September 23, 2006

Shy Rainier Morning

After seeing the potential for morning photos at Rainier yesterday , I decided to try to be there for morning photos today. That meant getting up inhumanly early -- 4:30am -- to make the two hour drive to the park before the sunrise. My ultimate destination was Tipsoo Lake, but until the sun came up enough to brighten the foreground, I was't going to be able to get the photos there that I wanted. For the first morning light, I needed to be closer to get a full frame of mountain and color. There are several places along the Eastside Road just south of the turnoff for the road to Sunrise that have nice views of the eastern face of the mountain, and this is where I figured my best shot would be.

Mount Rainier and Lenticular Cloud, Sunrise After what seemed a very long drive, I finally made it to the park and got my first view of the mountain... and my heart sank. Rainier was shy, the entire peak obscured under a lenticular cloud. The pictures in my head of golden light on the peak of Rainier were impossible. Had I driven all this way so early in the morning for nothing? I decided the make the best of it -- there was no use in wasting all my effort for nothing -- and when the sun finally crested the eastern ridge I was rewarded with a shot I had not expected at all, but that was as good as any I'd imagined.

Mount Rainier and Lenticular Cloud at Reflection Lake For the rest of the morning I bounced between Tipsoo Lake and the Eastside Road, but none of the photos measured up to the first one of the day. The light at Tipsoo Lake just isn't right this time of year. The composition is good, and the scenery is fantastic, but the light is just too flat. The sun is almost directly behind you to get the best shots, and there's no shadows whatsoever, no definition to the foreground. The pictures would be better here either earlier or later in the year, when the sun is at more of an angle to the scene.

Despite the contrasty light, I made the rounds through the park, scouting the photos under morning light so rare for me to see. Photos from Backbone Ridge and the Bench will be better by morning light as I'd expected, and Reflection Lakes seemed just as good if not better in morning than evening as well. I decided to head home at this point, since I'd already had a very long morning. On the long drive home, I decided that staying in the area would not only make morning photos much easier to get, but would save me a lot on travel costs. I just needed to figure out a system that would let me stay not only at campgrounds -- whether formal or informal -- but where I could sleep at trailheads and even roadsides if necessary. I have an idea, but will have to see if it is possible.

September 22, 2006

Autumn Scouting at Rainier

Yet another weekend at Rainier, this time scouting fall color. What can I say, I love the place. It's still too early for the vine maples along the eastside, but they are starting to turn a bit. I drove down into the American River valley east of the park and Dog Lake Campground east of White Pass to check the larches, but they are hardly turned as well. I'd hoped to do some good photography today, but not only were the lighting conditions not right, but I realized when taking snapshots at Tipsoo Lake that I'd forgotten my 1Gb card. All I had was my backup 64Mb card, which gave me all of 22 photos.

Mount Rainier I tried sunset at the Backbone Ridge Viewpoint, but it just wasn't quite good enough. It's really more of a morning than a sunset photo I imagine, so I'd probably be better off camping nearby to get an early start. The clouds were interesting as they huddled around Rainier's waist, so I tried a few photos anyway since it was probably my last chance of the day -- I didn't need those 22 photos afterall -- but after only a couple of shots, a jet flew through the background and left a thin white trail through the blue sky. So much for that.

Reflection Lake, Dusk Time to call it a day. I usually head home through the northeast entrance to the park because it's a shorter trip and the gas is cheap in Enumkclaw, but there's a lot of road construction on the east side of the park right now that really slows down traffic. So I decided to head west out the Nisqually entrance instead. Who knows, maybe I'll get lucky and catch a chance photo of the sunset light -- and that is exactly what happened! I rounded the corner at Reflection Lakes into a scene of red clouds of the setting sun reflected in the still water. I practically swerved into the lake I pulled over so fast, and in only a few seconds I had the camera and tripod set up on the edge of the lake. I took the last of my 22 photos here as the light faded, and wished I'd had more time and capacity. After only a few brief minutes, the color was gone.

September 16, 2006

Nickel Creek Camp, MRNP

I went back to Rainier again this weekend, but this time hiking was on my mind. I've been spending too much time on the road and in the car, and not nearly enough hitting the trail. The forecast was for overcast skies in the morning, so I'd hoped to get in a short hike before the clouds cleared. I had several in mind in and around the east side of the park, but by the time I got there the clouds had already cleared. Closer to the mountain proved better so I decided on a hike I'd wanted to do several years but never seemed to find the time.

Nickel Creek (Snapshot) Nickel Creek is one of my favorite in the park, and where it crosses Stevens Canyon Road is extremely photogenic. In fact, what I consider one of my best photos is of Nickel Creek just upstream from the road. I wanted to know if it was as photogenic farther upstream as it was at the road crossing. The Wonderland Trail leaves Box Canyon and crosses Nickel Creek at a campsite called Nickel Creek Camp, about a mile upstream, so I decided to finally do this hike. It's a relatively flat hike, but I'm in terrible shape and have been sick recently, so I took my time and enjoyed the forest along the trail. Unfortunately, the creek is very wide and flat at Nickel Creek Camp, so it wasn't as photogenic there as it is downstream. I ate lunch there in solitude and took some snapshots, but coudn't help be a little disappointed.

