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.
We are only a few short days away until the rains in the valley and the snow in the Cascades will subside and the warm weather will return to the Pacific Northwest. This means only one thing and that is that you should head out the the great city of Seattle, Washington and get your photos on! Don’t hold back and what I mean is that you should pack all of your gear and expect to use every piece of equipment that you own. They don’t call Seattle one of the most photogenic cities for nothing! You can literally expect to change out your wide angle and your telephoto zoom lens as you capture the landscape. One would also be advised to study the best locations and best times of the day to visit. This means that you will want to have a car and plan on driving all over the city as you try to capture the best shots as you try to get a handle on the best colors presented by the sun. This photo was taken from one of the many piers and I tried to capture as much of the buildings as I could without having any of the traffic from the road below. I normally just crop out what I don’t like and then just photoshop when needed. The clouds were really cool as they were swirling above and the color of the sky was perfect since there wasn’t too much glare. If you are visiting from out of town I would recommend staying at least two full days since you never know what the weather will be like and you will need at least two full days to feel like you had enough time to visit each of the photos spots once or more.
The Wallowa mountains are located in the northeastern part of Oregon and are part of the Columbia Plateau. The Wallowa Batholith is formed of granite from a magma upwelling in Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous time. The placement of this rock caused uplift of the surface, which at the time was tropical sea. There is no doubt that the Wallowa mountains offer some of the most amazing scenery anywhere located in the lower 48 states. It has the second largest roadless wilderness in the lower 48 and it boasts 37 peaks over 8,000 feet. There are endless amounts of hiking trails throughout the wilderness and you can expect to see some of the most diverse ecosystems and wildlife anywhere. However, if you want to explore the Wallowa’s, you will want to plan on bringing your A game! The trails are very steep, long and very strenuous. The entire wilderness area is a backpackers dream but if you are only planning a day trip you will want to study your options very carefully since most of the mountain lakes are over a day hike away. You literally will be pushing your athletic limits just to get to your destination and then you have to hike out again. There are some really good books that will show you all of the hundreds of trails available and then you will just need to decide on your route. The most popular place in the wilderness is right near Wallowa lake state park. The park offers one of the best campgrounds and there are several lodges, yurts and cabins. Most of the backpackers start from this spot since there are a lot of parking spots available and it seems to be the most popular place to start. In fact, most of the best trails start from here and when you get back to your car there are plenty of places where you can immediately get some food or find a place to wash up or crash. I’ve camped at the park several times but I have never backpacked so I have spent a lot of time researching the best trails to start from in order to take advantage of the best things to see and do. However, you will want to keep in mind that if you find a trailhead that you want to start from you will want too keep in mind that most of the forest roads that take your desired spot are very rough and you may need a rig that has a high clearance and possibly 4 wheel drive. Again, this is rough country and the only place where you can avoid the need to go off road to find a trail is from the Wallowa lake campground area. The wilderness is like a giant circle of mountains and you can enter from almost anywhere in order to start your hike but you will find that most of the roads leading to your hiking spot is very primitive and hard to get to. The photo that I posted was taken from Aneroid lake and it’s a very difficult 12 mile hike round trip. The elevation gain was 2,950 and you will feel the pain when you get back to your campsite. However, the views are epic and you will come across some of the most amazing scenery that offers too many to list. No matter what trail you decide on, you can pretty much guarantee that your destination will take you to either a lake or a nearby river. This means that you will want to pack a pair of swim trunks and plan on going for a swim if it’s warm enough. However, the rivers can and are pretty treacherous so you will want to be sure that you aren’t swimming anywhere near a waterfall. The rivers are absolutely massive and thunderous and can really ruin your day. However, there are millions of places where the rivers become very slow and calm and will literally be telling you to dawn your swim suite. You will also want to bring as much food as you can possibly carry. You will absolutely burn enough energy to fuel the space shuttle and you won’t want to have to turn around early because your food supply has gotten too low. You also want to be sure and pack a good camera since there are a lot of wildlife that make the Wallow mountains home. Some that you may see are: eagle, hawks, osprey, black bear, elk, deer, moose, fox, coyote and even wolf. I’m sure that I have left some out but you get the picture.
Mt. Rainier is located in Washington state and is the main attraction at Mt. Rainier National Park. The park was established in 1899 and includes over 369 square miles of wilderness. The elevation of the mountain is 14,410 feet and is the tallest volcanic mountain in the Cascade mountain chain. It is also the most glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states. Carbon Glacier is the largest glacier by volume in the continental United States and Emmons Glacier is the largest glacier by area. The park also contains over 91,000 acres of old growth forests. Over 1.8 million visitors visit the park every year and the winter months all but reduce the visits to almost zero due to the enormous snow that it receives. Probably 99% of the 1.8 million visitors are just during the summers months. If you do plan on visiting the park I would recommend that you try to get there as early as possible and plan on visiting during the mid week. The crowds are just too big during the weekends in the summertime. However, most of the visitors are gone by 6:00 pm, which means that the highest majority of the visitors are pretty much only making a road trip and rarely even get out of their cars. Most of the tourists end up only walking through the visitor centers and maybe taking a very leisurely stroll on one of the paved trails. There are two lodges and several campsites but it’s only a fraction of the visitors that are only driving through. This actually makes it for a great day trip. I’ve been to the park 3 times over the past few years and I have had the chance to hike throughout the southern part of the park and was pleasantly surprised to rarely see too many people. Again, most of the visitors don’t hike the trails. However, since it’s such a long drive from Portland, I would recommend that you get an early start and plan on getting home very late in the evening. However, if you are camping or staying at one of the lodges or nearby hotels then there isn’t any hurry. If you do end up arriving at the park during the afternoon you will want to plan on sitting in a long line of cars at the parks entrance and plan on driving around looking for a parking spot when you get to the park. If you get there early enough, you won’t have any wait to get in the park or finding a parking spot and since you will want to pick a hike, you will find that most of the crowds will have come and gone before you get back to your car. Last time I was there, I brought my camping stove and I never saw a single car at the parking lot just below the main lodge. In fact, I only counted two or three cars even driving by while I was almost within touching distance from the mountain. Because I drive from Portland and I have only been able to make day trips, I haven’t been able to make it to the north or north east side of the park but I do hope to get there this summer. It’s hard to imagine spending all of your time driving around when the mountain is beckoning you to explore its many adventures that are too many to list.
