Floris van Breugel on September 12th, 2018

Autumn is coming! The days are getting shorter, there is a crisp snap to the air, and the first rains are blowing in from the Pacific. To celebrate the changing of the seasons, Aubrey and I went out to the White River, east of the Cascades, and paddled the 14 miles of the twists and turns upstream of Lake Wenatchee. The tributaries of Lake Wenatchee are one of five spawning grounds for sockeye salmon in Washington, and now is the time that they are beginning their upstream migrations. Sockeye salmon fry (the baby fish) are unusual compared to other salmon in that they need a lake to mature, before they head out to the ocean (though land-locked populations also exist, called kokanee).

The river was never more than 300 yards or so from the road, and yet, it felt like a real wilderness, almost like being far from civilization in Alaska. In addition to the salmon, we saw bald eagles, river otters, american dippers, and lots of evidence of bears (paw tracks). It’s nice to see a healthy wilderness ecosystem thriving so close to civilization.

Serenity

A calm moment on the river at the beginning of our float. Photo by Aubrey.

Packrafting

The view from my packraft as Aubrey comes around the river bend in her kayak.

Autumn Color, Leaves, Washington

Autumn Arrives : Prints Available

Autumn colors slowly take hold of these maple leaves along the White River in Washington's Cascades.

Sockeye Salmon, Spawning, White River

Spawning Sockeye

Aubrey paddles down the White River, past a group of spawning Sockeye Salmon. 

Sockeye Salmon

Male and female Sockeye Salmon (male is the one closer to the top of the frame).

Sockeye salmon swim through the shallows to calmer water upstream.

Gravel Bar Camp

Our camp, on a gravel bar in the middle of the river.

Cocktail hour

Some unexpected rains materialized in the evening, just as we poured ourselves a manhattan. No problem... boat-umbrella to the rescue!

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Floris van Breugel on August 7th, 2018

Eighty years ago, a group of four hardy souls from the Ptarmigan Climbing Club (Bill Cox, Calder Bressler, Ray W. Clough, and Tom Myers) set out to discover what lay south of Cascade Pass, and although they (and many subsequent explorers) found out, words can’t do such a place justice.

So, last week Aubrey and I together with our friend Shawn set out to find out for ourselves, following the now famous mountaineering route called the Ptarmigan Traverse. The route begins at Cascade Pass, and follows the Cascade Crest closely for about 15 miles southward, gaining and losing about 8,500 feet, before finally descending 6,000 feet to the confluence of Downy Creek and the Suiattle River (a mild bushwhack). During the traverse the route crosses the crest at least 7 times and travels over five major glaciers and a few nameless ones. The views never stop, in fact, they seem to only get better. Every time we approached a new col, we couldn’t wait to see what visual feast we would find on the other side.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Traversing Ptarmigan : Prints Available

The Ptarmigan Traverse travels through some of the most beautiful and rugged terrain in the lower 48. The route is named after the Ptarmigan Climbing Club, who pioneered the route in 1938. Their name comes from the Ptarmigan, a small chicken-like bird that lives in the Alpine. We were lucky enough to see a mother Ptarmigan and her seven (!!!) babies on our first afternoon. What a view, looking out over the Middle Cascade Glacier and Mt Formidable.

As we travelled through this extraordinarily beautiful and rugged landscape we couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like for the early pioneers. What gear did they have? What food did they eat? What was their experience like? Although the Ptarmigan crew never published their story, it’s possible to gain just a little insight into their accomplishment by noting a few basic facts.

According a historical mapping database, the most recent topo maps for that area when the Ptarmigans made their trek in 1938 would have been the 1:250,000 USGS quads produced in 1901. These maps had 100 foot contours, and did not label any of the lakes on the route (it’s worth seeing those old maps – search for cascade pass, and select the 1901 Glacier Peak quad). That shouldn’t be terribly surprising, I suppose, given that the maps predate airplanes (the Wright Brothers first flew in 1903). Thus, the topography could only have been generated from photographs and measurements taken from nearby peaks. But, with none of those peaks having been climbed in 1901, there must have been a substantial amount of interpolation involved. Given these limitations, the quality of the maps is actually quite extraordinary. Of course, the Ptarmigans probably had some notes from their friends and prior trips to mountains in the area, but a lot of mystery would have remained.

Not only were the Ptarmigans the first to find their way across this landscape, they actually had to do it twice. At the time, the Cascade River Road to Cascade Pass hadn’t been completed (that wouldn’t happen until a decade later), so they hiked from Sulphur Creek to Cascade Pass, and back again. Oh, and they summited every major peak along the way (most of them first ascents).

