A couple of weeks ago I had one of those weekends that remind me why I love living and photographing in the Pacific Northwest.
My wife Stacey and I had planned a backcountry ski trip on Mount Rainier with friends that Sunday. As we headed north Saturday the weather was so perfect that we decided to stop by Sauvie Island on the Columbia river just north of Portland to get a little kiteboarding in.
Arriving at our local kite beach we found a number of our friends pumping up kites, laying out lines and heading out into the river on nice steady winds. We pumped up as we watched some of the better kiters launch big airs and practice advanced moves.
A little further upwind some more friends were teaching their daughters how to kite. After flying miniature trainer kites to learn the controls, new kiteboarders venture into the water with an instructor and learn to "body-drag." Our young friends were powering their way downwind behind the big kites, launching their bodies completely out of the water and squealing with glee like roller-coaster riders.
I ran for my camera to get a few shots of the girls in this learning stage. I have no doubt they will be on boards by the the next time I see them.
After a nice session of kiting we headed down the river to the town of Rainier, Oregon where we crossed the Lewis and Clark bridge into Washington and hit the road to Mount Rainier National Park.
Entering the park just before sunset, I noticed the clouds starting to change color as Mount Rainier peeked out from behind them. Like any good landscape or travel photographer, I put my foot on the gas and started scouting for a place to put my tripod.
Unfortunately, despite my scrambling down a steep mud embankment and getting my tripod out into the turbulent spring flow of the Nisqually River, the mountain turned shy and hid behind the rapidly fading clouds. For every good landscape photograph, there are a lot of evenings and early mornings spent watching things not happen. It was just one of those evenings.
After a night's stay at the historic Paradise Inn, we awoke early, attached skins to our backcountry skis and joined our friends for the 4,600 foot climb from Paradise Inn to Camp Muir at 10,000 feet.
There is no doubt that skiing in the backcountry is hard work. You have to earn each turn that resort skiers take for granted but the peacefulness, limitless views and camaraderie of touring on a big volcano like Rainier is ample reward in itself.
As we climbed up the Muir snowfield, I noticed a family of Hoary Marmots sitting beside one of their burrows watching us ski by. It looked as if they might start tossing witty sarcasms out at any second. They were near the crest of a little snow hill and I knew if I could climb up nearer to them without spooking them I might be able to create an image of them with the mountain as a backdrop.
Ditching my skis I slowly approached them a few steps at a time. These Marmots have lived beside the climbers' trail long enough to grow fearless and they let me close enough to capture a really nice closeup with just the composition I was hoping for. I just love these kinds of surprise opportunities that arise when I'm out in nature with my camera.
Shortly after noon our entire group arrived at Camp Muir. This 10,000 foot high climbers' camp is the largest on Mount Rainier and we enjoyed mingling with the other skiers and climbers while eating lunch in the sun.
Using my camera pack for a makeshift pillow I took a brief post lunch nap before pulling the skins off the skis, torquing the boots down, locking my bindings down and starting the sweet descent back to Paradise Inn. The afternoon sun had softened the snow into perfect corn powder. Soon we were hooting and laughing as we carved figure eights down the mountain. I remembered the girls happy screams as they learned to kite on the river the day before. Pure joy.
It's amazing how quickly you can slice your way down a route on skis. What had taken us hours to climb melted away in minutes as we rocketed down toward the treeline and our waiting cars. The views were so spectacular that I had to stop the group several times and have them ride around me as I photographed. You just don't find backdrops like this inside ski areas.
Soon we were all massaging sore legs while sipping celebratory beers in the parking lot. As I drove back towards Portland that evening, I couldn't stop smiling as I marveled at the diversity of options the Northwest provides a photographer. I feel truly lucky to live in this big beautiful playground.