After living in Central Oregon for about a decade, Mike Putnam and I have managed to compile quite a collection of photographs for our Pacific Crest Stock photography company. As 2010 starts, it’s fun to look back and think about some of our favorite photographs from the last ten years. The New Year also marks the end of our first year of being in business together. It was an exciting year to say the least, and thanks to readers like you, our blog site has steadily grown through the months to the point that we are now getting nearly 4,000 visitors per month. We are very grateful for all of the clicks you’ve given us through the year, and for all of the other support and feedback that we’ve received from our friends, families, and customers. We truly appreciate it.
Although it’s nearly impossible to pick out our true favorites, the following photos have a certain level of sentimental value as they often represented significant milestones from our early photography careers. We hope you enjoy them.
1. Summit Sunrise
2. Strawberry Mountains
3. Sparks Lake Sunset
4. Skier on Three Fingered Jack
5. Mount Jefferson Wildflowers
6. The Monument at Smith Rock
7. Aspen Leaves
8. Mount Hood from Lost Lake
9. Basalt Columns
10. Oceanside Sunset
Thanks for all of your support through the year, and we’re looking forward to another exciting year in 2010. Cheers!
Posted by Troy McMullin
The climb up to the South Face of Three Fingered Jack is one of those ruggedly difficult hikes that is better measured in hours than miles. I have attempted to summit this ridge many times over the last few winters, but Mother Nature has always intervened in one way or another to keep me from making it to the top. My first few attempts were thwarted by disastrous route choices in which my journey ended abruptly at the bottom of cliffs that could not be navigated, and my next several trips ended a few feet from the summit when clouds or storms moved in that either covered the mountain or tried to blow me off of its edge. I tried again a few weeks ago (see previous blog entry), but the conditions were too difficult on that day and it ended up taking me much longer than anticipated. After many hours of tough climbing, I was forced to turn around less than a mile from the top.
Determined to finally make it to the summit before sunset, I drove over to Santiam Pass and started hiking around noon. My ultimate goal was to be on the summit for sunset pictures, but honestly, the conditions didn’t look that great from a photography perspective, and secretly, I was really just hoping to finally make it to the top . . . even it mean that all I could do was scout around for future photo expeditions. Because I couldn’t camp on the summit overnight, I also knew that being there for sunset meant that I would need to hike out long after dark. While packing up my gear, I decided to bring skis with me figuring that skiing back down the slopes would save me precious time on my return trip. That decision was probably a good one, but the added weight from my skis and boots came with consequences. Consequences that occurred to me as I took my first step and felt my snowshoe sink through the soft, Spring snow. The whole idea of snowshoes is that they help distribute your weight over a greater surface area, which allows you to float on top of the snow rather than post-holing through it. Each snowshoe has a certain weight limit though, and once you throw a heavy pack onto your back and start hiking through warm, mid-day slush, all bets are off on whether or not the snowshoe will actually be able to hold up its end of the bargain. On this day, the snowshoes did not necessarily work as designed. They functioned fine some of the time, but I could never allow myself to get fully confident in them because every fourth or fifth step, the snow would give way and I would suddenly feel my weight dropping into a knee-deep hole.
The added difficulty from repeatedly sinking through the snow was further compounded by the fact that there is no trail leading to the summit. There are occasional views of the mountain during the approach, but for the most part, it’s just a gamble on whether or not you are actually heading in the right direction. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), I have done the hike enough times in the winter to know that the most direct route is not the correct route. Through repeated trial and error, I have learned that the best way to reach the summit is to hike several miles to the east before ever attempting to go north toward the mountain. Heading straight toward the mountain only ends in frustration at the fore-mentioned cliff band, while looping around from the east allows you to get on top of a ridgeline that winds its way to the summit. After about two hours of climbing through open glades, I finally made it to the top of this ridge where I was greeted with a partial view of Three Fingered Jack.