A beautiful picture of Mt. Jefferson at Jefferson Park, Oregon. This photo was taken on October 3rd and you can see all of the Salmon berries in the foreground. They are in abundance throughout the entire Jefferson Park area and if you’re lucky you might stumble on a black bear foraging. I never got a chance to see one but I did notice several bear tracks and scat throughout the park and I did hear some rustling in some brush but I never took the time to find out what it was. September and early October is the best time to visit the park if you want to take advantage of getting the opportunity to see some wildlife like bear, elk or deer. However, the days are much shorter and the snow covered peak of Mt. Jefferson is at it’s lowest point of the year. You will have the opportunity to forage around the salmon berry drenched canvas as well as still have the opportunity to swim in one of the many lakes in the park. The weather can actually be warmer and sunnier during the months of September and October as well as maybe even getting a little of dusting of snow in the early mornings. The crowds are also much smaller then the summer months and this can be critical if you’re planning on back packing or hiking on the weekend. However, the summer months offer longer days and more snow at the higher elevations. Summer also brings out the ever so brilliant alpine flowers that canvas the park. You can literally feel like you could get lost in all of the wildflowers throughout the park. Even the lakes and smaller ponds will be at their highest levels and you can also follow some of the small creeks travelling through the lakes and fusing them into one giant water system. The biggest drawbacks about visiting during the summer months is that if you are planning on visiting during the weekend, you can expect to see hundreds of other hikers and back packers. This can really ruin the alpine experience. However, if you visit during the mid week, you are less likely to see as many people. Another drawback is that sometimes the trail will be covered in snow until August and that can really cause a problem unless you come prepared. The last time I visited was in early July and I couldn’t hike past the 1/2 mile mark without having to put on my snow shoe gear and I eventually ended up just finding a ledge and taking photos from there. I basically ended up losing out on a great hiking trip but at least I brought some snow shoe gear to get me about 3 miles up the trail. You also really want to check the weather and even contact to ranger station to see if the forest road is open. Sometimes it doesn’t open until later in the summer or there may have been a washout or fallen trees blocking the road. This can really ruin your day if you make the 100 plus mile drive and then only find out that the road is closed. You will need to purchase a Northwest Forest pass in order to park at the trail head and I would also recommend that you store your dinner in your car for your return since you will be pretty hungry, thirsty and very tired and dirty once you get back to your car. The hike to the park is 5.1 miles one way and it’s very steep. The elevation gain is 2400 feet and that’s only to the park. There is another 1000 feet of elevation gain available if you decide to continue past the park. That also doesn’t include the 3 or 4 miles of trails that winds it’s way around the area. If you plan on doing a day hike I would plan on hiking over 15 miles round trip since you won’t want to just hike to the park and then sit around. There is way too much to do and see once you get to the park. In fact, the real views and fun doesn’t even start until you get to the entrance of Jefferson Park and believe me you will know when you get there. About a few years ago, I was taking some photos of Mt. Jefferson when all of a sudden a snow owl leaped from a tree branch and quickly flew away. I never had a chance to even take my camera off the tripod to get a shot. There are even some waterfalls that you can take photos of as well as several snow bridges along the higher elevations that you may be able to cross.
Spring is officially here and it will only be a few more weeks until the gorge will be ready for some serious photography hunting. I only say that because the gorge usually doesn’t become completely prepared for a photography hike until all of the foliage has come out of its dormancy and begins to clog the landscape with a sea of green. Early May or even as late as mid June is the best time to take advantage of the intense green landscape but it really depends on the weather. If we are lucky enough to get a more mild spring, then the gorge is more likely to see it’s foliage come out early. However, if we get a colder and wetter spring, then the foliage won’t come out until late May or mid June. However, you can always expect to still have a great waterfall and creek in your shot no matter what the weather is like. The water levels will still be high and you can expect some pretty thunderous waterfalls cascading through the basalt cliffs as they carve their way through the lower elevations. The photo that I posted is of Elowah Falls and it’s pretty easy to get to. It’s also a very popular waterfall since it’s only a short hike and it’s pretty awesome to look at. You can expect to get a little wet while crossing over the bridge and you can even take a swim in the fresh water pool that is directly under the waterfall. Since the trail can get pretty busy you may want to visit during the weekday, if you want to get some shots of the waterfall without having dozens of people in the foreground. You will also want to plan on drying your lens fairly often since the water spray is pretty intense and if you don’t you will end up with a bunch of photos with nothing but water droplets on your shots. I would also recommend that you bring along your tripod, bubble level and a remote switch. You would also be doing yourself a favor if you attach some ND filters. I normally set the shutter speed between 3 and 5 seconds and since the light can get pretty high, you don’t want to end up with any overexposure. A tripod will also allow you to ensure that they don’t come out blurry and uneven. Using a tripod along very uneven and a tricky landscape is a lot of work but you don’t really have a choice. Try doing this with a dog with you as well and this will really test your patients. Not only does the trail that leads to Elowah falls offer great shots of the waterfall but there are great opportunities to photograph the old growth forest, wildflowers, wildlife, creeks, moss, lichen and dozens of other photo opportunities.