I finally had a chance to go out and do some photography recently. Together with my good friend and talented photographer, Mark Cole, I spent a Saturday hiking and shooting along the Dosewallips River in Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park. The weather was nearly perfect for photography in a forest – bright overcast without too many sun breaks.
The trail along the Dosewallips River is actually an old road. The road was built to the Dosewallips Campground and Ranger Station in Olympic National Park, but a washout 5.5 miles from the campground permanently closed the road to vehicles. More recently a new washout closed another mile of road, so now the hike to the campground is about 6.5 miles one way. For most of the route along the road, the trail is wide, smooth, and gentle, making it ideal for looking round for images while walking.
The first mile to the older washout is almost completely flat and straight, running by large evergreens and moss-covered maple trees. You can hear the river nearby, but it is not visible. The first view of the river is at the washout. Here hikers can scamper along the river edge to get back to the road if the water is low enough (as it was last weekend) or you can take the short up and down trail around the washout. Through the next section of trail, the river is nearer, and shots of the incredibly blue (and white) water can be captured in places through the trees.
At about 2.6 miles from the trailhead, another old road heads cuts off toward the river. A short distance down this road is a concrete bridge across the river, where you can capture a view of the river up the valley. I remember driving into this bridge and photographing there a number of years ago before the washouts when the road was still open to cars. It had to be prior to 2005, because I was still using a film camera at the time.
After photographing from the bridge, we walked back to the main trail/road. A short distance further brought us to the old US Forest Service Elkhorn Campground. We walked in and around the old campground loop, shooting various forest scenes. The forest is more open in the old campgrounds (both Elkhorn and the Dosewallips campgrounds), providing better opportunities for forest photography than elsewhere where the forest is more dense. The campground makes a good place for lunch, as there are abundant picnic tables about.
Past the Elkhorn campground the road winds its way uphill and away from the river. Eventually, the road enters an area burned by the 2009 Constance Fire. Here there are views of the forested ridges beyond the Dosewallips canyon among blacken trees. At about 4.9 miles from the trailhead, the road crosses into Olympic National Park, marked by an open orange gate. From the Elkhorn campground to the park boundary, being away from the river, we found few subject to photograph save wildflowers.
A short distance past the park entrance, a bridge crosses the roaring and tumbling Constance Creek. Unfortunately, downed logs from the fire have chocked the creek making it less appealing photographically. Just past the creek is the very steep side trail to climbs up to Constance Lake. We left that for another day and continued up the road.
Soon we re-entered unburnt forest and could hear the roar of Dosewallips Falls. I was looking forward to seeing Dosewallips Falls. Before our hike, I checked it out on the Northwest Waterfall Survey, but there was very little information and no photographs, which is unusual for large waterfall near a road (or in this case, former road). The falls didn’t disappoint. The river drops over a steep cascade of car (and bigger) sized boulders, with a total drop of more than 100 feet. There was one viewpoint through the trees as you approach the falls (where you can capture about 2/3s of the drop), before the trail/road climbs the canyon wall along the side of the falls, leading to great views of the cascade at the top.
After wandering away from the river again, the trail/road finally reaches the Dosewallips Campground at about 6.5 miles from the trailhead. The campground is a broad, flat, grassy area under spreading moss-covered maple trees and occasional cedar and other evergreens. The riverbank is adjacent to the campground, and the rushing waters of the Dosewallips take on a wonderful cerulean tint under the overhanging trees. When photographing the river, be sure to use a polarizer to remove glare and make the blue colored water pop.
The ranger station is in a state of disrepair, with the roof and wooden deck damaged by a falling tree. A sign on the door states that “everything of value has been stolen already” and warns people not to break in because the building is mice infested and intruders risk getting hantavirus. In addition to the ranger station, I found some of the old, moss-covered and broken picnic tables in the campground made interesting photogrpahic subjects.
I easily could have spent all day photographing in the campground, but after about an hour, we decided to head on back as it was already late afternoon. The trip deserved more time, and perhaps I’ll go back someday to backpack in to the old campgrounds for a weekend.
Hike details: round trip length, 13 miles; elevation gain, 1,200 feet; parking at end of road requires a Northwest Forest Pass
Every year I supply photographs for the promotional calendar at my day job (Robinson Noble). I try to come up with photos that match the month. November is a tough month. What kind of scene says “November”? Not only that, over the years, November is a slow photography month for me. It is usually cold and wet, not my favorite conditions for going out on a photo shoot. But, my stock of November shots (at least those worthy of being on a calendar) is getting very low. So several weeks ago, I decided I need to do a photo weekend. I decided to go to the Olympic coast, and so I reserved a 3-bedroom cottage on the beach at Pacific Beach (I needed 3 bedrooms because Tanya’s mom is staying with us for a few weeks and Tanya wanted to also invite her brother and his wife – they also brought their dog, and we brought Nahla).
