We have recently developed a great relationship with the good folks at The Nugget in Sisters, Oregon. The staff who puts together the Sisters Oregon Guide is personable, efficient and very professional. We’re excited to note that two of our images are on the cover of the the guide and that several more are inside of the new Sisters Guide. I’ve always liked the image that was selected for the cover shot which was taken fro Tumalo Reservoir and features the Three Sisters Mountain in the background and colorful sunset light. We think the image works perfectly for their needs and it showcases the beauty of the Central Oregon area very well.
On a fun side note, the little girl in the photo in the lower left hand corner of the guide is my daughter Emma who thinks this might be her big break! Thanks again to the staff at The Nugget and the Sisters Oregon Guide!
It was a simple plan, really. Backpack into the base of Three Fingered Jack for a little snow camping, and hopefully get some good sunrise photos. What could possibly go wrong? Well, a bloody tree-riddled ride down an icy slope for one. Hmmm . . . I didn’t really see that coming.
Summer had arrived early in Bend, Oregon and I had the itch to go exploring in the backcountry. From a photography perspective, it is always tempting to get into the high alpine areas in early summer while there is still a lot of snow on the mountains, so I did a little scouting along the forest service roads outside of Sisters, Oregon and determined that I could drive most of the way into Jack Lake, which is the primary access point for Canyon Creek Meadows and Three Fingered Jack Mountain. The southeast-facing road leading up to Jack Lake is usually one of the first to melt off every year, and in early summer, hikers can usually drive up to the last big north-facing curve in the road– which is only a mile or two short of the trailhead. While going early in the year adds a few extra miles to the total hiking distance, it’s not a bad trade off for the added solitude that it provides. Plus, it’s always kind of fun knowing that you are one of the first to make it into the area for the year.
I parked the Jeep at the curve where snow was still drifting across the road, creating a steep ramp that sloped off the edge of the hill. I contemplated trying to 4-wheel it through the corner, but the sloping angle of snow and ice just looked a little too intimidating and I could easily picture the back of my truck loosing grip and sliding off the edge of the cliff and down into the valley below. It didn’t seem worth the risk just to save a few extra miles of hiking so I strapped on my snowshoes and started hiking toward Jack Lake. There’s a nice view of Three Fingered Jack from the lake, after which, the trail climbs gradually through a relatively dense forest of Fir trees and into the meadows near the base of the mountain. Although the trail was completely snow-covered, I have been fortunate to make this hike many times in the past and I have several waypoints saved in my GPS, which makes it very easy to find my way into the meadows.
I arrived in the lower meadow a few hours before sunset, but while I was hiking through the forest, thick clouds had moved in from the east and completely obstructed my view of the mountain. The clouds were hanging just a few hundred feet off of the valley floor, and as I started trying to formulate a backup photography plan that accounted for the possibility of morning clouds (i.e., no sunrise picture opportunities from the meadows), I remembered that the Pacific Crest Trail runs along the top of the ridge to my immediate right and that there were some really interesting views of Jack’s pinnacles from up on that ridge. I have a waypoint saved in my GPS of a “secret” climbers trail that traverses from the far end of the upper meadow to the ridge top, but this time of year, I knew that there was no way I would be able to make it up the steep climb and I was a little worried that I might trigger an avalanche if I attempted that route. Rather than taking the route from the upper meadow, I decided to try to find an easier way to the top by approaching the ridge from the lower meadow.
Within a few minutes of leaving the lower elevation meadow, I had climbed my way into the overhanging clouds. The temperature dropped precipitously inside the cloud bank, and I soon found myself covered with a fine, frozen mist. Fortunately, the heat that I generated while struggling to climb up the steep pitch with a 40-pound backpack more than offset the drop in external temperature. I picked and chose my way to the summit, hiking in and out of woods and rock slides until I finally made it to the top of the ridge. With virtually no visibility on top, I started hiking blindly west along the ridge top, sometimes following a knife-like cliff band that dropped several hundred feet on both sides. Given the steep exposure on each side of the cliff, I was frequently forced to take off my backpack and heave it up and over various ledges rather than attempting to awkwardly navigate the rocky scramble with it on my back. I finally arrived to an area that I recognized, and just before sunset, the clouds parted around Three Fingered Jack long enough for me to capture the following image.
Soaking wet and exhausted from the climb, I searched around the edge of the ridge until I found a small, fairly level snow-free area for me to set up my tent and then I crawled in and immediately crashed for the night. It seemed like I had just fallen asleep when my watch started beeping–alarming me that it was time to peak outside to check sunrise conditions. It was a bitterly cold morning, but fortunately, the prior night’s clouds were completely cleared out and the mountain was rising above me in all of its glory. I reluctantly crawled out of my toasty warm sleeping bag and into ice cold boots to start scouting the area for the best sunrise compositions. I was barely awake, so I collected up some coffee and my backpacking stove, Java Press, and camera gear and then stumbled toward the mountain until I found an attractive composition. I had just begun trying to warm my hands around a fresh cup of coffee when the first light of the day landed on the pinnacles of Three Fingered Jack.
