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A Windy Night at Mitchell Point

A Windy Night at Mitchell Point

Moon over the Columbia GorgeFinding purpose as a landscape and night photographer is definitely fulfilling.  But it has its drawbacks.  The risks and hardship that come with venturing beyond your usual routine and what you know could be considered a drawback or a reward in itself from the experience.

On one episode of America’s National Parks on the National Geographic Channel, they filmed Saguaro National Park in Arizona, with spectacular footage of a thunderstorm in the desert in HD.

You can experience a bit of beauty and terror at home as lightning strikes and huge clusters of rain drop like bombs to the thirsty dry below.  The sky turns orange and gray, and windows of sun move through the swirling dark clouds.

I’m also thinking, what type of crazy cameramen would dare venture in there to film this?  Hardcore National Geo cameramen, that’s who.

Thunderstorms in the PNW are more like scattered showers and cloud burps, so though I haven’t filmed real thunderstorms, I do venture out at times to bits of the elements.

The rock hill in front of Mitchell Point was one site I’d staked out for nightshooting.  It’s away from the city, and yet it’s near I-84 for carlight shots along with a great view of the Columbia River and the Gorge.

So after hiking Mitchell point for some golden hour shots, I came back and hung out in the car awaiting the stars with a traveling dinner of Greek yogurt, crackers, cheese and energy bars.  Darkness soon fell and it was time.

gorge-sunset-colorsMany hikers are afraid of heights and sometimes go partly for that reason.  I’m not really afraid of heights, but when I was a kid I was afraid of the dark.  Not so much at home these days, but when I venture out at night, sometimes the old fears hang out in the back of my mind.

There are no ghosts, but what if you trip over a stick and fall off a ledge?  What if a black bear suddenly rushes out from the trees and eats you alive?  But I know those are normal weird thoughts a lot of people deal with.  There are times for caution, but sometimes you just have to logic things out and put the weird thoughts aside.

Couple darkness with wind and what you get can both scare you and exhilarate you.  And so I stepped forth from the parking lot.  It’s not really a hike, just a short climbing walk over a rocky hill to a viewpoint overlooking the freeway.  Short enough to carry my heavy-duty Tiltall tripod in one hand and my cellphone flashlight in the other, along with my camera and gear.

So when I got to the top… wow, what a view, and a bit vulnerable on a cliffside, though not that high.  Little did I know how windy it would get.

hole-in-shale-michelle-pointIt’s really an interesting spot as the Michelle Point cliff towers above you on one side and winds from the Gorge pummel you on the other.

There are foxholes made in the shale, I’m assuming from Native Americans on their quests long ago.  I only know this from hiking and researching Wind Mountain, a Native heritage site around the area, with similar structures on top.

Nightshot of I-84 and the Columbia Gorge

Night Photography Techniques

Here’s some technical photography, so scroll down if you don’t want a photography lesson, but just want to read the story.

People are asking me my settings and how I do nightshots, so here’s a simple lowdown.  You will need a DSLR, tripod, and editing software to do this:

Beforehand it helps to scout out a location in the daytime.  I’m often traveling and hiking in the daytime, and during my adventures I’m always on the lookout for good spots for night photography.  Generally open areas away from the city will do.  A plain open field or parking lot will work, but even better if you can get a landscape view, interesting subjects, architecture, etc.

Often I surf the web for viewpoints for stargazing.  Many parks close the gates at night, so make sure the spot you choose is accessible.  Hot clear days in the summertime are the best times to practice your starshots.

When out in the field, first, set the focus to manual and adjust it to “infinity”.  That’s the line just before the little figure-eight symbol on the focus ring on your lens.  A headlamp definitely helps with adjusting settings in the dark, but you want a low-light only when you need it, so your eyes can adjust to the dark.

I often bump up the ISO extremely high for fast test shots, then bring it back down and slow down the shutter for the real shots.  Some will tell you different, but my strategy for stars and very dark nights is 30 seconds, 4-5 f-stops, and around 3200 ISO.  They get noise from the high iso, but shooting in RAW helps in cleaning up the mess later on.

A few tips I’ve learned over time for post-editing:

  • Reduce noise in Raw
  • To bring out the stars, up the contrast and clarity.
  • When you have ground and other lights involved, such as this one of the Gorge, it makes it harder, so keep that in balance.  Some use several shots and layer them together, but start with simple and go on.

Best thing is practice.  If you’re not familiar with manual settings or nightshooting, you can practice in your backyard.  If there are lights around you’ll have to tone the shutter speed and ISO.  Practice with a tripod and photos around 8 seconds.  If you’re near a road, carlights are a fun subject which do the light painting for you.  Just stay far enough to be safe from the oncoming cars.

Lesson’s over, and now back to the story..

I stuffed the tripod into the ground and started testing.  Many times you’re shooting blind, since distant objects are too dark to appear in the viewfinder.  So I kept readjusting till I was getting what I wanted.  I alternated between taking shots and then crouching down, hanging on for dear life as the wind assaulted, then subsided.  For fun here’s a video selfie of me getting pulverized in the wind.

