A rare, clear morning forecast prompted Sophie and me to begrudgingly set our alarms for 5:30am. We had been attempting to scout one particular sunrise photo since arriving in Portland, but it required a lot of things to line up at once. Clear skies over Mt. Hood, and over Portland, and no fog at the viewpoint… this was a big ask in the winter.
We had been through this entire process just three days prior. Up at 5:30, barely speaking to each other while making coffee and trying to warm up, only to drive 25 minutes and hike up a hill to find ourselves in the thick of a high fog that had just formed. These forecasts are no sure thing, we knew, but it is always a lot more frustrating when sunrises go wrong compared to sunsets as the lack of sleep tends to make the entire day a slog.
As we cruised along the 26-East, we monitored the horizon with concern. It was supposed to be completely clear, but there were plenty of clouds. Of course, clouds are a great thing as they are what catches the light and color of sunrise, so long as they weren’t so thick as to block Mt Hood or the sun itself.
We parked up and began walking up the steep hill to our viewpoint. It was 26 degrees, but we didn’t feel it until we had reached the top. Now exposed to the biting wind, we struggled to get our tripods set up despite being dressed for the arctic. The metal legs had partially frozen in place and numb fingers made for poor dexterity.
A layer of clouds adorned the horizon, but Mt. Hood was looming majestically as we had hoped and it appeared as if the show would go on. When we eventually got our compositions and settings dialed in, it was a matter of pacing and waiting, fighting the cold by trying to stay in motion.
Little by little, the clouds began to burn with color. It wasn’t the most intense color we have witnessed, but more than enough to add drama to the scene. The city lights twinkled below and a glow began to form on the snowcapped mountain peak.
The sun finally crept up, much farther to the right of Mt Hood than we had hoped but still well within our frames. We began firing and didn’t stop until it hid behind a layer of cloud above. After 5 attempts we had finally got what we came for… kind of.
As soon as we could justify leaving to escape the cold, we packed up as quickly as possible and began our descent to the car and onward to home.
Flipping through the photos on the camera, we knew we had some special shots, but also knew all too clearly that we didn’t have “the one.”
Some of you may be thinking “what are you talking about, these are great!” It was a beautiful morning and the photos came out very nicely, but there is a difference between great and “the one.” The ONE will have a perfect sun-star creeping just beside the tip of the peak. It will have a fiery sky, and with any luck, a fog inversion below. The one is that photo that every condition is so aligned, you never feel the need to go back. Things can be different after that, but not better.