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

Posts Tagged ‘pacific crest photography’

Tragic Loss for Pacific Crest Stock. An Ode to My Dear Departed Friend.

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).

 

Photo of balsom root near Steelhead Falls on the Deschutes River.  This photo was taken on an earlier trip when there was no wind.

Photo of balsom root near Steelhead Falls on the Deschutes River. This photo was taken on an earlier trip when there was no wind.

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.

 

 Mike Croxford and I hiking at Camp Scout Trail earlier in the year . . . when my camera was still alive.

Mike Croxford and I hiking at Camp Scout Trail earlier in the year . . . when my camera was still alive.

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.

 

 

  Deschutes River and cliffs from the Scout Camp Trail.  This photo was taken earlier in the year, before the big balsom root bloom and fatal camera incident.

Deschutes River and cliffs from the Scout Camp Trail. This photo was taken earlier in the year, before the big balsom root bloom and fatal camera incident.

 

 

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. 

 

Crooked River Canyon from the Lone Pine Trail.  This photo was taken earlier in the year, during happier times for my camera and I.

Crooked River Canyon from the Lone Pine Trail. This photo was taken earlier in the year, during happier times for my camera and I.

 

 

 

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.

 

The carcass of my dear old friend.

The carcass of my dear old friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Troy McMullin


The Magic of Smith Rock: A Memorable Mountain Biking and Photography Mission

As I peered out of my window at the cumulus clouds that were beginning to stack up in the skies overhead, I realized that this might be the day that I needed to finally capture one of the photographs that I had been hoping to get at Smith Rock State Park.  There had been a string of brilliant red and orange sunsets earlier in the week, and I was optimistically hoping that the pattern would repeat itself again tonight as I was perched on the cliffs along the northern ridge of the park.  I hurried to pack up my Canon EOS 5D camera, loaded my mountain bike on the top of the Jeep, and headed out for another trip to the world renowned rock climbing destination a few miles away in Terrebonne, Oregon.

As I got closer to the park, the clouds seemed to be arranged in a perfectly orchestrated position with just the right amount of spacing above the park’s rock spires.  Based on the sun’s position, I decided to ride into the park from the Canyon Trail on the south side of the Crooked River, not realizing just how steep and difficult that descent was going to be with a full-sized backpack.  As I dropped into the rocky and rutted trail, the pitch immediately forced me backward, but as I was attempting to get my weight adjusted to the rear, the bottom of my backpack got wedged against the bike saddle and me and my camera equipment were promptly ejected over the handlebars.  Fortunately, the trail was steep enough that as I went over the bars I was able to simply step forward and land on my feet in a running escape while I watched my Yeti spiral down the hill without anyone attached.

I was in no hurry to repeat that episode, so I chose to walk my bike for a while until the trail leveled out.  As I neared the bottom, I noticed that the sunlight coming in over my left shoulder was warming the cliffs on the opposite side of the river so I unloaded the tripod and wandered out through a clearing to get a better view.  Happy that the view toward the Christian Brothers formations was a relatively unique one, I set up the camera and shot a few images.  It was also at this point that I had two revelations.  First, the sun was setting quicker than expected and I needed to cover about 5 more miles in a hurry or I wasn’t going to get to where I needed to be for the photograph that I had been planning, and second, my perfectly arranged cloud formations had already begun to thin out.

 

Stock photo of the Christian Brothers rock formations in Smith Rock State Park.

Stock photo of the Christian Brothers rock formations in Smith Rock State Park.

 

After re-packing my equipment, I hustled along the rest of the Canyon Trail, crossed the footbridge to the other side of the river, and pedaled as quickly as I could toward the Mesa Verde Trail on the opposite side of the park.  As the trail steepened, I peeked at the sun behind me and realized that I was not going to make it to my planned destination in time.  Rather than leaving empty handed, I dismounted my bike and set up the tripod right there.  Although not quite the scene that I had anticipated, it was a beautiful sight looking back toward Monkey Face and Asterisk Pass with the rocks reflecting in the Crooked River below.  I took a few pictures and then sat there for awhile enjoying a peaceful (if cloudless and non-red/non-orange) sunset.

Sunset photo of Monkey Face and Asterisk Pass in Smith Rock State Park. One of several Smith Rock stock photos of that is available on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site.

Sunset photo of Monkey Face and Asterisk Pass in Smith Rock State Park. One of several Smith Rock stock photos of that is available on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site.

