A beautiful shot of Mt. St. Helen’s taken from the Johnson observatory. If you want a great photo opportunity I would suggest that you drive to the observatory parking lot and then make the moderate hike to the observatory. However, if you visit during the summertime you will be able to drive to the top but you won’t find the killer winter views or the solitude of the area. During the summer months, 99.9% of the visitors come during this time. The most spectacular time to visit is during winter or early spring but you will just want to check the weather and road conditions.
The Washington and Oregon Cascades have received between 1 and 3 feet of snow over the past several days and we are now gearing up for some 70 and 80 degree temperatures in the valley. We can expect warm temperatures and epic blue skies in the Cascade range. Though it would seem like it would be the best time to visit, you would be warned to expect some pretty dangerous conditions since the snow will be very soft and small or large avalanche dangers will be in effect. I would even recommend staying well within the ski boundaries or if you plan to be snow shoeing. I would advise you to stay well away from any of the cliffs surrounding the back country. This time of year is by far one of the best times to head up to the mountains but I always find myself trying to figure if the dangers are worth the risk. I’ve taken a lot of chances but I can’t really see my self trying to out run an avalanche with a pair of snow shoes and lugging 25 pounds of equipment. This particular shot was taken on the south side of Mt. St. Helens and the summit is dotted with snow shoe tracks leading up towards the summit. It’s actually not too difficult to snow shoe but I would recommend that you get there as early as possible, bring lots of snacks, lose the camera weight and have your dinner waiting for you at your car. The drive time from Portland, Oregon is over 2 hours and you will be pretty tired once you get home. I have only brought my tripod with one time when snow shoeing at high elevations and I will never do it again. I like being able to quickly draw my camera and begin panning the area for some great shots. I usually only bring one or two lenses and carry my camera on my front chest for quick draws. Since the snow glare is pretty brutal, I would recommend that you bring a CIR-PL and plan on constantly checking each shot that you take since you will be adjusting your shots almost every time you take a photo. I always utilize my histogram and adjust the white balance whenever needed. I also usually only use my Sigma 17-70mm lens whenever I’m climbing a snow capped mountain since I am more drawn to the panoramic views rather than close ups. This is especially true since I’m already on the mountain and I want to capture the huge landscape that’s either above or below me. I also make sure to layer my clothes and pack survival gear in case I find myself in trouble. I don’t own a avalanche beacon but I rarely take too many chances. However, I will be getting one soon once I’m ready to make the investment. I also snow shoe with my dog so I’m always looking out for his best interest and that pretty much keeps me from going somewhere where he can’t follow me.
[/caption] There is a great viewpoint to witness Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and parts of Mt. Rainier. The viewpoint is just northwest of Mt. St. Helens and about 2 miles from near the Volcanic Monument area. However, during winter I would plan on running in to some snowy and possible icy conditions since the snow pack can get pretty high and the road conditions can be pretty dicey. If you go early enough during winter you may luck out but the snow pack in the mountains won’t be as good. I was fortunate to get this shot of the moon high above the mountains but unfortunately, the snow in the Cascades was late getting to the region. The area offers some great hiking and snow-shoeing all along the Volcanic Monument area. You are also guaranteed to see some herds of elk as well as bald eagle. You will have the opportunity to look right into the mouth of Mt. St. Helens and even the entire blast zone.
[/caption] 8365′ Mt. St. Helens is an amazing place to visit on a sunny winter day. However, these days can be far and in between. I was fortunate enough to be visiting during a day that offered very few clouds. Gazing up at the mountain, as seen from the south, makes it look like a giant ice cream cone with the numerous rock outcropping protruding out as though they are nuts you find in rocky road ice cream. As you ascend towards its summit you will be able to get spectacular views of Mt. Adams in the east and Mt. Hood looking south. I’ve never climbed to the summit but I would have enjoyed snow-shoeing parallel at the higher elevation even more since there are so many crags lingering along the volcano. This photo was taken at about 6000′ and if you look closely you can see all of the snow-shoe tracks lurking all over the mountain. Unfortunately, on this day I got a very late start and had already spent the good part of the late morning snow-shoeing in the lower elevations. My food and water rations were low and I was pretty well spent. To get this shot I was using my 18-55mm Canon lens and attached my warming and CIR-PL filter to help saturate the blue sky and reduce the harsh glare created by the snow. I had to set the white balance to +0.7 so the snow wouldn’t be underexposed as well as the blue sky. The focal length was at 46mm and I was able to keep the field of view high in order to eliminate any blur other than the tree in the lower part of the photo. I wasn’t using a tripod on this day since I figured that the bright sunny skies didn’t warrant the need but I wished that I had. However, I was moving so much and I was always on very uneven ground that I probably wouldn’t have used it very much. I had the camera mode in Normal/Program mode so the aperture was at F-8 and the shutter speed at 1/160 second. Because it was later in the afternoon when I took this shot, you can see some of the shadows lingering over some of the snow covered crevices in the higher elevations.
