Monday, May 13, 2013

Flying up the West Coast: Tracking Cascade Volcanoes

Mount Rainier looms large during the descent into Sea-Tac Airport.
Have you been lucky enough to be on one of those spectacular flights from California to the Pacific Northwest on a clear day? I've always loved spotting the Cascade volcanoes as we head north, from Lassen Peak in California to Mount Rainier and then Glacier Peak and Mount Baker near the Canadian border.  Last week I decided to pull out my camera and start shooting away.

We left San Francisco in a layer of clouds, which didn't dissipate completely until we crossed into Oregon. (Clouds in Cali and sun in the Northwest is not the norm!) I started taking pictures with my Nokia phone and didn't pull out the Canon until we passed Mount Hood near Portland, so the quality of the southern volcano images is not so great.  

I always try to get a window seat on the right side of the plane because the northbound flight pattern up the West Coast is farther east than southbound, and often the flights pass almost directly over Mount Shasta.

At 14,179 feet high, Shasta is the second-highest peak in the Cascades, after Rainier (14,409 feet high).  Shasta is very easy to spot because it's also farther west than many of the other peaks like Lassen and Mount Adams.

Mount Shasta in extreme northern California is partially visible in this shot.
Southern Oregon features a string of smaller volcanoes visible on a clear day, such as Mount Thielsen and Mount McLoughlin, but the biggest star is Crater Lake, a caldera remnant of the cataclysmic eruption and collapse of Mount Mazama over 7,700 years ago (recent in geologic time).   Alas not the best image, but hopefully you get the idea.

Crater Lake caldera
Things get crowded in central Oregon with Mount Bachelor, the Three Sisters, and Broken Top close to each other just west of the Bend area.  Sorry I didn't get a decent shot of this stunning cluster of volcanoes that range from over 9,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation. Next flight.

Last shot snapped from my Windows phone was Mount Jefferson, the second highest peak in Oregon at a few feet shy of 10,500 feet in elevation.  "Jeff" is considered the most technical climb of the Oregon volcanoes.

Mount Jefferson in Oregon.
Next on the northward flight is Mount Hood, a.k.a. "the Mountain" to Portlanders.  Hood cuts a more elegant silhouette than some of the more massive and asymmetrical peaks. She's also the highest peak in Oregon at around 11,240 feet high.

Mount Hood in northern Oregon.
After we cross the Columbia River into Washington, the jet starts descending to reveal closer views of Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and Rainier.  Washington boasts the highest and third-highest Cascade volcanoes (Rainier and Adams over 12,000 feet high).  Since Adams is on the eastern crest of the Cascades, it's not as well known as the peaks visible from the major metropolitan areas west of the Cascades.

Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams (above and to the east) in Washington. 

In this image you can see the path of the St. Helens eruption to the north.

St. Helens and Adams are the two Cascade volcanoes I've summited.  I highly recommend slogging up to the south rim of St. Helens and peering down into the blown-out crater.  It was an awesome and powerful experience.

The Mount St. Helens eruption in May 1980 resulted in a loss of over 1,300 feet in elevation.
Mount Adams is often mistaken for Rainier in photos.
For the grand finale, Mount Rainier dominates the horizon about 55 miles southeast of Seattle.  As the jet descends, it's hard to stop snapping shots.

Majestic Mount Rainier, Washington.
Mount Rainier is the most topographically prominent mountain in the contiguous U.S.A.
A fabulous trip! Have you enjoyed a similar flight? 

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When You Go
I'm not sure if  flights from different airports in California have different flight patterns, but I most often fly the Seattle-San Francisco leg via Alaska Airlines from SFO or Oakland.  As I mentioned, the northbound flights travel farther east and offer better views of the Cascades.


Anne said...

Our Northwest mountains are so special, I feel like we are playing hopscotch all the way up the coast. To me, Mt. Rainier means home even more than the iconic Space Needle.

Suezy P said...

What a great tribute to our mountain range Jill. Being a Pacific Nor'wester all my life, I still crank my neck to get a look at any one of these beautiful peaks.

MM said...

Great Jill!

jill said...

Anne, know what you mean!

Thanks Suezy! Yes, I never tire of gazing at (or hiking or climbing on) our volcanoes!

Thanks MM.

Anonymous said...


What an incredible flight, seeing all those volcanoes one after another. On my flight in January, I did see the Sisters, but the skies clouded up by the time I got to the Columbia River. Thanks for sharing.


Anonymous said...

I really needed this sequence of our Mountains last June in a flight from Sand Diego.Several of us were arguing about which Mt was which- Mt Rainier was confused with Mt Adams - myself included. You cleared up my confusion!

Jenny said...

Yes! I just flew today from Portland to Seattle. Magnificent views! Thanks for telling me about Mt Adams. I did know its name. Now I'll have to fly from SFO sometime so I can see them all! Great shots. Also glad to know I'm not the only person glued to the view with camera in hand. :-)

jill said...

Hey Jenny! Glad you had a nice flight - assume the smoke didn't obscure the volcanoes? Yes, SFO is a great flight on a clear day!