With the light fading and the temperature dropping, I started my return trip back along the edge of the river, frequently dodging rabbits as they darted from the bushes just inches away from of my front wheel.  Worried that one of these little games of “chicken” with the rabbits was going to launch me over the handlebars again, I slowed my cadence and began to focus more on the trail in front of me.  In fact, I became so focused on the ground that I almost forgot to look around and enjoy what was becoming an almost mystic riding experience.  Here I was . . .  all alone in Smith Rock State Park, after dark, riding next to a meandering river under towering cliffs and rock formations.  It dawned on me that this was perhaps one of the most memorable mountain bike rides I had ever taken, and then to make things even better, I glanced up and found a full moon rising above the Morning Glory wall.  I don’t know for sure whether it was the cool air coming off of the river or the scenery itself, but I suddenly felt chills go up and down my spine.  I got off my bike, and in an almost trance-like manner, I set up the camera, took a few deep breaths, and then waited for the shutter to close.

 

Stock photo of the moon rising over the Morning Glory Wall in Smith Rock State Park.

Stock photo of the moon rising over the Morning Glory Wall in Smith Rock State Park.

 

Looking back, this was definitely one of my favorite photographic experiences of all time.  It also demonstrates how you might not always capture the images that you are hoping for, but if you keep your eyes open, you can sometimes find an even better opportunity just around the corner.  Photographers often say,”The key to good landscape photography is getting there,” and in this case, I feel very grateful that I was able to be there.

Posted by Troy McMullin

NOTE: I would like to thank Matt Lathrop of FOCUS Realty for licensing one of the images from this day for his new website.  If you are interested in seeing other images from Smith Rock, you can browse our High Desert Gallery on the main Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “Smith Rock.” 


Cape Kiwanda and Pacific City, Oregon: The Perfect Beach Vacation

Without a doubt, Pacific City is one of my favorite spots on the Oregon coast.  Not only is it home to the Pelican Pub’s perfectly hoppy, awarding-winning India Pelican Ale (IPA), but it also has one of the most diverse and scenic landscapes in the state.  A strenuous climb up and around Cape Kiwanda can reveal many gems that are otherwise hidden from those who are more “reclined” than “inclined.”

If you have only one day to explore this area, I would recommend getting up early, grabbing a hot cup of Joe from one of the beachfront coffee shops and taking a sunrise stroll down to the tide pools near the big sand dune at the north end of the beach.  As the sun climbs up and over the hills surrounding the Nestucca River Valley, the light will often produce beautiful colors as it reflects off of the seaward clouds. 

 

Sunrise photo of Haystack Rock from the tide pools at Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, Oregon.

Sunrise photo of Haystack Rock from the tide pools at Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, Oregon.

 

After you’ve explored around the tide pools for awhile (and hopefully after the coffee kicks in), point your toes up the steep sandy hill and start climbing over the left-hand shoulder of the dune.  You will find a protective fence at the top of the shoulder; however, many people consider this barrier to be more of a suggestion than an actual obstruction, so if you’re in an exploring mood—and you’re not hiking with small children—you might want to take a gamble and head out to the far end of the Cape.  Just don’t get too close to the edge of the cliff because the sandstone can break away without warning, and falling a few hundred feet down onto a rocky shore probably won’t be much fun.  It’s also important to stay on the main trails leading to the overlooks so that you don’t add any further damage to the eroding trails leading down to the water. 

If you prefer to stay on the safer side of the fence, I would recommend continuing the hike by climbing up the western face of the dune where you can get a nice gull’s eye view of the waves crashing into the Cape and Haystack Rock. 

Photo of Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda from the Big Sand Dune in Pacific City, Oregon.

Photo of Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda from the Big Sand Dune in Pacific City, Oregon.

 

 

Continuing up and over the steep sand dune will provide even more breath-taking views (literally), and a peek into the canyon on the other side.  Here, the rocky cliffs jet straight skyward from the tide line.  A keen eye will also spot a natural tunnel that has been carved through the sandstone bluffs.

 

Photo of the Cliffs and Canyon on the North Face of Cape Kiwanda.

Photo of the Cliffs and Canyon on the North Face of Cape Kiwanda.

 

Now that your heart is pumping at the summit of the dune, skirt around the eastern slope and drop down to the beach on the other side (the “Secret Beach” as my kids call it). This beach tends to be much more secluded than the one on the main side of the dune, and it has another nice collection of tide pools and a big natural sandstone bridge that you can walk under during low tide.  I’ve also seen bald eagles and sea lions fishing over on this side of the Cape, which is always a fascinating experience.

If it happens to be low tide, you can easily spend an hour or so at the Secret Beach looking at all of the starfish, hermit crabs, and anemones that are hiding in the various tide pools. 

 

Dancing Starfish in the Tide Pools near the Secret Beach in Pacific City, Oregon.

Dancing Starfish in the Tide Pools near the Secret Beach in Pacific City, Oregon.

 

After an invigorating morning of exploring around Cape Kiwanda, you can sit out on the Pelican Pub’s oceanfront patio and replenish yourself with a couple of pints or a wide variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches while you watch surfers riding the waves coming in from Haystack Rock.  If time allows, you might also choose to take a short drive north along the Three Capes Scenic Loop to Cape Lookout and Cape Meares or south to the charming little beach towns of Neskowin or Newport (home to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon State Marine Center, Yaquina Head Lighthouse, and Rogue–another wonderful Oregon brewery).  Just don’t stay away too long, because Pacific City also has amazing sunsets.

