Friday, September 21, 2012

Glacier National Park Day 5

There aren't many regrets I allow myself to dwell on any more. Part of being an adult is accepting what is done can not always be changed, and accepting the outcomes and overcoming the difficulties is one of the essences of life itself. That said, Iceberg Lake was always present in my mind when preparing for Glacier.

Like a siren it called to me, an idealized treasure hidden in the mountains. In 2011 treacherous snow slides kept me from it, yet just close enough to catch a glimpse of its wonder. Part of my pushing this year's trip back to July, in the thick of tourist season, was the knowledge I'd be able to get into this lake with the warm weather.

Mount Gould Sunrise
Mount Gould over Swiftcurrent Lake

The journey up to Iceberg is one of many that highlight just how incredible Many Glacier is. I am firmly convinced that this intrepid reach, far removed from the main areas of the park, is the most beautiful in so many ways. Climbing up above expansive valleys, crossing great glacial streams, and hiding in among great alcoves carved from the very world itself, its an experience, not just a sight to be seen.

I found myself in awe upon finally reaching Iceberg Lake. The scale, the scope, the wonder of it all completely exceeded what my wildest imagination could have conjured up to that point. I should have known, this is a recurring symptom in Glacier. I found myself at odds to fit this expansive landscape into a photographic means. Thankfully there exists such a thing as the mosaic photo, and after using almost 20 shots to make one photo, I can happily say I was able to nearly capture Iceberg Lake. Of course only standing there on one's own can anyone truly appreciate the great mountain lake.

And that is of course, the ultimate goal of all this folly of photographing, processing, and blogging. The absolute point is to move some part of the heart of the viewer to desire to stand on the same path as I have. Venture outside of the world as we know it and see the world as it truly was. It is only on these precious ground that we finally connect with what once was, and why we must protect it for every generation here after.



Iceberg Lake

Glacies Lacus

Bear Grass

Monday, August 27, 2012

Glacier National Park Day 4

On day 4 I made my way up to Many Glacier and secured a campsite. Then I spent the rest of the day at Two Medicine. I took the ferry across the lake and hiked up into Upper Two Medicine Lake.

St Mary Sunrise
Sunrise over Wild Goose Island

Sometimes I believe the park has a mind of its own. As if it were challenging me, making me pay a penance for taking away the photos of its rich sights. Sometimes the park wins. Upper Two Medicine was one of several occasions where I could just not overcome the challenge of the weather and lighting conditions to create the photos that I desired. This can be especially frustrating after one has spent so much time and effort to reach a photo site, hiking for hours, stomping through mud and climbing up hundreds of feet. I learned that sometimes its best just to take a deep breath, and accept it.

We are only human, and Glacier is a beautiful reminder of just how human we are.

Wild Goose Sunrise

Saint Mary


Sunday, August 5, 2012


I went over to Seattle for a few days to see Seafair 2012. I needed a break from working on Glacier photos too so here's something a little different. Still 3 more days of Glacier to go.

HMCS Edmonton and Nanaimo

USS Halsey



Downward Spiral

Rainier Aerobatic

Seafair Warbirds


Seafair Mustang 1

Seafair Mustang 2

Seafair Thunderbolt

Fat Albert

Blue Angel 6

Blue Angels Echelon

Blue Angels Seafair

Blue Angels Diamond

Blue Angels Seafair 3

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Glacier National Park Day 3

Logan Pass is an elusive path. For only about two to three months a year is it actually passable, and this is because of the determined efforts of the Glacier Park employees and the contracted construction workers. Each winter the area gets up to 100 ft of snow fall, due to drifting over the divide. Then in the summer, torrential rains in the mountains can bring down great piles of rock and scree.

This was the case when I initially arrived at the park. A storm a few nights before had trapped vehicles on the pass when it brought down a rockfall. I decided to be patient and hope that the Park officials determined the road to be safe in my first two days. Luck finally showed itself on the night of my second day when the road reopened, just in time the planned morning journey over it on the third day.

From left to right; Mount Oberlin, Bird Woman Falls, Mount Clements (rear), Mount Cannon.

Mount Cannon
Mount Cannon

Lunch Creek Falls

My plan had also included securing a camp site at Many Glacier to use as a base camp for the rest of the trip. Much to my surprise, Many Glacier was completely full by the time I arrived, apparently it is much more popular then I realized. Knowing St Mary was already full I drove to Rising Sun and got a campsite there for the night. This wasn't so bad in that I was planning on hiking to Virgina Falls which was in the area, and I would be able to shoot sunset and sunrise in St Mary, which I had never done before.

