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Tag Archives: North Cascades

Once winter really settles in, the passes out of the valley to the west are closed to traffic and we find ourselves near ‘the end of the road’. So far this year, we haven’t had too much snow but it has been cold enough to freeze many of the lakes. On Sunday we took the drive up to Rainy Pass and walked through the snow to frozen Rainy Lake. Ken took his ice skates and I carried my cameras and we took the dogs too. Of course. It was mid-afternoon by the time we got up there and the sun had dropped behind the North Cascades but it was warmer up high than down here in the valley. This is a weather inversion and has caused a bit of air pollution in some places. It was a fun walk and Sky’s first real experience with snow! Nothing seems to slow her down. We did try to keep her from going to far off-trail for fear she would get stuck and we’d have to rescue her. The ice was pretty rough for skating and Ken thought it might be a little soft too but he gave it a try. The dogs loved running on it and I just tried to keep them all away from each other. Walking back to the car, the alpenglow light on the high peaks was amazing.

We are ever so grateful to live in this beautiful place.

Along the Blue Lake Trail

Ken and Luna and I did the short hike to Blue Lake Sunday afternoon. After the previous week’s torrential rain storms, highway 20 is once again closed so hikers can only access some of the trails from the east side. It was a good time to go. And then when we started on the trail we were amazed by the dizzying array of mushrooms we saw! Their spores had waited patiently for the big rains and then they burst through the surface of the soil, moss, bark, dead wood – where ever they could find an opening.


Yesterday Luna and I and Guthrie and Guthrie’s person Marcy went for an afternoon hike at Blue Lake. From the valley it was easy to see that the first snow had fallen in the North Cascades so we knew we would see snow along the way. We drove through it at Washington Pass and the trailhead was covered with white stuff. The dogs were thrilled to see fresh snow! Luna has been lucky to find snow every month this year. The north-facing slope didn’t provide terrific lighting for the afternoon hike however the grandeur of the scenery lit up our senses and we quite enjoyed the short trek to and from Blue Lake. The views were full of graphic bold images and reflections that left me wondering what was real and what was reflected. Lots of images were made.

This is an avalanche chute full of debris along the trail

Guthrie relished the snow

These brown icicles dripped off of an old log

Blue skies, fiery larches and new snow!

This larch seems to be waving goodbye to fall or hello to winter

The outlet

Reflections everywhere

What’s real

The iconic viewpoint for Blue Lake. It looks much different in summer.

It is almost too much to take in with one image

With the fading light, the mountains and sky provide a bold graphic image in black and white

Guthrie – who could resist this guy?

Gray Jays stopped to see if we had any food to share

Otherwise known as Camp Robbers


Or black and white?

Reflections in black and white

Goodbye to fall and Blue Lake for another year

Luna in her birthday buff

Again, what’s real and what is reflected?

Down the trail in the late afternoon light

Two peas in a pod

This tiny pond is a delight

Reeds, all bent in the same direction

With frosted Christmas trees across the way

And still, Blue Gentian blooming. In the snow.

Friends are visiting from Iowa this week and we are busy showing them the highlights of the valley and Ken is trying to take Paul to all the great fishing spots, despite the fact that steelhead season didn’t open when they thought it might. Little trout from streams and big trout in lakes will have to suffice for this visit. Yesterday we drove to Slate Peak and hiked around the basin below it and enjoyed the fall colors and migrating raptors. We saw Rough-legged Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Northern Harriers and some unidentified accipitor. Later the guys caught small trout in a beautiful mountain stream while Corly and I went to see spawaning chinook salmon in the Methow River. It was a lovely day.


Luna is practicing on the edge of Slate Peak for her upcoming agility trial


The last of the blue sky days


Smoke from the lingering wildfires creates some hazy conditions that doesn’t quite block the view of Mt Baker


Ken and Corly are dwarfed by the Pasayten Wilderness stretching off to Canada


Ken and Paul have been friends for 25 years and though they seldom see each other it’s as if they were together all the time!




This is the basin I hiked through a month or so ago. See that here.


Slate Peak Lookout


These sedimentary rocks show that while we were over 7000′ elevation, this land was once underwater.


Lunch from the Rocking Horse Bakery, Mazama Store and a local orchardist served on a lichen covered rock!


Does Luna really like Paul so much or is she considering his lunch?




Fall colors in an old burned forest


No shortage of cameras


If a tree falls in the forest…………


Yesterday was Luna’s sixth birthday! It just doesn’t seem possible that she’s officially middle aged. What does that make me? We celebrated with a hike to Cuthroat Lake – a gem of a lake in the North Cascades. It’s an easily accessible trailhead off of highway 20 and it’s only a two mile saunter to get to the lake. I’ve only been there once before, years ago and in the middle of summer. The mosquitoes chased me away in no time and I never returned til yesterday. Fall is definitely the time to visit Cuthroat Lake. The trail was not overly busy yesterday, surprising for a three day weekend with fine fall weather.


