Forum Index > Trip Reports > Diablo Lake explorations - 03/08/08 - North Cascades/Hwy 20
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Elvis
Shuffl'n



Joined: 09 Jun 2004
Posts: 1801 | TRs
Location: del Boca Vista
Elvis
Shuffl'n
PostSat Mar 08, 2008 11:30 pm 
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Some areas receive a lot of attention in guide books or trip reports... and some others are seldomly discussed.  The Diablo Lake area isn't talked about much during winter - other than the periodic large-scale avalanches that close Hwy 20 for days at a time.

Today proved to be the perfect opportunity to enjoy a quiet day exploring one of my favorite parts of the Cascades.

Thanks in advance to a few specific people from the North Cascade Institute, Seattle City Light, WA Dept of Transportation and also Ross Lake Resort who all provided valuable beta that enabled us to be properly prepared for the day.

CHawk and I headed eastward out of Sedro-Woolley at about 9:15am or so with significantly wet weather, but agreed we would make the best of whatever the skies threw our way.

Stopped at the North Cascade Visitor Center just west of Newhalem and inquired about road conditions... received the 'all clear', but was also warned that the six miles of Hwy 20 east of Newhalem is a risky area in the winter.  She hinted that the drive could easily be the riskiest part of the day for us.   eek.gif

While our drive was uneventful, we were in shock and awe at the amount of avalanche debris that has come down the mountain.  Simply incredible beyond description.  Of course I took video, but it doesn't do justice to the wrath that came screaming down the mountain side.  We did risk life and limb to stop the vehicle and snap a waterfall photo:
Hwy 20 Waterfall & Avalanche pile
Hwy 20 Waterfall & Avalanche pile

We proceeded to cross Diablo Dam and park at the North Cascade Institute parking lot.  Where is the snow?  We don't need snowshoes! confused.gif   That's contrary to what our sources indicated.  Oh well.

We stop for the mandatory TH photo (note the lack of snowshoes):
Trailhead
Trailhead

and then we notice a couple of important notices.  One was posted yesterday indicating our desired trail is closed due to a downed power pole, courtesy of an avalanche.  The other notice warns of active Mountain Lions along this trail... and what to do if you encounter one.
Trail Warning
Trail Warning
How to handle Cougar Encounters
How to handle Cougar Encounters

eek.gif   paranoid.gif

All right... what other twists and turns will we encounter today?

We start up the trail and immediately encounter snow.  Hmmm... maybe we do need snowshoes.  It's funny how it doesn't look like there is very much snow, but actually it's all being hidden by the trees.  After following the trail circumnavigating the North Cascade Institute (NCI), postholing the whole way, we conclude that snowshoes would be a good idea after all.   doh.gif  rolleyes.gif

Back to the car, grab snowshoes, walk back going through NCI instead of around it and ran into a couple of Mountain School staff.  They are training in preparation for the spring classes to start coming up in April.

Finally back on the trail we donned our snowshoes and started working our way along the Diablo Lake Trail.  A person or two had been on the trail the previous day so the route was relatively easy to follow in most spots and we enjoyed some brief views... and a squirrel.
Trail
Trail
Which one is not like the others?
Which one is not like the others?
Snowshoeing on trail
Snowshoeing on trail
Squirrel near Deer Creek
Squirrel near Deer Creek

As we approached an open area with a relatively steep slope both above and below us, we stopped to discuss our comfort level.  It just so happens that right in front of us were animal tracks... and animal scat.  Paw prints... but not bear... and this was not deer droppings... it had lots of hair in it... and seemed fresh. paranoid.gif   eek.gif

We both agreed that this would be a fine time to turnaround and explore a few of the other destinations we had on the to-do list.

With that, we returned to the trail junction with the Buster Brown road and made our way across a couple meadows to the viewpoint where we took lots of photos and had a pleasant lunch in the sun.  While we were kicking back, the wind suddenly kicked up and created lots of white caps on the lake.
Pyramid Peak from Buster Brown Viewpoint
Pyramid Peak from Buster Brown Viewpoint
Photographing the photographer photographing me
Photographing the photographer photographing me
More Colonial Peak
More Colonial Peak

After ample rest and relaxation, we decided to move on.  Upon our return to the NCI campus we crossed paths with about 8 injured outdoor recreationists.  Actually, they were of course simply in the midst of a training session on Wilderness First Aid and were heading to their assigned destination to await  the next group to locate them and apply the appropriate first aid.  It was entertaining to say the least.