Because of the second world war, and the remoteness of the adventure, the trek wasn’t repeated until fifteen years later. For this second trip, in 1953, Dale Cole, Bob Grant, Mike Hane, Erick Karlsson and Tom Miller, took advantage of the new Cascade River Road to hike south from Cascade Pass (reversing the original itinerary). This trip was, again, before the USGS had updated these maps, and a full decade before the first 1:24,000 quads for that area were published. They did publish their story, and you can read about it here: South of Cascade Pass (page 38).

The only major change to the mountaineering route people take today, and the 1953 route, is a preference for climbing up Le Conte Glacier instead of going over the pass just south of Le Conte Mountain (which involved a steep and rocky descent to the South Cascade Glacier). Looking at the old maps, it’s easy to see why this wasn’t an obvious route.

Tom Miller, of the 1953 party, brought his camera and published his photos in a 1964 book, which proved important in designating the North Cascades as a National Park in 1968. Ironically, the vast majority of the Ptarmigan Traverse itself lies outside the National Park. Fortunately most of the traverse is protected by its shear remoteness, and the generally good ethics exhibited by people who travel there.

~ ~ ~ OUR ADVENTURE ~ ~ ~

Now that you know a little of the history, I can recount our story. Compared to those first explorers, it doesn’t feel like much of an adventure, but was one of the most beautiful and fulfilling “hikes” I’ve done! To be clear, this is not a backpacking route. It requires technical knowledge, glacier travel, and general backcountry mountaineering expertise. We took the standard 5 days to really enjoy the trek, but the entire route has been done by crampon-wearing long distance runners in just over 12 hours. I recommend taking the extra time!

Hover your mouse over some of the images to reveal our approximate route.

Click to see pop-up bigger view.

More photos here.

~ ~ ~ DAY 1 ~ ~ ~

The trek started with an easy and wonderfully maintained trail to Cascade Pass. Others have commented that the trail was “designed by someone who thought humans should never be forced to walk perceptibly uphill” [ref]. Relative to the rest of the route that may be true, but you’re still gaining 1,800 feet before you’ve eaten any of your food!

At the pass, we stopped for a snack, checked the map, and started making our way to Cache Col. The route clings to some steep scree and can’t-slip snow slopes above the Pelton Basin. This is the qualifying exam. If you get through that section without too much of an adrenaline rush, you’ll be okay for the rest of the route.

Around the bend we arrived at the first glacier of the trip, Cache Glacier. It’s the mildest glacier, and was a good opportunity to practice roping up and finding our group pace. Before long we were at Cache Col, with a superb view of Mt Formidable to the south. As we made our way to Kool-Aid Lake, where we would camp for the night, we stumbled upon a mother Ptarmigan, and her seven chicks. I couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the trip, than to see the routes namesake bird on our first day (image at the top of the page)!

To our delight, we had the half-melted-out Kool-Aid lake all to ourselves that evening, and immediately went for the first of our alpine swims in the patch of open water.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Pacific Northwest, Cascades

Cascade Pass

Taking a look at the map before we leave the (official) trail, and head for the mountains. Hover your mouse over the image to reveal our approximate route.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Climbing Cache Col

Shawn ascending up to Cache Col. We came from Cascade Pass, which is around the corner. Hover your mouse over the image to reveal our approximate route.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Sunset on Kool Aid

Our first campsite, at Kool Aid Lake. We had the entire place to ourselves that night! Views of Mt Formidable and the Middle Cascade Glacier in the distance.

~ ~ ~ DAY 2 ~ ~ ~

Day 2 involves two sections that had made us rather anxious while reading all the route information: the infamous red ledge, and the steep descent from the Spider-Formidable Col. That morning we drank our morning coffee and looked out at the red ledge, an improbable looking route across a colorful band of rock in a steep cliff face. From camp, it doesn’t look possible. But then we saw two white specs–a mother goat and her baby–traversing the ledge. After realizing the it was lagging a little, the goatling sprinted across the ledge in a few seconds to catch up with mom. If a baby goat can sprint it, surely we could walk it?

Fortunately, we had timed the snow conditions just right, and getting onto the ledges (the trickiest part) was relatively easy. From there it was, as the goats had demonstrated earlier, an easy path through the cliff band. From here we traversed towards the Middle Cascade Glacier, passing safely above some impressive seracs in the blue glacial ice below. We roped up and made our way to the Spider-Formidable Col, where we feasted on the new view, jalapeño-cheese sausage sticks, and some spicy mangoes.