Beautiful colors


On the trail


Most of the small creeks are dry.


After no rain for weeks on end, the trail is very dusty


They needed a break




Frozen bubbles


This grass was still frosty at midday


Fall larches color the forest


Ken had to wet a fly


Luna thinks maybe this is a little boring


That’s a tiny trout


Luna’s not sure if this is the highlight of her day


More pretty


Birthday girl with her birthday buff


Fall lighting is the best


Love the way it lights up the larches


A breeze ripples the clear water


More fall colors


Ice crystals force up through the moist soil along the shady side of the lake


The water is so clear – there is no sneaking up on the trout


Blue and yellow – my favorite color combination


Larches are my favorite trees




And still more pretty




Mom and baby sister


Lots of local Methow folks made the trip to Cuthroat Lake yesterday.


It’s been a few weeks since I had a nice hike in the mountains. I had grand plans for a hike every week this summer and have fallen far short of that goal. Yesterday’s hike was a good one. With the passing of Labor Day and the start of school, it sems that summer is over. Nights are cooler and days are way shorter. The light is marvelous and the air is crisp making for perfect hiking conditions. Luna and I drove most of the way to Slate Peak and then took the Buckskin trail down into the basin below the lookout. We left the trail and rambled through the basin and then up to the ridge where we found the West Fork of the Pasayten trail and returned to the road and walked back to the car. It was not a long hike but it was long on views and surprisingly, quite a few flowers. There were also lots of migrating birds – in particular I noticed Cooper’s Hawks, American Pipits and White – crowned Sparrows. Also many finches in flight that I could not identify.


Almost to Mazama on highway 20 I saw this free range or feral piano, abandoned by the side of the road. There was a package of castors to replace the broken ones. I’ve seen bbq’s, out dated tv’s, couches, even old satellite dishes; but this is the first time of seen a piano on the side of a road.


Luna is wearing red because it’s hunting season and more than once I’ve benn told that she looks like a black bear.


This photo needs some arrows to show our route. Our trail drops down there in the shade on the bottom right of the image and then you can barely see it crossing the talus (rock) slope to the left before it drops down into the meadow. We crossed through the larch trees and on the other side of them left the trail to ramble up through the basin and to the ridge, where we joined the second trail and it took us to the road just below and to the left of the lookout on the high point.

Red leaves show that there’s already been a frost. It was 42 in the sunshine when we started our hike. I was glad I had a jacket and wool gloves.


Luna is already out on the trail.


In the meadow there were lots of flowers. Here is a paintbrush (Castilleja sp) with blue gentian in the background


I love the dark blue gentian, a late summer flower in the high country.


Looking back at the trail as we enter the trees.

There was a family of Cooper’s Hawks calling loudly and flying around in this area.


Moss shows that the area is still wet despite the fact that we’ve had no rain in a month or more.


I could not resist this tiny scene


How many months of lupine are there? Seems like I’ve been seeing it since April!


Pink monkeyflower and its shadows.


More paintbrush. I saw at least three different colors of it.


Someone’s burrow. It is pretty good sized. Maybe a marmot? I think they live in rocks. A wolverine?


Another view looking back. We’ve left the trail and are heading up now.


And looking down valley. Within a month all those larch (tamarack) trees will turn golden and their needles will begin to drop.


A much-needed rest in the shade.


Now we are higher than when we started.


My cell phone has a compass app. I wonder how it works even without a cell signal? Any ideas?


Looking north towards Canada. The stunted spruce and other species of trees at high elevations are sometimes referred to as krumholtz – crooked, bent or twisted


Luna was happy to find two lingering snow patches


And up to the road. It was almost a mile walk back to the car.


Views to the west from the road. That’s Mount Baker in the middle.


And a last view of the lookout


We stopped in a silver forest to look for birds. Mostly Yellow-rumped Wablers. Also a Townsend’s Solitaire.


An aster next to the creek.





Last weekend my friend came up from the hotter part of the state in hopes of cooling off a bit and doing some fly fishing. The weather was not cool at all with the thermometer hitting 100 degrees both days! However, mountain streams are cool and refreshing and she was able to wet her line in a couple of them over the weekend.


Saturday afternoon’s creek


A nice deep pool


Sam enjoyed the cold clear water


Pine drops, Pterospora andromedea


According to the USFS, Pinedrops is a member of the Indian-pipe family  (Monotropaceae). Pinedrops is a root parasite, depending on its association  with a mycorrhizal fungus that is also associated with a pine tree. Pinedrops produces  very little chlorophyll and is therefore not green in color and does not  conduct photosynthesis.


Sunday morning creek. The dogs didn’t get to go this time.


This water was even colder than the previous day’s water.


