Friday, October 26, 2012

Six Weeks in the Mountains: Part VII (Oregon Cascades and Eastern Sierra)

(To enlarge a photo, just click on it; click "back" to get back. To watch a video again, click on the counterclockwise arrow in the lower-left corner.)

October 1: We drove from the Seattle area to Paradise Campground on the Mckenzie River, east of Eugene, Oregon. The campground, which was almost deserted, was aptly named – the forest was very lush, and the river ran right past our campsite:

October 2: We rode on the McKenzie River trail, a singletrack route that winds along the riverbank through the forest. The river in this area is exceptionally beautiful, with sparkling blue water tumbling over black lava rocks:

Although I love mountain biking, I had a little trouble with some of the steeper sections of the trail (lots of rocks and roots) and fell over sideways while getting off my bike, tumbling down a mossy embankment. Except for a few scratches, I wasn't hurt, but I rode somewhat more cautiously the rest of the day. Despite the minor mishap, we still took the obligatory "lifted bike" shot:

Later in the day, we drove up to Sahalie Falls:

Koosah Falls, a few hundred yards down the trail, was framed by autumn foliage:

Late that afternoon, we set up our snack area between the trailer and the river:

 October 3: We left the Cascades and began our long trek to the south; we drove through Bend, to Klamath Falls, down through Susanville on Highway 139, and all the way to Milford on Highway 395. I had always wanted to see this area of northeastern California; it is as remote and empty as I thought it was, mostly high desert with a scattering of pines.  (I don't have a great need to visit this region again.)  The RV park in Milford was barely adequate.

October 4: We drove from Milford through Reno to Bishop Creek on Highway 395, a surprisingly-difficult trip because there was so much stop and go traffic through the area south of Reno. All along the Eastern Sierra, the aspens were at or near peak color -- this is at Conway Summit, just north of Mono Lake:

This is the same shot edited a year later with Lightroom -- more realistic:

Late that afternoon, we pulled into a great campsite at Big Trees Campground, right on Bishop Creek. The campground was almost completely empty. This shot was taken from Highway 168, high above the campground; our trailer is the little white box on the right edge of the picture:

October 5: We hiked to the Lamarck Lakes basin in the North Lake area, roughly a 6 mile round trip with almost 2000 feet of elevation gain. The upper lake was very stark; it was surrounded by huge boulders that had fallen from the surrounding peaks. On our way back down, we stopped off at Grass Lake:

The aspens in the higher elevations (above 10,000 feet) were past the peak of color; fortunately, there was plenty of color (and even some orange, a rare treat) near Lake Sabrina:

October 6: Since we had been hiking almost every day for six weeks, we were finally in good enough shape to attempt Bishop Pass, a strenuous 12 mile round trip with over 2000 feet of elevation gain, ending at about 12,000 feet. We had thought about trying to get to the pass on several earlier trips but had decided that it was too difficult.  This time, all of the stars magically aligned: the weather was great (not too hot, not too cold), the visibility was perfect, there was no snow on the trail, there were no bugs, and we were feeling reasonably strong.

We thought we were going to get an early start, but we got kidnapped by the aspens on the way up to the trail head at South Lake:

The trees were backlit by the morning sun, which was pretty, but it made photography a little bit tricky:

Up at Long Lake (at almost 10,800 feet), we were above the aspens, but the willows provided a little color:

We stopped for lunch at the inlet to Timberline Tarns; every other time we had reached this point on the trail, the cascade had been covered by ice and snow:

Past Bishop Lake, the approach to Bishop Pass was daunting -- a zig-zag of switchbacks carved into a chunky cliff.  But the trail was surprisingly well-engineered; the grade was not too steep, and there were rocks piled on the sides of the trail to reduce the feeling of exposure; Felice had no vertigo troubles on this route.  It took us more than an hour to make it to the top from Bishop Lake.  At 12,000 feet, this is (I think) the highest elevation we have reached so far:

We then scrambled (carefully) up the slope behind Felice in the picture above and enjoyed a 360-degree panorama, from the Owens Valley over to the backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park.  Visibility (especially to the north) was very good; I am fairly sure we could see Mt. Patterson, north of Bridgeport, around a hundred miles away:

