October 31, 2015

A Charmed Hike

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades, Weather — Tags: , , — geezerwriter @ 2:53 pm

We thought we’d gotten a bum deal when we went hiking on the Heliotrope Ridge Trail last Thursday. The end of October is generally not a good time to go hiking in the North Cascades but it looked like El Niño was on our side, providing fairly warm enough temperatures to keep the snow away. And the National Weather Service forecast called for a lull in the rain, although it did say that rain was more likely in the mountains than in the lowlands.

You can read all about the hike on D-Jan-ity but, to make a long story short, it was raining very lightly when we started and it stopped entirely after about a half an hour. There were even patches of blue sky urging us onward, but we were flummoxed when we got to the first of three creeks and couldn’t find a safe place to cross. It is pretty commonplace to turn back at the third one but this is the first time that we couldn’t even pass the first one. So we had to settle for a 3 mile hike, getting back to the cars at about noon.

It seems that I was too focused on snow and falling rain to take into account the rain that had already fallen and made its way into the creeks. In fact we are under the influence of something called an “atmospheric river” or “Pineapple Express”, wherein a plume a moist Pacific air from the tropics set its sights on the State of Washington and brings huge amounts (for us) of rain. You can read more about this on Cliff Mass’ Weather Blog.

Last evening my curiosity drove me to look at the data from a SNOTEL (a remote automated weather station) that is located across the road, a few miles from where we were hiking and at about the same elevation. It records the snow depth, temperature and accumulated rainfall at one hour intervals to the nearest one-tenth of an inch – that is pretty coarse, since 1/10 of an inch in an hour is pretty heavy rainfall. The sort of drizzle that fell on us early in the hike  wouldn’t even register on that scale. Anyways, here is a graph of the hourly rain accumulation for Thursday:

Thursday Rain


Notice that, except for the wee hours and the late evening, the only time when that graph isn’t streaking upward is the three hours that we were hiking. And look at the time just before 9AM – over an inch in about 5 hours! So no surprise that Kulshan Creek was raging and we were actually pretty lucky.

Last night in the wee hours we got almost an inch of rain here in town, so I went back to the SNOTEL and downloaded the hourly data from Thursday through 11AM today (Saturday). The arrow points at our hiking time.

Thu-Sat Rain

That’s some serious rain!

By the way, that accumulation is from October 1, the start of what the weather folks call a “water year”. So the mountains have had considerably more rain in the last 2½ days than in the rest of October.

October 2, 2015

Local Color

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: , — geezerwriter @ 1:18 pm

On Thursday, October 1, 2015 eleven Senior Trailblazers struggled up the long, bumpy drive on Canyon Creek Road to the Damfino Lakes Trailhead on a beautiful sunny day. The hike was chosen mainly in the hope of catching some fall color in the North Cascades and it did not disappoint.

Eleven happy hikers in the meadow below Excelsior Pass

Eleven happy hikers in the meadow below Excelsior Pass

Most of  my photos in those meadows were ruined by solar flares, due to shooting to close to the sun. (Sometimes one can get lovely effects from those flares, but not today.) When we reached Excelsior Pass it was getting close to noon, but I managed to dragoon the group into heading a couple of miles east along High Divide in hopes of reaching a favorite place of mine with views into the mountain wilderness of North Cascades National Park. It, too, did not disappoint.

Looking East from High Divide

Looking East from High Divide

The view to the south was dominated by Mount Shuksan. The air was a bit hazy but that can enhance the sense of the depth, as the mountains fade into the distance. It doesn’t show in this picture but if you stared intently enough and really believed (heel clicks optional), you could even make out a silhouette of Glacier Peak (65 miles away) peaking through one of the those dips in the skyline just to the right of Shuksan.

Shuksan from High Divide

Shuksan, et al., from High Divide

We paused on the way back to soak up some more color along High Divide and at Damfino Lakes. All along High Divide we enjoyed a hazy but excellent view of massive Mount Baker – I only just now realized that I failed to take a picture of it.

Color on High Divide

Color on High Divide


Damfino Reflection

Damfino Reflection

We gained a total of about 2200 feet of elevation in the course of this 9 mile hike.

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