I was all set for cold, rainy weather – there aren’t rain forests on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula for no reason. Yet, as our luck would have it, it was beautifully sunny all weekend. That doesn’t happen in November along the Washington coast very often. Of course, being a nature photographer, I have to complain about the weather – it’s never perfect, right? The sun made photography in the rain forest difficult because of high contrast, and the lack of clouds didn’t help the sunsets. But I think I did okay anyway, you be the judge. Are any of these photos suitable for a November slot on a calendar?
I’ve lived in Washington a long time and driven by Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park seemingly countless times (okay, perhaps several dozen), but I’ve never taken the short trail to Marymere Falls. Last week I cured this default. I left Tacoma before sunrise (and boy is that early this time of year), hoping to catch the rising sun on the Olympics from the shores of Hood Canal, but the sky was overcast and the sun rose without apparent effect. But overcast skies are great for waterfall photography, so I drove on and reached the Marymere Falls trailhead, reaching the parking lot a little after 7 a.m.
I was the first one there, which is always a plus when photographing popular spots. And this hike is popular, and deservingly so. It travels through moss-covered old growth forest along a pretty creek to a beautiful waterfall. It is short, only 1.5 miles roundtrip, and is flat until the end, where it climbs several hundred feet to the falls.
Though it is an out-and-back trail, end of the trail near the falls has a small loop. As the trail nears the falls, it crosses over Barnes Creek (on a relatively new steel bridge) and then quickly over Falls Creek (on a classic one-person-wide wooden log bridge. From there, the trail climbs uphill and forms a small loop, leading to two viewpoints of the falls, one directly at the base, and one higher up nearly level with the top of the falls. I found the views at the lower level, and part way up from there, to be better for photography than at the upper viewpoint.
I mostly had the falls to myself, only interrupted by two sets of people who came quickly through, and I spent about 20 to 30 minutes photographing (leaving shortly before about a dozen people arrived). I spent another 20 to 30 minutes photographing in the forest on the way out. All in all, it was worth the stop, and I wondered why it took me so long to give it a try.
Most of us have been there, that wonderful travel destination and the light is bad. All those pre-visulations of wonderful photos you planned to capture go right out the door. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago on a day trip to Olympic National Park. Tanya, Nahla and I headed out to Kalaloch for a day on the beach. (Aside for dog owners: Kalaloch is a great place to take your dog. Most national parks, and Olympic National Park is no exception, do not allow dogs outside of campgrounds or parking lots, let alone on trails. We got scolded by a ranger once for having our dog on a snowbank at the edge of a parking lot at Mount Rainier National Park. But, Ruby Beach and the other beaches at Kalaloch are a different story. Leashed dogs are allowed on the beaches. It is great!)
If the weather is nice, the beaches at Kalaloch are a great place for a bit of photography. But the weather on the coast can be unpredictable, so I had a backup plan. If it was overcast on the coast, we’d go to the Hoh rainforest (Nahla would have to stay in the car, but such is the sacrifice of a photographer’s dog). Because of the huge contrast in the rainforest on sunny days, photography there is best on overcast days (and even better with a little rain making everything wet).
As it turned out, it was overcast on the beach. We took a nice walk, and Nahla took a dip in the waves, but the camera stayed in the bag. So we headed over to the Hoh, about a 45-minute drive from Kalaloch. Unfortunately for my photography, once we got away from the coast, the weather turned mostly sunny. And indeed, the contrast in the rainforest was extreme (5 stops or more). My visions of wonderful shots of green moss-draped trees was not to be fulfilled.
Instead, I worked mostly on detail shots, taking what the conditions allowed. Looking for small scenes that were mostly in shadow, or mostly in sunshine, so that contrast was less of an issue. Or I looked for backlit scenes, where the sunlight provided unique views for the rainforest. I can’t say I came away with any prize winners, but I was happy with a few of the results posted below.
I still had hope for a great shot. I figured the clouds would break along the coast, and a good sunset was possible. We drove back to Kalaloch and ate dinner (during which was probably the best light of the day) and afterward drove to Ruby Beach for sunset. As it turned out, the sunset was mostly a dud, and though I took a lot of frames, I’m not that pleased with them.
So once again, I took what was offered. In this case, shooting after sunset in the blue hour. The featured photo above was shot perhaps half an hour after sunset and is my favorite of the day.
The adventure of travel photography is that you never know exactly what you will get. When conditions are not right, you need to be able to see beyond the obvious shots and look with images that the conditions allow. With luck, even with bad light, you will get a few keepers.
In my last post, I started describing the hike along the North Olympic Wilderness Coast, covering from Shi Shi Beach to Sand Point. Today I finish, covering from Sand Point to Rialto Beach.
As I mentioned, the hiking near Sand Point is perhaps the easiest of the entire 32 miles. This is particularly true south of Sand Point, where the beach is broad and sandy. Though hiking in the dry sand can be tiring, it is possible to walk on wet sand at all but the highest tides (which in summer occur at night on this part of the coast).
