Archive for the ‘Mountains’ Category

Mountain Monday: King’s Mtn., Oregon   3 comments

The Wilson River flows west from the rugged peaks of Oregon's Coast Range, including King's Mtn. visible in the distance.

The Wilson River flows west from the rugged peaks of Oregon’s Coast Range, including King’s Mtn. visible in the distance.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve done a Mountain Monday post.  Today I’ll focus on King’s Mountain in Oregon’s northern Coast Range.  But since it’s impossible to visit mountains without also coming across rivers and streams, I’ll also highlight the main river in this area.  While it has a modest elevation (3226’/983 m.), King’s Mtn. is nonetheless a steep and rugged peak.  I haven’t captured the mountain in a photo before this, at least from a distance.  I know it mostly from a loop hike that I’ve done a half dozen times or so.  It takes you up a steep few miles to the summit of King’s, then over a very rugged traverse to the equally steep Elk Mtn.  You then descend a vertiginous trail to the Wilson River, where you loop back to the car.  Next morning you may feel like you’ve been kicked by a mule!

King’s is cloaked in a lovely conifer forest along its lower slopes.  In autumn tasty golden chanterelles pop up in dells and behind mossy logs.  The golden chanterelle is the official state mushroom (yes, there’s an official mushroom!).  This beautiful green forest  has grown in from seedlings that were hand-planted after the disastrous Tillamook Burn in 1933 (plus succeeding fires in the 30s).  The Burn laid low nearly 450,000 acres of prime Oregon timber, most of that in a hellish 30-hours where huge trees were uprooted and thrown into the air by the winds ahead of the inferno.  It’s a big part of Oregon history.

The other part of this image is the beautiful Wilson River, which is famous for its steelhead runs.  It rolls swiftly through the forested landscape, and its deep green pools are lined with volcanic rock outcrops that on hot days beg to be leapt from into the cool green depths.  The Wilson flows down to the Pacific Ocean at the town of Tillamook (where I’m writing this).  You always know you’re approaching Tillamook because of that wonderful (not!) smell of dairy cows.  It’s still the best cheddar cheese I know of for a grilled cheese sandwich, on good sourdough bread of course!  Make sure and get your free samples if you ever come this way on a tour of their factory.

The Wilson River banks are mostly lined with conifers and large vine maples, but frequent rock outcrops make for great places to fish or swim from.

The Wilson River banks are mostly lined with conifers and large vine maples, but frequent rock outcrops make for great places to fish or swim from.

Many springs empty into the Wilson.  I camped just a short stroll from this spot.

Many springs empty into the Wilson. I camped just a short stroll from this spot.

There are plenty of camping and picnicking sites to enjoy in the Tillamook State Forest where these images were captured.  A visitor center is located centrally not far west of the trailhead for King’s Mtn., and there are plenty of easier trails, including a rolling trail stretching 24 miles along the Wilson itself.  You obviously don’t need to do the whole 24 miles!  So if you ever find yourself traveling the Oregon Coast, consider a side-trip east along Hwy. 6 from Tillamook into the Coast Range.  Have a great week!

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The San Juan Mountains   11 comments

An alpine lake high in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

An alpine lake high in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

The San Juan Mountains are my favorite mountain range in Colorado.  They are not the highest mountains in the state, though with six peaks surpassing 14,000 feet (4270 meters) in elevation they’re close.  It is the largest range in Colorado by area.  They slice spectacularly through the southwestern part of the state, forming a stunning Rocky Mountain landscape.

The major towns bordering the San Juans are Durango, Montrose and Alamosa.  Telluride, Creede and Silverton are smaller towns with historic, touristic and recreational personalities.  Hiking, mountain climbing & biking, horse-riding and white-water rafting are very popular, as are 4WD jeep rides.  There are four ski areas in the range, with Telluride being by far the biggest and most famous.  There are a plethora of summer homes and ranches, many owned by wealthy people.  Some are even famous (Tom Cruise is one).

The rugged San Juans in SW Colorado.

The rugged San Juans in SW Colorado.

William Henry Jackson, a photographer’s photographer

An intrepid photographer named William Henry Jackson, whom many of you might already know about, trekked through this range on his mission to document the best of the rugged American West in the late 1800s.  As part of the Hayden Expedition, he used pack animals and his own strong back to lug his large-format camera (complete with huge glass plates) up and down these steep mountains.

He set up make-shift tents that served as darkrooms, developing his prints often on the very summits of the mountains.  All in all he made about 300,000 black and white pictures.  These images, reproduced in newspapers in cities worldwide, played a large part in forming an idyllic image of the American West in the minds of those looking for new opportunity.  The call of “Go West young man!” now had superb pictures to go with it, and the mass migration soon followed!

Ranch land at the foot of the San Juan Mountains.

Ranch land at the foot of the San Juan Mountains.

 

Geology

The San Juans are a large western branch the Rocky Mountains.  Like the rest of the chain, they formed by the uplift and buckling of a large pile of older sedimentary and volcanic rocks during the late Cretaceous (the dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago).  This massive crustal “squish” happened because of a collision between two huge chunks of Earth’s crust: the Pacific and North American Plates.

Some of the highest and most rugged peaks in the San Juans are made of very hard igneous intrusions (granite is an example) that resist erosion.  These so-called plutons were intruded as the mountain building process got going.  Many of the flat-lying layers of sedimentary rocks forming the canyon walls of the adjacent Colorado Plateau lap up onto the San Juans.  There they take on a different look, being strongly deformed by folding and faulting.

Ouray, Colorado is a small town situated in a spectacular spot.

Ouray, Colorado is a small town situated in a spectacular spot.

Hard sedimentary rocks like quartzite, which is metamorphosed (heated and changed) sandstone, form prominent peaks and cliffs because quartzite is hard like the plutonic intrusions.  Other sedimentary rocks, such as the mudstones and sandstones of the dinosaur fossil-bearing Morrison Formation, typically form the rubbly slopes bordering the peaks.  Many valleys and canyons follow faults.  Ouray, Colorado lies at the base of a steep grade because of the E-W trending Ouray Fault.

Volcanism is one other important force that helped to form the San Juan Mountains.  Large and explosive volcanoes erupted in middle Tertiary times (about 30 million years ago).  Many calderas, including the Silverton Caldera, make up what’s called the San Juan Volcanic Field.  Calderas are bigger than craters and are formed when the volcano violently explodes and collapses back into its emptied magma chamber.

You can see these volcanics (tuffs – rock from volcanic ash and lavas) by driving up and over spectacular Red Mountain Pass.  In the San Juans, the colorful volcanic rock forms high but more rounded peaks that are less rugged than those formed by earlier igneous intrusions of the main mountain-building event.

Aspens take on a very different look after they lose their leaves in late autumn.

Aspens take on a very different look after they lose their leaves in late autumn.

Thar’s Gold in them thar hills!

In the late Tertiary, from about 20 to 10 million years ago, the slowly cooling granitic intrusions that were the sources for those explosive volcanoes sent forth gold and silver-bearing fluids into the faults and fractures of the calderas.  So like so many mountainous regions of the world, the events that formed valuable mineral deposits were the penultimate phases of the mountain-building process, the last gasp of the big granite bodies solidifying deep underground.

In southwest Colorado as in similar places throughout the world, these events dictated the much later human history of the area.  The mining history of this area, while interesting, also has a dark side.  The Summitville Mine in the eastern San Juans was worked by the old-timers in the late 1800s, well before modern environmental regulations.

The pollution from acid drainage resulted in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declaring the area a Superfund site.  They have been trying to clean it up since the 1990s.  The EPA wanted to list an area near Silverton for Superfund status, but local opposition forced them to drop the idea and rely on the mining company to help control acid drainage.  The local economy relies heavily on tourism, and residents did not want that reputation tainted.

Silverton sits in a high valley between Molas and Red Mountain Passes.

