“How to get the best of it all? One must conquer, achieve, get to the top; one must know the end to be convinced that one can win the end – to know there’s no dream that mustn’t be dared. . . Is this the summit, crowning the day? How cool and quiet! We’re not exultant; but delighted, joyful; soberly astonished. . . Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No. . . and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction. . . fulfilled a destiny. . . To struggle and to understand – never this last without the other; such is the law. . .” ― George Mallory,
Alison and Joel are mountain goats, so it was only natural that they’d want to do their cascade mountaintop sunset engagement on top of the world, almost directly on an international border. As a photographer (and therefore someone who enjoys looking at people’s faces), I was a little daunted with the fact that somehow I was going to have to stay in front of a ultra-marathoner and a professional marathoner in order to make the photos.
Luckily, once we made it to the top of Winchester Mountain, which falls between Mt. Baker and the Canadian border, we were able to slow down and enjoy the beauty around us. Alison used to live in Seattle, before her love for Joel brought her from the Cascades out to the shores of the Great Lakes in order to be with him. So, when they were back in the Emerald City to see friends and climb peaks (they also climbed Mt. Adams and ran around Mt. St. Helens on this trip), it was the perfect time to get out and take their engagement photos.
We were the first ones to get to the fire lookout that day, meaning we got it to ourselves. We made beds and had some dinner, waiting for the sunset light to fall. For the first few hours of our time there, we couldn’t even see the peaks surrounding us, only getting the slightest glimpses of the spires that were on the neighboring hillsides. The two put on one outfit and we headed out. It was astounding to make photos with these tiny little views out from our peak. It somehow made the photos feel a little more intimate. We ran around, trying to utilize all the angles we had available, but after about 15 minutes, the clouds rolled in, completely surrounding the lookout.
All three of us knew that this was a distinct possibility and even more that this may have been our whole window for the night. That’s how it goes in the mountains. Things change quickly. They are unpredictable, but you just have to be ready. But for this time, luck was on our side. After a few swigs of our summit beers and a quick outfit change, the clouds started to fall away from Winchester Mountain, revealing the most brilliant, colorful, extreme, contrasty, and truly awesome sunset I have ever experienced in the Cascades. As a photographer, my mind exploded. I vaguely remember the process of making these photos and trying to figure out how to showcase the love of Alison and Joel while still giving all the reverence to the mountains and clouds that were around them. But, in the end, I really believe the scene took control of my camera and told it what to do.
After an hour, the light really started to fade and we put on our down jackets to just watch the last light dip away. It’s very different too watch sunset from the top of a mountain. A lot of people watch sunset from the ocean or from their backyard, but it just feels different when you’re a mile above sea level. It has a different texture that always leaves me feeling smaller, but more connected to the experience.
Then, we hit the hay. Night is short in the PNW in July and I knew sleep was going to be of short supply. After one REM cycle, I was up at 2:30 am for some photos of the Milky Way falling directly into Mt Baker to our south and then a quick 2 more hours before it was time to start brewing coffee for sunrise (and of course, more photos). I know that Alison and Joel are good at pushing their bodies, but I do have to thank them for putting up with the ways a photographer’s brain pushes in a very different way.
I knew this was going to be a special day, so I made a video too.
Thanks to Alison and Joel for this engagement shoot. It’s one of my favorites and I will never forget this night on the top of the world.