It was the perfect morning for taking pictures. I hiked back and forth along the ridge line shooting the mountain from every conceivable angle until I felt as if I had done all I could with my current location. Then, I went back to camp, loaded up the rest of my gear and started mentally planning my return trip. I wasn’t too excited about trying to re-negotiate my way along the knife-thin ridge that I had followed the previous night, and after seeing the hard-packed snow on the slopes closer to the mountain, I was much less concerned about triggering an avalanche there, so I decided that I would make my way down the westerly route and into Canyon Creek Meadows for a few final photographs and then back out to the Jeep.
My plan worked fine for about 5 or 10 minutes until I lost focus, and accidentally stepped onto the back of my own snowshoe while descending the steep slope. That little misstep immediately sent me hurling head first down the hill. My water bottle shot out of the side pocket on my backpack and rocketed past my head and down the slope in front of me. As I watched it ricochet off of the trees a few hundred feet below, I fought to roll myself over to my side and dug in the edges of my snowshoes to stop my sliding. Both forearms were bleeding from scraping along the ice, but otherwise, I had escaped without any serious injury. Still, I was in no hurry to repeat that episode, so I left my water bottle to fend for itself and started traversing across the slope, using short careful steps. Traversing the steep, icy slope was much easier said than done, and less than half away across the open snow field, my left snowshoe lost purchase and I again found myself sliding uncontrollably. I shifted all of my weight uphill as I started to slide and between the force of losing my balance and the added weight of my backpack, the hiking pole in my right hand dug into the snow just enough to bend it at nearly a 90 degree angle.
Within seconds, I had slid into the tree line below, bouncing feet-first off the trees like a pinball. As I bounced off of the trees, my eyes quickly took turns between focusing on the next tree in my path and shielding themselves from the tip of my newly bent, L-shaped aluminum hiking pole, which kept flirting dangerously close to my retina with each impact. I pin-balled off of four or five smaller trees until gravity eventually deposited me into a deep snowy tree well. Bloody, but relieved that I had survived without breaking my leg or piercing an eyeball, I strapped my snowshoes onto the back of my pack and eased my way down the rest of the slope . . . this time, staying in the trees and using them for balance as I worked my way down reaching from one branch to the next. I followed my GPS coordinates to the bottom of the climbers trail and then limped out to the upper meadows.
As I stared at the mountain from its base, I could see the southern ridge on the opposite side where I had almost died on a previous hike (see previous blog entry) and then I re-played the events in my mind that occurred to me that morning. I just sort of smiled and shook my head in disbelief as I thought about myself pin-balling down the slope in the distance, and then I hiked out to the Jeep singing ““Always gets a replay, never see him fall, [the pinball wizard] sure plays a mean pinball.”
Posted by Troy McMullin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Sometimes, strange things pop into my head when I think I’m about to die. On one recent close encounter, I muttered the words “Wer sprecht that,” which was a phrase I had not used in more than a decade. This poorly composed German-English hybrid-of-a-phrase was originally coined many years earlier by Eric Poynter–one of my very best friends in college.
Eric was just shy of 6’3.” He had curly red hair and freckles, and he almost always had a big giant smile draped across his face. When I first met him, he was wearing a somewhat undersized baby blue sweatshirt with bright yellow iron-on letters arching across its chest that read “Yo Mamma!” He was the unique kind of guy who could wear a shirt like that through the inner city neighborhoods where our school was located, and actually get away with it. He was also one of those crazy college kids who would chew and swallow plastic beer cups, press his tongue against frozen flag poles, or put a mound of mousse on his head and light it on fire just for laughs. Eric had a ton of hilarious one-liners and in many socially awkward moments (e.g., when certain bodily sounds escaped anonymously from a crowd), I remember him just openly and honestly asking “Wer sprecht that?” Loosely translated, it means “Who said that?”
Before attempting to explain the attack that I survived near North Sister in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area, I feel like I should warn you upfront that this frightening experience is going to be somewhat difficult for me to put into words. Not for emotional reasons, but mostly because I’m not exactly sure which letters best represent the sound of a huge mountain lion. To adequately follow this story, you will need to do your best to imagine the meanest growl you’ve ever heard in your life every time that I type the letters “GRRROOOOWWWWL.”