Silverton sits in a high valley between Molas and Red Mountain Passes.

Silverton's mining-driven boomtime was in the late 1800s, as the architecture suggests.

Silverton’s mining-driven boom-time was in the late 1800s, as the architecture suggests.

 

The San Juan Mountains, a real Rocky Mountain wonderland, make for outstanding landscape photography.  In early summer there are spectacular wildflower displays. In autumn the aspens turn gold beneath the snow-dusted peaks.  If you have never been to this part of Colorado, I recommend making every effort to visit sometime soon.  And don’t forget your camera!

Click on any of the images to go to my image galleries.  They are all copyrighted, so aren’t available for free download without my permission.  If you’re interested in purchase of fine-art prints or high-resolution downloads please contact me.  Thanks for reading and have a great day!

The setting sun's light brightens the peaks of the San Juan Mountains,  Colorado.

The setting sun’s light brightens the peaks of the San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Mountain Monday: The San Juan Mtns., Colorado   8 comments

Since I missed Single-image Sunday again I will post a single shot from yesterday evening.  The sunset promised to be a pretty one, and I was racing to catch it from Dallas Divide, where Hwy. 62 in SW Colorado offers a grand view of the San Juan Mountains.  But on the way to this place from which I’ve been skunked repeatedly by weather socking in, I spied a dirt road to the left.

I took the road, went through a cattle gate, and it wasn’t long before things got too rough for my (2WD) vehicle.  The view was of a different part of the San Juans here, an eastern arm that is lower in elevation but with a lot of cliffs and knife-edge ridges.

I had no time to spare as I hiked as fast as I could up a nearby ridge to get a decent view of it.  The high altitude here always hits me hard whenever I exert myself, and so I had to stop a couple times to catch my breath.  Though I caught the direct orange light on the range (barely), it is this purplish light just after sunset that I think I like best.  The colors are more subtle but I like the way they match the overall atmosphere of the place: high and pristine.  The air was crisp and clean as it should be in late autumn in the Rockies.  And the view so grand and beautiful!

If you are interested in this image just click on it for purchase options.  It’s copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.  If you have any questions or a special request for this or any other image, just contact me.  Thanks for checking it out, and have a great week everyone!

An eastern arm of Colorado's spectacular San Juan Mountains.

An eastern arm of Colorado’s spectacular San Juan Mountains.

The Cascades III – Mount Rainier, Part 3   19 comments

The oft-admired view of Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

The oft-admired view of Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

I visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington this past August for a few days.  This is one of my favorite parks in the country.  When I was more of a backpacker I used to go up to Rainier and hike in the evening, getting an early start on the weekend.  I don’t mind hiking at night with a headlamp.  Sometimes you see some cool animals.  Well, maybe it’s not so cool to see a cougar at night alone!  I would spend the rest of the weekend off-trail, visiting pristine alpine meadows.  Alas, I wasn’t a serious photog. in those days.

There are many many waterfalls at Mount Rainier.  This one sits along a lightly traveled trail in the Paradise Valley.

There are many many waterfalls at Mount Rainier. This one sits along a lightly traveled trail in the Paradise Valley.

This last of the Mount Rainier series (but the Cascades series continues!) will pass on some travel tips.  Along with many visits over the years, I worked for one summer at Rainier a long time ago.  I actually lived at the park that summer and hiked nearly every day.  I was a pretty serious runner then and hit the trails on brutally steep routes.  My creaky knees remember every single mile.  But it was the best shape I’ve ever been in.  We also flew once per week around the mountain, counting elk.  It was a great summer.

So here are my favorite places to visit & photograph at Mount Rainier:

      • Paradise is by far the most popular place in the park.  It can be very crowded right around the visitor center.  But it’s a superb place to gain access quickly to subalpine flower-fields.  For the mobility-challenged, there are paved trails.  You can lose the crowds simply by hiking a couple miles out.  This is also the starting point for the hike to Camp Muir and the most popular route for climbing the mountain.
One of the many flowering subalpine plants at Paradise Park on Mount Rainier.

One of the many flowering subalpine plants at Paradise Park on Mount Rainier.

      • Staying on the south side of the mountain, Reflection Lakes is a great place to photograph the mountain at sunrise.  It is just to the left of the main road not far after the turnoff to Paradise.
The sun struggles to break through the fog at sunrise on Reflection Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park.

The sun struggles to break through the fog at sunrise on Reflection Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park.

      • If you want a great short hike, Snow Lake is just the ticket.  Drive a bit further east from Reflection Lakes and the trail-head is on the right.  It is only about 2 miles to Snow Lake; halfway up take a short spur to Bench Lake.  This gorgeous lake when calm has a perfect reflection of Rainier.   You can camp at Snow Lake.  By hiking in this direction you are entering the Tatoosh Range, a rugged line of peaks running along the south side of the park.
Snow Lake at Mount Rainier is peaceful in the early morning.

Snow Lake at Mount Rainier is peaceful in the early morning.

      • One of Rainier’s best Native American names is Ohanapecosh.  Keep going east past Reflection Lakes and down Steven’s Canyon to the southeast entrance.  Just before you get there, a trail on the left offers a great short walk along the lovely Ohanapecosh River.  An old-growth forest with huge trees grows along the stream banks.
One of the big trees the trail passes at the Ohanapecosh River.

One of the big trees the trail passes at the Ohanapecosh River.

      • Tipsoo Lake on the east side of the park is a popular place from which to photograph Rainier at sunrise.  Since I only have time for one or two over-popular photo spots on each of my trips, I have not photographed this one yet.  I’ll get around to it.  Google Tipsoo for beautiful images!
      • The White River Campground sits along an energetic stream at a great trail-head.  You can hike from here to Glacier Basin.  It’s a beautiful but fairly popular trail.  It is also the starting point for the climb up to Camp Schurman and the north ascent of the mountain.  In my opinion this is a better climb than Camp Muir, but I’m partial to glacier climbs.
One of summer's later blooming flowers is the beautiful blue gentian of boggy subalpine high country, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

One of summer’s later blooming flowers is the beautiful blue gentian of boggy subalpine high country, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

      • Sunrise is, like Paradise, a popular place to hike through subalpine meadows.  You have your choice of hikes, short to long, on a multitude of trails.  It’s not hard to leave the crowds behind here.  There is a visitor center plus walk-in campground.  This is the trail-head to gorgeous Mystic Lake on the north side of the mountain.  By the way, any time you want good back-country information at a national park, visit the back-country ranger’s desk, which is separate from the less useful visitor center’s info. desk. In many cases, Sunrise being one, the back-country office is in a separate, more rustic-looking building.
This furry critter is a hoary marmot and is a common sight (and sound) in the alpine meadows of Mount Rainier.

This furry critter is a hoary marmot and is a common sight (and sound) in the alpine meadows of Mount Rainier.

      • On the road up to Sunrise is the Palisades trail-head.  The road makes a big 180-degree switchback and there is a parking lot in the center of the curve. The trail heads out to Palisades and Hidden Lake (which make good day-hikes), continuing to wonderful Grand Park (overnight).  Although the trail is short on views of the mountain, it passes a number of beautiful lakes and meadows.  My favorite thing about it is the likelihood of wildlife sightings.  I’ve seen bear, elk, deer, and smaller critters on this trail.
Flowers crowd Clover Lake on the Palisades Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

Flowers crowd Clover Lake on the Palisades Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

      • Grand Park is an overnight backpack trip starting from the Palisades Trail-head.  It is shorter if you approach it from outside the park (google for directions). Grand is a huge meadow sitting high atop a mountain, and is a magnet for wildlife.  On one trip there, I approached the park at night.  The meadow was filled with elk!  I could hear them bugling a few miles away, and when I arrived there was a real party going on.  The male elk made it very clear to me that I was not invited.  I had to camp back in the forest; rutting elk bulls are not to be messed with.
Bull Elk

Bull Elk

      • Mowich Lake on the northwest side of the mountain is a wonderfully peaceful place to camp for a night or two.  Though you need to exit the park and drive awhile to reach it from the rest of the park, and the final approach is a gravel road, it’s worth it.  Mowich is the largest lake in the park and trail-head for a number of great trails.  You can stay over in a small tents-only campground.  The trail to Spray Park is awesome, climbing through great meadows with stunning views of the mountain.  Eunice Lake, about 2.5 miles from Mowich, is one of my favorite places to photograph the mountain from, especially at sunset.
Mowich Lake at Mount Rainier allows no motors and is accessible on an RV-unfriendly road, making it a very peaceful spot.