 

Sunset photo from the Cliffs of Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, Oregon.

Sunset photo from the Cliffs of Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, Oregon.

 

These are just some of the reasons that I enjoy vacationing in Pacific City.  If you go for a visit, I would highly recommend staying in one of the Cape Cod-style cottages at Shorepine Village. These fully-furnished vacation homes offer a much more relaxing way to enjoy the coast than a standard hotel room, and if you’re traveling with small children, they can set you up in one of their kid-friendly units which are stocked full of toys for your little ones to enjoy.  Shorepine Village is an idyllic little beach community complete with a few families of wondering bunnies, and some nice flat bike paths that meander around the grounds and through two old-timey covered bridges.  Between the ales at the pub and the scenes along Cape Kiwanda, Pacific City is a truly unbeatable beach get away.

 

Sunset photo of Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda from the beach at Pacific City, Oregon.

Sunset photo of Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda from the beach at Pacific City, Oregon.

 

Posted by Troy McMullin

NOTE: If you want to see additional pictures from Pacific City, you can browse the Pacific Coast Gallery on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “Pacific City.”


McKenzie River Photos: The Summer’s Life

I was driving around the other day scouting for some new winter photographs and listening to my iPod when a song shuffled on by The Shaky Hands, one of my favorite local bands from Portland, Oregon.  The song is called “Summer’s Life.”  It is a happy little tune that leads off with simple strumming, some well-timed handclaps, and the following lyrics:

The summer’s life is good . . . We ran down on the path in the woods . . .

To that old swimming hole . . . where we laugh and sing . . .  and stories are told.

We lived like children do . . . . kind  . . . . and so brand new.

With my thumbs drumming along on the steering wheel, I started thinking back to last October when I hiked into Tamolitch Pool, perhaps the most scenic swimming hole in all of Oregon.  It’s also the day that I met Jim Blanchard, an older retired photographer who was genuinely living a youthful “summer’s life.” 

That day, I had checked online and saw that it was raining in the Willamette Valley.  Knowing that the fall foliage always looks best when it’s saturated with rain, I loaded up my camera gear and headed over to the McKenzie highway hoping to get some new fall-time pictures.  Mike Putnam and I usually make this trip at least once each year.  If you look at Mike’s collection on Pacific Crest Stock, you can see that he has been quite prolific at capturing Autumn’s colors—some might even say he’s a little bit obsessed with it.  In fact, Mike has so many colorful shots from previous years that I could probably just slip my name onto some of his cull shots rather than worrying about getting any photos of my own. 

 

One of Mike Putnam’s autumn photos that I plan on stealing when he’s not looking.

One of Mike Putnam’s autumn photos that I plan on stealing when he’s not looking.

 

The rain was flooding off my windshield wipers as I veered onto Highway 126.  It was raining so hard that I could barely see well enough to drive–much less effectively scout for stock photos.  I could tell that tons of color had started to emerge along the roadside, but I couldn’t really make out any of the shapes or textures through my fogged up windows, so I decided to pull off the highway and take a closer look at one of the lava flows just north of Clear Lake.  This particular lava flow has a nice smattering of vine maples and lichen-covered Fir trees, and while it normally has plenty of potential this time of year, the rain was coming down so hard that I opted to not even take my camera outside with me as I scouted around. 

 

A great autumn photo of vine maples and lichen-covered trees.  This photo is temporarily credited to Mike Putnam, but if all goes well, it will soon have my name attached to it.

A great autumn photo of vine maples and lichen-covered trees. This photo is temporarily credited to Mike Putnam, but if all goes well, it will soon have my name attached to it.

 

Cold and soaking wet, I climbed back into the Jeep, and drove another mile or so down the road until I spotted another potential shot along the bank where the McKenzie River crosses under the highway. I got back outside and braved the weather for awhile, but after scouting the scene closer, I decided that the bank’s pitch was going to be too steep and slippery to get to where I needed to be for a satisfactory shot. As I started back toward my truck, I spotted an older gray-haired gentleman hiking out from the other side of the highway.  He had a heavy backpack and a big, bright yellow umbrella and I thought to myself, “Wow, this guy is hardcore.”  We had a brief conversation outside in the rain and then I offered him a ride down the road.  Given the current downpour, he accepted my offer.

In the dry confines of the Jeep, we started talking about the weather outside and at some point, it became obvious that we both happened to be there on photography missions.  That is when Jim introduced himself, and told me that although he is partially retired, he still occasionally teaches photography through Oregon University’s Outdoor Pursuits Program.  In addition to decades of experience working as an outdoor photographer, Jim tells me that he also teaches a variety of backcountry survival and mountain rescue classes, and in the summertime, he leads tours though the Alps.  I remember thinking, “Holy Cow! I want THIS guy’s job.”