The descent from the Col is just steep enough that you can’t see what’s below, making it a little unnerving to commit. We had lots of time, and lots of aluminum pickets, so we set an anchor and Aubrey belayed me down so I could get a good look. Right about at the end of our rope (130 ft), I could finally see a clear path all the way down. I set a new anchor, and brought in Shawn and Aubrey. From there, we determined it was safe to glissade the rest of the way – our favorite mode of downhill movement on summer snow!

At the bottom, we strapped on the crampons again, and made the scenic traverse towards Yang Yang Lakes, which would be our camp for night 2. The lakes really are quite spectacular, devoid of all Yin, and solidly full of Yang. (Yin = negative/dark; Yang = positive/bright).

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Staring down the Col

One of the steeper sections on the route is descending from the Spider-Formidable Col. It's just steep enough that you can't see over the edge, but it turned out to be entirely glissadable. Hover your mouse over the image to reveal our approximate route.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Yang Yang

Shawn starts the descent to Yang Yang lakes, our camp for night 2. Hover your mouse over the image to reveal our approximate route.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Ying and Yang Yang : Prints Available

Sunrise on the Le Conte Glacier, seen from the Yang Yang lakes.

~ ~ ~ DAY 3 ~ ~ ~

Day 3 started with a steep descent up a narrow snow gully, which tested our comfort with the crampons and axe. By this point in the trip, we were feeling more at home on the snow, and thanks to the day-old boot pack, it was a relatively easy ascent. From there we traversed the crest for a ways, waving good-bye to Mt Baker as we skirted the east flanks of Le-Conte Mountain towards the Le-Conte Glacier. Prof. Le-Conte must have made quite an impression on his peers, as there are at least three mountains that bear his name (in the Sierra, the Smokies, and the Cascades). I suppose it’s fair, as we was a physician, geologist, and a conservationist.

The Le Conte Glacier is the most active along the route, and we had read stories of parties that got turned around here, or had to climb in and out of icy crevasses to get through. Again, however, the snow-gods smiled on us, and we faced no such problems in getting onto the glacier as there was still a healthy layer of consolidated snow covering any would-be obstacles. We placed a few pickets for back up on the steep section, and then it was a long and easy slog to the pass.

At the pass, we crossed the crest yet again, gaining a new view, this time of the South Cascade Glacier. Compared to the maps, and historical images, this glacier has retreated the most in the past 50 years, losing close to half a mile in that time (image comparison here, and for me see: The Ptarmigan Traverse – Then and Now).

Up until this point we had been following some mysterious, and expertly routed boot tracks. Now, for the first time in the trip, we could see our mysterious “guides”. We caught up with them at the pass to White Rock Lakes, and had the benefit of their reconnaissance to know that we could safely glissade almost the whole way down.

The White Rock Lakes are the most spectacular campsite on the traverse, with commanding views of Dome Peak and the hanging Dana and Dome Glaciers. In addition to having time the snow just right, we also seemed to have hit peak heather-blooming time. All along our route I had been trying to find nice compositions with these delicate and colorful pink flowers. Finally, with the view of Dome at sunrise, I had found what I was looking for. A few clouds would have been nice, but the rich morning light made up for it.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Reflecting on the Route

Aubrey takes in the view after ascending a snow gully above Yang Yang lakes. Hover your mouse over the image to reveal our approximate route.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Staying Hydrated

Shawn, always on the lookout for an opportunity to hydrate. This time, right before we ascend the Le Conte Glacier.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Crevasse Hopping

Aubrey makes a gratuitous hop over a tiny crevasse. You couldn't have gotten your big toe stuck in it if you tried...

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Glissade!

A delightful glissade down to White Rock Lakes. Why people would choose to walk down these slopes was beyond our understanding... Hover your mouse over the image to reveal our approximate route.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

White Rock Camp

Camp at White Rock Lakes, possibly the most beautiful campsite in the Cascades!

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Alpine Bliss : Prints Available

Classic view of Dome Peak at sunrise, near our camp at White Rock Lakes. Some blooming alpine heather completes the alpine feel.

~ ~ ~ DAY 4 ~ ~ ~

Day 4 was the first time on our trip where we debated what the correct route was. The route we had indicated on the map said one thing, the description said another, and the topography suggested that both would work. We watched one other group take the low route, so we opted to explore the high route. In retrospect, the low route was probably the better choice for our conditions, and the high route better for a ski-traverse, but it worked out fine in the end.

