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West Coast Outdoor Weather

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This is our weekly Thursday seven day outlook for the  North Cascades in Washington state. Each week we will pick a region in the Western United States.
These seven day outlooks do bring some challenges and the first one is accuracy of forecasts beyond three days and this can generally be poor. Also, we are now at the  beginning of the shoulder season (fall ) and forecast models can have a difficult time making the transition, thus they can be inaccurate at times.  Finally, this past summer has brought record breaking warm temperatures (and drought) to much of the Pacific Northwest and models might struggle with adjusting from that pattern to “perhaps” a more typical cooler fall.
Having said all the above, we will first discuss this coming weekend Saturday September 26 and Sunday September 27 for areas near Mt. Baker (North Cascades) in Washington. For this Saturday and Sunday a trough of low pressure will be to our south and west of this region so we can expect dry conditions.  The ridge should remain in place for Monday September 28 as well. Then on Tuesday September 29 a trough of low moves in from the south for a slight chance of a few showers for areas well to our south. The forecast confidence for this weekend till Tuesday is medium to high 3.5 confidence level (0 low confidence and 5 high confidence). However from Wednesday September 30 till Friday October 2 much lower confidence (2.). The reason for lower confidence is we have a complicated pattern set up and one can see that on the map below.  The map below is  for Friday October 2 the 500 mb which is for 18,000 foot level. This shows a trough of low pressure just to the north of Washington state and a ridge of high pressure to the west and east of Washington. If this pattern verifies  for Friday October 2 the North Cascades will be cooler than normal but it should remain dry. However if that trough moves further south (towards North Cascades) than a high chance of precipitation. What will happen? Stay tuned!
Sept 24, 2015
Source: European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts

About the author: Michael Fagin has been providing mountain forecasts for the Pacific Northwest since the mid 1980’s and is currently providing weather forecasts for many of the Seattle Mountaineers Climb and Scramble leaders.  Michael also provides weather forecasts for some government agencies on key weather events in the Puget Sound Region: wind storms, major rain events, and snow events.  Since 2003 Michael has been providing weather forecasts for Mt. Everest for many of the major expedition and for mountaineers climbing the major peaks around the world. Forecast are also provided  for outdoor events like weddings. Finally Michael and his associates are used as expert witnesses in legal proceedings that concern meteorological events..   Michael Fagin is lead forecaster for West Coast Weather ,LLC and its affiliate firms: Everest Weather, Alaska Mountain Weather and Washington Online Weather.


Please see our web sites for additional information:  West Coast Weather and Everest Weather. We provide custom forecast for all outdoor events from weddings to climbing mountains. Cost only $25 for multi-day custom Washington state forecast. Call (toll free)  877-969-4786 or email michaelfagin than put “@” for details.


The Magic of the Enchantments: Not Created by Giants and Gnomes, Says Local Geologist

in Community/Earth/Trails by
the Enchantments
Moonbeam over Colchuck (Aasgard) Pass, photo courtesy of Shauna McDaniel

Much has been written about the wild and rugged wilderness area known as the Enchantments west of Leavenworth, but words have a hard time capturing the beauty and magic of a place that is so truly enchanting.

the Enchantments
Sunset on Colchuck Lake, photo courtesy of Shauna McDaniel

The geologic features found in the Enchantments have inspired fantasy and whimsy from the beginning of their exploration and are captured in the official and unofficial names of the features in this wilderness. Names like Gnome Tarn, Troll Sink and Aasgard Pass (officially Colchuck Pass) give the area a J.R.R. Tolkien Middle-earth kind of feel. Hikers can almost see Leprechauns snoozing under the Dr. Seuss like Larch trees.

the Enchantments
Although conifers, the Larch tree is also deciduous, photo courtesy of Sheri Goodwin

Feeling pretty certain that giants, fairies and gnomes weren’t responsible for the dramatic features found in the Enchantments, I contacted my old geology professor from the University of Puget Sound, Dr. Barry Goldstein (a man who once convinced a naive college freshman that he could determine what minerals were in a rock by taste), and asked him about how the Enchantments came to be the amazing place it is.

