Olympic Adventures pt II

Wild, diverse, and of course, spectacular – that’s how I introduced Olympic National Park in my last entry. Well, I’m still here, and still enjoying and exploring the varied scenery. These past 10 days or so I spent my time on the coast and in the high alpine country, this time in the (wonderful) company of my girlfriend Ali. Being from Utah, she’s all too familiar with snowy mountains and sand. But the sand there is orange and generally doesn’t sport much water in the near vicinity, unless it’s in the form of fluffy white snow. It’s spectacular in its own right, and one of my favorite places, which you may have noticed if you’ve looked through my website – the Southwest gallery is rather large!

The point of that diversion was to discuss the wonders of sand, and how despite living in it, Ali wanted to play in some more sand, but this time by the ocean rather than in the desert. After all, despite the fact that hunting whales is illegal in Utah, there are no ocean waves that crash upon the vast expanses of orangey-red sand. And I was still looking for an interesting sunset to add some color to the spectacular Olympic beaches. But first I took her into the mountains, perhaps a little reluctantly at first, since she can see snowy mountains from her back porch. After seeing them from a distance for the past two weeks or so, however, I really wanted to get up close and personal.

Our trail, starting on the North Eastern side of the Olympics now, took us through some very interesting forests. Here the woods are much drier, as most of the rain gets squeezed out of the clouds on the western slopes, resulting in those rainforests I have yet to photograph properly. Tall narrow trees line the hillside, with a very clean undergrowth dominated by long stretches of unbroken moss. Occasionally a small group blooming Rhododendron’s interrupted the mossy blanket, adding a touch of bright pink to the otherwise green landscape. Of course, it was “nice” and sunny, making it impossible to capture the beauty with a camera. I’m probably one of the few people who would rather see some clouds on their summer vacation than a bright blue sky; and likely the only Dutchman or Ithacan (well, I was there for the past 4 years) to feel that way (in case you don’t know, both the Netherlands and Ithaca are always gray, and sun becomes a precious commodity that must be savored whenever you’re graced with its presence). Anyways, after passing some avalanche-scarred hillsides covered in wildflowers, we found ourselves at Royal Lake. Aptly named, this lake is nestled among alpine firs just below some wonderful snow covered mountains and peaks, including the imposing Mt. Deception. Not ten feet from our camp I found my composition for the evening, and thankfully a few white clouds puffed into existence as the sun started on its way down. They promptly disappeared before the sun finally set, but I was happy with the result – something that rarely happens to me when there’s direct sunlight in my picture that’s much more than a couple minutes before sunset or after sunrise.


“A Royal View” ~ Royal Lake, Olympic National Park, WA.
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 18mm, polarizer, 2-stop hard GND filter, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 0.4 sec
Processing: Generally when shooting with a GND (graduated neutral density) filter I’ll shoot the same exposure with and without it, then in post processing I can fix the straight line imposed by the filter. I find this is a lot easier than blending two different exposures.

The following day we made a day trip up to the ridge you see in that photo – well, a bit to the right, outside of the frame. Not long after leaving the lake we came out above tree line, into the rugged glacially carved Upper Royal Basin. Here we stumbled upon a lovely aquamarine glacial and snowmelt tarn, still supporting a few icebergs. The official trail stopped here, but we just had to know what was on the other side of that ridge. So after consulting the map, and taking stock of the various approaches, we settled on what looked like the least scary and sketchy ridge to use as our approach. Soon after we found ourselves on a light boot-track worn down by others as curious as ourselves. I put my ice-axe to use, making a nice path all the way up to Deception Pass, which revealed an incredible view of the Deception Basin and Mt. Mystery. The mid-day sun made it hard to do the snowy scene justice, but it satisfied my need for hearing the refreshing crunch of snow under my feet. And fortunately Ali wasn’t disappointed either by the snowy mountains, even compared to the world famous snow of the Wasatch in her backyard.

Having delayed the beach long enough, after hiking out of the Royal Basin, we headed to Second Beach (which I’m quite familiar with by now!). Well, that evening the fog came in a bit later than usual, just late enough that you could see the sunset reds on the clouds higher up through the beginnings of the mist. Finally, I had an evening that wasn’t locked in that dreadful gray.


“Pincushions in Gloom” ~ Second Beach, Olympic National Park, WA.
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 17mm, polarizer, 2 stop hard GND filter, tripod
Exposure: iso 400, f/16, 0.5 sec
Processing: The sunset wasn’t this spectacular of course. It was a bit more gray. But with a few simple adjustments of exposure, contrast, and saturation, as well as playing with the channel mixer, I was able to bring out the colors better.
Notes: The iso 400 was to give me a shorter shutter speed so as not to completely smooth out the ocean waves.

After taking some pictures of her favorite scenes Ali decided to photograph arguably the most interesting subject on the beach. So here’s me, sporting my nearly two month old beard or so (too long to be tamed by an average electric razor now), holding my 2-stop hard graduated neutral density filter, and briefly taking my eyes of the scene which you saw above (well, a good while earlier, still searching for my composition of choice). As usual (for the coast), I was found kneeling in the sand, blissfully unaware (more indifferent) of the occasional wave that would come and wet my feet.


Me on second beach, taken by Ali

Given the short (1/4-1/2 mile) walk from the car, we decided to pack all sorts of goodies for the evening. So after the evening colors faded we enjoyed smores and mildly cool coronas with a slice of lime by a driftwood fire among the wild sea stacks and smooth black (well, dark) sand.


“Glories of Beach Camping” ~ Second Beach, Olympic National Park, WA.
Though mostly just taken for fun, this was a tough exposure. I brought out the two stop hard GND filter, with the dark half over the foreground rather than the sky, where it usually is positioned. And to fight the darkness we had to sit still for 13 seconds despite shooting at f/4 and iso 1600.

Since the previous night turned out to yield some interesting light, we decided to stick to the beach. The next evening we spent a few miles down the beach at Toleak Point. The 4-mile hike or so was quite spectacular, leading us along beautiful sandy stretches with views of rugged sea stacks, and over rope ladders and through some coastal rainforest. Apparently I’ve done this hike once before, but I can’t quite remember it since I was still a month from being born. I found it hard enough to climb those ladders with a pack on my back, so I have to give my mom a lot of credit of carrying me up there too! Alas, the sky stayed blue all throughout the evening and following morning, but it was a most lovely trip.

With our last few days, we ventured back into the snowy mountains. This time starting at Deer Park and working our way along gravely ridges covered in wildflowers, like manicured gardens. In this area of heavy erosion the plants would ban together for protection, forming long tendrils of growth down the hill. Because of the heavy snowfall this past winter (140-160% of usual), the flowers were going crazy, enjoying the rare bit of moisture on these dry North Eastern slopes. From atop the ridge we could see Mt. Olympus to the west, the deep Strait of Juan de Fuca to the North (and Canada beyond), the North Cascades to the East, including the imposing snow covered peak of Mt. Baker, and other Olympic ridges to the south, including Mt. Deception, which we’d seen a few days before. After following the ridge for some time we found ourselves winding down, down, and yet further down into the flowering Badger Valley. Here sections of the meadows were entirely pink with Shooting Stars, with a smattering of orange from the Colombia Tiger Lilies. After hiking much of that lost elevation back up, and running past the mosquito plagued Grand Lake, we found a peaceful gravelly site on the shores of moose lake. I didn’t find a composition that spoke to me here, and the skies weren’t co-operative, as usual, but I’ll be passing by here again in a month on my way to an off-trail jewel with Larry who you ‘met’ last time. It was, however, a wonderful sight. Both Grand and Moose Lakes were very shallow, and through the crystal clear waters you could see some nice big trout swimming between the submerged fallen trees.

There were no moose to be seen here, but the deer were happy to see us. In particular, they were happy to see my new fleece vest, which served as a salt snack for one of them, who chewed up the fabric and crushed the zipper before Ali saved it from more damage. Other than the deer and giant Olympic marmots we were the only ones there, a likely by product of the Obstruction Point road being closed due to winter damages – mostly downed trees. As I mentioned before, the Olympic Peninsula suffered from incredibly high winds this past December, up to 90 miles an hour in inland areas. On our return trip we took a slightly different route, which took us to the Obstruction Point road, only 4 miles from the lake, rather than the 11 from Deer Park. Not far beyond Obstruction Point we encountered a few very steep snowy patches. Dropping the heavy pack I used my ice-axe to work my way across, making a comfortable trail. Then we each carried our packs across with the axe for self belay.


