Archive for the ‘Mount Rainier’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Meditation & Photo Flow   10 comments

Sunrise at Reflection Lakes, Mt. Rainier National Park

This is the second in a series on the state of flow in photography.   Check out Part I for introductory ideas and general concepts.  Flow, known also as being “in the zone”, is a mental state most of us are personally familiar with.  While it includes intense concentration, it’s a whole lot more.  Photo flow, at its essence, is not any different than flow in any other endeavour.  As with, for example, flow in writing (especially nonfiction), photo flow is marked predominantly by an intense engagement with your subjects.

Macro is custom-made for slipping into flow.

Macro is custom-made for slipping into flow.

Meditation & Photo Flow Compared

I mentioned in the last post how photo flow is like meditation.  But there are also contrasts.  The point is not to have a blank mind, as in (zen) meditation.  It’s to shoot without thinking too much.  Photo flow is marked by intense engagement with the process, and that involves conscious thought, punctuated by many small decisions.  It’s too active to be synonymous with meditation; but then again, flow can be thought of as a type of meditation.

Meditative on the northern California coast.

Meditative on the northern California coast.

I think of flow as a very relaxed, largely unconscious focus, one in which your body may be anything from very quiet (while writing for instance) to intensely active (I’ve entered flow while climbing mountains & skiing powder).  Meditation, on the other hand, normally implies a quiet body, one that mirrors a quiet mind.  I realize that people think of things like long-distance bike rides as meditation, and I can understand the comparison.  But in general I believe flow not meditation characterizes those sorts of activities.

So how does flow most resemble meditation?  It’s when you’re actually tripping the shutter.  Just like anyone who excels at something, good photographers think about photography for a good chunk of any shooting day (if not every other day!).  But they don’t think about it at the moment of capture.  As that quote machine of a photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson put it: “Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing.”

Next week we’ll look at some examples of photo flow in landscape & nature shooting.  Thanks for looking, have a great weekend and happy shooting!

Being alone near sunset in the desert dunes with the fractal patterns and stark light you can easily slip into flow.

The Cascades III – Mount Rainier, Part 3   19 comments

The oft-admired view of Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

The oft-admired view of Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

I visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington this past August for a few days.  This is one of my favorite parks in the country.  When I was more of a backpacker I used to go up to Rainier and hike in the evening, getting an early start on the weekend.  I don’t mind hiking at night with a headlamp.  Sometimes you see some cool animals.  Well, maybe it’s not so cool to see a cougar at night alone!  I would spend the rest of the weekend off-trail, visiting pristine alpine meadows.  Alas, I wasn’t a serious photog. in those days.

There are many many waterfalls at Mount Rainier.  This one sits along a lightly traveled trail in the Paradise Valley.

There are many many waterfalls at Mount Rainier. This one sits along a lightly traveled trail in the Paradise Valley.

This last of the Mount Rainier series (but the Cascades series continues!) will pass on some travel tips.  Along with many visits over the years, I worked for one summer at Rainier a long time ago.  I actually lived at the park that summer and hiked nearly every day.  I was a pretty serious runner then and hit the trails on brutally steep routes.  My creaky knees remember every single mile.  But it was the best shape I’ve ever been in.  We also flew once per week around the mountain, counting elk.  It was a great summer.

So here are my favorite places to visit & photograph at Mount Rainier:

      • Paradise is by far the most popular place in the park.  It can be very crowded right around the visitor center.  But it’s a superb place to gain access quickly to subalpine flower-fields.  For the mobility-challenged, there are paved trails.  You can lose the crowds simply by hiking a couple miles out.  This is also the starting point for the hike to Camp Muir and the most popular route for climbing the mountain.
One of the many flowering subalpine plants at Paradise Park on Mount Rainier.

One of the many flowering subalpine plants at Paradise Park on Mount Rainier.

      • Staying on the south side of the mountain, Reflection Lakes is a great place to photograph the mountain at sunrise.  It is just to the left of the main road not far after the turnoff to Paradise.
The sun struggles to break through the fog at sunrise on Reflection Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park.

The sun struggles to break through the fog at sunrise on Reflection Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park.

      • If you want a great short hike, Snow Lake is just the ticket.  Drive a bit further east from Reflection Lakes and the trail-head is on the right.  It is only about 2 miles to Snow Lake; halfway up take a short spur to Bench Lake.  This gorgeous lake when calm has a perfect reflection of Rainier.   You can camp at Snow Lake.  By hiking in this direction you are entering the Tatoosh Range, a rugged line of peaks running along the south side of the park.
Snow Lake at Mount Rainier is peaceful in the early morning.

Snow Lake at Mount Rainier is peaceful in the early morning.

      • One of Rainier’s best Native American names is Ohanapecosh.  Keep going east past Reflection Lakes and down Steven’s Canyon to the southeast entrance.  Just before you get there, a trail on the left offers a great short walk along the lovely Ohanapecosh River.  An old-growth forest with huge trees grows along the stream banks.
One of the big trees the trail passes at the Ohanapecosh River.

One of the big trees the trail passes at the Ohanapecosh River.

      • Tipsoo Lake on the east side of the park is a popular place from which to photograph Rainier at sunrise.  Since I only have time for one or two over-popular photo spots on each of my trips, I have not photographed this one yet.  I’ll get around to it.  Google Tipsoo for beautiful images!
      • The White River Campground sits along an energetic stream at a great trail-head.  You can hike from here to Glacier Basin.  It’s a beautiful but fairly popular trail.  It is also the starting point for the climb up to Camp Schurman and the north ascent of the mountain.  In my opinion this is a better climb than Camp Muir, but I’m partial to glacier climbs.
One of summer's later blooming flowers is the beautiful blue gentian of boggy subalpine high country, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

One of summer’s later blooming flowers is the beautiful blue gentian of boggy subalpine high country, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

      • Sunrise is, like Paradise, a popular place to hike through subalpine meadows.  You have your choice of hikes, short to long, on a multitude of trails.  It’s not hard to leave the crowds behind here.  There is a visitor center plus walk-in campground.  This is the trail-head to gorgeous Mystic Lake on the north side of the mountain.  By the way, any time you want good back-country information at a national park, visit the back-country ranger’s desk, which is separate from the less useful visitor center’s info. desk. In many cases, Sunrise being one, the back-country office is in a separate, more rustic-looking building.
This furry critter is a hoary marmot and is a common sight (and sound) in the alpine meadows of Mount Rainier.

