October 11, 2010 – Sourdough Ridge Trail

Sourdough Ridge Trail

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hey folks! I’ve got a number of items for discussion today, relating to today’s photo. How exciting! Normally I just have to sit there and try to manufacture something to talk about. But not today! I have actual content for you! Woooo!

So, first of all, what are we looking at? This was taken in Mt. Rainier National Park, and yes, that’s Mt. Rainier (the 14,410 foot tall volcano) peeking out from above that ridgeline in the upper left. This was taken on the day that I hiked the Borroughs Mountain trail, although at this point I believe I was still on the Sourdough Ridge trail, which takes you up to the Burroughs trail proper. You can see the junction in this picture though (well, you can see where the junction is, but the junction itself isn’t significant enough to be recognizable), and you can see the Burroughs trail heading up and to the left, cut out of that hillside there. These trails start at Sunrise point, which is on the east side of the mountain. (Although it feels like the north side, since drive up and around the north side of the mountain to get there, on Highway 410, which is also the road that takes you to Crystal Mountain Ski Resort.) The other, more popular spot that takes you fairly high up on the mountain (6000 feet or so I think) is called Paradise, and it’s on the south side.

So, on to the things that I actually had to talk about. Let’s go ahead and get started on those, in no particular order.

A couple times recently, when talking about my strategies for choosing fall color hikes, I mentioned in passing a hike I went on last year, where I screwed up and aimed too high. I ended up in a spot that had no more color left, and in fact was covered in a light dusting of snow. This was that hike. It was still a great day and I’m still glad I went, but the original goal, finding fall color, was not fulfilled. (Well, I guess you could say that “white” is a color that is sometimes encountered in fall. Or, you could even claim that since white is ALL colors, that all of the fall colors I was looking for were included. But that would be lame and pedantic, and I would cut our conversation short at that point.) A week or two earlier, there may have been some nice bushes and low ground color that was turning color, but clearly it’s done for the year at the time this shot was taken.

Next up, I’m going to point out how painfully obvious it was that this picture was taken with a super wide-angle lens. It’s no secret that wide-angle lenses cause some pretty severe distortion as you move away from the center, particularly in the corners. Depending on how you frame the picture, that often isn’t really an issue. But if you put something that normally has a really recognizable shape in the corner, like, oh I don’t know, a face, or a really famous mountain peak, then it becomes a little bit more obvious. So, yeah, that’s still obviously Mt. Rainier. But, umm, it kind of looks a little bit funny. Hahaha, look at that funny looking mountain.

That’s enough specifically about this image. For now, anyway. This paragraph is going to be spent talking about my opinions on something slightly more general. That being: where to hike around Mt. Rainier. It’s been becoming more and more apparently to me over the last year or two that the primary direction of the views along a particular trail can really make a difference in the resulting quality of your images. And, unfortunately, none of the trail guidebooks I’ve seen really call this out at all, which then leaves it up to me to try to determine as best I can. You probably all realize that the angle and the quality of the light makes a huge difference in a picture. In general (any rule in photography always needs that disclaimer, “in general”), when you’re looking at something that’s in the same general direction as the sun, you’ll get ugly backlight. When hiking in the summer, that means you won’t get any blue sky, and you’ll probably see a lot of haze between you and the subject. It’s true that those exact factors can be used to great affect, but they can make things like mountains look.. not as nice as you’d like. Conversely, if the sun is behind you, it can look better, or there are a lot of angles in between that are better still. So, why am I talking about this? Well, pretty much anywhere you go other than between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, the sun will have a predominant angle. In the northern hemisphere, while it’s true that “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west”, it spends basically the entire day in the southern sky. Meaning, if you’re going to be looking at things south of you all day, you’re going to be backlit all day. If you’re looking at stuff to the north, it’ll be pretty much directly illuminated all day. If you’re looking at stuff to the east, it’ll look real nice in the afternoon. And stuff to the west will look nice in the morning. Unfortunately, unless you’re staying in the area, it can be tough to get to Sunrise early in the morning. Meaning, every time I go there, I’m hiking in the afternoon. Since Rainier is west of the trails, you get a bunch of backlight and haze. Boooo. So, if you’re planning a hike around Mt. Rainier, and you know you’ll be up there primarily in the early afternoon, might I suggest heading to Paradise instead of Sunrise?

Now here’s where I’m really going to change gears and throw you off. But I’m still going to be talking about the angle of the sun, so it’ll totally seem like I planned it out. So, any skier or snowboarder who takes the sport seriously knows that north-facing slopes are generally preferable. The reason why goes back to what I was talking about in the last paragraph: in the northern hemisphere, the eastern and western slopes get full-on sun for about half the day each, and southern facing slopes get it basically all day long. But the northern facing slopes are nice and sheltered all day. Thus, the snow stays nice and fresh. And this picture illustrates that nicely. Granted, this was snow from just one early-season storm, but since I was facing basically due west when I took this shot, you can see that all of the north-facing slopes are covered in snow, while all of the south-facing slopes have melted clean. Neat, right? Yup, neat.

That’s it! Or, maybe that’s not it, but that’s all of it that I remembered by the time I sat down to write it!

Notes: Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. 1/400s, f/10.0, ISO 100. Focal length: 11mm.

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