Photo of the Month: March 2014

It seems to be getting harder and harder to pick what photo I like the best from each month (which I suppose is a good thing).  This months competition came from the small cascades on the Teneriffe Falls hike and a burned out hulk of a tree seen along the Squak Mountain trail.   I just couldn’t decide so I received some assistance from my housemates to finalise the winner.  Secretly I’m glad they picked this one because it is more unique than the (very pretty) waterfall shots.

Photo taken 29 March, 2014 with a Nikon D7100

The Teneriffe

Exactly one week (one hour off) after arriving at the Boulder River trailhead a nearby hillside gave way, inundating a neighbourhood and closing the highway we drove on indefinitely.  Last week I mentioned all the rain we have recently had more than a few times, including how soggy the soil was.  Soggy soil on an incline can easily become unstable, so it’s not at all surprising there was a large mudslide in this area.  I feel extremely lucky to have chosen that hike when I did and it is very humbling to know that I might not be here talking to you now if we had gone one week later…


Debris on the trail as seen in last week’s post

The weekend of the landslide I chose to instead go east rather than north, back toward Mount Si and the waterfalls currently raging down its flanks.  After a quick search on the Washington Trails Association website I settled on the 6 mile roundtrip Teneriffe Falls trail.


The perfect lighting

Most of the trail parallels a creek with drop after picturesque drop all along the way.  The picture above was the first shot of the day, and I knew right off the bat it was going to be my favourite.  The lighting was just brilliant, with splotches of sun finding their way through the billowing clouds above to illuminate key segments of the river.


One of the lower waterfalls

We thought we had reached the main cascade when we saw the drop above, but after walking down to the water and looking upstream we saw at least three more levels, each larger than the one directly below it.  The waterfall was HUGE and eventually merged with the sky from our vantage point.


Upper falls with person halfway up providing some scale

Teneriffe Falls (or Kamikaze Falls) is actually a series of cascades over 400ft tall, with the largest single drop half that height (seen above).  The main waterfall had a fallen tree resting in the centre, which upon first look appears to be a normal sized trunk.  Boy was I wrong after approaching the end.  It must have been 6ft wide at the base and at least 60ft long, but the distortion caused by the lens and camera angle makes it hard to tell for sure.


Top of the log resting in the spray

Regardless of its exact size, the scale of the tree and waterfall did serve as a reminder of the sheer power water and gravity have when in combination.  It wasn’t until a day or two later when I found out about the mudslide and this fact hit home once again.  So, try to be mindful of recent weather patterns when you go out hiking, especially on wet slopes after significant rains.  I know I’ll be paying more attention in the new few weeks.

Photos taken 22 March 2014 with a Nikon D7100

A walk through the marsh: Boulder River Trail

Since my last post it has only kept raining (ok fine, there have been a few days of nice weather and I even brought the frisbee back out, but for dramatic effect let’s pretend that haven’t happened).
Originally the forecast for last weekend called for another 1.5in of rain over two days, but the storm came in slower than expected giving me a small window of opportunity to squeeze a hike in on Saturday. I chose the Boulder River Trail as it sticks to the river valley, meaning the views are all close up and everything is still visible even if buckets start falling on us.


The drenched forest floor.

Because of all the rain the trail had a significant amount of running water on it.  I’d hazard a guess that about a third of the trail was either covered with water or deep mud.  Lucky for me (in my running shoes) there were enough rocks for me to bounce around on that I only received a wet foot once.


One of the many stream crossings.

There wasn’t just a lot of water on the trail though.  It had also swelled all the usual trail-side trickles into full-blown waterfalls, giving me ample opportunity to take pictures of those both big and small!


One of the countless mini-cascades.


My favourite picture from the hike.

The trail normally attracts visitors for its three main waterfalls, the largest of which is 259ft tall (seen below).


Feature Show Falls well above normal flow.

I’m sure I have mentioned this before, but rain also seems to bring out the colour of the forest.  The stunning shades of green and brown stopped us in our tracks on multiple occasions.  I took a few macro (ish) shots of new shoots popping up through autumn’s remaining leaf litter and humus.


