October 01, 2006

Rainier Autumn Weekend

I spent all week getting ready for this weekend. I knew fall color would more than likely be at its peak at Rainier, and I wanted to make the most of it. So I took Friday off work and planned for a full three days around the park, with a focus on morning photos. No more of this 4:30am business, though. My plan was to stay where the photos were, and to do this I had removed the passenger seat from my RAV4. This meant I should be able to sleep comfortably in the car anywhere I wanted to park and still be able to store all my gear inside. My small SUV had become a self-contained camper. This weekend would be its first true run.

I spent most of Friday scouting fall color on the east side of the park and it wasn't as far along as I'd hoped. I dropped down into the American River valley east of Chinook Pass to check the larches, and only the lower elevation trees were turning at all. I killed some time by driving out to Bumping Lake, and while it has good potential for a larch destination, the lack of color meant it would have to wait. Maybe next weekend.

Sunset photos were negligible, and afterward I drove out the Ohanapechosh entrance to the spot in the forest I'd picked to spend the night. The car camping system worked fantastically, and I was able to lay comfortably with all of my gear securely inside without feeling cramped. I read for a few hours in bed in the car with the door open before turning in, ready to get an early start on the morning. I had the strangest dreams, however, and night went on and on as my unsettled mind kept waking me up. Finally, about 3am, I decided to give up and drive down to Packwood to restock food and gas for the next day. I made it to Reflection Lakes around 4am, scouting to see how many cars were at the different trailheads, to see where I could get away with sleeping through the night in the park.

Reflection Lakes is a beautiful place at 4am. There wasn't even a hint of cloud in the sky, and I have never seen so many stars in my entire life. The sky was so clear and dark I could not only see the band of the Milky Way, but the entire outline of Orion. It was so dark you couldn't even see Rainier except as a large silhouette against the field of stars. And every now and then, a shooting star would streak across the sky. It was absolutely amazing, but also very cold and I needed to get more sleep before morning so I reluctantly crawled back into my camp.

Mount Rainier in Fog at Reflection Lake, Sunrise In contrast to the late night star show, just a few hours later Rainier was completely obscured by fog in the pre-dawn light. There were already several other photograhers at the lake, so I staked my claim early on the lake shore and waited. I had all but given up when I saw the fog, but I should now better by now. As the sun crested the eastern horizon, the shape of the mountain appeared faintly through the fog, and as the sun grew stronger so too the mountaintop. The fog melted as the sun grew in strength and the entire area had an aura of surreality. I could not have imagined better images than those I was lucky enough to capture. They are by far the best images of Rainier I've ever taken.

Mount Rainier in Fog at Reflection Lake, Dawn

Mount Rainier in Fog at Reflection Lake, Sunrise

Mount Rainier in Fog, Sunrise

Fir Snags After a fantastic morning of photography and a nap in the car to recover from the lack of sleep, I had to decide what to do next. The hitch in my plans was that I hadn't been feeling very well since the night before, so I decided to head home instead of staying another night. I'd said to myself I'd be staying all weekend to thoroughly test my car camping system and to take advantage of the peak fall colors along the Stevens Canyon and Paradise Valley roads, but the thought of my ear infection coming back turned me away. I took a few photos in what little sunset light made itself available, then reluctantly headed for home.

The next morning I felt remarkably well, and the first thing that crossed my mind was heading back to Rainier. The forecast was for mostly cloudy skies, which would be perfect for the fall color. Plus, how many days do I get to spend at Rainier at peak color? So I packed the car back up and headed back to the park. Or at least I thought I'd packed my gear. I got all the way to Orting before I realized I'd left my camera at home. It took me over an hour to go back and get it. So much for saving on gas money. I even considered staying home when I returned, since the day would be half over by the time I got back to Rainier, but I made myself get back in the car and go. Just in case.

Dry Creek bed, Autumn And I am so glad I did. While it was sunny most everywhere else, clouds hugged the mountain and kept the Paradise area and its peak color under an overcast sky. I had lamented not getting many fall color shots earlier in the weekend, but I made up for it this day. I spent most of my time in the Paradise and Paradise Valley area, shooting on the side of the road and along the Paradise Lakes Trail that runs through the valley. Blueberry seemed to be the most vibrant colors, and the berries were delicious. I came back with a blue tongue and a smile on my face. It was a perfect fall photography day.

Saxifrage in Blueberry, Autumn

Blueberry in Heather, AutumnThree Shades of Autumn

Blueberry in Heather

And I couldn't resist a river photo or two...

Cascades on Paradise River

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