Bloody Moon Over the Mountain

Lunar eclipse rising over Mt. Shuksan

Sunday, September 27 was the evening for both a “super moon” and a total lunar eclipse. Super moon simply means the moon appears larger in the sky because it is closer to the earth. I headed up to Artist Point and out the ridge to Huntoon Point to photograph the eclipsed moon rising over Mt. Shuksan. I knew where the moon would be from advance planning using the web app, Photographer’s Ephemeris. Continue reading

Northern Lights and the Night Sky

Northern Lights

I was blessed to witness a brief display of the northern lights last night. I was at Artist Point, the end of the road above the Mt. Baker Ski Area, photographing a high school senior portrait. We finished the session in the twilight and after putting my lighting gear in my truck I returned to the viewpoint for Mt. Baker and began photographing the stars in the night sky.

A little later Derek, who was also photographing the sky, and his mom called to me that the northern lights had appeared over the mountains to the north. I turned to see the eerie green glow I captured in the photo above. The display only lasted about 15 minutes before fading away. Continue reading

Fresh Snow

Mt. Shuksan

What a day! And what a difference a month makes. Compare this photo with the one from October 12.

I was sitting happily captioning photos this morning when I looked out the window and saw that the sky was a stunningly clear blue. I stepped out to the side yard where I can see Mt. Baker and it was clear all the way to the top of the mountain. Much too nice to stay inside so I gathered my gear, made lunch, changed into winter hiking clothes, and headed up Mt. Baker Highway to the end of the road at the Mt. Baker Ski Area. One little glitch along the way. I forgot my wallet at home, realized it when I stopped for gas in Deming, and had to return to Bellingham for it.

Ski Tracks I didn’t get to the ski area parking lot, which was full, until almost 12:30. That was OK since I wanted afternoon light. But it wasn’t OK, because I was racing the clouds that had started to roll in.

I strapped on my snowshoes and headed up toward Artist Point, initially following the groomed ski runs until I got to the top of Blueberry. There I passed the “entering wilderness if you have a problem tough luck” sign as I left the ski area and entered the backcountry. I wasn’t particularly concerned about avalanche danger even though we’d just gotten a ton of fresh soft snow. I continued up to Austin Pass where I stopped to make the photo at the top of the post.

From Austin I climbed up a steep boot and ski track that mostly followed the summertime Wild Goose Trail. It’s the short, steep, and fast way up. The snow was soft and deep so I was glad not to be breaking trail. I made the photo on the right soon after topping out from the steep climb. The ski tracks looked to be from yesterday as they’d started to fill in.

Animal TracksI don’t know just what made these tracks zig zagging across the snow. Could have been a meadow vole or other small rodent that dens under the snow. There were several sets of tracks similar to these in the snow just below Artist Point. I particularly liked this set of tracks because of the way they curved around. What distracted the critter from a straight path?

By this point there were fewer people around since most folks out today were sking or boarding inbounds at the ski area. Just a few hardy soles made the hike for some fresh tracks below Table Mountain. I was sinking nearly to my knees wearing snowshoes. The Artist Point outhouse was buried in snow deeper than the top of the doors. Within a couple of weeks it’s likely to be completely buried as it is every winter. The official snow report was 72 inches on top of Pan Dome and Artist Point is higher so there was probably more snow up there.

Clouds were by now starting to roll in from the south and west. Mt. Baker was obscured and Shuksan was in and out. I had planned to continue out the ridge to Huntoon Point, wanting to photograph Shuksan from my favorite tarn just below the point. But with the thick clouds and no trail through the deep snow I decided Artist Point was a good destination for today.

Mountain HemlockI broke trail the short distance to the overlook toward Swift Creek and Baker Lake. Clouds obscured the lake as well as Mt. Baker, but the snow crusted on the Mountain Hemlocks along the ridge created more accessible drama. I ate my peanut butter sandwich under this tree, admiring the way the wind had blasted the snow into the branches, almost completely hiding the foliage.

I’ve been up to this spot many times over the past 19 years and most of the time on winter visits the trees look much like this. The branches are short and stubby, hanging down to shed some of their snow load. I think this effect is caused by the relatively wet snow we receive in combination with the prevailing southwest wind. We call it the pineapple express, but I don’t think this tortured lollypop of a tree looks anything like a pineapple. A popsicle, maybe.

Hopefully this is just the first of many days I’ll be out playing in the snow this winter.

In case you’re wondering, I shot all of these with my Canon 1Ds Mk II, handheld for a change with the 24-105mm IS lens. The two of the tracks are pretty much straight from the camera, but the view of Shuksan and the Hemlock have been manipulated in Lightroom.

Changing Weather

Mt. Shuksan from Herman's Saddle

Sunday was a glorious day, although a bit cool after our first frost of the season. Fall is definitely in the air with leaves turning brilliant shades of red, orange, and gold almost everywhere you look. The forecast calls for increasing clouds and then rain later this week. Daylight hours are getting rapidly shorter, by about 13 minutes each day.

It was a good day to get out. I’d thought about bicycling 50 or so miles, but ultimately decided to head to the mountains. There’d been a little snow a week or so before so the road to Artist Point had been closed. I chose to hike the Chain Lakes loop, starting and ending at the Mt. Baker Ski Area upper parking lot. It’s about 8 miles around.

The photo of Mt. Shuksan above was made part way up the Herman’s Saddle trail from Bagley Lakes. Wispy cirrus clouds were starting to form over the mountain at 3:45 pm. I hoped that the front would move in slowly enough that there would be a spectacular sunset when I got to the other side of Table Mountain a couple of hours later.

Along the trail the blueberries were as ripe and sweet as they could be, soft from being frozen and thawed several times. I was surprised that there were so many berries still on the bushes as black bears make their home in the area and blueberries are among their favorite fall foods. I did see a little bear scat along the trail and some probable footprints in the snow, but the bears were otherwise hiding.

I met up with another party of hikers doing the whole loop that included a man who two weeks prior had been on top of the other Table Mountain, the one that overlooks Cape Town, South Africa. He took a dip in Hayes Lake, which I was tempted to do but decided the air was too cold with the sun below the treetops. Also in the group was a couple who had come to see our solar panels on the solar tour the previous Saturday. Earlier I’d met an acquaintance whose son had been in Scouts with my boys; he asked me to do a portrait of him and his golden retriever, which I did with Mt. Shuksan in the background.

Mt. Shuksan from Table Mountain trail

The farther around the loop I hiked the cloudier it got. The sky turned dingy white to the south and west, and then to the east as well. I carried my camera on my shoulder until I got to the empty Artist Point parking lot, but didn’t stop to shoot much. This one of Shuksan from below Table Mountain was made at 6:06 pm, just a few minutes before official sunset. It hardly has the drama I was seeking, but sometimes that’s what you get.

I stowed my camera and tripod and hiked as quickly as I could down the Fire & Ice trail back to my truck. It was more ice than fire on the shady north side of the hill so I had to watch my step, particularly on the stairs descending to Austin Pass. I could have hiked the road, but that would have added considerable distance. It was about dark when I loaded up my truck and started down the road home.

All in all, a good day in the mountains. Only about three weeks had passed since my last visit, chronicled under Deliciosum. The next time I’m up there will most likely be with lots of snow on the ground. By the time winter is over there will be about 30 feet of snow where I hiked today. The weather is changing.