Five Years Ago This Week

Ever stop and think about what you were doing a year ago, or maybe five years ago? To gauge your progress or for no reason but nostalgia, some folks including my Mom kept a journal to revisit days gone by. But photos are also an excellent way to bring back memories!

The folks at Facebook certainly agree, with their “On This Day” feature frequently popping up old posts with photos in our News Feed. So, I thought I’d take a look back five years in my photo library and see what was going on.

Well, it just so happens that the weekend of September 10th and 11th 2011 was the weekend I chose to visit Mount Rainier National Park to visit the lovely Spray Park area. At Mount Rainier, meadows are called parks, and they offer some of the most stunning views of the mountain imaginable. And Spray Park is one of the best.

The easiest way to get to Spray Park is to start at Mowich Lake. After leaving the town of Carbonado northwest of the park, you’ll take a right fork to Mowich Lake – the left fork goes to the Carbon River park entrance. Mowich Lake Road is a long and unpleasant gravel road, but was easily passable in a passenger vehicle when I last tried it. In fact, on this trip I was in a low clearance sports car, so it couldn’t have been too bad! Of course, the car rattles a lot more now. Oh well.

Spray Park sits at about 6500 ft. (1981 m.) above sea level, and I actually encountered snow on the trail from the previous season, even in September. But the snow was past the point where I wanted to travel, so it didn’t affect my shoot. You can see the trail heading into the snow in this image.

Lupine in Spray Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

A beautiful patch of lupine grows in Spray Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

The biggest problem with photographing alpine meadows is that they’re fragile – very fragile. As you can imagine, if there was snow on parts of the trail, this area cannot have been snow-free for very long. And since it was mid-September, the next winter’s snows were not far off. This means that the plant life up there has an extremely short growing season, and any plants that are damaged by hiker’s boots will take years and probably decades to recover, if not longer.

“But I need to get that shot!”

This is what separates the responsible photographers from the ones who can rationalize away the problem.

“So what am I supposed to do? Nat Geo is paying me a ton of money to get the shot – well, at least in my dreams!”

Well, besides the main trail, there are little unofficial trails – what the rangers call social trails – all over the park. These are already well worn, and while they really shouldn’t be there, what’s done is done, and nothing is going to grow there, so if you stick to these, you can avoid damaging the meadows. Another thing you can do is look for what rangers call durable surfaces. If you can get to where you need to go by stepping from rock to rock, you can also avoid doing much, if any, damage. Stream beds are great for this! The rangers won’t like it, because they don’t know how you got out there to that pretty spot, but at least you know you took the “high ground”.

O2 Czech Republic Roaming

Roaming page in O2 Czech Republic brochure. O2 is the largest integrated telecommunications provider in the Czech market.

So what did I find in Spray Park? Well, for one thing, I found this beautiful display of Pink mountain heather behind a nice piece of lichen-covered granite right in the middle of the meadow. I later submitted the image to Getty Images for sale as stock, and you wouldn’t believe who bought a license!

That’s right, the Czech mobile phone company! They used it on the roaming page of their customer brochure.

I kept on shooting until after sunset – it took me a long time to get here, after all, so I was going to make the most of it! The last image I got was of the distant mountains as they disappeared into the late evening haze.

Distant Mountains, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Distant mountains dissolve into fog and haze as dusk overtakes the landscape, from Spray Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

So I hiked back in the dark, sometimes using my headlamp and sometimes not. I passed a few hikers without headlamps near the backcountry campground on the way back to Mowich Lake. It was a bit unnerving until I figured out they were humans! But I made it back to my campsite without being eaten by anything, got a good night’s rest, and made it out of the park the next day without getting my car high-centered. It doesn’t get any better than that!

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