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

Elusive Mount Hood

I spent a lot of time driving around Mount Hood on my recent trip but not a lot of time actually SEEING it. This first photo came about during my attempt to reach the Top Spur trail head. The winter snowpack still were lingering so I was turned around by snow about a half mile from the trail head. At the point of my turnaround, however, the road is located very near the spine of a ridgeline. I bushwhacked up to the top of the ridge to take a look around. Once on the ridge, I didn’t find a viewpoint of Mount Hood like I had hoped. Actually, the forest here was creepy with no understory and lots of dead limbs on the lower sections of each tree. I was all packed up and ready to head back down when the sun broke free from the persistent clouds and presented me with beautiful god rays. As fast as I could, I got all my gear out of my backpack just in time for the sun faded away before I could snap even one picture. I figured that if it happened once, it would happen again. I waited patiently and, sure enough, another outburst of god rays appeared. This time I was ready! I stayed around long enough for a third episode of god rays before feeling satisfied that I had captured the moment.
God Rays, Mount Hood National Forest (Black and White conversion)
God Rays, Mount Hood National Forest
Earlier in the day, I poked around Lolo Pass Road and encountered some really dynamic conditions. Valley clouds were lifting quickly up and across the road from time to time. This was also occurring throughout the Sandy River valley. Perfect conditions for a timelapse! Here it is:

On the last full day of my time down around Mount Hood, the weather looked like it might be breaking up as sunset drew closer. I saw the summit for the first time on my trip from near the Mount Hood Meadows Ski Area. I decided to hang out and retreated to the Bennett Pass Snow Park. I shot this peek-a-boo of Mount Hood from there:
Mount Hood framed by storm clouds from the Bennett Pass Snow Park
I had set up my GoPro for another timelapse and everything was going great until the clouds walled up and swallowed Mount Hood once again. Time to relocate! Here’s my abbreviated timelapse:

Hoping to take advantage of the lee side effect, I headed north on Highway 35 and turned off on Brooks Meadow Road (FS Road 44). A few years ago, I stumbled across an old clearcut that offered a great view of Mount Hood. I arrived but still had no mountain. Nonetheless, it was quiet and peaceful so I watched sunset while my GoPro snapped off another timelapse. The mountain never appeared but the clouds sure put on an entertaining show:

I packed up and headed back down to Hood River to make my way back to my motel. While I was driving through Parkdale, I looked up at my rear view mirror and, despite the darkness, there was Mount Hood clear as could be! I immediately pulled over and pulled out my camera and telephoto lens. This was happening during “blue hour” (the hour immediately after sunset) so while I could still see the mountain, it wasn’t possible to use autofocus. Using my Liveview setting, I dialed in focus as best as I could and then began taking several shots. After 15 minutes or so, sporadic clouds began popping up between my location and the mountain. This was a great way to end my day.
Mount Hood during the blue hour from Parkdale, Oregon

April Leftovers

I built up a little backlog during the month of April so here’s a quick hit series of photos.
Big Four Mountain
Big Four Mountain detail
Sunny spring day and Big Four Mountain
Skykomish River Valley near Sultan
Cumulus clouds over the summit of Mount Pilchuck
Mount Stickney and Wallace Falls
Mount Pilchuck summit detail
High above the Skykomish River valley near Sultan
Mount Stickney and Wallace Falls
Sunset from Monroe
Storm clouds over Mount Pilchuck from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Sunset clouds over Lord Hill from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Sunset clouds over Lord Hill from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Full moon rising above Haystack Mountain
West Face of Vesper Peak (L), Glacier Peak (C), and Morning Star Peak (R) from Monroe, Washington
Mount Baker Ski Area Vicinity
Spring melt along Razor Hone Creek
Moss on Maples, North Fork Nooksack River valley
Moss on Maples, North Fork Nooksack River valley
I also made this timelapse from my lofty perch above the Skykomish River valley:

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