New sprouts ready for spring!

The trail ends rather abruptly in a clearing along the river.  It looked like the trail continued on so we asked some fellow hikers, who told us you could actually press on for another 5 minutes and find a lean-to in the dense forest.


Lean-to is the prefect description.

On the way back I stopped at a few locations I’d made a mental note about on the first pass.  The first was a narrow gorge the river passed through.  Upon further investigation it yielded a neat surprise (maybe only neat for a geographer or geologist).  There was a gigantic circular basin about 3m in diameter with a rounded stone (with 1m diameter) right in the middle.  Normally when you see this type of feature it is along steams and rivers but at a much smaller scale, with a pebble in the hole.  It is called a rock-cut basin and forms when a vortex of water (kolk) traps a stone and grinds it into the softer riverbed rock.


A huge rock-cut basin with the cutting rock still in the middle.

Given how high above the river and how big the stone and basin were I’d say this was formed and only expands in large flood events where a great deal of water is forced through the narrow channel.  These are the things I think about on hikes…


The erosive power of water.

The last location I stopped at was a moss-covered bank along a small tributary.  On the way in we were passing other hikers and I couldn’t take any pictures, but as moss tends to stick around a while I figured I’d get the angle I wanted on the way out.  Every inch of the hillside was covered in moss and ferns and every green imaginable was represented, from emerald to chartreuse.  The stream and waterfall are really just afterthoughts.


A spectrum of green.

Once again, the recent rain helped make this hike memorable and scared the droves of people away.  Plus it only ever sprinkled while we were out there.  Winter exploration at its best!

Photos taken on 15 March 2014 with a Nikon D7100

On Rain and Sunsets

Kirkland has received about 4.5 inches of rain since March 1st.   On average 3.6 inches fall in the ENTIRE month.  Reno (where I grew up) got exactly 4.01 inches all of last year!  That means with all this water, literally everywhere, hiking is has been a little difficult. Other activities have had to fill the void, such as going to the Seattle Sounder’s opening match in the midst of Saturday’s downpour.  I don’t think I have ever been that wet before (not counting swimming), but that’s what standing and walking in the rain for four hours gets you (I think a half-inch of water landed on me that day).  All these storms have brought with them clouds, which have made for a few nice sunsets when it isn’t completely grey out.


Framed from Juanita Beach Park


One day purple…

I’ve used this as an opportunity to explore the local parks around Kirkland.  The two photos above were taken at Juanita Beach Park on March 3rd, while the three below were taken at/near Nelson Point in the wetlands of Juanita Bay Park on March 6th.


…the next orange.




I thought it was over so I left. Good thing I turned around…

I also found a few pictures from November 23rd that fit with this theme.  These were taken from Marina Park in downtown Kirkland during the most vibrant sunset I’ve seen thus far while living in the Seattle area.


Seattle’s CBD seen from Kirkland’s pier


Oh, to be sailing across Lake Washington…

Weather can lead to some great pictures and seeing more sites around town has been a nice change of pace, but I’m due for another hike.  Here’s to hoping for nice weather next weekend!

Photos taken on dates listed above with a Nikon D7100

Photo of the Month: February 2014

Boy did February go by quick or what!  I just realised it’s now March and I need to pick my favourite picture from last month.  It was a hard decision (as always) with a few standouts, particularly the two fog pictures from Rattlesnake Ridge.  Ultimately I liked the setting and colour seen in my fern picture from Coal Creek just a bit more though, so that one takes this month’s prize.


Photo taken 24 February 2014 near Bellevue, Washington with a Nikon D7100

Olympic Memories

By / February 28, 2014

As I’m sure all of you know, the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia recently came to an end.  Like most people on Earth I was unable to visit these games, and have yet to visit an Olympic city while the games are being held.  However, for each of the two previous Olympics I visited the host city within a week after the events ended: I lived in Bellingham from 2009 to 2013, just south of Vancouver, and I flew into London (on my way to Scotland) right after the 2012 Summer Olympics left town.