This furry critter is a hoary marmot and is a common sight (and sound) in the alpine meadows of Mount Rainier.

      • On the road up to Sunrise is the Palisades trail-head.  The road makes a big 180-degree switchback and there is a parking lot in the center of the curve. The trail heads out to Palisades and Hidden Lake (which make good day-hikes), continuing to wonderful Grand Park (overnight).  Although the trail is short on views of the mountain, it passes a number of beautiful lakes and meadows.  My favorite thing about it is the likelihood of wildlife sightings.  I’ve seen bear, elk, deer, and smaller critters on this trail.
Flowers crowd Clover Lake on the Palisades Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

Flowers crowd Clover Lake on the Palisades Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

      • Grand Park is an overnight backpack trip starting from the Palisades Trail-head.  It is shorter if you approach it from outside the park (google for directions). Grand is a huge meadow sitting high atop a mountain, and is a magnet for wildlife.  On one trip there, I approached the park at night.  The meadow was filled with elk!  I could hear them bugling a few miles away, and when I arrived there was a real party going on.  The male elk made it very clear to me that I was not invited.  I had to camp back in the forest; rutting elk bulls are not to be messed with.
Bull Elk

Bull Elk

      • Mowich Lake on the northwest side of the mountain is a wonderfully peaceful place to camp for a night or two.  Though you need to exit the park and drive awhile to reach it from the rest of the park, and the final approach is a gravel road, it’s worth it.  Mowich is the largest lake in the park and trail-head for a number of great trails.  You can stay over in a small tents-only campground.  The trail to Spray Park is awesome, climbing through great meadows with stunning views of the mountain.  Eunice Lake, about 2.5 miles from Mowich, is one of my favorite places to photograph the mountain from, especially at sunset.
Mowich Lake at Mount Rainier allows no motors and is accessible on an RV-unfriendly road, making it a very peaceful spot.

Mowich Lake at Mount Rainier allows no motors and is accessible on an RV-unfriendly road, making it a very peaceful spot.

      • Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground on the west side of the mountain is a great hiking destination.  You can reach it on a rough trail from the West Side Road, or on the Wonderland Trail.  There are flower-filled meadows along with tarns which yield great photos of the mountain.  The hike up to Pyramid Peak from here is steep but not too difficult a scramble.  On the other side of the peak is a great pristine alpine meadow.
One of the tarns (small lakes) in the meadows of Indian Henry's Hunting Ground at Mount Rainier National Park.

One of the tarns (small lakes) in the meadows of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground at Mount Rainier National Park.

      • Lastly, if you’re a backpacker, consider doing the Wonderland Trail.  It is 93 miles of outstanding scenery, a trail that winds its leisurely way around Rainier.  You will face plenty of hills, so plan to not make record time.  You won’t want to hurry, believe me.  It’s an experience you will always remember.
If you're afraid of heights you will probably not enjoy this suspension bridge along the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

If you’re afraid of heights you will probably not enjoy this suspension bridge along the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

Plenty of other destinations tempt you at Rainier.  It’s up to you to find them (I won’t give away all my secrets!).  I would consider devoting the good part of a week at the park if you have the time.  Plan at least a few days for a good introduction.  Visit the park’s website for lodging and camping information.  This park gets busy on summer weekends, but it covers a huge area so don’t let that stop you. September is a fantastic month to visit, as the crowds have lessened greatly, the weather is generally perfect, and the wildlife is much more active.  Flowers peak in August.

Cloud Block

Please note all of these images are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  They are low-resolution versions anyway.  To learn about pricing options for the high-res. versions, simply click on the images you’re interested in.  If you have any questions at all, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest, and thanks for sticking with me on this rather lengthy post!

Hiker's Heaven: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Hiker’s Heaven: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

The Cascades III: Mount Rainier, Part 1   8 comments

Mount Rainier is reflected in a small tarn in the subalpine meadows called Indian Henry's Hunting Ground.

Mount Rainier is reflected in a small tarn in the subalpine meadows called Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.

It’s no use stalling anymore.  Let’s continue my series on the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  Check out Part I, an introduction to the Range’s geography & geology.  So which mountain should be next?  Well, there are many interesting options.  There are the little-known “climber’s” peaks of Mount Jefferson and North Sister, Glacier Peak and Mount Stuart.  There are the popular recreation meccas of Mounts Baker, Bachelor and Hood.  But there is just one mountain I can’t put on hold any longer: the Big Kahuna, the sleeping giant, the Mother of Waters, training ground for Everest, Seattle’s sky-ornament, Tahoma, Mount Rainier.

The images you see here are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry about that.  If you want to see purchase information, just click on the images you’re interested in.  If you have any questions, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest!

Mount Rainier and the largest glacier in the lower 48 United States, the Emmons, are bathed in early morning sunshine.

Mount Rainier and the largest glacier in the lower 48 United States, the Emmons, are bathed in early morning sunshine.

