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North Cascades Highway clearing starts today

PARKS – Crews are scheduled to begin clearing snow from the North Cascades Highway today, March 31, Washington Transportation Department officials say. The mountainous stretch of Highway 20 could reopen by early May.

The highway closed for the winter on Dec. 3.

Avalanche control and maintenance workers took a tracked vehicle from Mazama to Washington Pass two weeks ago. They found snow at Washington Pass 10 feet deep and the snow in the avalanche chutes below Liberty Bell 35 feet deep. 

Sparkling view today from Mount Spokane

WINTER SPORTS — I feel sorry for those of you who couldn't call in sick and head up to a ski area to take advantage of today's clear skies and fresh pow.  

Here's the view from Quartz Mountain in Mount Spokane State Park.

Snow closes North Cascades Highway for season

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — After finding a 12-foot deep avalanche along a 150-foot stretch of highway below Liberty Bell Mountain this morning, the state Department of Transportation has decided to keep the North Cascades Highway closed for the winter, according to the Associated Press.

The state temporarily closed the mountain pass between Mazama and Newhalem on Sunday afternoon due to heavy snow and high winds. Road crews went back to assess whether the road could be safely reopened today, and determined it could not, said DOT spokesman Jeff Adamson.

He said other avalanche chutes along the highway were filled with snow and unstable.

The highway closes every winter due to avalanche danger. Most years, the highway closes sometime in November, although it remained open into early December several years in its 40-year history. Last year, it closed for the season on Nov. 19.

This year the highway — a gateway to North Cascades National Park — reopened April 16, weeks earlier than last year because of a thinner snow pack. 

October 2013 one of the best ever for staying outdoors

ENVIRONMENT — If you are a camper, backpacker, paddler or angler, you're probably looking back, as I am, with fond memories of October's fall color spectacle against blue skies.  

It was fantastic, with perhaps a record dearth of rainfall to spoil the experience.

Not great for everyone, but we take the lemonaide when it comes.

We were sleeping under stars and an brilliant full moon without need for a tent in the middle of the month 

Like all seasons, October glory is finally waning into something else, as this photo suggests from Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.

Steens Mountain among Oregon’s top road trips

OUTDOORS TRAVEL — If you're looking for an outdoors-related road trip, complete with opportunities for hiking, fishing and wildlife watching, consider the drive to Oregon's Steens Mountain.

Zach Urness, outdoor writer for the Statesman Journal, notes that it's been called the most spectacular drive in Oregon.

The Steens Mountain Loop Road departs the tiny, historic town of Frenchglen and climbs Oregon’s eighth-tallest mountain on a tour of massive gorges, vast panoramas and one of the most spectacular lakes in the Pacific Northwest.

The 52-mile loop is the state’s highest road and found in its southeastern corner, rising above the high desert like an alpine island, he says.

Last year, Urness wrote a story about backpacking and hiking into the gorges of Steens Mountain.

This year, he's written a detailed report focusing on the family-friendly highlights that can be enjoyed right along the road.

North Cascades Highway reopening today

OUTDOORS ACCESS — The Washington Department of Transportation says the North Cascades Highway is reopening at 10 a.m. this morning.

It was closed last week by severe mudslides near Rainy Pass.

Several businesses along the scenic route winding its way through the North Cascades National Park reported slower business as a result of the closure last week. Road workers using heavy equipment worked last week to remove about 30,000 cubic feet of rocks and trees in the roadway moved by mountain slides caused by heavy rain.

During the height of tourist season, generally falling in August and September, roughly 2,000 vehicles travel along the highway daily. 

Hucking junk off mountains isn’t cool

ENVIRONMENT — Go-Pro video cameras have recorded all sorts of stunts, but to see the company endorse the trashing of pristine mountain environments makes me want to gag and go back to the ol' Super 8 camera.

The video above reportedly shows Erik Roner, who strapped on GoPros on as he drove a snowmobile off the edge of a cliff of a spectacular mountain area.

The stunt supposedly was in memory of his late friend and fellow extreme athlete, Shane McConkey, who died in a skiing accident in 2009.

The stunt was a spectacular “burial” of sorts for McConkey's snowmobile in order to memorialize a legend of extreme sports.

It worked, I guess.

I'll always remember McConkey's name, but not without conjuring up an image of someone unnecessarily desecrating a pristine mountain environment.