We roped up on the Dana Glacier, our final one for the trip. It was a long way up to Sentinel Pass. One step in front of the other.. it never seemed to end. Finally we made it, and had lunch on the rocky pass with a new and final view: Glacier Peak. After a little route finding on the way down, we easily glissaded to Itswoot Ridge, and made camp on a curiously shaped snow bank. Why? Because it would make for a more interesting photo and experience than camping on dirt! Also, it was an excuse to use the shovel we’d brought for naught. We had plenty of time, so we made this camp a palace, complete with a flagstone entry path.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Top of Dana Glacier

High point of the traverse - at the top of Dana Glacier, with a view of Glacier Peak in the distance.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Rise and Shine

Sunrise on Itswoot Ridge, with a view of Glacier Peak. Aubrey takes in the view of the hanging glaciers on Dome Peak from her sleeping bag. Note the custom mosquito netting skirt around the megamid. Aubrey and I designed and sewed it, and it was a life saver, even up here on the snow!

~ ~ ~ DAY 5 ~ ~ ~

After a lovely sunrise, we said goodbye to the hanging Chickamin Glacier, Dome Peak, and our days in the alpine, and started our 6,000 foot descent into the jungle that is the low elevation Cascades. Cub Lake provided the last view of Glacier Peak, before we entered the brush. Most of the reports online suggest that the hike out is a bushwhack, and I admit that there are indeed some bushes that need to be whacked to get through, but it is not a true bushwhack. A true bushwhack is one where you lose everything attached to the outside of your pack in a stand of slide alder, the devil’s club attacks any exposed flesh, and it takes 2 hours to travel a mile. There was a (good) trail, you just have to be careful to stay on it. One wrong turn, though, and you would truly regret it. But before too long we found ourselves at the “bottom”, and soaked our sore feet in Bachelor Creek before following the maintained trail along Downy Creek back to our car shuttle.

Want to see more photos? Here you go!

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Verdant Views : Prints Available

Back in the land of emerald green, and bugs, and our last glimpse of Glacier Peak.

Ptarmigan Traverse, Cascades, Pacific Northwest

Icy Feet

Icing my sore feet part way through the hike out.

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Floris van Breugel on May 8th, 2018

It’s been a slow year for adventures, but at long last Aubrey and I had a chance to go on a ski adventure a few weeks ago. We headed up to British Columbia, a little past Pemberton, to the Duffey Lakes. There are a number of public cabins in the area, some that you can reserve, some that are first-come-first-serve, and apparently, quite a few private cabins that are legally open to any passerby, if only you know where to look. We stayed at the Wendy Thompson hut for three nights, in the Marriott Basin.

The Wendy Thompson Hut.

Inside the Wendy Thompson hut.

Being that we were there rather late in the season (mid April), the wood supply at the hut had long been used up. So, keeping the fire going meant hauling the wood from an emergency cache a quarter mile down the hill. It made for a good workout, but I’m glad I only had to do it once!

Hauling fire wood for the cabin’s stove.

On the second day we were joined by two friends, and took advantage of the sunny morning by going on a longer tour. In the early afternoon some cloud cover and moisture came in, reducing the contrast to zero. On our way back to the cabin we couldn’t tell up from down. It really is the most bizarre feeling to be skiing purely by feel, with no visual feedback whatsoever. It wasn’t a true white out–we could see the mountains around us, and knew exactly where we were headed–but the terrain features right in front of our eyes melted away into a homogenous whiteness.

Aubrey, excited for her sandwich and tea, but not so excited about the poor contrast on the snow.

Aubrey, Art, and Darragh looking at the maps and route. Mt Cayoosh is the snowy peak in the distance.

Art and Darragh take in the good views and sunshine.

The blind skiing was bad enough, but it was even more disorienting for me, as this was my first trip on alpine touring bindings. Yes.. after 8 years of learning to telemark, I’ve finally admitted that there are times, many it turns out (pun intended), when it makes more sense to lock in the heel. With the heel locked, the turns feel much more aggressive, but more secure. It’s a trade-off – giving up carefree flow for fewer face plants. It’s a hard and in many ways disappointing trade off to make, one that’s well summed up in this hillarious classic video by AT Anonymous.

Skinning up the mountain for lap #2.

Later that afternoon the sun started to poke through the clouds, bringing back some contrast, so we went out for another run. The snow was far better than expected, heavy but soft pow. It was so good, in fact, that we climbed the 1,000 feet for a second run! That also gave me a chance to get a couple sunset photos. Normally when photographing winter scenes, I try to avoid partially exposed trees, instead preferring them to be fully cloaked in snow and ice. This little grove of evergreens, however, provided a lovely contrast of spring greenery to the otherwise white and wintery landscape.

