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Cirque of Towers Part 1: Shadow Lake

Following the eclipse, my brother and I set off backpacking in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. We did the Cirque of Towers look hike, about 25 miles through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the United States. I’ve wanted to go there for several years now after seeing some photographs taken by my buddy, Don Thompson, on a trip he made. After the wildfires in British Columbia canceled our hike in Kootney National Park, we needed to find an alternate destination that didn’t require a lengthy or complicated permit process. The Wind River Range was the answer. No permits needed, other than signing in at the trailhead. In preparation for the trip, I found this blog post, which provides a nice guide to the hike.

Divide Lake

After the eclipse, we made a sort-of-quick stop in Pinedale to borrow bear canisters from the Forest Service ranger station. BTW, apparently they accept reservations for the bear canisters, which we did not have. Luckily, several had just come in and they cleaned them out and let us have them. We started our trip on a Monday, if you plan on starting closer to a weekend, you may want to reserve (or bring your own). Bear canisters are highly recommended. Reportedly, the rangers will give out tickets to anyone who does not practice bear-safe food handling. Further, according to a sign at the trailhead, the bears in the area have learned to cut ropes to get hanging bags of food down. Play it safe, take a bear-proof container.

While picking up the bear canisters was quick, getting a “quick bite” before running off into the wilderness was not. We went to the Wind River Brewing pub and the place was packed, even though it was well past lunch time (about 3 pm). We found the last two seats available at the bar and waited. It took about 15 minutes to get a beer and an hour more to get our meal.

It was well after 4 pm by the time we left town. And while Pinedale is the closest town to the trailhead, that is not to say the trailhead is close to town. The hike starts at the Big Sandy Trailhead, a mere 54 miles (half over dirt roads) from Pinedale. Despite its remoteness and the fact it was a Monday evening, there must have been a hundred cars at the trailhead, many lining the road for a half mile before the parking lot. Tanya says I have parking karma, so I drove right up to the trailhead itself and parked in the open spot there.  We loaded our bear cans and repacked our backpacks to make them fit, and off we went, hitting the trail at the early time of 6:30 pm, entering the Bridger Wilderness shortly thereafter.

Dads Lake

Based on the blog cited above, we decided to hike the loop in a clockwise direction (I highly recommend hiking this direction due to the elevation gain), first traversing a section of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT). Needless to say, we didn’t go that far that first day. We hiked several miles until near sunset, aiming to camp at Divide Lake, which is about 1/4 mile off the trail. We weren’t the only ones camping there. A couple who had left the trailhead perhaps 15 minutes before us was there, and later, perhaps 10:30 pm of or so, we saw headlamps from another group wander into the meadow below the lake and set up camp. It was a pretty spot, though we couldn’t camp directly near the lake because of marshy conditions (besides, camping within 200 feet of lakes is prohibited). We made dinner in the dark and slowly ate, amazed by the brightness of the stars and Milky Way.

The following morning we hiked back to the trail and continued north, passing lake after lake – Mirror Lake, Dads Lake, Marms Lake, as well as several smaller unnamed ponds. Just past Marms Lake, we left the CDT and headed off on the Hailey Pass Trail for a mile or so before turning east on the Shadow Lake Trail. The scenery was grand along the trails, which run mostly through meadows and give views of granitic mountains to the north and east. Along the trail we met several other groups of hikers going our same way. This is not a trip to take if you don’t want to see anyone else for days. While the route was not lonely, but neither was it overwhelmed with people.

Marms Lake

We reached Shadow Lake late in afternoon. The maintained trail ends at Shadow Lake, but an unofficial trail continues on above the to more lakes and on to Texas Pass. Earlier in the day we talked with several knowledgeable hikers who suggested the camping was better at Billy’s Lake, the next lake (about half a mile) past Shadow, and upon reaching Shadow Lake, we considered continuing. But being tired (living at sea level and hiking at over 9,000 feet in elevation will do that to a person), we decided to camp at Shadow. Besides the view of the lake, and the backside of the Cirque of Towers above it, was spectacular. With a bit of scouting and boulder hopping, we crossed over the outlet creek and camped on the west side of the lake. We had this side of the lake to ourselves (three or four other groups were camping on the east side). For photography purposes, I suggest camping where we did, as I think the view of the lake and mountains is better from the northwest shore of the lake.