North Cascades makes list of least discovered parks

NATIONAL PARKS — While more than 30 million visitors flock to America’s 10 most popular national parks, Country magazine took the road less traveled to visit the “Hidden Gems” for a special photo section in the June-July issue on what the editors call “the 10 most beautiful, least crowded parks in the national park system.

North Cascades National Park in northcentral Washington is on the list.

Despite the breathtaking alpine terrain, Washington’s North Cascades National Park remains virtually deserted compared with America’s marquee national parks. Why?

Location plays a part. The park’s most famous feature, Mount Shuksan, isn’t its most impressive peak; it’s just the most impressive peak visible from Mount Baker Highway. Countless mountains of equal caliber remain unknown except among hikers and climbers willing to blaze their own trails.

Precipitation matters, too. Heavy snow mantles the higher elevations in radiant white, while rains nourish the dense forest that cloaks the lower slopes, making them impenetrable to the hesitant hiker.

Other parks on the list include:

Mega resort proposed for Canadian Rockies

MOUNTAINS — A resort developement proposed along the edge of Canmore, Alberta, would be the largest in the history of the Canadian Rockers, according to a story in the Calgary Herald.

It’s the anchor of a proposal by PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc. to develop the community with a total of 2,549 residential units, 1,000 resort accommodation units and two hotels with 250 rooms each, as well as other businesses, on 1,110 acres — about 80 per cent of the remaining developable land in the mountain town.

The proposal could add 10,000 people to Canmore’s population.

Kaninaskis Country — gateway to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and Banff National Park and home to dozens of smaller parks — could be getting crowded.

Climber’s photos document shrinking Cascades glaciers

CLIMBING — Northwest climber/photographer Alan Kearney has an ongoing project to photograph Cascades glaciers from the same spot he photographed them on climbing trips decades ago.

As you might expect, having read anything about climate change in the past few decades, the glaciers show considerable shrinkage. See one of his stories and photo comparisons here

Also check out his blog for other stories and photos.

Advanced photo technology frames Mount Everest in shocking detail

MOUNTAINS — After seeing this stunning display of photo technology, I'll never be able to squat in the woods without wondering if somebody's taking my picture from a perch a mile away. 

Click the link below and zoom in, for example, on the amazing detail of the sprawling Mount Everest Base Camp.

 2B-pixel photo lets you explore Mount Everest online

Exploring the pinnacles and crevices of Mount Everest is now possible without ever climbing it, thanks to a 2 billion pixel photograph that filmmaker and climate-change activist David Breashears released online. He took 400 images of the world's highest mountain in the spring, combining them to create a panorama that lets viewers zoom in on everything from a camper washing his face at the base to the mountain's icefall. “I find things I've never noticed before, especially on how climate change is affecting the mountain,” said Breashears, whose GlacierWorks site shows how climate change is affecting the Himalayas. The Guardian (London)

Photo: Mission Mountains in fall transition

PUBLIC LANDS — The calm before the storm that brings on winter.  Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson reminds us why we love mountains with this scene of the Mission Mountains captured a few days ago.

Tonight: Get the skinny on climbing gear from Black Diamond rep

CLIMBING — Learn the Nuts & Bolts of climbing gear from Eddie Whittemore, a highly regarded Black Diamond sales rep, TONIGHT, 7 p.m., in a free program at Mountain Gear Retail Store, 2002 N Division St.

The informal-informative presentation will cover how climbing gear is manufactured, how it is tested and the standards; then a bit about caring for gear to make it last, and when to retire it for safety.

 A Q & A session will conclude the evening.

Whittemore invites you to bring your gear and your questions.

Aerial mountain photography documents beauties, bummers in East Kootenays

MOUNTAINS — This 6-minute sequence of excellent aerial photography documents the splendor of the mountains in Canada just north of Washington and Idaho as well as what some of these precious places could look like without protection.

Those of you who hike, paddle, climb and ski in the West Kootenays and East Kootenays will enjoy these images — titles included — of the Selkirks, Purcells, Rockies, Valhallas, Kokanee Glacier, Jumbo, Flathead, Bugaboos and the Coal Mines

The slide show is by Douglas Noblet, with more photos posted at www.wildairphoto.com.

Scientist pegs decline of glaciers in Olympic National Park

CLIMATE CHANGE — On the heels of a report on the decline of glaciers on Mount Adams, a scientist in Olympic National Park  says the Olympic Peninsula's glaciers have shrunk by an average of 15 percent since the 1980s, with one completely disappearing.