When looking at the picture above, it is important to remember that distances can be incredibly deceiving in the mountains. It’s kind of like being in Las Vegas and thinking that the casino “just over there” is within walking distance. Anyone who tries to walk around in Vegas soon realizes that the casinos there are so massive that the distances between them become nearly impossible to judge. Even after an hour of walking toward the casino that you thought was just a few minutes away, it seems as if you are no closer to it than when you started. That’s what it’s like in the mountains, except that the mountains are even bigger than casinos, and sadly, there are no cocktail waitresses when you finally get there.
Although it doesn’t look like it would be possible, the summit of that snow-covered ridge in front of Three Fingered Jack is almost three hours away. And those last three hours are some of the most difficult and challenging hours of hiking that you will find anywhere. One of the features that makes the hike so difficult is that the route to the top is littered with hundreds of strange and impossible-to-navigate snow formations. Winter storms fill the backcountry with winds blowing at incredible speeds, and over time, these winds sculpt the snow drifts into all sorts of bizarre shapes. There are snow fields on this ridge with huge waves of snow that look like something from a Dr Seuss movie. Each wave is like a 12-foot ocean swell that is frozen in place. And there will be one wave after another, with no way around them but to backtrack and find a new route. The photo above shows one example of what I’m talking about. It also demonstrates how the waves are topped with huge cornices of snow. These cornices are incredibly unstable and can break off and bury you without a sound if you make the foolish mistake of trying to climb up and over them rather than going around them.
In addition to all of the extra time and effort that it takes to backtrack around the snow swells, it becomes almost impossible to maintain a decent pace because the general pitch of the climb increases dramatically near the top. After seeing the cornices precariously perched on the open-side of ridge, I decided to make my approach from within the tree line shown in the left-hand side of the photo above. I chose this route because I was fairly concerned about avalanche conditions on the open, wind-packed side and because the trees gave me something to grab on to when the pitch became too steep to otherwise climb. I spent the next few hours rhythmically working my way up through the trees. Basically, I would make a series of kick steps into the vertical face of the ridge until I had a solid foot hold, then I would drop down to one knee for added stability in the snow while reaching my opposite hand up to the nearest tree branch in an attempt to pull my body up the hill as far as possible, all of the while trying to keep my skis (which were strapped to the outside of my backpack) from getting tangled in all of the other low-hanging branches. Trust me, it was about as much fun as it sounds . . . but eventually, I made it to the top.
I was immensely relieved to have finally made it to the summit. Unfortunately, high clouds had moved in from the West and partially covered the sun, and there were gale force winds howling along the top of the ridge. No matter, though. I was on top and that was all that mattered to me at the moment. Since the clouds were producing flat lighting conditions when I first arrived, I spent some time exploring along the top of the ridge in an attempt to find some interesting foreground compositions.
I eventually found a spot I liked and set up my tripod. Then, I sat down and took a well-deserved rest while listening to The Tallest Man on Earth on my iPod and hoping that the sun would eventually break through and give me some warmer light on the mountain. Unfortunately, the light never got better than “lukewarm” and after an hour or so of waiting in the wind on top of the ridge it looked like my chances for a good sunset photograph of Three Fingered Jack were diminishing.
Rather than waiting for sunset and then needing to ski out at midnight, I decided that it would probably be best for me to start my descent early. I followed my snowshoe tracks back down below the avalanche line and with the sun setting behind Maxwell Butte, I changed out of my snowshoes and into my ski boots. I had some doubts about this decision after the first few tele-turns flooded my sore leg muscles with lactic acid, but over time, I eventually grew numb to the burning pain in my legs and I started enjoying some of the best (if slightly wobbly) glade skiing that I have done in years. I survived a few close encounters with trees on my return trip, but overall, it was a very enjoyable ski and it suddenly seemed worthwhile to have packed my heavy skis and boots all of the way to the top. I arrived at the Jeep about an hour after sunset, and even though I didn’t quite get the photos that I was hoping for, I was filled with the satisfaction of knowing that I finally made it to the top. And now that I know that I can make it to the top, there’s nothing stopping me from trying it again. I’ll keep you posted.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: If you want to see more pictures from this day, you can browse our “Cascade Mountains” gallery or search the main Pacific Crest Stock photography site for “Three Fingered Jack.”