In certain places in the Gorge you feel the whole force of the bottleneck as winds pass through.  While I can’t say I’ve experienced God quite like Moses did when he had to hide in the cleft of the rock, I have been around strong winds and clouds.  When I was on Dog Mountain I’d huddle in a tree shelter as the elements pounded away like a storm.

After getting the shots needed and feeling the worst of the windy onslaughts, I’d had enough.  The worst is on top in the open air, but you can still feel it while climbing down the shale path.  After carefully making my way down, I finally made it back to the parking lot.

I could hear the sounds of freeway, river, winds, and the occasional train as I silently walked alone in the dark parking lot.  The Milky Way and Big Dipper silently shined overhead.  I felt alive, glad to have completed one more bucketlist item, and relieved at being away from the wind and darkness on top.  For parting ways I took one last shot of the Dipper, the North Star as a plane painted dotted light through the sky.

Big Dipper from the Mitchell Point parking lot

I’d had one more adventure.  As vivid as that desert storm on TV was, I’d never feel this alive while on the couch.  While I’m still not an athlete and don’t care for sports, I now can’t imagine how I spent so much time in my younger years just sitting around for hours with television or a game.  There comes a time where you need to experience life not just pretend.

This might not have been Everest or the Amazon Rainforest, but this was my experience.  As long as you keep challenging yourself a little bit you’ll do great.  It’s time to live life.

How are you living your story?  Tell me yours.  Let’s exchange adventure tales on Instagram, follow @OutbackTales.

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Mystery on Wind Mountain-Photo Shrine

Mystery on Wind Mountain-Photo Shrine

trees-at-wind-mountain-summitYou know the cool thing about exploring is you never know what you’ll find.  Sometimes it’s just a trip with family and friends and you have great time, other times it’s a disaster, car problems, logistics issues, etc.

And then once in a while you get a really interesting story you can tell your friends.  Whatever the outcome all these scenarios are more interesting stories than sitting around watching Saturday morning cartoons.

The Wind Mountain trail has become of my favorite hikes in the Columbia Gorge.  It gives a great view similar to Angels Rest, but with far less people, and an interesting history behind it.  I learned it’s an archaeological site and a place where native American made quests hundreds of years ago.

Wow, I didn’t even know we had a history aside from the zillions of Lewis and Clark museums covering the Northwest.  And it’s actually rather interesting.

cliffside-basket-wind-mountain

trailsign-wind-mountainThe road was a bit outback ending in a steep gravelly one lane road and parking lot.  No fancy trailsigns, just a reminder to brush off foreign weed from your shoes.

The hike was fairly moderate.  Though it’s about a one and a half mile climb, it’s steepness makes it feel like more.

The summit had these foxholes dug into the rocks on top.  These apparently are formations native Americans formed whether recently or hundreds of years ago.  You’re not to disturb them.

rock-formation-summit-wind-mountain

After a time of contemplation, photoshooting and eating a snack of greek yogurt, I made my way down, thinking my adventure was more or less finished.  Time to go home…

About halfway down I explored a turn-off from the trail which went to a cliffside which offered a great view.

cliffside-basket-wind-mountain

What’s that basket on the cliffside? Let’s go check it out.

At the end of the cliffside were these photos of a couple laid out with a basket, store-bought french bread and not a soul in site.

photos-of-couple-wind-mountain

When I show others the photo, they ask me, “What is it?”  I don’t know.  You tell me…

couple-closeup-wind-mountain

The photo sparked a conversation on a hiking group on Facebook.

facebook-conversation

It gets more interesting as the conversation continues on:

facebook-conversation2

Can anyone possibly take this amount of curiosity?  Like an old mystery novel where someone ripped out the ending, and you can’t find the book anywhere in stores.

facebook-conversation3

To be honest I really don’t know.  People kept writing, and I said if you’re that curious, go check it out yourself!  If the photos are still there, it was probably a memorial.

Update from a recent conversation on Instagram #windmountain:

instagram-conversation

If you want to hike Wind Mountain here’s a link with some good information about it.
http://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/Wind_Mountain_Hike

What do you think it was?  Follow me on
Instagram and Twitter @OutbackTales and get in on the discussion.

Here’s the photo on Instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/p/BDKDKhksinI/?taken-by=outbacktales

 

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Winter Dayhikes – Five Easy Places to Hike in Oregon and Washington

Winter Dayhikes – Five Easy Places to Hike in Oregon and Washington

bridgeeagle-creek-resizedWinter is here. As we still lag from the holiday cheer, and get back into our new year goals, diets, workouts, etc, it’s still hard to be as active in the winter. After all, “It’s cold”, “It’s wet!” Hey, I get it. I don’t like going out in the cold and wet either!

Someone asked me are you gonna keep hiking in the wintertime when it’s cold?  I said, I don’t see why not.  Just bring a coat.