Vancouver’s waterfront Seawall trail

Because I lived under an hour away from downtown Vancouver, studied Canada at University, and adore the city, I visited regularly until my move farther down the highway to Seattle.  The last time I saw the Olympic Caldron was early February of last year while in the city for a birthday hockey game.


Luongo, goalie for the Canucks and Team Canada

My dad and I are big hockey fans, so any chance we get to see live games we jump on.  The February 1st game last year between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks did not disappoint, as Chicago had yet to lose in regulation time.  The game went to overtime, and then to a shootout resulting in the home side’s victory (2-1).


The crowd goes wild!!!

The stadium went nuts as we scored the winning goal, I can only imagine what it would have been like to be in this venue for the 2010 gold medal hockey match between Canada and the US, but I’m thinking it must have been order’s of magnitude greater.  The winning goal keeper in both games was the same as well, Robert Luongo, who must have done a very similar skate of victory around the ice four years ago today.


Luongo acknowledges the crowd

The following day we explored the city, stopping at the outdoor cauldron that housed the Olympic Flame for two weeks.  The sun was shining brightly, but a fog bank was moving into the area, obscuring the tops of nearby highrises and diffusing the sun just enough to light up half sky and cast unique shadows.


The Crystal Cauldron

During the Opening Ceremony a version of this structure malfunctioned, preventing one of the four legs from rising out of the ground in BC Place.  The outdoor model was constructed so no such problems could arise, and a reflection pool was eventually added below the structure months after the Closing Ceremony ended.


Rising from the pond

Usually the touches and cauldrons are designed by the host city and country to reflect something about the region, nation, or culture involved.  I think Vancouver’s design team did a splendid job with this submission.  The texture and colouring of the glass mirrors that of glacial ice and/or huge ice crystals (it was the WINTER games after all).  Additionally the cauldron represents the city itself, which has experienced huge investment and growth in the years leading up to and after 2010, with new glass clad concrete skyscrapers rising from the ground all around.


Twisting shapes and glass walls, Vancouver in a nutshell

After the fanfare subsided the Olympic Plaza (surrounded by a new convention centre) was converted into a public space with the sculpture as the centrepiece.  Periodically over the years the flame is relit on special occasions, for example when Team Canada won a gold medal in Sochi.  I have yet to see the flame burning in person, but if you stand in the right location the sun acts as the flame each day.  If you ever visit Vancouver this is a must stop location.


The sun burning like an Olympic Flame in the sky.

Photos taken 1-2 February 2013 with a Nikon D50

Coal Creek: Playing with colour

By / February 24, 2014

So it finally became winter here in Seattle, meaning rain.  Lots of it.  Since my regional explorations began in November we’ve had a few cold spells, but it was much drier than normal for the season.  This made hiking in the mountains more feasible than previous years as we never had to trudge though mud puddles and swollen streams.  The downside was actual winter activities like snowshoeing and snowboarding were greatly limited due to lack of snow.


Finally fresh powder at Crystal Mountain with more coming down!

With the winter storm moving through the region we opted for a closer 6 mile hike (walk) at lower elevation.  Coal Creek, just south of Bellevue and I-90, won out.  We didn’t really know what to expect, but the map showed a small gorge winding its way through neighbourhoods and I’d heard there was some mining history to be seen along the way.


An old homestead on the path in colour…

Urban trails like this one are a mixed bag.  Pro: well maintained (less muck).  Con: loud (traffic noise for more than half).  It rained (and tried very hard to snow) the entire time so picture taking was also limited, plus walking through vibrant green forest gets repetitive after a while.  Thus, I’m going to only post three photos this time, but give two versions of each: colour and black and white.


… and in black and white.

At our turn around point was the Newcastle Mine shaft (abandoned in 1886) and a cabin from Red Town, the adjacent mining/railway camp.  All of these pictures are from that area, and I thought it might be fun to have you all tell me which version you liked more.


Moss covered tree in colour…

The forests in Washington are always so GREEN!  The moss is so thick, proving a furry blanket around the entire tree.  One thing I definitely think black and white imagery brings to light better is textures visible in the scene.  Colour provides the vibrancy of the moss, but the black and white allows shadows to play within the reaching tendrils of moss.