It’s amazing how much difference a few thousand feet of elevation can make. Right now, we have warm weather and dry hiking trails in Bend (3,600 feet), while the mountains (10,000 feet) a few miles away are still covered with more than 10 feet of snow. We can downhill or Nordic ski in the mornings and mountain bike or kayak in the afternoons.
Driving from Bend to the coast right now provides even more seasonal diversity. After cresting the snow-covered Santiam Pass (4,800 feet), the highway quickly starts losing elevation as it drops down to Detroit Lake (1,400 feet) and then eventually makes its way to sea level. While the higher elevation eastern side of the pass is still stuck somewhere in the late winter doldrums, the western side is in full-blown Spring and Summer. The trees along the Santiam River and all of the way to the coast are currently budding in all sorts of beautiful colors. In a way, traveling from the Cascade Mountains to the coast right now is sort of like time traveling several months ahead because these areas are in two completely different seasons.
My family and I recently had the chance to do a little time traveling during a weekend excursion to the Central Oregon Coast. Julie (my wife) had just finished working another long tax season and we all felt like we needed a little escape, so we took the kids over to the coast for a mini-vacation. It was an amazing drive, and hard to believe just how far ahead the seasons had progressed in the lower elevation towns compared to Bend. Everything looked completely different in the future (Spring/Summer).
We arrived at Pacific City about an hour before sunset, and while the kids tried roller skating on the beach (which I knew wouldn’t work, but sometimes you just got to let them try anyway), I strapped on my camera pack and climbed up onto the cliffs above Cape Kiwanda. I could tell the sunset wasn’t going to be overly dramatic, but I found a nice spot overlooking the big headwall, snapped a few photos, and then headed back toward my family to help clean sand from the kids’ roller skates.
The next day was an absolutely wonderful day. It was warm and sunny, and there was no wind blowing on the beach. In other words, it was basically like a mid-summer day by coastal standards. The kids played in the ocean for a while, and then we took a day trip down to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Rogue Brewery, both of which are located in Newport, Oregon. After leaving Newport, we went a few miles farther south to Seal Rock State Park. I’ve seen several great photos from Seal Rock, and since I knew that low tide was occurring around sunset, I figured that we might as well go explore around on the beach for awhile. We stopped and picked up some firewood and marshmallows and then set out for the beach to do a little photo scouting.
Unfortunately, the low tide wasn’t really all that low on this particular day (about 4 feet above sea level), and therefore, some of the beach’s most interesting rock formations and tide pools didn’t get exposed. I set up my camera and tripod several different times hoping for something magical, but after looking at the scenes again in my viewfinder, I just wasn’t all that moved by them so I packed up my gear and never even clicked the shutter. All-in-all, it looked like Julie and the kids were having much more fun than me, so I decided to put away the camera and go play with them until the sun got a little lower on the horizon.
After running around on the beach for a while longer, Julie and I built a campfire and sat back sipping on a couple of “Mommy and Daddy drinks” while the kids roasted marshmallows. As usual, Jacob was drawn to the campfire. I kept waiting for him to pull his shirt over his head and start screaming “Fire! Fire!” like some old Beavis and Butthead episode. The next two pictures illustrate the dramatic difference in marshmallow roasting techniques that are used by my two older kids. Notice how Ella (6 years old) stays so far back from the fire that her marshmallows stay about the same temperature that they were in the grocery store, while Jacob (4 years old) is not bashful at all about sticking his deep into the fire and watching them burn to a crisp. Julie and I eventually had to draw a circle in the sand several feet away from the fire just to keep Jacob from pulling a truly Beavis-like move.
The later it got, the less and less likely it seemed that the sunset was going to turn toward the dramatic side, so I walked down to the water’s edge and snapped the following photo, and then we headed back up the Pacific Coast Highway to Pacific City.
The next day was an equally beautiful day on the coast. We spent most of the morning sitting out on the deck, eating ice cream and enjoying the summer temperatures and then we headed back home . . . and back in time . . . to the winterscape of the Cascade Mountain Range.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: To see more of our coastal images, please click the following link: Pacific Coast Images