South of Sand Point proper, the beach extends for about 2 miles. Then, after going around an easy headland (passable at 5-foot tide or lower – no overland trail), you come to another nice beach at Yellow Banks – so named for several cliffs made of yellow rock inland off the beach. The campsite at Yellow Banks is the furthest south campsite where reservations are required.
South of Yellow Banks is a long stretch of about 4.5 miles with only one headland (passable on a 6-foot tide – no overland trail), but also without a nice walking beach (at least at the tide level we saw it at; we hiked this section on a rising tide). Here the beach is mostly cobbly, instead of sandy. At high tide, the area could be difficult to hike due to the lack of beach (the tide appears to come quite close to the treeline) and due to downed trees that stick out into the water at high tide.
When hiking this stretch of the coast, we came upon a Boy Scout troop heading north. We stopped to talk a minute to get news of the headland we needed to round before coming to our next camp at the Norwegian Memorial. One of the men with the troop was carrying a rib bone from a whale, which, he said, he intended to carry the rest of their hike. (We wondered about the wisdom of that, first because it probably weighed 20 pounds, and second we doubted the park rangers would let him keep it.) They said bone was from a collection of whale bones in the next small cove. A short distance later, we found the bones, many of which someone had placed together on a large drift log.
We rounded a broad, rocky area north of the Norwegian Memorial close to high tide without too much difficulty and rambled out onto Kayostia Beach, a long sandy beach in front which is home to the Norwegian Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to the crew of the Norwegian vessel Prince Arthur, which struck a reef, broke apart, and partially sank just offshore on January 2, 1903. Only 2 of its 20 person crew survived. The memorial is reportedly on a bluff overlooking the northern end of Kayostia Beach, but wanting to get our camp set up, did not go look for it.
The backcounty campground at Kayostia Beach is about south of the memorial by about half a mile. There are many nice, large sites set just off the beach in the trees. At the southern end of the beach, there is a particularly attractive sea stack and some nice tidepools.
Around the small headland at the end of Kayostia Beach (passable at a 5.5-foot tide, but there is also an overland trail) is an even more beautiful beach. At the northern end of this beach is the Cedar Creek campsite (which we did not visit). The beach lasts for a mile, ending at headland that can be passed on a 4-foot tide (or by overland trail). Past this headland is another nice sandy beach just less than a mile long, which ends a small headland that can only be crossed by going over the top on a short trail (with ropes of course).
South of this headland, the beach becomes rocky again. About midway down this rocky beach, there is a small waterfall in cleft in the rock face a the top of the beach. We spent five hours waiting the the tide near this waterfall because at the south end of this rocky beach is a headland that is passable only at low tide (5.5 feet or lower). Further, a short mile south of the headland is Cape Johnson, which also must be traversed at low tide (4 feet or lower – neither have overland trails). We made the trip around these two headlands on an outgoing tide, with the water level just below the highest recommended levels. The traverse, particularly around Cape Johnson was not easy; but perhaps it is easier with a lower tide. We did see a large number of seals hauled out on the rocks just offshore from the cape.
South of Cape Johnson is a beautiful cove which is home to the Chilean Memorial – which is the resting place of the crew of Chilean ship, W.J. Pirrie. The W.J. Pirrie was torn apart just offshore here in November 1920, killing all but two of the crew of 20.
The beach in the cove is mostly gravel and cobbles, with only a small stretch of sand. That sandy spot forms a small campground. When we arrived on an early Friday evening, the campground was crowded with four of five other groups. One moved over to allow us a spot to camp. Of all the campsite we visited on the trip, this was smallest and most crowded (a result, most likely, of being only 3.7 miles north of Rialto Beach).
South of Chilean Memorial to Hole in the Rock, the coast is formed by two more small coves and plenty of sea stacks offshore. Hole in the Rock is at the last headland before Rialto Beach. The “hole” is a small arch in the bottom of the headland, and at low tide you can walk through it. At high tide, you will need to take the short trail over the top. We took the low route, and the tide was just a little too high to make it without getting wet feet. There is a backcountry campground at Hole in the Rock, but we did not see it.
South of Hole in the Rock, it is an easy beach walk to the parking lot at Rialto Beach. The stretch of coast between the northern end of Rialto Beach and the Chilean Memorial was, in my opinion, some of the most scenic of the entire trip.
This hike is high on scenery, and it is very worthwhile to take your camera. I carried my Canon 6D, two lenses (a 28-300mm zoom and a 17-40mm zoom), a tripod, and several filters (a polarizer, a split neutral density filter, and a 10-stop neutral density filter), as well as extra batteries and other small accessories. I used most, if not all, the equipment I brought (partially because if I was carrying it, I thought I should use it). Of course, weight is a consideration as well!
For lens selection, you probably want everything in your bag. There are many sweeping scenic shots for wide-angle lenses. Short telephoto lenses are useful for isolating sea stacks off shore. And longer lenses are a must if you want good wildlife shots (we saw raccoons, deer, a coyote, dozens of bald eagles, great blue herons, seals, and a few sea otters).