Camp set up completed I hiked to St Mary and Virginia Falls. I believe it was on this hike that it finally set in how much water I was photographing on this trip. Undoubtedly it was linked to the temperatures in the 80s every day. As I finished the hike a rain storm was closing in so I headed back to camp and decided to wait out the rain on the porch of the nearby camp store. The night died down quietly and my easy day with it. The next day would be another easy one, but not nearly as rewarding in photographs.

Wild Goose
Wild Goose Island

Going to the Sun Mountain
Going to the Sun Mountain

Fountains of Man
St Mary Lake

St Mary Falls
St Mary Falls

Virginia Falls
Virginia Falls

Sol Mons
Going to the Sun Mountain

Wild Flower
Wild Flower

Rising Sun Rainbow
Rainbow at Rising Sun

Citadel Mountain

Little Chief
Little Chief Mountain

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Glacier National Park Day 2


Waking early the second day I set my mind to issues of immediate importance. Breakfast and hot coffee. Camping is just about the only situation that demands I consume coffee to function as a human being. It's a spirit lifter in those early hours after waking from a less then comfortable sleep in a tent.

Charged by my morning meal my task of the day took the forefront. Rearranging my hiking schedule I decided that this day should be dedicated to climbing Mount Brown. Climbing a mountain, thats not something we all do every day, unless there is an odd mountaineer reading this, in which case, kudos friend.

In a strict sense I wasn't exactly "climbing" a mountain as it is seen traditionally. I would be hiking a trail up the shallowest approach, but don't read that as being easy. This is still a 4,500 ft ascent over 5 miles. The grade varies but is always climbing, which puts enormous stress on the body over the length of the hike. Whats more, afterward a 4,500 ft descent awaits.

There's an emotional response to conquering a summit that has always intrigued me. That burst of joy and relief that overcomes oneself upon taking those last few weary steps to the peak, almost impossible to describe to one who has not experienced it themselves, almost saddening to think there are those that don't know it.

As silly as the whole ordeal feels in the moment of worst fatigue and stress during the ascent, I'll still keep climbing mountains. They present themselves along with the clouds in those lofty reaches which keep my eyes transfixed. A challenge to my soul, a path to the great reaches that I can embark upon with my own two legs.

As John Muir famously said, "The mountains are calling, I must go."

Aqua Saxa

Edwards Mountain

Mount Brown Summit

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Glacier National Park Day 1

Glacier National Park in Montana has always eluded description for me. Its one of those places that truly challenges me both in the literary and the photographic context. The beauty of the place is so great that it can cause pain to one's senses, an overload of sensory input that can only be nullified by slowing life down and taking every thing in at a meditative pace. I can take thousands of photos of Glacier, and not one will ever truly express the emotion of that world. Love is the closest description that I have to express my true feelings of that heavenly place.

Glacier itself is a rather inhospitable area. A natural fortress of great mountains, spanning valleys, raging rivers, and wild animals. Its this inhuman element that draws one in, that feeling of the good days of adventure and wilderness. For only about two months in the year is the full 700 miles of trails in the park even accessible, and even then its hit and miss. Snow packs in the upper elevations persist well into August, and the thousands of avalanche chutes spawn great fields of berries which attract hundreds of bears. Traveling on foot through Glacier is not to be taken lightly.

For my second trip to Glacier I came armed with the lessons I had learned through experience. The goal for this year was the "less is more attitude". When hauling 10 lbs of camera equipment throughout the park, it became essential to cut down on the rest of my gear, to keep weight to a minimum. A small pack and only the most essential survival items accompanied my camera and tripod into the trails. Ever present along with my camera on my belt was my ready can of bear spray, which thankfully has reached the end of its two year usable life without need for use. This year I added a new tool to the mix with a Garmin 62S GPS. Although the trails in the National Parks are usually well marked and easy to follow, it is a very useful survival tool in the event of misfortune. It will also find much use on the less properly marked trails I travel on shorter trips throughout the Inland Northwest.

My days were filled with driving, foot travel, and photography. As such I did not keep a journal of sorts. Still, I will publish a series of blog entries sorted by days in the park, will small entries of my memories from those days.

The first day in the park was filled with bad luck. All that needs to be said is that it was encountered, and I made a determined effort to endure through it, and this was surpassed. I settled in Apgar for the first few days, and decided that after the travel and the late start on the day, a short hike would be good. To this end I chose Avalanche Lake from my list of planned trails. This is a short 2.2 mile hike up a creek bedded valley to the mountain lake. Its very popular with tourists, so of course was crowded. While this is annoying it also makes the trail much safer to travel on. After the hike to the lake I relaxed in Apgar and waited for the setting sun to set up the light across the lake on the Lewis Range, one of the most picturesque views of the west side of the Divide. I went to bed early this night, exhausted from a long day of road travel and hiking, determined to be ready for the challenge of the second day's hike.

