I started a recent blog entry with the words, “I always hike with the hopes that there will be a story to tell.” Well, here’s a story that I was never hoping I would have to tell. It’s one in which my trusty old Canon 5D camera was sent plummeting off of a 200-foot cliff to its death.
The day started off like many other photography mission days. It was a beautiful Spring morning, and my loving wife had given me clearance to spend the entire day hiking, biking, skiing or doing whatever I wanted to do. I noticed some great cloud formations stretching across the northern skyline, so I decided to take my trusty friend into the desert canyons near Crooked River Ranch to take pictures. I had scouted these areas several times earlier in the year and I was calculating that the deserts should be pretty close to reaching their peak (i.e., as green as they get and full of balsom root flowers). Based on the positioning of clouds, I figured my first stop should be Steelhead Falls on the Deschutes River. This deep desert canyon has lots of interesting hoodoo formations and traditionally good flowers about this time of year. Add in a good collection of cumulus clouds overhead, and its pretty hard to beat. Unfortunately, when I hiked into the waterfall, I found that the balsom root and Indian paintbrush were still on the early side . . . and, there was a fierce wind moving through the valley, which meant that I had virtually no chance of capturing any decent photographs of flowers anyway (because they would all be blowing around like mad).
I did the best I could with the situation at hand, and then decided to move a few miles farther downstream to the Camp Scout Trail. The Camp Scout Trail is a recently opened section of trail that descends through a steep, rugged canyon to the lushy confluence the Deschutes River and Wychus Creek. I’ve been there a few times since it has opened, and I think it’s one of the best desert hikes in Central Oregon, especially in late-April and early-May. After a level half-mile section, the trail opens up to dramatic, big-Western-style views.
As I followed the trail downstream from the fork, I was pleased to see that the balsom root flowers were much farther along in this area than at Steelhead Falls. I scouted around and took about a dozen photographs that I was very excited about, but then the wind started gusting again and it became clear that I was not going to get any more good photographs from this area. Rather than hiking the entire 3-mile loop, I decided that I would wait and bring the family back here a different day for a more extensive photographic experience.
I hurried back the Jeep, and then drove a few miles down the road to some other new trails along the Crooked River canyon. The Lone Pine Trail, Otter Bench Trail, and Opal Canyon Loop Trail are located just past Crooked River Ranch. Like Steelhead Falls and Camp Scout Trail, they offer incredibly scenic views, but parallel the Crooked River instead of the Deschutes River. My plan was to hike a short ways up Lone Pine Trail for a few quick photographs and then come back and mountain bike the 7-mile Otter Bench/Opal Canyon Loop network.
I left the Jeep and started up the Lone Pine Trail on foot, oblivious to the tragedy that was about to happen. At the first good viewpoint of the canyon, I dropped my backpack and unloaded my camera and tripod as I have done hundreds of times before. I started to compose the shot through my viewfinder, but then realized that the photograph I really wanted to get was going to require me to move a few more feet to my right . . . which, unfortunately, was going to put me dangerously close to the edge of a 200-foot cliff. I nervously inched toward the edge of the rock knowing that the cliff dropped off immediately behind me and to my right. With barely enough room to turn around on, I leaned over to check my lens and saw a bunch of debris clinging to its center. I carefully maneuvered around the tripod leg and started to reach for my backpack to get a clean lens cloth when a surge of wind came gusting up the canyon. The strong wind caught the lip of my cap and as I reached both hands to my head to keep my cap from blowing away, I saw that the wind had also caught hold of my camera. I looked back just in time to see my dear old camera and tripod go somersaulting off the cliff.
It was like one of those moments you see in the movies where everything is moving in super slow motion. Imagine a slow frame-by-frame scene with me on top of the cliff lunging for the foot of my tripod as it tumbles out of view and my mouth opening wide to scream “Nooooooooooooooooo!” That’s pretty much how it happened. After witnessing the unfathomable, I just dropped to my knees in disbelief and hung my head . . . unable to look up. After a few moments of dumbfounded silence, I rolled to my side and then crawled over to the edge to see if I could catch a glimpse of my camera’s corpse on the rocks below. I expected to see it and my tripod in a mangled heap of carnage at the bottom of the cliff, but I didn’t see it anywhere below.
Always an optimist, I decided that I would gather up the rest of my gear and then try to find a way down to the bottom of the canyon to re-collect any pieces of my camera gear that were still intact. It didn’t take long for me to locate a game trail that worked its way down a steep rocky outcropping and into the rattlesnake-infested area at the bottom of the cliffs that I had been standing on a few minutes earlier. As I approached the scene of the crime, I noticed a piece of carbon fiber legging that once belonged to my tripod. A few feet from that piece, I found the rest of my tripod. The tripod was no longer usable in any way, but all things considered, it had actually taken the fall quite well. One piece of the leg was missing and the ball head had broken off upon impact, but otherwise, it looked much better than expected.
My next task was to try to find the camera. Given that the camera is much heavier than the tripod, I figured that it had probably ricocheted farther down the slope. After a few more minutes of searching, I spotted my camera wedged underneath a twisted section of sage brush about 50-feet below the place where my tripod had come to rest. The entire right side of the camera had split open during the fall, and my $1500 lens had disengaged itself somewhere during the tumble. I knew there was no way that my lens would be salvageable, but in trying to give myself at least one small nugget of hope, I thought that maybe, perhaps, through some small miracle, that I might be able to at least re-use my polarized filter, which was attached to the lens before it fell. I searched high and low, under each and every brush pile looking for my lens, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Using my best CSI skills, I backtracked and zig-zagged the entire area between where I found the tripod and where I found the camera, trying to cover every imaginable scenario. Just as I was about to give up, I caught a glimpse of that signature “L series” red circle. At nearly the same moment that I spotted my lens, it dawned on me that the lens cap was in my pocket before my camera blew off the cliff, which of course, meant that there was no way the polarized filter was going to survive the tumble. Sure enough, the filter was scratched beyond belief.
