Blue Light Special
Oregon · USA
Twilight casts the world in blue as Mt. Hood's peak looms ominously yet protectively over the sparking lights of Mt. Hood Meadows. I actually don't think all that highly of the photo itself, doing what I could with a scene in which good light and good clouds just wouldn't coincide, but I think the story behind the image is worth the tell.
It was yet another instance of the Master (Justin) Poe beckoning his followers to join him on a frenetic pre-dawn pursuit of a sunrise that seemed filled with promise based on the favorable forecasts. And why wouldn't it be? This is the same man that made magic happen despite a forecast calling for 90% cloud cover, so with 42% cover anticipated this time around, how could we go possibly go wrong?
So off we went--myself, my med school buddy Brian Duty who was just getting his feet wet in landscape photography, Jeff Hobson, and the Master himself all meeting up at 5am at a Safeway just outside of Portland. We piled into my SUV and grabbed some sustenance at Joe's Donuts in Sandy en route to Bennett Pass, a place none of us had yet been to. Justin did all the heavy lifting in researching the location, his affinity for the grandeur of Mt. Hood exhorting us all on despite our heavily sleep-deprived states. For Brian, this was hardly anything new: Having gone through a brutal East Coast surgical residency that at some points had him working 110 hours in a single week, he was plenty use to super-early wakeup calls, though he admitted the experience has left him with a profoundly deeper appreciation of a good night's rest. My residency wasn't exactly a cakewalk, either, and having dabbled in landscape photography for almost six years now, I know how to muster enough enthusiasm and healthy perspective to actually get out of bed at the bell instead of embarking on an unproductive 3-hour snooze-alarm fest (I was sorely tempted, though, I'll admit...). Unfortunately, either my anticipation of the early wakeup call and/or the Thai tea I had earlier in the day conspired to render my 8:30pm bedtime completely moot, as I awakened a wink after midnight and ended up tossing and turning until my 3:30am alarm finally twisted the blade a full 360°.
Jeff, though, seemed to handle the sleep deprivation with a touch less grace than the rest of us (sorry, buddy, but it's the truth). As we started gearing up at the trailhead, we heard a pathetically doleful groan emanate from the back of the vehicle: "Aw, man...I brought Nicky's snow pants instead of mine!" Try as I might, I couldn't stifle a laugh, and it only got worse when he tried to stretch the two ends of the zippered waistband to their physical limits only to find a good 6 inches of exposed thermal underwear still separating the two sides. A tragedy of Romeo-and-Julietesque proportions, to be sure.
Portending even more misery for Jeff was the fact that the thick fog and cold precipitation we'd driven through en route showed absolutely no signs of letting up in time for the expected light show, and indeed after a 1.4-mile slog in ever-softening snow, we ultimately got skunked at the viewpoint by the time the sun rose. It was only by virtue of the compass that we even knew where to imagine seeing the mountain under clearer conditions (conditions, for example, like the ones the meteorologists had suggested were in store for us that morning...). So we trudged back to the car, toting our snowshoes in one hand and--for one of us--our wife's snow pants and tattered pride in the other.
We went our separate ways upon returning to the Safeway parking lot, with Jeff heading off to work (hopefully not in his wife's work pants) and Justin heading back home to do what it is that married fathers of young children do (don't ask me, I haven't the slightest...). Brian and I decided to head for the Gorge just for the sake of exercising our cameras, which to that point hadn't even seen the light of day given the dour conditions. While we were shooting at Elowah Falls, I got a text from Justin that the weather was looking much more favorable back at Bennett Pass (based on webcams rather than what meteorologists I'm convinced jokingly call 'forecasts') and that he had permission (ha!) to head back out to try it all over again for sunset if we were game.
In it purely for the camaraderie and experience at that point, we threw exhaustion to the wind and went all-in. We met up at a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant near the Safeway and scarfed down some good food before heading back out to Bennett Pass. Unlike the morning when we had the lot to ourselves, the place was crawling with snowshoers who were more or less calling it a day. Not us. Out we went, racing against the fading light, both helped and hindered by our snowshoes. Naturally I brought up the rear...I'd like to say my bum knee was to blame, but it really wasn't bothering me all that much. The truth was I simply took a pee break and stood zero chance of catching back up with a CrossFit junkie (Brian) and an avid weightlifter a dozen years my junior (Master Poe). Blackhawk Down this certainly was not, as the two single-minded deserters had zero qualms about racing off after the sunset and leaving me to whatever fate my sleep-deprived, bum-kneed, old fogy-bodied existence had in store for me. Happy just to have finally made it to the viewpoint, I did manage to clumsily 'sprint' the final 10 yards of it, imagining bagpipes playing in the background as I channeled my inner William Wallace and imagined myself running along mountain ridges amongst the Scottish highlands. We all have to find our inspiration somehow when we're running on fumes, I guess.
As noted early on, the light and skies weren't quite aligned on this day, so I settled on this blue-hour shot that I found reminiscent perhaps of some scene from the Swiss Alps. As it turned out, the best image of the day ultimately was captured on none other than the Master's camera when Justin nabbed a final twilight shot of majestic Mt. Hood beset in a background of twinkling stars, taken, of all places, from back at the parking lot. Go figure.
For Brian, this must have been like learning to dive by walking out on the 35-meter cliffs of La Quebrada. He might have thought he belly-flopped, but I think he ultimately found hobnobbing with three sleep-deprived photographers to be just as informative and enlightening as he would have had he come away with an epic sunrise or sunset image his first time out. And maybe there's some value in learning early on that 97% of our light-chasing forays ends up just like this?
I guess I'll have my answer the next time we talk. Although come to think of it, if he never talks to me again, I guess I'd get my answer regardless...