A polarizing filter helps a lot with glare, wet surfaces, and minimizing the common sea mist. It is essential for minimizing reflections when shooting tidepools. I found having the 10-stop neutral density filter fun, being able to take long exposures to totally remove wave action. A split neutral density filter was handy at sunset. The tripod was definitely worth taking for those long exposures, sunset shots, and tidepool shots.
Being the west coast, sunsets were good photographic subjects. At most places, with short walks from the campsites, there were almost always sea stacks or islands that could be used in sunset compositions. I didn’t bother much with sunrise, which was typically blocked by the bluffs rising eastward off the beach.
As I mentioned a recent post, last month I went backpacking in Olympic National Park along the coast with my brother Rob and his grandson, Izzy. Olympic National Park protects approximately 73 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. The southern third of the beach is along US Highway 101. This beach extends from Ruby Beach in the north to Kalaloch in the south and is definitely worth a visit. But if you want a true wilderness beach experience, you need to visit the beaches north of Ruby Beach. The wilderness section of beach in the park is generally broken into two parts – known as the north and south Olympic wilderness coasts. The dividing line between the north and south sections is the Quillayute River and the town of La Push (which is at river’s mouth along the southern shore). Our trip was along the north coast, a total distance of about 32.5 miles.
Trailheads: there are three trailheads which access the northern Olympic coast. In the south is Rialto Beach, which is accessed by a road from the town of Forks (the town the Twilight series is based on). Near the middle of the northern coastal section, there is a trailhead at Lake Ozette (which has a campground and ranger station). Two trials to the beach leave Lake Ozette – one travels westward 3.1 miles to Cape Alava, and the other traverses 2.8 miles southwest to Sand Point. The distance between Cape Alava and Sand Point on the beach is about 3.1 miles, making a nice 9 mile loop hike out to and along the beach. The third trailhead, at the northern end of the coastal route, is on the Makah Indian Reservation and leads to Shi Shi Beach via a 2.2-mile long trail. The trail enters Olympic National Park shortly before reaching Shi Shi Beach.
We started our hike at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead and ended at Rialto Beach, traveling the entire 32.5 miles. Obviously other options are available for shorter trips – Shi Shi to Lake Ozette (via the Cape Alava trail) is 15.1 miles and Rialto to Lake Ozette (via the Sand Point trail) is 18 miles.
We decided to hike in a southerly direction for the simple reason that Tanya was picking us at the end, and by ending at Rialto, she could wait on the beach rather than in a muddy trailhead parking lot several miles from the beach. The trip can be traveled in either direction. However, the southern portion of the trip is easier than the northern part, so if you want to get the hardest part out of the way first, traveling south is the way to go. From a photographic point of view, it doesn’t make much difference, though if forced to pick, I’d say traveling north is better so the sun is at your back more often.
The “Trail”: for most of the hike, there is no trail. Instead, you walk along the beach. Sounds easy, right? Well, if the beach is a nice, fine sand beach, and you are hiking at anytime other than the highest tide, it is easy. But not all the beaches are nice, fine sand beaches. Some are made of coarse sand or gravel. These are still fairly easy to hike on, as long as you realize that for every step forward, you may slide backwards half a step. And some beaches are made of cobbles and small boulders, again not too bad to hike on if you are careful and the rocks are covered with seaweed, which they often are. I think of these small boulder beaches as the ankle twisting beaches.
But not all the “trail” is on beaches. Much of it is through large boulders along the shoreline. These boulder areas are typically at or near headlands. Headlands, of course, stick out into the ocean. There are at least 19 headlands along the route. Many of the headlands can be walked around at low tide, two are impassable on the water side and must be traversed over their tops. For many, you have the choice of walking around, or going over. We usually went around them if we had a choice, but going around was not necessarily easy. Between the boulders, large tide pools, slick seaweed, and incoming tide, going around headlands is often a slow and tiring process. We could easily travel 3 miles per hour along the nice sandy beaches, but going around some of the headlands, we were lucky to make 1 mile in an hour.
For the two headlands impassable at any tide, and the many others that can be crossed by going over their tops, there are “trails.” I put trails in quotes because they are not what I consider a normal trail. They are straight up and down, often with few hand and foot holds. They would be impassable, especially when wearing a heavy backpack, except for the aid of strategically placed ropes which allow hikers to pull themselves up and down. We knew there were ropes. What we didn’t know is that the ropes are typically rough braided and weathered synthetics. They are very rough on the hands. I suggest bring a pair of leather gloves. (Rob was lucky, he found a pair of leather gloves on the second day of our trip.) Most of these trails are 0.1 to 0.2 miles in length; however, south of Shi Shi Beach, there are two rails of 0.4 and 0.7 miles.
