It seems that everywhere I go, I end up chasing the sun — either as a sunrise or sunset, it’s almost a sure bet that I’ll be pining to be at “the” right spot for a photo. As pervasive as digital photography is today, it’s quite easy for someone to be at the right spot at the right time of the right day: but going out of town with the goal of taking a certain photo can always be elusive.
It wouldn’t be me to give up on a sunrise photo, however, so I decided I’d give it attempt this trip, too. The forecast predicted clearing on Friday and Saturday, and with my being unable to get out of bed at 2:30 AM on Friday my only chances for a sunrise photo at Mt. Rainier were for Saturday. Chinook Pass — one of my favorite spots in the Park — opened just after noon on Friday, so it was there that I planned to take a sunrise photo; ideally, with Tipsoo Lake in the foreground. I hadn’t visited this quiet version of Paradise since August 11, 2007, but my goal had one small flaw: in late May 2012, Tipsoo was still under 13′ of snow.
The forces that grind away at a mountain are innumerable though not obviously immense: glaciers don’t exactly carve away rock at dynamite speeds, and with much of the snow meltoff complete, some waterfalls lie dormant during the months of “best” weather. I wasn’t anticipating to see any major waterfalls on my way to Chinook Pass on Friday, but I came across one right off the road (how convenient). I didn’t really get a shot I loved, but I did succeed in taking several pictures before I realized my lens had accumulated enough water on it to nourish a lawn.
As I continued to Chinook Pass, I eventually concluded it didn’t make much sense to go to Tipsoo for the sunrise the following morning. Climbing the cliffs of snow on the side of the road wouldn’t really be an issue physically, but I wasn’t confident that I could do so without causing a mini-avalanche of snow and Xing onto the road. On top of that, given the conditions at the side of the road, the lake itself probably wouldn’t be visible, so why risk shutting down the road for a picture with snow in the foreground? I had noticed during the drive that the Reflection Lakes had started to thaw out in a certain spot, so with all these factors I decided to forego the opportunity to photograph what would likely have been a spectacularly colorful sunrise from the east side of the park and went back to Paradise for the third straight day instead.
I arrived a few minutes later than I had hoped and yet was still completely alone. I had kept my snowshoes for the day, but the temperatures were low enough that I didn’t need them. All I heard — apart from the several birdsongs was the deliberate crunching of the snow beneath my feet. It was spectacular even without clouds to catch the color of the sunrise, and I couldn’t have planned a more perfect Saturday morning. Well, maybe if that damn tree didn’t have a limb stick higher than Rainier’s summit!
It’s always a bit tough to justify spend money on a photography trip to Seattle; a colorful sunrise can be thwarted by clouds obscuring a mountain just as easily as by an ignored alarm clock or by heaps of snow blanketing a lake. What I found with this trip, however, is that at 5:30 AM it’s nice to have a place to myself, whether my surroundings are cloaked in fog or if a mountain looms stoically above the trees. Regardless of whether I shot the sunrise I had imagined, the enormousness of space and quiet was oddly — yet pleasantly –fulfilling; even as the glaciers above me carved valleys, weakening the mountain I sought to photograph, and as waterfalls roared relentlessly into deep canyons, something about the cold silence still made my soul feel alive. For the first time since I came back to the US from Germany, my existence at the lake was tranquil, unharried, blissfully devoid of distractions.