS benchmark; Dennis enjoying summit views at Mount Rainier during lunch)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The highs and lows of a river

Some of you might recall all of the photography that I did during the record flood events of this past January 2009. The Snoqualmie River crested nearly foot higher than it ever had been recorded before, SR 202 was washed out and homes destroyed just east of Fall City, schools were closed for three days, and for some local residence in the Valley the impact is still being felt today.
Thankfully I went down to similar locations where I normally photograph the river flowing through Fall City the week before Labor Day Weekend to capture some of the river before heavy rains over the weekend brought river levels up a bit. The late summer river is the lowest I've ever seen it! The extremely dry weather we have had since May combined with snowpack that melted out fast during the July heat means not much left is coming down the creeks and rivers of the Snoqualmie Basin (and all other river basins in the region). The result is a river you can wade across in many areas, huge logs left high and dry on gravel bars. It was pretty neat! The large log in the river by town floated away sometime over the holiday weekend.

It is fun to compare the river between these two events: flood vs. dry summer. All happening in the same year too!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mud on the pumpkins

Well now, I suppose you could think the past 4 days of weather here in Western Washington means summer is over! Not only have we had days with high temperatures getting up to only 56* and nights in the mid-40's, we also managed to crank out 1.88" of rainfall. And that is without the 0.26" and 0.29" we had on days surrounding that period! But then nice weather returns, just like it is coming. And more summer heat into the 80's likely by the end of the week. I love this time of year and am eager for my favorite hiking season and my favorite photography season. Bring it on! Now....let's pray for that Indian Summer and El Nino to kick in so we have mild weather for outings all winter....

Friday, September 4, 2009

Racoon stampede...or how to enjoy baby animals

It was a calm morning today and I hardly was awake enough to pay attention to what was happening outside. Lucky for me a family member was paying attention and while eating his breakfast yelled out, "Something is crawling down that tree!". Sure enough, not only was he right, but right x 3! A raccoon family had just scrambled up into a cedar tree, two adults and one adorable 2009 baby. While we watched them go up a bit and then come right back down it was fun to watch the antics of them either trying to find a nice area on our property to "roost" in a tree for the day or keep checking if I actually had any food in a local bird feeder.

After enjoying watching them a few minutes I went outside to photograph them and that is when the young one was showing it wasn't quite as agile in tree climbing quickly as its parents. The two adults were at the bottom of the tree while the little one wanted to go down but was clearly worried about my being nearby. After seeing this, I headed back photos are worth risking putting undo pressure on a species, and simple raccoons are no different. By the time I was back in and looking out the window where the others were watching, the baby showed it knew how to do thing - zoom, down the tree and off the family went together! A great start to a great day.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Foiled by fire

So yesterday was a day I had myself all primed to stomp many miles in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I had Spectacle Lake in my eyesight, a long hike north of Snoqualmie Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or a slightly shorter 19-20 mile hike from the east side via Pete Lake to reach the PCT. Dog gone it if I arrived at the trailhead to find a sign that the PCT had a three mile stretch or so that was closed effectively 3 days before my outing due to a forest fire flare up!
Sigh...a month long smoldering fire in the Lemah Meadows are of the PCT west of Pete Lake had suddenly blown up a bit on 8/27 and they closed the area down. Good thing just as well, as it was so smokey in that area as I approached it I wouldn't have had any fun sucking up all that smoke not to mention the potential dangers!

So I cut my day short...I only hiked 16.25 miles :) I enjoyed a long stroll on the PCT northward and after reaching the famed Kendall Katwalk area, continued on to Ridge, Gravel Lakes, and a bit further, enjoying views down upon Alaska Lake and then calling Alaska Mountain my turn-around point. An EarthCorp group was stationed at Ridge Lake doing a camp and trail work party there - bravo to them! I saw numerous groups of backpackers heading in or out, many fathers with sons enjoying a trek. And I noted a few gloomy faced PCT through hikers realizing they had quite a detour ahead of them to get around the short section of closed PCT ahead. The detour out by Park Lakes, down Mineral Creek, back up a road to Cooper Lake, then up toward Pete Lake, over Watpus Pass, down to Watpus Lake, and rejoin the PCT there? Not what they were looking forward to! I feel sorry for them after 2000+ miles to have this detour when there could be a chance rains this weekend really slow down the fire season. We'll see!