Last week I was finally able to get out and enjoy the mountains for the first time since my trip to the Goat Rocks in July. For this trip Aubrey and I decided to do part of the Alpine Lakes Traverse, which took us past at least 17 named lakes, and countless un-named tarns during the course of our four day journey. Good thing there were that many lakes too, as without them we might well have passed out from heat exhaustion – few things beat swimming in a snowmelt alpine lake after a long hike!

Camping in the Cascades by an alpine lake.

Me, enjoying the view from our lakeside camp. Photo by Aubrey.

Camping and enjoying the mosquito free jacket.

Aubrey enjoying the bliss of her new mosquito repelling jacket. I admit, I was a little jealous (they were all sold out of men's jackets).

One of the most remarkable things about the Cascade range is the ubiquity of waterfalls. Across every river valley you’ll find rivers and creeks tumbling thousands of feet into the abyss below; I suppose that’s how this mountain range earned its name. Our first night we happened to camp near one of these beautiful falls, and in the late afternoon the sun cast its magic on the fresh alpine water. Simply staring at the dancing sparkles was a rejuvenating experience. This image still brings me right back there (minus the savage mosquitoes), and is one of my favorite images from the year so far – I hope you find it has a similar effect on you!

Click image for larger view!

Cascades Waterfall, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

Cascade Fountain : Prints Available
Late afternoon sunlight highlights the sparkling fresh mountain water in this backcountry waterfall in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Cascade mountains.

Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/13th sec
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, tripod, Singh-Ray Vari-ND
Notes: I used two additional exposures (faster shutter speed) to bring detail back into the highlights in the water and sky.

The next day we followed a small adventure trail deeper into the heart of the wilderness. Soon we found ourselves scrambling up steep talus slopes until finally we were rewarded with a magnificent, nearly 360 degree, view. We carefully picked our way down 800 feet of talus to arrive in an idyllic alpine basin with a partially frozen lake, tens of tarns, and plenty of mosquitoes. After all that exertion we needed to cool down, but neither of us lasted very long in the partially thawed out lake.

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Cascade Alpine Lake Basin, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

Cascade Paradise : Prints Available
Sunrise over an idyllic and remote alpine lake basin high in the Cascade mountains of Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Look closely (see the larger image link) – somewhere you’ll see our little orange tent.

Exposure: iso 100, f/11, 1/25th and 1/200th
The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24mm, tripod
Notes: Two exposures blended for dynamic range.

After our swim we hiked a loop around the lake to see what else we could find. Along the way was a beautiful granite crag that appeared to have been painted by Picasso and his cubist friends. Or perhaps it was just mineral deposits left behind from decades of melting snow.

Alpine Picasso, Cascades, Washington

Alpine Picasso : Prints Available
The mineral deposits left behind by snow melt on this fractured granite wall reminded me of the cubist style. Or perhaps Picasso secretly visited these mountains with his paint brushes?

Exposure: iso 200, f/11, 1/100th
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 70-200mm, handheld

The next day the real fun began. First breakfast though. For the past many years I’ve been eating oatmeal for breakfast, but neither me nor Aubrey can stand it anymore. Even with delicious toppings like chocolate covered espresso beans, coconut shavings, dried currants, and walnuts. I don’t know what I’ll bring next time, so if you have any ideas for lightweight, easy, yet tasty backpacking breakfasts let me know! I’m tempted to bring extra tortillas, nutella, and banana chips to make “crepes”. Aubrey decided left over beans and tortillas were the way to go. Anyways, after forcing some energy into our stomachs we hit the “trail”. Of course, there wasn’t actually a trail. Just hints from the topography to guide our way. Occasionally we’d encounter a cairn that let us know we had probably made the right decisions – but you never really know if the people that set those cairns actually knew what they were doing. We did quite well, as we both came out with hardly a bruise or scratch – a real accomplishment when bushwacking in the Cascades.

Glissading in the Cascades

Me, glissading along our traverse. Yes, it was just as fun as it looks! Photo by Aubrey.

Cascade hiking route

Aubrey admires our cross country route, roughly shown in red.

Our adventure took us to a truly idyllic alpine paradise with crystal clear (and cold) waters, surrounded by sun-baked granite slabs, blooming wildflowers, and incredible views. Even the mosquitoes weren’t so bad. Words will undoubtedly fall short of the beauty that was, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here.

