Auroras At Last

Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
In some parts of world, a display of the Aurora Borealis is a common occurrence. In the Pacific Northwest, it is not common and requires a fairly substantial solar storm in order to even provide a chance of them appearing. It does happen, however, and I remember my first time ever seeing them one night from my home in Everett. It was a far cry from the photos that you see taken from places in the high latitudes but it was still magical. Photographing them has been my white whale, which is to say that I’ve tried on numerous attempts to photograph them but have typically come up short due to weather or a storm event fizzing out.

Since 2014, the earth has entered an increased cycle of solar activity. For aurora lovers, this has meant more opportunities for viewing and in locations that they normally do not occur. A solar storm two weeks ago brought the Pacific Northwest its latest chance at auroras and the siren song was too enticing to ignore. I was excited because I was sure that this would be *THE* time to photograph. Our region was stuck in a weather rut of clear, sunny weather and the storm was predicted to be significant enough to be seen well south into Oregon.

As the afternoon progressed, storm type clouds were popping up across the mountains and especially in the vicinity of Mount Baker where I was planning to go that evening. A huge thunderhead cloud was firmly parked over Mount Baker and it did not look like it was going to go anywhere. At one point, I resigned myself to the likelihood that this night would be another bust. I kept checking an app on my iPhone named RainAware which provided a looped animation of 1km visible satellite imagery in hopes of seeing anything encouraging. Around 6pm, the clouds parked over Mount Baker appeared to be breaking down. I hated to gamble on a 2+ hour drive only to end in disappointment but I decided to roll the dice. Again…

Late Afternoon cloud cover parked squarely on top of Mount Baker
Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
Once I headed north on I-5 from Everett, I could see a cloud-free Mount Baker. Very encouraging! Two plus hours later, I arrived at my destination for the night- a spot high above Baker Lake with a clear view directly north towards Mount Shuksan. Although sunset had already come and gone, there still was a bit of ambient light due to my high elevation and wide open skies. I broke out my GoPro Hero 4 to set it up for a night time lapse during my outing and then broke out my camera and my Sigma 18-35 f1.8 lens, which has become my “go to” lens for any night photography.

I had to wait about 40 minutes for nautical twilight and much darker conditions. In the mean time, I would shoot a photo every now and then to check if any auroras would show up. About five minutes before nautical twilight, faint green pillars began showing up on my test photos. The darker the skies got, the brighter the auroras became in my photos. I was so excited. After so many failed outings and missed opportunities, it was finally coming together!

Despite confirmation in my photos, the auroras really weren’t visible to my naked eye. This was a small disappointment but I really couldn’t complain. I kept photographing for over an hour until midnight local time. I had a long drive home and while I really didn’t want to leave, I had to and needed to leave before I was too tired to safely drive home. The vertical pillars and mixed green/purple hues were most active during the first half hour I noticed them but the auroras never quit for the entire time I was photographing them. Needless to say, it was a very happy drive home. Now that I have photographed the, I’m looking forward to their next appearance even more.

Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
Time lapse from the evening with my GoPro Hero 4:

New Video Series: Natural Northwest


You may have noticed that I’ve been posting more videos lately. It’s because I’ve been gradually easing my way into a new project I’ve been thinking about for a little while. My blog has consistently maintained a “travel” style focused on trip report type of posts. I have used my posts to provide a sense of what each location is like as I’ve explored the region. I thought about all the places I have been and realized that having some photos wasn’t good enough. I wanted another way, perhaps a better way of remembering these special places. How could I capture the scenery and instantly immerse myself back into these locations?

The answer was HD video mixed with high quality audio. For the last year or two, I’ve always carried a little GoPro camera to capture time lapse sequences so just recording some additional video sequences with it is no big disruption to what I normally would do. On the audio side, I had to do some research and ultimately decided on picking up a nice portable digital audio recorder (specifically the Zoom H2N). It added a little bit more to the pack but it’s not that big and offers some really great quality audio. I’ve also used it in a variety of weather and so far it’s held up well (note: the unit is NOT weather proof or resistant).