[/caption] This photo was taken near the Windy Ridge viewpoint on the north side of the volcano. There is a large parking lot and an easy trail that takes you to a great vantage point. You can see Spirit lake directly below you as well as Mt. Rainier in the distance. You can also see Mt. Adams to the east and Mt. Hood looming in the distance to the south. Mt. St. Helens is so close that you can almost reach out and touch it. This photo was taken at the viewpoint. I took this photo on 7/14/10 at around 6:10pm so the winds had picked up and the sun was pretty intense in the horizon. My CIR-PL and warming filter helped soften the glare from the sun and mountain as well as bring out the shadows along the volcano. I set the ISO to 100 and the white balance to -1.3 in order to limit any additional overexposure. I had the camera mode in Program/Normal mode so the aperture was set at F-5.6 and the shutter to 1/250 second. I was using my Sigma 50mm macro/prime lens as I was trying to focus on the top left of the foothills near the base of the mountain. You can see most of the glaciers and late summer snow accumulations looming in the distance as well as some of the moraines dotting the mountain. I highly recommend visiting the north east part of the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Area but be prepared for a long drive with no towns in the immediate area. There are views of 4 volcanoes, an abundant of summer wildflowers, herds of elk, rivers, creeks and waterfalls as well as a short trip to the base of Spirit Lake. You will experience a truly scenic and magical place that is almost impossible to capture in a photo.
[/caption] One a sunny day you are able to see as far north as Mt. Rainier and as far south as The Three Sisters. There is a secret vantage point where you can get one of the most spectacular views of the Washington and Oregon Cascade mountains. You can read about this place on my article that I wrote on 6/14/10. Late Spring is my favorite times to hike along the foothills of the Cascades since the mountains still have an abundant of snow as well as in parts of the lower elevations. The creeks, alpine lakes and smaller rivers are also swelled to the brim with runoff. You can also still witness many of the spring wildflowers basking in the warm sun. The air is also more pure and less polluted. The views seem to be never ending during the months of May and June. I took this shot on 6/12/10 and I was using my Canon EOS T1i along with my Canon 18-55mm kit lens. I attached my warming filter as well as my CIR-PL. I also used my tripod, bubble level and remote switch in order to avoid any camera shake since it was a bit windy and my footing was a bit sketchy. The sun was a bit low since it was about 5:30pm and the sun was directly behind me. You can clearly see Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams in the distance. The field of view is large as well as the depth of field which makes this shot especially appealing since there isn’t any blur in the foreground or background. I set the focal length to 35mm in order to include each of the mountains without reducing the focal length anymore than I needed to. I would have tilted the camera lower in order to include less of the sky but the forest trees were so low that it would have caused the depth of view to be too soft. The camera mode was in Program/Normal so the aperture was set at F-6.3 and the exposure speed at 1/80 second. I set the ISO to 100 and the white balance at -1 in order to keep the shot as sharp as possible.
[/caption] Here is a shot that I took last July while hiking in the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. I had visited the Park from the east, which is a long drive that takes you through Cougar and then north up the 131. The drive from Portland is very long and twisty but you are more likely to see herds of elk than people. This was my first trip along the east part of the mountain and I have to say that its one of the most scenic and peaceful parts of the wilderness. The Park reminded me of a National Park but minus the thousands of visitors and campsites. You can make it a day trip from Portland, during the longer days of summer, but I highly recommend you leave before sunrise and pack a lot of food since there are no places to eat. I took this shot with my Canon EOS T1i and my Tokina 12-24 wide angle lens. I was using my UV, warming and CIR-PL filter to bring out the colors and tame to intensity of the glaring sun. I took this shot looking south at about 6:35pm and the sun was just to the right. I had to set my ISO to 100 and the white balance to -2 due to the glare. The focal length was at 15mm and the shutter speed was 1/100 second. I was standing directly in the path of the explosion that destroyed all of the timber in its path. There were several pumice fields directly below where I was standing and you can see that some of the vegetation was just beginning to come back. I was amazed at the amount of pumice that littered the entire north side of the park. It was like walking through time and you could physically see the destruction from the wrath of the volcano. You can hike to Spirit lake and view the thousands of trees littering the lake and photograph dozens of species of wild flowers that grow among the pumice fields. I highly recommend visiting the park from the north east side. There are dozens of trails to hike and the park is very well kept and there are numerous areas to picnic. You are also guaranteed to see some wildlife. I startled a herd of elk while hiking on one of the trails and watched as they scurried up the mountain. This was truly an epic day.
