Friday, August 26, 2011

Death - and Life Anew

When Mount St. Helens erupted 31 years ago, everything for many miles around was devastated.  All living things were gone.  Today, the fallen trees are a reminder of that time.  A flotilla of tree trunks still covers about 1/4 of Spirit Lake today.

On the land, the tree trunks are slowly becoming compost.  They are surrounded by a rush of color - green, white, purple and red, as life returns to the slopes around Mount St. Helens.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Final Tour of the North Cascades

I was due to begin easing southerly soon, spending two weeks near Rainier and St Helens before returning home to Oregon.  The day after visiting Mt Baker, I headed off for Diablo Lake.  I had driven past the lake enroute to see John and Marcia, but the weather was bad and I was in Enterprise, so I was not really set for wandering and exploration that time.

THIS time, however, the weather was great.  I headed off to Diablo Lake.  This is a reservoir that is fed by glacial meltwater.  This means that much of the water holds extremely fine particles of rock flour in suspension.  When the sun interacts with this water, the very pale milky color becomes a pale green.

When I was visiting John and Marcia, they wanted to take me to see Washington Pass, an overlook and very short hike before the North Cascades Highway drops down toward the Methow Valley.  Unfortunately it was closed for maintenance.

I learned that Washington Pass was now open and decided that another 30 miles or so were not enough of an impediment to not see this location.  I continued east to Washington Pass.  I was glad I went.

On my way back to my campground, I passed a turnoff from Marblemount for the Cascades River Road and trailhead.  I had time and fuel, and I was not too tired, so I went exploring.  The road was long, and much of it was 1 lane gravel road with turnouts, rough in places, steep in places, but definitely worth the trip.  Views along the way showed me the classic appearance of the peaks of the Cascades.

The Rockies seem, to me, to be jagged but layered.  The Sierras are epitomized by the smooth granite walls and rounded domes of Yosemite.  The Cascades were born in fire and seem to me to be great, jagged, ragged peaks.  The only smoothness comes from the glacier-sculpted valleys, shown to me so nicely from the end of the roadway high in the North Cascades.
The side trip was completely spontaneous, but it made my day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mount Baker

I set off two days ago to see Mt Baker, the northernmost major Cascade volcano in the US (there are more in Canada).  I had tried in June to get a nearer shot than from the Puget Sound (see my June 10, 2011 post), without success.

I did some research and found that there was a road, under the snow in June, that led to a place called "Artists' Point".  For those who play with Google Earth, it is at 48 50 42 N, 121 41 08 W.  It offers a wonderful view of Mount Baker.

I drove two hours from my campground at Rasar State Park.  I found

a roadway still closed, in mid-August, by the heavy snows of this past winter.  I spoke with a Ranger.  She advised that the road would not open at all this year.  The snow was simply too deep.

I asked about an alternative destination I had found on Google Earth, at the end of Glacier Creek Road.

She confirmed that that was open and would get me a good view of Mount Baker.

I set off for my alternative destination.  She was right.

It is all but impossible to convey a sense of the size of this mountain from a photo, but I am going to try.  Click on the photo and look at the extreme left side, in the band of rock above the near trees and the snow above.  See that little white line?  That is a waterfall.

I timed the drop from that little V notch near the top to the end of the first clear drop.  Water took about 3.5 seconds to drop that distance.  That makes the distance of that clear drop 196 feet.  Let's call it 200 feet.  That makes the total drop from the flat area above the small drop above that first V and clear drop, to the bottom of the double falls near the bottom, to be about 1000 feet.  On Google Earth, I make it to be 900 feet, so two separate means give close correlation.  I am going to use that first clean drop of about 200 feet as a yardstick to measure other features.

The peak of Mount Baker is wearing a beret or frisbee of snow and ice.  Several edges of this cap have broken, showing vertical cliffs of ice.

Those cliffs are about the same height as my "yardstick", or about 200 feet.  That is 200 vertical feet of ice and snow.  I guess that is not so remarkable at a spot that has gotten as much as 95 feet of snowfall in one year.  "It will cost HOW much to plow my driveway?"

The Coleman Glacier is born below that cap.  It drops west into the notch to the right of the peak, then turns and flows north.  Below this turn were some breaks with ice blocks.

The vertical faces are about 100 feet high.

The Coleman Glacier continues north to its terminus in a series of massive crevasses.  On the original photo, these are to the right of the waterfall and below and left of the peak, right at the edge of the forest.  The crevasses dwarf the old growth forest that stands between the glacier and my viewpoint.

Now you have all the elements to give you a sense of scale.  Take another look at that first photo, and maybe you can get a sense of what I felt, standing there and looking at this massive creation and its various features.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Oh, Why'nt Ya Go Fly A Kite!

I have been exploring the Pacific coast.  In lots of places one can drive on the beach, which makes access great for me.  Up north, on the Olympic Peninsula, much of the coast is populated with rocky outcroppings. 

A few miles from here I drove onto the beach a bit before sunset.  A family was there.  I enjoyed the interaction of mom and dad with kids.  It was nice to see.

A bit later, while sand castles were being built, dad was buzzing the kids with his kite.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Pacific Sunset

I am now at the coast, a bit north of Aberdeen, WA.  Like in Oregon, the beaches here tend to be very wide and flat, with occasional rocky areas.  Unlike in Oregon, one can easily drive onto many of the beaches.

I was out exploring the coast.  I was in an Indian Reservation north of here.  The beaches were marked, prohibiting access except with a pass from the Reservation management.  I respected that restriction and stopped at the end of a road near the beach.  The surf against some nearby cliffs raised a mist that was illuminated by the setting sun.

I grabbed a few shots, then headed south.

Getting to an area where beach access was allowed, I drove onto the beach at about 8:45.  The sun was setting and creating some nice color.  People were walking along the water's edge, watching the setting sun.  I set myself up to catch the reflections and took these shots.

 I really do love sunsets!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On The Border

Winthrop, Washington may not actually be on the border with Canada (that is 35 miles further north), but there are no other roads or towns north of it until you are in Canada, just a wilderness of rugged mountains. 

To the east is high, dry prairie.  To the west are the massive forests of the Cascades, and Winthrop IS on the border between those two zones. 

It is home to wonderful cross country skiing, biking, hiking, and horse trails.

I know this because it is also home to two of my friends - John and Marcia.  They are avid hikers and bikers, and were kind enough to share a few of their photos of the surrounding wilderness with me.  It made me acutely aware of just how much I am missing by not being able to get very far away from the road.

Still, from the road it can be pretty impressive.  On a back road, John took me to a bowl with a beautiful meadow.

We wandered about to the top of Starvation Mountain, where, instead of taking photos of the view, I took a shot of a wildflower.

(In my defense, it was midday and a photo of the mountains in the distance would not have registered well...)

John also got me out of the car for a short walk to Falls Creek Falls, a small waterfall tucked in the woods.

We shared it only with the mosquitoes.

About a hundred miles to the south, and a bit closer to the Cascades, I found a nice view of Lake Wenatchee.  In all that wilderness out there, there are only two paved roads.