At 12,000 feet, the color of the sky becomes a deep blue, almost purple.  These are the 13,000 foot peaks of the Inconsolable Range, just to the north of Bishop Pass:

Back down near Saddlerock Lake, we could see the high point of our hike to the pass -- my pole is pointing to a distinctive shark-tooth rock formation a thousand feet above the lake:

On our way down, we stopped off at a little cave by the side of the trail; on several earlier trips, we had used this cave as a lunch stop, sheltered from the rain and the wind:

That evening, just as the sun was setting, we passed a brilliant grove of aspens -- this was taken with a long time exposure:

This is the same shot edited in Lightroom a year later -- more realistic:

The yellow-orange leaves provided a frame for the creek:

This is the same shot edited a year later in Lightroom -- more true to life:

And on October 7, we drove home, after six full weeks in a tiny trailer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Six Weeks in the Mountains: Part VI (Mt. Baker, Washington)

(To enlarge a photo, just click on it; click "back" to get back.  To watch a video again, click on the counterclockwise arrow in the lower-left corner.)

September 25:  We stopped for a night in Bellingham, Washington, for groceries, laundry, and battery-charging; we also bought a "humane mousetrap," because the mouse that we acquired back in the Canadian Icefields (which we thought had left us) had reappeared during the night.  (The trap consists of a pivoting square tube and a trapdoor; the mouse goes into the tube to eat the bait, and the tube tilts, shutting the trapdoor.)  

We found a great campsite in Douglas Fir Campground in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.  The campground was very conveniently located and quiet; our campsite was near (but not on) the Nooksack River, and it was shady and green: 

Sadly, after many years of faithful service, and over a thousand miles of hiking, Felice's original pair of hiking boots (which have appeared in many iconic "boot shots") finally decided to delaminate – these are the times that try men's soles, and women's, too. Fortunately, we travel with several pairs of boots:

That night, we set the mousetrap in our cabinet, baited with Ramen noodles (our pet mouse's favorite food).  Although we found the trap sprung the next morning, surprise!  The mouse was not inside.

September 26:  We drove up to Artist's Point, between Mt. Shuksan and Mt.  Baker.  (According to the national forest website, it's called "Artist Point," but I think it should be "Artist’s Point," or perhaps even "Artists’ Point.")  The last time we were here, in late June and early July of 2007, there was 10 feet of snow on the ground, and it was still snowing.  But this time, we hit warm "Indian Summer" weather.  Unfortunately, there was some smoke drifting over from fires in central Washington.  The views of Mt. Baker to the west were pretty hazy; the views of Mt. Shuksan to the east were somewhat better:

But even though the views were not perfect, the berry picking was excellent.  We found a great patch of mountain blueberries; the leaves had turned bright red:

The berries were sweet, with a very intense flavor.  In this picture, Mt. Baker appears over Felice's purple-stained fingers:

In order to get this shot of Mt. Shuksan from the Ptarmigan Ridge area, I had to lay flat on the ground – the berry bushes are only about 6 inches high:

We picked about a quart of blueberries; we were careful not to eat them all at once, having learned our lesson the hard way many years ago, when we were in the Northwest during blackberry season:

 September 27:  We took the Lake Ann hike, a round trip of about 8 miles with almost 2000 feet of elevation gain.  The trail ends up right across a narrow canyon from the foot of Curtis Glacier --we could hear the thunder of falling ice as we sat on a hillside eating our customary peanut butter sandwiches:

This is a close-up of the toe of the lower part of the glacier, showing the annual layers within the ice:

Unfortunately, when we were at the high point of the trail, Felice tripped and fell onto some sharp rocks.  She took quite a tumble, cutting her leg and bruising her shin.  We grabbed some ice from a nearby snowbank and put it into a small plastic bag, which helped reduce the swelling and control the bleeding.  Another hiker happened by and gave us a large cloth triangular bandage, which Felice wrapped around her leg.  After a short while, she hopped up and bravely declared that she was ready to go -- what a trooper!