Mt. Rainier, at 14,411 feet (4392 meters), is one of America’s most spectacular mountains.  It sticks up hugely and dramatically a little more than 50 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington.  Rainier’s prominence is enhanced by a total of 26 glaciers with over 35 square miles of ice.  In North America, only Alaska and the Canadian Rockies have more dramatic, glaciated mountains.  By the way, don’t get confused about Part III and Part 1.  It’s just that with this particular mountain, there’s too much to fit into one post.  Stay tuned for one or two more posts on Rainier, but we’ll still be on the Cascades Part III until we jump to another mountain.

Mount Rainier's Paradise Park

Mount Rainier’s Paradise Park

The hairy pasqueflower blooms in contrast with indian paintbrush.

The hairy pasqueflower blooms in contrast with indian paintbrush.

Mount Rainier was named by Captain Vancouver of England for a friend of his, Rear Admiral Rainier.  It’s original name, from a local American Indian tribe the Puyallup is Tahoma (or Tacoma).

A Dangerous Volcano

Rainier is considered one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, and there are a few important reasons for this. Like Vesuvius in Italy, Rainier is situated quite close to population centers.  That is the most important factor that makes it dangerous.  The second most important reason is not, as you’d expect, the volcano’s activity level.  Rainier sleeps for long periods.  Instead, what makes it potentially deadly is the fact that it is steep and weak.  In other words, the same thing that makes it dramatic, sticking up so steeply as it does, also makes it dangerous.

Spray Falls on Rainier's northwest side is a spectacular cascade.

Spray Falls on Rainier’s northwest side is a spectacular cascade.  The mountain receives abundant precipitation, much of it in the form of snow.

The glaciers, with their incredible erosive power, have done a very good job of steepening the volcano.  But how is it weakened?  As the mountain sleeps between eruptions, it sits above the magma chamber below and literally stews in its own juices. Rainier is in a wet climate, and the mountain’s bulk draws even more precipitation its way.  Because of this, Rainier’s rocks are wet.  Add heat and acidic gases from below and you have a corrosive mix.  As a result the rocks are altered to clays, greatly weakening Rainier’s steep cone over time.  In other words, much of the peak is literally rotten.  Add these two things together, the volcano’s steepness and its inherent weakness, and you have a very real and constant hazard on your hands.

Fields of lupine bloom in the subalpine meadows of Mount Rainier, Washington.

Fields of lupine bloom in the subalpine meadows of Mount Rainier, Washington.

The biggest volcanic hazard at Rainier is not from lava flows but from mudflows (aka lahars).  If the mountain erupts lava or hot ash, large amounts of ice could melt quickly, causing a catastrophic flow of mud, rocks, trees, bridges, cars, etc. that cascades down river valleys, wiping out everything in its path.  But here’s the thing: an eruption is not really necessary to bring destruction to the surrounding populated valleys.

Now imagine a small earthquake, perhaps during an unusually warm summer when much of the ice high on the mountain is melting (can you say global warming?).  This could easily trigger a large and very destructive mudflow.  Geologists know this has happened in the past.  In fact, a good portion of the city of Tacoma (plus some of Seattle) is built on deposits from an enormous Rainier mudflow that buried the area some 5000 years ago.

Bears are not that uncommon at Mount Rainier.

Bears are not that uncommon at Mount Rainier.

The Rainier region now has a warning system made up of sirens that are triggered when mudflows higher on the mountain begin.  Citizens of towns like Orting and Enumclaw are taught to heed these sirens by escaping to high ground.  Mudflows are powerful enough to sweep away large bridges and buildings like a spoiled toddler kicks over his leggos.  But all their dirty work is limited to river bottoms, so getting up out of the valley will save your life.

The last of the day's light falls on Mount Rainier in Washington.

The last of the day’s light falls on Mount Rainier in Washington.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus   19 comments

A frog enjoys the shallows of Snow Lake at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

A frog enjoys the shallows of Snow Lake at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

I was inspired to do a rare Monday post by the Weekly Photo Challenge on WordPress.  Also, this week’s topic, focus, gives me a good excuse to post some of the close-up shots I captured during my recent trip to Rainier and Olympic National Parks in Washington state.  I had a great time up there photographing both the landscapes and small details of a beautiful corner of the country.

The mountain in the lake: Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park.

The mountain in the lake: Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park.

This challenge is deceptively simple.  Focus gives even experienced photographers fits on occasion.  I often take only a camera and lens on photo walks, no tripod.  My goal is to sharpen my creativity.  With no tripod and a lens choice of one, you need to improvise to get decent images.

Pasqueflower is a hairy beast!

Pasqueflower is a hairy beast!

For instance at Mount Rainier’s Paradise Park, which is the park’s most popular area, I didn’t want to be burdened.  I wanted to simply stroll through the wildflower meadows with only my camera and macro lens.  Doing macro with no tripod is definitely a challenge, and this time was no different.  But when I saw other photographers with heavy backpacks full of camera gear, tripods in tow, I felt very happy with my choice.

Tracking this interesting beetle was a challenge hand-held with macro lens.

Tracking this interesting beetle was a challenge hand-held with macro lens.

In the Olympics I hiked up to a popular waterfall, Sol Duc Falls.  While shooting this triple cascade, I noticed the wild huckleberries, along with some other kinds.  For some reason I was the only one who was partaking of these scrumptious trail-side treats.  I didn’t understand that, but I made sure to photograph the berries before plucking and popping them into my mouth.

A fresh huckleberry in Olympic National Park just before it became a snack.

A fresh huckleberry in Olympic National Park just before it became a snack.

Rain overnight and cloudy skies means perfect conditions for macro photography.

Rain overnight and cloudy skies means perfect conditions for macro photography.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.  Please note they are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Go ahead and click on the photos to be taken to my main gallery page, where purchase options are listed.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest.

Lupine in the morning dew, Mt. Rainier National Park.

Lupine in the morning dew, Mt. Rainier National Park.

The rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington receives what it thrives on: water!

The rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington receives what it thrives on: water!

Friday Foto Talk: Foreground   6 comments

A Rainier Morning

Mount Rainier and aptly named Reflection Lake. The foreground is de-emphasized here to focus on the fog in the middle ground plus the main subject.

I’ve been subconsciously avoiding this subject, perhaps because of my ambivalent feelings about it.  Foregrounds can be a frustrating part of landscape photography.  In my opinion they can be both under- and over-emphasized.  Let’s just say in the past I have had some trouble keeping the proper perspective regarding foregrounds, but I now believe I have a fairly balanced approach.

The Tatoosh Range catches the evening light at Mount Rainier National Park.  The foreground rock and trees are dominant.  I was very close to the rock and my viewpoint was (lacking a stepladder!) a bit too low.

The Tatoosh Range catches the evening light at Mount Rainier National Park. The foreground rock and trees dominate in the image. I was very close to the rock (which is good) but (lacking a stepladder!) my viewpoint was perhaps a bit too low.

I should say right here that despite being thought important only in landscape photography, foreground is often a key element in candid people shots, sports imagery and more.  Here are a few things a good foreground can do for a picture:

      • An interesting and/or very close foreground can add impact to any image.
      • Foreground elements can form leading lines, directing the eyes of the viewer to your main subject or toward the center of your image.
      • Similar to the previous point, the shapes of foreground elements can mimic the shape of your main subject or background.  This essentially increases the impact of your main subject or background.
      • Foregrounds can help to add depth to your images.  But it is rare that a foreground alone can give your image depth.  See my previous post on the important subject of depth.
      • If you want to give your main subject top billing, you can simply place it in the foreground.
Heather blooms on a high hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Heather blooms on a high hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Many people just starting out in photography tend to look right over foregrounds, concentrating a bit too much on that sunset, that sailboat, those animals, etc. Then they learn from the “experts” that they should always look for interesting foregrounds to give their images a lot of depth and impact.  After hearing this a few dozen times, many of us run around stressing about foregrounds all the time.  Like most advice in photography, this little nugget is abused and stretched beyond reason.  Yes foregrounds are important.  No they’re not absolutely necessary in an image, no they will not automatically give your pictures depth or impact.

Like anything in photography (life?) foregrounds should be used thoughtfully and judiciously.  Here are some tips on how to find and use them to help improve your images:

      • There are times you will want to sniff out foregrounds like a bloodhound sniffs out an escaped convict.  When you have a beautiful sky with a relatively flat horizon (i.e. you’re not in the Himalayas or Patagonia), you have a pretty but two-dimensional image.  This is a good time to search out interesting foregrounds.

* In the image below, for example, I was up on top of a hill near sunset overlooking Lake Powell in Arizona.  There were other people taking pictures, including two or three other serious photographers.  As the sky grew colorful, people began snapping away.  I suddenly realized it was a dull image without foreground.  So I scrambled quickly down the embankment, soon coming upon sandstone bedrock that wasn’t visible from above.

I quickly found a place where the outcrops formed angled shapes that (with a low camera angle) pointed into the sky.  The orange clouds also formed linear shapes, so luckily enough, I had an effective simple composition.  My willingness to chance missing the light in order to search for a better image paid off in this case.  But I could have easily been skunked and gotten nothing.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

      • In most cases your foreground elements should support but not dominate your image.  There are major exceptions, so please don’t take this as a rule. Instead, think of all your images as a balancing act between each of the major elements within the frame.  The balance between foreground and background (plus middle ground) is just one of the little decisions you make before you press the shutter button.
      • Some people think if they have a fascinating foreground they will automatically have a fascinating picture.  But remember simple is often best in photography, and this definitely applies to foregrounds.  This is actually related to the previous point.  If your foreground is amazing, it will most often become your main subject.  If your background has an interesting subject or is otherwise awesome, you might be trying to jam more than one picture into your frame.  The main elements of your picture end up competing for the viewer’s attention – not a prescription for success.
These rocks plus the waves form a strong diagonal leading line on the Olympic Coast in Washington.

These rocks plus the waves form a strong diagonal leading line on the Olympic Coast in Washington.

      • Instead of desperately looking for the most fascinating foreground in history, it’s better to find something simple with perhaps a shape that complements your background or main subject.  Then to give that simple foreground more impact all you have to do is move closer.  Moving closer brings opportunities, along with challenges…

*   If you’re using a wide-angle lens moving closer to your foreground elements is necessary so they don’t look too small.  Wide angles (focal lengths of 35 mm. or less) are often used in landscape photography of course.  But they’re also used in environmental portraiture.  This is when you photograph people along with a bit of their surroundings.

*   Moving closer will help to bring out any interesting texture in your foreground elements.  Just be careful to expose so you can see the texture.  It’s common to need a graduated neutral density filter in these cases, so you don’t make the sky/background too bright.

*   When you move closer to your foreground, it becomes more difficult to keep everything in focus front to back.  This is known as good depth of field.  You will need to use the smallest aperture available on your lens, which is usually f/22.  It also helps greatly to know the particular ability of that lens to achieve good depth of field.  This requires repeated use and experimentation.  The small aperture means you will most often need a tripod.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

      • It can be very effective to allow a foreground element to fade to black; in other words form a silhouette.  It’s most effective when the silhouette’s shape is recognizable.  It’s usually not necessary to move as close to a silhouetted foreground as you would an illuminated one.  This frees you from some of the above challenges.
      • Speaking of fading to black, great images can be had with no recognizable foreground, instead using a featureless or dark middle-ground.  Smooth expanses of water, featureless grass, fog, a dark band of rocks or trees, any of these can form a sort of mid-ground “base”, anchoring your main background subject.  These sorts of anchors can also partly or fully frame your image.
      • Lastly, don’t feel you always need a foreground.  Often a very effective image can be had with no foreground.  You can either utilize middle-grounds as mentioned above or simply zoom in on the background to highlight specific portions of it.
Dusk falls on the Olympic Coast in Washington.  Foreground elements are simple here, a combination of silhouetted rocks and subtly illuminated sand.

