Autumn Hike Destresses the Day

There’s nothing like a hike to escape the stresses of a workday.  Especially in autumn. Especially here in the Pacific Northwest.  So when I found myself overloaded one day last week, I picked up the phone and asked one of my buddies if she would like to join me for a short hike.  She had the day off and was happy to spend part of it on the trail.

We had originally hoped to hike that day, to leave early in the morning, drive up to the Mount Baker National Forest and take one of the many wonderful hikes up there. But an eye appointment for her and work issues for me preempted our plans. Besides, the weather forecast was a bit ‘iffy’, as it so often can be here this time of year. Rain was in the forecast and neither of us were excited about hiking in inclement weather.  So we cancelled our plans.  Yet as the day wore on, no rain appeared although the wind had steadily picked up causing white caps to appear on the water in the bay.

There's nothing like an autumn hike to help destress the day.
There’s nothing like an autumn hike to help destress the day.

I spent the morning tackling the things I needed to do in my studio. And when I felt I had most of it under control, I shot off an e-mail to my buddy, whose vision was blurred by the dilation from the eye exam and consequently stuck at home, to see if she’d be up for taking a shorter hike closer to home.  Fortunately for us, we live in a place that has an abundance of greenways, trails and wilderness areas within the city and county limits.

The Lake Whatcom Trail quickly leads you into a woods of towering trees.
The Lake Whatcom Trail quickly leads you into a woods of towering trees.

It’s easy to quickly get to a trailhead within minutes of your home, no matter where you live in the city.  It’s one of the reasons I love living here. The problem is deciding which one to take because there are so many choices.

We settled on one of the easier but still scenic and beautiful trails–the Lake Whatcom Park trail.  It’s a mostly flat, well-maintained trail that starts at the north end of the lake and follows the shoreline for three miles south.  I had not walked that trail for more than year and quickly agreed when my friend suggested it. I picked her up and together we drove out to the park entrance and the parking lot.  This trail, because of its proximity and relative ease, is a popular one for people with families and dogs. The parking lot is usually full, particularly on our warmer summer days. As this was a weekday, and in the middle of the afternoon, there were only a few cars.

Gorgeous sculptural tree roots cling to the boulders and old growth stumps.
Gorgeous sculptural tree roots cling to the boulders and old growth stumps.

The great thing about this trail is that you are quickly into the forest.  And a few minutes later, the trail descended out of woods to follow the shoreline. From there on, we had the lake on side and a densely green woods on the other.  Occasionally, there would be outcroppings of huge boulders from which trees somehow found a way to cling.  Surprisingly, much of the deciduous foliage was still very green. I had expected to find much more color on the leaves and had brought along my capture to hopefully record it.  I guess the nights have not yet been cold enough to bring out all the fall brilliance although in the section of the city where I live, which is at a little higher elevation, autumn is in full swing.

Trees along the trail hadn't yet changed to autumn color although this little leaf seems to be doing its best to encourage the rest.
Trees along the trail hadn’t yet changed to autumn color although this little leaf seems to be doing its best to encourage the rest.

There was still plenty to photograph and kindly, my friend waited patiently as I stopped along the way to set up and capture a shot.  The clouds above the lake were dark and threatening, but no rain.

The Lake Whatcom Trail follows the beautiful northern edge of the lake where stormy clouds added to the drama on this day.
The Lake Whatcom Trail follows the beautiful northern edge of the lake where stormy clouds added to the drama on this day.

The white-capped waves crashed against the logs that had fallen and lay on the shore as we set out, but later calmed some. The waterfalls that ordinarily tumble full down the cliff side were there but only a thin stream of what they would have been during a wetter year. It was possible to see them  from the trail through the branches of golden leaves but could have been easily missed. Still there was plenty for my friend and I to stop and admire and investigate.

Neither I nor my friend were sure what this growth was at the end of the fallen and moss-covered log.
Neither I nor my friend were sure what this growth was at the end of the fallen and moss-covered log.