Mowich Lake at Mount Rainier allows no motors and is accessible on an RV-unfriendly road, making it a very peaceful spot.

      • Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground on the west side of the mountain is a great hiking destination.  You can reach it on a rough trail from the West Side Road, or on the Wonderland Trail.  There are flower-filled meadows along with tarns which yield great photos of the mountain.  The hike up to Pyramid Peak from here is steep but not too difficult a scramble.  On the other side of the peak is a great pristine alpine meadow.
One of the tarns (small lakes) in the meadows of Indian Henry's Hunting Ground at Mount Rainier National Park.

One of the tarns (small lakes) in the meadows of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground at Mount Rainier National Park.

      • Lastly, if you’re a backpacker, consider doing the Wonderland Trail.  It is 93 miles of outstanding scenery, a trail that winds its leisurely way around Rainier.  You will face plenty of hills, so plan to not make record time.  You won’t want to hurry, believe me.  It’s an experience you will always remember.
If you're afraid of heights you will probably not enjoy this suspension bridge along the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

If you’re afraid of heights you will probably not enjoy this suspension bridge along the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

Plenty of other destinations tempt you at Rainier.  It’s up to you to find them (I won’t give away all my secrets!).  I would consider devoting the good part of a week at the park if you have the time.  Plan at least a few days for a good introduction.  Visit the park’s website for lodging and camping information.  This park gets busy on summer weekends, but it covers a huge area so don’t let that stop you. September is a fantastic month to visit, as the crowds have lessened greatly, the weather is generally perfect, and the wildlife is much more active.  Flowers peak in August.

Cloud Block

Please note all of these images are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  They are low-resolution versions anyway.  To learn about pricing options for the high-res. versions, simply click on the images you’re interested in.  If you have any questions at all, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest, and thanks for sticking with me on this rather lengthy post!

Hiker's Heaven: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Hiker’s Heaven: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

The Cascades III: Mount Rainier, Part 1   8 comments

Mount Rainier is reflected in a small tarn in the subalpine meadows called Indian Henry's Hunting Ground.

Mount Rainier is reflected in a small tarn in the subalpine meadows called Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.

It’s no use stalling anymore.  Let’s continue my series on the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  Check out Part I, an introduction to the Range’s geography & geology.  So which mountain should be next?  Well, there are many interesting options.  There are the little-known “climber’s” peaks of Mount Jefferson and North Sister, Glacier Peak and Mount Stuart.  There are the popular recreation meccas of Mounts Baker, Bachelor and Hood.  But there is just one mountain I can’t put on hold any longer: the Big Kahuna, the sleeping giant, the Mother of Waters, training ground for Everest, Seattle’s sky-ornament, Tahoma, Mount Rainier.

The images you see here are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry about that.  If you want to see purchase information, just click on the images you’re interested in.  If you have any questions, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest!

Mount Rainier and the largest glacier in the lower 48 United States, the Emmons, are bathed in early morning sunshine.

Mount Rainier and the largest glacier in the lower 48 United States, the Emmons, are bathed in early morning sunshine.

Mt. Rainier, at 14,411 feet (4392 meters), is one of America’s most spectacular mountains.  It sticks up hugely and dramatically a little more than 50 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington.  Rainier’s prominence is enhanced by a total of 26 glaciers with over 35 square miles of ice.  In North America, only Alaska and the Canadian Rockies have more dramatic, glaciated mountains.  By the way, don’t get confused about Part III and Part 1.  It’s just that with this particular mountain, there’s too much to fit into one post.  Stay tuned for one or two more posts on Rainier, but we’ll still be on the Cascades Part III until we jump to another mountain.

Mount Rainier's Paradise Park

Mount Rainier’s Paradise Park

The hairy pasqueflower blooms in contrast with indian paintbrush.

The hairy pasqueflower blooms in contrast with indian paintbrush.

Mount Rainier was named by Captain Vancouver of England for a friend of his, Rear Admiral Rainier.  It’s original name, from a local American Indian tribe the Puyallup is Tahoma (or Tacoma).

A Dangerous Volcano

Rainier is considered one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, and there are a few important reasons for this. Like Vesuvius in Italy, Rainier is situated quite close to population centers.  That is the most important factor that makes it dangerous.  The second most important reason is not, as you’d expect, the volcano’s activity level.  Rainier sleeps for long periods.  Instead, what makes it potentially deadly is the fact that it is steep and weak.  In other words, the same thing that makes it dramatic, sticking up so steeply as it does, also makes it dangerous.

Spray Falls on Rainier's northwest side is a spectacular cascade.

Spray Falls on Rainier’s northwest side is a spectacular cascade.  The mountain receives abundant precipitation, much of it in the form of snow.

The glaciers, with their incredible erosive power, have done a very good job of steepening the volcano.  But how is it weakened?  As the mountain sleeps between eruptions, it sits above the magma chamber below and literally stews in its own juices. Rainier is in a wet climate, and the mountain’s bulk draws even more precipitation its way.  Because of this, Rainier’s rocks are wet.  Add heat and acidic gases from below and you have a corrosive mix.  As a result the rocks are altered to clays, greatly weakening Rainier’s steep cone over time.  In other words, much of the peak is literally rotten.  Add these two things together, the volcano’s steepness and its inherent weakness, and you have a very real and constant hazard on your hands.

Fields of lupine bloom in the subalpine meadows of Mount Rainier, Washington.

Fields of lupine bloom in the subalpine meadows of Mount Rainier, Washington.

The biggest volcanic hazard at Rainier is not from lava flows but from mudflows (aka lahars).  If the mountain erupts lava or hot ash, large amounts of ice could melt quickly, causing a catastrophic flow of mud, rocks, trees, bridges, cars, etc. that cascades down river valleys, wiping out everything in its path.  But here’s the thing: an eruption is not really necessary to bring destruction to the surrounding populated valleys.

Now imagine a small earthquake, perhaps during an unusually warm summer when much of the ice high on the mountain is melting (can you say global warming?).  This could easily trigger a large and very destructive mudflow.  Geologists know this has happened in the past.  In fact, a good portion of the city of Tacoma (plus some of Seattle) is built on deposits from an enormous Rainier mudflow that buried the area some 5000 years ago.

Bears are not that uncommon at Mount Rainier.

Bears are not that uncommon at Mount Rainier.

The Rainier region now has a warning system made up of sirens that are triggered when mudflows higher on the mountain begin.  Citizens of towns like Orting and Enumclaw are taught to heed these sirens by escaping to high ground.  Mudflows are powerful enough to sweep away large bridges and buildings like a spoiled toddler kicks over his leggos.  But all their dirty work is limited to river bottoms, so getting up out of the valley will save your life.

The last of the day's light falls on Mount Rainier in Washington.

The last of the day’s light falls on Mount Rainier in Washington.

The Cascades II: Mount Adams   3 comments

Mount Adams viewed from Hood River Valley in Oregon.

Mount Adams viewed from Hood River Valley in Oregon.

