Archive for the ‘Cascade Mountains’ Tag

Adventuring Mt. Rainier: Hiker’s Heaven   8 comments

This is the same face of Rainier that residents of Seattle see every clear day. Much better up close!

The first time I saw Mount Rainier up close I was completely blown away.  I was 19 and had been in the Pacific NW for less than a year.  The Cascade Mountains seemed like the Himalayas to my East Coast eyes.  And Rainier is the biggest and baddest of the entire range.  When I got that first good look I was impressed the way only a young man with far too much energy can be.

Since that first good look at it, Mt. Rainier and its national park have always been a special place of mine.  I’ve spent quite a lot of time rambling the steep trails, climbing it twice.  I even worked for NPS one summer doing wildlife surveys.  So let’s leave the desert for now and continue this Adventuring series with an adventure in Washington’s oldest (and the nation’s 5th) national park:  Mount Rainier.

By the way, I wrote a number of illustrated posts on Rainier that are more travel-guide/documentary in nature than this one.  Check those out if you’re thinking of a visit for pictures or hiking.

Trailside waterfall, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Just below Indian Henry’s, the park’s Wonderland Trail crosses a high suspension bridge over Tacoma Creek.

Camping Where the Bears Are

Rainier hosts the most extensive, and I think finest, subalpine flower meadows in the Cascade Range.  When I was in my 20s I backpacked with a friend to one of Rainier’s best:  a place on the southwest side called Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground (see image below).  It’s named for a Tahoma native called So-to-Lick who lived in a cabin there before there was a park.  He straddled the two worlds, guiding the likes of John Muir and assorted climbers up the mountain.  But he never summited himself, holding it sacred like his tribe and thus staying off the glaciated upper reaches.

I tended then, as now, to eschew trail-side camping in popular areas.  So we camped overlooking the meadows, atop a broad peak called Mt. Ararat (had to look that one up it’s been so long).  Toward dusk I took a walk from camp to get a view.  I hadn’t been there long when, from a rocky outcrop facing north, I saw movement on the grassy slope just below.  To my amazement a large bear stepped from behind the nearest trees and slowly foraged across the slope not more than 100 yards away.  It was a cinnamon-colored black bear, and still the largest of that species I’ve ever seen.

As with nearly all my bear encounters over the years, this one mostly ignored me.  But I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I had a cheap little film camera.  So like a young fool I determined to get closer for a picture.  I waited for him to move a little further away and then climbed down off the rocks.  I slowly stalked after him, keeping the small but dense groups of subalpine firs between us.  I kept moving downslope even though I wasn’t catching glimpses of him anymore.  I thought he’d gone.  Then peering around a shrub, I froze.

This is NOT the bear in the story. This one is much smaller, but also lives on Mt. Rainier.

He was now less than 50 feet away, staring at me hard.  He chuffed once.  There have been other occasions like this in my life, but I believe that was the first.  Despite the differences they all feel the same.  The adrenaline floods in first, immediately followed by the realization of how foolish you’ve been.  You force yourself to breathe, and above all try not to do anything stupid.  Like run.  Those moments stretch time.

Of course the big boy just ended up doing that funny double-take I’ve seen a number of times since then.  Where the animal shifts its attention back to what it was doing, but abruptly turns back and seems to reconsider, and sometimes repeats.  Then finally turns away, apparently deciding you’re not worth it.  And the tension of the moment drops like a stone.  I watched him drift away down the mountain-slope through the tall grass, realizing I had forgotten that picture I wanted.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

Just before dusk, Mount Rainier soars above the flowery meadows of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.

 

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Wordless Wednesday: Sleeping Volcano   1 comment

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Single Image Sunday: Fearless   27 comments

Like many Sundays I am posting an image that dovetails with this past Friday’s topic on negative space.  This is not a particularly great photo but it certainly draws your eye.  It’s also a reminder to myself that I do not include enough negative space in my people pictures.  In this picture the negative space is perfectly placed in the upper left quadrant.

A friend of mine brought his girlfriend along on a hike high up on Mount Hood and she turned out to be a mountain goat, totally fearless.  And it’s not like she’s particularly young (hope she’s not reading this!).  I used to have similar inclinations, but I’ve certainly mellowed.  Here she simply wanted to perch somewhere with a good view of Hood.  She seemed so relaxed up there, which you absolutely need to be in order to do it safely.  It made me very nervous!  I hope your weekend is going well.

