Winter Wonderland on Mary's Peak

December 11, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Winter came and blanketed the Coast Range with snow this week! Unlike the Cascades, the Coast Range usually only sees snow at its highest elevations once or twice a year - but a significant drop in temperatures brought a dusting even to the low hills around Corvallis.  Knowing it wouldn’t last long, and that another storm was coming in 24 hours later, I took off for Mary’s Peak - the highest peak in the coast range at 4,000 feet.

The sun peaked through the trees as I drove up towards the summit.

Thankfully the road up Mary's Peak had been tracked out already.

Although there is a road to the top of the mountain, I had no idea just how much snow the road had received, or whether it would even be accessible from the highway.  Luckily, others had the same idea and made a few tracks in the foot-deep snow that I was able to follow without chaining up.  As soon as I got above the cloud layer, about halfway up the mountain, the afternoon sun was shining brightly. Seeing the heavy snow glinting on the dense Coast Range evergreens was especially exciting. I was aiming to reach the summit before sunset, but I caught a glimpse of sun beams glowing orange through the trees and braked hard into a slide to grab a picture.

Sun beams - with a little flare - breaking through the trees.

"Alpenglow" on the higher trees above this small waterfall.

I watched the sunset from just below the summit, wading through knee-deep snow with my camera and tripod to get the angle I wanted. Suddenly, I appreciated that same cloud layer that had blocked out the sun all morning in Corvallis.

Panorama of the sunset over the Coast Range from the top of Mary's Peak.

The conditions were unique enough, and the weather clear enough, that I couldn’t pass up a chance for some astrophotography. I left town at 3 am the next morning and followed the same tracks up the mountain road in the dark. The summit was bitterly cold - colder than anything I’ve experienced even in the Cascades. I was able to take about 30 minutes of star trails exposures before a cloud moved over the top of the mountain. The air was just warm enough to coat my lens with water, which promptly froze into a white film and ended my shooting. While I was hoping for longer trails, I’m pretty happy with the result - and I was certainly happy to get back to my car and blast the heat!

About 30 minutes' worth of star trails went into this image at the summit.


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