This is part of a series I’m doing on the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest.  Part I, which is an overview of the geology of the Cascade Range, is worth checking out, especially if you’re something of a geo-nerd like me.  I was going to start the tour with Mount Hood, the closest one to my home.  But this past weekend I summited Mt. Adams in Washington.  So I’ll start there.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Mount Adams, at 12,281 feet (3743 meters), was named for America’s second president.  It is one of the larger volcanoes in the Cascades.  If Mt. Rainier was not close by, Adams would get more attention.  As it is, the second-highest mountain in Washington is a popular climbing & hiking destination.

The way this mountain was named is an interesting story.  Native Americans named it Pahto, brother of Wy East (Mt Hood).  The legend is that in the competition for the beautiful La wa la Clough (sometimes also called Loowit – St. Helens), Pahto won.  Wy East grew angry and pounded Pahto over the head, accounting for the flat stubby summit of the mountain.  Wy East’s anger also caused the landslide that led to the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River.

The east side of Mount Adams is rugged and gouged by glaciers.

The east side of Mount Adams is rugged and gouged by glaciers.

First sighted by Lewis and Clark (and misidentified as St. Helens), Adams has always been one of the more remote Cascade peaks.  For a time it appeared as if the Cascades might be renamed the President’s Range, and many of the individual peaks are named after U.S. presidents.  In the case of Adams, named for the second president, it was to be Hood that received the name.  But a mistake by a mapmaker put the name Adams quite a distance to the north and east.  Instead of the error being discovered and fixed, it happened that the location was occupied by a little-known but large mountain, and it was retained.  Now THAT’S a coincidence!

Mount St. Helens lies to the west as viewed from the summit of Mount Adams.

Mount St. Helens lies to the west as viewed from the summit of Mount Adams.

 

SURROUNDING AREA

Although Rainier has more extensive glaciers and subalpine meadow areas, Mount Adams has arguably a more beautiful surrounding area.  To the south, the only paved access route to the mountain traverses a gorgeous valley.  The White Salmon River, which runs down the valley, is a fantastic whitewater rafting or kayaking trip.  Apple orchards and scattered forest populate the valley.  The tiny town of Trout Lake greets you as you draw closer to the mountain.  It is a bulky mountain too, totally unlike the spire of Mount Hood across the Columbia River to the south.

The Klickitat River drains the east side of Adams, and proceeds through a beautiful forested area, ending on the drier east side of the Columbia River Gorge.  You can drive this route from Hwy. 14 on the Columbia up to Trout Lake.  It is a wonderful route, very scenic.  The Klickitat River is a fantastic whitewater trip.  In fact, doing both the White Salmon and the Klickitat (both one-day trips) is a great way to spend a long whitewater weekend.

Looking down the spine of the Cascade Range from high up on Mount Adams in Washington.

Looking down the spine of the Cascade Range from high up on Mount Adams in Washington.

The east side of Adams is covered by the Yakima American Indian reservation.  It’s worth obtaining a permit to hike through the beautiful Bird Creek Meadows on this side.  This is one of the finest flower meadows in the Cascades.  A recent forest fire has impacted both the south and east side though.  You can camp in this area at either Bench Lake or Bird Lake.  I think this area along with Adams Meadows on the north side are the finest subalpine meadows at Mt Adams.

A fantastic rugged backpacking trip can be had by traveling north from Bird Creek Meadows.  You will travel off-trail and cross an icefield.  There are some potentially serious stream crossings too.  But your reward is camping in pristine meadows, likely seeing no other person.  In Avalanche Valley, there is a spring that is amazing.  Its flow is so great that a river pops into existence and begins flowing across a lovely meadow.

Viewed from the summit of Mt Adams, the Klickitat River winds its way down through the forest.

Viewed from the summit of Mt Adams, the Klickitat River winds its way down through the forest.

GEOLOGY

Adams is like other Cascade strato-volcanoes a young cone with most of the eruptions occurring in the Pleistocene.  The volcano is characterized by long periods of dormancy.  In fact, the last eruption was some 1400 years ago.  It is not extinct though.  As mentioned, it is a bulky mountain.  It’s second in volume only to Shasta in California.  Several overlapping cones cover the summit and account for its flat nature.  Though it is no Rainier, the mountain does have its share of glaciers.  In fact, Adams Glacier on the NW side is the second largest glacier in the Cascades (Carbon Glacier on Rainier is the largest).

It is the only volcano in the Cascades whose summit has been subjected to mining activity.  In 1929 Wade Dean filed claims, built a mule trail to the summit, and conducted small-scale drilling for sulfur.  There was not enough ore found to make it economic, and that was that.

Mount St. Helens looms to the east of Adams.

Mount St. Helens looms to the east of Adams.

CLIMBING ADAMS

Mount Adams is a fairly straightforward climb, at least on the south side.  The South Spur trail starts from Cold Springs, trail #183.  You need to stop at the ranger station in Trout Lake for information and a $15 climbing permit.  The mountain attracts great amounts of snow, so unless you want a long approach, you’d do well to wait until June at the earliest.  You can climb it with ice axe and crampons, but might not need them.  No rope is needed.  Although it can be done in one long day, we opted to camp at the so-called Lunch Counter.  This is a flattish area at about 9000 feet (2743 meters), popular for camping and yes, lunch.

Descending from the summit of Mt Adams with Mount Hood, Oregon in the background.

Descending from the summit of Mount Adams with Mount Hood, Oregon in the background.

It was a beautiful evening.  Next morning, since I had skis and the snow had frozen hard overnight, I slept in to 6 a.m.  My companions started ahead of me.  The climb from the Lunch Counter ascends steeply to the False Summit (aka Piker’s Peak) at 11,700 feet (3566 meters).  From here it is a slight drop then on up to the summit.  I was on top before noon.  What a view!  I skied over to the east side of the summit crater and peaked down the steep east-side route.  The descent was perfect!  I haven’t skied for a long time (because of the broken ribs), so was tentative on those first few steep turns.  The snow was firm yet forgiving, and soon I was carving telemark turns down the mountain.  My friends had a great time glissading down from the False Summit.  Glissading is sliding on your butt.

Night falls on the eve of summit day at the Lunch Counter on Mount Adams, Washington.

Night falls on the eve of summit day at the Lunch Counter on Mount Adams, Washington.

Mount Adams is a great volcano which offers hiking, camping and flower photography, not to mention horse-back riding, whitewater rafting & kayaking.  In the winter, it makes an excellent, uncrowded cross-country skiing destination.  Climbing Adams is a great physical challenge.  It’s perfect for novice climbers who want some safe practice with crampons and ice axe.  But realize that altitude can be a factor, depending on your body’s particular reaction to it.  Since it is high up, weather can change rapidly and violently.  Storms and lightning are very real hazards, and people have died on this mountain.

Stay tuned for more on this series.  If you’re interested in any of these images, just click on them.  If you end up in a gallery and are having trouble finding the image, simply contact me.  They are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission, sorry.  Thanks for your interest and thanks for reading!

Sunset from the flat Lunch Counter on Mount Adams.

Sunset from the flat Lunch Counter on Mount Adams.

 

The Cascades I: Volcanoes Give and Take Away   16 comments

Sunrise on the north side of Mt Hood from the pastoral Hood River Valley, Oregon.

Sunrise on the north side of Mt Hood from the pastoral Hood River Valley, Oregon.

This is the mountain range I’m most familiar with, my home range.  I’ve climbed all of the high Oregon Cascades and many of the bigger Washington ones as well.  So I have personal experience and knowledge of these peaks.  Named for the many waterfalls that tumble over their volcanic cliffs, the Cascades are essentially a northern analogue of the Andes in South America.

The waterfalls for which the Cascades are named occur all through the range, including here at Toketee Falls.

The waterfalls for which the Cascades are named  include Toketee Falls.

GEOGRAPHY

The Cascades are volcanoes that still erupt from time to time, but with the exception of a single mountain are not the most active volcanic chain in the world by any means.  More on the exception below.  The Cascade Range, which stretches for 700 miles (1100 km.) in a north-south direction from Mount Garibaldi in Canada to Mount Lassen in California, is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire (see below).  This whole region of the western Pacific Northwest is often called Cascadia.