Who made this rule that you hike in summer and sit on the couch in winter, because it’s “off-season”?  Personally I enjoy cooler air when going uphill.

You might not backpack or camp overnight, but there are plenty of opportunities for dayhiking, which is a blast.

The cool thing about hiking is it’s not just being active, it’s an experience. It’s fun. Young and old, athletic and non-athletic alike can participate. The difference between hiking and going to the gymn is it’s not as hard to motivate yourself when you really enjoy it.

Mountain roads can be treacherous so be careful.  Carry chains, shovel, etc. But if you don’t want to drive in snow or slip in icy trails, there are still great places you can visit which are close to the city.

As for the rain? Who cares? Rainy, foggy days are great for photos.  All the photos in this post were taken in “off-season” fall and winter.

Around here usually it rains, then it lightens up later. You don’t have to wait to get “special gear” to walk in rain. (Though you eventually might want to get some merino wool clothing, because it’s just awesome.)  A basic poncho in your pack works great though.

I do suggest protecting your phone and electronics deep inside your backpack wrapped in plastic.  I once almost ruined my phone on a rainy hike by having it in a side pocket of my pack.  Don’t learn the hard way!  You can keep your camera under your coat or poncho or get one of those handy waterproof cameras.

So now that we’re ready for hiking let’s check out some great dayhiking sites!multomahfalls-resized

Multnomah Falls

People come from all over to appreciate the beauty of these falls. Word of advice, don’t come on a sunny Saturday. You’ll have trouble finding parking and crowds are everywhere. I’d suggest some of the other falls around the area, though they will often be crowded as well. Elowah Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and Bridal Veil are all great short hikes and fun trips for the family, even for beginners.

Waterfalls are all over the Columbia Gorge, so just take I-84 East, follow the signs and pick a waterfall adventure.

cape-horn-sign-viewpointCape Horn

Cape Horn is another great Gorge hike just outside Vancouver/Camas on the Washington side. The entire loop is seven miles, and it gets difficult when you come to the rocks and bridge. However two or three miles and back is a good hike and you’ll get a great workout going uphill. Check out some of the amazing colors on this trail on my Cape Horn Adventure last fall.

Note: The lower part of the loop is closed February 1 to July 15 to protect
nesting peregrine falcon. The upper part of the loop, down to the Gorge
viewpoint is open all year.

Cape Horn Loop

Just take Highway 14 East and it will take you right there!

Silver FallsSilver Falls

With ten beautiful waterfalls, this is one of the gems of Oregon.  This can be as long or short as you want. The entire loop hike is 8 miles with smooth trails most of the way, steady uphills and downhills. But it’s great for short hikes as well. Pick a waterfall and drive there. This makes it fun for everyone if you’re not ready for longer hikes.

North Falls, South Falls, and Winter Falls are the main sites with parking lots you can drive to. South Falls is the main center with a lodge, nature store, etc. There’s also camping, cabins, and bike trails.

Enjoy a hot cup of coffee by the fire at the lodge after your hike.

There’s sometimes a bit of snow, so check the weather first. You can call the ranger’s office and ask about it, if you’re concerned. The workers there love their job and are glad to help however they can.

Directions: Take 205 to Mt. Angel and Silverton, then take OR-214 S to Silver Falls.  Silverton is sometimes tricky, keep following the signs.  More detailed directions on
Google Maps.

Silver Falls State Park

 

Flowers at Smith RockSmith Rock

This is right near Redmond, a small town near Bend, Or. I like to say this is like a tiny Utah canyon. This is one of the top rock-climbing destinations in the US. You’ll see often them climbing on your hike. I personally find it inspiring. But you don’t have to rockclimb to enjoy this place. It’s wonderful rock and desert, especially if you’re used to green near the city. Take a photo anywhere.

You can even camp out in the bivouac area, though I warn you there’s not much seclusion. But rockclimbers are great people to hang with. They do like to party, but they’re not too bad.

Directions: Just take Highway 97 North from Redmond to the town of Terrebone and follow signs to Smith Rock.  The road is called Smith Rock Way.

Smithrock.combeachhouse-sapia

Seattle

If you’re around the Seattle area, there’s some great places to hike around the city, which is surrounded by nature and phenomenal views of the Puget Sounds, Olympic mountains, and Mount Rainier. Further away from the city is Snoqualmie Falls, Little Si, and Twin Falls (trail is closed close to a mile in so you can only see the falls from far away).

Within the city Discovery Park is great for hiking or jogging. Also Golden Gardens park is a great beach. Catch it at sunset sometime. Yes, expect cold and wind near the Sound.

Special thanks to my Facebook group
Hiking in the Pacific Northwest for lots of great information about these sites and winter conditions.

Know some other great adventure hikes?  Whether in the Northwest, across the country or across the world, please share! Let’s exchange adventure stories on
Twitter and Instagram.  Just follow me @OutbackTales.

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