I’m calling my new, ongoing series of videos “Natural Northwest” but what exactly are these videos? Each video will be about five minutes in length (sometimes longer) and consist of an audio “soundscape” (a single recorded source (not multiple clips mixed together), and excluding the sounds of humans to the extent possible) along with a compilation of several video clips. Put together, I hope transport the viewer into the scene, if only for a few minutes. I’m doing this primarily for my own benefit but I hope others will enjoy the videos as well. I have some additional plans for the project but those are on the backplate until Vimeo implements some new features that will support what I have in mind.

I’ve created a new channel over on my Vimeo account for this series and I hope you’ll check in from time to time and leave some comments about the videos. Thanks in advance and I hope you enjoy the videos!

Link: Natural Northwest Video Series by Steve Cole

Gorging 2015

Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) atop Dog Mountain
Relatively speaking, my time spent in the Columbia River Gorge during my recent spring trip was short. Of all the things I “wanted” to do during my time in the Gorge, a return trip to Dog Mountain during the balsamroot bloom was at the top of the list. It’s been about 6 years since my last visit up Dog Mountain and, although I intended to return much sooner than this, something always happened to thwart my plans. To recap for the uninitiated, the wonderful meadows of balsamroot on Dog Mountain are reached after a 3 mile hike with a 2,500 foot elevation gain. The views don’t come easy!

Despite the legitimate workout it provides, this hike has become increasingly popular. Locals have almost swore off visiting on weekends due to the steady stream of people on the trail. This year, there were well over 50+ cars at the trail head at noon on a weekday (a far cry than my last visit in 2009). After two hours of slogging up hill, I finally made my return to the meadows. I’d like to say I felt inspired upon my overdue return to the meadows but…..I wasn’t. The flowers were in fine shape and any breeze was fairly manageable but I was obsessed with what time it was. You see, this day (the third day of my trip) was the first day where a reasonable chance for sunset was present. I planned on shooting sunset over Mount Hood and that required me to be mindful of what time it was and when I needed to leave Dog Mountain in order to make it to my sunset destination in enough time.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) atop Dog Mountain
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and Small Flowered Lupine (Lupinus micranthus) atop Dog Mountain
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) atop Dog Mountain
The end result of being so preoccupied with the time was feeling pressured or rushed when I finally did pull the camera out of my backpack. Whenever this happens, your odds of coming come when great photos is quite low. To be fair, this was self induced pressure so I won’t beat myself over this. As I’ve come to learn, visits to some locations just require more time to properly explore.

One location in the Gorge that is more amenable to a quicker visit is Wahclella Falls. All told, my visit about about 2 hours total from car to car. The falls are reach in just over a mile of trail and only 250 feet of elevation to gain. The parking area at the trailhead is small and unluckily for me, it was completely full. I ultimately discovered why on my hike in as dozens of elementary aged kids and their chaperones passed me on their hike out. Bad timing for parking at the trail head but good timing for my time spent at the falls.

Wildflowers at Puppy Point on Dog Mountain
Wahclella Falls, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Wahclella Falls, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Despite the occasional sunshine, it really didn’t impact my photography at the falls thanks to the high canyon walls which shaded the falls from any harsh, direct light. Spray can be a problem here if you’re shooting directly in front or towards the left of the falls but it’s not really apparent how much that threat is. I did happen to notice the indicators of a spray zone so I was pretty vigilant about keeping the front of my lens wiped dry and covered when not in use. I should have explored the creek downstream of the falls a little more but I was thinking about getting to my chosen destination for that evening’s sunset.

My last Gorge-ish destination was a return to Panther Creek falls over on the Washington side. I had a potential idea for a slightly different composition that I wanted to check out in addition to it just being a cool place to hang out. Well, my composition idea didn’t quite pan out and for whatever reason, the cliffy downclimb to reach the base of the falls just seemed different this time around. Maybe it’s age but I swear that there were more handholds to use the last time I was there. Oh well. I was still able to take a few photographs from the viewing platform by balancing my exposure with a graduated neutral density filter. I think I might visit Dry Creek falls instead next spring. I have a line on something interesting in that area that I’d like to check out…

Panther Creek Falls, Wind River drainage
Panther Creek Falls detail, Wind River drainage

Oregon’s Old Growth

Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
I recently returned from my annual spring trip down to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood area. As it usually happens, my plans changed during the trip based on weather during my visit. During my trip, I did spend about a day and a half exploring two of Oregon’s old growth forest stands, both of which are located in different parts of the Mount Hood National Forest.

