With the New Year starting, it’s fun to think back over the past few months and reflect on what was another great season of adventure in Central Oregon. This past summer started out a little rough (e.g., watching my camera and tripod tumble off of a 200-foot cliff), but it eventually gave way to a reasonably fruitful year. My efforts did not produce as many pure landscape images as I would have liked, but I tried to keep my options open and find a few good photos on every hike. That typically defaulted to me striking a pose in front of various Central Oregon landmarks–which is not exactly the fine art I would have liked to capture, but then again, I have a tough time passing on an opportunity to add to Pacific Crest Stock’s ever-growing Outdoor Adventure Gallery . . . so, here is a brief summary of some of my favorite hikes from 2010.
Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area: This was one of those impossibly challenging cross-country (i.e., “no trail”) treks that I planned (rather poorly) using Google Earth and a hefty dose of optimism. Although the approach looked fairly easy online, I quickly realized that I had been deceived and within a half-hour of leaving the Jeep, I was decidedly happy that I had chosen not to invite anyone else along on this little adventure. Anyone else would have surely killed me for dragging them up and down these remote valleys in what turned out to be a failed attempt to reach a never-before-visited viewpoint of Mount Jefferson. I thought for sure I was going to be killed and eaten by bears before making it out of the Wilderness on this day. About mid-way through the hike, I changed course and headed for the safety of the Jefferson Park area. This viewpoint isn’t quite what I planned, but then again, dying in the jowls of a hungry bear wasn’t necessarily part of the plan either.
Ochoco Mountains: This hike started out as a fairly nice evening stroll up along a wildflower-filled trail in the Ochoco Mountains. There’s a great viewpoint at the top of Lookout Mountain, but if you stay to take sunset pictures (like the one below), you better have a headlamp or be prepared to trail run out in the dark. Guess which one I did. Yep, I found myself sprinting back to the Jeep in total darkness. Real smart.
Smith Rock: These photos were taken on a great mountain biking trip to Smith Rock State Park near Terrebonne, Oregon. If you haven’t ridden at Smith Rock, put it on your list of 2011 Resolutions. It’s one of the most surreal places you will ever ride.
Three Sisters Wilderness: I was fortunate enough to get into the Three Sisters backcountry area on several different occasions in 2010. Each of these trips ranks among my favorites for the year.
Crooked River Canyon: Central Oregon has so many great desert scenes, it’s hard to choose where to go first. I spent quite bit of time this past Spring exploring the peaks and valleys surrounding the Deschutes River and Crooked River. Here are a few photos from some of my favorite desert hikes:
Other Miscellaneous Trips: There were lots of other great days in the past year where I was lucky enough to get outside and enjoy some fresh air. Here are a few miscellaneous photos from some of those days:
I hope that 2011 is as good to me as 2010. Cheers!
Posted by Troy McMullin
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Approximately mid-way through this hike, I began to think that it might have been optimism that killed the cat rather than just curiosity. After all, that cat must have been more than just a little curious. I suspect that he—like me—was simply a bit too optimistic that somehow the reward was going to be worth the risk.
Any time that thoughts like these begin to creep into my head, I know that I must be having fun, and indeed, I was definitely having a blast on this beautiful winter hike along the Crooked River canyon that runs through Terrebonne, Oregon. Suspecting that the desert rock formations were going to be blanketed with snow, Mike Putnam and I decided to make a quick trip to Smith Rock State Park in hopes of expanding our High Desert Gallery on our new Pacific Crest Stock website. The sun was higher than expected when we arrived, so we decided to split up in an effort to maximize the limited amount of remaining good light. Mike would work around the ledges on the top of the canyon, and I would go explore around the Crooked River and the meadows in the bottom of the canyon.
My unexpected adventure started about 50 feet from the truck when I realized that I was not going to be able to find the normally easy trail that traverses down from the top of the cliff because everything on the ground was covered with several inches of fresh powder. After spending a few futile minutes searching for the trail, it became obvious that I would need to find my own way down the 30 percent grade, all of the while trying to carefully pick my route through the hidden rock fields. It took much longer than expected to reach the river’s edge and on more than one occasion, I found myself in an awkward telemark-like position, using my poles for balance as I clumsily boot skied down the slippery slope.
After I had safely made it to level ground and was able to look around, it was absolutely beautiful. I was surrounded by towering cliffs, all of which were draped with a light snow that was trying desperately to cling to the near vertical faces. I realized right away that this was one of most spectacular days that I have ever spent at Smith Rock, and I began thinking about how pretty the snow must be upstream near the currents across from the Monument (one of my favorite rock climbing formations in the park).
I have hiked up near the Monument many times in the past, and as luck would have it, my current level of excitement seemed to have obscured my memory of just how difficult it was to access—even when there was no snow or ice. As I struggled to make my way over the huge slippery boulders lying upstream, I began having strange conversations with myself about cats and curiosity and then flashes of Mike’s recent blog entry about a wintery boulder-filled hike along the Deschutes River filled my head. Unfortunately, by the time that I remembered reading about all of the dangers that he had encountered, I was already trying to navigate my way through my own ice-covered rock garden. Each step seemed to present new challenges, and on more than one occasion I found myself knee deep in what had been a previously snow-covered crevice. With a little bit of luck (and a whole lot of optimism), I managed to avoid getting myself tangled into an eternal figure-four-leg lock and I arrived at my final destination with a huge smile on my sweat-drenched face.
The boulders along the river’s edge were stacked high with bright new snow and the rocky spires rising on the other side of the river seemed magnified against the backdrop of a brilliant clear blue sky. Standing there, I realized that all of my optimism had been fully rewarded, and the hike was already worth the risk, even if I didn’t end up with a single photograph for the website. Of course, I also knew that Mike and his unique brand of humor would embarrass me beyond belief if I was to let that happen, so I quickly scurried around the icy river bank framing various angles and water patterns, and then I started my way back–following my previous zigzag of foot prints until I had made it to the safety of the wide open meadow.
In the time that it took me to negotiate less than a mile of rough terrain, Mike had thoroughly covered the upper ridges extending along the entire border of the park. Altogether, we captured at least a dozen stock-worthy images. While driving home along Highway 97, we talked optimistically about the future of our new stock agency and we began planning our next adventure into other local snowscapes. We’ll keep you updated.
Posted By Troy McMullin
NOTE: If you are interested in seeing other images from this day, you can search our Pacific Crest Stock website for “Smith Rock” and “Snow.”