Updated: Mar 13
East of Seattle, Washington, the famous Mount Si towers over the coastal plains of the Puget Sound. It falls on the Western edge of the Cascade Mountains. Mount Si, and smaller sister mountain Little Si, were both named after local homesteader Josiah "Uncle Si" Merritt. It became nationally known and grew in popularity with the hit 90's show 'Twin Peaks', but there is only so much you can learn about it before you have to experience it for yourself.
An elevation gain of 3,336 feet in 3.75 miles is daunting even when looking at it on paper. Which I had been doing for about two months. It wasn't until two days before leaving Washington that I decided to go ahead and do it now or think about it until I came back. I got pretty much what I expected. Rain, snow, mud and definitely cold. Stepping off from the parking lot made it feel seemingly less difficult than anticipated. Then the incline comes. It greets you with the cold and heartless embrace any coastal mountain would in late March.
You quickly get into a rhythm and the views looking out from the dense evergreen growth provide plenty of distraction to the grueling test to summit. I got to see a thick layer of silky fog that was textbook PNW morning hiking just before the rain set in. I was honestly expecting to just hike out of it considering the forecast didn't call for clouds and I figured it was a morning fog that would burn off (how Californian of me). Well, it turned into snow and I could not have asked for a better way to summit that mountain. The skies were as moody and chilling as the weather.
I will admit that I was a little disappointed getting to the summit and realizing that there would be no "epic view from the top" images. However, as I made my way up the the summit block, affectionately referred to by locals as "The Haystack", I was completely isolated. I got to capture the feeling of conquering and solitude. This was a great way to say farewell to the PNW for the time being.
The Native people of the area have a belief about Mount Si that I find to be really beautiful. They believe Snoqualm, or moon, had ordered there to be a cedar bark rope to connect the earth to the sky. Once connected, the Fox and the Blue Jay ran up the rope and stole the sun from Snoqualm. As he chased the Fox and the Blue Jay back down to earth, the cedar rope broke and Snoqualm fell to his death. After coming to his final resting place, Mount Si, the Fox and the Blue Jay released the sun and introduced fire to the world. Mount Si is believed to be where Snoqualm lies and at a certain angle you can see his face in the rock!
Let's talk photography and gear! My overall plan for this particular day was to make a run straight for the summit. I didn't want to get tied up in shots on the ascent. It was a gnarly grade and I wasn't looking to let my legs tighten up.I have also had days where taking the opportunity to stop causes the day to end early. Best not to risk your big shots. I follow my gut and learn small lessons before they become big emergencies. As far as camera gear I had my go to set up with my Canon 5D MkIV camera body, Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 lens, Mactrem tripod and my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AWII daypack. I use a combination of GoPro cameras and an iPhone for BTS and hiking footage.
For shots like these I rarely have to worry about movement (wind can sometimes cause motion blur in branches of trees and other foliage). I use my tripod and set the aperture all the way up to f22. I want everything to be in focus and long exposures are okay! I love using my neutral density (ND) filter. It basically adds a touch of contrast/dehazing to images, which can be huge in a lot of outdoor settings. The high aperture coupled with the ND filter usually causes shutter speeds upwards of 15 seconds. Given how much light I was receiving from snow reflection, I believe my longest shutter speed was 6 seconds.
This hike was well worth the effort to summit. Standing on the top with the Washington fog barely blocking the sun now all the way up. These mountains are what finally showed me that there is healing, happiness, adventure and so much more than what I had seen before in nature. They called me back out to connect with a world that is too often neglected.