On the Knife Edge

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 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.

To the Summit of Mount St. Helens!   6 comments

The view of Mount St. Helens' lava dome from the summit along the south rim of the crater.

The view of Mount St. Helens’ lava dome from the summit along the south rim of the crater.

Last week a friend and I climbed Mount St. Helens, the famous volcano in Washington state.  I have up to this point only skied it, hiking up on my skis and then doing the moderate and fun descent.  I would have done it this way again, but with my ribs still healing, I didn’t want to take the chance of a re-injury.  So I just hiked it while my friend hiked up carrying his AT skis.  His wife came along, but she was only into a hike, so didn’t summit with us.

Mount St. Helens' steep crater wall is dangerous to stand at the edge of when you climb it, so stay back from that edge!

Mount St. Helens’ steep crater wall is dangerous to stand at the edge of when you climb it, so stay back from that edge!

It was a gorgeous day, perfect really.  The temperatures were not too cool and not too warm.  And so we didn’t sweat gallons, nor did the snow soften up too much for great skiing.  If it were any cooler though, crampons would have been required.  As it was we only hit one icy patch, which was easily handled by kicking steps.  I did have my ice axe, and that helped near the top.

Crater View II

Mount Rainier pokes above the clouds, as viewed from the summit of Mount St. Helens.

My friend had a great run down while I glissaded.  It has been awhile since I’ve done any glissading, (sliding down a snowfield to descend a mountain).  It is normally done on your butt, but it can also be accomplished on your feet, on your belly (penguin style!) or use your imagination.  A pair of slick rain pants will allow you to glissade shallower (and safer) slopes.  I alternated between a butt and foot glissade.

Mount St. Helens looms above my friend as he shoulders the skis after his descent.

Mount St. Helens looms above my friend as he shoulders the skis after his descent.

Glissade safety tips:  When glissading, it’s important to see where you are going and stay off the really steep stuff.  You want a “runout”, where the grade flattens a bit and you can slow to a stop.  If things get steep, and yet you still feel safe with a glissade, you must have an ice axe and slide on your butt, braking all the way with the axe.  You also need to be comfortable doing a self-arrest in case things get out of hand.  Safety first of course, but when you feel the need for speed and you have a good runout below you, let ‘er go!

The Big Boy, Mount Rainier, from Mount St. Helens.

The Big Boy, Mount Rainier, from Mount St. Helens.

After the climb I headed home to Portland the back way.  In other words, instead of returning west to I5 then south (boring!), I drove east on Forest Road 90, continuing as it turns into Curly Creek Road.  I slept overnight in my van along the upper Lewis River and did a couple short hikes next day in the beautiful forest here.   It was good to stretch my legs, which were sore from the climb.  Then I continued, turning right on the Wind River Road all the way into Carson.  I did stop again to do a hike along the beautiful Falls Creek Falls (see next post for that).  Then I simply traveled Hwy. 14 from Carson west to Vancouver and across the river to Portland.

Skiing Mount St. Helens.

Skiing Mount St. Helens.

Note that to climb Mount St. Helens you need to visit the MSHI website for instructions on the permitting process.  During summer a limited-entry permitting system is in place.  But I’ve always done it in Spring, where you can buy the $22 permit online, pick it up in Cougar on the way to the trailhead, and have at the mountain when it still has significant snow.  Believe me it is easier to climb it in snow, because of the loose pumice (2 steps up – 1 step down) nature of the surface in summertime.

The glissading track formed in the snow from climbers descending Mount St. Helens.  Mount Hood is visible in the distance.

The glissading track formed in the snow from climbers descending Mount St. Helens. Mount Hood is visible in the distance.

Mount St Helens – Early Season   4 comments

The Hummocks near Mount St. Helens is an area filled with remnant debris from the devastating eruption of 1980.

The Hummocks near Mount St. Helens is an area filled with remnant debris from the devastating eruption of 1980.

I visited the north side of Mount St. Helens yesterday with my uncle and my dog.  St. Helens is a sleeping volcano, by far the most active in the Cascade Range.  It erupted with extreme violence on May 18th, 1980, killing 57 people.  Now it is a National Monument managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and is in full-on recovery mode.

