Aerial Photography In The North Cascades

While surfing the web one day I stumbled upon a great website called NorthwestWaterfallSurvey.com.  This site is an amazing resouce that lists and ranks all the known waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest.  Of course I was curious as to which fall was rated number one so I clicked on the Top 100 link.  But surprisingly the only info about this fall on was it’s name, Green Lake Falls, and it’s location, a little-visited valley within North Cascades National Park.  It surprised me there was so little known about a waterfall with such an exalted ranking, I was even unable to find a photo of it on the web.  This seemed like a great opportunity for an adventure.

I took a short recon drive up the nearest road back, but my Prius didn’t get very far up the old logging road before it began bottoming out.  High clearance and four wheel drive would be necessary to avoid an eight mile walk up a road.  And assuming I got to the end of the road there were still six more miles up a valley with no trail and who knows how much bushwhacking to contend with.  I mentioned the falls to my friend Nathan at work and we began contemplating an expedition to find and photograph the falls.  Another coworker and friend, David heard us talking about this and suggested a tantalizing alternative to hiking in to scout it out: take to the air.  His friend Peter, a professional pilot, was just as keen to check Green Lake Falls as we were.  For the price of a tank of aviation gas this trip was born.  It took a month for everyone’s schedules to align, and we postponed due to weather once, but this turned out to a good thing as our timing was absolutely perfect.

Glacier Peak And The North Cascades In Morning Mist

Glacier Peak And The North Cascades In Morning Mist Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington f/7.1 at 1/1250 seconds, ISO 200Canon EOS 40D, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM at 135mm

We took off from Boeing field in Seattle at about 07:00.  Right away it was apparent we were in for something special.  Above 500 feet the air was perfectly clear, with nary a breath of wind.  There was, however, plenty of mist in the valleys below us, that when combined with the slanting morning light and jagged peaks made for some spectacular photography.  Peter, who has been flying for 30 years commented that he had never seen such perfect atmospheric conditions before.

Morning Mist And The Cascades

Morning Mist And The Cascades Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington f/8 at 1/1250 seconds, ISO 200 Canon EOS 40D, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM at 135mm

It took us about 20 minutes to make it to North Cascades National Park, and our target Green Lake Falls.  The falls issue from Green Lake and cascade about 1800 feet down to the valley floor.  Green Lake itself lies just below the summit of Bacon Peak.  Green Lake was belying it’s name and was a stunning cerulean blue.

Peter took us in over the Peak to a pass at the head of the valley and dove down into it, tilting the plane over on it’s side to allow us a view of the falls which were almost directly below us.  The angle and the fact that the upper part of the falls was in direct sun, while the lower 80% was still in shadow made getting an aesthetically pleasing  photo of the full falls nigh on impossible.  The below photo is just one small part of the falls, it continues for at least the length pictured above, and probably four to five times below.

Green Lake Falls North Cascades National Park, Washington f/4 at 1/800 seconds, ISO 200 Canon EOS 40D, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 95mm

We made three passes down the valley like this and reversed direction and made one final pass up the valley.  This left us pointing directly at Mount Shuksan (my favorite mountain!) and we decided to check out some of the waterfalls in the Sulphide Basin.  These falls are taller but lack the aesthetics of Green Lake Falls.

Mount Shuksan Above Sulphide Basin Falls North Cascades National Park, Washington f/4 at 1/800 seconds, ISO 200 Canon EOS 40D, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 32mm

We finished off the trip with an orbit of Mount Baker.  On the way back we made a flyby of Three Fingers.  Seeing the fire lookout perched on the summit spire makes you wonder exactly how they got all the materials for it up there without a helicopter.

All in all not a bad way to spend a Monday morning.  We even made it in to work by 9:45.

More photos from this flight, and the rest of August can be found here.

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