Later that afternoon, we caught the reflection of Mt. Shuksan in the aptly-named Picture Lake:

September 28:  Despite Felice's slightly-damaged leg, we took the Heliotrope Ridge hike up the side of Mt. Baker, another strenuous trail of about 6 miles with roughly 2000 feet of elevation gain.  We had been warned that there were some  difficult stream crossings; fortunately, we were able to get across by balancing on the rocks, with the aid of our hiking poles, without getting too wet.  (Other people were splashing right through the glacial meltwater, but they didn't look too happy about it.)
After the last stream crossing, we trudged up a steep hill, only to discover that the "hill" was actually the side of a lateral moraine – the crest of the hill dropped away in a steep cliff, to reveal the Coleman Glacier stretched out below us:

Suddenly energized by the glacier just below our feet, we pushed farther upward, along the edge of the cliff (but not too close to the edge – the lip of the cliff was very crumbly):

 We had never been so close to an active glacier – the ice was full of rocks and dirt, and the crevasses were a deep blue:

We were tempted to walk out onto the ice, but we knew that it would be too dangerous – there are often weak snow bridges over deep crevasses, and it is foolish to wander around on a glacier without ropes and self-rescue equipment.  Even without touching the ice itself, I was still excited to be at the edge of a really active glacier – this was the fulfillment of a long-held wish:

We tramped around at the edge of the glacier for quite a while; the ice chilled the air noticeably, and we could hear rocks tumbling out of the ice cliffs and into the crevasses, rattling and rumbling.  When the wind died down, I thought I could also hear the glacier moving, a very deep pulsating subsonic groan, far below the lowest key on a piano -- but I am not sure.  As we started to head down, a lenticular cloud developed over the mountain, as the moist air blowing in from the Pacific cooled and condensed as it flowed over the icecap:

That evening, we set the mousetrap again.

September 29:  When we woke up, the mousetrap had been sprung, and this time there was a mouse inside -- I could feel him wiggling!  We wrapped the trap in a plastic bag and put it into the car.  We drove up to the Hannegan Pass trailhead, a fairly long drive on a twisty, bumpy gravel road.  There was a picnic table near the trailhead – we took out the trap and unwrapped it.  I couldn't wait to show Felice our adorable mouse.  But when we opened the trap, the mouse didn't look so great – I think he was suffering from carsickness and semi-asphyxiation.  He was bedraggled, rumpled, dazed, and miserable:

We decided that he had so much appeal as a pathetic schlemeil that he needed a name -- Irving?  Melvin? (All suggestions will be greatly appreciated!)  Eventually, he revived; I gently pushed him off the table into the grass, and he ran away.  After the excitement of releasing our mouse, the hike itself was a bit of an anticlimax; it was an 8 mile round trip with 2000 feet of elevation gain, but it was cloudy at the pass (and along much of the way).  However, the vine maples were spectacular:

Late in the afternoon, we drove back up to Artist's Point to pick some more berries in the fog -- we just could not resist those blueberries.  For a few minutes, Mt. Shuksan emerged from the clouds:

September 30:  The morning was flawless: crystal-clear and cool.  So we once again drove up to Artist's Point for a last look around, and we were glad that we did:

We went back to the campsite and packed up and headed down the mountain toward Seattle.  On the way, we found a blackberry bush that still had plenty of delicious fruit:

We stayed in an unremarkable RV park in Bellevue so that we could spend a delightful evening in Seattle with our friends, Caroline and Kate. Caroline had just run a half-marathon that morning, but they still had the energy to stuff us with delicious food.  And they graciously let us use their laundry facilities:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Six Weeks in the Mountains: Part V (Lake Louise and Yoho)

(To enlarge a photo, just click on it; click "back" to get back.  To watch a video again, click on the counterclockwise arrow in the lower-left corner.)