The Cascades are dotted with beautiful mountain lakes.

The Cascades are dotted with beautiful mountain lakes.

The dramatic and beautiful mountains that make up the Cascades in most cases exceed 10,000 feet (3000 meters).  The high peaks are generally well-spaced, with many miles of forested lower mountains and hills between each snow-capped peak.  Oregon’s Three Sisters area (which actually includes 5 big volcanoes) is an exception to this wide spacing.  The bunched-up and much more rugged North Cascades in Washington are a whole different range geologically, one that happens to coincide in space (but not time) with the volcanoes of the Cascades.

A wet meadow in Crater Lake National Park blooms with pink monkeyflower, among other flowers.

A wet meadow in Crater Lake National Park blooms with pink monkeyflower, among other flowers.

GEOLOGY

The highest peaks in the Cascades are quite young, most less than 100,000 years old – a moment in the earth’s 4.5 billion-year history.  They are built upon a much older eroded volcanic range, arranged along an axis situated slightly to the west of the present locus of volcanic activity.  These older volcanoes began erupting some 37 million years ago.  It’s lucky for life (including us) that these older, heavily eroded volcanoes are around.  It’s the reason we have those lush forests, those cold streams that nourish the region’s great fish runs, and the habitat for the region’s other wildlife.  And let’s not forget the many waterfalls!

From high on Cooper Spur at Mount Hood, Oregon, the view north includes Mount Adams in Washington.

From high on Cooper Spur at Mount Hood, Oregon, the view north includes Mount Adams in Washington.

The older ancestral Cascades are also responsible for the region’s enormous timber resources plus the very rich soils that drew settlers west along the Oregon Trail.  Volcanoes combine with ample rainfall to make rich soil for farming.  By the way, many often wonder why so many people, worldwide, live near dangerous volcanoes.  It’s simple:  the rich soils around volcanoes, the productive farmland.  There is really not much choice.  We must eat, and so we must live near volcanoes.

While the Western Cascades are responsible for many of the Northwest’s assets, let’s not totally dismiss the younger High Cascades.  Their snowpack, lasting well into summer, gives farmers and ranchers (especially those to the east) water for their crops through typically dry summers.

The older western Cascades are very different in character than the high Cascades.

The older western Cascades are very different in character than the high Cascades.

The Cascades are stratovolcanoes (aka composite cones).  These are the steep-sided, conical volcanoes you drew as a kid in school.  They are made of alternating layers of lava-rock and pyroclastic (ash) deposits.  The volcanic rock is characteristically lighter colored than the basalt which covers the region to the east of the Cascades.  A typical volcanic rock for the Cascades is andesite (named for the Andes), which flows over the ground in a somewhat stickier manner than more fluid basalt (Hawaiian volcanoes erupt basalt).  The Cascades do have their share of basalt too, along with dacite and a few other types of volcanic rock.

An uncommon volcanic rock of the Cascades is obsidian.  It is very rich in silica (SiO2), which is also what quartz is made of.  In liquid lava, dissolved silica acts to make it stickier, more viscous.  Water does the opposite, makes lava less viscous – more fluid.  Obsidian is so rich in silica and erupts so dry that it literally squeezes out of the ground like thick toothpaste, heaping up into mounds and ridges.  Once cooled, obsidian is a beautiful natural glass, normally black, that can be sharp enough to serve as surgical instruments.  Obsidian arrowheads left along old American Indian trails and hunting grounds can still be found throughout the Northwest.

Admiring the view while on a climb in the Cascades.  That is Mount Adams in Washington.

Admiring the view while on a climb in the Cascades. That is Mount Adams in Washington.

THE RING OF FIRE AND PLATE TECTONICS

The Pacific Ring of Fire is that huge circle of volcanoes and earthquake activity that circles the Pacific ocean basin.  Some of the world’s most spectacular eruptions and devastating earthquakes happen along the Ring of Fire.  Truly an enormous geologic feature, it exists because the earth’s tectonic plates rub against and collide with each other (see addendum below if you don’t know about plate tectonics already).  Although they act slowly, the forces are gargantuan.  And something has to occasionally give.

The big snow-capped peaks of the Cascades are classic strato-volcanoes.

The big snow-capped peaks of the Cascades are classic strato-volcanoes.

One example of the power and beauty of the Ring of Fire lies in the remote Aleutian Islands and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.  Here the huge Pacific Plate dives under the North American continental plate (plus a smaller one called the Okhotsk Plate) along a so-called subduction zone.  The plate partially melts as it descends, because of the heat of course – but also because of it is loaded with water (which acts as a flux).  Plumes of magma rising from the descending and melting plate eventually erupt into some of the world’s most active (and thankfully remote) volcanoes.  In the Southern Hemisphere on the opposite side of the Ring of Fire, the oceanic Nazca Plate subducts under the South American plate to form the longest volcanic range in the world, the Andes.

Crater Lake in Oregon fills the collapsed caldera of Mount Mazama, which blew its top about 7000 years ago.

Crater Lake in Oregon fills the collapsed caldera of Mount Mazama, which blew its top about 7000 years ago.

All throughout the Ring of Fire there are earthquakes.  Some of the largest happen as a result of subduction and are called megathrust quakes (how’s that for a name!).  The earthquake that caused the destructive Japanese tsunami of 2011 was of the  megathrust variety.  This enormous earthquake happened where the Pacific Plate subducts beneath Japan’s Honshu Island.  The Pacific Plate moved as much as 20 meters (66 feet) west during the minutes-long quake.  Honshu drew closer to America by about 2.5 meters (8 feet).  The equally destructive Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 was also generated by a megathrust quake along a subduction zone.

Other earthquakes happen when two tectonic plates slide past each other.  The San Andreas in California is the most famous example of this so-called transform boundary.  Because these earthquakes happen on land and have fairly shallow epicenters, they can be very destructive.  This is despite the quakes being generally smaller than subduction-zone, megathrust earthquakes.

Climbing in the Cascades.  Mount Adams (right) and Rainier are visible.

Climbing in the Cascades. Mount Adams (right) and Rainier are visible.

ADDENDUM: PLATE TECTONICS

The crust of the earth (plus some extra beneath it) is broken into enormous semi-rigid plates.  Over time, the plates move across the planet’s surface, on average about as fast as your fingernails grow.  That’s an average; during big quakes they can move up to a hundred feet!  But overall it’s a very slow process.  It can take over a million years for a plate to move 50 miles.  They ride atop enormous convection currents in the semi-molten part of the upper mantle.  The mantle is that layer that lies directly beneath the earth’s crust.  The weight of tectonic plates as they descend into the mantle along subduction zones (like the one that lies just off the Pacific Northwest coast) helps to pull the oceanic plates along.

Why do we have tectonics while the other planets don’t seem to?  For one thing the energy that drives the convection currents comes from heat given off by the still cooling interior of the earth.   Mars is too small to have much heat left.  For Earth, much of the core is still molten, and our fast spin sets up complex circulation patterns (which cause our magnetic field).  Combined with heat from the decay of radioactive elements, this gives rise to huge, slowly rising zones of heat.  When they hit the colder, more rigid upper parts of the earth, the crust, the currents spread outward horizontally.

Silver Star Mountain in Washington, after a heavy snowfall.

Silver Star Mountain in Washington, after a heavy snowfall.

But there’s another reason for plate tectonics.  It is because we are a water planet that all this partly molten rock is around.  Venus is much too dry for plate tectonics to get going.  Without water the pressures deep below would not allow enough melting.  Water essentially lubricates the earth’s tectonic system.  And without plate tectonics complex life would most likely not be possible, yet another way water is crucial to a living earth.

This series will continue.  If you are interested in any of the images, just click on them.  They are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for reading!