Camping: the Park Service maintains a number of wilderness campgrounds along the coast. All require use of a bear canister to to store food (bear canisters can be borrowed free of charge from the Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center, or the WIC, in Port Angeles). Not that there are a lot of bears on the coast (there may be a few), but racoons expert in separating hikers from their food are plentiful. All campgrounds are located near a source of fresh water, which is surprising scarce on the coast (particularly this summer with the drought the Pacific Northwest is having). Most have a backcountry toilet available. Permits are required at all campsites, and reservations are required at the campgrounds within a day’s hike of Lake Ozette (from north to south, Seafield Creek, North Ozette River, South Ozette River, Cape Alava, Wedding Rocks, Sand Point, South Sand Point, and Yellow Banks). Outside the reservation camps, backpackers can camp outside the official campgrounds.
Permits: as mentioned above, permits are required to camp overnight on the wilderness coast in Olympic National Park. Permits are available from the WIC. If camping in the reservation area, you may wish to request your permit at least several weeks prior to your trip. Permits cost $5 per person per night. The Makah Indian Reservation also requires recreational permits for use of trails and beachs on the reservation. So technically, if using the Shi Shi trailhead, you probably need a permit. However, the permits are to be displayed in your car while parking at the trailhead. However, overnight parking is not allowed at the Shi Shi trailhead. Instead, you need to park in a pay lot about half a mile from the trailhead (charge of $10 per night). We only had our car at the trailhead long enough to drop off our gear. Makah permits are available at several locations in the town of Neah Bay (which you drive through to get to the Shi Shi trailhead).
Tides: though 10-mile days may not be a problem on many backpacking trips, going 10 miles or more a day on the coast is difficult. We spent five nights traveling our 32 miles. Doing it in four days would have been possible; three days would be difficult. The reason – those headlands I spoke of earlier. You need to schedule your hike based on tides. The last thing you want to do is get halfway around a headland and get stuck by the tide – depending your location, that could be life threatening. You absolutely need to carry a tide chart with you. I also recommend the custom coast maps available from Discover Your Northwest. These maps (0ne for the north coast, and one for the south) show the tide levels at which headlands can be rounded. Depending on how many headlands you may need to round in a day and the tides that day, you may only be able to hike in the morning or evening. Further, you may be stuck by the tide for four or five hours – as we were twice during our trip.
The Route, Shi Shi to South Sand Point: as mentioned above, we started at Shi Shi Beach. This beach if very popular, and on summer weekends, it can be crowded. We started on a Monday, and it was not a problem. Shi Shi is a very beautiful beach and is easy to hike on. The trail to Shi Shi is muddy, even in the drought we are currently experiencing. There are many great places to camp on Shi Shi, with three official campgrounds – one on the northern end where the trail comes out, one in the center where a creeks exits the hills to the beach, and one at the southern end at a small creek. We camped at the southern end. This was great location, very close to the Point of Arches, making for great photography. There are also lots of nice tide pools at the Point of Arches.
South of Shi Shi, getting around the Point of Arches requires a tide of 4.5 feet or lower, though there is also an overland trail. The next several miles, by a series of headlands, are the most difficult of the entire hike. There are several long overland trails in this area, but there are also several place that require low tides to get around (depending on the headland, tides of 4 to 6 feet or lower are required). We were stranded for four hours in this area. Though difficult, the scenery is spectacular.
South of this series of headlands, there is a long section of beach without headlands, though most of is not sandy. This section, which goes by the Seafield Creek camp and stretches to the North Ozette River camp, is easy enough to hike at low to medium tides. However, it could be difficult at high tide, when the water can reach up the beach into the driftwood (which is typically large to very large logs – not easy to walk through). We camped at North Ozette, which has a nice site above the driftwood and several more in the trees. (Unfortunately, when we were there, we did not get one of the nicer sites as another party was taking up four campsites. They did give up one for us, but were using perhaps the best spot as their kitchen area.)
The two campgrounds at the Ozette River are separated, wait for it, by the Ozette River. There is no bridge across the river. You will get wet crossing the river. How wet depends on the tide. At low tides, it may be ankle-deep. At high tide, forget it. We crossed at a tide of about 1 foot, taking off our boots and socks, and the water was a bit more than ankle-deep. It is probably passable at tides up to about 3 or 4 feet without a problem.
If you camp at the Ozette River, you will need to go as far upstream as possible to collect fresh water. At high tide, salt water backs up into the river, making the water at and near the mouth of the river very saline.
South of the river, there are a couple small headlands needing 4 and 5 foot tides or lower to pass (no overland trails available) followed by rocky beaches to Cape Alava. Cape Alava is the site of a pre-historic Indian village. In this area, where the trail from Lake Ozette comes in, you will start seeing a lot more people as you encounter day hikers.
About one mile south of Cape Alava is Wedding Rocks. This is worth a definite stop as there are petroglyphs present on many of the rocks. The best petroglyphs (orca whales and people’s faces) are at the southern end, near the start of another rocky beach (and near the southern end of the overland trail around the Wedding Rocks).
