Autumn in the PNW from a Photographer’s Perspective
This blog post is part of our Discover the Northwest story series where we work with some of our favorite local explorers by asking them to go on an adventure, take over our Instagram Stories and create a blog post about the adventure life. This post was written by Tyler Grobmeier, a Pacific Northwest-based mountaineering and adventure photographer with an eye for capturing the remote beauty of our beautiful mountainscapes.
The Day Hikes
As a mountaineering and landscape photographer, I’ve always been drawn to hiking in autumn as if it were multiple seasons jam packed into one month. Winter’s slow or abrupt arrival dictates the length of autumn in the Pacific Northwest, which makes it a reality check to many of us living in the region that what we view as traditional hiking, backpacking, or climbing is coming to an end.
The landscape in the mountains and valleys in October, following the appearance of color in September, emerges enthusiastically with just about every color on the color wheel. This past weekend, I geared up along with some summit brews to do a very special annual tradition that many outdoor enthusiasts partake in here in the PNW—the larch march.
Larches are a deciduous coniferous tree found dotted along the East slopes of the Central and North Cascades National Park in Washington. These beauties become ablaze with yellows and golds that accompany the grand vistas the cascades provide us with. This almost unimageable experience is time sensitive as these brilliant gold needles illuminate and quickly fall off anywhere between the first and third week of October. The thrill of getting out to view these Dr. Seuss-looking trees feels as if it should be recognized as a national holiday.
Larch hunting comes with preparing for the elements. The weather in the mountains in October is incredibly variable as the switch from Autumn to Winter hangs delicately on the first snow fall. This is what makes October a month to enjoy waiting for, if not yearning for.
Off the Beaten Path
The high country—what I personally dictate as elevation higher than 5000 ft. in Washington and Oregon—is a different beast than most of your day hikes and easy strolls when venturing out in autumn. Everything mentioned above is increased in variability by 10x when hiking or climbing the high country of the PNW.
Closed and snowed-in roads limit access to some of our most beloved high-country trailheads, but don’t let this deter you from getting out there. With a bit of determination, adjustments, and careful planning, the alpine exposed to the first snow while retaining what is left of Autumn’s show of color is a painting that cannot be recreated at any other point in the year. The deep red blueberry bush meadows slowly mixing with bright white new snow covering craggy peaks is a feast for the eyes.
I set out to see such a scene within Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park. As I was suspecting, the roads to many trailheads were closed. However, I knew parking at the closed gate and walking the road to my desired trailhead would be peaceful and very easy. This is key to enjoying autumn in the PNW thoroughly! Don’t be discouraged! No vehicle traffic meant plenty of opportunities to see deer littered along the side of the partially snow-covered road. As with the shoulder season, wildlife can be seen in abundance in autumn as they prepare and scurry the high country before winter arrives. After reaching my trailhead and ascending the technical route to a peak within the backcountry of Mount Rainier National Park, I was awarded a frost and snow-covered landscape. Lush red and deep orange heather meadows reminded me that Fall was indeed still present, while the fresh snow signaled that the next snow fall would be the end of it.
I cannot think of a better way to enjoy the last of Fall in the PNW. A visual metaphor to embrace what is coming next while enjoying the beauty of the present. A freshly cracked summit brew to accompany my view break, Pyramid’s Blazing Bright echoing the colors of my surroundings, and I was off.