When Washingtonians talk about ‘The Mountain’, they’re referring to Mt. Rainier, unequivocally. This giant looms at over 14,410 feet, and can be seen from nearly everywhere in the state west of the Cascades (provided you’re high enough). And of course it needs to be a clear day. Those are rare, and seemingly more often than not, The Mountain is hidden by clouds (or haze if you’re far away). But occasionally it does show itself, and when it does, it’s truly a treat. When I first arrived at the mountain over a week ago or so, it was hidden behind what the weatherman said would be about 4 days of clouds and rain. So rather than twiddle our thumbs, my parents and I went south to Mt. Adams. While Mt. Rainier may be The Mountain, Mt. Adams is no joke, at 12,277 feet high. The trouble with photographing any of these volcanoes is that if it’s completely clear, the image is boring, since you end up with a mass of blank blue sky. But too many clouds, and you can’t see it anymore – so there’s a fine line between too much ‘weather’, and too little. Add to that that these mountains often create their own weather, and it’s a difficult proposition to get a good image. Well, awakening on our first morning near the base of Mt. Adams after a long hike up, it was clear the weatherman was a little mistaken. Mt. Rainier had a lovely nightcap on consisting of twin lenticular clouds. While the view from below was probably good, it was pretty spectacular from here too!
“The Mountain” ~ Mt. Rainier, from Mt. Adams
The Tech: Canon 5D, 70-200 f/4 @ 163mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 400, f/8, 180th
Notes: Mt. Adams is a windy place, and I needed iso 400 to prevent the wind from blurring the image.
Processing: Applied my ‘velvia color’ with the channel mixer, as is now a standard with my processing – though these are all quickly processed on my laptop, but hopefully pretty close to the final look.
The lenticular clouds soon started multiplying, eventually completely hiding Mt. Rainier, and starting to appear elsewhere in the sky as well, including over Mt. Adams. This was a windswept tundra plateau, and many of the trees were whipped into shape by the incessant unidirectional wind. Usually they grouped together in strongholds, or hide behind rocks, growing into strange shapes in the rocks’ windbreak. After exploring the tundra for our day hike we found a small off trail tarn with a perfect, picturesque view of Mt. Adams, with wildflowers to boot. Also included in the view was the decapitated Mt. St. Helens, out to the east. As the lenticular clouds multiplied, Mt. Adams was soon submerged in cloud cover… Needless to say, I didn’t get the picture I was hoping for. That night we got a nice sprinkling of windy rain, which chased us out of the park the following day. But I was rewarded with fantastic views, and company, in the next week around Mt. Rainier.
Paradise. You’re probably thinking of rolling green hills, balmy temperatures, well tended wildflower gardens, and a classic view of a glaciated and snow covered volcanic mountain, right? Or perhaps a white sand beach, turquoise waters, palm trees and a self-refilling margarita in your hands. But I’m referring to the meadows with a mountain view. At least, that’s what John Muir saw when he proclaimed this place to be Paradise, his favorite mountain meadow he’d seen in all his mountain ramblings. Now, however, Paradise has been paved over. And countless hordes of tourists from all over the world come to this wilderness Mecca. With a record 96 feet or so of snow this year, the wildflowers have had a late start too, and Paradise wasn’t yet in bloom. In fact, it was still pretty snowy!
“Snowmelt “ ~ Mt. Rainier National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 21mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 50, f/18, 0.3 sec
Notes: I used iso 50 to lengthen the shutter speed a little, otherwise I never drop below 100, as the dynamic range is reduced at iso 50. My neutral density filters were in the car.
Processing: Converted to black and white, burn/dodge.
Give it a few weeks and it’ll be ripe with flowers, hopefully before fall sets in during late August! There were some flowers out, though, and I managed to find what I consider a unique view of the reflection lakes. These poor lakes just barely missed being paved over, and I was practically sitting on the shoulder of the roadway at 5:30am to take this image.
“Painting The Mountain’s Mystery“ ~ Reflection Lakes, Mt. Rainier National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 24mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/18, 1.0 sec
Processing: Dodge/burn and some contrast enhancement on the mountain. I also did shoot at multiple focus settings, and will likely blend these before printing. I cropped to 5:7 aspect ratio to reduce the expanse of sky.
On the East side of the park is Sunrise, that is, another paved paradise called Sunrise. Of course, the sun rises in the east as well, so you can imagine the sunrise views from Sunrise are quite spectacular. Here The Mountain is completely covered in glacial ice, forming crevasses I wouldn’t be keen on climbing. But about 8,000 to 13,000 people do try every year; only half of them make it to the top, and some never make it down.
“Emmons Glacier” ~ Mt. Rainier, Mt. Rainier National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 100-400mm @ 400mm, handheld
Exposure: iso 200, f/8, 1/640th.
Processing: Converted to black and white, slight blue/yellow duotone with the curves layer.
Here I met up with Ali, my girlfriend, and her family while they were conveniently on their way to Olympic National Park. We wandered through the flower bedecked meadows for a day running into a Blue Grouse on the way, who was surprisingly cooperative given that her kids were on the other side of the path!
Sunrise, and the other meadows on the northeast side, were blooming already. This area gets less snow as it’s in the rain shadow of the giant monolith. Everyone takes their meadow-mountain pictures from Paradise and Sunrise though, and I needed something a little different. So after Ali and her family took off to find some of my nine enchanted valley bears, my parents and I hiked out to a lesser-visited meadow. I’m not really sure why they didn’t put one of the resorts here, because I thought this was a better view than either Paradise or Sunrise, but lucky for us they didn’t. I suppose we have to sacrifice some places (Paradise) to keep other pristine (or close enough). The other reason there may not be a resort here is the mosquitoes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many. 100% deet jungle juice bug spray didn’t deter them for more than 5 minutes. Despite the lovely temperatures I had to wear gloves and my windbreaker zipped all the way up, and still suffer their blood-sucking wrath. Luckily my dad had brought the mosquito net at the last minute… which my mom dutifully used to read her book while I waited for the clouds to change.
The first evening was marvelously clear, though that made it tough on the photography. Still, I managed to find a composition I’d thought of a while back – lupines and stars. For some reason I like the blue white specked lupines with the blue and white specked sky, and here those other little white fluff balls fit in perfectly! This was a toughie to expose technically, and I employed 3 separate exposures, with the one for the stars timed about 30 minutes after I’d captured the foreground and background.
“The Twilight Blues” ~ Mt. Rainier National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 35mm, tripod
Exposure: (foreground) iso 400, f/11, 140 sec
Processing: This was tricky. I used an exposure for the foreground and background, with a focus shift between the two to maximize depth of field. Then I blended till they looked good. Then I added the stars from an iso 1600 f/4 15 second image taken 30 min or so later, as a lighten layer. I took a number of other exposures of the stars, and may try some fancy astrophotography stuff when I have more time.
The following evening proved much more exciting. A cold front moved in, shoving the warm air out of the way, leaving some fantastic clouds that changed every 5 minutes. This was the best moment out of the two hours I watched the procession for.
“Volcanic Storm” ~ Mt. Rainier National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 17mm, tripod
Exposure: (foreground) iso 100, f/18, 1.0 sec
Processing: I bracketed this and blended in photoshop, as the clouds were moving so fast I didn’t want to risk losing this composition by getting out my filter. I also used a focus shift to maximize depth of field (easily done with the straight horizon line).
Unfortunately the storm was short lived, and all but entirely dissipated in just under an hour, leaving me with a single cloud in the sky for sunset. The next morning, however, I was rewarded with exactly the image I’d hoped for. A young lenticular cloud was born, right before sunrise. I in fact watched it form, completely from scratch. It started as a warped sheet of puffy cloud balls, which eventually coalesced into the smooth pancake shape of a lenticular cloud. For any fluid dynamicists that happen to be reading this.. next time you’re bored, write up a computer model to simulate this, or let me know if it’s already been done! The dynamic formation of these clouds is really quite interesting, watching the vapors forming and dissipating as the wind blows over the mountain peak. I’ve seen evidence of what looks to be the laminar flow around the lenticular cloud becoming turbulent on the downstream side of the peak, forming what looked like vortices. Eventually the lenticular cloud may split in two, then three, and so on, forming a giant stack of white puffy pancakes. Not long after, they rain watery maple syrup on the mountains head… but don’t worry, I’ve still got over a month before I have to think about physics. I was talking about that morning, and how I’d lucked out in capturing exactly what I’d hoped for, so here it is.
“Dawn on the Night Cap“ ~ Mt. Rainier National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 30mm, tripod, 2-stop hard GND filter
Exposure: (foreground) iso 200, f/18, 1.3 sec
Processing: Again, bracketed and blended, employing a focus shift as well. The filter was really just to make it look better on the camera screen more than anything else.. as I needed the focus shift for depth of field.
This meadow, as you might imagine, was home to a number of lovely birds. Mountain Bluebirds twittered in the firs, an unidentified owl circled over my head while taking “The Twilight Blues” (too dark to photograph), and I spotted a pair of Varied Thrushes in the woods (I really want a photo of these magnificent souped up robins). With all the backpacking my 500mm hasn’t gotten any exercise, and I can’t wait for a chance to use it again, but that might not be till Yellowstone on my way back home.. Anyways, the hike out led us back through some more wonderful flower fields (including monkey-flowers, which have the coolest name of all of them), and a sparkling swerving stream, which compelled me to stop. I’m lucky I got this shot, and you’re lucky to get to see it, as this was my batteries last dying gasp. Now all 6 are in the chargers, again.
“Spring Stream” ~ Mt. Rainier National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 19mm, polarizer, tripod, almost dead battery
Exposure: iso 100, f/14, 1/4th sec
Processing: dodge burn, slight crop for composition.
I apologize for this brief blogpost (at least, I wrote it rather quickly!), but I hope you found it interesting. I was hoping to share some more of the exciting history of Mt. Rainier, including one crazy pilot who landed a plane on the summit, but I’ve only managed to find a few hours to finish up this section before I head off to somewhere in the South Cascades, Glacier Peak Wilderness, and after that, who knows. All that’s for sure is that on August 24th I’ll be starting off on an 8-day trek in Glacier National Park with Ali, hoping that the Grizzly Bears are preoccupied with huckleberries, and not us. I might stop by Mt. Rainier again to find myself a remote little tarn, because as beautiful as the reflection lakes are, roadside photography isn’t my style (though you’d be hard pressed to tell that this was roadside work – but then again, 99% of published mountain images are… I’m working hard to break that, so I hope you appreciate the hard work!).