Past Wedding Rocks the beach is rocky, but not too difficult for a mile or so, then becomes sandy near Sand Point (where the other trail from Lake Ozette comes in). The campground at Sound Point is quite large. We instead camped at South Sand Point, a further 0.6 miles down the beach. The hiking near Sand Point is probably the easiest on the whole route, being along a broad sandy beach.
In my next post, I’ll go over the rest of the route. All the photos shown here are from this northern half.
Last week I made a 6-day backpacking trip along the beach in Olympic National Park. More on the trip later. For now I want to just present one image. This is a nightscape I made near my camp at the Norwegian Memorial last Thursday night.
My friend and fellow photographer, Mark Cole, who ventured with me recently to Palouse Falls, also made arrangements to go to the Olympic coast (without my knowledge of his trip, and him without knowledge of my trip) with the expressed intent of doing night photography. As it turned out, we camped about 1/4 mile apart on Tuesday night near the Ozette River, me on the north side and he on the south side. Tuesday night was cloudy. We met up on the wilderness beach on Wednesday morning, and hiked together for a while, and he confirmed he did not get any shots Tuesday night. After awhile, he headed back to his camp and I kept going.
Mark planned to stay Wednesday night at his camp near the Ozette River. I have yet to talk with him, and I don’t know if he made any decent night shots – but it was again cloudy were I was camped.
Then came Thursday. Mark stated he was only out for two nights, so it is probable he missed this. The Milky Way in all its splendor on Thursday night. So this one’s for Mark. Better luck next time!
Technical details – 30-second exposure, ISO 6400, f4, 17mm on a 17-40mm zoom. Light painting done with a headlamp with a Roscoe diffuser and an orange gel.
I enjoy night photography, though I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn. I have previously written on the topic. However, in that case, my post focused on night photography in the city. In today’s post, I’ll focus on night photography in the wilderness (or at least far from city lights).
During my recent backpacking trip in the Olympic Mountains, I played with night photography on two nights. My main focus on those nights was to capture some shots of the Milky Way. When shooting star filled skies, and not trying for star trails, here are a few hints:
- plan your shot by seeing where the Milky Way will be – download the free program Stellarium, a planetarium for computers which can show you how the night sky will look anywhere in the world at anytime now or in the future.
- pick a spot outside of cities – light pollution blocks many visible stars; my trip to the Olympic Mountains was perfect
- for the best star shots, avoid times when the moon is up – like light pollution, moonlight will drown out many stars; it was just after new moon when I was in the Olympics, moonlight was not a problem
- use as “fast” a lens as you can – I used my f4 17-40mm zoom because I wanted the wide-angle view. However, my f2.8 24-70mm lens would have been a better choice for its better light gathering ability
- don’t be afraid of high ISOs, you will need it – I used ISO settings of 3,200, 6,400, and 8,000 coupled with noise reduction in Lightroom.
- avoid shutter speeds more than 30 seconds, otherwise you will start getting star trails – up to 30 seconds typically works okay for wide-angle shots (perhaps up to 24 mm), but if you use a less wide-angle lens, you will need a faster shutter speed. The shots here had shutter speeds of 20 to 30 seconds
- use a wide open aperture – I had my lens wide open at f4 (again, an f2.8 lens would have been better)
- use a tripod – goes without saying
- if you want some color to the sky, don’t wait until it is too dark – the length of time after sunset the sky will retain color depends on which direction you point the camera and your latitude (it gets darker quicker at lower latitudes); my shots here were taken between 1.5 and 2.5 hours after sunset
- auto-focus will not work, so turn it off – auto-focus does not work in low light; to focus you can choose to take some test shots and check a magnified view on your LCD panel of some of the stars; alternatively, manually set the focus to the hyperfocal distance or biased to the infinite side of the hyperfocal distance (that’s what I did)
- consider using less vignetting correction in post-processing – the profiled vignetting correction for my lens in Lightroom adds a lot of noise to the edges of the images (not a problem in full light conditions, bad news in low light)
The 7 Lakes Basin/High Divide hike is one of the premier backpacking trips in the Olympics if not in Washington State. The scenery is superb and varied. It includes one of the best waterfalls in the state, old growth forest, multiple lakes in both sub-alpine and alpine settings (don’t let the name 7 Lakes Basin confuse you, there are many more than 7 lakes), and views north to Vancouver Island, west to the Pacific, and a fantastic view south to the Hoh River and Mount Olympus.
Wildlife is also abundant. Sightings of deer, elk, mountain goats, and black bears are very common (however, on my recent trip, of the four species, we only saw deer; although based on other hikers’ and backcountry rangers’ comments, we were in the minority). In particular, the mountain goats are so common in frequenting trail and campsite areas, that (at least when I was there) rangers direct hikers to throw rock at them to get them to move off the trail (apparently, the goats are starting to believe they are the dominate species and think humans should move off the trail for them rather than the other way around; the rangers are trying to teach them the opposite).