OK, now that we’ve established the rules for reading, I’ll get on with it. This experience started late one winter when my wife made the mistake of leaving me home alone for a week while she visited family in St Louis. After a few days of living like a drunken bachelor, I decided that I was ready for a little winter photo adventure. I have always had a hefty dose of affection (some might call it an affliction) for North Sister, and so I decided that I would try to do some exploring around the Millican Crater area. I had been off trail in this area once before, and I remembered thinking that there were some pretty wide open views of North Sister along one of the ridges to the East. I figured I could probably find my way back to that general area and get some nice stock photos of the mountain around sunset. It was still wintertime up in the higher elevations of the Cascade Mountains, so I packed up the camera and snowshoes and headed out for a solo exploration.
Not long after leaving the Jeep on snowshoes, I found the ridge line and started trekking cross-country into the forest of Ponderosa and Lodge Pole pines. I climbed along the cliff band, zigzagging over downed trees and in and out of snow for about an hour or so before I was finally forced to admit that the mountain views were not as open as I had remembered. I was very close to the mountain, but I couldn’t find a photo composition that wasn’t at least partially obstructed by tree branches. Determined to find an open spot along the ridgeline, I continued deeper into the woods until I realized that the weather was beginning to turn on me.
The light was fading quickly and the wind had started to pick up. As the wind whispered through the trees, it would occasionally release an eerie, screeching sound as the taller pine tops rubbed against one another. The screeching sounds were kind of creeping me out, and the farther I went into the forest, the more nervous I got about whether or not I was going to be able to find my way back to the Jeep in the dark because the patchy snow melt meant that I was not going to be able to simply follow my snowshoe tracks out of the woods as I had originally planned. With darkness settling into the trees and the air getting noticeably colder, I decided that it was probably safest for me to abandon my photo expedition and head back home.
Just then, as I started to reverse direction, I heard the loud “GRRROOOOWWWWL” of a mountain lion standing directly behind me. I spun around as quickly as I could, and with eyes the size of ping pong balls, I began frantically scanning the woods for the source of the sound. Finding no hairy beasts behind me, my mind jolted to a story that I had recently heard about some people who spotted a cougar perched in the trees while hiking on Pilot Butte. I jerked my neck toward the sky, focusing my gaze from branch to branch in the trees overhead but I still couldn’t make eye contact with whatever it was that had just growled at me. The fear was now pulsing through my bloodstream, and as I started mentally re-tracing my actions, I came to the realization that I had made several fatal mistakes. With my wife out of town, I had gone into the woods alone without telling anyone where I was going or when to expect me back. Even if I was to survive the imminent attack, I figured there was very little chance for rescue.
I decided there was no time to waste. I picked up my hiking poles and held them like two aluminum spears as I started making my way back to the truck. Panicked, and panting very loudly, I moved slowly through the dark woods using a sort of spinning motion every few steps to make sure that nothing could sneak up on me from behind. Unfortunately, with all of the spinning, I didn’t notice that I was approaching the edge of a nearby embankment. My snowshoe slipped off of its edge, and in a split second, I was sliding helplessly down the slope. To make matters worse, the lion let out another fierce “GRRROOOOWWWWL” at the exact moment that my weight slid out from under me. I rolled to the bottom of the hill and landed in a fetal position. Laying there, curled up in the snow, I knew that I probably looked like a small child to whatever huge creature was stalking me, and having just heard the second ““GRRROOOOWWWWL,” I fully expected to feel the weight of the cougar pouncing onto my back at any moment. I quickly rolled over, and as I fought to get back onto my feet, my snowshoe broke through the crusty snow below me releasing an eerily familiar “growling” sound. I paused for a second, and then I twisted my other snowshoe through the crust . . . again simulating a “growl.”
And that’s when it occurred to me that there never was a mountain lion. It was simply my mind playing tricks on me. The entire episode was just a by-product of my imagination, and probably at least partially related to the fact that subconsciously, I must have been a little panicked about being so far back in the woods alone after dark without any back up disaster plan. As I re-played the episode in my head, I realized that the first growl occurred as I shifted directions in the snow and the second happened as my foot slipped down the slope. Convinced that the all of the sounds had simply come from my snowshoes breaking though the crusty snow (and not from a huge hungry cat), I let out a nervous chuckle and thought to myself, “Wer sprecht that?”
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: If you want to see additional pictures of North Sister, you can browse the Mountain gallery on Pacific Crest Stock or search the site for “Three Sisters.” If you want to see pictures of the stalking mountain lion, you can visit the Atlas Snowshoe site.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of my favorite and lesser known Central Oregon destinations for hiking and Photography is the Whychus Creek canyon, which is best accessed from the Alder Springs trail head south east of the city of Sisters, Oregon. This beautiful area is monitored and maintained by one of my favorite non-profit groups, the Deschutes Land Trust. It offers classic high desert views of sagebrush seas, the Three Sisters Mountains, and the Whychus Creek Canyon. Below is an image of the Three Sisters and Broken Top as seen from near the Alder Springs Trail head.