I shot a ton of images that evening, as the sun lit the mountains above the lake with orange alpenglow – though fish jumping played havoc with the mirror-like reflections in the water. And when the alpenglow faded, I walked a couple hundred feet on the other side of our camp, where Washakie Creek (the outlet creek from Shadow Lake) widens into a large pond studded with granite boulders and shot some more. I finished the day with some Milky Way shots as it rose over the mountain west of the lake.

At sunrise, I was at it again, though the way geography is situated, sunrise photography is not nearly as good as sunset shots. Later that morning, we packed up and started up the trail to Texas Pass to hike into the Cirque of Towers itself. More on that in my next post.

Hailey Pass Trail north of Marms Lake

Heading toward the Cirque on the Shadow Lake Trail

Shadow Lake at the outlet creek

Shadow Lake near sunset

Another near sunset shot of Shadow Lake

Sunset over the pond portion of Washakie Creek

Milky Way over Shadow Lake

Morning light on the pond area of Washakie Creek

Morning light reflections on the shoreline of Shadow Lake

 

 

 

 

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Marymere

I’ve lived in Washington a long time and driven by Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park seemingly countless times (okay, perhaps several dozen), but I’ve never taken the short trail to Marymere Falls. Last week I cured this default. I left Tacoma before sunrise (and boy is that early this time of year), hoping to catch the rising sun on the Olympics from the shores of Hood Canal, but the sky was overcast and the sun rose without apparent effect. But overcast skies are great for waterfall photography, so I drove on and reached the Marymere Falls trailhead, reaching the parking lot a little after 7 a.m.

I was the first  one there, which is always a plus when photographing popular spots. And this hike is popular, and deservingly so. It travels through moss-covered old growth forest along a pretty creek to a beautiful waterfall. It is short, only 1.5 miles roundtrip, and is flat until the end, where it climbs several hundred feet to the falls.

Though it is an out-and-back trail, end of the trail near the falls has a small loop. As the trail nears the falls, it crosses over Barnes Creek (on a relatively new steel bridge) and then quickly over Falls Creek (on a classic one-person-wide wooden log bridge. From there, the trail climbs uphill and forms a small loop, leading to two viewpoints of the falls, one directly at the base, and one higher up nearly level with the top of the falls. I found the views at the lower level, and part way up from there, to be better for photography than at the upper viewpoint.

I mostly had the falls to myself, only interrupted by two sets of people who came quickly through, and I spent about 20 to 30 minutes photographing (leaving shortly before about a dozen people arrived). I spent another 20 to 30 minutes photographing in the forest on the way out. All in all, it was worth the stop, and I wondered why it took me so long to give it a try.

Detail shot of Marymere Falls.

Barnes Creek along the Marymere Falls trail.

Scene in the forest along the trail.

Devils club growing along the trail.

Large old growth tree adjacent to the trail. It’s hard to tell how big this tree is by this photo, but I estimate it is at least 6 to 8 feet in diameter.


Mossy Cave

One quick, last post about my recent trip to Utah. On our last morning there, before driving back up to Salt Lake City and the airport, we took the short hike in Bryce Canyon National Park to Mossy Cave. This short trail travels along a stream up to a mossy grotto that weeps groundwater. It is a pleasant and beautiful little hike that let you experience Bryce Canyon without the huge crowds or paying an entry fee. The grotto (ie the “cave”) is interesting from a geologic perspective, but difficult (at least for me) to photograph. More photogenic are scenes along the stream, looking up into the surrounding hoodoos and formations, and a small waterfall on the stream.

The trail  starts from a small parking area along Highway 12 between the town of Tropic and the turnoff to the main entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. The day before we took the Mossy Cave hike, we took a hike in the main part of the park. Needless to say, we were not lonely on the trail. There may have been one 30 second span where we did not see any other hikers, but most time, it was not different in the number of people than walking down the sidewalk in downtown Seattle. The Mossy Cave trail was different, only a few other people, well at least until near the end of our hike when a tour bus pulled up and spit out a crowd.

If you have an extra hour when visiting Bryce Canyon, I highly recommend the Mossy Cave hike.

The stream along the Mossy Cave Trail

Small windows in the formations above the trail.

The small waterfall near the end of the Mossy Creek Trail

I couldn’t post about Bryce Canyon without at least one shot of the “main event.” This was taken shortly before sunrise from near Inspiration Point. Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park is an experienced not to be missed. Just do not expect to be the only one there. I shared this view with hundreds of other people.


