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Adam Jones on photographing the elements that give America’s first national park its out-of-this-world reputation.
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Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Mount Rainier National Park is located in western Washington State about 70 miles southeast of Seattle. Established in 1899, the park includes more than 235,000 acres. Mount Rainier itself is 14,410 feet high, making it the fifth highest mountain in the Lower 48. It’s considered an active volcano and is part of the Cascade Range of volcanoes. Traveling the park can take you through lowland forests of old-growth timber, meadows filled with wildflowers and alpine slopes covered in glaciers. There are four entrances to the park; Nisqually Entrance is the main one and leads to the park headquarters at Longmire and the main visitor center at Paradise. Open year-round, this area is accessed via SR-706 from Ashford and is frequented by visitors in spring, summer and fall, but is also a prime winter-use location, averaging almost 700 inches of snow. My favorite section of the park is accessed via the northeast entrance located on SR-410. This road is closed each year with the first heavy snowfall of the season. The Sunrise Visitor Center is located on this side of the mountain and, at 6,400 feet, it’s the highest point in the park that can be reached by car. The wilderness around Sunrise is covered in mountain wildflowers during summer. As the name implies, there are fantastic views of the mountain at sunrise. Chinook Pass (5,430 feet) and Cayuse Pass (4,675 feet) are on this side of the mountain, which allows for easy access by car.
The weather is influenced by that from the Pacific Ocean and can be described best as generally cool and rainy. The greatest chance for a warm, 60º to 70º day is during July and August, though rain is possible any day. Snow in the park will remain at the 5,000-foot areas into late July; the mountain weather is unpredictable and can change from a sunny day to a cold, wet storm in a matter of minutes. Be prepared for cold weather at all times. This picture of Mount Rainier was taken from just below the summit of Chinook Pass as first light touched the top of the mountain. The next day, the road was closed for the rest of the winter.
In this area, I primarily use a Canon EF 28-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS zoom. This lens gives me the ability to take amazing wide-angle shots to include the majestic vistas found all around here. I always carry a Canon EF-S 10-22mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 for extreme wide-angles. Another piece of essential equipment that I carry is a Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod topped with a Kirk BH-1 ballhead for easily perfecting framing on uneven terrain. I bring a Joby Gorillapod SLR tripod to set up stable shots quickly from unique surfaces like tree limbs or rocks. Other handy tools are circular polarizing filters, variable density filters, grad ND filters for controlling my exposures and a remote shutter release for ultimate sharpness. I use a Lowepro backpack to carry my equipment and will pack it lighter if I’m going on longer day hikes. I shoot digital 100% of the time, currently using a Canon EOS Rebel XTi and Lexar Pro UDMA CF cards.
My favorite time of the year is in the fall, with cool, crisp mornings that warm to comfortable afternoons. The fall also brings the first snowfalls, which dramatically decreases the number of visitors. With the summer crowds gone, there’s a peace and serenity that can only be experienced in the mountains. Contact: Mount Rainier National Park, www.nps.gov/mora.
Successfully navigating back roads and difficult weather conditions to get great wilderness photography requires a reliable GPS system. The Oregon 400t from Garmin includes everything you’ll need for driving, hiking and climbing. The three-inch, diagonal touchscreen display shows preloaded U.S. and European maps that can be viewed in 3-D for checking elevation and terrain. It’s durable and waterproof, plus the 400t shows photos and lets you share routes wirelessly with other Garmin Oregon and Colorado GPS users. List Price: $499. Contact: Garmin, (800) 800-1020, www.garmin.com.