Happy 2024!

2024 Calendars are still available at lotsasmilesphoto.etsy.com!

I’m taking a slight break from the Bryce posts to bring you a local photostory.  As the weather continues to improve, we’re getting out more, and I’m taking more pictures of the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

The trip involves closed paved roads, easy trails, tough trails, tunnels, scrambling, and really nice scenery.  The distance is 5-6 miles.  Elevation gain is approximately 800 feet.  There will be ropes.

– Layers of clothing you don’t mind getting dirty
– Sturdy boots with good traction
– Flashlight (yep)
– Work gloves
– Sunglasses for protection against branches
– Spare clothes to change into afterwards
– Definitely bring camera gear, but keep it light.  Tripods are recommended.

The Duane-venture

Woman in a riverbank in a mossy forest, photographing the water | LotsaSmiles Photography

We have a friend.  His name is Duane.  He knows a lot of the local hikes, and he’s kind enough to share those with us.  He likes to chase waterfalls.

Duane’s also familiar with many “off-road” trails – ones without parking lots or paved paths or crowds.  Most don’t have bathrooms.  Many don’t have officially marked trailheads.  Some don’t even have well-established paths through the underbrush.

These are the hikes we’ve dubbed the “Duane-ventures.”  And these are oftentimes the highlights of my summers.

The hikes

Aaron scrambling across a landslide to rejoin the hiking trail | LotsaSmiles Photography

These hikes are not for the faint of heart.  They’re steep, muddy, meandering, and difficult to get to.  We’re commonly asked to bring ropes, gloves, water shoes, headlamps, and a spare set of clothing.

Sometimes they’re merely exploratory, and we don’t really find much worth shooting.  The lighting is harsh, the day is hot, and we’re left only with wondering why we put ourselves through the ordeal for nothing.

River through a mossy forest, the water blurred | LotsaSmiles Photography

Other times, the hard work is well worth the effort when we reach a completely secluded waterfall few ever see.  And as we sit on cool, mossy rocks, breathing deep of the ionized air as a gentle mist cools our foreheads, we’re filled with a profound sense of wonder at the magnificent world around us – the sheer power of Mother Nature.  It is here that we find our place in the world, our wild home.  And our aching muscles don’t stand a chance at reclaiming our attentions.

One such venture

We went on such a Duane-venture recently, and we brought an unsuspecting out-of-town guest with us.  The briefing email informed us the hike would include ropes down a steep incline, some caves, and – of course – a waterfall.  We tried to prepare our guest as much as possible, but we barely knew what was in store, ourselves.

Fans of fungus growing from a log | LotsaSmiles Photography

This is just how these things go.

The trek began innocuously enough.  We parked near a closed bridge and made our way across and up the service road it led to.  About a mile or two up hill, we left the road, and the real adventure began.

Woman scrambling down a steep incline with the aid of a rope | LotsaSmiles Photography

Over rocks and through brambles, we made our way down the elevation we had just gained.  We eased our way backwards down the steep hillside, using ropes and roots (“veggie-belays”) to ease our descent.  The work gloves we brought came in handy.

The old trail

Looking out from a dark tunnel to the mossy forest beyond | LotsaSmiles Photography

Just as the river below came into view, we hit the old trail.  But we didn’t get far before discovering it had been buried in a fresh landslide.  But would that stop us?  I shouldn’t even need to answer that.

Our unsuspecting guest – who we thought might be overwhelmed by all of this – was in fact leading the charge, the brave soul.

A landslide spilling into a river lined with mossy banks | LotsaSmiles Photography

Over logs, under logs, crawling across jagged rocks and across precarious ledges, we survived to find ourselves at a damp tunnel, with the river falling away into a depressed ravine.  Rivulets of water seeped out of the moss embracing the entrance of the tunnel, dripping onto our path and lending a musky smell to the earth within.  I’ve always tried to photograph these green dripping walls with little success.  They should really just be enjoyed in person.

Man walking into the tunnel next to a mossy wall | LotsaSmiles Photography

Beyond the cave, we descended further, following the water to its bed.  There was a lot of bushwhacking through the thick underbrush, and we fell to a log at the bottom to eat a snack and regain some energy.

But it wouldn’t be a Duane-venture without a waterfall.

The waterfall

Now to the water’s edge, we followed it back upstream – back toward the tunnel overhead – locating the object of our journey.  Waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest are just beautiful, and this one was no exception.

A misty waterfall surrounded by mossy banks | LotsaSmiles Photography

Unfortunately, the sun was bright in the sky, and the shadows made photographing it difficult.  Furthermore, a sharp turn in the river meant a sharp edge against which mist flew freely.  The light actually caught it in a magical way, but with so much water in the air, it was a challenge to keep my lens clear.  Water droplets on the lens can have an interesting effect, but it took away from the scene in this case.

Still, I shot.  From this angle and that, I wanted to capture this mystical scene.  After all, this was the whole point of the hike, right?  We waited in vain for some cloud cover, and I didn’t stop shooting.  The clouds never did roll in, but I can’t complain about the results.

The ruins

Our waterfall craving sated, we backtracked downstream until we reached a meadow.  Interestingly, we came upon some old ruins of beams and metal pipes.  Much like the mining equipment found along Opal Creek, it’s intriguing to photograph nature reclaiming manmade metals.  I also have an insatiable fascination with ruins; decay can be incredibly beautiful.

Half of our group decided to take another break, including our guest.  The selfsame leader of this Duane-venture pressed onwards, and I wouldn’t be left behind.  We somehow located the hairline path, ducked under some low-lying branches, and came to an old bridge.

Mossy remains of an old bridge | LotsaSmiles Photography

Besides the waterfall, this was probably the highlight.  What a cool structure!  Full of holes and draped in moss, it offered details, beauty, interest, and history.  I was tickled pink to be there.

I shot the moss; I shot the pipe that ran the bridge’s length.  I shot the river; I shot the river through the bridge.  I shot the beams, and I shot the the mossy underside.

Mossy pipe running across the river | LotsaSmiles Photography

I love old structures.

Turning around

Person crouched in the shadows shooting the river from an old bridge | LotsaSmiles Photography

We went only as far as the unofficial campsite beyond before turning around, though there was still plenty to explore.  Our adventure quotas were full for the day, and we were ready for a real meal.

Our guest getting splashed next to the river | LotsaSmiles Photography

After a splashing initiation of our guest back at the meadow, we scrambled our way back out of the canyon.  Up was easier than down, though it was still a workout.

Returning with only sore muscles and a memory card full of pictures, we called it a day.

Another epic adventure: achievement unlocked.

Misty waterfall with silky water and mossy banks | LotsaSmiles Photography

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