Ferry Glacier, one of the 60 largest at the park in 1982, disappeared from its rocky niche in the Bailey Range, according to the Associated Press.

Olympic National Park physical scientist Bill Baccus says another glacier, Lillian, has “virtually disappeared.”

Baccus has been studying the park’s 311 glaciers in detail since 2010. He says there are more glaciers now because larger ones have broken up. In 1982, researchers found 266 glaciers.

The most recent study found that Blue Glacier — the largest one — has lost 18 percent of its mass since 1982.

He says the average air temperature in the Pacific Northwest has gone up 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1920.

Slice: Making Molehills Into Mountains

As you know, large portions of the United States are pancake flat. In those parts of America, you can stand in a field and see a storm coming from three counties over. In other vast swaths of U.S. countryside, the highest elevations are found atop low, rolling hills. Sometimes people who live in such places wind up moving to the Spokane area. Upon surveying their new surroundings, these individuals determine that we have mountains here. And that’s where it gets complicated. Yes, it’s certainly true that there are mountains hereabouts. Quite a few, actually. They just aren’t particularly tall or breathtakingly jagged, as is the case elsewhere in the Northwest/Paul Turner, The Slice. More here. (Wikipedia: Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park)

Question: Have you ever lived anywhere where there are real mountains?

Re: Today’s print Slice

“I have a different perspective on the mountains here than those who complain,” wrote Eve Montgomery. “We moved here from Wichita Falls, Texas, in October. Wichita Falls is one of those places where you can see the storms three counties away and you have a few hills which really are molehills or prairie dog hills.

“I love your mountains here and don't wish for those big mountains where you can only see a small part of the sky. You see, I love the sunrises and sunsets you can still see from Spokane. Yet I look out my window and see mountains, which I love. Also, I don't spend a large amount of time driving down from 8,500 feet just to go to the grocery store like my brother does in Colorado.

“You can drive to the bigger mountains from here if you must.

“We really like Spokane, which is a friendly and welcoming community. You have a variety of great things and people here instead of just mountains. I will always take sunrises and sunsets over high mountains.” 

Aerial photos capture beauty of North Cascades peaks

MOUNTAINS — Climbers, and everyone else, can enjoy an eagle-eye view of Glacier Peak west of Lake Chelan in a series of photos shot by John Scurlock, a Bellingham firefighter/paramedic who built his own sport plane and uses it to capture interesting aerial scenic photos.

Scurlock has developed an incredible photo gallery website where he has a large inventory of aerial views detailing winter routes and faces on North Cascades peaks and more.

Last week, Scurlock and Steph Abegg photographed Glacier Peak and Mount Stuart, two prized wilderness destinations for the region's mountaineers.

When you go to his website, be sure to click on “view map,” which locates the mountains and allows you to click a bubble and see the photo. 

This photograph of upper Glacier peak  looks to the south/southeast.

Here's an interesting view of blowing snow back-lit by the setting sun, taken just as they turned the plane toward home in a steady 40-50 mph wind out of the north at altitude, “a typical clear-weather winter pattern in my experience” Scurlock said.

(Click 'original' below the images to see the largest uploaded sizes.)


Windy days risky for hiking at Mount Spokane

MOUNTAIN WEATHER — “Today I hiked down to the Spokane Mountaineers chalet (near the cross-country ski trails) through knee-deep snow,” said Holly Weiler, a club member and diehard hiker.

“Then I hiked back to the car and discovered a big tree across the driveway, right over my footprints from 30 minutes before!

“It made me change my mind about doing any other woodland hiking on this windy, windy day!”

Online vote names NEW seven wonders of the world

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — A world-wide online pole has named a new list of seven wonders of the world.  Check it out and see if you agree. 

I'm thinking the people who voted on this have not been to the Grand Canyon.

Why does a mountain’s shadow appear triangular?

MOUNTAINEERING — Even experienced mountaineers have been stopped in their tracks occasionally by the rare sight of a triangular shadow darkening the landscape in the distance away from a major peak.

The triangle shadow phenomena is fairly commonly seen from the tops of large mountains and volcanoes, but not well understood.

Check out this astronomy website for a good explaination.  Navigate to the Astronomy picture of the day for July 5, 2011.