Dungeon of Spit – a Photography Guide to Dungeness Spit

Dungeness and BakerWhen my children were young, they liked going the Dungeness Spit, though my son liked to call it the “Dungeon of Spit.” Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the world. It juts out into the Straits of Juan de Fuca from the Olympic Peninsula near the town of Sequim, Washington. This location, in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, makes it one of the sunniest places in western Washington (Sequim averages only 16 inches of rain per year while the town of Elwha, about 30 miles to the west, averages 56 inches).  The spit is home to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in Washington State north of the Columbia River.

The Olympics from Dungeness Spit

The Olympics from Dungeness Spit

A week ago, I lead a group of four Tacoma Mountaineer photographers on a photo hike of the Dungeness Spit. Though I have been there many times, I’ve never made it all the way out to the lighthouse (an 11-mile round-trip hike from the parking lot). So that was the goal of this trip. This is the rare hike in Washington where you can see your destination almost the entire length of the hike. The first half mile is through forest. But from there on, the hike is on the beach and the lighthouse if visible – though seemingly so very far away. But keep walking on the beach, and eventually you will get there.

The lighthouse is open to the public; volunteer lighthouse keepers lead tours up the tower and gladly answer questions about the lighthouse operation and history. The volunteers each spend a week at the lighthouse, living in the historic lightkeeper’s house and taking care of the place. Our guide lives in Los Angeles but has come up to Washington for the past six years just to spend a week at the lighthouse.

My friend, Greg Vaughn, who wrote the book on Washington, mentions Dungeness Spit in his book, but says it doesn’t offer much for nature photographers. I usually agree with Greg, but here I beg to differ (at least if you like lighthouses and mountains). On a sunny day, with the Olympics and Mount Baker out, the spit offers great views. Though it does help to have a fairly long lens to help pull in Mount Baker (and the lighthouse if you are not close). On this trip, mainly used my 28 – 300mm zoom.

Mount Baker and drift wood on the spit.

Mount Baker and drift wood on the spit.

Dungeness Spit is part of the Dungenss National Wildlife Refuge. There is a $3 entrance fee payable at the trailhead. The trailhead is accessed through the Dungeness Recreation Area, a park run by Clallam County. The refuge is open daily from sunrise to half an hour before sunset (though we didn’t make it back until a little after sunset and no one bothered us about it). Half the spit – the half facing Dungeness Bay – is closed to public access to allow the birds a safe haven. So all the hike is on the Strait of Juan de Fuca side, which has bigger waves and less drift wood. The final half mile of the spit, past the lighthouse, is also closed. For much of its length, the spit is only 100 to 200 feet wide (less at high tide, more at low tide). After the walk through the forest, the hike is all on the beach, which is mostly sandy at low tide. At high tide, much of hike is on cobbles and large gravel instead of sand. The spit is a popular hike, and it can be difficult to not get other hikers in your photographs when looking up or down the beach. However, by getting up off the beach into the drift wood, the drift wood can be used to hide people walking on the beach.

To prominently show the lighthouse in your images, you will have to walk at least several miles. However, my favorite view of the lighthouse is actually from a small viewing platform just above the beach where the trail exits the forest. Here the lighthouse is placed directly in front of Mount Baker, and with a long lens, you can get a good shot of it looking small and isolated, alone and practically in the sea in front of the mountain (see featured photo above).

Besides the views of the mountains and lighthouse, Dungeness Spit offers photographers abstract shots of driftwood, shells, rocks, waves, etc. Being a wildlife refuge, there is also lots of birds. Bald eagles are very common, as are many waterfowl (just remember to stay on your side of the beach). One hiker we met said they had seen coyotes on the spit, and I’ve often seen sea lions and seals just off shore.

At some locations on the spit, you can get Mount Baker and the lighthouse in the same frame.

At some locations on the spit, you can get Mount Baker and the lighthouse in the same frame.

Dungeness Spit is long and thin. With a wide-angle lens, the lighthouse and Mount Baker are barely visible.

Dungeness Spit is long and thin. With a wide-angle lens, the lighthouse and Mount Baker are barely visible.

View of the Dungeness Lighthouse from near the lighthouse grounds.