[/caption] One of the best areas to visit Mt. St. Helen’s is via the Windy Ridge viewpoints and trails. It’s the furthest from any of the other areas but it’s well worth it. Since there are no roads that connect the Johnston Ridge and the Windy Ridge area, you have to make the long drive from either the south or the north. It’s 128 miles, one way, from Portland, which made this the longest one day drive I’ve done so far. However, it’s well worth it. I passed several camping areas, which would make for a great couple of days. There are endless amounts of trails throughout the entire wilderness area. The Windy Ridge highway have close to a dozen viewpoint areas that have trail access. Every parking area was in fantastic shape. The highway was clean and smooth and the viewpoint areas had ample parking and some had picnic benches and bathrooms. I was extremely surprised at how well it’s maintained. It had a National Park feel and look. However, the drive is very long and windy. There are several twisty areas that cause you to slow down a lot. This will add an hour to your drive. I also found a small herd of elk standing on the highway at one point. You really need to be cautious when driving here. There were three hikes that I did on this day. The picture shown was taken along the Independence trail. On this trail I came upon a large herd of elk that were resting under some trees. I watched them scurry up the hillside. It’s also amazing how much pumice lay within the wilderness area and the amount of wildflowers scattered within them. The trail leads to an awesome viewpoint of Mt. St. Helen’s, Spirit lake and a panoramic view of the logs in the lake. You can also see just how immense the destruction of the landscape was. The entire wilderness was stripped of its trees and now lays in Spirit lake. St. Helen’s caused the largest landslide in recorded history and it hit Spirit Lake at some 150 mph with a tree-clogged, toxic mudflow that sent the lake sloshing more than 800 feet up the opposing bank. What had been a pristine, alpine lake ringed by old-growth conifer forests suddenly became a hot, toxic sludge hole. You can also see Mt. Hood in the distance as well as Mt. Adams. Mt. Rainier can be seen at the top of Windy Ridge viewpoint, which is a steep but short hike up the hillside. To get this shot I made sure to attach my UV filter as well as my warming filter and my CIR-PL. It was around one o’clock, so I was having to adjust my white balance quite a bit. I never used my tripod due to the huge field of view and the brightness of the sun. I had the ISO set at 100 and the aperture at F-8. I had the camera set at Auto Exposure, the shutter speed was at 1/600 second and the white balance at -.7. I was using my 12-24 wide-angle lens and had the focal length at 14mm. This wasn’t my best shot of the day but I wanted to show as much of the area as possible. Everywhere around you allowed for a great photo opportunity. The Harmony Falls trail allows you the only trail down to the edge of Spirit lake and it’s worth it. You can feel the warmth of the lake as well as the frigid cold creek bubbling out of the earth. There is a small waterfall which allows for a great place to cool down but the water is frigidly cold. I had collected some pumice stones and waited to see how long it took them to sink in the lake and suddenly a huge trout swam from beneath the logs to investigate. The Windy Ridge trail is the start of the volcano and the glacier hikes as well as several other shorter hikes within the wilderness. If you live in the area and don’t have the time to visit a National Park, I highly recommend this area. It’ had National Park written all over it and offers some of the most unique sights that other Parks can only dream of.
[/caption] I can’t believe it but it seems like I took this photo many years ago. This winter has got to be one of the warmest winters that I can ever remember in the Pacific Northwest. This shot was taken near Johnston ridge just across from Mt. St. Helens. It took me several hours to hike to this spot from Coldwater Lake but I never had much snow to contend with. My snow-shoes weren’t required. I hope to hike hear again one more time before most of the snow melts. On my next trip, I hope to see more of Mt. Adams since it was mostly shrowded in clouds when I was here last time. I never used a tripod to get this photo since the wind was pretty strong and I was just as comfortable lying on my stomach while I rested my elbow in the snow. The view in the crater is awesome from this spot. I could see all of the volcano as well as the vicinity where Mt. Adams is. I used my warming filter and my CIR-POL filter to separate the blue sky from the snow and exposed rocks. The warming filter also helped bring out some of the personality of the rock. I used my 50-250mm telephoto lens at about 190mm. This is a great place to view the blast zone and all of the destruction that was caused when Mt. St. Helen’s erupted.
[/caption] This was another great day in the Cascades. I was able to get some really great shots of Mt. St. Helens, viewed from the south as well as Mt. Adams. This was another great sunny and scary warm day in early February. The morning started out pretty cold but by the afternoon, the snow was as soft as ice cream. I first set out to snow-shoe towards the Pine Martin trail but I decided to turn around after a 4 mile, uneventful hike. The snow was too hard and sparse to warrant me to wear my snow-shoes, so I just hiked along the trail before turning back. I decided to drive back to a large clear cut area to get some photos of the volcano before re-grouping. I finally decided to hike up Climbers Bivouac as far as I could before having to call it a day. I didn’t start until around 2:00 so I knew I wouldn’t be able to go as far as I would like to. I had just met a couple that had just returned from the summit. They stated that the snow was easy to hike through and could get above the treeline within an hour. They mentioned that they barely used their snow-shoes so I figured I would give it a shot. I had been near the winter climbing route of Climbers Bivouac before but that was during the summer. I have never hiked so fast in my life. My hiking shoes got soaked from all of the wet snow and I wished that I had worn my gators. The view turned out to be spectacular and the weather was even better. My time was limited but it was worth it. The day may have started out as a bust but the end of the day proved to be perfect.