the Enchantments
Mist moving into the Enchantments, photo courtesy of Shauna McDaniel

Goldstein confirmed my suspicion that giants were not responsible for the Enchantments, but rather that something called the Mount Stuart batholith created the dramatic rock features hikers see in the area. The magma batholith (think big pool of molten rock) cooled slowly around 83 to 93 million years ago, three to six miles below the surface of the earth. Goldstein explained that, at such depth, heat escapes slowly, creating the large interconnected crystals that are so popular with climbers in the area.

the Enchantments
Perfection Lake, photo courtesy of Shauna McDaniel

Once the rock cooled, Goldstein says, the region was uplifted several times, exposing the rock to the forces of erosion and revealing the batholith. Goldstein highlights that the batholith runs from I-90 to U.S. Highway 2, with Mount Stuart being “the highest remnant of the long-exposed and much eroded rock.”

“So, was the rock eroded by giants?” I asked, thinking I may have a scoop worthy of a Pulitzer. Goldstein’s answer was yes… but not the kind I was thinking of. It seems that multiple episodes of (giant) glacial erosion in the last 1.5 to 2.0 million years, along with river erosion, have been responsible for most of the erosion found in the area. Goldstein says even many of the lakes found in the Enchantments were caused by glacial erosion. Besides the forces of giant slow moving sheets of ice, seasonal freezing and thawing also contributed to the rock fall and talus found at the bottom of cliffs.


Fun Geological Fact

Goldstein reminds us that just as erosion is not caused by giants, it is also not caused by the ice of a glacier either. Instead, bedrock particles freeze to the base of the glacier as it is dragged like sandpaper across a bedrock surface or as segments of bedrock freeze onto the base of the glacier and then get dragged away as the ice flows down slope.

the Enchantments
Valleys and lakes – remnants of ancient glaciation, photo courtesy of Shauna McDaniel



The Enchantments are full of wildlife of the two and four legged variety. But the dominate creatures of the wilderness area are the Mountain Goats; they are beautiful, bold and curious. The Forest Service offers great advice on how to cohabitate with the majestic goats in a video called Hiking Safely with Mountain Goats. When I was there this summer, three pairs of mama and adolescent goats patrolled the area around our campsite, they were curious but cautious.

the Enchantments
Curious and cautious, Mountain Goats are a fixture in the Enchantments, photo courtesy of Shauna McDaniel


Good Things to Know

Permits: The Enchantments Wilderness is a controlled access area with passes issued by the Forest Service either through an annual lottery process beginning in February or through daily walk-in permitting during the permit season. More information about the pass process can be found here.

Parking: The Enchantments are a popular hiking, climbing and through-running recreational area. The permit process controls the crowds fairly well and the trailheads’ do have large parking lots, but it wise to arrive early on the day you plan to hike. Some road-side parking is available, but not recommended for extended hikes.

Weather: We have all heard that weather in the mountains can and will change quickly, and hikers need to be prepared for all types of weather in the Enchantments. Warm weather— like this summer’s extra hot days— can lull hikers into a false sense of security… “do I really need that extra layer?” I was thinking as I slogged up Aasgard Pass under temperatures in the mid-90s. Two days later a wind and rain storm moved in as my party worked to set-up our tents. The near gale force winds threatened to make kites out of our tents and rain whipped through the lining of the tents. It was a long, wet, cold, miserable night— I was glad I had lugged that extra layer up the mountain. Don’t let the serene views of the Enchantments fool you, the weather will change and you can get dangerously cold even in the summer— be ready to move if you need to, and watch for rising river/creek levels if the rain persists. Think about the weather and water levels and how they can change when establishing a camp. Stay safe and happy in this magnificent wilderness.

the Enchantments
Magical views are part of the Enchantments experience, picture courtesy of Shauna McDaniel


Author’s Note: I would like to thank Dr. Barry Goldstein and the University of Puget Sound for making this article possible and for the education of a lifetime.

