The Fourth Time

Mount Shuksan and Mazama Mountain from Huntoon Point
I am a glutton for punishment, and this winter has more than proven this to be true. I returned to Artist Point near Mount Baker for the fourth time this winter hoping for great light and interesting conditions. I had no reason to think that things would go any different than two of my previous three outings. The weather forecasts projected 63% cloud cover around the time of sunset thanks to an advancing storm front. The best light and drama happens during these transitional times such as this; I just threw my hands up and said why not?

As you might imagine, the snowshoe trip out to the ridge gets pretty routine after three previous trips in such a relatively short period. The snow was a weird conglomeration of rain altered, fresh snow, and hoar frost. We made decent time on the hike and arrived at the end of the ridge about 3 hours before sunset. While Mount Shuksan largely enjoyed sunny skies, Mount Baker had a persistent cloud layer hugging its northeast flanks. In addition to taking photos, I wanted to continue to experiment with the time lapse features of my GoPro Hero 3. Upon arrival, I set up GoPro on my panning Ikea kitchen time and set off a 20 minute timelapse of Mount Shuksan:

After this one finished, I set up for another time lapse, this time focused on Mount Baker. I wanted to shoot this for a similar amount of time (20-30 minutes) but I had to cut it short because some snowshoers appeared from nowhere below my vantage point. Lucky for me, they were out of frame and I was able to stop recording before they appeared. The clouds were starting to drift through the area more and more. This was my sign to switch over to my SLR.

During the middle part of the afternoon, I focused on the Mount Baker area since the clouds were more dynamic. The sun was directly overhead and that proved to be a bit problematic. The sunlight was bleeding into the upper portion of my frame despite the fact that I was using my telephoto’s lens hood. To overcome this issue, I decided to use my 0.6 graduated ND filter. This is hardly an exact science so there were a series of trial and error shots to finally get the hang of compensating for the light bleed. We had heard some rockfall coming of the backside of the Shuksan Arm at one point in the afternoon. Needless to say, a large boom from the direction of Mount Shuksan had both of us swinging our cameras around. All that we could capture was a billowing cloud of snow rising up from the Lower Curtis Glacier area.

As the afternoon got later, the weather was following the projected forecasts rather closely. Stronger cloud bands were now lingering around Mount Shuksan, often obscuring the summit period for brief periods of time. Mount Baker would prove to be more elusive the rest of the afternoon and brief glimpses of the summit or one of it’s flanks was the norm. We were still blessed with a rather large open “window” in the sky to the right of Mount Baker so the changing light of sunset did reach Mount Shuksan. The slopes where we were located had widespread amounts of hoar frost and I really wanted to capture this in some manner and I tried to do this with a curvy slope just below our spot on the ridge. In order to get the composition, I had to include the sun directly in the frame. I realized there would be some lens flare in the photos but it turned out to be a bit more than I would have liked.

In the minutes leading up to the actual time of sunset, we lost good light and color on Mount Shuksan and just plain lost Mount Baker. The last good light left was interacting with clouds hovering between Lasiocarpa Ridge and Skyline Divide. As most sunsets go, however, the light slowly faded away and the cold gray of night was taking over. In fact, just minutes after official sunset, clouds began QUICKLY overtaking our ridge. It was a little startling, actually. I didn’t want to be hiking back along the ridge by braille and thankfully this didn’t happen. I had a couple night photos in mind prior to our trip and the clouds put the kibosh on those plans. Still- after three mostly failed attempts, this day felt pretty good!
Mount Hagan in the distance. Taken from Huntoon Point
Hoar frost slope and Mount Shuksan from near Huntoon Point
Coleman Pinnacle along Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness.
Icefall crashes onto the Upper Curtis Glacier, Mount Shuksan
Filtered sun over Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Shuksan and clouds in afternoon light from Huntoon Point
Backcountry ski track along Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness
Mount Baker and Ptarmigan Ridge in clouds, Mount Baker Wilderness
Clouds over Ptarmigan Ridge. Taken from Huntoon Point
Hoar frost and Ptarmigan Ridge. Taken from Huntoon Point
Mount Shuksan during magic hour light. Taken from Huntoon Point
Mount Shuksan during magic hour light. Taken from Huntoon Point
Last light of sunset and clouds over Lasiocarpa Ridge

2 Responses to The Fourth Time
  1. Wesley Picotte

    Congrats Steve – persistence paid off. Great images!

    • Steve Cole

      Thanks a lot, Wesley! It does pay off- even if it gets old really quick. Hope your winter’s going well down there in Oregon!