This area is accessible for much of the year because it is lower in elevation than many of the more popular hiking areas of Central Oregon. Trail details are available from many different local hiking guides and from the Land Trust’s website. Parking is available at the trail head and the trail is easy to navigate but is not handicap accessible. Initially the trail skirts along a high desert ridge with some views of the surrounding buttes, the distant Oregon Cascades, and Whychus Creek far below. Below is an image of the Whychus Creek Canyon from the Alder Creek Trail.
I’ve been to the Alder Springs area many times but I’ve rarely seen the dark and moody skies like those in the above image which help to add interest to this photo. In addition to the brooding skies, I love the big western feel of this photograph with its raw and rugged canyon zig-zagging into the distance between high desert mesas and the sparse details of junipers and sagebrush dotting the scene. In early spring during certain years, you might be lucky enough to find a floral gem of the desert, the ephemeral Bitterroot flowers. Below is one of my favorite groupings of Bitterroot blossoms seen along the Alder Springs trail.
These delicate flowers seem to glow from within as if they have their own inner light source. They are a favorite of my farrier friend, Big Todd, because I think they appeal to his delicate and sensitive side. High along the canyon you can find all sorts of surprises. I’ve made many trips there in early spring to capture the flamboyant accents of Balsamroot in full bloom. If you want to enjoy these early season beauties, you should arrive before the deer herds as they seem to be a favorite snack for these foraging ungulates. Perhaps, more importantly, you should only venture off trail to view these flowers with the knowledge that you will have a good chance of encountering Rattlesnakes fresh from their winter slumbers! In all seriousness, I’ve noted a very strong correlation between these balsamroot being in bloom and Rattlesnakes coming out of hibernation. On the day that I shot the following photograph of Balsamroot and basalt columns, I was “rattled” twice by the local serpents. I was hiking off trail along a steep slope near a big drop down into the canyon floor. As I crossed a rocky area, I heard a faint rattling noise. A primal impulse triggered my flight or fight mechanism and I quickly chose the flight option! As panic ensued I quickly leaped out of the area. During my less than grand exit, I spotted the fluttering tail of the rattlesnake disappear into a rocky crevice directly beneath my dancing feet! Please keep in mind that I am not especially afraid of snakes, unlike my mother who seems to think they are the devil incarnate. I simply don’t like being surprised by poisonous snakes while crossing rocky and exposed slopes. After I’d cleared the area and my heart rate dropped to a reasonable level I rounded a canyon edge and saw another rocky slope I had to cross. I conjured unhealthy visions of Indiana Jones in Raiders surrounded by viscous asps in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I mentally gathered myself and selected the least exposed route across what the dark side of my imagination perceived as a giant rattlesnake breeding ground. Mid route I stepped on a loose rock which toppled into an adjacent area and sure enough, RATTTTTTLE! Panic! To make matters worse, I was unable to spot my angry foe amidst all the plate sized rocks surrounding my nervous ankles. I blindly bounded out of the area never seeing the offended serpent. Perhaps, understandably, it took me a bit longer to compose myself after my second scare of the day. Eventually I gathered myself and captured the following image of Balsamroot flowers backed by some beautiful lichen covered basalt columns high above Whychus Creek.
One of my favorite images from this area also involved an adventure into this rattlesnake infested location. The following image captures some of the most colorful rock formations I’ve ever found. The brilliant orange and yellow lichen growths are simply stunning and when combined with the vertical accents of the basalt columns they make for a very surreal scene. I’ve seen few images from this area probably because of the very real threat of rattlesnakes and because of the treacherous locations in which these beautiful rock formations seem to be found. During the process of capturing the following scene, I was precariously balanced on the very edge of a 50-foot cliff with my left foot and two legs of the tripod holding my 4×5 camera balanced on loose rocks. On multiple locations my tripod slightly slipped allowing me to experience a different form of terror than that offered by the hidden rattlesnakes! Eventually I captured the following photo and then took a longer but rattlesnake-free route out of the Whychus Creek Basin.
The stunning color combinations, the vertical accents and the warm evening light make this one of my favorite fine art images.
In regards to the Alder Springs Trail, it really is quite special. From desert mesas to cold flowing springs, beautiful sights are everywhere. The trail passes through a spring laden oasis of plant life and eventually to the confluence of Whychus Creek and the mighty Deschutes River. The take home message from this trail is that if the balsamroot have begun to bloom and you are wary of rattlesnakes, you should consider staying on the trail! If you are interested in licensing any of these images, please visit the High Desert Gallery of our stock photography site, Pacific Crest Stock.
By Mike Putnam
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.
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.
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.
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.”