Coexisting with Wolves in Washington

in Earth by
Wolves in Washington
After decades of monitoring depleted wolf populations in the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has called to remove the gray wolf, Canis lupus, from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. This proposal was submitted in June, but the decision is on hold until Fish and Wildlife has conducted public hearings in affected states. A decision is expected to be made within the year, but states are already developing proposals on coexisting with wolves.
Wolves in Washington

It has been less than six years since the first wild wolf pack was confirmed in Washington, and since then that number has increased to 10 confirmed and two suspected packs, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Most of those packs exist in Eastern Washington with three confirmed packs in the Northern Cascades.

The resurgence of wolves has been a controversial issue in areas affected — conservation groups are concerned about anti-wolf propaganda leading to further reduction in the fragile population, while farmers and residents are concerned for the safety of livestock and citizens.

The killing of a Washington pack in 2012 was criticized by Sen. Kevin Ranker, chair of the Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee, who called the act “inexcusable” when interviewed by NBC News last year. Ranchers in Eastern Washington have repeatedly requested that the state control the gray wolf population in the area, citing wolf attacks as being responsible for lost revenue, due to death of livestock.

Wolves in Washington 1

The decision to delist the gray wolf has been extended to Oct. 28, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Defenders of Wildlife is hosting a seminar on bridging the gap between the two sides with a free presentation on wolf conservation, wildlife conflict management, compensation programs, co-existence and non-lethal techniques for reducing wolf and livestock conflicts. Coexisting with Wolves in Washington — Lessons Learned is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 28, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the University Friends Meeting hall located at 4001 9th Ave NE in Seattle.

Salmon Encounters

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When I plan a backpacking trip and am working out where to camp each night my main consideration is “Where can I take the best pictures?” I think about the best views and which angle of light I want. And so my camp sites and hiking goals each day are based upon trying to be at the right place at the right time.

waterfall 2-Recovered em copy

Capturing images of wildlife is not as easy to predict. Bear, goats, deer and marmots are all doin’ their own thing. One never knows when you’ll cross paths, so I simply hope for a magical moment and that my camera will be ready!

This summer I hiked the Copper Ridge – Whatcom Pass Loop, in North Cascades National Park. I planned camp sites atop Copper Ridge and Tapto Lakes. But the most magical part of the trip was my encounter with salmon spawning in Indian Creek at its confluence with the Chilliwack River.

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The trek began at the Hannegan Pass trail head; we hiked up into the park and out along Copper Ridge. Silesia Camp, atop the ridge is unbelievably stunning.

The long descent down to the ford of the Chilliwack River provides a wonderful opportunity to observe striking changes in flora. Pine forests slowly transform into rain forest as one nears the valley bottom. The forest is wet, humid, different…

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Then come the two fords, first the Chilliwack. My sore aching feet welcome the cold fresh waters…then I hobble across a short section of wet forest and come to Indian Creek.

The creek was full of salmon, bright orange in color, hovering in the crystal clear water. Here Indian Creek is about 10 meters across, its banks enveloped with dark green. The sky is a narrowing strip curving away.

salmon 31em copy

Looking up steam, back towards the North Cascades, Indian Creek is choked with fallen trees. The river bed is soft silt and brightly colored stones, adding to the illusion of the salmon practicing a form of Jedi levitation.

The view north, towards Canada is equally alluring. The confluence of the two streams creates an opening. The sky is now blue with dark clouds gathering.

I feel like I have been transported to an entirely different point of the globe. Time seems to stand still. There is a fallen tree stretching out in the middle of the stream and I make my way there. A birch provides some support as I try to balance myself and marvel at the majesty of the fish. Some seem playful, darting here and there, others simply hangin’ out, languidly gliding in the waters.

As I wander around the banks I sense some motion up stream. Looking up I see a huge brown bear, maybe 800 lbs along the right side of the creek. I freeze, as does the bear. My racing heart slows after a few minutes, my thoughts reactively consider flight, then a millisecond later I am calculating how far the camera is and how brave I will be to approach such a huge bear.

