Friday, May 28, 2010

Mount St. Helens

May 18th, 2010 was the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. On May 15th I rode up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory with my friends, and fellow photographers, Bruce Ely, and Andy Batt. Bruce is a staff photographer for the Oregonian, and was assigned to make a photo for the paper. The night before, he and Andy hatched a plan to go up and camp overnight (Bruce got clearance from the Forest Service ahead of time), in hopes of being there for the perfect light to make some great photos, fortunately, they called me as well.

We hit the road around 1pm on Saturday, stopped for lunch at Rose's in Castle Rock, and got to the observatory around 4. The afternoon was hazy, with a big cloud bank parked over the crater. It was windy, and a bit cold, and I was beginning to realize that it would be a while before that perfect light showed up, if at all. We all had backpacks stuffed with tents and sleeping bags, rain gear, and whatever else we were going to need to stay comfortable for the night, but we had yet to decide where that would be. All of us had slightly different agendas; Bruce had his assignment, Andy's objective was a time lapse sequence that would run throughout the night, and mine was to make a panoramic of the view. So we milled around a amongst the day tripping visitors, hobbyist photographers, and ham radio veterans, trying to decide where we were going to make our pictures from, and where we were going to sleep.

After weighing all of our options, which (briefly) included hiking down into the valley a bit, or up on the ridge, where we'd be hammering our tent stakes into rock and pumice, we decided to go with the level ground and slight wind protection of the path in front of the observatory. No tents of course, just bags and pads. This gave us the ability to manage and operate our gear in a mostly dirt free environment, and since we were able to set up our folding chairs, it felt a bit like three dudes out car camping, which was nice. We sat and made pictures late into the night, talking about how great, and how challenging, it is to be a photographer right now. We ate freeze dried food from bags, and enjoyed it. And we slept sound, with only the occasional stir from a restless chipmunk (which apparently are vicious according to the signs). We got up at 5am to make some more pictures, packed up our stuff, and headed home, stopping again at Rose's for breakfast on the way. I always learn something about my friends when on roadtrips, this time out I learned that Bruce will get recognized anywhere, even on top of a volcano, and that he likes chocolate milk with his breakfast. And I learned that Andy likes his corned beef hash crispy, and that he always brushes his teeth before bed, even when he's sleeping outside.

That perfect light never quite showed up, though we were given a few windows of opportunity during our stay. Here's ten of my favorite images from the adventure, the first being my pano, which is comprised of five frames, and is 1 foot by 6 feet.

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