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Hood River: Thrill-Seekers’ Paradise

Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest peak, dominates the skyline of Hood River, Ore., a gathering spot for outdoor recreation enthusiasts of all kinds. Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest peak, dominates the skyline of Hood River, Ore., a gathering spot for outdoor recreation enthusiasts of all kinds.
© Dave Waag

Photographer Dave Waag takes you on a tour of the Northwest’s nerve center for outdoor recreation.

Perhaps best known as a windsurfing mecca and home to Oregon’s largest pear orchards, the Hood River Valley is also a growing hub for recreation junkies. Located in the heart of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area, Hood River and the surrounding peaks of Mount Hood and Mount Adams are a worthy photographic destination.

Add high-quality recreation access to the mix and you get an even larger photographic palette from which to choose. Within a 30-mile radius of Hood River, Ore., there are more rivers to kayak, trails to hike and places to ski than your average person could possibly fit into one lifetime — and that’s in addition to the abundant windsurfing, kiteboarding and biking options.

Volcanic forces began shaping the Hood River Valley about 17 million years ago. As the Cascades emerged onto the landscape, the Columbia River fought for a route to the sea, slicing a path between Mount Adams and Mount Hood. More recently in geologic history, retreating glaciers and the Missoula floods at the end of the Ice Age helped to carve the Columbia River basin, leaving behind the area we know today as the Gorge. From day hikes in the Gorge to climbing the glaciated slopes of Mount Hood, the Hood River area offers photographers a true playground of opportunities.

For a good introduction, begin with a hike in the Gorge. The Washington side of the river offers great views and spectacular wildflower shows in late April and May. The Dog Mountain trail takes you high above the valley and offers one of the best wildflower displays in the area. Then, once you’ve surveyed the lay of the land, you can plan your photo agenda.

The mountain

No trip to the Hood River area would be complete without a visit to the region’s most dominant feature — Mount Hood. At 11,237 feet, Hood is Oregon’s highest peak and a recreational icon known throughout the Northwest. Arguably one of the most photogenic volcanoes in the Cascades, its quintessential volcanic profile makes for great images from afar and while climbing high on its glaciated slopes.

Mount Hood’s Timberline Ski Area hosts some of the largest terrain parks for skiers and snowboarders in North America. It’s open from late spring though the end of August. A group of skiers repeatedly hucking themselves off ramps and half-pipes makes for a great shooting opportunity.

There are countless locations and hikes from which to capture the mountain photographically. For early morning light, try Parkdale, in the upper Hood River Valley, or Lawrence Lake, just outside of Parkdale. For evening light, Lost Lake, located about 20 miles from Hood River, offers dramatic views of the mountain and a short hike around the lake. To take a closer look, try hiking above the tree line on the Cooper Spur trail. The Cooper Spur Ridge puts you at the toe of the Eliot Glacier and affords dramatic views of the mountain’s north side as well as the surrounding Cascade volcanoes.

If photographing climbers is on your agenda, the best opportunity for photography (short of forming your own climbing party) is to ascend the slopes of the mountain’s south-side climbing route during the predawn hours and shoot climbers as they make their way toward the summit. Climbers are known for their alpine starts, and early morning light on the snow-covered slopes makes for excellent photography. Prime climbing season runs from late April through early June, depending on the snow year. Although Mount Hood is one of the most-climbed glaciated peaks in the world, ascending the mountain requires experience or a guide. Several high-profile accidents on the mountain have claimed the lives of more than enough climbers, so be sure you are properly prepared.

The river Because Hood River is located in the climatic transition zone between the wet west side and the dry east side of the Cascade crest, it is perpetually windy. This fact, combined with the geography of the Columbia Gorge, consistently produces world-class windsurfing conditions. Typically the wind peaks midday, but on a good day there is wind throughout the day. Whitecaps and swells on the river are key indicators that it’s blowing strong enough to attract experienced sailors. Kiteboarders require less wind than windsurfers do, so even on a low-wind day you are bound to catch some good kiteboard action.The high season for sailing in the Gorge runs from spring through fall, with July and August being the most active. The easiest place to catch the action on a high-wind day is the Event Site. Only a short walk from downtown, the area is adjacent to the Hood River Bridge and the site of several organized competitions over the course of the summer. A few miles downriver on the Washington side is the Hatchery, which attracts a more experienced crowd and will be jam-packed with windsurfers and kiteboarders on a good day. Arm yourself with the biggest and fastest lens you can, as the action is often some distance offshore.

When the wind isn’t blowing, whitewater kayaking makes for a great subject. The epic snows of Mounts Hood and Adams fuel one of the highest concentrations of Class V whitewater in the West. Although kayaking is difficult to capture as a spectator, there are several places where boaters tend to congregate and “play” in a specific wave or hole, and these make for excellent photo shoots. One of the best is Rattlesnake, on the White Salmon River, just downstream from the road bridge in Husum, Wash. Husum is about 15 miles north of the Hood River Bridge on Highway 141 (the road to Mount Adams).

Husum Falls, adjacent to the road bridge passing through town, offers another great photographic opportunity. Boaters and rafters routinely run the falls on weekends throughout the summer. Although the rivers run high enough for boating year-round, late spring and summer are the primary season for boating. Unlike climbers, boaters are not known as early risers, and your best bet for catching play boaters in a hole is mid- to late afternoon.

Although any given weekend from late spring though late summer offers plenty of photographic opportunities, the Gorge Games (July 12-20, 2003) guarantee that the area will be saturated with athletes and action. The Games include windsurfing and kiteboarding, whitewater kayaking, mountain bike racing, and an adventure race. In addition to these organized events, the Games attract hundreds of athletes, ensuring that the rivers and trails will be full of folks to shoot.

Recreation aside, Hood River and the Columbia Gorge are worthy photo destinations in their own right. The Gorge has been the subject of many a photo book, and the upper Hood River Valley offers spectacular views of Mount Hood framed among the pear, apple and cherry orchards. The ideal time of year for shooting scenics is early spring. The Orchard Blossom Festival occurs in late April, and wildflowers in the Gorge begin their show around the same time. Regardless of your passion, Hood River offers plenty of scenes and action to keep your camera busy.

Dave Waag
Story Author: Dave Waag

Dave Waag is freelance photographer and writer based in Hood River, Ore. He is the sole proprietor of Off-Piste Magazine, now in its twelfth year. www.offpistemag.com/

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