Since the monument is only partially open now, the snow just having recently melted off the highway, we had it to ourselves.  And what a gorgeous day to be there with only a few other lucky souls!  The mountain was glittering with rapidly melting snow, the water was pouring down through creeks and over waterfalls, and the birds and amphibians were busy with their lives on the shores of full lakes and ponds.

Beautiful Coldwater Lake at Mount St. Helens in Washington state.

Beautiful Coldwater Lake at Mount St. Helens in Washington state.

GEOLOGY

This whole area was transformed by the eruption of St Helens in 1980.  The volcano awoke on March 16th of that year with a series of small earthquakes.  A week and a half later the mountain erupted, blasting a small crater out of the snow-covered summit.  The mountain then proceeded to work up to its big blast 8 weeks later.  The north flank of the mountain slowly bulged outward as magma moved upward.

Finally, on that beautiful Sunday morning, while folks were in church or tending their gardens, the bulge gave way and history’s largest recorded landslide occurred.  The volcano was essentially uncorked, and as the massive debris avalanche slid toward Spirit Lake (where Harry Truman – the old character who refused to evacuate his lakeside cabin – awaited his fate), the mountain erupted in a powerful lateral blast.  It had the force of 24 megatons, 1600 times the energy released by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.  Whole forests were mowed down and the mountain’s height reduced by 1300 feet.

The mass of rock, mud and ash cascaded down the North Fork Toutle River valley, burying the river and damming Coldwater Creek.  These types of debris avalanches typically form mounds (hummocks) where the debris comes to rest, and this is what happened here.  Erosion by streams further sculpts the landscape.  Actually, this strange hummocky terrain, which occurs in places worldwide, was a bit of a puzzle to geologists before St. Helens showed geologists how it is formed.  Beautiful Coldwater Lake, along with the adjacent hummocks and melt-water ponds with their unique ecosystem, owe their existence to the 1980 landslide and eruption.  Volcanoes destroy, but they also create.

Coldwater Creek at Mount St. Helens near its confluence with the Toutle River.

Coldwater Creek at Mount St. Helens near its confluence with the Toutle River.

We hiked partway around Coldwater Lake.  We had planned to make the 12-mile loop around this rather large lake, which was created when the debris avalanche from the 1980 eruption dammed Coldwater Creek.  But a wide, tumbling creek stopped us.  I hopped across, getting my feet wet.  Seeing my uncle hesitate, I built a very rough bridge out of logs for him to cross.  But at age 73, he has gotten very cautious.  He just doesn’t like doing anything even remotely hazardous.  And stream crossings are something he REALLY does not like on a hike.  So we turned back.

The beautiful Coldwater Lake near Mount St. Helens was formerly covered with huge trees before the devastating eruption of 1980.

The beautiful Coldwater Lake near Mount St. Helens was formerly covered with huge trees before the devastating eruption of 1980.

I was pretty disappointed.  The hike around the lake was promising to be one spectacular trek.  I’ll just have to get back up there soon to do the whole thing.  But I snapped quickly out of my funk when we found a great alternative just across the road from the lake.

Trees are reflected in one of the many ponds at Mount St. Helens' Hummocks area in Washington.

Trees are reflected in one of the many ponds at Mount St. Helens’ Hummocks area in Washington.

The Hummocks Trail is a very interesting 2.5-mile loop through strange mounds created by the 1980 debris avalanche.  At this time of year there are beautifully full ponds trapped between the hummocks, alive with frogs, toads and salamanders.  The trail also passes a couple fantastic viewpoints up the Toutle River to the hulking volcano, with its horseshoe-shaped crater and (often steaming) lava dome.  Interpretive signs along the trail teach about the eruption and formation of the hummocks.

Algae combined with bubbling oxygen from a meltwater pond at Mount St. Helens forms fascinating patterns.

Algae combined with bubbling oxygen from a meltwater pond at Mount St. Helens forms fascinating patterns.

After a late picnic at Coldwater Lake, where we did some birdwatching and general lazing about, I headed back up the Hummocks Trail to one of the ponds for sunset pictures.  We made a full day of it after all, and didn’t get back to Portland until near 11 p.m.  It had been a couple years since I had been up to St. Helens, and I am determined to not let that much time go by again.  It is just too nearby, too special and beautiful a place to neglect.