Aubrey making some turns.

Winter, Marriott Basin, Joffre Massif

Spring is Coming : Prints Available

As the days get longer, these young trees are beginning to break free from their winter trance. In the distance, across the Marriott Basin, looms the Joffre Massif.  

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Floris van Breugel on November 3rd, 2017

I am now taking pre-orders for my 2018 Calendar. I always run out, so please order in the next week to make sure I have enough of them printed!

Order now!

This year’s calendar features images from Washington, California, Patagonia, Canada, Wyoming, and Utah. Each month has a unique image, as well as a small excerpt from my blog detailing the adventure, or natural history, pertaining to the image.

I have three options this year:

  • Small standard layout: 9″x12″, $20 + shipping
  • Large standard layout: 11″x16.5″, $25 + shipping
  • Large Sun/Moon/Tide layout (for Seattle / La Push, WA): 11″x16.5″, $25 + shipping

Floris van Breugel on September 29th, 2017

Sometimes it’s hard to know what season it is these days. One moment there’s huge fires burning and ash is falling on Seattle, the next day it’s snowing in the mountains before the end of September, and then it’s back to 80 degrees! Well, at some point winter will truly come. In the meantime, here’s a mix of images from two trips to the Cascades over the past few weeks. While I didn’t quite catch winter, I think I did capture a little of spring through autumn in a period of just 3 weeks.

As usual, click any image to see a pop-up larger view.

Aubrey, enjoying a quiet sunset over Mt Shuksan.

Summer Flowers, Cascades, Washington

Cascade Summers : Prints Available

Late summer monkey flowers adorn this mossy alpine creek with a view towards Mt Shuksan in Washington's North Cascades.

Autumn Colors, Blueberry Bushes, Cascades

Blueberry Mist : Prints Available

After a moist and drizzly night, morning sunshine transforms the damp forest vegetation into a misty wonderland. Early autumn colors of blueberry bushes adorned with water droplets add a splash of color and sparkle.

Me, enjoying a grand view of the cascades, with a hint of autumn and some lingering summer sunshine.

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Floris van Breugel on August 17th, 2017

Shortly after Aubrey and I settled into our new home in Seattle, we embarked on our first backpacking adventure in the Cascades since we left the Northwest 3 years ago. I wanted to jump right in, with a trip that really embodied the Northwest experience: crisp alpine lakes, steep vegetated slopes, bushwacking, adventurous route-finding, and views of glaciated volcanoes. After staring at maps for many hours, I finally located a suitable trip in a little visited corner of the cascades.

Aubrey, making the critical log crossing at the start of our trip.

The hike started with a log crossing over a milky colored and fast flowing glacially fed river. Soon after that we were following the faintest of trails up 50° slopes. At times, we lost the boot track and found ourselves swimming through dense trees and salal. To make progress, we channeled our inner bear, a spirit that we had not called upon since our time in Alaska. Slowly, but surely, we gained 3,500 feet in less than a mile. Our hard work paid off when we ultimately emerged from the bushes at the shores of a spectacularly blue and secluded alpine lake.

For the next few days we relaxed on the polished rocks beside several nearby lakes. It was (for the northwest) remarkably warm out – enough so that we made the occasional plunge into the frigid water. There were still some icebergs floating in that particular lake, hence the yelping 😉

This particular lake did not have any fish in it. Instead, it was populated with plentiful diving beetles and caddis fly larvae. The caddis fly is a fascinating creature – the larvae construct an underwater cocoon of sorts from small bits of material that they find on the lake bottom. The larvae in this lake prefered pieces of mica, resulting in golden glittering casings. Unfortunately I did not have my macro lens, so you will have use your imagination. They are such beautiful creations that some artists have figured out that the insects can be coerced into producing jewelry.

Most of the lakes, however, did have fish, the descendants of a long ago fish stocking program. Aubrey spent the mornings and evenings braving the plentiful bugs to try to catch us some dinner. Unfortunately, the bugs were plentiful enough that the fish did not seem to be very hungry for dry flies.

Fly Fishing, Cascades, Alpine Lake

Fly fishing

Aubrey lands a nice cast on a remote alpine lake, as swarms of flies envelop us. (The flies were compiled from 3 consecutive exposures.) 

Our camp on the ridge (note the tent in the middle right shadows). The blooming heather was everywhere, adding a wonderful accent to the green landscape.