Big Bottom
I only learned of this location two weeks before I made my trip (thank you, internet!). Included in the relatively recent declaration of the Clackamas Wilderness in 2009, the Big Bottom area is one of five tracts of land located along the Clackamas River. An old logging road provides easy access to a grove of trees that are part of the Western Hemlock zone. Large tree diameters of 4-7 feet are common and diameters of 8-10 can also be found. It is also rumored that the largest Western Red Cedar in Oregon (approximately 13 feet in diameter) can be found in Big Bottom.

At almost 80 miles up the Clackamas River drainage, it’s location is near the crest of the Cascades. In fact, the forests begin to have much more pine trees only a few miles to the southeast of Big Bottom. Although the hike into Big Bottom begins in one of the last clearcuts before the designation, that doesn’t last long and soon enough, the forest surrounds you. Despite the relative proximity to a major Forest Service road (Road 46), the forest was fairly quiet and peaceful, save for the sound of the breeze moving through the canopy.

The forest isn’t a manicured park; the understory can be barren or a monoculture, and windfall is everywhere. It’s not my idyllic “vision” of what a Pacific Northwest old growth forest would look like but it’s still awe inspiring. It’s hard to imagine what it looked like when the logging road was still active but time has slowly started reclaiming the road. It really is an interesting area and one that I will surely return to in the coming years. Here’s a rough Forest Service Map of the Big Bottom area. I also found this blog post by Matt Reeder very valuable as well.

Fairy Slippers (Calypso bulbosa) in the Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old Salmon River
I have visited this spot before, although it has been a few years. Even with my first brief visit, I knew that I needed to return and devote much more time to explore this area properly. This year, I spent nearly five hours wandering the Old Salmon River Trail but *still* only managed to travel about a third of a mile! The Salmon River old growth IS quite close to my ideal old growth. Despite being the same Western Hemlock plant association as the Big Bottom grove (Western Hemlock / Swordfern), the understory is far more diverse and lush. A likely contributor to this is the 20 inches of additional rain that falls in the Salmon River area.

It’s incredible that this gem has managed to survive wedged between tracts of homes and a popular recreation road. I have read that this has deterred some from visiting. Please don’t let this be you! Accessing and hiking the forest is easy and well worth it..

Old growth scene, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Old growth scene, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Nurse log, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Scouler's Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri) and Salmon River, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Old growth scene, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Scouler's Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri) and Salmon River, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Sea of Scouler's Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri), Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Canopy Opening, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Salmon River, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

Leavenworth 2015

Balsamroot and Lupine, East Van Creek drainage outside of Leavenworth, Washington
I traveled over Stevens Pass last weekend to photograph the spring wildflowers around Leavenworth. In the past, there’s usually a good correlation between the condition of wildflowers in Leavenworth at the Ski Hill and of those found in the surrounding hills. This year, however, was different; at the ski hill, the flowers were in prime condition but elsewhere the flowers were stunted or still coming up in wide open spaces but looked fine in sheltered or edge environments. I have no way of knowing for sure but I wonder if our pitiful winter had a hand in this.

Speaking of winter, it actually made an appearance in the mountains for our trip across! In the morning, the storm that hit the mountains overnight was beginning to break up. Out in the vicinity of Index, the mix of clouds, sun, and fresh snow on Mount Index was too good to pass up. Nearing Stevens Pass, the fresh snow from overnight reached all the way down to the Tye River valley (2,400 feet). It was too pretty to not photograph so we stopped along one of the pullouts on Highway 2 for some quick photos.

Forecasts for the east slopes called for possible thunderstorms and it held true. They did stay away from our location but that was in doubt for about a half hour in the afternoon when it looked like they were headed in our direction. Once again, we spent our whole day in the Van Creek drainage chasing down a locations that ended up being a bust. This always sucks but it does help with time management for future trips. My next stop will be a much needed return trip to the Gorge and Mount Hood!

Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Spring snowfall blanketing the Tye River valley, west of Stevens Pass
Spring snowfall on Lichtenberg, east of Stevens Pass
Young Ponderosa Pine growing out of rock outcrop, Van Creek drainage, Leavenworth, Washington
Balsamroot and Lupine, East Van Creek drainage outside of Leavenworth, Washington
Mount Index and clouds at sunset near Index, Washington
And a couple of quick time lapses from the weekend:

Leavenworth Wildflowers – 2015 from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

Carbon River Old Growth

I recently made the laughable decision to hike the Carbon River old growth forest in Mount Rainier National Park on a rainy day. This is a very special place for me and despite the difficulties of visiting it, I always seem to find something new to see. Here’s a small set of photos from that wet day:

Carbon River valley old growth, Mount Rainier National Park
Carbon River valley old growth, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park
Green Lake during rain showers, Mount Rainier National Park
Weathered stump, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park
Old growth and young trees, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Early Winter at Deception Creek

Deception Creek in Winter, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
` (storms full of warm, tropical moisture originating near the Hawaiian Islands) which promptly melt away any snowpack that starts to build. Winter is about 3 weeks behind schedule but is FINALLY establishing itself. I had some trouble deciding where to go for my first winter outing but eventually decided on Deception Creek up the Highway 2 corridor. I’ve visited twice before (including during winter) but my winter visit was cut short of my goal due to time constraints.

I’ve described the hike before but long story short- during the winter, the trailhead is not accessible during winter because snow removal operations build a snowbank along Highway 2 where the trailhead turnoff is. The quarter-mile walk along the highway is the worst (and potentially dangerous) part of any winter outing. Thanks to El Nino, no highway walk was required because I could turn off the Highway and park off of the highway. There wasn’t much of a snowpack down along the highway but it did thicken up a bit as we hiked up and approached the summer trailhead. It would have been nice to have visited when the ice along the creek was more substantial but there still were remnants in many spots.

Unlike my previous winter visit, I did make it to a small waterfall and pooled section of the creek. I spent quite a bit of time working some more intimate compositions based on the boulders along the margin of the creek which still had icy perimeters. I didn’t get an early start on this day so it was now late in the afternoon and time to head home. On the way back out, I did stop at one spot which had some icy pendants hanging down off of a log at creek level. It’s always nice to visit this spot because it doesn’t get many winter visitors and yet it’s so close to the busy highway. Even with that proximity, the busy sounds of the highway quickly fade away. Most would never know about it…

Deception Creek in Winter, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Ice Capped Boulder in Deception Creek, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Deception Creek in Winter, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Deception Creek in Winter, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Ice Pendants above Deception Creek, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Baring Mountain and low clouds above the South Fork Skykomish River valley east of Index, Washington
Baring Mountain and low clouds above the South Fork Skykomish River valley east of Index, Washington

Goodbye 2014

2014 is nearly in the books and I, for one, say good riddance. It was a year largely full of other commitments and little photography. I photographed sunrise on New Years Day and promptly broke the zoom ring on one of my lenses. Five months later, I dunked all of my gear in a river. Thankfully, most of the gear survived after a week of drying in a bag of rice but I did end up replacing one zoom lens with a new (used) copy and repairing my New Years Day lens a second time. My photography largely consisted of a week long trip to South Florida’s Gulf Coast during July 4th and a few day trips on either side of that. Despite the challenges of the past year, I have selected ten photos to highlight my year:

1.) The Storm – Sanibel Island, Florida

The Storm - Sanibel Island, Florida
Storm clouds are probably somewhat fitting given my year. Taken during my week long stay on Sanibel Island, Florida, these storm clouds developed during sunrise towards the end of my trip. Gotta love the short walk from the rented guesthouse to the beach!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

2.) The Hills Are Alive – Leavenworth, Washington State

The Hills Are Alive - Leavenworth, Washington State
One of my regular outings during spring is a trip over the mountains to the Leavenworth area to photograph the balsamroot flower displays. This year, I timed the trip perfectly to explore a new location. An entire hillside of blooming flowers all to myself!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

