Breaking Trails in the North Cascades
By Dr. Jeremy Jackson
January 18, 2012
When we think of great Canadian landscapes, one of the first places that comes to mind is the Rocky Mountains. Every year thousands of tourists and photographers travel long distances to marvel at their great beauty. As a young photographer the Rockies held a deep fascination for me and I often yearned to spend more time exploring and photographing there. So transfixed was I by the mountains of the continental divide that I rarely gave a second thought to landscapes much closer to my Vancouver home. But as time passed and I became more aware of where I lived, the mountains of the North Cascades slowly began to reveal themselves. The more time I spent poking around the rivers, meadows and peaks of the Cascade mountains, the more I realized that all I had been searching for in the Rockies could be found within a short drive of my Vancouver home.
Looking back now on those early days, I realize that my first trips to the Rockies were more of a lustful fling than a serious relationship. I suppose now I understand on a personal level what the late Galen Rowell was trying to say when he retired from the faraway mountains of Tibet to spend the last years of his career photographing in his Sierra Mountains home. There is something intimate about the connection a landscape photographer makes with the place they live. This intimacy is what calls me back again and again to the mountains of the North Cascades.
Truth be told, the Cascades are more beautiful than many people realize. There are 9,000 ft high spires, volcanoes, alpine meadows, virgin forests and glacial lakes within fairly easy reach of Vancouver. But to most of us, these great landscapes remain unknown.
But why do so few people know so little about the North Cascades? One of the legacies of old landscape masters like Ansel Adams is the impact that their work has had on public awareness of wilderness areas. These masters did so much more than document a place; they turned many Wilderness areas in to iconic symbols of a great, free and wild world. Their images touched people, drew them in and made them want to experience the natural landscape for themselves. As hard as I try though, I cannot think of a single landscape photographer that has dedicated even a fraction of the effort to the North Cascades as Ansel Adams dedicated to Yosemite.
I sometimes wish that others could see what I have seen in the Cascades. I wonder if the marvelous beauty that I have witnessed could inspire a deeper sense of ownership and respect for our natural heritage. I’d like to share with you some of the more wonderful locations to photograph here. Most of them reside within a one-hour drive from Chilliwack in the Upper Fraser Valley just East of Vancouver. Some are fairly easy to access; others offer a more stern challenge.
These images are an invitation to look at, care about and preserve our wilderness places. They are a reminder that there are many more special places in Canada than are contained within the confines of our parks. The North Cascades is just one of these places.
Jones Lake can be found at the end of a short but steep gravel road just off highway 1 about 30 minutes East of Chilliwack. It is one of the most spectacular lakes that I have ever seen. There are numerous overnight camping areas as well as some picnic tables if you are only staying for the day. The lake is located at approximately 2,000 ft above sea level and boasts the 7,000 ft mountains of the Cheam Ridge as it’s backdrop. If I had to pick one location in the North Cascades to photograph, this would be it.
This image was made early in the morning in mid-November after a heavy, early season snowfall. This was, I have since discovered, a rare moment. Unfortunately, logging is active in the area. I sometimes sit at the lake with great sadness as a potentially iconic Canadian landscape is ruined by industry. Sometimes it seems we just don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. Technical Data: Canon A2, 28-80, f 2.8-4, Tiffen 2-stop ND Grad, Fuji Velvia. Exposure: 1 second at f 13.
Cheam Meadow is a well-known location that can be accessed via Foley Lake logging road in the Chilliwack River Valley. Although I use a 4-wheel drive to get there, I have seen Volvo’s and even an old Cadillac at the top of the road. The Cheam Meadows area offers fantastic hiking to Cheam and Lady Peaks. There are alpine meadows, a small lake and impressive views of the Fraser Valley.
This is an image of Lady Peak taken from just below the meadow. In over 15 years of landscape photography, this is the best light I have ever seen. Something I never forget is that this happened on one of the worst weather days of the year. The clouds were low and heavy all day. It snowed nearly a foot and there appeared to be no end in sight. But late in the day for just 30 magical seconds, a small gap emerged in the clouds behind me. This was the result. Technical Data: Canon A2, 28-80, f 2.8-4, Tiffen 2-stop ND Grad, Fuji Velvia. Exposure: ¼ second at f 16.