We only encountered a handful of people on the trail this day.  It was nearly like we had the place to ourselves.  We didn’t walk all the way to the end, turning around to retrace our steps at the two mile marker.  By the time we arrived back at the parking lot, we had been out just about an hour and a half.  Not so long that I couldn’t get back to my desk and finish up what I needed to do but long enough to give us both a much-needed refresher from the stresses of that day.

Conquering the Skyline Divide with My Son

Whenever my son, who lives in New York, comes home for a visit, we take a hike together.  He misses the green of the Northwest and coming home gives him a chance to get a ‘nature’ fix.  In summers past, we have gone up to nearby Mount Baker and usually set out on one of the trails from Artist’s Point, the highest point to which you can drive and open for only a short period of time from late July to early October.  This year, however, my son requested that we find a different trail for our annual outing.

After conferring with a friend who hikes the area frequently with the local Mount Baker Club, we settled on the Skyline Divide Trail. The trail is, according to the National Forest website, one of the most popular hikes in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest although it’s recommended for more experienced hikers.

The road to the trailhead is rugged and follows Glacier Creek much of the way.
The road to the trailhead is rugged and follows Glacier Creek much of the way.

The two-mile trail up is quite steep (and harder on the knees going down than climbing up) but well-kept. I might add the mostly unpaved road to the trailhead parking lot, off the Glacier Creek Road turn-off, can be rough and, as we discovered, full of humps.  Next time I’m taking an SUV or a car that sits higher off the ground than my own.

But the rocky ride up is well worth it, as are the aching calf muscles on the hike up.  As my friend put it: “When you think you can’t keep going, just do because when you get to the top you feel like you should be wearing a drindl skirt.”  Of course, what she was referring to was that famous scene from the film, “The Sound of Music” in which actress Julie Andrews, as Maria von Trapp, swirls in an alpine flowered meadow against a spectacular mountain backdrop. I myself had experienced that feeling and scenery years ago on my first trip to Salzburg, Austria and was anxious to see how this one would compare.  The Skyline Divide trail was much more strenuous than the easy walk I made from my Austrian gasthaus. But the thought of a splendid alpine meadow view of the mountain without flying thousands of miles to Europe, was enough to keep me pushing.  Hiking sticks are a definite plus as well.

Nearly like a scene from the film, ‘The Sound of Music,’ the majestic Mount Shushan rises behind a hiker taking in the view from atop Skyline Divide.

It helped that a couple of hikers on their way down told us that we were “close”, even when we really weren’t.  Nevertheless,  when we reached the top, the view was breath-taking, in more way than one.  Upon rounding the last switch back, we came into an expansive alpine meadow still bursting in color from the summer wildflowers and a view, that while not the same as the rugged Swiss Alps, was equally as gorgeous.  Mount Baker’s glacier-covered peak rose in the near distance, and seemed not that far from reach. To the north, stretched a view of the Canadian Cascades.  It made for a perfect spot to eat the snacks that we had carried along.  Several other hikers joined us on the day we were there, taking in the powerful mountain panorama set against the late afternoon brilliant blue sky. One woman, a volunteer for the Cascades Butterfly Project,  gathered a few curious hikers around her as she explained her mission to count the Lucia’s Blue butterflies, Celestrina lucia, that flutter about there.  She showed the onlookers one of the delicate beauties that she had caught in her net before releasing it back into the air.

A volunteer with the Cascades Butterfly Project shows her 'catch' to hikers.
A volunteer with the Cascades Butterfly Project shows her ‘catch’ to hikers.

Just as blue as the butterfly were the subalpine lupines that covered the mountainsides.  By now, I’m sure they have all disappeared, along with all the other bright wildflowers, as the autumn color takes over.  The trail continues on from this meadow another 1.5 miles, which we did not do this time, and then another less maintained path up Chowder Ridge goes on from there.  A number of backpackers were making their way on up, planning to spend the night and catch a spectacular view of the night sky.

