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

Posts Tagged ‘three fingered jack’

Photos of Oregon’s Salt Creek Falls and The Boys’ Big Birthday Bash

I will be celebrating the 24-month anniversary of my 39th birthday in the coming days. Reflecting on this past year reminded me of last year’s big birthday bash when our families and friends threw a surprise party for Mike Putnam (who also turned 40) and me. Looking back now, there were numerous hints that should have clued me in to the fact that everyone around me was planning a party, but like a pawn in a game, I just went blindly through the day enjoying what I thought was a routine day in the life of a lucky man.

For example, I remember waking up that morning and having Julie (my wife) encourage me to go take some photographs. Now bless her heart, my wife has always been very supportive of my photography hobby/habit, but on this particular day, she actually seemed to be pushing me out of the door. That should have been my first clue that something strange was happening, but to be honest, it never even dawned on me. Instead, I hurriedly packed up my camera gear and headed out of the house before she could change her mind. I didn’t even know where I was going when I left the house. I just knew that Julie was giving me a hall pass, and that I wasn’t about to pass that up. Within a few minutes of pulling out of the driveway, I decided that I would drive south to see if there was any fall color around Salt Creek Falls, which at almost 300-feet tall, is the second tallest waterfall in Oregon.

Vine maples at Oregon’s Salt Creek Falls.  Photo available at Pacific Crest Stock Photography.

Vine maples at Oregon’s Salt Creek Falls. Photo available at Pacific Crest Stock Photography.

When I first arrived at Salt Creek Falls, the sun was shining through the trees and directly into my eyes. Shooting waterfalls on sunny days is not exactly ideal photography conditions, and having the sun pointed directly into the lens of the camera is about as bad as it gets, so rather than setting up the camera, I decided to scout around the area for awhile in hopes that some clouds would eventually roll in. I fought my way through a thicket of dense trees and found a good location along the slope at the bottom of Salt Creek Falls, but every time that the sun would move behind a cloud, a small breeze would blow up from the base of the waterfall and shake all of the leaves in my foreground (which makes them appear blurry in timed-release waterfall photographs). I played this little game with the sun and wind for more than hour before finally deciding that this just wasn’t my day, and that it would probably be better for me to start heading back home so that I could help my wife with our kids. I hiked out of the woods and started driving over Willamette Pass when I realized that I had lost my sunglasses somewhere along the way. Then, as I was mentally re-tracing my steps, I remembered that I had actually lost my sunglasses the week before at the coast, which meant that today, I had actually managed to lose my WIFE’S sunglasses!

I called Julie and explained that I was going to be running later than expected because I needed to backtrack to find her sunglasses. Julie seemed almost relieved to hear the news, and she encouraged me to take as much time as I needed. That should have been my second clue that something strange was happening, but I didn’t get it because at the time, I was just feeling kind of bad for losing her sunglasses, and my mind was frantically trying to piece together all of the places that I had gone that day. I turned the Jeep around and started driving back toward the trailhead. I wasn’t exactly sure where Julie’s sunglasses might be, but I figured they were probably laying somewhere on that steep slippery slope near the base of the waterfall. I fought my way through the trees again, and as I popped out onto the slope, I noticed that the lighting conditions had improved considerably since I was there earlier in the day. A thick fog bank had moved into the valley, which created nice soft light on the foreground and waterfall. I quickly set up my tripod and composed a few shots. Then I looked down at my feet, and saw that I was standing about 4 feet away from a nice shiny black pair of Oakley’s. Sweet! I re-packed the camera and stuffed the sunglasses inside my backpack and then hiked back up to the parking lot at the top of Salt Creek Falls.

Autumn fog at Oregon’s Salt Creek Falls.  Photo available at Pacific Crest Stock Photography.

Autumn fog at Oregon’s Salt Creek Falls. Photo available at Pacific Crest Stock Photography.

When I got home, Julie told me that Jake Bell (one my best friends) had called to see if I wanted to go have a few beers at Deschutes Brewery and then go back to his house to watch a football game. Apparently, two other good friends (Mike Putnam, My partner in Pacific Crest Stock and Max Reitz) had already agreed to go and Julie had told them that it was OK for me to go along too. I told Julie that it was nice for her to let me go, but that I didn’t really feel the need to go, especially since she already let me have the whole day off for picture-taking. I told her that I would be more than happy to watch the kids for awhile if she wanted to take a break, but she insisted that it was alright with her—and since I’ve never been one to turn down a little beer and football, off I went . . . completely clueless again.