I was fascinated by the patterns of water and rocks



Cold foot


I played with capturing moving water although I had left my tripod at home.


There is an insect inside that tiny bundle of sticks and stuff





A cutthroat, caught and released.



Last year I went to Blue Lake twice in the fall so this year I wanted to make sure and get there during its short summer season. The snow has only recently receded and still covered the trail in one place – maybe an avalanche chute. There were still a couple of small icebergs floating too. And given that the weather up there on Thursday was cool and cloudy, it was very early in the short summer for Blue Lake. Winter is the major force in the North Cascades, lasting from October through July; well that’s when there is snow on the ground.


Looking towards the lake outlet


And back at the talus slope still mostly covered with ice and snow


Small iceberg. My hiking partner said it would be fun to swim out to it and climb up on it. She didn’t do it.


Luna swam


Chilly on the trail. Down in the valley it was near 90.


These elephant’s head lousewort, Pedicularis groenlandica, were blooming in a bog at the trailhead, along with white bog orchids, Platanthera dilatata



The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) stretches from Mexico to Canada along the crest of the mountains – from the Sierra Nevada in California to the Cascades of Washington. It intersects roads in many places so day hikers can get a taste of what the through hikers do everyday for months on end. One of my favorite pieces of the PCT follows a ridgeline to Grasshopper Pass. I like this trail for a variety of reasons – one, it’s never steep; two, the views are outstanding; three, the wildflowers are grand; and four – later on the larch trees change to a lovely shade of orange before dropping their needles. Oh, there are also lots of marmots and ground squirells and pikas! Pikas, if you are not familiar with them, live in talus slopes and are the smallest member of the lagomorph family; they are tiny rabbits. They do not hibernate like many of the mammals of the high alpine country. Instead, during the summer and fall months, they gather grasses and vegetation and create little hay piles to keep them nourished through the LONG winter! And it is long. The snow has only just recently melted from this region.

Only 35 miles to Canada. Doesn’t sound so bad.

The trail starts out crossing this rocky talus slope where the pikas live.


I do not know this pretty blue flower

I think this is Lewisia columbiana

Its tiny delicate flowers up close

A vibrant red Castilleja (paintbrush)

Really, do I always have to include an image of lupine?

Ground hugging phlox

I think this is a penstemon

I knew this one last year!


Maybe a lousewort?

The trail is carpeted with last year’s needles from the alpine larch trees that are now covered in fine green foliage.

Nothing better than finding a snow field on a July hike!

See the smoke in the lower left hand corner? Probably a result of the previous night’s lightning storm.

Bugs do it.

Anyone know what kind of bug does it? The flower is an anemone seedhead.

Looking back on the trail across the talus slope


Thistles are not well liked by most but they are attractive

Cow parsnip?

I think these are non-native daisies but they sure are pretty little things.

Here it is – mid-summer and I’ve barely been out on any hikes. That needs to change. Yesterday I had a window of opportunity and drove up to Harts Pass. It’s a rugged and narrow road and if you are afraid of heights, you’d best not look out the window. The drop down to the Methow River is precipitous, to say the least. One particularly bad stretch is called Dead Horse Point in honor of a string of pack horses that went over the edge back in the days before there was a road. The trail and the eventual road were put in to service the mining camps and the old and now abandoned, town of Barron, headquarters of gold mining in the Harts Pass area. It’s hard to imagine that at one time there were 1000′s of miners, a store, and other components of a rough community so high in the mountains. Now it’s primarily a recreation area and access to the Pasayten Wilderness. The road ends just below the lookout at Slate Peak, about 7400′ elevation. This is the highest maintained road in Washington. Snow has not all melted so I parked about a mile and a half below the lookout and with Luna, walked to the top. The views were stunning and wildflowers abundant. The temperature was 77. It was very refreshing. In Winthrop it was 97.


My what a big tongue you have!


I have forgotten more wildflower names than I know these days.


A yellow violet, maybe Viola glabella


 One of the phloxes


Slate Peak in the distance. You can see a similar view in this post from last November 7 at the beginning of winter




Luna looking over the edge. She’s not afraid of heights. You can see Mount Baker in NW Washington on the left side of the image.



Heading down and looking back at the lookout. You can see part of the Pacific Crest Trail down below.


Nice thing to do after a hike.


Caltha sp. ?


 Anemone occidentalis


Buttercups, Ranunculus sp.


A burned silver forest


These yellow glacier lillies, Erythronium grandiflorum, bloom immediately following snow melt.


Paintbrush, Castilleja sp.


Another Phlox sp.


Monkeyflower, Mimulus sp.

I am learning a new camera – one of the mirrorless micro 4/3 models and finding it not the most intuitive thing I’ve ever held. Hopefully images will improve with practice. Wish me luck. I may return to carrying the large heavy DSLR although I’d really like to cut down on the weight I take hiking with me.



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