Nearly every day we had perfectly blue skies (this was before the massive wildfires in Canada destroyed our air quality for over 2 weeks!). However, we were treated to a classic northwest inversion layer on the one morning we camped on a ridge near a viewpoint I had scouted during my map exploring. The combination of rugged slopes covered in healthy green conifers, crystal clear alpine lakes, glaciated peaks, and the clear mists of the inversion layer so perfectly capture the cascade experience that I had missed while living in Southern California. It feels good to be back!

Alpine Lakes, Cascades, Mountains

Cascade Wilderness : Prints Available

Remote alpine lakes, rugged mountains, lush evergreen forests, low lying clouds, glaciated volcanoes... this is the wilderness of the Cascades!

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Floris van Breugel on July 25th, 2017

After just under three years in Southern California, I’m happy to say that I’ve moved (back) to the Pacific Northwest to start a postdoc at University of Washington in biophysics and data science.

Aubrey and I did not take a very direct route from Los Angeles to Seattle, though, and I have a few images to share from our 5-week road trip. It started with two weeks in the Mono Lake area, where I spent some time collecting images for my research project about the alkali flies that inhabit the shoreline of the lake. Unfortunately, I can’t share these just yet, but hope to soon. I will miss this area (and the California deserts in general) now that I’m up north again. I’ll have to decorate our home with a few images from the sage scented landscape found along highway 395 so I can reminisce, perhaps like this one I took while we were camping near Mono Lake.

Pine Cones, Sagebrush, Owens Valley

Of Sage and Pine : Prints Available

Pinecones, sagebrush, and sunshine - the quintessential I-395 Owens Valley experience! In the distance you can see Mono Lake.

Following Mono Lake we embarked on a scenic route to Seattle with the goal of exploring some of the best mountain biking trails along the way. Unfortunately our schedule made it difficult to photograph much along the way, so you’ll have to make do with a few iPhone snaps.

Mountain biking compilation. Clockwise from the top left: Munger Mountain (Jackson, WY), Thunder Mountain (Bryce, UT), Pinkerton-Flagstaff (Durango, CO), Gooseberry Mesa (Hurricane, UT), Phillips Ridge (Jackson, WY), Gooseberry Mesa, Pinkerton-Flagstaff. Mix of my and Aubrey’s images.

Our biking tour started in the Bay Area (before getting to Mono Lake) with Camp Tamarancho (Marin, CA). Then near Mono Lake we rode Lower Rock Creek (Bishop, CA). Then we made our way to the southwest, for as long as we could bear the heat, riding Deadringer and Gooseberry Mesa (Hurricane, UT), Thundermountain (Bryce, UT), and Phil’s World (Cortez, CO). In an attempt to escape the 100 degree weather we hit the last 10 miles of the Colorado Trail near Durango, CO, and then some some higher country on the Pinkerton-Flagstaff – Dutch Creek loop. Then we made our way over the Million Dollar Highway to Jackson, WY, with a quick pit stop at the Zippity Loop near Grand Junction, CO.

In Jackson we were welcomed by cooler temperatures, and I finally had the chance to take a couple photos. The first trail we rode in Wyoming, at Munger Mountain, made a beautiful loop through cool aspen forest filled with blooming pink sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum). The combination really struck me, and for the next couple days I looked for an attractive grouping, ultimately settling on this scene from near one of our campsites.

Aspen Forest, Blooming Flowers, Jackson Wyoming

Geranium Summer : Prints Available

Geranium flowers (sticky purple geranium, Geranium viscosissimum) bloom in the midst of a young aspen forest as the sun slowly sets on Shadow Mountain, near Jackson, Wyoming.

Along our trip we tried our best to stick to free disperse camp sites. These days finding them is made relatively easy, especially with the help of websites like Campendium.com and the ever present 4G networks…a very different experience from my 3 month road trip 9 years ago when the best internet was found outside motels with unsecured WiFi networks! Our most scenic (but certainly not the quietist) was on Shadow Mountain, with a view of the Tetons.

Shadow Mountain, Camping, Jackson Wyoming

Glamping

One of the most spectacular car camping sites I've ever had the fortune to stay at, on Shadow Mountain with a view of the Tetons near Jackson, Wyoming.

One of my favorite rides from the whole trip was made possible thanks to a meet up with my friend and fellow photographer and mountain biker, Jay Goodrich. Jay and his wife took us down Phillips Ridge near Wilson, WY, for a never-ending wildflower studded flowy downhill ride I’ll be dreaming of for a while. Thanks Jay and Heather!