Autumn color covers the flanks of Central Oregon’s Three Fingered Jack mountain.

Autumn color covers the flanks of Central Oregon’s Three Fingered Jack mountain.

At the pub that night, I learned that Max (who lives in Hood River) and Mike had spent all day hiking around Three Fingered Jack. We had a couple of beers and shared some photography stories, and all the while, Jake kept looking at his watch. Jake seemed nervous as a cat, and he kept prodding us along so that we could get up to his house before the game started. At one point, Mike left the table and Max asked Jake what time we all needed to be up at his house. I had just lifted my pint glass to take another drink, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see Jake immediately making some sort of awkward hand gestures to Max. Again, that probably should have been a clue . . . . but it wasn’t, at least at the time.

When Mike got back, Jake and Max immediately herded us out of the door and up to Jake’s house. Jake pulled into his driveway, and then he got out of the truck and started acting like he was getting something out of the back, knowing full well that Mike and I wouldn’t wait or offer to help him, but that instead we would head directly for his front door (and his fridge) and make ourselves at home. When Mike and I opened Jake’s door, we were immediately greeted with a big “Surprise!” . . . and then whole day began to a make a little more sense.

Debbie, Mike, Troy, and Julie posing in front of the "Beer Cake" at their 40th Birthday Bash.

Pacific Crest Stock Family: Debbie, Mike, Troy, and Julie posing in front of the "Beer Cake" at their 40th Birthday Bash.

Posted by Troy McMullin


New Outdoor Adventure Gallery at Pacific Crest Stock Photography

This is an announcement that we’ve have been waiting to make for quite some time.  Pacific Crest Stock has recently created a new Outdoor Adventure gallery that includes images of people interacting with the natural environment.  At this point, we’re limiting our collection to photos of people participating in human-powered sports, such as hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, and fly fishing.  We’re working hard to expand our collection, and anticipate that we will be adding to the list of outdoor adventure sports in the near future.  Just to give you a hint of what you’ll find in the new gallery, we have posted some of our favorite new Oregon stock photos below.

Sample Backcountry Skiing Images from Pacific Crest Stock photography:

Hiking up the south face of Three Fingered Jack Mountain near Sisters, Oregon.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Hiking up the south face of Three Fingered Jack Mountain near Sisters, Oregon. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Backcountry skiing near the Central Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Backcountry skiing near the Central Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Sample Mountain Biking Images from Pacific Crest Stock photography:

Mountain biking near Central Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Mountain biking near Central Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Biking at Lookout Mountain in the Ochoco Mountains near Prineville, Oregon.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Biking at Lookout Mountain in the Ochoco Mountains near Prineville, Oregon. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Mountain biking above Tumalo Falls near Bend, Oregon.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Mountain biking above Tumalo Falls near Bend, Oregon. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Mountain biking in the Ochoco Mountains near Prineville, Oregon.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Mountain biking in the Ochoco Mountains near Prineville, Oregon. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Sample Backpacking Images from Pacific Crest Stock photography:

Backpacking in the Mount Hood Wilderness Area near Government Camp, Oregon.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Backpacking in the Mount Hood Wilderness Area near Government Camp, Oregon. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Backpacking near Mirror Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area near Joseph, Oregon.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Backpacking near Mirror Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area near Joseph, Oregon. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.


Backpacking near Camp Lake and South Sister in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Backpacking near Camp Lake and South Sister in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Sample Fly Fishing Images from Pacific Crest Stock photography:

 Fly fishing at Paulina Lake in Central Oregon’s Newberry National Volcanic Monument.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Fly fishing at Paulina Lake in Central Oregon’s Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Fly fishing at Aneroid Lake in Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Fly fishing at Aneroid Lake in Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Sample Hiking Images from Pacific Crest Stock photography:

Hiking near the Crooked River at Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, Oregon.  Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Hiking near the Crooked River at Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, Oregon. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

 Hiking in Central Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area near Bend, Oregon. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

Hiking in Central Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area near Bend, Oregon. Image available at Pacific Crest Stock photography.

We’re very excited about our new collection of stock photos, and we hope that you will be too.  If you like what you see,  please bookmark the new Outdoor Adventure gallery and check back often as it will be updated frequently.  For licensing information, call us at 541-610-4815.


Oregon Stock Photos from the South Face of Three Fingered Jack

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. 