The allure of photographing such a magnificent creature snacking on salmon easily wins the moment. Gathering the camera I start up stream towards the bear. My partner, seeing our visitor, lets out a scream, and off he goes, back into the forest.

I stand still for a while, reviewing the image of the bear in my mind…wow, what a fantastic place!

The night brings horrific storms, heavy rain, incessant thunder and lightening envelopes our tiny tent. But here in this deep gash of a valley we are protected. With all the noise I wonder if our giant furry friend will come visit us, maybe hungry for some of our food, but I realize that he is likely very well fed and not interested.

The early morning fog lies thick across the water. We linger for some gap in time. The crisp, fresh air and cold clear water sharpen my senses. I am quite happy to be alive!

Every year the first weeks of August brings the salmon back to Indian Creek. Maybe next year I’ll see you there…


Bull Moose on the Trail

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Meeting a Moose

Bull moose

Recently while hiking along Mummy Pass Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park we discovered a bull moose right along the trail. Rather than scampering into the woods as moose typically do when we hike past, this bull moose looked at us, we looked at him and seeing that we weren’t a threat he continued on as if we weren’t even there. We watched him for quite awhile, took a few pictures and counted ourselves lucky to have such a long and peaceful encounter with a bull moose.

Bull mooose 2

Monitoring the Weather for Hikers

in Earth/Skills by

Last June Seattle Backpackers Magazine posted a short article on tracking barometric pressure with a GPS.  Recently my son reminded me of a little known theorem that helps the hiker’s situational awareness.  This theorem is called Buys-Ballot’s Law.

buys-ballot's law1

In 1857 Dutch professor Christopher Buys-Ballot postulated that there was a relationship between wind direction and air pressure. Buys-Ballot’s law provides a rough approximation of the location and direction of the low pressure system as it tracks through a region.

Simply put, in the northern hemisphere, if one faces the wind the center of a low pressure system will be to the right and slightly behind the observer.  High pressure will be to the left and slightly ahead of the observer. Further, weather systems in the northern hemisphere track from west to east.

Important for the hiker, a low pressure system is associated with rain, snow and bad weather in general.  A high pressure system is associated with improving weather conditions.

So, if the hiker determines that high pressure is to the west of the present location the weather may be improving because the system will move from west to east.

The YouTube video by meteorologist Vince Condella presents this nicely.

Buys-Ballots Law and a GPS are both useful tools to improve the hiker’s ability to monitor and anticipate the weather in the backcountry.

buys-ballot's law2

Mount St Helens Anniversary

in Earth/Trails by

Mount Saint Helens… for locals the name conjures up images of either lush unrivaled beauty, or absolute carnage and destruction. For those who knew the mountain before May 18th, 1980, Mount St Helens was the crown jewel of the Cascades. Often compared to Mt. Fuji for its perfectly symmetrical cone, photographers and painters alike captured her beauty, often reflected in the pure blue waters of nearby Spirit Lake. Before 1980, the mountain symbolized hiking, fishing, backpacking and relaxation along the slopes of the mountain and nearby ridges, or exploration and summer activities along the lake shore.

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For those who only experienced the mountain after May 18th, the picture is a far different one. A lateral volcanic blast, virtually unknown as a volcanic threat until after the 1980 eruption, exploded outward at speeds exceeding 300 miles per hour, devastating the landscape in a swath over a dozen miles north of the mountain. Survivors who were rescued from the blast zone told of searing heat and a stone wind that tore the forests north of the volcano down to bedrock. The sound of the blast was easily heard in Canada, but totally silent directly in the mountains shadow. For those who visited Mount St Helens in the years immediately following the blast, the landscape was harsh, a volcanic desert covered in ash and surrounded by trees felled as if by a giant’s lawnmower, all pointed away from the central crater, a gaping maw a mile wide with a steaming newborn lava dome inside.