The rapidly melting foothills near Mount St. Helens in Washington are reflected in meltwater ponds.

The rapidly melting foothills near Mount St. Helens in Washington are reflected in meltwater ponds.

To get there, travel north on I5 from Portland, Oregon (or south from Seattle).  Get off the freeway at the exit for Castle Rock and travel east on Highway 504 about 45 miles to Coldwater Lake.  During the summer season, this highway is open all the way to it’s end at Johnston Ridge Observatory, 7 miles on from the lake.  Find the trail around the lake either from the boat ramp or the Science & Learning Center up on the hill above the lake.  The Hummocks Trail is directly across Hwy. 504 from the turnoff for Coldwater Lake.  This part of Mount St. Helens is open from about late April until the snow flies in November.  Johnston Ridge is open from mid-May until late October.  There is an $8 fee to use Coldwater Lake or Johnston Ridge Observatories during the summer season.

Sundown at Mount St. Helens from the beautiful Hummocks area.

Sundown at Mount St. Helens from the beautiful Hummocks area.

Tamanawas Falls   7 comments

Tamanawas Creek in Oregon's Cascade Mountains has a beautiful Native American name that befits the scenery it offers on a springtime hike.

Tamanawas Creek in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains has a beautiful Native American name that befits the scenery it offers on a springtime hike.

I recently took the first hike since I broke my ribs.  It was only about 4 miles, along a glorious stream east of Mount Hood called Cold Spring Creek (I like calling it Tamanawas Creek though).  The hike heads a short way down the East fork of Hood River and turns up the rollicking creek to Tamanawas Falls.  This is an American Indian name, but I’ve had trouble tracking down its meaning.  It’s a beautiful hike and a beautiful waterfall.

By the way, I hope you enjoy these images.  Just click on any of them to go to the main part of my website, where purchase is possible.  They’re not available for free download, sorry.  The versions here are much too small anyway, but purchase as print or download of high-res. versions is possible by going here.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest!

The beautiful stream course of East Fork Hood River during spring melt-off.

The beautiful stream course of East Fork Hood River during spring melt-off.

To get there drive from Portland to Hood River on I-84.  At this town, get off the freeway and head up the Hood River Valley on Highway 35.  You’ll pass beautiful apple and pear orchards (which bloom around Easter), and in nice weather you’ll have grand views of Mount Hood.  Soon the road begins to be crowded by the valley walls as it heads into forest toward the mountain.  Before you begin climbing you will see a sign for Sherwood Campground.  Look for the trailhead on the right.  There will likely be other cars there.

The East Fork Hood River is fed by numerous springs along its upper reaches.

The East Fork Hood River is fed by numerous springs along its upper reaches.

From the trailhead walk into the woods and cross the East Fork Hood River on a log bridge.  Come immediately to a T-junction and take a right.  In a half mile or so you’ll curve into the canyon, then soon come to another wooden bridge.  Cross this and turn left at another junction, heading up Cold Spring Creek.  Follow this all the way to the falls.  Return the way you came.

Ripples form patterns in a rare quiet eddy along the energetic East Fork Hood River in Oregon.

Ripples form patterns in a rare quiet eddy along the energetic East Fork Hood River in Oregon.

The snow had just recently melted off the trail when I was there a few days ago, so this was the first time I photographed the curtain-like cascade with leftover snow.  It added an extra challenge to the photography, since the white of the snow wanted to blow-out (over-expose) whenever I properly exposed for the darker moss.  The even darker basalt that the falls flows over is nearly impossible to expose perfectly, but I think it’s fine to allow those areas to go nearly black.  Let me know what you think!

Tamanawas Falls comes into view framed by large fir trees.

Tamanawas Falls comes into view framed by large fir trees.

The trail offers many opportunities for communing with the rapids and small waterfalls along the way.  I used a circular polarizer for these shots.  Combined with a fairly small aperture and the fact that the sun was by that time too low to shine into the canyon, this gave me the long exposures that result in the smooth silky water.  Most of the photos had exposures on the order of 2-5 seconds, a few much longer (15-20 seconds).

Tamanawas Falls is a pretty waterfall near Mount Hood, Oregon.  In April the falls hastens the snow's retreat.