 

 

View of Mount Washington and the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, looking south from the ridge below Three Fingered Jack.

View of Mount Washington and the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, looking south from the ridge below Three Fingered Jack.

 

 

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.

 

 

View of Three Fingered Jack’s Pinnacles and the dreaded ridge line running up to it.

View of Three Fingered Jack’s Pinnacles and the dreaded ridge line running up to it.

 

 

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.

 

 

 Winter Photo of the West Face of Oregon’s Three Fingered Jack Mountain Covered in Ice and Snow.

Winter Photo of the West Face of Oregon’s Three Fingered Jack Mountain Covered in Ice and Snow.

 

 

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. 

 

 

 Photo of the author, Troy McMullin, scouting for photographs below the pinnacles of Three Fingered Jack.

Photo of the author, Troy McMullin, scouting for photographs below the pinnacles of Three Fingered Jack.

 

 

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. 

 

 

Winter photo from high up on the shoulder of Oregon’s Three Fingered Jack Mountain.

Winter photo from high up on the shoulder of Oregon’s Three Fingered Jack Mountain.

 

 

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.”


The Pinball Wizard Hits the Slopes of Three Fingered Jack . . . Literally

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.

Late Summer Photo of Three Fingered Jack and Indian Paintbrush Blooming in Canyon Creek Meadows.

Late Summer Photo of Three Fingered Jack and Indian Paintbrush Blooming in Canyon Creek Meadows.

 

 

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.

Winter sunset photo of Three Fingered Jack draped in clouds and fog.

Winter sunset photo of Three Fingered Jack draped in clouds and fog.

 

 

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.

Alpenglow on the pinnacles of Three Fingered Jack from the ridge above Canyon Creek Meadows.

Alpenglow on the pinnacles of Three Fingered Jack from the ridge above Canyon Creek Meadows.

 

 

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


Off-Season Photo Expeditions: The Red Shirt Days of Winter

This winter in Central Oregon has been fairly unpredictable and uneventful for me in terms of photography.  I’ve gone out with good intentions on several days, but I just haven’t been able to capture many landscape photographs worthy of including on our Pacific Crest Stock photography pages.  After a couple of failed attempts early in the season, I decided to try out some advice that I received from Dan Bryant, a good friend of mine who works in the advertising world.  Dan and I have been best friends since we were kids.  Today, he owns make-studio in Portland, Maine.  Make-studio has worked with some of the country’s best photographers and they have done advertising and branding for many high-profile companies like Simms Fly-Fishing, Orvis, Nike, Nikon, Nordstrom, BMW, MTV, Timberland, Telluride Tourism, and the American Skiing Company.  Given that Dan has had a very successful career as an art director, I figure that I should probably listen carefully to any and all advice that he offers.  In one of our conversations this year, he mentioned that I should start trying to incorporate the human element into some of my stock photographs.

This concept of putting people into my shots is not something that comes easily for me.  I’ve always been a nature and landscape photographer, and in fact, I have often gone to great extremes to make sure that I haven’t accidentally framed any people into my photographs.  But then again, I haven’t had any other luck this winter, so I figured that I might as well give it a try.  Since I’m not really sure what I’m doing at this point, I’ve basically just started dressing myself in a red or orange shirt for every photo expedition, just in case the conditions or locations don’t lend themselves to nature photography.  I realize that the whole red shirt concept is a little trite (kind of like the requirement that all canoes used in advertising need to be red), and even though I’m certainly not ready to be America’s Next Top Model yet, I am starting to have some fun experimenting with this idea. 

On my first “red shirt day,” I drove over to Santiam Pass in hopes of hiking into the slopes of Three Fingered Jack, but when I got there, the clouds were not cooperating.  A large collection of fluffy clouds seemed stuck on the mountain’s pinnacles, so rather than spending six hours hiking through knee-deep snow just to get blanked by low-hanging clouds, I decided that I would take a shorter ski into the backcountry areas near Mount Washington.  Once again, the clouds moved in and obstructed my views of Mount Washington, but since I was prepared with my nice shiny red shirt, I decided to set up my tripod in the snow and start experimenting with ways to incorporate myself into the shot.  My favorite advertising photos are the ones where there is a hint of someone being there or doing something, but where the picture itself is not necessarily focused on the person.  That was the main idea that I played around with while I was skiing, and although I didn’t get anything too magical, the chance to experiment with different positions at least opened up some photo opportunities that would not have otherwise been there on this particular day.

