Stock landscape and outdoor adventure photos from Oregon, Washington, and the Pacific Northwest

Central Oregon Cascades Photos

Three Fingered Jack: Beware of the Greener Grass

Everyone has heard the saying about how “The grass is always greener on the other side.”  Well, this overly optimistic outlook is one of the problems that I often struggle with when I’m out scouting for pictures.  On one recent expedition, it almost cost me my life.   

 I wanted to do some scouting around Three Fingered Jack in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area, so I hiked into Canyon Creek Meadows (alone).  When I arrived in the upper meadow, it was absolutely gorgeous. 

 

Sunrise photo of Three Fingered Jack mountain with the wildflowers of Canyon Creek Meadows in full bloom.

Sunrise photo of Three Fingered Jack mountain with the wildflowers of Canyon Creek Meadows in full bloom.

 But for some reason, that wasn’t enough.  Despite standing in one of the most spectacular spots in the whole world, I couldn’t help but wonder what the views were like on the ridge to my immediate left.   I just knew that if I could find a way to get up on that ridge, I was going to find some unique and dramatic landscape shot that would be better than any that I have ever taken before.  The urge to climb that ridge was just overwhelming, and so I threw my camera gear into the backpack and started trekking toward the tree line.

As I approached the base of the ridge, the pine trees grew more and more dense until they became almost impassable.  The trees were only about 10 or 12 feet tall, but they had grown so close together that it was almost impossible for anything bigger than a rabbit to walk between them.  I began grabbing low hanging branches and with as much strength as I could muster, I started pulling myself through the wall of trees.  My backpack and tripod must have gotten hooked around a thousand different branches, and I swore that there was no way I would ever go back through this part of the forest again.  A few hundred vertical feet later, I finally popped out of the trees and found myself standing on a steep rocky slope. I attempted to traverse the slope, only to find that the boulders were incredibly unstable.  As they slipped and rolled under my feet, I started scrambling on all fours until I eventually made my way up to more solid ground.  From there, I could see a rock tunnel that spiraled up to what appeared to be an easy route to the top, so I did my best spider-man impression and wedged myself up through the winding rock tunnel.     

  

Winter photo of Three Fingered Jack. The ridge where I almost died is just out of frame to the left.

Winter photo of Three Fingered Jack. The ridge where I almost died is just out of frame to the left.

 It was at this point that I should have remembered the other saying about how “appearances can be deceiving” because once I made it through the tunnel, that apparently easy route to the top completely disappeared.  I was now standing on a ledge that was a little more than one-square foot around.  The ledge was too small to turn around on; the way down was much too steep to go back; and the only way up was via another ledge that was sticking out about 5 feet away.  In a bit of a panicked haste, I decided that my only option was to jump up and over to the other ledge.    

To lighten my load for the leap, I took off my backpack and tossed it and my hiking poles up to the ledge above me.  I then took another look at the distance, and this is when I began to have some serious doubts about whether or not I could actually make the gap, especially since the fear running through my body was causing my legs to grow weaker and weaker by the minute. On level ground, I wouldn’t have thought twice about jumping up and over to the other ledge, but with a few hundred feet of vertical relief below me, the whole idea of it was becoming rather unsettling. 

I stood there, trembling on the tiny ledge for several excruciating minutes trying to find another way out of the situation.  I looked down at the route I had taken up to this spot and started to imagine what it would feel like to have my body ricocheting down through the rocks.  I even remember staring down at the rock slide below me trying to calculate where my body might stop rolling if I couldn’t hold on to the ledge after jumping.  None of these thoughts were all that comforting, and as I started contemplating calling for an emergency rescue rather than attempting to make the jump over to the other ledge, I realized that a rescue call was no longer an option because my cell phone was already resting comfortably in my backpack on the other ledge.  That was the final straw and when I realized that I really had no choice at this point but to jump.  I focused my eyes on the exact spot where I thought I needed to land, and then I crouched down and quickly lunged across the gap reaching out as far as I possibly could.  I didn’t breathe for a few seconds until I finally realized that my fingers had firmly grasped onto the ledge above me and that my feet had found a hold on the side of the rocks.  Immensely relieved, I scrambled on to the top of the rocks, rolled over to my back, and swore that I would never again climb up something that I couldn’t safely climb back down.