We lingered for about hour, breathing in the fresh mountain air, relaxing in the warm sun and chatting with other hikers.  It’s a time with my son that I treasure because it’s just us, the mountain and the meadow. There are no distractions at the top, no cell phone service, no Internet, nothing but nature.  We talk without interruption. Or just stay silent together. At 5 o’clock, we decided to start back down although I could have easily stayed another hour or two.

The snow-capped summit of Mount Baker is the prominent peak  on the Skyline Divide and makes a breath-taking  backdrop for my son's picture.
The snow-capped summit of Mount Baker is the prominent peak on the Skyline Divide and makes a breath-taking backdrop for my son’s picture.

I must say that the hike down didn’t seem as far but was fairly steep.  A couple of young 20-ish women flew by us, running down the trail. I surely would have tripped up if I had tried it. Even so, we were back at the parking lot before we knew it.

The Skyline Divide trail is open year round although the best time to go is in the summer and early fall.  I frankly can’t imagine making my way up that slippery slope during the rainy season.  And I would certainly be sure to check on the road condition during the winter and spring months before driving up.  The hike is a favorite among locals and visitors so expect company whenever you go.  Once you’ve taken it you’ll understand why it’s so popular.  It’s not likely that I’ll be going again this season, but it will be on my list for a repeat visit next summer.

An Autumn Hike

Autumn is in full bloom here in beautiful Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest.  The season has made for some fabulous portrait photography settings for my high school seniors and family clients.  (Will share a few of those in a separate post.) I promised a while ago to share with you some of this year’s autumnal photographic treats from my personal portfolio and am finally taking a breather from my portrait work to do exactly that.

I have been itching to get out and take advantage of the gorgeous weather and color to take a photographic hike.   I decided this morning was the morning.  The fog was thick this morning but it makes for great mood.  I picked up a friend and the two of us went for a short hike nearby.  Just enough to quench my thirst for photographing some fall foliage.

The overhanging tree limb frames the leave-strewn trail.
The overhanging tree limb frames the leave-strewn trail.

I always think of the great nature photographer, Eliot Porter, when I’m on one of these outings. His work has long inspired me.  I have several books of his photographs in my collection and have been fortunate to see some of his work firsthand.  The composition, printing and color control of his images is masterful.

This has been a great fall for spider webs. They are such works of art. This one sparkled in the early morning sun.
This has been a great fall for spider webs. They are such works of art. This one sparkled in the early morning sun.

For most of his career (he died in 1990), he used a view camera, which is why his images have such depth and detail to them.  What he would have done with a digital camera one can only guess.  If you ever have an opportunity to see his work in a museum, gallery or work, I urge you do so.  Am sure you’ll be just as inspired as I am.

Often it's the smallest details that make the shot.
Often it’s the smallest details that make the shot.

One of the things that studying Porter’s images has taught me is to look for the little details, As a journalist, I did this all the time on my assignments. It’s those small details that can make the story or photograph.

The Pacific Northwest is so lush with vegetation that it's at times almost too rich for the eyes.
The Pacific Northwest is so lush with vegetation that it’s at times almost too rich for the eyes.

Sometimes it’s hard to focus in on the smaller details, especially when you are faced with such, rich, lush and verdant surroundings as we have here in the Pacific Northwest.  The question then becomes, for the photographic artist, how to take it all in? When do you include it in its entirety and when do you zoom in to limit the view to one significant aspect?  Those artistic decision become the fun, as well as the challenges to evaluating your images.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this ‘virtual’ autumn walk in the woods with me.  And if you have, please ‘follow’ my blog for future posts and share them with your friends.  Together, we can have great photographic adventures!

So many spiders had taken up residence in this one area that I just had to made a visual record of their 'urban village.'
So many spiders had taken up residence in this one area that I just had to made a visual record of their ‘urban village.’

The turning maple leaves,  their edges polka dotted with dark spots, dramatically contrast against the morning's gray, foggy sky.
The turning maple leaves, their edges polka-dotted with dark spots, dramatically contrast against the morning’s gray, foggy sky.