“Why did we just spend fifteen minutes hiking from one parking lot to another parking lot? This can’t be right.”
Kyle, Shane and I stood looking at each other, completely clueless. With our cell phones several miles away from any kind of service, we were forced to try and figure this out on our own.
“Didn’t the website say the hike would take two miles?”
“Yes, but maybe we started at the wrong trail. Let’s hike back down and see if we can find anything. We couldn’t have missed the lake.”
The sun had long since disappeared behind the fifth largest mountain in the continental United States, Mt. Rainier. With gold and pink rays still skimming the atmosphere, its beautiful light was ill received as it merely taunted our photographic eyes. If we didn’t find the lake soon, our chances at photographing sunset would be completely missed.
We love being ready to pick up and hike for a photoshoot at a moment's notice but we definitely haven't perfected it. With weather forecasts being our main catalyst for a trip, we often only have a few hours to prepare before being miles away from civilization. Our regular spot was closed early for winter so we were forced to find a new location just hours before leaving. Without much time to prepare, costly oversights were adding up quickly.
- We don’t need that. While we were loading Kyle’s car, we took out a crate which we thought had nothing of importance in it to make room for our packs. About fifteen minutes down the road, we realized the crate had the inverter we needed to charge Kyle’s new Mavic drone. Our chances at using the new drone were completely ruined.
- You grabbed those, right? Also not long into the drive, Kyle lightly punched me on the knee three times, gritted his teeth and hesitantly asked, “You got the heaters, right?” Although the mountain would be cold, the heaters he was referring to were not personal heaters but instead heaters for our lenses. I looked back with confusion and told him I’d never even seen those heaters before. Unfortunately, it turns out the workers we had in our office that day had moved the heaters out of sight so we never grabbed them. Without the heaters, our time-lapse video would likely be ruined.
- Leaving late. Contractor meetings ran two hours late which meant we didn’t leave Puyallup until two hours before sunset. With the late departure, our leisurely two-mile hike through the snow transformed into a thirty-minute sprint.
Despite the mistakes, there was still some hope as we made our way back down the mountain. We found an overlook and scouted our descent past what might be a small pond large enough for some kind of reflection. As we neared the pond, we turned and saw one of the most beautiful cloud formations catching pink and orange rays right over Mt. Rainier. We had caught the sunset at its most perfect moment. We knew we had to act quickly.
Again, rushed and scrambling, with only about ten minutes of light left, we still managed to continue to make mistakes. The biggest blunder was Kyle forgetting to detach a neutral density filter on the front of his camera that was blocking 6 stops of light. To compensate, he increased his ISO to astronomical levels and created some super noisy shots.
I wasn’t without my own faults. I missed focus on my favorite composition of the night due to rushing my focus stack. Shane, the professional landscape photographer we invited to come with us, nailed his shots which you can view on his Instagram, here.
As the light was fading, we met another photographer at the pond who informed us that the “pond” we were at was in fact, Tipsoo Lake. We were totally confused as this pond was only about 300 yards from where we originally parked. Turns out, the two mile hike we prepared for was to an overlook we had no intention of visiting. Our overnight bags with gas stoves and other heavy camping equipment could have easily stayed in the car!
After the sun set, we huddled around the edge of the lake to strategize our time-lapse video. Shane looked at Kyle and me and asked, “so who brought the beer”? With a full two hours to wait until we could start shooting time-lapse, not bringing beer was possibly the biggest failure yet. After the stressful day of blunders, nothing sounded better. Instead of waiting for the next two hours at the lake, we decided to drive back to the nearest town to find beer.
It took a full thirty minutes but we made our way back down to Greenwater, Washington. As we pulled up to the gas station, we unfortunately discovered the store closed just thirty minutes before we arrived. With no way to buy beer to bring back up the mountain, we resort to stopping at Naches Tavern in Greenwater for our beer fix. Even in the tavern, we were incapable of avoiding errors. Instead of ordering a pitcher of beer (much cheaper), we each individually ordered the same beer. It wasn’t until our second round, our bartender recommended saving money with the pitcher.
We spent some time in the bar sharing photography stories, meeting locals and eating wings before heading back up to Tipsoo Lake for a long night of time-lapse photography. When we arrived, all three of us got our bags back out, turned on our head lamps and found camp sites tucked just outside of park boundaries.
With a mostly clear sky, we were able to see and plan our six-hour time-lapse shot. Setting up right at the edge of Tipsoo lake, the conditions were perfect for an epic video: a clear view of the milky way, a great reflection and a distant towering peak. With no dew heaters, we decided to setup and wait to see if any condensation formed on our lenses. After half an hour, no dew had accumulated so we decided to climb back to our tents and retire for the night. While we were dreaming of crystal clear time-lapses and mistake-ridden excursions, the Pacific Northwest breathed its reliably moist breath and covered our lenses in a foggy vapor.
So, there it is. Three seconds of awe-inspiring greatness followed by eleven seconds of unfortunate failure. It's a great microcosm of our short trip to Rainier. Sprinkles of success, but about 70% embarrassing train-wreck. Although this article isn't exactly the story we had hoped to tell, there's perhaps more to learn from this article than if everything had gone according to plan. Internalizing and learning from mistakes will make us smarter so we don't miss these kinds of shots in the future.