While the loop is just over 18 miles in length, several of the campsite are not directly on the loop, so the actual length for most people is 19 miles or more. Most people complete the loop in 3 days. We decided to take it slow, and spent 4 nights in the basin. There are four “large” backcountry campgrounds with 6 to 16 campsites: Deer Lake, Lunch Lake, Heart Lake and Sol Duc Park. There are at least 14 other campgrounds with just a single site. Camping is only allowed at the designated sites, and a permit is required. 50% of the campsites can be reserved in advance, and the most popular fill up fast (particularly Heart Lake). This trail is very popular. If you are seeking solitude while camping, avoid the major campground and reserve some of the single sites. For example, we spent one night at Round Lake which was quite private even though it is close to Lunch Lake.
From a photography prospective, unless you want forest shots, the best views are high up in the basin – so you may want to concentrate camping at Heart Lake, Lunch Lake, and Round Lake. For sunrise or sunset views of Olympic Range (and Mount Olympus in particular) without a long hike from your campsite, options are limited. Mount Olympus is only seen from the portion of the trail which actually traverses the High Divide ridge. Other than the Heart Lake Junction campsite (which I didn’t specifically visit, but from the main trail, it appeared to be a dry camp) and a campsite in Cat Basin (which is off the main trail by at least a mile), the High Divide part of the trail is about a 1/2 mile hike and several hundred feet elevation gain from Heart Lake and several miles from Lunch Lake. Without camping at Heart Lake, Heart Lake Junction, or Cat Basin, it is likely you may only see Mount Olympus in mid-day. Inspiring yes, but not the best light as Olympus is directly south of High Divide.
Another consideration about where to camp is what direction you do the loop in. Most people do the hike counterclockwise, spending the first night at Deer Lake (about 3 1/2 miles from the trailhead) or Lunch Lake (about 8 miles). The advantage of going this way is that the elevation gain is a bit more spread out. However it is also possible to go clockwise, which has little elevation gain for the first 6 miles or so (in the Sol Duc River valley), then climbs steeply over 2,000 feet in about 2 miles through Sol Duc Park to Heart Lake. I’ll discuss the photo worthy highlights from a counterclockwise perspective, since that is the direction we did the trip.
The trailhead (elevation about 1,870 feet) is just down the road from Sol Duc Hot Springs resort and campground. Sol Duc Falls (elevation 1,927 feet) is 0.8 easy miles from the trailhead. These falls are one of the most photogenic waterfalls in the Olympics and perhaps even Washington State. The falls consist of three side-by-side drops of approximately 35 feet where the Sol Duc River drops sideways into a narrow gorge. There are several viewpoints from which to photograph the falls, the two main ones being a footbridge a short distance north of the falls and a viewing area directly south of the falls. Set in a beautiful old-growth forest, the scene from both viewpoints is spectacular. However, being in the forest, contrast can be a big problem photographically. Sunlight shining on the falls creates extreme contrast differences. Photographing the falls on a cloudy day or early or late in the day when the falls are in shadows are preferred times.
These preferred times may also help with the second problem photographing the falls. They are extremely popular, and it is hard (at least in summer) to find the falls without people climbing on the rocks above the falls. Luckily, if you take the loop hike, you go by the falls twice, giving you two opportunities to find good light and few people. On our hike, on our first visit, there were perhaps 50 people there, including several women in bright clothes performing some sort of yoga(?) exercise on the rocks at the top of the falls. Further, it was mid-afternoon, and with part of the falls sunlit, the contrast was bad. Our stop at the end of the hike was in late morning. And though there were still a lot of people present, they were mostly out of the frame when shooting the falls. And although sunlight was still an issue, it was more controllable with post-processing.
From Sol Duc Falls, the trail rapidly gains elevation as it makes it way along Canyon Creek to Deer Lake, 3.4 miles from the trailhead (elevation 3,527 feet). This portion of the trail is in forest, but there is a nice view of the creek where the trail crosses on a well constructed bridge. The first view of Deer Lake is where the trail crosses the outlet stream, a good place to photograph the lake (depending on light conditions of course). The lake is set in a sub-alpine forest with occasional meadows, making for some nice views (see this image from my previous post), though certainly unspectacular compared to the higher lakes further up in the basin. The lake is aptly named, we had a buck wander through our campsite in the evening and saw several does in the morning.
Past Deer Lake, the trail resumes its climb toward High Divide, coming out of the forest into a mixed forest and meadow area at the Potholes (4.9 miles, 4,115 feet elevation). The Potholes consist of several ponds and small lakes and a small (one or two sites) campground. This may be worthy of a quick stop or at least a few shots taken from the trail. At the time of our visit (and likely through much of August), wildflowers were abundant from this point on the loop all the way to Sol Duc Park.