The 2016 / 2017 winter was a big one for the west, and most of the alpine areas were about 3 weeks behind normal in melting out. Despite the high snow levels, we decided to go for a short backpacking trip into the famous Cirque of Towers region of the Wind River Range. High snow levels did have one upside: no bugs above 10,000 feet, and very few people. We found a small patch of dirt in a grove of pine trees and set up camp. Nearby, on the steep rocky slopes of Mitchell Peak, I found a few early flowers: my consolation for not synchronizing our trip with the peak wildflower season.

Cirque of Towers, Wind River Range, Flowers

Early Bloomers : Prints Available

Two early spring Old-Man-of-the-Mountain flowers (Tetraneuris grandiflora) bloom as an afternoon storm clears over the Cirque of Towers in the Wind River Range of the Wyoming alpine backcountry.

Meanwhile, Aubrey practiced her fly fishing skills on the North Popo Agie River, catching 11 cutthroat and brook trout over the course of three days. It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque fishing experience, with nice weather (between snow storms), epic views, hungry fish, and no competing fisherman.

Aubrey, a cutthroat, and Pingora Peak.

We kept one of the bigger fish, and improvised a cooking system with our MSR Whisperlite. First we wrapped the fish in aluminum foil with olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano, and then wrapped it once more in foil, this time including a short stick (for support). Then we set up the wind screen around the stove and lay the fish packet on top and cooked it to perfection. Delicious!

Cutthroat, cooking, and ready to enjoy!

After two nights in the snowy cirque we were ready for some dry land, and made our way back over Jackass Pass, past the mosquito plagued Big Sandy Lake, and on to Clear Lake. Here we were just barely ahead of the bugs, but had plenty of snow-free space for relaxing as we watched the sun set on Haystack Mountain and East Temple Peak.

Campfire in the Wind Rivers.

After Wyoming, we had one more ride in Helena, MT (Helena Ridge to Show Me The Horse), before getting on I-90 for a straight shot to Seattle, where we arrived 1 day after the unofficial start of summer (July 5th).

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Floris van Breugel on April 17th, 2017

Seven years ago I had the unique opportunity to do some aerial photography over the Carrizo Plains National Monument, and always wondered what it would have been like to see it from the ground. Well, this year the plains and Temblor Range finally experienced a similarly profuse wildflower bloom. I made two trips out there to wander Monet’s painting palette, and was not disappointed. Unfortunately, I think I might be flower-jaded for a few years!

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Temblor Range Flowers Aerial, Carrizo Plains National Monument, California, monet's palette, wildflower, 2010, spring

Monet's Palette : Prints Available

From 2010 - an aerial image of the wildflower displays in the Temblor Range of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.  

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Flower Watchers : Prints Available

Hikers enjoying the surrealistic view of the 'superbloom' wildflower display in the Carrizo Plains (Temblor Range). The hills are covered in phacelia (purple), san joaquin blazing star (orange), and hillside daisies (yellow). I'm fairly certain this is the same patch of orange and yellow/purple gully pictured in the above aerial near the top left.

Aside from the flowers, and their insane density, I was struck (again) by how the flowers largely seem to be grouped together in patches of monocultures. This is most evident in the long distance views – I tried to find the rare mixtures of species for more colorful foregrounds for my wide angle images. Why do they form these patches? It likely has a lot to do with slope angle, amount of sunshine, drainage, soil, etc. Still, it seems to me like many of the patches inhabit remarkably similar slopes. Perhaps there is something more interesting going on.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

The Flower Carpet : Prints Available

Some people get excited about the red carpet. I get excited about the flower carpet. Phacelia (purple) and hillside daisies (yellow) shown here, in the Temblor Range of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Rolling in Flowers : Prints Available

Looking down towards the Carrizo Plains through a gully covered in flowers, primarily phacelia (purple) and hillside daisies (yellow).

Given the huge swaths of flowers, I would have expected similarly dense swarms of insects. But, I hardly saw any. A few bumblebees, and lots of crane flies, but not much more. Where are the pollinators? Maybe by not being plugged into facebook, twitter, and the media, they haven’t heard about the “superbloom”? (that’s a joke)

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Afternoon Gold : Prints Available

Late afternoon sunshine illuminates the flower covered hillsides of the Temblor Range as a couple wanders through the fields of hillside daisies (yellow), and phacelia (purple).

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Flowers on the Range : Prints Available

A remarkably diverse view from the Temblor Range in the Carrizo Plains National Monument. The hillsides here are briefly covered in Desert Candles (purple topped green stems), san joaquin blazing star (orange), hillside daisies (yellow), and phacelia (purple).