Working my way across the path I made, this time with my pack. What you don’t see in the photo is how steep that snow field really is, and how far of a way down it was to the bottom. Taken by Ali as she waited patiently for me to return and give her the axe to take her pack across.

Perhaps a mile or so further on we stopped to fill our bottles with fresh snow melt water – again, it’s dry up here and there’s no water on the ridges except for the snow, which thankfully there was! Not far from here we stumbled across a fledgling bird, hardly able to fly, but perfectly at home in its alpine habitat.


“Life in the Alpine” ~ Fledgling Horned Lark (?), Elk Mountain, Olympic National Park, WA.
The Tech: Canon 5D, 24-105mm @ 82mm, handheld, bracketed
Exposure: (primary) iso 400, f/22, 1/60th sec
Notes/Processing: I didn’t have the time to mess with filters here, so I bracketed, shooting the scene at 1/200th as well. Then in post processing I was able to use that exposure to bring detail back into the sky. Since the sky doesn’t have much fine detail to begin with having shot handheld and manually lining up the exposures worked just fine.

If you took a second to look at the technical and exposure information on that image you may have become interested in how I managed to get that photo. Usually when I get such a small bird to be so large in the frame I’m carrying my 9 pound 500mm f/4, probably with a 1.4x teleconverter, and the 1.6x crop body of the Canon 20D (that basically means I’ve got the field of view of an 1,120mm lens on a real 35mm camera like the 5D). And here I was, with my 5D and 24-105mm lens, shooting at 82mm… just inches away from said bird! Well, over the course of the hour I spent with it we became good friends. In fact, you can’t really see how cute the bird really is in that photo, so to show you how well we got along I captured the moment.


A bird in the hand is worth many more than 2 in the bush. It’s amazing that this guy knew how to step up onto my finger just like my pet cockatiel and conure!

Of course, being able to get so close and use a wider angle lens (compared to 1,120mm) allowed me to capture its habitat as well. Despite the f/22 aperture Mt. Olympus, in the background, is still quite fuzzy, but you at least get the idea of the alpine tundra this fledgling was calling home. This is a good time to mention the concept of focal length vs. depth of field, which an anonymous reader from last time kindly pointed out are not directly related – it’s magnification which will determine the depth of field. And magnification is, of course, related to both the focal length as well as the distance you are from your subject. But it isn’t quite that simple, because with a wider lens you will have a broader field of view, which will cause elements further away to become smaller, thus in practice making it seem like you have more depth of field, in a sense. To illustrate this idea while teaching a backcountry photography course for Cornell Outdoor Education last year, I made the following image, which since I happened to have it with me I thought I’d share. I don’t have the time to look into the details of the issue, but welcome anyone who is interested to follow up in a comment!


Lesson on focal length and depth of field, perspective, and distortion. Each image was captured with the same aperture (f/5.6) and the same exposure. The only variables were the focal length and distance to the subject. Click on the image to see it bigger, as with all my images.

Don’t forget, while thinking about these choices of focal length, distance to the little bird, and of course how I was to capture enough dynamic range so as not to clip the highlights of the clouds (which required two exposures), I was lying on my stomach on a steep mountain ridge overlooking the glaciated Mt. Olympus. Meanwhile Ali was chasing 40 lb marmots around the flower-bedecked meadows. We continued on down the trail to our camp at ‘Roaring Winds,’ where we finally let our aching thighs relax for a bit. Not long after stopping, however, I made the trek back up the steep slope for 10 minutes to a spot I’d noticed on the way down, about 100 yards off the trail. Upon returning, I decided that this would be my sunset and sunrise spot. Sunset was rather disappointing, with the clouds promptly disappearing before I needed them most. Sunrise, however, was rewarding enough to have made the trip at 4:50am worth the effort. Though the effort was the easiest part – getting out of the cozy warm sleeping bag was the hard part. Anyways, as the sun rose over the Cascade range and finally peeked it’s warm red rays over the crest of the those snowy mountains, it lit up the ridges and spire like trees with a soft red glow that completed the scene. And I had more clouds that morning than I’d seen in any of my previous ones!