Given all of his years of experience in photography Jim asked me my name (as if he was going to recognize it).  I kind of laughed and explained that I was actually just an amateur hack of a photographer, but that I did occasionally hang out with some non-posers like Bruce Jackson and Mike Putnam.  He knew Mike’s work and explained that Mike’s fine art website is one of the sites that he references in his Outdoor Photography class.  I then mentioned the fact that Mike and I were hoping to start Pacific Crest Stock, and I explained our general mission of trying to offer only the highest quality images—rather than uploading thousands of mediocre shots like most stock agencies.  He offered me some good advice about the stock business and gave me a few helpful hints about how to effectively photograph in adverse weather conditions (e.g., to keep one of those little hand warmer packs in your bag next to your camera so that your lens doesn’t fog up every time you remove the cap).

It was a fascinating conversation, and before I knew it, I had driven many miles farther than anticipated.  I think Jim started to feel a little bit bad about me abandoning my goal of shooting that day, and with the rain letting up a bit, he politely offered to hike the rest of the way downstream.  We shook hands and wished each other luck.  Then, I turned around and backtracked up the road to a place where the McKenzie River Trail bisects one of the forest service roads.  I knew that Tamolitch Pool was a just a few miles upstream from this spot so I finally got out of the truck and started hiking.

Tamolitch Pool, which is also known as the “Blue Pool,” is one of the most unique places in all of Oregon.  After cascading over several famous waterfalls (Koosah Falls, Sahalie Falls), the McKenzie River actually disappears and runs underground for awhile before finally re-surfacing at this spot.  I suspected there would be good color around the shores of the pool, and with it overcast and raining hard all day, I knew that the blue water and fall colors would be completely saturated.  However, as optimistic as I was about the picture, I was also quite worried that the rain was going to be hammering down into the pool, keeping me from getting a decent reflection of the trees that surround the pool.  Without the reflection, I knew the picture would be incomplete.  But still, I started hiking through the drizzle hoping for the best. 

Within a few minutes of leaving the Jeep, the drizzle turned to downpour, and my hopes for Tamolitch Pool began to fade.  There were many other pretty spots along the trail, but with the heavy rain, I was reluctant to even pull my camera out of the backpack.  I continued along the waterlogged trail, trudging through ankle-deep puddles and over slippery roots and rocks until I finally made it to the pool.  I was sitting on the cliffs above the pool, catching water on my tongue as it dropped off the brim of my cap and wondering how much longer it was going to rain when the magical moment finally arrived.  The rain stopped and the trees’ reflection began to take shape in the pool. 

 

Tamolitch Pool (aka: The Blue Pool) on the McKenzie River

Tamolitch Pool (aka: The Blue Pool) on the McKenzie River

 

Altogether, I had less than 5 minutes of dry time, and then, the rain started again just as quickly as it had stopped.   But that was enough of a break.  I captured the image above and grinned all of the way back to my vehicle. 

I was still feeling fortunate about my timing at Tamolitch Pool when a few miles down the highway, I looked over at the trail and noticed that big, bright yellow umbrella again.  I swung the Jeep around and saved Jim from another cold, soaking rain.  We talked about the photos we had taken in the last few hours and then I dropped him off at the McKenzie Ranger Station.  I drove away inspired, thinking about what a lucky life Jim was living.  He was in the golden years of retirement, and even on this rainy October day, he was out taking pictures and living the “summer’s life.” I can only hope that I am lucky enough to have someone rescuing me from rain on this same hike another 30 years from now.

Posted by Troy McMullin

NOTE: If you want to see additional images from the McKenzie River area, you can browse the pictures in the Trees gallery on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “fall foliage.”


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.


Welcome to the Pacific Crest Stock Photography Blog

 

After countless days of hiking together and talking about starting a new stock photography agency, Mike Putnam and Troy McMullin have finally started to make some serious progress.  The Pacific Crest Stock website is nearing completion, and with this entry, our photography blog has become a reality.  We hope that you will sign up for the RSS feed or check back regularly as we will use this blog to share new stock images and a variety of interesting stories from our adventures as landscape photographers.  From stories about being stranded high on the cliffs of Three Fingered Jack to near-death mountain lion attacks, this blog will hopefully be an entertaining way to stay abreast of what’s new and exciting in the lives of a few hard-working photographers trying to start a new business.  

For a sneak peek at the Pacific Crest Stock website, follow one of the gallery links on the right-hand side of the blog page.

Thanks for visiting, and please stay tuned!

Cheers,

Mike and Troy

 

Troy and Mike toasting to Pacific Crest Stock

Troy and Mike toasting to Pacific Crest Stock