This second image of the Cheam meadow area was made in the meadows themselves. In mid to late July, many wildflower species and both white and red mountain heather are abundant. The mountain in the distance is Lady Peak. Technical Data: Canon A2, 28-80, f 2.8-4, Tiffen 2-stop ND Grad, Fuji Velvia. Exposure: 1/15 second at f 13.
Border Peaks Meadow
Border Peaks is a range of three very large mountains that straddle the Canadian border with the US. Access is via the old Tamihi Creek logging road. The road has deteriorated so that a short 2 km hike is now required to gain access to the meadow. This image was made on August the 4th, 1998. Generally, flowers are best here between July 23rd and August 7th.
When I made this image, the bugs were unimaginably fierce. I actually lost an entire roll of images when I carelessly trapped a fly inside my camera as I changed lenses. Luckily I realized my mistake, changed film, picked the fly out from behind the mirror of the camera and made this image. Technical Data: Leica r7, 24mm 2.8, Tiffen 2-stop ND grad, Fuji Velvia. Exposure: 1/8 second at f19.
This is one of the great hikes in the North Cascades. It is steep and rocky at times but it offers spectacular views of the Fraser Valley and the Upper Cascades. There are alpine meadows and views of high peaks. This area can be accessed by a logging road off the Chilliwack River Valley.
This image was made just 50 feet below the 6,500 ft peak of Mount McGuire in mid August. Although wildflowers are usually scarce after the first week of August, small pockets can be found late into the summer above 6,000 ft. This day was a hot, humid, sunny day in Chilliwack only a few miles away. As the hot air rose from the valley floor, a few fleeting clouds formed over the peak and created a soft, rich, moody light. Technical Data: Leica r7, 24mm 2.8, Fuji Velvia. Exposure: 1/15 second at f19.
Cascade Meadow in Manning Park is an alpine meadow area offering easy access to literally thousands of hectares of open meadow. This image was made in late July on a cold, windy, wet day. In my experience, this is the easiest way to gain access to pure alpine meadow in British Columbia. A day here in late July is never wasted time for a landscape photographer.
Cascade Meadow: Technical Data: Canon A2, 24 mm TSE, Fuji Velvia, 1/30 second at f/16.
Williamson Lake is a small glacial lake set at 5,500 feet on the Southern side of the Cheam Ridge. This place is not for the faint of heart. An extremely steep hike requiring bush waking and rock climbing is just one of the challenges to photographing here. As it happens, I often see black bears feeding on the flowers just below the lake. But if you are an intrepid sole, and you have the determination to drag a tent and camera gear to inhospitable places, this lake might well be for you.
This image was made on a rare evening in mid-August. It is extremely unusual to see a combination of full moon and fiery sunset in the Cascades. This was one of those rare nights. Technical Data: Canon A2, 28-80, f 2.8-4, Tiffen 2-stop ND Grad, Cokin blue/yellow polarizer, Fuji Velvia. Exposure: ¼ second at f /13.
Chilliwack Lake is a large lake surrounded by a new park. It rests at about 2,000 feet at the end of the Chilliwack River Valley. There are old growth forests at the southern end of the lake and numerous opportunities to photograph mountain vistas from the northern and eastern shores. A provincial park offers excellent camping and amenities for a quiet overnight stay.
This image was made on a very rare colorful evening just a few kilometers along the eastern shore of the lake.
Technical Data: Canon A2, 24mm TSE, f 3.5, Tiffen 2-stop ND Grad, Cokin blue/yellow polarizer, Fuji Velvia. Exposure: 1 second at f 13.
About the author
Dr Jeremy Jackson is a professional photographer based in Chilliwack, BC. His images have appeared in Photo Life Magazine, Bc Magazine, Outdoor Photography Canada and in numerous calendars. Dr Jackson co-owns Maru Photography with his wife Dr Kim Jackson. Maru photography is a small boutique photography studio specializing in landscape and wedding photography.
More information about Maru Photography can be obtained at www.marulandscapes.ca and www.maruphoto.ca.
[ Top ]