September 18: Our original plan was to head over to Mount Robson Provincial Park, which isn't far from Jasper; but after doing some research, Felice determined that there was relatively little day hiking at Mount Robson.  (The backpacking is spectacular, but that's not for us.)  And while examining the guidebooks, she also discovered that there is great day hiking in the Lake Louise area, which came as a surprise to me.  (I used to associate Lake Louise with the Château, hardly a wilderness destination, so I didn't originally intend to go there – it turns out I was wrong!)   So we packed up and headed south down the Icefields Parkway, a phenomenally beautiful drive.  The leaves had changed dramatically during the last few days:

Along the way, we stopped off at Peyto Lake:

Late that afternoon, we pulled into the Lake Louise campground, which offered electricity and water and lots of train noise, day and night; but it was very conveniently located.

September 19:  We awoke to yet another beautiful day – we were in the middle of a prolonged Canadian "Indian Summer" (or perhaps "First Nations Summer?"), with a ridge of high pressure sitting over the Rockies.  (While we were enjoying cool, sunny, and breezy weather, the same huge high-pressure system was cooking Southern California with weeks of hundred degree temperatures.)  As we stepped out of the trailer in the early morning, we discovered that there was a glacier-capped mountain looming over the campground – I am told it is Mt. Temple, elevation 11,600 feet:

We decided to tackle the hike to the Plain of the Six Glaciers, an 8 mile round-trip with about 1400 feet of elevation gain.  As we departed from the Château, the glacier was shining across the lake:

About halfway up the trail to the glacier, we spotted a small herd of mountain goats scrambling up a ridge:

I was hoping that they would pose in front of the glacier, but this is as close as they would get -- they are in the upper right corner of the picture:

As we climbed, Victoria Glacier dominated the western horizon.  The yellow tree in this picture is a larch, a deciduous conifer.  (By coincidence, we had come to Lake Louise for the height of "larch season."  Folks had come up from Calgary for the day, just to see the larches in full color.)

Near the top of the main valley, we could see into a big side canyon to the south, dominated by the Mitre, Mount Lefroy, and the Lefroy Glacier.  Just as I got set to take a picture, we heard a huge boom as a big chunk of ice fell from the Lefroy Glacier and shattered in midair – notice the backlit cloud of ice crystals in the center of this picture:

The trail to the base of Victoria Glacier ends at an observation area, but there was a sketchy trail leading beyond it, along the edge of a ridge of moraine.  We were able to get much closer to the glacier:

From our perch, we could see down into the valley, which was partially filled with the lower portion of Victoria Glacier.  Notice the crevasses running perpendicular to the axis of the glacier.  The lower part of the glacier is brown, not white, because of all of the rock trapped in the ice:

In this video clip, the panorama starts in the east, with the Chateau at the far end of Lake Louise:

It was windy and cold; we bundled up and perched on the rocks for quite a long time, just to watch the glacier.  We had heard that there had been icefalls the prior afternoon, and we were hoping to see one.  The edge of the upper glacier was teetering on the edge of a cliff; the annual layers of ice within the glacier are clearly visible:

The waiting paid off:  we were lucky enough to see an icefall.  Our first warning was the thunder of the ice cracking off from the main glacier.  This sequence shows the progression of the icefall – the ice is falling from Victoria Glacier onto the toe of Abbott Glacier, which is on the left side of the picture:

Although we were too far from this particular icefall to see its residue, there were several other avalanche chutes nearby, with angular chunks of fresh-fallen ice spilled onto the lower glacier:

Later that afternoon, on our way back down, I couldn't resist another shot of the Mitre framed by a larch:

As we got back down toward Lake Louise, we noticed that the stream running from the glacier into the lake was not blue – it was milky white, looking exactly like runoff from a sloppily-maintained concrete mixer:

And yet, when that milky water ran into the lake, it became turquoise blue: 

Late that evening, after the campground was completely dark, a little bit of the sunset still lingered on the edge of the glacier at the top of the mountain:

September 20:  Since it was "larch season," we felt compelled to try the Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass hike, a strenuous round-trip of 8 miles with an elevation gain of 2500 feet, topping out at about 8400 feet.  The first couple of miles were through the forest, until we got to Larch Valley:

After leaving Larch Valley, the trail was mostly above treeline.  Near the pass, we could see that it was a series of daunting switchbacks carved into the walls of the cirque -- and yes, the faint scratches on the cliff behind me are the switchbacks:

Parts of it were fairly narrow, exposed, and crumbly, but Felice was again able to overcome her vertigo:

The view from the top was our reward:

This picture looks north toward the Lefroy Glacier – the day before, we had been looking south toward that same glacier from the trail to Victoria Glacier. The backside of the Mitre is on the right:

On the way back down, we caught the reflection of Fay Glacier in a small pond:

The larches provided a convenient frame for Fay Glacier:

This area is known as the "Valley of the Ten Peaks;" most of the peaks appear in this short video clip:

September 21:  We decided to move to Yoho National Park, just a half-hour to the west, on the other side of the Continental Divide.  (We didn't want to have to "commute" to  Yoho from Lake Louise, and we wanted to escape the train horns during the night at the Lake Louise campground.)  We were able to get a really great campsite at Kicking Horse Campground, right on the riverbank.  The roar of the rapids helped to mask the sound of the trains.  (Many of the campgrounds in the Canadian national parks in the Rockies are near the train tracks, probably because the railroads were largely responsible for developing the parks.)  That afternoon, we stopped off at Natural Bridges, just down the river from the campground:

We then took a pleasant bike ride on a gentle singletrack trail along the river – it was completely deserted:

The river was loaded with "glacial flour," fine powder scoured out by the glaciers.  Depending on the angle of the sunlight, the river was milky blue or milk white:

As we returned to our campsite late that afternoon, Mt. Stephen loomed over us, illuminated by the slanting sunlight:

September 22:  We took a long hike (10 miles round-trip) to Twin Falls on a hazy day – there was a fair amount of smoke in the air from forest fires to the south. We stopped for lunch at the base of Laughing Falls:

Most of the trail was flat, with a steep climb during the last mile or so to Twin Falls:

We were not sure if the hazy sky was due to smoke or due to moisture – later that afternoon, we saw an unusual "sun dog" or parhelion, with a rainbow around the sun and another rainbow intersecting it at a tangent.  I think these are caused by ice crystals at high altitudes refracting the sunlight:

Back at the trailhead, we were surprised (and delighted) to find that there was enough sunshine, despite the haze, to create a rainbow across Takakkaw Falls, the highest waterfall in Canada (over a thousand feet):

September 23:  Despite the hazy conditions, we hiked the Iceline Trail, more than 8 miles round-trip and about 2000 feet of elevation gain.  The trail began very steeply; after quite a while, the trail emerged from the trees, giving us a view of Takakkaw Falls, with Daly Glacier (its source) above it:

Once we got above treeline, the mountains opened up all around us:

The trail skirted the base of Emerald Glacier; the tip of Felice’s pole is pointing to the annual layers of ice: 

The glacier had recently retreated, revealing a worn-down staircase of sedimentary rock:

In the far distance, we could see the huge Wapta Icefield.  The middle of the main glacier is striped with a curving "medial moraine," where two or more tributary glaciers have come together.  The lateral moraines (on the sides of the two tributaries) then merged to form the medial stripe:

At the trail’s summit, Felice clambered up a rocky peak overlooking the whole valley:

After we got back down to the trailhead in the late afternoon, we took another short walk to Takakkaw Falls – I couldn't resist another "rainbow time exposure:"

As we drove back down toward the campground, we noticed a group of cars gathered at the "spiral tunnel overlook."  Because the mountains in this area are so steep, the Canadian railroad had to dig two huge spiral tunnels to help the trains cope with the difficult grade.  This is the "upper spiral" – the cars in this picture all belong to the same train, and the middle half of the train is inside the tunnel.  The cars on the right side of the picture are moving west, into the tunnel -- the cars on the left, slightly lower down, are moving east, out of the tunnel:

That evening, near the campground, we spotted another bull elk:

September 24:  In an effort to escape the smoky skies (and to begin our trek back home), we drove for 11 hours from Yoho to Bellingham.  It was a big effort, but it was worthwhile because it gave us an extra day in the Mount Baker area, described in Part VI.