Sunset over the Western Cascades, as viewed from Mount Hood in Oregon.

Sunset over the Western Cascades, as viewed from Mount Hood in Oregon.

I Love Mountains II   13 comments

Everest (center) stands tall betwen its equally enormous neighbors.

Everest (center) stands tall betwen its equally enormous neighbors.

This is the second of two parts on mountains, inspired by the theme post on Where’s my Backpack.  I have a ton of mountain images, and quite a few stories as well.  So I split the theme into two posts.  Check the first one out too.

I fell in love with mountains when I was young and we started to go camping in the Appalachians of Virginia.  Like many kids I loved climbing around on rocks.  I still remember a favorite rock in the park near where I grew up.  I called it the Big Rock (I know, original).  We played for hours in the woods around that rock, using it as a sort of base.  Not many years ago, I returned to that place and walked through the park.  It was strange revisiting all of my childhood haunts.

Mount Rainier in Washington is mantled with lovely subalpine meadows.

Mount Rainier in Washington is mantled with lovely subalpine meadows.

On my first trip west, at the age of 12, we visited my uncle in Colorado (he was stationed at Colorado Springs in the Air Force).  As we approached the Front Range, in a bus on the plains of eastern Colorado, I remember my first view of truly big mountains.  I thought they were clouds.  Then when I realized what they were I was just floored.  I was hooked.  Right then I knew most of my life would be spent around big mountains.

The evening light is beautiful at base camp on the evening before climbing Island Peak in the Everest region of Nepal.

The evening light is beautiful at base camp on the evening before climbing Island Peak in the Everest region of Nepal.

Right after I got my license some friends all piled in my Pontiac and we went camping in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.  It was freezing cold, and we climbed up through the woods in an out-of-the-way part of the park.  We camped up on a ridge, and I had to stay up and keep the fire going to avoid freezing to death.  Our gear was pretty sad.  Next day we found the trail and climbed up a mountain called Old Rag.  Those familiar with Shenandoah probably know of this peak.  We did it from the opposite side, away from Skyline Drive.  It was really my first climb.  It was the first time where the entire goal of the trip was to stand upon the summit of a mountain; the first of many to come.

Mount Hood, near home in Oregon, is decked out in winter white.

Mount Hood, near home in Oregon, is decked out in winter white.

I learned on that trip that you really have to WANT to make the summit in order to be successful.  That drive for the summit has stayed with me all my life.  In younger years that drive almost cost me my life on several occasions.  It is good that the Lord looks after the young and foolish to some extent.  I’m smart enough to know I’ve used up my second chances, and I’m much more likely to turn around in unsuitable conditions now.

Glaciated mountains like the Himalaya have turquoise jewels for lakes, because of the fine rock flour that glacial erosion produces.

Glaciated mountains like the Himalaya have turquoise jewels for lakes, because of the fine rock flour that glacial erosion produces.

The environment around mountains is special.  The plants, trees, wild animals, all of it really, is perfectly suited to living in a harsh climate.  All climbers and hikers should feel humble in the presence of these beings who are much more at home here than humans could ever be.

A glacial tarn reflects the high Rocky Mountains in Wyoming.

A moose lives in the spectacular shadow of the Grand Teton in Wyoming.

Two Himalayan tahr descend the Himalayas of Nepal

Descending on snow is always so much fun.  One time coming off of Oregon’s South Sister, we foot-glissaded (sliding upright on your feet) down a steep slope.  One after the other, the four of us slid down.  I was last and after each guy went down, he disappeared from view and after 5 or 10 seconds I heard a distant shout/scream.  I didn’t see any choice but to follow, and we all ended up crashing together in a heap at the bottom, laughing our butts off.

Another time in Alaska a friend and I got caught in a “wet slide”, which is a relatively slow-moving avalanche that happens when the snow is soft and the weather warm.  We were in a chute, and at first it was fun, like being on a big conveyor belt.  But then it sped up and we saw that we would end up going over a huge cliff if we didn’t get out.  We both were able to grab hold of little bushes on the edge of the chute and drag ourselves out of the slide.  We got separated doing so, and it was an hour or so later that I found my friend.  We were both afraid the other hadn’t made it.

A mountain covered in winter snow is just begging to be skied.

Mountains come in all shapes and sizes, from huge pieces of the seafloor that have been uplifted miles into the sky (as in the Himalaya) to tropical Karst mountains (above) to volcanoes whether snow-covered or steaming.  Some mountains are old and eroded while others are young, jagged, and still rising.

Crater lake in Oregon was formed 7000 years ago when the volcano in Oregon erupted and collapsed back into its magma chamber, forming a caldera that later filled with snowmelt.

Rinjani Crater Lake

Rinjani volcano on the island of Lombok, Indonesia, has a crater lake formed in a similar way to Oregon’s Crater Lake. The water, however, comes from tropical rainfall not snowmelt.

This rugged mountain Nepal is young and still rising.

Karst mountains are unique in their shape. This region of Thailand is covered in limestone karst terrain like this.

Yosemite Valley’s Half Dome is an enormous mass of granite.

The Brooks Range in Alaska is one of the state’s oldest mountain ranges, and so is eroded into gentle forms.

Sunrise from the highest volcano in Central America, Tajamulco, is a fantastic reward for the climb.

Of course mountain weather can be dangerous.  It’s always a good idea to consider turning around no matter how close to the summit you are if the weather turns nasty, because it can change much more rapidly than you think.  One time climbing in California we were very close to the top of a peak in the White Mountains after a long slog, including deep snow.  A storm was moving in as we approached the summit, and we weren’t willing to turn around when we had already worked so hard.  But the moment we summited, the storm hit.  As we scrambled off the peak, I looked over and saw my friend’s hair standing completely straight away from his head.  I heard a loud buzzing and felt electricity in my hands and feet.  The peak was struck spectacularly by lightning only a few minutes after we got off the summit.

This was taken of my partner as he climbed the last few meters to the top of a peak in Nepal.

Lenticular clouds form over Mt Hood in Oregon.

I love how the mountains draw the mist and clouds up their slopes.

I love how the mountains draw the mist and clouds up their slopes.

Mountain weather can be seen and experience, as here at Mt Rainier.

As I said in part I, I would love to live right up in the mountains one day.  The people I’ve met who have mountains in their blood are some of the finest salt-of-the-earth people in the world.  They work hard, they have faces as weathered as mine, and they are reserved yet very warm and welcoming, like me.

Two young Sherpa girls know nothing but mountain life.  Here they are weary after a long climb hauling heavy loads.

Two young Sherpa girls know nothing but mountain life. Here they are weary after a long climb hauling heavy loads.

A Sherpa from Khumbu region, Nepal, had summited Everest 8 times by the time I met him, all without oxygen.

A Sherpa from Khumbu region, Nepal, had summited Everest 8 times by the time I met him, all without oxygen.

Trekking in Nepal is nown in other places as hiking, walking, rambling, scrambling, tramping, & going for a walkabout.

Many of these stories and pictures are from much younger days.  My climbs are few and far between now, sad to say.  I’m still healthy and strong enough to climb of course, but the crazy stuff is behind me.  This post has reminded me to get back up there into the mountains I love, and soon!

The Colorado Rockies in fall is for mountain lovers the right place at the right time.

The Colorado Rockies in fall is for mountain lovers the right place at the right time.

By the way, please contact me if you are interested in any of these pictures.  I’ll make sure you get the high resolution versions, or can also ship fully mounted and framed pieces.  These versions are much too small to use.  Also, they are copyrighted.  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.

Alpenglow highlights the spectacular western face of Nup Tse near Mt Everest in Nepal.

Alpenglow highlights the spectacular western face of Nup Tse near Mt Everest in Nepal.

I Love Mountains I   14 comments

The world's highest mountain, Everest (Sagarmatha).  I finally made it here on a trek in Nepal, but did not climb it.