Beyond the Potholes, the trail grade moderates somewhat as it eventually reaches the divide that separates the Sol Duc drainage from the Bogachiel drainage (6.1 miles, 4,750 feet). Eventually the trail settles on the Bogachiel side, traversing a very steep hillside along fairly level path below the top of the ridge. The trail eventually reaches a side trail junction that drops down into the 7 Lakes Basin, and specifically to Lunch and Round Lakes (7.05 miles, 4,862 feet).
The 7 Lakes Basin is named for seven lakes within the basin: Round, Lunch, Sol Duc, Clear, Long, No Name, and Morgenroth Lakes. However, the basin name is a misnomer. There are many other lakes in the basin including Lake Number Eight and the Wye Lakes (see below).
Most hikers, us included, hike down to Lunch Lake, dropping about 500 feet in less than half a mile. The views of Lunch and Round Lake are spectacular along this side trail. We spent one night at Round Lake and a second night at Lunch Lake. There are many photo opportunities in the area immediately around the two lakes. You can also venture further out in the basin. From the east end of Lunch Lake, there are trails to Clear Lake and into the Wye Lakes area.
We day hiked into the Wye Lakes area and were pleasantly surprised by the many small lakes we found. These lakes are not shown on some maps (including the Green Trails map we were using). The Wye Lakes are located in a treeless bowl below Bogachiel Peak (see the post-opening photo above). We counted at least 10 lakes in the area, though some would more rightly be classified as ponds. From the southern end of the Wye Lakes area, it looked like you could fairly easily bushwhack down to No Name and Morgenroth Lakes.
During our two nights in 7 Lakes Basin, we saw plenty of deer, including several fawns, but no other wildlife other than frogs (lots of frogs), salamanders and fish. The volunteer ranger at Lunch Lake said the mountain goats loved to hang out in and near the Lunch Lake campground, but they were absent when we were there. (She later told us that while we were camping at Lunch Lake, the goats had traveled to Heart Lake and were staying at the campground there. However, the next day when we hiked to Heart Lake, the goats had left).
To continue from the Lunch Lake area, you have a choice: you can hike back up to the main trail or take a short cut through the Wye Lakes area. Back on the main trail, the way continues traversing the side of Bogachiel Peak, working around the west and south sides of the peak, nearly reaching the summit at 8.12 miles (5,377 feet elevation, the high point on the trail) from the trailhead. Along this part of the trail, shortly before reaching the high point, there is a side trail down to Hoh Lake, a steep 800 feet below the ridge southwest of Bogachiel. From the high point on the trail, it is an easy walk, but airy on the north side, up to the top of Bogachiel Peak. From the high point, the main trail continues atop the High Divide Ridge line eastward with fantastic views of Mount Olympus, the Baily Range, and the Hoh River valley to the south and the 7 Lakes Basin to the north. If you take the short cut through the Wye Lakes area, you reach High Divide at about the 8.8 mile point at just under 5,000 feet elevation. (This short cut saves, by my calculations, about 400 feet elevation gain and about 0.75 miles). We took this route, dropping our packs and hiking back up the main trail to the top of Bogachiel Peak.
The trail continues along the top of High Divide until finally turning northeast to drop to Heart Lake at 9.95 miles from the trailhead (5,042 feet). The two miles of trail from the Hoh Lake junction to the Heart Lake junction are incredible for their view of Mount Olympus. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, you will likely be hiking this portion in mid-day, and with Olympus due south, the light for photography is not prime. From shortly before the Heart Lake junction all th the way back to the trailhead, it is all downhill.
Heart Lake (10.3 miles, 4,744 feet) is a small, pretty lake and is definitely worth a stop for photos if not camping there. Below Heart Lake, the trail descends rapidly, gradually entering the forest and leaving the alpine lands behind. This part of the trail is known for being frequented by elk (though we did not see any). The trail reaches Sol Duc Park at 11.1 miles (4,135 feet), a nice sub alpine forested campground. The trail continues dropping, never far from but with only occasional views of the Sol Duc River. The forest eventually morphs from sub alpine to low land old growth with seemingly impossibly tall fir and hemlock trees. We spent our last night at the Appleton Junction campsite (13.35 miles, 3,082 feet, next to the Appleton Pass trail intersection with the High Divide trail). This camp is near by the very scenic Rocky Creek (there is another campsite right on the creek), full of mossy logs and rock amid rushing white water. The final five miles of trail are gradually downhill through old growth forest, eventually once again reaching Sol Duc Falls at about 17.3 miles and the trailhead at 18.1 miles.
All in all, this is a great photography trip and is one of the highlights of Olympic National Park. (Note: I borrowed mileage and elevation data from the High Divide trail description on the Pro Trails website.)
I spent most of last week on a backpacking trip in Olympic National Park, making the 19-mile loop trip around the 7 Lakes Basin and along High Divide. Together with my two partners (my brother Rob and his grandson Izzy), we spent 5 days on the trip. In the next few days, I hope to write a photo guide post for the 7 Lakes Basin, but until then, here are a few images from early in the trip to give you an idea about what the 7 Lakes Basin is all about.