“Olympic Sunrise” ~ Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA.
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 20mm, 2 stop hard GND filter, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 0.5 sec
Processing: Because of the vast expanse of flat blue sky I cropped to a 16:9 aspect ratio. After fixing the graduated neutral density filter line I boosted the color using the channel mixer, which I’ve finally started to understand, and rather like the effect. For each channel (green, blue and red) I bumped the source channel to 140%, and dropped the other two to -20%. As a result the net saturation stays the same, but each channel is boosted in saturation. For example, the greens get greener, the reds get redder etc. This is a good way to simulate the saturation of velvia film, and prevent your colors from clipping.
Notes: Hurricane ridge is really long, this wasn’t anywhere near the part you can drive too.

The following evening we met up with my dad at Deer Park, and went for a brief walk along the ridge to the east of Deer Park. Though less plentiful compared to the ridge we’d been on, the flowers were still out in force. We found a particularly blazing quartet of Indian Paintbrush poking out a group of Blue Penstamons, which made for an interesting wide angle (somewhat) macro. My dad helped shield out the deadly rays of high contrast sunlight with his broad rimmed Australian Dry-Z-Bone hat.


“Indian Fireworks” ~ Indian Paintbrush ~ Deer Park, Olympic National Park, WA.
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 40mm, handheld, broad rimmed hat
Exposure: iso 800, f/4, 1/125th sec
Notes: I didn’t have my tripod with me, as I found this on a scouting walk. But iso 800 is just fine on the 5D, especially when you can run noise reduction on the smooth portions, which I’ll do when I get home someday.

Those of you who are worried about my food might be wondering what has happened with the mouse I’ve been trying to catch. Well, the live catch traps proved to be insufficient, so I was forced to step up to snap traps. After returning from the beach Ali and I found one trap had sprung, and the peanut butter had been eaten from the other, but nothing was caught. The following evening when cleaning out parts of my car, I found the mouse, and caught it by hand (with a towel). Finally my car was mouse free, we ignorantly believed. After our trip to Moose Lake I chased another two mice out of the car, but have reasons to believe there’s still another (or one of the same) hiding somewhere. If anyone knows how a mouse, let alone 3-4, might get into a Toyota Camry, and how one can chase them out, I’d love to hear! As fun as it is to have the furry rodents as company, I don’t much like running the risk of catching the Hanta Virus.

Another note – thanks to Ryan Douglas from Cornell, who’s keeping an eye on my quick bird ID’s, for pointing out that my grouse from last time looks a lot more like a female Sooty Grouse than a Roughed Grouse (Now I’m also not sure anymore whether Roughed or Ruffed is the proffered spelling). I managed to ship my bird guide to Pasadena, not realizing I might want it this summer.. so ID’ing birds has gotten tough. Maybe he or someone else can check on my fledgling horned lark – that guess is based on the fact that I saw a lot of them around and they were making similar chirps, and those nice big toes it has.

That just about brings me back to the civilized world again (though it’s really much more civilized in the middle of the woods if you ask me). The imposing Mt. Rainier revealed it’s snowy slopes the drive back to Seattle’s Airport to send Ali back to Utah where she’ll be slaving away on her medical school applications. Next I’ll be exploring the Northwestern most tip of the state, including Shi Shi Beach, followed by some off-trail mountaineering in the heart of the Olympics, and perhaps a bit of rainforest if we get any ‘bad’ weather (bad meaning rain, which is actually what I consider good in many cases). In the not too distant future I’ll return to enchanted valley in order to visit some high altitude lakes that weren’t accessible when I passed through before, and then I’ll make my way to the (hopefully) flowering slopes of Mt. Rainier. While I’m spending over month in this tiny park, if you get wanderlust and need to perch yourself atop a mountain too, I’m sure you can find one nearer to your home!

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One Response to Olympic Adventures pt II

  1. carol says:

    Floris – I’m lovin’ it!! C.

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