Fremont Lookout and the Perseid meteor shower

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Last weekend was the Perseid meteor shower and Anne and I thought it would be fun to try and do some night timelapse photography to capture the event. Anne has done some previous star trail work at the Painted Hills in Oregon, but this was my first attempt and trying to capture such a thing. Overall, I knew I wanted to try and capture a timelapse of the night sky but I also had a pretty deep desire to use the expanded ISO range of my camera to capture some great images of the Milky Way (which I had seen online and really wanted to do myself).

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Anne and I talked about a few different places to go. Eastern Washington was a prime candidate, given the very high likelihood of clear skies. We discussed Vantage specifically because we thought the rock formations around the “Feathers” might provide a pretty awesome foreground element to the images we had in mind. We also discussed heading to Sunrise at Mt. Rainier since there is a relatively easy hike to Fremont Lookout that would also make for an interesting foreground. I’d seen night shots of fire lookouts before and been captivated by the internal illumination and how it gave a sense of warmth to the image so Fremont Lookout really peaked my interest.

Mt. Rainier was a great candidate, but we also wanted to make sure we didn’t run afoul of the regulations National Parks have for being out overnight (which was a real likelihood). I called the ranger station and asked about the situation, explaining that we intended to be out well past dark taking pictures. It appears that this sort of thing is a “gray area” in the rules. Technically, you can hike at any time in the park. However, you can only “camp” in designated spots and for that you needed a permit. As long as we didn’t “camp” we were fine. Information and location in hand, we made some quick preparations and set off Saturday around 3pm for Mt. Rainier.

We got to Sunrise and started hiking around 5:30pm or so. Our packs were pretty heavy since we had camera gear, food, water, and warm clothing. Camera gear was the bulk of the weight. I brought two cameras, two tripods, and other assorted gear since I wanted to set up for two angles on the lookout. The hike itself was relatively short with the bulk of the uphill happening right out of the parking lot. It had been a scorcher of a day but fortunately the altitude combined with the hour had caused some of the heat to abate. So we arrived in good time to the lookout, greeted the clouds of mosquitos, and sat down to dinner.

Cliff Mass has been reporting on the Asian wildfires that have led to a reduction in air quality over the Northwest. As we drove to Rainier earlier in the evening, we’d seen the impact in air quality. However, that dense layer also lead to a relatively stunning sunset which we enjoyed completely.

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It wasn’t long before dark overtook the light and we started seeing the first of what would be many meteors to pass. The Perseids emanate from the northeast out of the constellation Perseus. So that was the direction we started looking. However, it quickly became apparent that most of the meteors were falling just over Mt. Rainier which made the show almost magical. Anne and I huddled up on a thermarest, drank a little whiskey I had brought along in a flask, and watched the heavens unfold before us until just after midnight. With our batteries drained we set back to the car.

Neither of us normally hike at night. In fact, I don’t think most people hike at night. But I found the experience to be almost as magical as the meteor shower. The temperature was cool and the enormity of the space was tangible (made more so by the small bubble of light we traveled in). Somehow, it just felt perfect. As we walked we could see the occasional meteor pass above. We could also see the lights of climbers making their way up towards the summit of Rainier, a trail of luminous ants.

We got back home at 3am. We were both tired, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything!