Friday, August 31, 2012

Recent Photography Trip to Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier above Edith Creek before sunrise.
Many influences come into play when photographing outdoors.  Many of them, such as choosing location, camera settings, lens and filter selection, and composition, we control.  But there are natural elements that we do not.  Oh, we plan ahead and do our research so as to put ourselves in the best possible position to be successful, but we don't control it.  For me, this is one of the most exciting elements of photography

Recently I met up with my good friend Kevin Ebi at Mount Rainier National Park.  I had spent the previous morning there and had scouted out the flowers around Edith Creek - our meeting point.

Arriving in time for sunrise requires a very early start and involves driving in the dark to your destination.  You can't wake up to a bluebird sky and say to yourself, "Yes, I think it will be a good day to go photograph."

I knew the forecast called for a change in weather towards afternoon on this day, but noticed as I neared the Nisqually Entrance that the stars were blurred.  This told me there was moisture in the air.  I knew this could mean low elevation fog, which got me even more excited!

As I drove up the Paradise Road, I noticed a definite cloud bank to the west and no stars.  As I neared the Paradise parking lot, it became clear that a system was moving in quicker than I had expected.  Yet, to the east it remained mostly clear, but with some interesting whispy clouds.  Of course, east is what is important for sunrise photography!

A lenticular cloud over Mount Rainier at sunrise.
Kevin informed me that the forecast had changed somewhat, and they were calling for completely cloudy skies by 7:00 am.  All we could do was cross our fingers.  This could still work.

We set our cameras up in the dark and aimed them at the mountain.  We watched the sky in between shutter clicks (yes, we start taking pictures well before first light on the mountain).  We watched the cloud bank to the west growing stronger and more clouds appearing to the east, though still generally scattered.  This morning had the opportunity to prove dramatic and exciting, or it could skunk us all together.  We remained optimistic.

Clouds began to form directly over the summit of Rainier and grew in size as they moved west to east.  Soon they turned a brilliant pink and it was game on!  As we watched the intensity grow above the mountain, we noticed signs of a lenticular cloud forming above the mountain.  It grew to prominent status rather quickly, just in time for the first rays of the sun.  We had found paradise! (pun intentional).

As climbers and many others know, lenticular clouds are strong indicators of a couple of things:  They are a sign of heavy winds on the summit (often exceeding 100 mph), and a sign of a pending weather system arriving in the next 24 hours.  This meant there were plenty of unknowns ahead of us as the mystery unfolded on this morning.

Lenticular cloud over Mount Rainier at sunrise.
The lenticular cloud became more and more defined, and the unique light seemed to last an exaggerated length of time - minutes, not seconds.

Alas, all good things must come to and end and this experience was no different.  As the sun rose higher in the sky the light became much less dramatic, then disappeared entirely as clouds began to consume the skies above and the wind picked up.

As Kevin and I began packing our gear up, we could only smile, knowing we had been a part of something special.  Neither one of us had actually photographed a lenticular over the mountain before, and neither one of us could have predicted it would happen on this morning.  But we were ready for it and embraced it when it happened.

From Paradise, I drove around the mountain to the Chinook Pass area to hike the Naches Peak Loop.  I had heard rave reports of the flower show and wanted to scout the area out for a possible return the following day.  Despite not planning to do any photography, I carried my camera gear anyway.  I was glad I did.

Flowers of lupine and assorted flower along the Naches Peak Loop.
The flower show was incredible from the moment I hit the trail and grew stronger the further I hiked.  Upon crossing the shoulder of Naches Peak beyond the PCT and Dewey Lake junction, I was greeted by the spectacular meadows above the tarn and some interesting light on both the meadows and the mountain.  I wouldn't ordinarily shoot so late in the day (10:00ish), but the diffused light struck me.  The soft transition of Rainier into clouds also piqued my interest.  It was a unique blend.

Shortly after working this composition, the sun became much stronger and subtleties of the setting that struck me were gone.  But I was glad to not have left my camera behind in the name of a scouting trip!

These images and more can be seen in my Mount Rainier Gallery.  As always, thanks for visiting!

Monday, August 27, 2012

...Yet Another Flower Update For MRNP!

Mount Rainier above lupine on Mazama Ridge.
A couple days ago I shot up to Mazama Ridge for sunrise.  The flowers are okay, but not what they were a week ago.  Venturing higher proved what I suspected - most flowers are now gone.