Dusk falls on the Olympic Coast in Washington. Foreground elements are simple here, a combination of silhouetted rocks and subtly illuminated sand.

I want to leave you with a sort of truism in photography, at least as far as I’m concerned.  It has to do with the point I made at the beginning of the post and again with that last bullet point.  If you go around shooting nothing but deep images where you’re 2 feet from foreground, you’ll undoubtedly get plenty of compliments. This is how most people are taught to shoot landscapes, and these sorts of images have a “pro” feel to them.

But if you go off on foregrounds your portfolio will suffer just as much as if you had never learned about their importance in the first place, as if you had stuck with shooting nothing but two-dimensional backgrounds.  Mix things up instead.  Diversity in your portfolio is worth having.  And it doesn’t just happen on its own.  You really have to work at it.  The good news is that it’s fun!  Variety, after all, is the spice of life.

Crescent Lake on the Olympic Peninsula is one of Washington's largest and most beautiful lakes.  The mossy rocks along the shore make for angular foreground elements while the shadows and shoreline form strong leading lines.

Crescent Lake on the Olympic Peninsula is one of Washington’s largest and most beautiful lakes. The mossy rocks along the shore make for angular foreground elements while the shadows and shoreline form strong leading lines.

Mount Rainier III (the end)   3 comments

Mount Rainier in Washington state.

My last destination at Mount Rainier National Park was Mowich Lake, on the mountain’s northwest side.  Here you’ll find my idea of the perfect photo opportunity in this park, a little slice of alpine heaven called Eunice Lake.  I had never been here before, strangely enough.  You’ll need to travel around the mountain, through the town of Enumclaw, and up a washboard gravel road to Mowich Lake.  Paying your entry fee ($15 per car for 7 days) is on an honor system here.  At Mowich you can sleep at a simple walk-in campsite.  Plenty of people come here, since it is on the Seattle side of the mountain, but 95% of them hike up to Spray Park, leaving Eunice Lake in the opposite direction relatively people-free.

It’s understandable why people flock to Spray Park.  It’s a beautiful area with flower meadows that is not a great distance from the trailhead (3-4 miles).  Spray Falls along this route (and pictured below) is well worth seeing too.  It is big, and has an interesting shape as it skims down a cliff face.  So it’s worth hiking up to Spray Park and beyond if you have energy.  You can even make a large loop out to Mystic Lake, returning via the Wonderland Trail to Mowich Lk.

Spray Falls at Mount Rainier National Park.

I did the Spray Park hike, but when I returned to Mowich I headed up to Eunice Lake, only 2+ miles away, for sunset.  The extra hiking piled onto a week of hiking was worth it.  What a gorgeous place!  An alpine lake of great clarity, Eunice is surrounded by open forest of small spruce and subalpine fir on three sides, with a steep talus slope and cliff below Tolmie Peak on the other side.  What makes it special is its position in relation to Rainier.  If you scramble around the lake to the other side (from the trail), you can look right back onto Rainier’s spectacular NW face.  It’s framed by the lake and its trees, and rises dramatically.  The sun is setting largely behind you, and so alpenglow at sunset is guaranteed.  That is, if the clouds do not drape the mountain too heavily like they did when I hiked up there.

For a few seconds, only the very summit cleared, enough to give me an idea of the kind of picture this spot could yield.  After sunset the mountain came happily out in the clear (of course).  But the light was gone by then.  Hiking back, pictureless in the dark (but with my headlamp this time), I resolved to return here.  I’ll try for when the air is clear yet there are a some clouds around, and (this is really stretching it) no wind.  If all these things line up, I’ll have a “to-die-for” image of of a beautiful ice-capped mountain reflected in a pristine alpine lake.  I know it could very well be much better than anything I saw in the visitor center, shot by pro photographers.  And I will get it.  I’m the right kind of persistent for the job.

So that’s my trip to Rainier.  The Cascade Mountains have other places with gorgeous wildflower meadows (Bird Creek Meadows at Mt Adams, for e.g.), but Rainier has by far the Cascades’ most extensive and diverse such scenery.  Combine that with great hiking, a world-class alpine climb, and fine wildlife sightings, and you have one of our country’s best national parks.  To close, here’s my favorite picture of the trip.  Thanks for reading!

The west face of Rainier is reflected in a pond at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.

Mount Rainier II   Leave a comment

Mount Rainier looks over its extensive subalpine meadows in eveningtime.

Continuing my just-concluded trip to Rainier National Park in Washington, I’ll describe a few of my favorite hiking destinations in the park, including a new one I found that I’ll be sure to return to.  I must, because it presents one of the best photographic opportunities of this iconic Pacific Northwest peak I know of.  But this isn’t really a secret (a trail goes to it) and I don’t really believe in secret spots anyway.  I do have an actual secret spot in the park, one well away from any trail, a paradise where the wildlife looks shocked to see a human being.  But I can’t bring myself to write about it.  Maybe that’s because there was a time when I believed in secret spots.  Uh oh, I believe I feel a tangent coming on…

There was a special (“secret”) fishing hole we knew as young teens.  I had just gotten my driver’s license, and at 16 found myself with a fast silver Pontiac.  We were exploring the rural parts north of my hometown, Baltimore, Maryland.  Sadly, most of it is housing tracts now.  There is a reservoir called Loch Raven, and we had always caught a few crappie, bluegill and maybe a smallmouth at the standard spots near the road, or out in canoes.  It was my uncle, me and a good friend.  My uncle was the same age as me – my mom and grandmom were in the same hospital at the same time – and we were like brothers.  I miss him greatly; he passed away too young a couple years ago.