… and again in black and white.

My favourite picture from the walk was of a fern arm hanging down at eye level across the creek from the historic buildings.  To top it off the fern’s spores were facing me, providing evenly spaced black/brown points all along the fronds.  I waited for a water droplet to form at the point too, just for good measure.


The next generation of ferns in colour…

Once again the colour version really makes the fern pop out, and makes the difference between the foreground and background stand out more quickly.  But then again in the black and white version I think the water droplet is easier to find, and the fern seems to hold my attention better, as I am not overwhelmed/distracted by the surrounding colours.


… and finally in black and white.

It is so hard for me to decide which version I like better of each photo.  I do like how the cabin appears in black and white in each of these, probably because it was built when that was the only method of photography available.  Black and white photos always makes me believe the subject is more historic as well.  At the same time I think the colour shots help give the viewer a better sense of the place the picture was taken, providing more visual stimulation (in some ways) to the eyes.
It’s a complicated matter, one I will now  leave up to individual viewers to decide… Which versions did you like more: black and white, colour, or a combination of both depending on the scene?  Any other thoughts on the subject?


Photos taken 22 (walk) and 23 (snowboarding) February 2014 with Nikon D7100

The tallest peak: New Zealand

By / February 18, 2014

Next up on my tallest peak series is Aoraki/Mount Cook.  I visited New Zealand’s highest point back in November 2011 while studying at Victoria University of Wellington and have been longing to catch a glimpse of the mountain again ever since.  Aoraki/Mount Cook is the tallest of 18 NZ peaks over 10000ft tall and sits at the heart of the Southern Alps, though many know this mountain range as the Misty Mountains from the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies.


Storm brewing across Lake Pukaki

The plan was to spend two days around the area as part of a week long trip to the South Island, wrapping up my time in the country.  As we were approaching Mount Cook we hoped to see the peak on the far side of Lake Pukaki.  Unfortunately a storm was forming in the area, completely blocking all the high mountains from our view.


Rain in the Tasman Valley

Because of the weather we opted to try a nearby walk instead of going to the Aoraki viewpoint and visitor centre.  We chose the Tasman Glacier View hike, which travels to the top of the terminal moraine of the Tasman Glacier at the base of Mount Cook.  The trail looked like it was straight out of Middle Earth, especially with its uneven stairway though the undergrowth.


A soggy stairway

The website and signage said to expect spectacular views of New Zealand’s largest glacier and some of the nation’s highest mountains… on a clear day that is.


Tasman Lake and Glacier

This was not a clear day.  By any measure.  At. all.


Glacial till and outwash abounded

Weather can really add to a picture’s lighting and depth, but after a certain point it starts to detract from the overall scene.  Especially if rain gets on the lens and wind buffets you as you try to take the shot.


Looking back down the Tasman Valley

Further complicating things was the older camera I was using, which was not the best in this lighting.  Despite all the setbacks some nice (through grainy) pictures were taken.  Some of my favourites were of the clouds and light rain falling in the valley.


Waves of mist blanket the mountains

After all of this we still hadn’t actually seen New Zealand’s mighty peak, but that didn’t deter us.  We headed back home for the night, hoping for better weather the next day.  And what do you know, better weather was found!


Aoraki/Mount Cook and the Tasman Valley

The drive back to the visitor centre the next morning was all we had hoped it would be the day before.  The 12218 foot peak was towering above us the whole time, and we had no idea where exactly it was until now.  The photo above also shows the Tasman Glacier at the head of the valley, just behind the moraine we climbed the day before.


Hanging Glaciers on Mount Sefton

As we got closer the lower ridge blocked the main peak from our view, but coming around the bend was an even more stunning sight.  Dominating the skyline directly before us was Mount Sefton in all its glory.  The way the valleys are angled this 10338ft peak is almost entirely blocked from view until you feel like you’re on it.  Then the small glaciers clinging to its sides pop out at you, forcing you to pull over in order to take pictures and catch your breath.


