Spring is here! As our days become longer, our photo volunteers and staff are taking the time to think back on their favorite winter adventures. And it's not too late to get out and take inspiration from these trips or start planning next year's adventures!
Snowshoeing to Mount Tahoma Huts
By Leslie Carvitto, volunteer photographer
Mount Tahoma Trails Association operates the largest no fee Hut-to-Hut trail system in North America. There are three huts located on the trail, and reserving a night in one of them is an easy process online. Last winter, I embarked on my first snowshoe adventure and hiked to Bruni’s Snow Bowl Hut with a group of eight friends. The trip was such a success that on the way home we were already talking about doing it again the next year.
Once reservations were open for this year, a friend quickly reserved a permit for 14 of us, renting out the entire hut for a night in early December. A quick hour and half drive from Seattle got us to the trailhead, where we strapped on our overnight bags, clicked on our snowshoes and began the four-mile trek up to the hut.
Even though we visited almost the exact weekend just one year before, the scenery was much different. In 2017, we hiked with heavy clouds, low temperatures and even got a snowstorm that provided over a foot of fresh powder overnight. This year, we made the climb in sunshine, dropping layers quickly and commenting that it felt like early spring instead of early winter. There were actually areas of no snow, and we were forced to take off our snowshoes and hike on dirt for stretches at a time. Regardless, our decision to go wasn’t weather based. We went to connected with each other and spend time on Earth’s giant, magnificent playground.
The best thing about the hut is that it can only be accessed by hiking or skiing to it — it feels like a world away. Sitting on top of a ridge at 4,250 feet, you get magnificent views of Mount Rainier, St. Helens and Adams. There is minimal cell service, which makes it that much easier to plug into nature and tune out distractions and unnecessary noise. And all of your necessities like cookware, sleeping mats and even a fireplace are there for you to utilize.
The hut can be visited in any season, but I recommend reserving a night in winter because you get to snowshoe. Snowshoeing is a fun and accessible way to get outdoors in a season that might otherwise keep you cooped up indoors. Unlike skiing or snowboarding, it’s inexpensive and has a low learning curve — if you can walk, you can snowshoe. If you don’t have a pair, you can head to REI or Ascent Outdoors to pick up a rental pair. But first, head to the Mount Tahoma Trails Association and book yourself a reservation for a night in one of the huts. It might just be your favorite winter getaway of next year!
Winter Birding in the Skagit Valley
By Ken Salzman, Volunteer Photographer
Winter is a great time to see and photograph birds in Washington state. As a photographer, I look forward to winter for the opportunities it provides, especially a chance to get some great images of waterfowl.
One of my favorite subjects is snow geese, and two regular destinations for me to photograph these birds are Samish Flats and Fir Island, both of which are in Skagit County. In winter, these areas host large flocks of Snow Geese.
Samish Flats and Fir Island are also excellent places to bird and photograph other species, such as a wide array of ducks and especially raptors, including bald eagles, short-eared owls and a variety of hawks. Interaction between birds of prey and waterfowl can can also be exciting. I’ve often seen a flock of a thousand or more snow geese take flight when a bald eagle appears overhead, providing not only a thrill, but a chance to fill the frame with birds.
These two venues are also great for finding rare birds in winter. In the past few years, such birds as falcated teal and gyrfalcon have shown up, as well as Ross’ goose, a sort of small version of a snow goose.
When I venture out to capture images of our “feathered friends” in the Pacific Northwest in winter, the first thing I consider is the weather. If I’m out to enjoy a day of photography and birding, the last thing I want is to be uncomfortable. This typically means warm, layered clothing.
Next comes camera gear. For the very serious photographer, this may mean a long lens and tripod. But you can also get great shots with a hand-held lens of 300mm or more (the more the better for bird photos).
And check out some of your local lakes and ponds. I often find that even small bodies of water can be wonderful places to see and photograph birds. Once you’ve found what you want to photograph, be patient and don’t try to get too close. “Chasing” birds is both unethical and unproductive. And, most of all, have fun and enjoy nature.
Cross-Country Skiing in the Methow Valley
By Nikolaj Lasbo, Nature Conservancy marketing staff member
The Methow Valley is my favorite part of Washington state — and not a very well-kept secret. At the confluence of where the flat, drier lands of Eastern Washington tuck into the foothills of the Cascades, this east-west valley is the perfect channel to capture storms coming down off the Cascades and collect snow on the valley floor and the surrounding hills and mountaintops.
Boasting the country's longest system of cross-country skiing trails (120 miles!), well-maintained throughout the season, it's a skier's dream destination. I make this trek up into Okanogan County about once a year.
I'm a skate skier — imagine cross-country skis without scales on the bottom for traction, propelled by the skier making a skating motion, somewhat similar to ice skating. If you watched the Olympics this year, you likely caught a bit of the skate-skiing action. But the Methow Valley offers trails for all sorts of ski levels — first-timers to Olympians.
My favorite ski route is to park at Brown's Farm between Winthrop and Mazama and ski along the river across a suspension bridge and through a forest of Ponderosa and other pines until you reach Mazama, stopping for a warm lunch at the Mazama Country Inn. Sometimes I'll go a little farther down the trail after a layover at Mazama and pop on in to the Freestone Inn for a happy hour drink.
If you're feeling up for a full-day adventure that takes you along a long stretch of the valley, winding through forests and along the river, jump on the Methow Community trail from Mazama to Winthrop. You'll feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment after completing the 30 kilometer route and can reward yourself with a meal and a beer or cider at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery or the Methow Valley Ciderhouse when you arrive in Winthrop.
And if it's socked in on the valley floor, I'll sometimes drive up the road to Sun Mountain and try to pop above the clouds. The mountain has trails running throughout the hillside that take you by a beaver pond, up ridgelines and through forest groves. The lodge up top is a great way to refresh after a ski day — sensing a theme in my choice of après ski activities?
It's always hard to leave the Methow — the locals are welcoming, the towns have a laid-back vibe and the snowy hilltops and blanketed meadows offer a feeling of serenity and peacefulness that offer reprieve. Luckily, the Methow Valley offers great summer activities, too, from biking to fishing, horseback riding to camping and it's easy to find yourself over in Okanagon multiple times a year.