 Avalanche Falls
Avalanche Creek Falls

 Avalanche Lake

Lake McDonald

Lewis Range across Lake McDonald

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Palouse Falls

A practice run of sorts is always beneficial in the lessons learned, provided one is open to the learning. Mistakes provide excellent experience and dire reminders. As such, one month before my 9 day trip to Glacier National Park I find myself spending a night camped at Palouse Falls State Park.

Cut out of the arid landscape of south eastern Washington, the Palouse Falls are a vivid reminder of the great glacial floods that shaped the Northwest from Missoula, Montana to Portland, Oregon. The Palouse saws a course through the scrub lined canyons left from the floods before suddenly dropping hundreds of feet into a great bowl at the bottom of which stands a large pool. The falling water creates a star burst spray as it impacts the pool below. The raging water transforms from a green hue back into turquoise clear as it calms into a running river once more. The Palouse resumes its sawtooth journey, now into canyons twice as deep as before.

The existence of the towering bowl and its pool far below seems almost impossible in this barren landscape. At the top of the canyon the world is a dull variation of dusty tans and browns. As the eye follows the cavernous space downward life begins to flourish. The browns become a lush green abundance of plants, feeding off the continuous spray of the falls. Inside the vast empty spaces of the bowl, swallows by the hundreds perform their aerial dance, almost as if the space were carved from the earth just for their kind.

Colorful Falls 

I arrived at Palouse Falls State Park just before mid day. I leisurely claimed a camp site and got my things squared away before beginning the hiking portion of my trip. Once settled I donned my boots, filled a day pack, and got to it.

Generally speaking, I travel to gain experiences. My preferred method of sharing that experience with others is photography. I feel it would not be inaccurate to say that I travel to take pictures. In that sense my trips are planned around photography. Grand landscapes are best shot shortly after sunrise and during sunset. The time in between I fill with hiking, during which I photograph places and things I won't be able to during the previously mentioned opportune moments.

Hiking is an excellent form of exercise and often the sights, sounds, and emotions that accompany the journey pacify the soul. Indeed one of the primary reasons for this trip, aside from the practice, was my own need for a breather from my professional life. After weeks of waiting quite impatiently, the weather and overtime schedule finally consented.


Not knowing the local trails or possessing a trail map, I opted to just wander the established foot paths and see where they took me. I started with some promising bluffs that afforded an excellent view upon the falls below. I tracked these bluffs up the river until the path cut down at a railroad. This led me down to the river proper. Here I found the violent rapids of the upper falls, framed by the canyon walls towering overhead.

I worked my way back up the river, at first hopping from one massive boulder to another before I found the established trail, tucked beneath the canyon wall. Before long I reached Castle Rock, the sentinel rock formation standing a lonely vigil over the falls. From a distance it appears almost delicate, in sharp defiance to the natural forces it has weathered over the millenia. Up close it must appear much stronger, for I clung to it quite earnestly whiling staring at the cool green waters of the pool over 300 feet below. For a few moments I let go of my rocky lifeline to work my way down an outcropping to overlook the falls directly. A moment is all my heart could take and I scurried back up the slope to my anchor.

It is at this juncture that I eyed the trail that circumnavigates the bowl, and continues down the canyon. More a goat track then a trail, it sits precariously on a sloping shelf several hundred feet above the river. I decided to try it and although I was immediately uncomfortable with the height and poor footing, I soldiered on. Suffice to say I spent most of my time concentrating on not losing my footing instead of enjoying the great view of the falls, but such is the life of an acrophobic. Eventually I traced the trail all the way to the other side of the park and was able to work my way up a basalt slide to safety. Test of courage passed.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing, reading, taking some more pictures of the falls. I met Jonathan and Jennifer from Portland and helped them pick a route to Coeur d'Alene for the next day of their travels. As the sun set I tried for some more pictures of the falls, had dinner, and then went to bed. I woke early the next day and after a quick breakfast I took even more pictures of the falls in the early light. I then broke camp and headed home, content with my short stay.

 Falling Flow

So, there were lessons learned, and here they are for posterity.

  1. Always bring all the camera batteries fully charged (I forgot and brought one that was nearly dead)
  2. Less is more. I need a smaller day pack, probably a minimalist CamelBak to cut down on weight on the trail.
  3. Make a checklist before leaving home. I forgot a few items.
  4. Change the batteries in the lamps. Evidently these don't last very long.
  5. Consider buying a 40-50 degree sleeping bag. While my 20 degree bag works great up at Glacier, in the warmer climates its just overbearing.
  6. Bring a pencil.
  7. A watch is very handy.
  8. A 1.5 mile hike in rough terrain and high heat wore me out and gave me sore feet. I need to train more before Glacier.

No problems that can not be over come in the next month. Practice makes perfect after all.