Tamanawas Falls is a pretty waterfall near Mount Hood, Oregon. In April the falls hastens the snow’s retreat.

Beautiful pools and small waterfalls occur along the trail to Tamanawas Falls near Mount Hood, Oregon.

Beautiful pools and small waterfalls occur along the trail to Tamanawas Falls near Mount Hood, Oregon.

Cross-country Skiing at Mt Hood   14 comments

Mount Hood peeks above the fir trees during a cross-country ski outing in Oregon's Cascade Mountains.

Mount Hood peeks above the fir trees during a cross-country ski outing in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.

It grew cold and snowed in our mountains during the first week of spring.  When the storm broke I took the opportunity to go up to Mount Hood and ski.  Whenever I tell somebody I have gone skiing they immediately assume downhill skiing.  I mostly cross-country ski nowadays, though I still love downhill.  It was a beautiful day.

If you are looking for a good place to begin your winter exploration of Mt Hood (on skis or snowshoes), I think Trillium Lake is a good choice.  Those who know the area well might scoff at this choice.  After all, it is fairly popular and can get crowded.  It is very easy to find, however, and offers the option of quickly losing the crowds to ski very beautiful terrain.

Mount Hood stands near snow-covered Trillium Lake on a full moon ski.

Mount Hood stands near snow-covered Trillium Lake on a full moon ski.

Trillium Lake Snowpark lies just a few miles east of the pass at Government Camp, along Highway 26.  Coming from Portland it is on your right.  You immediately descend into a beautiful basin.  On skis it is quite an exciting descent, but because you are following a wide snow-covered road, there is plenty of width to snowplow.  From the bottom you can do like 95% of folks do and circle Trillium Lake.  This is a fantastic option for a beginner (who would probably take off skis and walk down the big hill).

Ice clings to moss along a cross-country skiing trail in Oregon.

Ice clings to moss along a cross-country skiing trail in Oregon.

If you are more of an intermediate, or adventurous novice, go straight ahead at the bottom of the hill.  Then take your first left, climbing up a hill, still on a logging road, to start the Mud Creek Loop.  You will leave most other skiers and shoers behind.  From this loop, you have a couple other options aside from staying on the loop road.  About a mile up, you will see the signed Quarry Trail take off to the right.  This fairly narrow trail descends through open areas and shortens the loop.  You can leave the trail and cut long beautiful turns if you have the ability.

There are plenty of beautiful details to admire on a cross-country ski outing.

There are plenty of beautiful details to admire on a cross-country ski outing.

On Saturday I did a favorite trail of mine, the Lostman.  Other than the name, I like this narrow loop trail for its beauty and generally great snow conditions.  Look for the signed trail leaving Mud Creek Road on the left.  The trail is narrow but not steep, only about a couple miles in length.  You will invariably have it to yourself.  Keep a close watch on the blue diamonds though, because the trail’s name is very appropriate.  You come back out on Mud Creek Road, where you can either turn right to retrace your route back to Trillium Lake or continue the main loop by turning left.

Beautiful Mount Hood is illuminated by alpenglow.  Mirror Lake is at bottom.

Beautiful Mount Hood is illuminated by alpenglow. Mirror Lake is at bottom.

After doing Lost Man, I headed up to Mirror Lake specifically for taking sunset photos of Mount Hood.  This is a short climb on a popular summer trail that leaves Highway 26 just west of the Ski Bowl ski area.  I climbed above Mirror Lake for these last three shots.  The powder snow was deep!  It kicked my butt!  I was a bit too late for perfect light, as the sun set into a cloud bank along the horizon.  But I was happy to have made it in time for a good picture of Hood.  I swept several telemark turns down through the powder under a nearly full moon, as the temperature rapidly dropped.

A crystal-clear and cold evening under the moonlight skiing near Mount Hood, Oregon.

A crystal-clear, cold evening under the moonlight skiing near Mount Hood, Oregon.

What a day!  I hope you enjoyed the pictures.  Click on any of them for purchase options, and to peruse the main portfolio section of my website.  These versions are low-res and are not available for free download anyway (they’re copyrighted).  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.

Mount Hood stands alone, surrounded by forest, during the beginning of dusk.

Mount Hood stands alone, surrounded by forest, during the beginning of dusk.

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