Footbridge Over Paradise River Most of the rest of the day was pretty sunny, but by sunset the clouds had rolled in again, so I spent time around the Paradise River, scouting for river photos. I followed the Narada Falls Trail from Stevens Canyon Road, upstream from the waterfall I'd shot a few times recently, and crossed over on the Paradise Lakes Trail to where it crossed the river. The footbridge made for a decent photo of the river, but the hanging dead limb in the background is distracting. Unfortuantely, it's securely attached and not removable, so a shot without it is impossible.

Sunbreak Over Nisqually Valley On the way home, the sun broke through the clouds as I drove by the Inspiration Point Viewpoint and I stopped for a few photos. Unfortunately, these didnt come out as well as I'd hoped and don't really do the scene justice. I've always found it difficult to compose photos from that viewpoint for some reason.

Another photo of the river:

Cascade on Paradise River

September 13, 2006

Mom's Visit 2006

Mom came up for her annual visit, so I took vacation and we spent over a week on the road. The skies were still pretty hazy from forest fires for the first part of her visit, but we went out anyway. No use sitting at home when you can spend time in the mountains.

We spent one day south of Mount Baker and I showed her the viewpoint I'd found off FS-1233. We did a little more exploring in the area and found more viewpoints with views of Mount Shuksan and Baker Lake. I grabbed some snapshots to record the views, but it was too bright and hazy to even try for photos. We spent the rest of the day along the North Cascades Highway, making it only to the Diablo Overlook before sunset.

Reeds on Lake Elizabeth The next day turned into geology day. We spent a day around the US-2 corridor and stopped at two of my favorite rock hunting grounds -- Lewis Creek on the Index-Galena Road, and Fourth of July Creek on Beckler River Road. Both places have interesting rocks, full of swirls and veins, and I often find keepers to bring home. This trip was no excetion, and between the two of us we brought back what must have been 100 ponds of rocks. We spent sunset at Lake Elizabeth on Money Creek Road and a nice piece of gravel punctured my tire somewhere along the way. Not quite the kind of geology I'd wanted!

Falls on Paradise River We spent four days in total at Mount Rainer. One day was when it was still hazy, so the photos were near impossible, but I was able to reshoot the waterfall on the Paradise River I'd found a few weeks before. I'd only managed a couple of shots the last time before my batteries died. This time I was able to spend my time and take many more photos, even accounting for the fact I wasted about 20 shots before I noticed my camera was still in macro mode. Fortunately, Mom is pateint enough to let me reshoot when I need to...

Mount Rainier in Clouds A storm came through later in the week and not only cleared the haze out of the air, but made for some dramatic photos around sunset. For some reason during the trips this year, I saw photos at Rainier I had never noticed before. One spot on Paradise Road in particular caught my eye and we stopped there several times during our visits to photograph here. I'm still not happy with the photos I took, but this area shows definite promise. It's not on my mental list of Rainier sunset photos.

The Castle at Sunset But the star of the trips to Rainier, aside from the mountain itself, was The Castle. I'd seen it before from different points along Stevens Canyon Road, but there was one photogenic spot I'd never noticed before. I spent time here on two different evenings, and while the first had more light, the photos came out a little flat. But the second evening was as the storm cleared and the sun peaked beneath them, which made for a very dramatic photo.

Caterpillar on Leaf The last day we spent at Rainier was mostly overcast, so we spent time around Copper Creek just outside the park. It's a very photogenic creek, but the water is rather low this time of year. I think the photos will be better there either earlier or later in the year when the water is a bit higher. Still, it's a nice area to spend some time, and I was greeting at the beginning of the footpath by a fuzzy new friend.

More from Rainier this week, including the obligatory photos at Reflection Lakes:

Mount Rainier and Trees

Mount Rainier at Reflection Lakes

Mount Rainier and Reflection

We spent the last few days of her visit in the North Cascades. One day was spent in the Cascade River area in the southern part of the park, and we explored a few of the Forest Service roads there before heading to Johannesburg. The highlight of the day for me was the quick hike out to La Rush Lake, which I had never seen.

Snagtooth Ridge at Sunset The last day of her trip we spent back on the North Cascades Highway, making it to Washington Pass for sunset this time. The colors at the pass were amazing shades of yellow and orange, but photos were still elusive. I did manage to capture the tail end of the fading light on Snagtooth Ridge, although it was about ten minutes too late to have the foreground ridge in light.

And of course, there's the required photo of Liberty Bell:

Liberty Bell