View of the Dungeness Lighthouse from near the lighthouse grounds.

The lighthouse reflecting in Dungeness Bay.

The lighthouse reflecting in Dungeness Bay, the Cascade Mountains in the background.

My photo buddies photographing inside the lighthouse tower.

My photo buddies photographing inside the lighthouse tower.

The spit is straight for most its length, but near the lighthouse it changes direction forming a nice curved shape.

The spit is straight for most its length, but near the lighthouse it changes direction forming a nice curve leading into the lighthouse.

Close up on kelp roots attached to a beach rock.

Close up on kelp roots attached to a beach rock.

 


Ingalls

Ingalls LakeThis is the post I was preparing when my friend Gary died. I had hoped to post this while it was still possible to hike to Ingalls Lake, but it is quite possible it is snowed-in for the season by now. I took the hike on October 10th, hoping to find good fall colors.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, to find good autumn colors in Washington State, you need to know where to look and have good timing. My goal for the hike to Ingalls Lake was to see some of those fall colors – specifically the subalpine larch trees. Larch trees are conifers, but unlike other conifers, they are not evergreens. The needles on larch trees turn a beautiful yellow then fall off in autumn. What makes them extra special is their setting. In Washington State, they are only found high in the mountains, which can create some incredible autumn scenery.

Snow, larch trees, and Mount Stewart from Ingalls Pass

Snow, larch trees, and Mount Stewart from Ingalls Pass

Even without the nearby larch trees, Ingalls Lake is spectacular. An alpine lake set in a rocky bowl at the base of Ingalls Peak with a view of the spectacular Mount Stuart that just won’t quit. The conditions were nearly perfect for my hike. It was partly sunny after a rainy weekend – at least it was rainy in the lowlands. At Ingalls Lake there was fresh snow, which just enhanced the scenery.

This nine-mile roundtrip hike immediately starts uphill from the parking lot as the trail switchbacks up to Ingalls Pass where it enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. The lower part of this portion of the trail is through forest, but the later part is not and has great views of the Esmeralda Peaks and Fortune Pass to the southwest. Once Ingalls Pass is reached, the view expands dramatically to include Ingalls Peaks and all the Stewart Range, anchored by Mount Stewart directly across the valley.

Ingalls Lake is not visible from the pass and is separated from it by the lovely Headlight Basin. The southern side of Headlight Basin has impressive groves of larch trees. The basin also includes many small streams, meadows, bare rock slopes, and boulder fields.

Just past the pass, the trail splits. The more direct route to the lake cuts downhill then uphill again through Headlight Basin. The main trail circles around the west side of the basin, not gaining or losing much elevation. The trails meet up again about 1/4 mile from the lake. From there, the trail scrambles uphill to the lake.

Since I was searching for fall colors, in particular the larch trees, the lake was a secondary objective. But what a secondary objective! I think you’ll agree from the images I’ve included here that the lake is spectacular. And neither was I disappointed by the larch trees.

I had hoped to stay in the basin until sunset, but as the afternoon wore on, more and more clouds were moving in and I thought the sunset might be a bust. So instead, I headed back downhill, stopping in the forested section of the trail to take more images of autumn color in the forest underbrush (the trees here are evergreens). As it turned out, the sun did break out again at sunset. Being back down low, I didn’t get much in the way of sunset shots, but I can’t complain, overall it was one of my best photo hikes in years. Perhaps, based on the images above and below, you will agree.

Esmeralda Peaks as viewed from the trail up to Ingalls Pass

Esmeralda Peaks as viewed from the trail up to Ingalls Pass

Larch trees on the trail west of Ingalls Pass

Larch trees on the trail west of Ingalls Pass

Rock slope and larch in Headlight Basin

Rock slope and larch in Headlight Basin

The larch grove near Ingalls Pass, Iron Peak in the background

The larch grove near Ingalls Pass, Iron Peak in the background

Closeup of larch needles

Closeup of larch needles

Ingalls Lake and Mount Stewart

Ingalls Lake and Mount Stewart

Another view of Ingalls Lake and Mount Stewart

Another view of Ingalls Lake and Mount Stewart

Some of the color in the forest underbrush on the hike back.

Some of the color in the forest underbrush on the hike back.

A bit of fall color along the North Fork Teanaway River near the trailhead.

A bit of fall color along the North Fork Teanaway River near the trailhead.