While the carpets of flowers were astonishingly beautiful, I was most struck with the strangeness of the desert candles (Caulanthus inflatus). These bizarre flowers are actually members of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae). They seem a little less out of place when considering that this family also includes the mustards, which also have long stems topped with florets. As their latin name implies, the desert candles are essentially mustards with inflated stems, with a consistency like the floating air sacks of kelp that wash up on shore.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Desert Candles with a View : Prints Available

A healthy stand of Desert Candles (Caulanthus inflatus). These alien like plants are related to cabbages, but have stalks filled with air, keeping them stiff and erect.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Desert Candles : Prints Available

A healthy stand Desert Candles (Caulanthus inflatus). These alien like plants are related to cabbages, but have stalks filled with air, keeping them stiff, strange, and erect.

While this bloom is mostly over by now, you can probably still find some flowers here and there. Next up will be the Sequoia and Redwood forests, followed by what will almost certainly be a spectacular (and mosquito laden) alpine summer.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Good Morning Sunshine : Prints Available

First light on a hillside covered in yellow hillside daisies flowers with a few splashes of purple contributed by phacelia. From deep in the Temblor Range of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Hills of Gold : Prints Available

A few phacelia (purple) enjoy the first rays of sunshine, surrounded by a hillside covered in yellow hillside daisies flowers. Deep in the Temblor Range of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Lupine Dawn : Prints Available

A blooming lupine enjoys the first rays of sunshine on a frigid morning in the Temblor Range of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

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Floris van Breugel on April 5th, 2017

Over the past few weekends I’ve made a number of trips to various parts of the Mojave Desert, mostly to see the flowers, but of course I encountered various other interesting scenes along the way. The Mojave presents a unique combination of ancient desert and volcanic history, and in the right places with the right rain, the flowers can be astonishingly abundant. That is, until the ever-hungry sphinx moth caterpillars get to them!

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Petrified Ghosts, Black and White, Red Rock Canyon

Petrified Ghosts : Prints Available

Ghosts, trapped in sand. Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA.

Light Beams, Lava Tube, Mojave

Light in the Tunnel : Prints Available

Sunlight beams through a caved in roof of a lava tube in the Mojave Desert National Preserve, CA.

Camp Mojave.

Flowers, Death Valley National Park, Spring

Sandy Spring : Prints Available

The pink flowers and rich scent of sand verbena transform the desert landscape of Death Valley National Park in spring time.

Caterpillar, Flowers, Death Valley National Park

Spring Salad : Prints Available

A hungry white-lined sphinx moth caterpillar chows down on some fresh sand verbena flowers in Death Valley National Park.

Goldfields, Spring, Joshua Trees

Flowers for Joshua : Prints Available

Goldfields cover the floor of the high desert in spring, surrounding these Joshua Trees near Lancaster, CA.

Owls Clover, Poppies, Lancaster

Mojave Bouquet : Prints Available

Owls Clover adds a welcome splash of purple to the gold and orange fields of poppies and goldfields, near Lancaster, CA.

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Floris van Breugel on March 14th, 2017

Last weekend Aubrey and I joined the rest of Southern California in Anza-Borrego State Park to enjoy the desert wildflowers. It was beautiful out, but wow, never have I seen that many people there, or anywhere in the desert. We mostly avoided the high traffic blooms of sand verbena and dune primrose along Henderson Canyon and the early part of Coyote Canyon. Instead I made it my mission to one-up my previous images of the desert lily and beavertail cacti. Enjoy!

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Monkey Flower, Anza-Borrego, California

Monkey Flowers : Prints Available

Bigelow monkey flowers (mimulus bigelovii) bloom along a wash in California's Anza-Borrego State Park. 

Beavertail Cactus, Anza-Borrego, Desert

Cactophyllic : Prints Available

A blooming beavertail cactus enjoys the last rays of sunshine from its picturesque perch among the verdant ocotillo in Anza-Borrego State Park.

Spring, Agave, Anza-Borrego

Spring Love : Prints Available

Blooming phacelia wraps around the jagged leaves of a desert agave in Anza-Borrego State Park, CA.

Desert Lily, Anza-Borrego, Spring

Desert Springshine : Prints Available

The desert lily perfectly captures the feeling of spring time in the desert with its sparkling petals, golden stamen, and curiously serrated leaves. The early morning sunshine made this one look its best, especially with the added ambience of ocotillos in the distance.

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