The trip was rather uneventful from this point.  After a few more relatively easy scrambles, I made it to the top of the ridge.  The views from the top certainly weren’t worth dying for, but they were pretty spectacular–with the pinnacles of Three Fingered Jack towering directly overhead and wide open views of Mount Jefferson to the north, and Mount Washington and the Three Sisters Mountains to the south.  I found several interesting compositions up on the ridgeline, but unfortunately, the light was too harsh by the time I arrived to really do them justice with a camera.  Plus, to be honest, I felt like I had kind of lost my appetite for exploring any more on that particular day.  After 4 hours of hiking and climbing up to this spot, I probably spent less than 10 minutes on the top of the ridge, and then I turned around; found an easy way back down to the meadow; and hiked out to my truck—just happy to be alive.

  

Happy to be alive! Three Fingered Jack high in the Central Oregon Cascades.

Happy to be alive! Three Fingered Jack high in the Central Oregon Cascades.

 

Posted by Troy McMullin  

PS: Although I haven’t returned to the ridge since nearly being stranded on that ledge, I have a photograph in mind that I hope to capture later this Spring.  With any luck at all, it will soon be posted on our Pacific Crest Stock photography website.   We’ll keep you updated.


Mount Washington Photography: The Trail Less Traveled

I’m amazed that I don’t see more pictures from the Mount Washington Wilderness Area, which is located just outside of Sisters, Oregon.  It is one of my favorite places in Central Oregon; a virtual Mecca of possible explorations. 

 

 

 Central Oregon's Mt. Washington in fall with a fresh autumn snow fall

Central Oregon's Mt. Washington in fall with a fresh autumn snow fall

 

Perhaps one of the reasons that few photographers have experience with Mount Washington is that there are almost no trails leading into its base.  To get to the cover shots, it takes a moderately good fitness level, some very good navigation skills, and a ton of patience.  For example, two of my favorite approaches into Mount Washington require 10-mile cross-country slogs through a maze of beetle-downed lodge pole pine trees.  To say that the terrain is “littered” with downfall is a gross understatement.  There are sections where you literally hike for an hour on nothing but downed trees.  With every exhausting stride, you are either stepping up onto a fallen tree or down off of a fallen tree.  One gap in concentration, and you run the risk of twisting a knee and being stranded in the very dense (and non-cell-phone- friendly) forest.  

 

 

But still, the rewards are totally worth it. In all of my trips into the backcountry surrounding Mount Washington, I have never seen another soul.  I’ve occasionally heard the voices of climbers on the upper slopes, but I’ve never run into anyone.  I think it is one of the most isolated and beautiful settings in all of Oregon.

 

 

Mt. Washington and pasque flowers high in the Mt. washington Wilderness area

Mt. Washington and pasque flowers high in the Mt. washington Wilderness area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo ofMt. Washington, Indian Paintbrush, mountain heather in the Central Oregon cascades

photo ofMt. Washington, Indian Paintbrush, mountain heather in the Central Oregon cascades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In some ways, this area is even more inviting and easier to access in the winter or early spring because huge snow drifts cover most of the fallen trees.  Each year, I like to wait for the forest service roads to melt off a little (so I can drive in as far as possible), and then I snowshoe or ski into the Eastern or Northern faces of Mount Washington.  This time of year, snow and ice still cling to the mountain’s huge rocky face giving it an even greater sense of awe.  Standing at its base, the Teton-esque vertical rise from the valley below is nothing short of spectacular. 

 

 

Winter snow scene of Mt. Washington, in the Central Oregon Cascades

Winter snow scene of Mt. Washington, in the Central Oregon Cascades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter image of Central Oregon's Mt. Washington in winter under sunny blue skies.

Winter image of Central Oregon's Mt. Washington in winter under sunny blue skies.

 

Posted by Troy McMullin

 

 

NOTE: If you want to see additional images from the Mount Washington Wilderness Area, you can browse the pictures in the Mountain Gallery on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “Mount Washington.”