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Alpine Lake and Mountains, Cascade Mountains, Washington

Alpine Idyll : Prints Available
A perfect alpine lake setting with magnificent mountain views deep in the heart of the Cascade mountains in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/20th
The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24mm, tripod
Notes: 3 exposures blended for depth of field, and 3 of each of those for dynamic range (3 stops apart, total).

Click image for larger view!

Cascade Mountain Reflection Panorama, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

Cascade Reflections : Prints Available
A classic mountain view of the Cascade mountains reflected in a remote alpine lake in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Exposure: iso 100, f/14, 1/4th
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 70-200mm, tripod
Notes: This is a gigantic panoramic stitch with over 72 megapixels of data, so the detail in a large print is outstanding!

Click image for larger view!

Alpine Wildflowers in the Cascades, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

Alpine Garden : Prints Available
A beautiful collection of alpine wildflowers with a view of rugged mountains in the Cascade range of Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Exposure: iso 100, f/14, 0.8 sec
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 70-200mm, tripod
Notes: 15 exposures blended for depth of field with Helicon Focus and manual touchup, and one additional exposure for dynamic range. This kind of extreme image stitching without introducing any artifacts is only possible when there is absolutely no wind - it really was dead still!

Click image for larger view!

Milky Way over the Cascades, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

Alpine Heaven : Prints Available
The milky way shows its brilliant colors over a perfectly still alpine lake in the Cascades in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Exposure: iso 6400, f/2.8, 15 sec
The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24mm, tripod
Notes: 8x 15sec exposures averaged to reduce the high iso noise, using PTGui and manual stitching parameters to correct for the Earth's rotation.

After enjoying the fading colors of sunset I crawled into bed, only to wake up again a few hours later to enjoy the night sky. On clear and cold nights like this, high in the mountains and away from the majority of light pollution, the starry sky is truly incredible. The night time magic was followed by an equally spectacular morning. I climbed to a nearby highpoint to greet the day from a view reaching to the northwest as far as my eyes could see. Just a few hundred feet below me the world was enshrouded in a thick layer of clouds – a classic Cascade inversion layer. This is one of my favorite weather phenomena, and something you never witness in the Sierra (at least, in the summer season), so it was a real treat for me, being a relative newcomer to the northwest. Typically temperature decreases with increasing altitude (3-5 deg F per 1000 feet), but on cold clear nights – like the one we had – the land surface loses its heat through radiation to space more quickly than the air above it. The result is a pocket of cold air that sits below the warmer air, which is a reversal of the normal temperature gradient and is (as you might expect) called an inversion. When the air near the land surface cools below the dew point, water vapor condenses and drifts around in the form of fog and low lying clouds. If you’re lucky enough to be above the inversion, the view is simply sublime.

Click image for larger view!

Dawn in the Cascades, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

Alpine Ocean : Prints Available
A magical dawn high in the Cascades in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness, overlooking the fog filled river valleys below.

Exposure: iso 100, f/11, 1/8th
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 70-200mm, tripod

In our final day we dropped about 4,500 feet, back down into the land of meadows, trees, and flowers – a delightful farewell to the alpine zone, until next time!

Hiking in the cascades with flowers

Aubrey hiking past some colorful flowers in one of the alpine meadows we passed through.

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17 Comments to “Cascade Paradise – 17 Alpine Lakes in 4 Days”

  1. Floris, I am a big fan of your photography, but the third photo is simply stunning. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Richard Wong says:

    Fantastic work, Floris. Seems like you’ve adapted well to your new surroundings.

  3. Jim Ruff says:

    Stunning images of a great hike! Thanks for sharing.

  4. One of my fave blog posts of yours in awhile. Great story and some really nice and varied images. Excellent work.

  5. MikeP says:

    Floris … I feel blessed to have followed this blog. Truly inspiring comps and great writing. Do you have any problems with wildlife in such isolated places…(bears,wolves)????? Aren’t they attracted by your food???

  6. Thanks folks for the very kind words!

    Mike – surprisingly, I have not seen a single bear since moving to Washington last year. On one of my trips a few years ago I saw 9 in one day on the Olympic peninsula, but I haven’t been that lucky since. I always use bear/critter proof food storage (bear cans and/or ursacks), so that keeps the food safe. Aside from grizzly bears (which are as rare as Sasquatch in Washington), there’s not really any wild animals here that are worth worrying about. Wild dog packs closer to populated areas are a much scarier threat. The real world dangers of backcountry travel in the mountains are unpredictable weather, rockslides/avalanches, and injuring yourself on steep rock and snow slopes.

