Sept 10 2013
I have long had this idea of spending the night at one of the Forest Service fire lookouts, taking my old vintage Coleman lantern with me and using it to create some unique night images.
It was a really busy week for me with work but I had tuesday night off so I decided to finally give this a shot. I got off work Tuesday morning, went home and slept for a few hours and then started packing my backpack with all the gear that I would need for my photo shoot. I had decided to spent the night at the lookout and hike back down the next morning as I would need to be back at work the next night. I had almost packed everything I needed for my trip, but then I realized that I was just not going to be able to fit my large lantern, tripod and camera gear bag all in my backpack, together with everything else I needed. So I had to get out my larger "multi night backpack" and start repacking everything. By the time I finally got to the trailhead it was already 4:45pm and I still had a steep 3 mile hike ahead of me, before I would make it up to the lookout. I backed in my truck, drank as much water as I could before hitting the trail and then got out my backpack. It was so heavy that I had to prop it up against my truck just to get it on. I thought to myself, "why again am I doing this"... But that thought soon disappeared as I smelled the fresh mountain air and looked up at the nice blue sunny sky.
It was now almost 5pm as I started my accent up Mount Pilchuck. Sunset was going to be at 7:30 which meant that really I should get there at 6:30ish, since the last hour of low light produces the best images. That only gave me an hour and a half to make it to the summit, better hurry I thought.
There where still about 20 cars at the trailhead when I headed up and after hiking for about one mile I passed a guy who looked at me very curious, carrying such a big backpack and heading up trail while everybody else was going down. He stopped to talk to me and mentioned that he had passed another guy who was going to spend the night at the lookout too. Dammit, I thought. Out of all days of the week, I figured a Tuesday night would be the least likely night for anyone else to be up there. Oh well, the lookout is big enough for multiple people, lets just hope we'll get along and that he doesn't mind me lighting up the lookout for a few hours during the night.
After the first mile you get above the tree line and you can start to enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains. This is also where the trail turns in to rocks and boulders and it gets a lot harder to hike, especially if your in a hurry. I only stopped a few times to drink some water and was making good timing. Than about a half mile from the summit I saw another guy ahead of me, heading up. I soon caught up to him and stopped to talk to him for a minute. He was a pretty big guy, looked to be in good shape and probably about 5 years older than me. I noticed he was also carrying a tripod and after talking to him I found out he was also a photographer. This was going to be fun I thought, maybe even better than if I had the lookout for myself. I passed him and continued for the last half mile, reaching the lookout about 15 minutes earlier than him. I hadn't been hiking nearly as much this year, so I felt great reaching the summit before him, even though he looked to be in better shape than me. And it also came with the privilege of choosing which side of the lookout I wanted to sleep on.
I took my backpack off and suddenly felt like I weighed only half as much as before (and I probaly did). I placed my army mattress on the floor and put my sleeping bag on top of it, this was going to be "my side" of the lookout for tonight. I did pretty good on timing and still had about half an hour left to find the best photography spots and get all set up.
I got some decent sunset pictures, but my favorite one is this panorama image I took of the lookout just when the low sun was illuminating it.
After the sun went down, but while it was still dusk, I got out my jetboil and made myself a mountain house dinner and chatted with the other photographer for awhile. He seemed like a pretty nice guy and had came all the way from Renton, to take time-lapse pictures of the sunset/rise.
After I had finished dinner it was still not dark enough to see most stars, so I decided to take a nap for about an hour. When I got up it was about 11pm and it had gotten a lot darker and most stars where now all visible. It was a nice clear night but not too cold. I got my camera ready and lighted my coleman lantern and placed it up high in the center of the lookout. It lit up the place so much that I could have probably just carried a flashlight instead and still been able to light up the whole lookout. Ok, so now it was time to get to work and do what I came here for. I put on my headlamp, packed up my camera bag and tripod and climbed back down from the lookout and up to another adjacent peak. From there I was bale to get a good view and take some pretty cool pictures. Mission successful! It was now almost 1am and time to get some sleep before I had to get up for what would be an early sunrise.
The next morning I woke up just at the start of dawn and was able to get some cool pictures of MT Rainier and Mt Baker, just before the sun came up over Glacier Peak.
It was early morning, september 11 and I was at 5324ft, so I figured this would be the perfect place and time to say a prayer. I climbed on top of one of the rocks in front of the lookout, just so I would be even a little bit higher and closer to God. I prayed for world peace, no war in Syria and for someone special to me, who just moved to Russia to teach English there for a year, that God would keep her safe.
I got some strange looks from the other photographer guy, but I didn't really care. I took some more pictures of the lookout, which the sun coming up from behind it and then packed my bags and started my hike back down. I encountered a bunch of other hikers on there way up, a few of them stopped and asked me how the night was up there. I said "Great! The sunrise was spectacular and I got a lot of really cool pictures!".