Yes, I’m still here in Olympic National Park, because there’s really not much reason to leave – they’ve got everything from incredible coastlines to rain forests and glaciated mountains. But you’re probably aware of that unless this is your first time reading one of my entries. Oh and before we get to the adventures, I hope you realize that if you want to see these pictures bigger all you have to do is click on the image – it will take you to a bigger image (in the same window, just hit back and you’ll be back at the blog). And if you don’t see any pictures, you’re probably reading the email you got from subscribing (yay!) and using an online email client like gmail, but you can just click on the link above and you’ll get to the friendly web version.
One more order of business before the adventures begin… on my last trip with Ali to Moose Lake I tried to field repair my MSR Simmerlite, and ended up taking out the cleansing cable. Now, you’re supposed to be able to take it out and put it back in with no problems, at least, that’s how the Whisperlite works. But as hard as I tried, it wouldn’t go back in. Thankfully Ali had her JetBoil, so we weren’t without a stove. When I got back to town I brought it to the local outdoor store, and they couldn’t figure it out either. They even went so far as to take apart their Simmerlite to try to get me the spare part, and subsequently couldn’t get the cable back into their stove. Conclusion: the stove has a fundamental design flaw, which kind of compromises my trust in the extent to which MSR researches their mountain safety (MSR stands for Mountain Safety Research if you weren’t aware). So for those of you who own a Simmerlite, don’t take out the cleansing cable, or you’ll end up with a broken stove. My new canister based Snowpeak Gigapower Titanium has been a welcome replacement. Ok, now into the surf.
Shi Shi Beach
The beach access is actually in the Makah Indian Nation Reservation at the Northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and the Native Americans’ small fishing town of Neah Bay seems to revolve around the smoked salmon. At least, it’s good enough that it ought to if it doesn’t! After leaving our car in the care of a local (this is the wild west my friends), we headed to the beach. The familiar dark gray fog welcomed my dad and I as we stepped out of the coastal rainforest and onto Shi Shi Beach (pronounced sh-eye sh-eye). A mile or so down the beach we could see countless sea stacks marching out into the sea, many riddled with holes, which gives it the name ‘Point of the Arches’. We made our way through the soft sand to the end of the beach where the rock formations began. The fog was of course high enough so as not to provide any interesting atmospheric effects between the sea stacks, and thick enough that there was little hope of seeing much a sunset. I wasn’t really worried about the sunset, however, this trip was planned precisely around the roughly -2 foot tide that coincided with the following sunrise and setting full moon. While the point of arches is most certainly quite spectacular, I was interested in the strange stegosaurus like rock ridges that are normally hidden under a few feet of water, which I wanted to see with a potentially interesting sky – that’s why the timing was critical. It’s interesting to note here that the super low tides (coinciding with new or full moon) happen in the morning in the summer, and the evening in the winter. So sunrise was my best bet for something exciting to happen.
Anyways, we had a whole evening and night ahead of us before the rocks would show themselves. For dinner we’d carried in a fresh piece of Sockeye Salmon, which we turned into a delicious drift wood grilled meal. That’s when we noticed an odd thin red line just above the ocean’s blue-green horizon – a feeble attempt by the setting sun to show itself.
The following morning was equally gray, but I wandered about the rocks as the tides slowly moved further out. Then suddenly light patches of pink in the sky took me completely by surprise! The contrast between the light dreamy colors in the sky and the steel gray landscape were very odd indeed, something I tried to emphasize a little in my processing of the following image. I moved out into the surf to catch some of the crashing waves in a relatively long exposure to add to the dreamy feeling.
“Pink Dreams” ~ Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 17mm, tripod, Polarizer (for neutral density)
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 2.5 sec (for the water, image was bracketed)
Processing: I didn’t have time to mess with filters in the surf, so I opted to bracket my exposures. A second exposure at -2 stops was sufficient for the sky, and I blended the two in post processing. Using the channel mixer I selectively darkened portions of the sky and locally enhanced the color to make the split between the pink clouds and gray foreground more apparent. And I did some slight contrast adjustments to the foreground.
Since it took so long to get to this beach, we planned to stay two nights. But what do you do all day to keep yourself occupied on a gray summer beach? Well, first off, you explore all the caves and tide pools. Upon doing so we found a rather large fish (about 2 feet long) trapped in a shallow tide pool. Poor thing had to wait six hours before it could get out to deeper water! Since there was an over abundance of driftwood, we decided we should build a little driftwood cabin to use up our time. But just a driftwood cabin would’ve been pretty boring, and my dad and I like to think we’re creative people, so we started collecting all the strange and colorful bits of sea trash we could find. Soon after we’d decorated just about every part of the cabin with Pacific Northwest Native American inspired art. All that remained was to dress ourselves with some more found items, and the result was a major tourist attraction (that is, for the few people who make it to that beach).
Into the Bailey’s
After the soothing beach experience, we headed into the mountains. This time into the heart of the Olympics: the Bailey Range, off the main trail, and for good reason. The South facing flowering slopes of these mountains look out across the Hoh Valley Rainforest and straight at the snow and ice covered Mount Olympus – some of the best mountain views to be had anywhere. But they come with a price, not just in difficulty, but as we soon found out, danger as well. It’s here that the mountains humbled me a little. The trip ended up being a little more mountaineering than we had hoped for; beyond what either me or my dad had done before, giving me a new touch of respect for the wild.
Anyways, the story begins along the well-worn track to Sol Duc Falls. With a late start we somehow made it up the Sol Duc Valley and to our campsite at Heart Lake in just over 4 hours, covering a total of 9 miles and at least 3,000 feet of elevation gain. At Heart Lake we were welcomed by the resident mountain goat family, a mother of three who was so busy with her kids she never had time to clean up her shaggy coat. They weren’t strangers to people, and undoubtedly got a handout once in a while, letting me get pretty close to the long faced goat.
“Mountain Goat” ~ High Divide, Olympic National Park, WA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 70-200mm f/4 L @ 145mm, handheld
Exposure: iso 400, f/4, 1/200th
Processing: Converted to black and white, with slight blue/yellow duo-tone using an RGB curves adjustment for added depth. Some burn/dodge and local contrast adjustments.
The following morning we found our trail largely covered in snow, making for a fun path finding exercise. We carefully navigated the forested snow patches, sometimes going about 200 yards before finding the next trace of the winding path, and eventually we found ourselves at the end of the official trail. A narrow boot track called the Cat Walk (still originally cut out by the National Park Service, but now abandoned) wound its way around Cat Peak. The treacherously steep slopes above and below us were covered in blooming wildflowers, and during the increasingly common forest openings we could see the glaciers of Mt. Olympus and Mt. Tom across the Hoh Valley. At points the trail had largely washed away, leaving just barely enough horizontal surface for our boots to grab dubious purchase, and the loose shale didn’t help much as handholds. In hindsight we should’ve probably turned back here, but we kept going, lured by the vision of calm flowering meadows beyond.
Abruptly, the trail stopped, a near vertical rock face impeded our way. This is where the Park Service decided it wasn’t worth finishing the trail I suppose. A boot track left the trail a few steps before the end, going straight up the mountain. We clambered up here to find ourselves on a track probably more frequented by mountain goats than people, as evidenced by the plentiful winter wool left behind on the trees and rocks. Here we traversed a rocky ridge but 3 feet wide, clambering over jagged rocks and between trees, while looking at the forests thousands of feet below. That rocky ridge you see leading to the mountain on the far side of the pass, that’s the trail – the crest of the ridge.
Finally we emerged onto a lovely green meadow, dotted with lupines, pink paintbrushes, and a number of other flowers I can’t identify (but they were pretty!). From here the slopes steepened, and the trail barely clung on to the hillside, sometimes as steep as 60 degrees. One wrong step and you’d end up cradled in the mercifully soft moss after an exhilarating 4,000-foot tumbling descent over shale talus slopes (if you were lucky to avoid the Alpine Fir skewers). And, of course, our ice axes wouldn’t have done much good in stopping a fall on that kind of terrain. The flowers loved this terrain, and the slopes continuously exploded with red, blues, whites, yellows, and purples. Here’s a picture of the trail crossing one of these meadows – the trail is that dirt scratch at the front, which faintly continues along the left of the image.
Between the flowering faces the rugged mountainside was scarred with deep rock gullies, which forced us to descend and climb steep rocky slopes. Eventually we found ourselves forced to do more rock climbing than hiking, but with a 50+ lb pack (at least, mine was), and no protection (rock climbing gear), not that the rock would have allowed for that. I didn’t take pictures of this part of the trail for obvious reasons – both my hands and feet were busy with holding on to the mountainside! At this point we decided we really had to turn back, about 3 miles short of our goal, Stephen Lake. Our sore legs rejoiced at the notion, until we stood up to clamber back. We returned to the only flat spot we’d encountered, not too far back. The entire ‘trail’ is spectacular, and fortunately this spot was no exception. I don’t think I’ve ever camped in a more scenic (and quiet) spot!
That there is a Henry Shires Tarptent, which I must say I’m not terribly impressed with. Based on the good reviews I’d read I convinced my parents to get it to lighten their packs by several pounds, but I wouldn’t really trust it in any significant rain. My 8 oz Gossamer Gear tarp seems to me to be a lot more wind proof than this thing. You can see my dad sitting on one of the bear cans enjoying the morning view. As you can see, some snow still lingered. In some places the fresh snowmelt water streams form ice tunnels, covering what would soon become a flowering alpine meadow. Too bad no one was around to photograph me here, contorted in some strange position to get myself under the ice bank – it’s only about 2 feet tall here.
“Frozen Paradise” ~ Bailey Range, Olympic National Park, WA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 17mm, tripod, polarizer
Exposure: iso 400, f/16, 2.0 sec
Processing: I bracketed this exposure, though it was only necessary to fix one hot spot just above the falls. Other than that some dodging on the grassy banks finished up the image (and the usual color enhancement).
Notes: I usually like having some texture in my water shots, but here having texture in the water clashed with the texture in the snow, and I found the smooth water worked quite well.
Even before the snow has completely melted the first white and yellow Avalanche Lilies begin to poke out of the frost – they thrive on the wet soil left by recently melted snow. Our campsite must have only recently been completely covered, as there were fields of fresh Avalanche Lilies blooming in the afternoon sun. I found my evening shot just 30 feet from the tent.
“Flowers for Olympus” ~ Avalanche Lilies and Mt. Olympus ~ Bailey Range, Olympic National Park, WA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 19mm, polarizer, tripod, 2-stop hard GND filter
Exposure: iso 800, f/18, 1/25th
Notes: The high iso was to stop the lightly swaying lilies from blurring in the image. I took a number of different exposures, and the final may include some lower noise information from iso 200 shots in the sky and other non-moving parts.
The following morning was locked in mist that had drifted up from the Hoh Valley. You can see the start of the evening mist forming in the photo above (and the image of our tent was actually taken in the late morning). It’s no wonder that it’s a rainforest down there! We reluctantly packed, our muscles pleading us to let them off for the day. But we wanted to get off of this mountain, and back to the safety of a real trail. The way back felt even more treacherous, as if we’d finally realized where we were. After the long trek back we greeted by some extraordinarily cheery retired doctors, who offered to share some of their Manhattan Cocktail with us (no doubt the primary source of their cheer). While snowmelt water tastes pretty good, this was on an entirely different level of good! Nearby we found Bill, a billy goat affectionately named by the cheery physicians (and the husband of the mother you saw earlier). He clearly had the time to walk back and forth on what we call the ‘goat traverse’ – that is the rocky ridge we found all the goat wool on. His coat was neatly groomed, and he even took a moment to pose behind a lupine bush for me.
“Bill, the Billy-Goat” ~ High Divide, Olympic National Park, WA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 70-200mm f/4 @ 168mm, handheld
Exposure: iso 160, f/4, 1/1000th
Notes: That was supposed to be iso 100, or 200, I never really use the 3rd stop increments but you can’t turn them off completely as far as I am aware. Had I not been battling with the exposure itself (white on black is very tough to get right), in addition to getting him when he posed for me, I’d have probably stopped down a little more for added depth.
The uncanny but frozen shape of Heart Lake frigidly welcomed us back (it really actually does look like a perfect heart from above). And as if consolation for not having to turn back early, we were treated to a number of exciting atmospheric phenomenon that evening and the following morning. The first, the most interesting yet least photogenic, was very bizarre. While it may not be completely convincing in this photograph, it appeared as though the trees were carving out pieces of the low hanging clouds, creating those streaks you see. We weren’t sure this was the case until at one point you could clearly see the shape of the hillside and the trees mirrored perfectly in the clouds. Another smaller cloud visibly left some of its vapor behind in a few trees as well.
This was the precursor to a thick mist, which settled in around sunset, creating a mysterious atmosphere above the radiating half frozen lake.
“Skating into Mystery” ~ Heart Lake, Olympic National Park, WA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 17mm, tripod, polarizer (useless, but no reason to remove it)
Exposure: iso 100, f/8, 1/6th
Processing: Some channel mixing helped me bring out the faint colors in the mist.
Notes: I used f/8 as I was actually pretty far from the nearest subject, and at 17mm the depth of field was no issue.
As a final consolation prize I was rewarded with the best morning clouds I’d seen since arriving to the Olympics. The frozen lake offered some interesting abstract shapes, allowing me to combine the abstract, in landscape, with some exciting light – my favorite style. Ice tends to form interesting shapes, somewhat similar to the sandstone formations in the Southwest, but of course blue and (usually) very ephemeral. It’s no wonder I’m drawn to the ice structures!
“Fire Over the Frozen Cauldron” ~ Heart Lake, Olympic National Park, WA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 17mm, polarizer (used carefully), tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 1/25th (sky)
Processing: I was a bit rushed on this one, and ended up bracketing to safety rather than taking the time to get out my filters. This only worked as I was able to get both the sky and it’s reflection in a single exposure (the one cited) without pushing the highlights or shadows. I used another exposure for the snow foreground and to bring some more detail into the background (hard to see on the web version).
As spectacular as the Bailey Range was, and as much as I would love to return, that was just about the first time I’ve truly been scared while backpacking. One wrong step and you’d end up in the Hoh River 4,000 feet later. Not knowing all of the various mountaineering techniques, I’m curious to know if there is indeed a safe way of ‘hiking’ this route, or perhaps a safer alternate route (being roped in and climbing the high route is one alternative). Or maybe you just have to be crazy enough to see past the danger. In any case, I hope not to find myself unprepared in such a situation again, and should probably learn some technical techniques to ensure safety. Until then, I’ll just have to remember this mid-day view that few will see, fewer will photograph, and none will see in ‘good’ light (‘good’ light being sunset, sunrise, or maybe during a wild storm). At least, until I, as an engineer, figure out how to safely sleep on a 45 degree slope (a backpackable solution of course). Needless to say, at the slightest potential of rain one must head back, as the trails would become 4,000 foot slip’n’slides through wild flowers and into the depths of the foggy rainforest. That sounds fun until you realize that it’s for real.
“Mountain Springtime” ~ Bailey Range, Olympic National Park, WA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 17mm, polarizer (used carefully), handheld
Exposure: iso 400, f/18, 1/60th
Notes: I didn’t want to stick around on the 45 degree slope too long, and there was plenty of light to hand hold the shots, so I left the tripod on my pack.
Leaving the rough mountainside and walking on even trails rather than inclined slopes was a blessing for our ankles. We hiked out of the Sol Duc, and treated ourselves to a well-deserved soak in the sulfurous mineral hot springs. That just about leaves me here in Seattle waiting for my mom to arrive to join my dad and I for some further adventures. The weather looks like it’ll be turning cloudy, and maybe even some rain in the next few days! So I plan to head into the rain forest, to finally photograph some of those hairy Treant like trees!