Glacial debris and the peaks from which it came

Aoraki is the Maori name for the mountain, who in native legend is the tallest of three brothers on the canoe that is New Zealand’s South Island.  The iwi (tribes) of the South Island also believe they are descended from him, and honestly who wouldn’t want to be a descendent of this majestic mountain?  Furthermore, the name used to be incorrectly translated into “Cloud Piercer”, which, though wrong, is a very accurate description.


Piercing (yesterday’s) Clouds

I’m glad we got one day of rain and one day of sun while we were there, and I’m glad they happened in that order.  It really made it seem like two completely different places.  Had the order been reversed we would have known what we were missing the second day and might have decided to move on to another nearby location instead of waiting out the storm with a walk and dinner.  Two clichés come to mind that fit this section of the trip; patience is a virtue and good things come to those who wait.  I’ll let you decide how accurate they are though.

Photos taken 23-24 November, 2011 with a Nikon D50.

Rattlesnake Ridge

By / February 16, 2014

Once again I’m two weeks behind the times.  The last hike we took was to Rattlesnake Ridge and was my longest yet this season, coming in at 12 miles roundtrip.  We actually meant to do this hike a month or two earlier, but turned the wrong way at the exit and ended up hiking up Mount Si on the other side of the valley.


So very green.

The trail starts at 1000ft above sea level in Snoqualmie Point Park and wanders up through the vibrantly green forest toward the ridge.  After about 2 miles we abruptly reached the snowline just before coming to a lookout.  Here we had an amazing view of the valley, or at least parts of it not hidden behind clouds.


Looking out over the clouds.

Now came the hard decision… Do we carry on into the ever-deepening snow (only about an inch at this point) or turn around as we weren’t really expecting to do a snow hike.  Even though it proved to be unnecessary, a compromise came about and we decided to continue on until one of us got tired of the snow.


A window of blue sky framed by snow covered trees.

Coming to another junction presented another beautiful moment.  With all the low clouds and snow covered trees around us much of our hike had been pretty, but predominantly white or grey.  Then in the distance between the trees was a small patch of blue sky shinning brightly.  To add to it all, the trees in the background were basking in newly discovered sunlight, nicely contrasting with those shadowed in the foreground.


An ice encased radio tower.

Our turn around location ended up being a radio tower covered in ice from the previous night’s storm.  We ate lunch listening to the soft pitter-patter of melt water falling from the metal high above us.  In the other direction we has a nice view of more low clouds swirling to the west.


Whirling clouds in the distance.

I noticed something very interesting on the way down, another sign of an extremely windy storm.  The first indication was the sweeping ice formations hanging off the tower.  Now all the trees had snow and ice plastered on their west sides but remained completely bare on the east.  This could only have happened if the wind was blowing vigorously eastward.


The two sides of the forest.

The only real overlooks on the trail were looking east, but I did catch a glimpse of a clearing a bit off the trail on the way up.  Heading back down I explored it further and found a tree standing on its own between two other clumps.  There was a very nice view of the snow covered hills beyond, but what held my attention was a single branch sticking out at an odd angle from the tree.  One of the next closest trees just so happened to also have a similar branch, and from my angle they appeared to be reaching out for each other.  In this case the background scenery was an extra bonus.


A lone tree reaching for a nearby friend.

On the outbound journey we passed through a section of trail fully engulfed in fog.  I didn’t take any pictures of it at the time as it was much to dark looking into the forest, but now heading out I was facing a clearcut area, allowing light to pour into the forest.  Lucky for me the clouds stuck around, letting me get some really neat shots including the cover photo.


Back into the fog zone.

Upon making it 12 miles we were tired, but thought we might as well explore the park while there.  We could tell the lighting was quite good on the last leg of the trail, but it only got better while at the park.  Because of the low clouds and surrounding mountains only a thin band of sunlight was making it into the valley, streaking across the neighbouring peaks on the way down…


Rays cutting into the valley.

The snowline of about 2000ft is clearly visible in these shots, as is the ledge we stood on Mount Si’s peak in December (the ledge to the right of the two highest peaks below the watermark in the next picture).


Sunbeam on Mount Si

Unfortunately this was the last hike I’ve been on as my car broke down last Saturday, limiting my mobility and devoting a lot more time to figuring out repairs.  Hopefully this will give me more time to work on a few other posts not devoted to local hikes though, so look forward to those soon.