Drove down to Diablo dam and walked the road to the top of the Incline Railway that originates in the town of Diablo.  It's a short walk... maybe a quarter of a mile but it was really interesting to see the road blasted through the rock and a different view of the dam and the town.  Additionally we saw a whirlpool.
Diablo Township from Incline Railway
Diablo Township from Incline Railway
Incline Railway from top
Incline Railway from top
Diablo township2
Diablo township2
Diablo Spillway
Diablo Spillway
Diablo Lake Whirlpool (not photoshop!)
Diablo Lake Whirlpool (not photoshop!)

From there we drove down to the town of Diablo to see the views from down low.  The tip of Gorge Lake was a beautiful green-blue and the water crossing under the bridge was crystal clear.
Gorge Lake
Gorge Lake

Decided it was time to head back toward home.  Shot some video as we drove by the avalanche debris... simply amazing... or insane.

Noticed a waterfall across the river in Newhalem that I had never seen before.  I'm guessing it simply doesn't exist in the summertime.  Parked the car, climbed down to the river and took some (a lot) of pics.
Newhalem Waterfall
Newhalem Waterfall
Upper Newhalem waterfall
Upper Newhalem waterfall
Newhalem Waterfall
Newhalem Waterfall

From there... went home and couldn't wait to get these out of the camera and onto the computer.   winksmile.gif

Unfortunately we didn't get to Ross dam as I hoped, but the day was incredible just as it was.

~E

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"Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas."  ~John Dryden
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Matt
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot



Joined: 30 Jan 2007
Posts: 4016 | TRs
Location: Shoreline
Matt
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot
PostSat Mar 08, 2008 11:32 pm 
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Great sampler of Diablo Lake stuff.

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“As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien
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seawallrunner
dilettante



Joined: 27 Apr 2005
Posts: 3206 | TRs
Location: Lotusland
seawallrunner
dilettante
PostSun Mar 09, 2008 12:58 am 
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ooo, I like. I was actually thinking of heading down that way today, but instead I stayed in Vancouver and hiked up a local mountain.

I can't wait to see your images of the avalanche debris near the road between Newhalem and Diablo ! I was reading about these avalanches in the SR20 newsletter and saw a few pix on Flickr, but I would like to see your videos from the highway. So please post as soon as you can!

Love your photos in the forest. Isn't it a magical place, underneath the summit of Sourdough...
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Josh Lewis
Up up and away!



Joined: 01 Nov 2007
Posts: 4584 | TRs
Location: Lynnwood,WA
Josh Lewis
Up up and away!
PostSun Mar 09, 2008 1:06 am 
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Elvis wrote:
Pyramid Peak from Buster Brown Viewpoint
Pyramid Peak from Buster Brown Viewpoint

This is the best Pyrimid Peak photo I have ever seen! up.gif  biggrin.gif Nice job on it! Wish I could have been there, but I had school. Cheers Josh Lewis.

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My Websites: Personal Website · PeakFun · SummitPost Profile · TrailTopo
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dicentra
Plant Geek



Joined: 04 May 2003
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Location: Der Town
dicentra
Plant Geek
PostSun Mar 09, 2008 8:48 am 
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Wow!  up.gif  Very nice! Thanks for sharing your day with us.
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Quark
Niece of Alvy Moore



Joined: 15 May 2003
Posts: 14138 | TRs

Quark
Niece of Alvy Moore
PostSun Mar 09, 2008 9:24 am 
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Interesting trip report, Elvis; different locaton for this time of year!

love the photos.  That Pyramid Peak one is awesome

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"...Other than that, the post was more or less accurate."

Bernardo, NW Hikers' Bureau Chief of Reporting
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aywolfpac
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Member


Joined: 27 Jan 2008
Posts: 1275 | TRs
Location: Burlington, WA
aywolfpac
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PostSun Mar 09, 2008 12:00 pm 
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That whirlpool is really cool.  I don't think I've ever seen on that nice that wasn't in a movie.  The falls in Newhalem do pretty much dry out in the summer.  I love how green the Skagit is through there.  Nice pix and nice report.
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Backpacker Joe
NWH Joe-Bob



Joined: 16 Dec 2001
Posts: 22481 | TRs
Location: Cle Elum
Backpacker Joe
NWH Joe-Bob
PostSun Mar 09, 2008 12:01 pm 
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Nice report Elbis.  I like that area allot.
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seawallrunner
dilettante



