Crater Lake 2018- A Battle With My Mind

I had a vacation planned for January of 2018 to travel to Maui to spend some time with friends. Kind of my last hoorah before the arrival of my daughter in March. There were some complications, and I realized that I wouldn’t really be able to relax with a seven and a half month pregnant wife at home. So I decided to cancel a week before the trip. In substitute, I decided to take a much shorter trip, to Central Oregon, staying much closer to home. 

My good friend Dean and his wife Becky have a fantastic property between Warm Springs and Madras, Oregon. Theres a great little cabin I can stay in whenever I want, and its a great central location to many sights in Central Oregon. His property is also eight hundred acres of beautiful land, which is great exploring on its own. And on top of all that, I get to see Dean and Becky! So I started planning my trip, and it was brutal.

One of my biggest flaws as a human is over planning and stressing about things beyond my control. Im trying to lighten up and “go with the flow”, but its a challenging transition. When planning a trip, I start to focus on things like weather. One of my destinations on the trip was Crater Lake, and the forecast only held one day (Monday) where it was supposed to be nice for sunset. But there was supposed to be a lot of snow the day before, and the same on  Mt Hood which I had to drive my Toyota Prius over to get there. Would I make it over Hood? Would I be able to get back if it kept snowing? Do I need snow tires? Do I need to rent a truck? Will the roads at Crater Lake even be open? After I had decided on a schedule, the forecast predicted 30mph winds the day before my Crater Lake drive, which would be a wasted day for me. After literally hours of stressful research and planning, I decided to go on the windy day, a day late, and hope for the best. And then, the Federal Government shut down. Crater Lake is a National Park.

AAAGGGHHHH!!! I was ready to explode. This reset the trip in my mind so now I had to start over. I had trouble finding out what exactly would be closed at the lake. I surely didn’t want to drive all that way and be stuck. After many more hours of research, I said screw it, I’m sticking with the original plan. And thats that.

Sunday came, and I went for it. I checked the webcams on Mt Hood, and while it was snowing, the roads seemed fine. I couldn’t check the status of Crater Lake to see if the roads were open with the government shutdown, but was able to see a webcam of the park headquarters, and there were cars coming and going. One was even a Prius! I made it to Deans house without a hitch, but was having second thoughts about Crater Lake. I could spend the one sunny day exploring the Painted Hills, or Fort Rock, both which were quite a bit less driving. If I drove to Crater Lake and couldn’t access it, it pretty much ruined the day, and the following days were all forecasting rain for most of Central Oregon. Dean and I had some beers and chatted, and then I went to the cabin to end the night. There isn’t cell service or internet in the cabin, so fortunately I couldn’t obsess over research. I lit a fire and went to bed.

I got up and shot sunrise at his place. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was still a beautiful morning. I discovered another flaw I have that morning. Often when I arrive at a location I start shooting as soon as I see a scene. Instead of assessing the area and finding what will work best for the brief moments of blue hour (the period right before the sun rises) while the light is perfect and the colors in the sky are strongest. I shot some stuff I thought was good, but ended up finding the spot I really liked just as blue hour was ending. Fortunately I was able to get a shot I was happy with.

Morning at the Deschutes
“Morning at the Deschutes” Sony a7rii, Canon 16-35mm f4 IS, 16mm, f16, 61 sec, ISO100

After the sun came up I headed out. I decided to grab some food at the grocery store, and head to Crater Lake. So often I back out of shoots, and they turnout to be amazing sunrise and sunsets. So lets do it! Maybe it will pay off, maybe not. Only one way to find out! A couple hours into the trip I called the Park Headquarters and got a message from Saturday saying the government was closed, but roads to the headquarters would be plowed. The road beyond the headquarters however, which is 3.5 miles long, to the lake is privately run and if it snowed Sunday, which it was supposed to have, would be closed. Damnit. Oh well, I’m not turning around. I planned on getting there as early as I could, and hiking the 3.5 miles up to the lake.