One morning, on the advice of a relative of my our friend, the three of us arrived before dawn, parked in a questionable place, then hiked in by flashlight.  We were going off verbal directions, and soon were not sure where we were.  But we followed a creek downhill, and soon arrived at a misty cove.  Dawn was just breaking.  I can still see in my mind that mysterious water through the trees, just as the fog was lifting.  It was one of those views of water that shouts out “Great Fishing Here!”.  It was beautiful, peaceful and exciting at the same time.

We picked a spot along the shore of the lonely cove, realizing how lucky we were to find it.  It could only be reached by boat or overland via bushwhacking; no trail.  We proceeded to have the best fishing morning any of us had experienced, and it still ranks in the upper two or three of my life.  We caught about two dozen bass each, both large and smallmouth.  It was a bite & a fight on every cast.  Releasing all but a few, we proceeded to make a fire and cook them up.  Now I’ve had riverside fish that probably had a better taste than these (Alaska on the King Salmon River springs to mind), but nothing can come close to the taste I remember.  Delicious!

Needless to say, this fishing spot remained a closely guarded secret among a very small circle of friends.  That is, until one day we arrived and found a boat already there, with several loud fishermen cracking beers.  The place was never the same, and I believe I only visited once more, catching only one sad looking bluegill.  It was one of my first realizations that change in life, and in this world, is part of its very fabric.  And you tend to notice the changes that aren’t welcome.

Hiking above Paradise at Mount Rainier, the Tatoosh Range in the background.

Now if you’re still reading, Mount Rainier has some pretty special spots, reachable by hiking of course.  Few are secret, but many can be enjoyed all alone if you plan well.  Some involve hiking off-trail, but most are accessed by simply following relatively unpopular trails.  The park can be crowded on weekends, and it’s worth having a good topo map and a sense of adventure if you visit at these times.  I was there during the week before Labor Day, so I headed over to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, a series of meadows on the mountain’s SW side.

This area can be reached via several different trails, but the shortest (and oddly the least hiked) route is to park at the gate across the West Side Road and hike up Tacoma Creek trail.  This trail is not maintained, so it gets a bit rough in spots, but there are absolutely no serious obstacles.  It is a direct route up to the Wonderland Trail (which circles the mountain), where you take a right and hike a couple miles up to the meadows.  All told it is a bit over 4 miles tops, one way.

I had a busy time there, shooting pictures of wildflowers and the mountain reflected in numerous ponds, all the while fighting a losing battle with legions of mosquitoes.  The lupine and paintbrush were near perfect, and even the early-blooming aster, bistort and beargrass was still in fine form.  From this angle, the mountain shows off a very rocky face, with little evidence of the glaciers that dominate most other viewpoints.  I stayed until sundown and then hiked back by headlamp, camping where I had parked.

It’s technically illegal to just park and camp anywhere in a national park, but I do it often.  The high-profile parks like Yellowstone, which actually have night-patrolling cop-rangers make this strategy difficult.  But thankfully Rainier gets nowhere near the funds to field many of these police masquerading as rangers.  They actually rely heavily these days on volunteers, so don’t believe everything you hear from those in uniform; they often hand out misinformation.  But I like them because the first thing out of their mouths is not a rule or regulation.

A mountain goat pauses in a field of lupine in Rainier National Park’s Tatoosh Range.

Next, I hiked up to one of my favorite polar bear swimming spots in the park, Snow Lake.  While the weather was a bit too cool to jump in this time, I made the mistake of looking beyond the lake, at a peak called Unicorn.  Unicorn lies in the Tatoosh Range, a line of jagged peaks that run along the south side of the park.  A long time ago I climbed this peak solo, and I remembered it was not an easy task.  From the lake, it starts out up a steep rocky chute, and then just gets steeper, finally ending with a 5.6 or 7 scramble up the summit pinnacle.

I wandered up that way this time, feeling that familiar magnetic pull of a high peak.  On the way up, a mountain goat appeared (left).  I wanted to see how with all the years I had accumulated it compared in difficulty.  In other words, did I still have it?  Well, I wound up getting up to the summit pinnacle, where one single move, the crux, stymied me.  I was less than 50 feet from the summit.  I felt I could do it easily enough, but then coming back down would be a bit dicey, and if I fell there…

Nobody else was anywhere nearby of course, and nobody knew I was there.  Night was coming on fast, and the weather was beginning to turn ugly.  In fact, on my way down, (in no way ashamed I might add), I became confused when the weather quickly socked in and visibility went to zero.  I couldn’t find the correct route, descending the wrong way on two occasions, only to catch myself and race huffing and puffing back up the mountain to try again.

All this while dusk was descending.  At one point, the clouds cleared for a few seconds, and I happened to be in just the right position to briefly glimpse the way down.  It was hand over hand, facing the mountain, with the rocks slick from a light drizzle.  I tried not to hurry too much, but knew I was nowhere near prepared to spend the night out in weather like that.  Hypothermia was on my mind as I slid and stumbled down the steep talus slopes.

Just at full dark I finally found the trail near Snow Lake, and relaxed a bit – but maybe too much.  I crossed a log bridge slick with the rain and in the darkness slid right off, gashing my shin and twisting my wrist in the fall down to the creek.  I thought I would be crawling and feeling my way back along the 2+ mile trail, but the moonlight seeped through the cloud cover enough to allow me to walk, carefully, back to the van.  My first bit of luck all evening.  Once back and changed out of my damp clothes, I shivered for an hour or so while hugging my little dog, trying to warm up.  I feed him, so I figure he ought to provide some kind of service for that!   A close call once again.  Never again will I forget my headlamp.  Wait a minute, shouldn’t I be promising to never put myself in that position in the first place?  Oh well, the headlamp is  easier to remember.