3.) Worth the Wait – Glacier Peak Wilderness

Worth the Wait - Glacier Peak Wilderness

My most recent outing which holds some special significance to me. This photo marks my return to Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. This location has largely been inaccessible for the last decade due to flood damage to the primary access road. Green Mountain was one of the first locations that I was taken to by friends once I moved up to Washington State. Once the road was finally repaired, I had to visit this place once again. Just visiting once again would have been enough but the sunset on this day turned out to be pretty spectacular.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

4.) Sanibel Storm – Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Storm - Sanibel Island, Florida

During my visit to Florida, I got to experience several nights of “heat lightning.” The heat and humidity of the daylight hours turns into lightning offshore during the overnight hours. It was quite mesmerizing standing on the beach watching the constant lightning strikes. Thankfully, I was never in any danger while outside photographing it. I’ve only tried photographing lightning once before so I got plenty of practice!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

5.) Gotcha – J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Gotcha - J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge

I’m not much of a wildlife photographer but love to photograph it given the opportunity. During my trip to Florida, the J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge was just five minutes away from where we were staying. I only was able to make two trips to the refuge but enjoyed the time.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

6.) Stranglehold – Big Cypress National Preserve

Stranglehold - Big Cypress National Preserve

For our trip to Florida, We actually flew in and out of Fort Lauderdale and doubled back via car to Sanibel Island. Rather than take the quicker I-75, we opted for US-41 which took us through Big Cypress National Preserve. This Strangler Fig caught my eye during our quick stop at Kirby Storter Roadside Park.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

7.) Aurora Not-at-all-us – Mount Baker

Aurora Not-at-all-us - Mount Baker

At the end of this past summer, a promising aurora alert was issued after a solar flare and, for once, it coincided with clear skies. I staked it out for two nights but alas, the auroras never came. I was left with a few nice nighttime photos of Mount Baker and a couple newly scouted locations.

8.) Origins – Sanibel Island, Florida

Origins - Sanibel Island, Florida

This photo was taken in the pre-dawn minutes the same morning as photo #1. The heat lightning from the previous night was finally dying down but not before a few more strikes during the advancing light of the new day.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

9.) Supermoon Reflection – Heather Meadows

Supermoon Reflection - Heather Meadows

I swore I would never photograph Mount Shuksan from Picture Lake. The scene is SO tired and has been photographed to death. As it turned out, I stopped by the lake on a whim suggestion by my friend after we had photographed the super moon’s rise at sunset. No one was present and the mist rising off the lake provided the qualities I was seeking to set my photo apart from the thousands (if not millions) of other Picture Lake photos.

10.) Lava Lamp – Baring Mountain

Lava Lamp - Baring Mountain

This photo is just one photo from a series taken during a spectacular sunrise this fall. It was actually the culmination of repeated sunrise attempts at this particular location. The vindication was especially satisfying!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

So there are my ten photos. I also continued my tradition throughout the year of shooting time lapses with my GoPro camera. Here’s a recap video I put together from my Florida trip:

Florida Gulf Coast – July 2014 from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

Reunion

My last photo taken on Green Mountain of Avalanche Lilies - May 2006
After moving to Washington State in 1999, one of the first “new” hikes I was introduced to was the Green Mountain trail in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. After a quick forest portion, the hike opens up to a wonderful steep meadow with huge views towards Glacier Peak. For the hardier, the trail continues through an upper basin and concludes with a 1,000 foot climb up to the summit of Green Mountain and an old fire lookout. The meadows are rich in diversity and density and they have always left me in awe. In 2003 and again in 2006, Western Washington encountered “100-year” flood events which ravaged both the lowlands and the mountains. In the Suiattle River valley, the main access road to the trailhead (Forest Service Road 26) washed out in several locations. These washouts effectively cut off access to the trail for all but the hardiest of people due to the additional 13 miles of road walking required to reach the official trailhead.

Although federal repair funds were secured relatively soon after the damage, the repair process drug out many years due to the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process for the environmental permitting of the proposed repairs followed immediately by an environmental group’s legal challenge against repairing the road. Even when all of this was resolved, it took 2 years to complete all of the necessary repairs. In late October, the repairs were finally complete and access was finally restored. Winter is fast approaching and the window for visiting Green Mountain is closing. The partly sunny forecast for Saturday was more than enough reason to make a trip to Green Mountain a reality.