Joined: 27 Apr 2005
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Location: Lotusland
seawallrunner
dilettante
PostSun Mar 09, 2008 12:18 pm 
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OMG, looking up "dam reservoir whirlpool" in Google yields stories about dams that are breaking up, minutes after the whirlpool was observed.  eek.gif

Where exactly did you see the whirlpool Elvis?
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Magellan
Brutally Handsome



Joined: 26 Jul 2006
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Location: Inexorable descent
Magellan
Brutally Handsome
PostSun Mar 09, 2008 3:34 pm 
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The whirlpool is certainly interesting!  I have not seen one before outside of my bathtub.  Lucky score on the cat scat.  Nothing like a little territory marking to liven things up.
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Elvis
Shuffl'n



Joined: 09 Jun 2004
Posts: 1801 | TRs
Location: del Boca Vista
Elvis
Shuffl'n
PostSun Mar 09, 2008 10:03 pm 
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First, the videos that some of you requested.

Please forgive the poor directing (none) and narrating (unintentional background chatter) in both of these.  I just had the camera handy and turned it on as we cruised by.

The first one (about 20 seconds) shows a lot of snow and two huge boulders that were probably mentioned in one of the newspaper articles that reported on the avalanches and highway closures.  "big as a dump truck' is how they described it, IIRC.



This second video is a bit longer (45 seconds or so).  The first 20 seconds shows some piled up snow followed by a brief shot of a missing guardrail.  The second 20 seconds is hard to comprehend due to the vehicle speed, but the road is lined with a 10+foot high pile of snow that is mixed with tree debris - such that it looks like it's all tree debris, but it's not.  Once that snow melts there will be a  lot of slash to clean up for sure.



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"Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas."  ~John Dryden
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Hiker Mama
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Joined: 25 Jun 2006
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Hiker Mama
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PostSun Mar 09, 2008 10:10 pm 
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Sometimes it's fun to have a trip where you poke around and explore.  That's pretty cool about seeing the scat.  I'd have probably turned around there, too.   paranoid.gif Those last pics of the waterfall are beautiful!  up.gif
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Elvis
Shuffl'n



Joined: 09 Jun 2004
Posts: 1801 | TRs
Location: del Boca Vista
Elvis
Shuffl'n
PostSun Mar 09, 2008 10:25 pm 
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Regarding the whirlpool... I'm trying to find out more about that.

My expectation is that the whirlpool is from the water draining into a tunnel that leads to the powerhouse turbines.

Once I was at a dam and there was a huge circular opening that was in the middle of the reservoir but was flat with the water level.  A little water was always draining into it.  Unfortunately, I can't recall if that was one of the dams along hwy 20 or if it was somewhere else completely.

Regardless, I suspect the whirlpool is from one of those things.

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"Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas."  ~John Dryden
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Sadie's Driver
Sadie's Driver



Joined: 24 Apr 2006
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Location: Welcome Pass
Sadie's Driver
Sadie's Driver
PostMon Mar 10, 2008 11:08 am 
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Elvis -

Here are some pics that Washington State Department of Transportation provided to us that shows the two major avalanche areas that hit Hwy 20 between Newhalem and Diablo.  eek.gif  Pretty amazing - our folks were stranded twice in Diablo for about a week each time!  s.d.
Road closure west of Diablo (WSDOT photo)
Road closure west of Diablo (WSDOT photo)
Falls Creek avalanche - just west of Diablo from WSDOT helicopter
Falls Creek avalanche - just west of Diablo from WSDOT helicopter
Close-up of avi (WSDOT)
Close-up of avi (WSDOT)
Second avalanche on Dead Man's Curve (WSDOT) west of Diablo
Second avalanche on Dead Man's Curve (WSDOT) west of Diablo
Browns Creek avi (WSDOT)
Browns Creek avi (WSDOT)

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Four-paw buddy lets me tag along!
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Elvis
Shuffl'n



Joined: 09 Jun 2004
Posts: 1801 | TRs
Location: del Boca Vista
Elvis
Shuffl'n
PostMon Mar 10, 2008 5:43 pm 
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For those interested, a knowledgable acquaintance from Seattle City Light offered this explanation for the whirlpool:

"The whirlpool is caused by the water that comes from Diablo Lake, down the penstocks which turn the turbines in Diablo Powerhouse and then that same water is released into an area we call the tailrace in Gorge Lake. "

If you don't know (I didn't) here is more info about penstocks.

Please don't panic.  The dam is not going anywhere.   hockeygrin.gif

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"Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas."  ~John Dryden
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