The world’s highest mountain, Everest (Sagarmatha in Nepali). I finally made it here on a trek in Nepal, but did not climb it.

I’m taking a break from the mind-bending stuff to post on one of my favorite subjects: mountains.  It’s inspired by a post on Ailsa’s blog.  The theme is mountains.  I’ve been a climber for quite a long time.  I have had such joyful experiences in the mountains.  Some have been scary, some miserable even, but all have made me feel more alive.  For that I am sincerely grateful.  I think mountains are the most spectacular aspect of Earth’s surface.

The mountain closest to home for me, Oregon's highest, Mt Hood.

The mountain closest to home for me, Oregon’s highest, Mt Hood.

First I’ll give kudos to the mountains nearest home in Oregon.  These are the Cascades.  Mount Hood, which I’ve climbed about 10 times, is closest.  But Mount St Helens, the famous volcano that exploded in 1980, is close-by too.  And Rainier, the iconic Washington mountain I’ve climbed twice, is only a few hour’s drive from home.  Mt Adams, also in Washington, is even closer.

Mount St Helens in Washington is clearly visible from the Portland, Oregon area.

Mount St Helens in Washington is clearly visible from the Portland, Oregon area.

A rare flat stretch while climbing in the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest.

A rare flat stretch while climbing in the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest.  Mt Adams and Mt Rainier are visible.

The aptly named Reflection Lakes in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

The aptly named Reflection Lakes in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Mountains don’t have to be high to be awesome.  Though I have climbed mountains up to 22,000 feet in elevation, the hardest one I ever climbed is just over 6000 feet.  It’s called Pioneer Peak, and is located in Alaska.  It took us 22 hours non-stop to climb this peak’s toughest face.  You start at about 10 feet above sea level.  Only two of the three of us made it to the top.  The only one of us with a wife and kid ultimately lost his nerve and froze just before the final pitch.  We picked him up on the way down.  The descent was hairy.  We slid down waterfalls, getting soaked.  We came upon cliffs we didn’t know were there and had to rappel.  Near the end, we bushwacked for hours, going over invisible droppoffs in the thick brush, grabbing at alder branches to soften the landing.

This is a typical climb in Alaska.  No trail, hellish approach, and just plain difficult after that.

This is a typical climb in Alaska. No trail, hellish approach, and just plain difficult after that.

To approach this part of the Alaska Range, you need to cross an enormous swampy river valley full of moose and grizzly bears, maybe a wolf pack.

To approach this part of the Alaska Range, you need to cross an enormous swampy river valley full of moose and grizzly bears, maybe a wolf pack.

This is the best way to "cheat" while climbing a mountain, taken just west of Denali on older film camera.

This is the best way to “cheat” while climbing a mountain, taken just west of Denali on older film camera.

A winter climb in Alaska.

A winter climb in Alaska.

One of Alaska's idyllic places to fly in, pitch camp, and catch dinner, the Wood-Tikchik Lakes in the Wood River Mountains.

One of Alaska’s idyllic places to fly in, pitch camp, and catch dinner, the Wood-Tikchik Lakes in the Wood River Mountains.

Sometimes river crossings on the approach to mountains are much more dangerous than the climb.  One time in Oregon’s Wallowas I was swept away and just barely escaped drowning by grabbing hold of a branch.  In Alaska on the return from a peak we got separated in the dark.  I had a bear following me for awhile, trying to cross a stream.  I kept going upstream and he (on the opposite bank) kept following me.  My friend Bob got swept downstream and ended up dragging himself out.  He was so cold he lay down and was about to fall asleep when he heard our shouts searching for him.  He hadn’t showed up at the truck.

One of North America's most beautiful range of mountains, the Grand Tetons.

One of North America’s most beautiful range of mountains, the Grand Tetons.

My favorites are mountains that aren’t at all planned, and whose name I don’t know.  One time in Northern California’s Marble Mountains we were camped, enjoying some whiskey.  Half-lit, the pair of us decided to climb the peak across the lake from us.  We named it Irish Peak, and it was so fun!  By the time we got to the hard stuff we had sobered up enough.  Ascending a ridge, it looked like we would have to turn around because of sheer cliffs.  We didn’t have a rope.  But we found a natural tunnel through the ridge that took us to the other side, which was easier and covered with an ice-field.  I had to go #2 very badly, and ended up squatting and dropping the bomb down a deep crevasse.

Prayer flags fly beneath Taboche in Nepal.

Prayer flags fly beneath Taboche in Nepal.

I would love one day to live right in the mountains, though I think my attitude towards them would be different in some ways.  It would be more mature, more intimate, less like they’re my playground.  I think my respect for their power would inevitably deepen.  Many people across the world, but especially Asia, have a spiritual connection with mountains.  They simply could not conceive of living anywhere else.  Perhaps I would grow to be like this if I lived in such places.

Tangboche, a buddhist monastery in the Himalaya, is a magical place to be at dawn when the deep bell calling monks to prayer echoes off the peaks.

Tangboche, a buddhist monastery in the Himalaya, is a magical place to be at dawn when the deep bell calling monks to prayer echoes off the peaks.

Mountains feed rich farmland in river valleys the world over, including here at Mt Hood.

Mountains feed rich farmland in river valleys the world over, as here at Mt Hood.

Tune in for the second part of this tomorrow.  By the way, if you are interested in any of these images, whether for a web use or just to hang on your wall, let me know and I’ll make sure you get the higher resolution versions.  These versions are much to small to use, and are copyrighted.  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.

The Tetons appear to be catching fire beneath a gorgeous sunset.

The Tetons appear to be catching fire beneath a gorgeous sunset.

Mount Rainier I   2 comments

Mount Rainier is reflected in a pond in the subalpine meadows on the west side of the mountain.

I spent the past week at Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park, about 3 hours north of here (Portland).  I haven’t spent quality time there for years.  A long time ago I worked a season at Rainier, living in the park cabins at Longmire and hiking out every day to track elk and document their impacts.  I worked with a young biologist, but spent much of my time sketching and describing the glacial features in the park.  That is, when I wasn’t trail running, an addiction I developed at around that time.  We would literally throw a dart at the map of the park on some mornings and just go there looking for elk.  You could count on one hand the number of times we saw our supervisor.

Mount Rainier and the largest glacier in the lower 48 United States, the Emmons, are bathed in early morning sunshine.

Another interesting part of the job was flying in a light aircraft once a week to count elk and mountain goat.  Of course, I was “green around the gills’ the entire time in the air.  I’m cursed with motion sickness, have been my entire life.  But thankfully it takes some doing.  Flying a light plane close to that mountain was the (easy) doing.  The best part about the job: no ranger uniform.  Yes indeed, we were blessedly incognito! Mount Rainier, at 14,410 feet (4265 meters) and heavily glaciated, is probably most famous as one of the finest climbing challenges in the lower 48 states.

I’ve climbed it twice, once from the south and once from the north.  The north side climb was most fun.  It was about five years ago now, three of us (the perfect climbing team size) ascended the Emmons Glacier (the largest glacier in the lower 48).  We started around midnight, and were the first group up.  I led most of the way, being the most comfortable member of our little group with glacier travel.  We skirted crevasses by headlamp and climbing up into the darkness.  I’ll never forget that feeling, like ascending into the starry sky.  I’ve never had a climb precisely like that one.

It’s understandable that Rainier, being the Cascades’ most massive and most heavily glaciated peak, attracts climbers.  Quite a number have died on the mountain, but the dangers it presents are no more than average for a mountain of its size.  As is the case with Mt Hood in Oregon, it comes down to numbers and probability.  More climbers equals more accidents.  It’s that simple.