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For those visiting the mountain today, 33 years later, the emerging story is quite different than any of those seen before. The scars from the blast have largely faded from the surrounding landscape, largely dependent on proximity to the crater to determine the scope of what remains from those ten fateful minutes when the mountain shattered apart. Trees that once lay like matchsticks have decayed and sunk into the ridges surrounding the mountain. The standing dead zone, where trees were choked and burned to death on the edge of the blast, have fallen, and a new forest rises 10-20 feet high below the remaining ghostly sentinels. The massive mat of fallen logs that choked Spirit Lake in the immediate aftermath of the eruption (headlines of the day proclaimed “Spirit Lake Gone!”), has steadily shrunk to 1/3rd of its size. The logs instead have created a sunken forest of ghosts just beneath the waves of the lake.

orion ahrensfeld_mt st helens crater view_std

Exploring this new landscape is to gaze upon the literal birth of a forest. For those anxious to discover the new story of Mount Saint Helens, the trail network around the mountain is one of the best in the northwest. Trails to the north, such as the Boundary Trail, gaze head on into the crater of the still active mountain. One can occasionally spot wisps of steam which confirm that the lava dome inside the crater is still hot. The Boundary Trail stretches from the valley below, where it connects to the Hummocks Trail (another fine trail when the road to the visitor center hasn’t been plowed free of snow), all the way up Johnston Ridge, past the visitor center, across the blasted ridges north of the mountain and into the Mt. Margaret Backcountry. From there it continues east, eventually reaching Bear Meadows, along Highway 99 at the Windy Ridge entrance to Mt. St. Helens. It continues on to Mt. Adams from there, winding its way outside the volcanic monument. To hike the Boundary Trail is to ask the question “How far do I want to go and when do I feel like turning around?”  The Mt. Margaret Backcountry in particular is a glorious place to spend a few nights, looking down from the lofty ridges and peaks on the blast zone, with Mt. St. Helens itself your constant companion. For those looking for other adventures in the blast zone, there are numerous trails on the northeastern side of the monument. The Harmony trail, which is the only access to the waters of Spirit Lake, takes you quickly down into a valley bowl swept clean of trees by the waters of Spirit Lake, as the 1980 eruption landslide caused the lake itself to slosh up the ridges and pull the blasted trees down off the slopes and into the lake below. Views from above Spirit Lake and the mountain can be had at the Independence Trail and the Norway Pass Trail connect to take you on a journey along the ridges of the eastern shore of the lake. The remnants of fallen trees and new forest are everywhere around you in this part of the monument. Those looking for a longer multi-day journey that never strays far from the mountain should set their sights on the Loowit Trail. The Loowit is Mount Saint Helens version of the Wonderland trail of Mt. Rainier, a huge circle that takes in all sides of the mountain that can be accessed from numerous other trails along each side. And of course, those looking to summit an active volcano can do so via permit (required above 4800 feet) by climbing the Monitor Ridge route in the summer or the Worm Flows route in winter.

This Saturday is the 33rd anniversary of Mount St Helens eruption. It’s a great time to go explore the past and get a glimpse into the future. Maps and more info about all the trails above can be found at the US Forest Service website.

orion ahrensfeld_boundary hummocks trail_std

Everest Anniversary and Fights

in Community/Earth by

Today is the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of Mt Everest. It’s disheartening, to say the least, that on the anniversary, clouds of malcontent and fist fights (complete with rocks to the head?) would be the topic of conversation, rather than the celebration of a historical conquest.

Sixty years ago when Norgay and Hillary stood atop the summit, they did so because people had come together from around the world. During the attempt, some expedition members sacrificed their own fame and notoriety so that other members had a chance to reach the top. Expedition leader Colonel John Hunt was supposed to lead the team to the top, but when he saw that the duo was far stronger than he was, he stepped aside and let them go ahead of him. People sacrificed their own summit attempts for the team or for another individual who could take their place. Since then, many teams have come together and pooled shelter and food so that a few of them had a chance to reach the top. That has been the majority of the history of Everest summitting since it was first conquered in 1953.