Mowich Lake at Mount Rainier is lighted by a summer’s blue moon.

I went to Sunrise after that, on the northeast side of the mountain.  This area is like Paradise, with some short hikes, nice flower meadows, and a lot of people.  If you come to this area, and especially if it is September, make sure and hike out the Palisades Trail, which leaves from Sunrise Point, a few miles before you get to road’s end at the visitor center.  On the park map you’ll see two areas, Green Park and Bear Park.  Head to one or both of those areas and you are sure to see elk, rutting and bugling in autumn.  Bear also frequent this area.  It’s one of the park’s premiere wildlife areas, and you’ll see few other people.

The picture below was taken from this trail, at Clover Lake.  A picture in the last post, above the clouds in the moonlight, was taken from Sunrise Point, where I camped for two nights.  This is Washington’s highest paved road, built by those angels of the 1940s, the Civilian Conservation Corps.  We need something similar in this day and age I think.  It’s funny because the week before, I was on Oregon’s highest paved road.  Must be high summer.

Lupine, lousewort and indian paintbrush bloom around Clover Lake at Mount Rainier National Park.

I have to apologize.  I said I’d share a great photo spot at Rainier, and I will.  But it’ll have to wait ’till tomorrow’s post.  This has gone too long already.  How’s that for suspense, eh?  Thanks for reading!

Mount Rainier I   2 comments

Mount Rainier is reflected in a pond in the subalpine meadows on the west side of the mountain.

I spent the past week at Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park, about 3 hours north of here (Portland).  I haven’t spent quality time there for years.  A long time ago I worked a season at Rainier, living in the park cabins at Longmire and hiking out every day to track elk and document their impacts.  I worked with a young biologist, but spent much of my time sketching and describing the glacial features in the park.  That is, when I wasn’t trail running, an addiction I developed at around that time.  We would literally throw a dart at the map of the park on some mornings and just go there looking for elk.  You could count on one hand the number of times we saw our supervisor.

Mount Rainier and the largest glacier in the lower 48 United States, the Emmons, are bathed in early morning sunshine.

Another interesting part of the job was flying in a light aircraft once a week to count elk and mountain goat.  Of course, I was “green around the gills’ the entire time in the air.  I’m cursed with motion sickness, have been my entire life.  But thankfully it takes some doing.  Flying a light plane close to that mountain was the (easy) doing.  The best part about the job: no ranger uniform.  Yes indeed, we were blessedly incognito! Mount Rainier, at 14,410 feet (4265 meters) and heavily glaciated, is probably most famous as one of the finest climbing challenges in the lower 48 states.

I’ve climbed it twice, once from the south and once from the north.  The north side climb was most fun.  It was about five years ago now, three of us (the perfect climbing team size) ascended the Emmons Glacier (the largest glacier in the lower 48).  We started around midnight, and were the first group up.  I led most of the way, being the most comfortable member of our little group with glacier travel.  We skirted crevasses by headlamp and climbing up into the darkness.  I’ll never forget that feeling, like ascending into the starry sky.  I’ve never had a climb precisely like that one.

It’s understandable that Rainier, being the Cascades’ most massive and most heavily glaciated peak, attracts climbers.  Quite a number have died on the mountain, but the dangers it presents are no more than average for a mountain of its size.  As is the case with Mt Hood in Oregon, it comes down to numbers and probability.  More climbers equals more accidents.  It’s that simple.

Rainier is a sleeping giant.  It is a composite volcano, meaning it’s made of layers of ash and lava.  The type of lava that dominates is andesite, named for that great mountain range in South America where this kind of volcano is abundant.  This mixed layered makeup of the mountain, combined with relatively recent glaciation, which scoured (and still scours) the sides of the volcano, means the mountain stands tall and steep.  Acidic gases vent from the summit area on a constant basis, converting much of the rock there to a crumbly mess.  When winter releases its icy grip, and especially during very warm periods in late spring/early summer, there is a very real risk of huge avalanches of rock and ice cutting loose from high up on the mountain.  These can quickly turn into floods or even mudflows lower on the mountain, channeled into furious destruction by the major river drainages.

Mudflows (or lahars, the Indonesian word preferred by geologists) are a sort of dense flood.  A slurry, the consistency of wet concrete, complete with trees, rocks, chunks of ice, cars, buildings, bridges, etc. races down-valley at speeds of 30, 40 or even 50 mph.  A lahar don’t take prisoners.  The reason I mention this mechanism for starting a mudflow is that it does not require a volcanic eruption, just melting.  An earthquake could easily trigger one as well.

Of course Rainier is only sleeping and could erupt.  In that case, you have not only the likelihood of mudflows, but also pyroclastic flows, lava flows and ash falls.  The French term for pyroclastic flow is nuee ardente, which means glowing cloud.  And that’s what they are.  Made of pulverized rock superheated to hundreds of degrees, they race down the mountain at speeds of 100 mph. or more.  The deadliest thing a volcano throws out, they kill even more quickly than mudflows.  Ask the ghost-like corpses at Pompei, the ancient Roman graveyard at the foot of Vesuvius.  They’ll tell you how much time you have to get out of the way.

The stars are reflected in Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

So this park is one of the more geologically dangerous in the country.  Yellowstone is a much bigger volcano, but one that goes ages between eruptions.  Rainier will almost certainly erupt well before Yellowstone’s caldera does.  By the way, Rainier has one of the world’s few warning systems for mudflows.  Sensors high on the mountain are triggered when a probable mudflow starts, sending a signal to loud alarms near towns like Orting down-valley.  Residents are trained to flee to high ground.  And if you visit the park, and hear a loud rumbling sound (especially if an earthquake preceded it), that’s what you should do.  Get out of whatever valley you’re in, and quickly!