I then thought about all of the nice photographs that I had taken earlier in the day at Steelhead Falls and Scout Camp Trail, and let out a little smile thinking that since I had found my camera, I would at least be able to get those photographs off of the memory card. But even that small feeling of relief was short-lived because as I looked closer at my camera, I realized that the memory card had also ejected itself sometime after impact. I spent another 30 minutes looking for that tiny (but precious) memory card before I finally had to admit that it had been nearly a complete loss. With one fleeting moment of indescretion, I had lost my camera, lens, filter, memory card, and tripod.
And so with that, I packed all of the different pieces into my backpack and started hiking back to the Jeep, thankful that I still had a perfectly good lens cap in my pocket. . . and that it wasn’t me that had blown off the cliff instead.
Posted by Troy McMullin
As is usually the case I made a long list of fall color images that I wanted to capture this year and time flew, weather was uncooperative and I missed many of my dream shots but did get some Oregon fall color photos worthy of sharing. The following group photos have little to with one another aside from the fact that they are all from Central Oregon’s High Desert vicinity. In general, I didn’t find this fall color season to be remarkable. The early snows dampened expectations but some late color did burst out, especially in the riparian areas of lower elevation. The first group of photos is from a location where I’ve never gotten any worthy images and frankly This fall offered the best color I’ve ever seen along the Crooked River. These images are from the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint, which is located where Highway 97 crosses the Crooked River North of Terrebonne, Oregon.
According to my keen recollection of American History(and the big sign in the parking lot) Peter Skene Ogden was working for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1825 when he led the first recorded journey into the Crooked River Basin not far from the current Crooked River Bridge. I presume that is why this viewpoint is named after Ogden rather than something catchy like “Pacific crest Stock Scenic Viewpoint”! The yellow fall colors were more vibrant than I’ve ever seen in this location and the reds weren’t bad either! The rock pattern also helps with this otherwise simple image. Facing in the opposite direction and downstream, the Crooked River Canyon carves a deep serpentine path through 300 foot tall basalt cliffs. Some great clouds, the distant Black Butte, and the previously mentoned fall color make this a worthy photograph.
Looking back upstream from the same Crooked River Bridge which is closed to cars but open to people( this made me nervous at first!) One sees the obvious yet attractive Rex T. Barber Memorial Bridge. Rex was something of a Hero during world War II. He was born in nearby Culver, Oregon and was drafted into World War II. Rex T. Barber was an ace fighter pilot who is widely credited with shooting down and killing Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto who was the planner of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thereby initiating WWII. In other words, Rex really was a hero. Rex served in the military for 20 years and after a very successful stint flying P-38 lightnings, he was eventually shot down over China. He survived the crash and five weeks later he was escorted back to allied forces by Chinese civilians. Rex returned to Central Oregon after the war where he was an insurance agent, judge, mayor of Culver and a huge civic booster. I don’t usually get moved by these Memorial plaque tales by this one really was somewhat touching to me. I also am hesistant to include man made objects in my landscape photographs, but for Rex T. Barber I’ll make an exception. Below is the handsome Rex T. Barber Memorial Bridge high above the Crooked River canyon and it’s luminous fall color.
Another High desert Photography favorite , Smith Rock State Park also had some great fall color this year. Below is an attractive sunrise casting a delicate pink glow on one of the main rock formations at Smith Rock. It may not be as stunning as Troy’s sunset image from this same location found in this blog entry Smith Rock Photos but the delicate predawn light works well with the fall color in the riparian areas at the base of Smith Rock’s massive rock formations.
Slightly to the North of this scene lies the famed Morning Glory wall and “the Dihedrals”, favorites of rock climbers around the world. I’ve been to the morning glory wall area many times but I’ve struggled with lighting there. The following image of the Morning Glory Wall and the dihedrals with fall color and cumulous clouds makes for a good stock photo.
On the same pleasantly cloudy day I shifted over a touch and took an obligatory photograph from the main viewpoint at Smith Rock State Park. Normally I avoid this spot as it is a bit cliched but I couldn’t resist because of the great clouds that were floating above the scene.
Finally We’ll leave Smith Rock behind after one more image. This rock formation is referred to as “the Monument” Stunningly vertical, is calls to some like no other rock formation in Central Oregon. I merely think of it as the scene that launched a thousand psychiatric evaluations for my Pacific Crest partner, Troy. To learn more about Troy’s struggles, visit this previous blog entry. Smith Rock Photo phychosis. It’s a good shot but mostly I included this image in this particular blog entry in an effort to torture Troy. He’ll be back at the monument later today nervously composing scenes and incoherently mumbling to himself like Milton in the classic movie, “Office Space”.
I’ve included this next and final photo of aspen trees with some great color not so much because I love the image but because I felt obligated to mention it. I’ve been there so many times that it feels like a distant cousin who I feel obligated to invite to Thanksgiving dinner because they live two blocks away. Anyway, here are my distant cousin aspen trees!
If any of our blog readers have fall color suggestions for next year please let us know. For some of our other fall color images, please visit our main Pacific Crest website by following the following link Pacific Crest Images . Thanks for visiting our photo blog!
All the Best,