Mt. Bachelor snow photos and summer photos

 

    As part of our launch of Pacific Crest Stock, I thought that a small photo review of Central Oregon’s favorite alpine ski mountain might make an appropriate blog entry.  The images in this entry were obviously not captured on the same outing.  In fact, they required many separate outings for their capture.  All of you who are photo editors or image buyers have seen countless wintery images of Mt. Bachelor clad in snow but you may not know what goes into capturing those images.  Start with about 40 lbs of camera equipment, a 4AM wake up call, and sub zero temperatures (coffee is a vital element in this equation!).  Then proceed with 28 inches of fresh powder at Tumalo Mountain and a grueling and sweaty hour long snowshoe climb to get yourself into position.  Then you cross your fingers and hope that you can find an acceptable foreground.  After you stop climbing, your sweat quickly freezes on any exposed skin so an extra layer of clothing is a necessity.  Once you are in position for nature’s grand light show, you hope that there are no low clouds on the eastern horizon that will block the pink alpenglow from illuminating Mt. Bachelor’s eastern flanks.  You will struggle to keep your tripods legs from shifting because the powder snow is so deep that you can’t find a solid base to stabilize your camera during the long exposures required by a low light capture.  If you are lucky, you get to enjoy the warm pink glow of morning’s first light bathing you and everything around you.  If you’re really lucky, you skillfully expose the scene, you don’t get any snow on your film plates, you get to enjoy a beautiful Central Oregon Cascades sunrise and you get to share an image like the one below with your friends.

Mt. Bachelor in winter bathed by the pink alpenglow of sunrise

Mt. Bachelor in winter bathed by the pink alpenglow of sunrise

I shot this image with my trusty but heavy (explaining my 40 lb pack weight) 4×5 camera.  The finished prints of this image are so detailed that one can actually see several snow cats grooming Mt. bachelor’s ski runs.  It gives me a greater appreciation of the hard working people who do the grooming every winter morning so that we can have a better down hill experience.  Cheers to the groomers and may they always have warm fresh coffee!

     The next two images are taken from the Three Sisters Wilderness area.  Summer photos of Mt. Bachelor have their own set of challenges.  Everyone has seen summer scenes of Mt Bachelor shot from the sides of Tumalo Mountain but you rarely see any of those images with an attractive foreground.  Finding those attractive foregrounds takes lots of exploration, which I love, but frankly it is physical work as it always involves a heavy pack.  The following image was captured with my intrepid daughter, Emma.  I’d been to this same area several times in the preceding few days and realized that sunset would provide the best light quality, so I loaded up Emma, lots of bug dope, camera gear and enough snacks to keep up with Emma’s speedy metabolism.  I love the fullness of the foreground, flowing with red Indian Paintbrush.  I also enjoy the lines of the small streams threading through the scene and the one large boulder in the mid-ground.  Perhaps the most rare and un-repeatable part of this scene is the cloud caps over Mt. Bachelor.  Plain blue skies tend to be a bit boring while a pleasant cloud formation tends to add to an image and make it a bit more unique.

Central Oregon's Mt. Bachelor with a foreground of Red Indian Paintbrush as seen from the Three Sisters Wilderness Area

Central Oregon's Mt. Bachelor with a foreground of Red Indian Paintbrush as seen from the Three Sisters Wilderness Area

The next image was also taken from the mountainous area adjacent to Mt. Bachelor.  This photo required a long off-trail hike with some accurate GPS coordinates to find and capture.  The hike was a little too far and rugged for Emma, so I went solo on this particular shoot.  Once again, I was fortunate to have some interesting clouds that added interest to the scene.

 

Mt Bachelor and wildflower meadow in the Central Oregon Cascades

Mt Bachelor and wildflower meadow in the Central Oregon Cascades

 The following image was taken at Central Oregon’s beloved Sparks Lake near the Cascade Lakes Highway.  It is an exceptional location for both spectacular views and mosquitos the size of small aircraft.  If you visit in the early spring, take lots of bug dope and your camera.  This corner of the lake has lots of small islands covered in mountain heather, and at sunset, it can offer some stunning color on Mt. bachelor.  

Mt. Bachelor sunset reflection as seen from Sparks Lake near the Cascade Lakes Highway

Mt. Bachelor sunset reflection as seen from Sparks Lake near the Cascade Lakes Highway

If you have any interest in licensing these or any of our other Cascades  Mountain images, please visit the  Mountain Gallery of our new stock photography website, Pacific Crest Stock.  If you have any comments or questions about these images, you can contact us through the contact information at the top of this blog or through the comments area at the end of this blog entry.  

Posted by Mike Putnam