  7. Floris – Some beautiful shots. It must have been a good snow year – lots of big snow patches even this late in the year. What a wild area. I was there 1x back in Sept of 2002, and look forward to seeing it again some day. My fav. was thelake side detail shot. The march up there are fantastic.

  8. Amazing set, Floris! That mountain shots are all epic, but that sparkling waterfall is really impressive too, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that effect pulled off as well. Sure makes me want to travel!

  9. Jack Brauer says:

    Awesome shots as usual! And I love your recent trip reports with “action” photos… it’s fun to read about the adventures and experiences behind the photos.

    Funny thing… I was thinking about spending a month or so in the Cascades this summer, and have been doing a lot of researching about possible treks and photo opps. I mapped out what I think may be more or less just what you did here! So it’s great to see it through your lens. Now I don’t have to go! Hahaha… Unfortunately we probably won’t make it out there this summer… the monsoon weather out here in the San Juans is too enticing to leave!

  10. Kent Mearig says:

    Wow, this is just too much for me to take in right now! I better make myself a note to come back as soon as I can find enough time to really enjoy each image and the background on the trip.

  11. Thomas Haney says:

    Hey Floris, We met in London in 2009 at the BBC Wildlife Photography Awards. We talked for awhile at the opening reception, I was the young guy with the beard….. Anyhow, I’m a fan of your work and your blog and had a suggestion for your oatmeal blues. I’ve hiked about 4000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and only lasted about 50 miles on oatmeal before I couldn’t stomach it. After trying many different things what I eventually settled on was: You know those flavored oatmeal packets, like maple and sugar or blueberries and cream? (yes I know they contain neither blueberries nor cream) So you put some cold water in a packet and mix it around, take a half spoonful of peanut butter and the other half spoonful of the flavored oatmeal, and enjoy. It tastes good and actually has enough calories for backpacking, unlike plain oatmeal. I’ve eaten it for months on end without a problem, though I understand it doesn’t sound that appealing. Anyhow, keep up the good work.

  12. Thanks folks!

    Thomas – thanks for the suggestions, sounds interesting.. I’ll have to give it a shot!

  13. Jeremy says:

    Some of the best images I’ve seen this year. Congrats, looks like a beautiful area.

  14. Floris,

    Terrific collection. I did a point-to-point through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness from 90 to 2 along the PCT, but it looks like I need to get off-trail instead. Excellent work.

    On a shorter backpack, I’ll often go for bagels for the first two mornings, often with swiss or cheddar cheese, or just peanut butter and maybe jam. If you’re in cooler weather, a bagel with cream cheese and fruit-roll-up pieces is tasty as long as the cream cheese keeps.

    If you’ve got a frying-pan equivalent in your cookset, a quesadilla with manchego or swiss can be very nice alternative, particularly if you’ve brought a few ounces of oil with you as well. I often only bring a Jetboil these days, though, so those are out…

    I’m still using oatmeal, but I like adding slivered almonds or pecans, and also dried cranberries or dried diced apricot. Also try using just barely enough water; the change in texture can help. On longer backpacks where weight is paramount, I alternate between oatmeal, instant grits (add a little oil and plenty of parmesan cheese), and couscous (add slivered almonds and dried cranberries). I wish I knew some better alternatives; I’m hoping to do some major backpacking trips next summer. I’ll admit that on many trips, I’ll just go straight into snacking on granola bars on the last morning.

    I’ve tried instant potato flakes (much better than they used to be, and even better with some oil added) and cornbread stuffing mix, both with imitation soy bacon sprinkled on top, but to me those taste a lot better with dinner. Your preferences may vary.

    Perhaps I think about food too much… Strike that; at least while I’m backpacking, I *know* I think about food too much.


  15. Floris, great post, great images. Sounds like a fun trip.

    It looks like you’ve hit the Enchantments previously (which are part of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, for anyone not familiar). One of my favorite spots in the PNW, and one of the most unique, for sure.


  16. Nuria says:

    Good work!! Very very nice pics and amazing experience.
    Congrats and a pleasure discover your blog

  17. R.Urban says:

    Magical photos 🙂