Green Mountain's southwest ridge and developing sunset
Dome Peak at sunset, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Dome Peak, Sentinel Peak, and the Downey Creek valley at Sunset
I suspected that others would also have the same idea to visit Green Mountain but I didn’t expect THAT many people would be of like minds! Parking at the trailhead was like a rock concert with cars parked everywhere. During our hike up, we counted close to 100 people whom we passed as they made their way back down. Despite the constant passing of hikers, everything special about this place was still there. Rounding a corner of the trail would re-ignite a memory about what was just around the corner. The anticipation of reaching the meadows was high and only magnified as the forest began to give way. After so many years, the forest finally gave way to wide open skies. Far below us, the roar of the Suiattle River were the only sounds.

Hiking was slow & steady with the constant view of Glacier Peak. At the upper margin of the meadow, the trail passes through a stand of Alaska Yellow Cedar which have a wonderful distinct smell to them. Beyond the cedars, the trail skirts the forest for a short climb up to the small basin below the summit of Green Mountain. Once again, the anticipation of seeing the small tarn basin built as we got closer & closer to the small crest at the edge of the basin. The basin is somewhat sheltered so it still was retaining a thin coating of snow from one of the early fall snows. The three miles to this point have a moderate rate of ascent but the next section of trail that gains 600′ up to the summit ridgeline is the steepest stretch of the entire hike.

Glacier Peak at Sunset from Green Mountain
Sunset Clouds over White Chuck Mountain (L) and Three Fingers (R)
Sunset over the North Central Cascades from Green Mountain, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Our slow & steady pace up to this point was putting us slightly behind schedule. I wanted to be up on the summit ridgeline for sunset so that I had multiple options available to me for whatever would happen during sunset and I definitely wanted the ability to photograph Dome Peak, which is located to the east of Green Mountain. It’s NOT easy to pick up the pace on the steepest stretch of trail with a 30 pound pack but that’s what I had to do. During the course of our hike, the weather went from partly sunny to high overcast to darker clouds from the advancing storm front. Doubts had been starting to develop as to what would happen during sunset but the persistence of a clear portion of the horizon to the southwest continued to give hope.

Finally up on the ridge, I needed to take a small waypath down the ridge for a short distance to gain some more open views. This eastern side of the ridge was still retaining some fall snow and that made a few of the traverse moves more interesting than I would have liked. Moving slowly and purposely, I made my way down the ridge until I reach the point where I could photograph west, south, or east. It was within an hour until sunset so I had to work quickly to set up my GoPro for my sunset time lapse. This was my first outing with a new GoPro accessory the Lee Bug Filter System, which provides a polarizing and 3-stop Neutral Density filter options for use with GoPro Hero 3s (and 3+s). The GoPro cameras do not have the same dynamic range as larger, more traditional cameras. During many of my previous sunset/sunrise time lapses, the scenes are typically unbalanced with a dark foreground and a horizon / sky that borders on being overexposed. The Lee system’s ND Grad filter should help address this issue and enable me to capture a more balanced composition.

Sunset over the North Central Cascades from Green Mountain, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sunset over the North Central Cascades from Green Mountain, Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sunset Clouds over White Chuck Mountain (L) and Liberty Mountain (R)
I fumbled around and set everything up as quickly as I could. I gambled on a composition that would stretch from Dome Peak on the left side over to Glacier Peak to the right. Now that the time lapse was under way, I could now pull out my camera and begin photographing the developing sunset. The narrow break in the clouds to the west was beginning to show the early stages of color but everywhere else seemed to be stuck in grey and stormy clouds. The color continued to progress and it was becoming clear that my focus would mainly be towards the west. Thankfully, I did keep my head on a swivel and was aware of a brief but glorious few minutes when the full power and color of sunlight spilled across the area (including behind me on Dome Peak and towards the north near Mount Buckindy. Sadly, this development didn’t last and further develop like I hoped. You can see it as a brief flash in my time lapse.

As disappointing as that was, it was become QUITE clear something special was going to happen back towards the west. That slow build of color that I photographed at sunrise near Index a few weeks ago was going to happen here as well.

Green Mountain Sunset Time Lapse – 11/8/2014 from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

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