Photos taken February 1, 2014 with Nikon D7100

Lake Serene

My first January hike was a solo 7.2 miler to Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls in the Cascades (map).  Everyone who I normally hike with had previous engagements, so I took the opportunity to set out on my own and explore somewhere I’d never been.  The first two miles of the hike is rather easy, following sections of old forest service roads and wide trails.  Then there is a junction where you can either head up a half mile spur to Bridal Veil Falls, or continue on the main trail up to the lake.


Washington’s version of Bridal Veil Falls

The falls won out, as I figured I might as well go now, and if the lighting isn’t very good (it was just after noon) I can swing by again on my way down the mountain.  Bridal Veil Falls can easily be seen from Highway 2, but it seemed much smaller up close.  That being said this is only the upper section and I’m sure only accounts for about half of the total height of the cascade.
As more people showed up at the falls and started getting in my pictures I turned tail and ran back down the stairs to the junction.


So. Many. Stairs.

Turning the other direction this time led me up the main trail, and I was soon confronted with an even steeper slope, complete with level after level of switchbacks and stairs (sometimes even switchbacking stairs), at least five of which can be seen above.


Looking out on a Serene Scene

Let me tell you, this was a very grueling stretch, and it didn’t help that I was hiking at a very brisk pace.  I started with a sweatshirt, windbreaker, and gloves on at the bottom but everything was off by this point and I was still sweating up a storm, even in the just above freezing temperatures.


I really like Lake Serene in black and white.

All the exertion paid off in full when I made it over the crest into the bowl of the lake.  The temperature immediately dropped (significantly) and another frozen shell of a lake silently greeted me.


Hikers taking it all in.

There were a number of other groups enjoying the location.  One hiker commented that he was impressed I made it to the end in only running shoes due to the ice and snow over the final half mile.  Another group took in the scenery around them, allowing me to catch them taking pictures and petting their dog, as seen above.


Geology on all scales!

A really neat boulder serves as the terminus of the trail.  Many dikes and sills crisscrossing its surface, almost as if the rock had been stitched together like a quilt.  The lake itself lies in a basin very similar to Lake 22, with high bounding peaks surrounding half of the lake with low rolling hills on the other side.


A circumzenithal arc above Mt Index and Lake Serene

When I first arrived in the shadowed basin the sky was a uniform whitish grey, with a few sporadic clear blue sections.  As time passed these lower clouds burned off, resulting in a some cool atmospheric conditions in the higher cirrus clouds, including the circumzenithal arc seen above.  I mistook it for a sundog while there, so I apologise to my fellow hikers who I unknowingly misled, I learned something new today as well.


Clouds whiz by above the glowing ridge.

The higher clouds were moving extremely fast, but lingered just long enough to be captured by my camera forever.  If you look closely you can also see sunlight pouring through a thin layer of snow along the ridge-line.  It was much more prominent in person, only adding to the list of interesting phenomenon we witnessed.


A log bridge above logs.

The outlet of the lake has a narrow wooden bridge crossing it, carved from trees and propped up on other trunks driven into the riverbed.  A large logjam exists here, so naturally I jumped around on them for a bit trying to find a good shot of the bridge.  The one above was my favourite of the bunch.


Streams of water fall into a crystal clear pond.

By this point I’d spent nearly two hours at the lake and really needed to get going if I was to revisit Bridal Veil Falls.  I practically ran down much of the staired section, but was distracted by another set of small waterfalls I decided to skip on my way up.


Cascade after cascade…

I took a number of pictures here, using my lens cap and flat surfaces as a sort of tripod to stabilise my camera and prevent blurring (handy things lens caps).


Closer look at the upper reaches.

Because I now had a lot more pictures of waterfalls I decided against visiting the larger falls a second time.  Plus all the stairs had worn me out and, as per usual, it was almost dark before I was close to the car.  This is another hike I strongly recommend, there are all sorts of unexpected treasures to be found.

Photos taken 26 January 2o14 with Nikon D7100

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