Photographing Majestic Mount Rainier

Sitting in the airport now waiting for my flight back and reflecting on how crazy this day has been.  Let me start from the beginning.  

My alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. but I was up 30 minutes earlier excited with the thought of decent weather and seeing Rainier.  I had been listening to the rain all night and as morning came, the rain slowed down and eventually stopped.  At 5 a.m. I ran outside and looked up at the sky.  Stars.  I could see stars.  That meant that the sky was clear and the weather forecast had been accurate.  I got ready as fast as I could and headed up to the mountain.  

When you enter a National Park that early in the morning, there are no lines or people to deal with; you just drive right on in like you own the place.  The road had iced over and I had to slow down as my truck took a slight spin and righted itself.  My spot was about a 30 minute drive into the park.  I got there at 6 a.m. and waited.  First light would be in an hour and shortly after the sun would come up.   

And then, as if the sky hated me, a single cloud came out of the north east and slid right in front of the volcano and parked itself.  It was like the wind blew it in and then ran out of gusto to keep pushing it on. I panicked, prayed, and waited.  Nothing happened.  As first light appeared, I could see the entire park and sky except for Rainier.  I was crushed.  Then I thought of another lookout that was quite a bit higher in elevation that might give me a better view so I took the car another 15 minutes up the road and parked.  The mountain looked exactly the same and I gave up.  

I had a beautiful sunrise on my hands and I wasn’t going to miss it waiting for Rainier to stop being shy so I pointed my camera in the opposite direction and got a shot of a beautiful landscape.  Since I was in the blue hour and shooting Velvia, a slow film at 50 ISO, my exposure required that the shutter be open for over 2 minutes.  Halfway through that exposure, the sun burned the clouds off of Rainier and there it was - the Volcano with it’s snowy glaciers turning golden in the morning light.  After the final minute of my current exposure, I ran across the viewpoint to face Rainier and got my shot.  Relief flooded through me.  I must have checked the settings on my camera a thousand times before I pulled the shutter.   

Through the rest of the day, I looked at Rainier from a few different angles and got my last shots before packing up and heading home.   

I will say this, the shear size of Rainier cannot be understood.  Sitting at the base of it and comparing it to the surrounding mountains made it look huge, but it wasn’t until I got back to the airport that I fully understood its size as it loomed over Tacoma.  All of the mountains around the area look like dirt piles as Rainier takes up so much of the horizon and sky.  It’s so big it looks unnatural, like it had been built by man and set there as an attraction to be seen for miles and miles around. 

Rainier is truly one of the most spectacular landscapes I have ever seen. 

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