We met Melissa’s team (referenced in the article below) in Namche when we were there just over a month ago. She was considering a 5th summit attempt while guiding her clients this season. We ran into Lakpa Rhita Sherpa when we were on our way down the Everest Highway and he was on his way up, possibly to try for summit number 17. Hundreds of people are up there right now, as they are every season, and they are all attempting unbelievable feats under incredible circumstances. When you consider that every reported bit of this happened above 17,000 feet, where the people involved have been living in tents with high winds and snow and eating off a camp stove for a month, it’s no surprise that events like this one, making all the climbing news cables, would happen, but it is definitely an indicator of how far from the original point and purpose of the summit we have drifted.

The article below is summed up well in this final paragraph, but if the topic is new to you, you will enjoy the complete article.

But 50 years to the day since the first American ascent, the Everest climbing scene has become a complex mix of big-money efforts fueled by intensely goal-oriented people, where cultural and language differences easily lead to misunderstanding, all set in an extremely dangerous natural environment at an altitude that diminishes decision making and weakens the body. In light of all that, summiting might be the easy part.


EK Everest sunrise

The Perseid Meteor Shower 2013

in Earth/Fireside by

Editor’s Note: On the nights of August 12 and 13, 2013 the Perseid Meteor Shower will reach its peak. Last year Cheryl Talbert witnessed this phenomena from the High Sierra and has shared her experience with SBM. Sounds like a good couple of days to be away from the glow of the city and high in the mountains above the treeline. Mark your calendars. We’re requesting the days off now!


Flashes of Brilliance in the High Sierra

There are a few times in one’s life when the planets align and something spectacular happens that you know you may never experience again. In our case, the brightest of the planets literally aligned across the midnight sky during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, and our little backpack quartet, my husband John and I and our friends Dick and Steve, found ourselves fortuitously under a clear sky next to Purple Lake in the central Sierra on that exact night. The Perseid is a phenomenon that occurs when the Earth passes annually through a stream of debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle. NASA’s Meteroid Environment Office had predicted meteor rates ‘as high as a hundred per hour. Steve was on the ball and knew that this would be a good one. So what remained was for us to Seize the Day (or in this case, the night), get up and brave the chill to see the show.

The extravaganza did not disappoint. John and Dick chose the continued warmth of their sleeping bags over the starshow, so it was up to Steve and me to represent. We situated ourselves head-to-head on our backs down by the lake shore on our Therma-Rests© (squeeeeeak, creeeeeak) with a clear view of the sky at a few minutes after midnight. The smoky backdrop of the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon, one of the first times in my life I had seen its entirety.


Against the inky blackness behind, Billions and Billions of stars (thank you Carl Sagan!) and the bright reflections of the crescent moon between Jupiter and Venus. Then, sometimes faster than we could turn our heads,  ZIP. “Wow, did you see that?!” ZZIIPP – ZZZIIIPPP- ZZZZZIIIIIPPPPP! Emanating from every quadrant, they sped across the void in multiple directions. Within a few minutes we easily saw a dozen, and then a dozen more over the next few. NASA’s forecast of a profligate night’s display was definitely delivered.

After an hour or so the flashes spread out, leaving us to notice the chill in our extremities. It was time to go back to our respective tents and down cocoons. Still, the experience was an extraordinary reminder of the gifts that the universe can provide if only one stops to watch and be amazed.

Happy Earth Day – Go Celebrate

in Community/Earth by

It’s Earth Day and we love any excuse to get outside. Especially when the sun is doing its thing in Seattle. This infographic with history and more great stats and reminders about why we love our National Parks. But today we have an extra reason. It’s Monday, it’s sunny, you’re an outdoors person… do you need more excuses? Well, how about this: All week the National Parks Service is admitting visitors free of charge! And, in case you are new the area, or just forgot,  you have four gorgeous National Parks within a 3-hour drive of your door step (if you are in the Seattle area). They are: North Cascades, Rainier, Olympic and Mt St Helens ( Technically National Volcanic Monument, but we like to count it).

See you on the trails!

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North Cascades from the air. Courtesy of  Stephen Matera

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