High in the Cascade Mountains of Washington gives a heavenly viewpoint on a moonlit night.

What many don’t realize about Mt Rainier is that, despite its great climbing, the park actually has much more to offer hikers than climbers.  You can spend months exploring this park without ever going much above treeline.  If you go to climb the mountain you are essentially exploring a much smaller aspect of the park than if you were to go for a week with no thought of climbing.  Rainier has the most extensive subalpine and alpine meadow system in the Cascades, with the spectacular flower displays that go along with that fact.  I love the park because of this.  For this trip I tried for the peak of the flower bloom (normally mid to late August), and although a week earlier would have been perfect, I was able to hike through and photograph a stunning profusion.

I headed up there late on a Saturday, arriving near midnight. This seems a strange time to go I realize, but I wanted to photograph the mountain under stars, then have it get light with the promise of the park to explore for much of the week.  I love arriving at a place in the dark, and then having the morning light reveal where I am.  Of course, since I’m a photographer and have to shoot at sunrise, doing night photography means I only get a few hours sleep.  But I found a quiet, shady spot to sleep the rest of the morning away.  There is definitely an advantage in having my camper van (it’s an 87 Westphalia).

Blue gentian bloom in the meadows of Mount Rainier National Park.

My faithful companion Charl accompanied me.  He’s my little buddy, a shih tsu with an enormous personality.  Most important, he can sleep for hours and hours, and can hold his pee for an unbelievable period.  When he was young I took him on hikes, many of them long & tough.  But he’s old now (14) and can’t do more than a mile or two, and that only on an easy trail in cool weather.  So I leave him in the van, parked in shade with plenty of ventilation, water and snacks. It was forecast to be fairly cool, and that’s what it was, perfect for hiking.  In fact, one morning it dipped below freezing.  Every day but one had plenty of sunshine.

I already mentioned this is a hiker’s park.  Unlike some parks, where there are plenty of things to do that don’t involve much in the way of strenuous hiking, Rainier rewards the fit.  In fact, it’s hilarious watching people visiting the park.  They don’t know what to do with themselves, and seem confused at the general lack of overlooks.  The National Park overlook is an institution in the U.S.  I believe I should write a post on the psychology behind N.P. overlooks.  There is a definite behavior associated with them. Many parks are inundated with overlooks (Shenandoah, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon are a few examples).  And parks like Yellowstone are chock full of small parking areas where one can stroll along a super-short, flat trail to a geyser or some-such sight.  The same sort of effect applies there as with the simple stop and gawk overlook.

But at Rainier, visitors are forced to drive for miles without pulling over.  They crowd the few short trails, and hang about the smallish visitor centers,  looking a bit lost.  They’ll stop at the smallest wide spot in the road, with no real view, just because that’s what you’re supposed to do in a National Park.  Like I said, it’s hilarious watching them.  If these same people ever visited parks like Kobuk Valley in Alaska, I think they’d end up insisting that their entry fee be returned.

So Rainier is, generally speaking, lacking in the standard National Park crutches.  (I haven’t mentioned the Disney-esque gateway towns that one must pass through, like a gauntlet, at many parks – think Dollywood on the way into the Great Smokies.)   There are a few stops and sights at Rainier, but they’re generally low-key.  Longmire is one.  It’s a low-elevation meadow among old-growth forest in the SW corner of the park.  A short nature trail circles the meadow, and there is a small gift shop and ranger station, but little else. The two main destinations, however, are Paradise and Sunrise, on opposite sides of the mountain and high up in the subalpine zone.

Paradise, the park’s most popular destination, has some relatively short trails, plus the park’s only real lodge (the Paradise Inn).  There is a great view of the mountain from the large patio in front of the visitor center here, and the crowds on a weekend can be breathtakingly enormous.  The metropolis of Seattle-Tacoma is close-by, after all.  I love the girl watching at Paradise; so many beautiful Asian women (National Parks get many more foreign visitors these days than they did in the past).  It was here at Paradise that I came that Sunday, after my morning sleep.

I soon grew tired of watching the people milling about and struck out on the trail to Panorama Point.  This starts out as a paved trail, then it turns upward through flowery meadows.  It grows steeper and you drop 90% of the other hikers.  I was amazed and surprised when I saw a bear, then another, near the top of the trail.  It was a mother and her older cub, feeding on early season berries.  You could tell she was getting ready to say goodbye to her youngster.  The two never got more than a few hundred, but never closer than 100, yards from each other.  Given their location, these were obviously bears that were used to people, though try as I might, they wouldn’t let me get too close.  And since I was in the park’s most crowded area, I didn’t think of lugging my 100-400 telephoto zoom lens.  So my pictures needed some serious cropping.  I had a lot of fun stalking the two, trying to get close enough for my 200 mm.

A black bear prowls the meadows of Mt Rainier looking for berries.

Note that black bears present no serious danger, so long as you don’t get between a mom and her cubs, nor bother one on a kill.  There is an exception, when a black bear is in a remote wilderness well away from humans, you need to take more care.  In this case they can stalk and kill, treating you as prey.  At Rainier, there has never been a bear fatality, and this indicates how used to, and wary of, humans the ursines are in this and most national parks.  Well, finally the pair of bears gave me the slip, and I still can’t figure out how they got by me.  I thought I had all the “exits” covered!

I ended up spending the whole week at Rainier.  I visited an area where I did many elk surveys years ago, and also went to a place I have never been, Mowich Lake.  I had an adventure climbing Unicorn Peak, nearly having to spend the night in hypothermic conditions, and had a delightful romp (me and a billion mosquitos) in the flower fields of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.  I will do the pics and write on that in my next post. Thanks for reading!

The last of the day’s light falls on Mount Rainier in Washington.

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