Mt. Bachelor Snowshoe Sunset Experience

It was 2 pm and 16 degrees Fahrenheit. I ‘layered up’ with clothes knowing that I’d be shedding one or more of the layers before I reached my destination. Snowshoes went on next and my backpack on last.

I began my uphill trundle. It was clear many had traveled this way before me. Foot traffic had  packed down the trail making the route obvious. As is usually the case, all of the traffic I met along the way was headed in the opposite direction. As I met folks coming down, each stepped off the trail and waved me to come by. I did the same saying jokingly, “Come on through I could use the rest”. It was no joke I needed the rest!

Snowshoe Tracks 1810301NWND8

Snowshoe Tracks 1810301NWND8

I intended to trek 1-1/2 miles and about 1500 feet up Tumalo Mountain. Snowshoes weren’t really necessary for this first part but I knew I’d be leaving the trail at some point and that the snow would be soft and deep.

Sunset was happening at 4:30 pm. My pre-planning indicated there was a decent chance of a colorful sky to the Southwest. The objective was to capture Mt. Bachelor in the foreground and a dramatic sunset behind it.

I reached the trail exit point and stopped to consider my off trail route. I wanted to be sure I didn’t create snowshoe prints in what could be my image foreground. So I headed uphill above my target setup area. As it turned out plenty of backcountry skiers had ‘skinned’ all the way to top and skied through most the area that would be my foreground. No matter, I’d make it work.

The sun was descending just behind the mountain top. I consider the angle of the sun and predicted where it might set. There were two compositions I liked. I choose one.

I stamped out a 4 foot by 4 foot working area in the snow and set my pack down. After reorganizing my clothing layers I adjusted the legs of my tripod. When I set it down it sunk a good foot and a half into the soft snow. After making a few adjustments I mounted my camera.

Most cameras have a working temperature range of 32 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (0 to 40 Celsius). I was well below the 32 degree mark. At low temperatures camera operation problems are usually the result of a cold battery. Cold temperatures tend to suck the life out of batteries. So I put both spare batteries in my pocket to keep them warm.

I tried a couple of different compositions using several different lenses and taking test shots. I settled on the wide angle view. The frame would include the mountain, a foreground tree and what I hoped would be a colorful background.

Already the power reading on first battery was registering 50%. I dialed in my exposure, locked my focus and programmed my camera to take a shoot every 30 seconds for 30 consecutive photos. I changed the battery and click the shutter. After each exposure I reviewed it and made minor adjustments before the next exposure was scheduled to fire.

While the camera did its work I turned my head as far as I could in one direction without moving my feet. I slowly panned the opposite direction and marveled at the beautiful winter scene. The sky was yellow, orange and red at the horizon. It occurred to me that few get a chance to see views from this perspective except in photographs.

With 30 or so files stored on the card I decided there was still enough light to repeat the process in a second location. I moved my gear to the another spot 50 yards away. First the camera with tripod and then back for the pack.

The sunset was progressing quickly now. I didn’t bother to create another packed down working area. I stood in mid-shin deep snow making adjustments and clicking the shutter.

It was cold and getting dark. I packed up the camera gear, collapsed the tripod and cinched up the backpack straps for the trip down. With my headlamp on I reversed my route through the soft snow back to the established trail.

By the time I plowed my way back to the main trail I was warm again. My pack pushed me downhill. In a few steep places it pushed too much and I had to step off the trail into the deep snow to slow my momentum. The headlamp created some strange shadows. They weren’t spooky shadows just odd.

When I reached the parking lot my car stood alone, not an uncommon sight after returning from a sunset photo expedition. Across the road I heard several heavy snow grooming equipment engines jump to life at the ski resort. The noise dominated the otherwise silent night. Like the sound of blaring stereo speakers when you least expect it, the sound jolted me out of my backcountry mood.

After each of these backcountry photo expeditions I remind myself not to take it all for granted. And I’m hopeful that my photographs aren’t used to document ‘how it use to look’ like those disappearing glaciers photos in National Geographic. Rather I hope my images spur folks like you to do your little part to preserve and protect our natural world.

Thanks for reading the blog. Be well and keep exploring!



P.S. If you would like to experience the joy of backcountry photography, visit my Oregon Inspired website. There you can register for an existing tour or begin to design that photo tour you’ve always dream of. Just click Private Tour and send me a note to start the process.

Steve J. Giardini

Nature, Landscape & Lifestyle Photographer
“Capturing the outdoor world in natural light."

Giardini Photography, LLC
Bend, Oregon, USA