Pardise is supreme right now, especially around Edith Creek.  Not much variety though.  Expect to see mostly lupine.

Spray Park, Berkeley Park and Summerland are rocking right now.  But the best flower display I have seen this year is actually partially outside the park along the Naches Loop Trail - wow!  Such variety!  A very intense showing all along the trail.

Did anybody else photograph the lenticular on Mount Rainier at sunrise Sunday morning?  Awesome!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rainier 2012 Flower Update

Mount Rainier above lupine in Spray Park.
I thought a quick update was in order for the flower conditions at Mount Rainier National Park, since a lot can change in a week or two!

Spray Park, Skyscraper Pass, Berkeley Park, Summerland and the Naches Loop Trail are getting rave reviews right now.  Glacier Basin is also quite nice.  Grand Park is well past prime, as is Sunrise.

I have not visited nor seen reports from the south side of the mountain in the last few days, but I would expect Paradise and Mazama Ridge to be coming into their own.  I would also expect Van Trump Park and Indian Henry's Hunting Ground to be looking nice, as they typically coincide with Mazama Ridge for flower displays.  I hope to learn more in the next few days.

See you on the trail!

Edit:  I have heard from mutliple sources that Paradise is absolutely popping right now!  Maybe the best show in the past 10 years.  I'll be checking this out the next couple of days!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Flowers at Mount Rainier 2012!

Mount Rainer above flowers on Mazama Ridge before sunrise.
For the second year in a row we can throw all flower rules in relation to the calendar out the window!   Here it is August 13th, the period that flowers would be at peak or even slightly winding down on a normal year, and they have only just begun.

I've spent the last week extensively traveling through the park and thought I would post my findings.

One of the earliest flower shows in the park takes place in Yakima Meadows at Sunrise.  Still true to form this year, the flowers there have reached peak and are on their way out.  However, hiking destinations from there still have a lot to offer.  Summerland is a sure bet with flowers just below looking prime.  They will surely be in their prime at the campground in the next week or two.
Mount Rainier above meadows on along The
Lakes Trail.
Upper Berkeley Park is currently sporting a nice display of flowers, as is Grand Park.  Skyscraper Pass will be a sure bet in the next week or so.

Spray Park is almost melted out and the incredible display of avalanche lilies it was showcasing are on their way out.  This should pave the way for the lupine, paintbrush and asters in the coming week.  Some can be seen now.

Indian Henry's was is still under patchy snow.  Flowers here will be at least  a couple of weeks away.

What does that leave for the wildflower officianados?  Why, Paradise and Mazama Ridge of course!  Lupine is in grand display right now near the Paradise parking lot, but not much higher.  The short stroll to Edith Creek will leave you disapointed.  Give this area at least another week or so.

Mazama Ridge is also well behind schedule.  The Lakes Trail near the Skyline Trail junction is still 20-25% snow covered.  Avalanche lilies are numerous, though they are on their way out.  There are a few patches of meadow sporting lupine, lousewort, paintbrush, aster and more, but they are few.  One would expect blankets of these flowers in a normal year.  But this year " Abby somebody.  Abby Normal  I believe."  (for you Mel Brooks fans out there).

Mount Rainire reflected in a melt pool on
Mazama Ridge.
Venturing higher up the Skyline Trail and on to the Paradise Glacier Trail, one runs into some supreme meadows.  These flowers are at their prime right now and demand your attention.  Wow!

Of course, there are other compositions you can take advantage of right now too as a photographer.  Melt ponds are numerous and offer a unique chance to capture a reflection of the mountain that will be short-lived.

Mount Rainier always has something to offer visitors and photographers, and now is no exception.  Go!

Interestingly, bugs have not been a problem during my visits to these many meadows (though they were ferocious in the forest along Frying Pan Creek).  Spray Park would be the exception (shocking, huh?).

The last thing worth mentioning is the haze in the air from the Siberian fires.  It was extensive last weekend on the Paradise side.  I received reports of even worse conditions on the NW side; primarily Spray Park, where Rainier was hard to distinguish at times.

I hope the sharing of my observations, and the reports of friends and colleagues helps.  As always, feel free to drop me a line with any questions you may have.  I am always happy to respond.

See you on the trails!