June 15, 2010

June bustin’ out all over? Not so much.

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: , , — geezerwriter @ 4:14 pm

Our approach to summer proceeds at a pace that honors the beloved State Inveterbrate of Washington – the slug.

Thursday a group of 13 set off on the Excelsior Pass Trail in a light mist that grew into a light rain as we hiked. As on Goat Mountain the week before, we reached the snow at about 4300′ of altitude, but since there was zero chance of getting to any views we did not persist far beyond that point. We “enjoyed” one of the soggiest lunch times in recorded human history and toddled back down to the cars.

But it was a good workout! Getting in shape for summer…

Table Mountain

On Sunday a small group headed east with snowshoes to enjoy the last of the snow. Of the many available treks, we decided to go to the Baker Ski Area and head up to Herman Saddle along the Chain Lakes Trail (or as much of it as we could find.) It was sunny and gorgeous. which was a great antidote to the gloom of Thursday. But the snow conditions were not wonderful – it was well packed, without an icy crust, but the top layer was soft and a bit wet. Our crampons would seem to get a good grip, but then the top couple of inches of snow would break loose from the lower layers and you’d slide down a bit, kind of like a micro-miniature slab avalanche under your foot.

We headed up from the parking lot toward Table Mountain, looking for a safe path across Bagley Creek to the trail. We got down to the creek near the little bridge that crosses at the outlet to Upper Bagley Lake, but we couldn’t see a safe path. We would have to walk on snow sloping to the side at nearly 45 degrees – it might have been manageable with fresher snow, but not on this day.

So we changed gears and decided to head up toward Artist Point along the Wild Goose Trail, our most common snowshoe route and always good for views of Mount Baker. But we were now a couple of hundred feet below the visitor center and the trail. After a bit of backtracking we managed to climb back up and then faced the issue of the famous “Cardiac Hill” – a very steep cat-track at the edge of the Ski Area that is used as a return run during the ski season. It goes from one point on the road to another, but it cuts off a long set of switchbacks, and so is about three times as steep as the road. Given the slippery conditions we considered staying on the road, but in the end we just slogged up the hill – it went OK, but no one was too crazy about coming back down that way. (And we didn’t.)

Heading to Pan Dome

At the top of Cardiac Hill, you get the choice of heading for Panorama Dome instead of Artist Point. In ski season Pan Dome can be like Grand Central Station and the approaches full of skiers and boarders flying by at freakishly high speeds – a snowshoer takes his life in his hands to venture among them. But on this day there were only a few hard-core boarders dragging themselves around on the hills, and Mike and I had never been to Pan Dome, so Marjan and Frank led us up.

Shuksan from Pan Dome

Shuksan from Pan Dome

The sun was beginning to hide itself but we still had some great views. It was interesting to learn that it is in fact possible to at least see Mount Baker from some points within the Mount Baker Ski Area. (I’ve met people who have been skiing there for years and believed that they were actually skiing on Mount Baker itself.)

I took some bracketed pictures (several pictures of the same scene, but at different exposure levels) so that I could experiment with some High Dynamic Range photography (HDR) software that I am trying out. The idea is that some very contrasty scenes, such a snowy mountain in the sunshine with dark trees in the shade, are not handled well by most cameras. Our eye-brains can average things out and see detail everywhere, but a photo will either show the trees with the mountains all washed out, or a lovely mountain with a black, featureless foreground. To use HDR you take two or three (or more) pictures at different exposures (if you camera permits) and the software somehow finds the area of greatest detail in each picture and attempts to blend them together. Like magic!

By the time we got to Pan Dome and I had time to fiddle around with this, the sun was mostly gone and the lighting was getting flat, so I don’t think that day was the ideal test. But I’ve included a view to the northwest which was improved a bit by the HDR trickery.

North Cascades from Pan Dome


1 Comment »

  1. Wow! Those pictures are really great, I especially love the Shuksan one. I stared at it for a long time, just reveling in it. But I’m glad I stayed home, I had a nice quiet day instead of wearing myself out. Thanks for putting these pictures up, though, I always love seeing my favorite spots whether I’m taking the picture or not!!!!

    Comment by DJan — June 15, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

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