No Cougars on the Divide, Just Autumn Brilliance

Sitka Mountain Ash and Cascade Blueberries
Sitka Mountain Ash and Cascade Blueberries with drifting mist

Last Saturday I made time to get out into the mountains for one of the few day hikes I’ve done all year. I went with my friends Rick Dubrow and Cindi Landreth, who were also responsible for the design and construction of my studio remodel. They own Adaptations and A-1 Builders.

Rick & Cindi
Rick Dubrow & Cindi Landreth among giant Mountain Hemlocks on the Cougar Divide trail.

We picked Cougar Divide as our destination. The road takes you to nearly 5000′ so there’s little climbing to get to subalpine ridges, meadows, and forest. It’s a long rocky ridge that leads south toward Mount Baker. The trail is an unofficial boot track that enters the Mount Baker Wilderness just a few hundred yards from the parking area. In mid-summer Cougar Divide is known for dense swarms of mosquitoes, but in the rain of early October there were none of the nasty pests buzzing about.

Firs, Hemlocks, and Mountain Ash
Subalpine Firs and Mountain Hemlocks frame Sitka Mountain Ash and Cascade Blueberries.

We arrived at the trailhead a little after 9 am, changed into boots and raingear, and soon headed out. I hadn’t hiked with Rick and Cindi before so wasn’t sure whether we were heading out on a brisk jaunt to get as far as we could or a slower-paced ramble to enjoy the scenery. It turned out to be the latter. That was a good thing, although it took me a little while to get myself out of gung-ho mode and into a more reflective spirit that continued through the rest of the day.

Colorful bowl panorama
Panorama of a colorful bowl along the trail.

I’d debated how much camera gear to carry, but ultimately ended up hauling one body, a couple of versatile zoom lenses, and my trusty tripod. I was glad I chose to carry the weight because the intimate views of the forests and meadows were as spectacular as I’ve ever seen.

Some of my favorite images from the day (and I exposed a LOT of frames) are posted here. Many of the others are in this video slideshow, which runs about 5 minutes.

This kind of wilderness photography is pure joy for me. It’s work of the best kind. I haven’t done enough of it in the last few years.

Forest Perfection
Forest Perfection

Lichen-draped Mountain Hemlocks
Lichen-draped Mountain Hemlocks

Mapleleaf Currants and Cascade Blueberries
Mapleleaf Currants and Cascade Blueberries on a rocky slope with Subalpine Firs behind.

Green Corn Lily autumn foliage
Green Corn Lily autumn foliage

Mountain Hemlock & Subalpine Fir forest
Mountain Hemlock & Subalpine Fir forest

Cascade Blueberries
Cascade Blueberries growing in thin cracks on rock face

Dave Tucker, a Western Washington University geologist, has written a nice guide to the geology of Cougar Divide. We didn’t take his guide with us on the trail, but wished we had.

Blueberries in autumn color
Cascade Blueberries in autumn color and Partridgefoot foliage among Cougar Divide dacite boulders.

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