The Prius did great. I had of course researched Prius’ in the snow and read horrible things, but I think those people just don’t know how to drive in snow period, which growing up in Iowa, I am pretty good at. As expected I arrived at the headquarters to a closed gate. It was really frustrating seeing that the road beyond was plowed, and there was no new snow on it, yet they still closed it between Saturday and Monday. I geared up and prepared for the hike, snowshoes in hand, and a ton of camera gear on my back. I approached the gate and saw awesome notices saying I could not walk on the road. ?? So I put on the snowshoes and followed some tracks into the woods. They ended less than 20 yards in. Damnit. I managed to find a map of the area, and saw there was a ski trail near the road that gets you to the lake in one mile! Sweet! After some searching I found the trailhead a ways back down the road and started my hike. About 15 minutes later the trail ended. I backtracked and found a turn, which brought me right back to my car! Unfortunately I had wasted and hour and a ton of energy hiking through the snow! I came out of the woods and chatted up a couple standing near the gate. I expressed my frustration, and the guy kindly assured me that with the shutdown, no one would be giving me a hard time about walking on the road. Duh. Off came the snowshoes and up the road I walked. I must emphasize the word “Up”. Oh yeah Im on the side of a mountain.


I arrived at the lake around 3:30, soaking with sweat and exhausted. I’d only walked about 4 miles at this point, but I’m a bit out of shape, and I had a ton of gear. I also am a bit inexperienced as far as proper winter hiking attire. My intention was to shoot sunset at 5, but the sun was directly behind me. I had put my snowshoes on and hiked along the rim a bit to get some shots of the lake, but couldn’t find a decent spot to shoot sunset. There weren’t many clouds in front of me, and all the color would be behind me. It was also significantly colder up there so all my wet clothes were starting to get much colder. I was spent. I shot until I felt I had some decent stuff, and decided to walk back down in the light, rather than shooting sunset. I was able to get a few more decent shots on the way down, with a nice golden glow from the setting sun.

By the time I reached my car I was wiped out. There was a bit of color in the sky, but I had zero options for a decent composition. I took off my twelve layers, packed up, and started my route to a shower and a bed. Once I came down from the mountains, there was a little light in the sky, and a super eerie fog throughout the fields. I pulled over and snapped my last shot of the day.

Low Lying Fog
“Low Lying Fog” Sony a7rii, Canon 70-200mm f4L IS, 165mm, f11, 30sec, ISO100

Throughout all this, I had discovered I had a work meeting the next day back in Portland. So I drove as far as I could (Bend, OR) to minimize my drive home in the morning. Once I got to Bend, I grabbed a beer and a burger and hit the sack. Every part of my body hurt. It was probably the hardest 8 mile hike I had ever done.

I didn’t get a lot of great shots that trip. Was it worth it? For sure. But it was way too much driving for me for two days, and I wish I had been in better shape. Ideally I would’ve been able to drive to the top and could of used my energy hiking the rim for a good vantage point for sunset. But thats not how it went. And thats okay.

The reason I am writing this isn’t to complain about how pathetically painful it was to do plan the trip and do the hike, but to describe how I feel I’m changing as a photographer and a person in general. I will always be a planner. But I know I need to stop focusing on little things out of my control, and follow my gut. I just need to go for it more. It also strengthened my constant desire to better my body so I can do things like this easier. I am turning 40 this year and its incredibly important to me to maintain good physical health, though I fight incredible pain from a bad back and arthritis.

The experience also gives me a special appreciation of the photos I took that day. They may not be amazing to everyone that sees them, but to me they are a connection to this experience, which is once in a lifetime. Sharing my photographs with the world is about relaying the beauty I see to others. But I also want those viewers to get inside the experience I had capturing them. I hope as a reader, you get a better connection to my work from reading this. When you are looking at a photo that interests you, think about what that photographer may have gone through to capture it. It adds a whole other level to the work for me. It strengthens my bond with the work, and I hope it will strengthen yours as well.



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