 

Backcountry skiing near Oregon’s Mount Washington Wilderness Area.

Backcountry skiing near Oregon’s Mount Washington Wilderness Area.

 

After skiing back to the Jeep that day, I decided to take advantage of the clouds—and our unique Central Oregon geography—by leaving the mountains and driving into some nearby desert rock formations for a few more shots.  I found a nice collection of rocks above the Crooked River that provided open views back toward some of Smith Rock’s most dramatic cliffs.  I balanced my tripod on one of the larger rocks, set the 10-second timer, and then scrambled out onto one of the other rocks overhanging the river.  It took me about 11 seconds to get there on my first few attempts, but with some perseverance, I eventually got fast enough to get fully into frame.  I didn’t really capture anything all that original in the desert either, but still, I wasn’t too disappointed since it was just my first day playing with this idea.

 

Hiking among the boulders at Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, Oregon.

Hiking among the boulders at Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, Oregon.

 

One of the nice things that I’m beginning to appreciate about this experiment is that it allows me to get out and photograph on days that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise tried.  For example, I had some free time on one cold and rainy weekend in February, and even though there wasn’t really much of a draw to do anything outside, I decided to drive into Lake Billy Chinook and explore around some of the cliffs overlooking the lake.   I knew that it was much too early in the season for pure landscape photography, but I loaded up my camera equipment anyway and went out with the idea of experimenting with the human element concept a little more.  While I was there, I found several nice scenes that I would like to shoot later this year when the balsamroot flowers are blooming, and before I left, I took a few photographs of myself perched on the edge of one of the steep drop-offs.  The composition isn’t quite as interesting as I would have liked, but then again, I didn’t trip and launch myself off of the cliff during any of my hurried attempts to get into the photograph, so I figured that was enough of a success.

 

 The cliffs above Lake Billy Chinook in Central Oregon.

The cliffs above Lake Billy Chinook in Central Oregon.

 

One of the other good things about trying to include people in my images is that it opens up some locations that I would not have otherwise gone to because the scene itself would have felt too empty without someone in the picture.  For example, there are several areas along the Middle Deschutes where I’ve always enjoyed hiking, but the scenes are not quite “full” enough for a good landscape photograph.  They’re absolutely beautiful when you’re there, but they just don’t photograph that well unless you add something else interesting to the scene.  The next two photographs were taken in one of those areas on the Deschutes River.  I wish that I would have brought my fly rod with me (which I will do when I go back to re-shoot these later in the year), but I think these initial attempts are at least a good start, and they help demonstrate the value of adding the human element to an otherwise average-looking scene.

 

Overlooking one of the waterfalls on the Middle Deschutes River.

Overlooking one of the waterfalls on the Middle Deschutes River.

 

 

Hiking along the Deschutes River canyon in Central Oregon.

Hiking along the Deschutes River canyon in Central Oregon.

 

Sadly, this is just a small sampling of my winter failings.  There were many more days this winter where my red shirt ended up being the only interesting thing in the scene.  It happened again last weekend, when I tried once more to climb up onto the shoulder of Three Fingered Jack.  After 4 hours of climbing up through deep, soft snow I ran out of time and I had to turn around.  I was less than a mile from the top, but that last mile was straight up, and I knew there was no way I could make it to the summit and then back to the Jeep before dark, so I just took a couple of bad photographs of me and my red shirt standing in front of the ridge and headed back home. 

That day at Three Fingered Jack would have been much better from a photography perspective (and probably from a safety standpoint) if someone else had been there hiking with me.  The more I play with this experiment, the more I realize that it’s really difficult trying to be the photographer AND the model.  My 40-yard dash time isn’t quite what it used to be, and there are many times that I simply can’t shoot the scene the way I would have liked because I can’t get to where I need to be in the 10-second time lapse before my shutter releases.  If you live in the area and you feel like you would like to get in touch with your inner Zoolander, please send me an email.  It would be really nice to have someone else to work with as a model.  I suspect that it will involve a fair amount of suffering, and I can’t promise that you will end up on the cover of Outside magazine anytime soon, but I am fairly confident that we will at least have some fun.  All you need is a red shirt.

 

Photo of my good friend, Jake Bell, doing the classic jump scene near the base of Mount Washington.

Photo of my good friend, Jake Bell, doing the classic jump scene near the base of Mount Washington.

 

Posted by Troy McMullin


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.