Rainier is a sleeping giant.  It is a composite volcano, meaning it’s made of layers of ash and lava.  The type of lava that dominates is andesite, named for that great mountain range in South America where this kind of volcano is abundant.  This mixed layered makeup of the mountain, combined with relatively recent glaciation, which scoured (and still scours) the sides of the volcano, means the mountain stands tall and steep.  Acidic gases vent from the summit area on a constant basis, converting much of the rock there to a crumbly mess.  When winter releases its icy grip, and especially during very warm periods in late spring/early summer, there is a very real risk of huge avalanches of rock and ice cutting loose from high up on the mountain.  These can quickly turn into floods or even mudflows lower on the mountain, channeled into furious destruction by the major river drainages.

Mudflows (or lahars, the Indonesian word preferred by geologists) are a sort of dense flood.  A slurry, the consistency of wet concrete, complete with trees, rocks, chunks of ice, cars, buildings, bridges, etc. races down-valley at speeds of 30, 40 or even 50 mph.  A lahar don’t take prisoners.  The reason I mention this mechanism for starting a mudflow is that it does not require a volcanic eruption, just melting.  An earthquake could easily trigger one as well.

Of course Rainier is only sleeping and could erupt.  In that case, you have not only the likelihood of mudflows, but also pyroclastic flows, lava flows and ash falls.  The French term for pyroclastic flow is nuee ardente, which means glowing cloud.  And that’s what they are.  Made of pulverized rock superheated to hundreds of degrees, they race down the mountain at speeds of 100 mph. or more.  The deadliest thing a volcano throws out, they kill even more quickly than mudflows.  Ask the ghost-like corpses at Pompei, the ancient Roman graveyard at the foot of Vesuvius.  They’ll tell you how much time you have to get out of the way.

The stars are reflected in Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

So this park is one of the more geologically dangerous in the country.  Yellowstone is a much bigger volcano, but one that goes ages between eruptions.  Rainier will almost certainly erupt well before Yellowstone’s caldera does.  By the way, Rainier has one of the world’s few warning systems for mudflows.  Sensors high on the mountain are triggered when a probable mudflow starts, sending a signal to loud alarms near towns like Orting down-valley.  Residents are trained to flee to high ground.  And if you visit the park, and hear a loud rumbling sound (especially if an earthquake preceded it), that’s what you should do.  Get out of whatever valley you’re in, and quickly!

High in the Cascade Mountains of Washington gives a heavenly viewpoint on a moonlit night.

What many don’t realize about Mt Rainier is that, despite its great climbing, the park actually has much more to offer hikers than climbers.  You can spend months exploring this park without ever going much above treeline.  If you go to climb the mountain you are essentially exploring a much smaller aspect of the park than if you were to go for a week with no thought of climbing.  Rainier has the most extensive subalpine and alpine meadow system in the Cascades, with the spectacular flower displays that go along with that fact.  I love the park because of this.  For this trip I tried for the peak of the flower bloom (normally mid to late August), and although a week earlier would have been perfect, I was able to hike through and photograph a stunning profusion.

I headed up there late on a Saturday, arriving near midnight. This seems a strange time to go I realize, but I wanted to photograph the mountain under stars, then have it get light with the promise of the park to explore for much of the week.  I love arriving at a place in the dark, and then having the morning light reveal where I am.  Of course, since I’m a photographer and have to shoot at sunrise, doing night photography means I only get a few hours sleep.  But I found a quiet, shady spot to sleep the rest of the morning away.  There is definitely an advantage in having my camper van (it’s an 87 Westphalia).

Blue gentian bloom in the meadows of Mount Rainier National Park.

My faithful companion Charl accompanied me.  He’s my little buddy, a shih tsu with an enormous personality.  Most important, he can sleep for hours and hours, and can hold his pee for an unbelievable period.  When he was young I took him on hikes, many of them long & tough.  But he’s old now (14) and can’t do more than a mile or two, and that only on an easy trail in cool weather.  So I leave him in the van, parked in shade with plenty of ventilation, water and snacks. It was forecast to be fairly cool, and that’s what it was, perfect for hiking.  In fact, one morning it dipped below freezing.  Every day but one had plenty of sunshine.

I already mentioned this is a hiker’s park.  Unlike some parks, where there are plenty of things to do that don’t involve much in the way of strenuous hiking, Rainier rewards the fit.  In fact, it’s hilarious watching people visiting the park.  They don’t know what to do with themselves, and seem confused at the general lack of overlooks.  The National Park overlook is an institution in the U.S.  I believe I should write a post on the psychology behind N.P. overlooks.  There is a definite behavior associated with them. Many parks are inundated with overlooks (Shenandoah, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon are a few examples).  And parks like Yellowstone are chock full of small parking areas where one can stroll along a super-short, flat trail to a geyser or some-such sight.  The same sort of effect applies there as with the simple stop and gawk overlook.

But at Rainier, visitors are forced to drive for miles without pulling over.  They crowd the few short trails, and hang about the smallish visitor centers,  looking a bit lost.  They’ll stop at the smallest wide spot in the road, with no real view, just because that’s what you’re supposed to do in a National Park.  Like I said, it’s hilarious watching them.  If these same people ever visited parks like Kobuk Valley in Alaska, I think they’d end up insisting that their entry fee be returned.

So Rainier is, generally speaking, lacking in the standard National Park crutches.  (I haven’t mentioned the Disney-esque gateway towns that one must pass through, like a gauntlet, at many parks – think Dollywood on the way into the Great Smokies.)   There are a few stops and sights at Rainier, but they’re generally low-key.  Longmire is one.  It’s a low-elevation meadow among old-growth forest in the SW corner of the park.  A short nature trail circles the meadow, and there is a small gift shop and ranger station, but little else. The two main destinations, however, are Paradise and Sunrise, on opposite sides of the mountain and high up in the subalpine zone.

Paradise, the park’s most popular destination, has some relatively short trails, plus the park’s only real lodge (the Paradise Inn).  There is a great view of the mountain from the large patio in front of the visitor center here, and the crowds on a weekend can be breathtakingly enormous.  The metropolis of Seattle-Tacoma is close-by, after all.  I love the girl watching at Paradise; so many beautiful Asian women (National Parks get many more foreign visitors these days than they did in the past).  It was here at Paradise that I came that Sunday, after my morning sleep.

I soon grew tired of watching the people milling about and struck out on the trail to Panorama Point.  This starts out as a paved trail, then it turns upward through flowery meadows.  It grows steeper and you drop 90% of the other hikers.  I was amazed and surprised when I saw a bear, then another, near the top of the trail.  It was a mother and her older cub, feeding on early season berries.  You could tell she was getting ready to say goodbye to her youngster.  The two never got more than a few hundred, but never closer than 100, yards from each other.  Given their location, these were obviously bears that were used to people, though try as I might, they wouldn’t let me get too close.  And since I was in the park’s most crowded area, I didn’t think of lugging my 100-400 telephoto zoom lens.  So my pictures needed some serious cropping.  I had a lot of fun stalking the two, trying to get close enough for my 200 mm.

A black bear prowls the meadows of Mt Rainier looking for berries.

Note that black bears present no serious danger, so long as you don’t get between a mom and her cubs, nor bother one on a kill.  There is an exception, when a black bear is in a remote wilderness well away from humans, you need to take more care.  In this case they can stalk and kill, treating you as prey.  At Rainier, there has never been a bear fatality, and this indicates how used to, and wary of, humans the ursines are in this and most national parks.  Well, finally the pair of bears gave me the slip, and I still can’t figure out how they got by me.  I thought I had all the “exits” covered!

I ended up spending the whole week at Rainier.  I visited an area where I did many elk surveys years ago, and also went to a place I have never been, Mowich Lake.  I had an adventure climbing Unicorn Peak, nearly having to spend the night in hypothermic conditions, and had a delightful romp (me and a billion mosquitos) in the flower fields of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.  I will do the pics and write on that in my next post. Thanks for reading!

The last of the day’s light falls on Mount Rainier in Washington.

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