BTP: Aurora Over Central Oregon - Mark Lehrbass Photography
Manzanita City, OR.

Backpacking + Photography


They say variety is the spice of life, but lets be honest, you need more than just one spice in your kitchen. So we're going to include another "spice of life"; spontaneity.

This series of shots were all taken within a 5 hour period from a single location. Honestly I (Henry) believe it wouldn't have been possible to achieve three portfolio pieces, much less have the motivation to be up atop Tumalo Mountain overnight in the freezing cold without Our Earth In Focus being a collaboration of two highly motivated and slightly crazy individuals.
It had been a very long work day for both me and Mark, we got home at about 10:30pm and were thrilled to kick off our shoes, lie back, and enjoy a cold one. As per usual Mark was relaxing by scouting around and doing research for a next potential shot or adventure we could go on when we found out there could be some milkyway and moonrise potential over the next few days. In addition, there was a fresh coat of snow and the aurora storm activity levels were rather high so we knew we could be looking at something special.

But that particular night, we felt so lazy and tired.

Our conversation about going out had gone back and forth quite a bit. But as it turns out, that night was the only night of clear skies that week. The rest of the week would likely be socked in with heavy clouds and snowfall killing our chance of getting a shot. So that solved the problem of when to go on photoshoot, but by estimation of our software, we would miss the grand show unless we left right then, at that very moment, even then it could be a long shot.  I was gung ho, "Let's do this man, I need to sleep outside" I said. After a moment of thinking, Mark turned down the idea and mentioned we might have another opportunity later that week. It's worth noting at this point, that neither Mark or I often turn away from a good photo op, it speaks to just how exhausted we were from that day.

Feeling a mixture of relieved that I could relax, and disappointed that I wouldn't be going on shoot that night, I resigned to my room. Not 20 seconds later I get a knock on my door. "Dude, let's do this" said Mark. To which I replied a big ol' "Hell yeah!"

A Charlie Brown Christmas

We always have our backpacks ready throughout the year for last minute adventures. We wouldn't need any food for that night or following morning as we knew we wouldn't be out for too long, and it would be too cold to want to eat anyways. Don't worry, we packed a few dehydrated meals "just in case" but the plan was to get in, sleep til sunrise, then get out. We ran out to the car, hit the gas station, and drove a good 80 mph up the cascade lake highway to our destination. We killed it on time but the race wasn't over yet, we still had to hike up Tumalo Mountain. Luckily from our spring hike along the JMT in the High Sierras, our legs were conditioned to a fast uphill pace. All in all, from house to summit, I think we made it to the top in a little over an hour. Looking back, that's pretty nuts. I would expect on any other day not fueled by adrenaline and desire to see pretty things it would take an easy 2 hours or more to make it to the top of Tumalo.

We came over the ridge just in time to see the moon rise, all the fresh snow was glistening by the light of the moon, and a brisk wind was biting at our skin. First priority; get warm, we tossed on all of our layers and immediately began scouting for a shot. Mark bee-lined it for a cute little "charlie brown christmas tree" that had a beautiful shadow cast by the moon. I ran to the northern side of the summit and took a quick test shot. As I had hoped, the Aurora was in full effect, my initial foreground didn't yield any eye pleasing results so I backtracked until I found something I could work with.

Bitchin' Bachelor

By this point it was after 2 in the morning, and we were getting cold. I set my camera to an interval timer for the next hour so that I might capture any potential spikes in Aurora activity, while I walked off and set up our tent. In the dark, I did the best I could to scout a spot that would allow me to climb out of my tent in the morning and shoot a picture of sunrise without having to move around much at all. 3 AM comes around and it's time for bed, all picture opportunity has gone and we are tired as can be. We happily climbed into our sleeping bags, but here's the kicker, we had our very thin and light summer sleeping pads with us. Yeah, that was a cold night, we ended up sleeping on shoulders, hips, hands, elbows, knees, any way we could get more bone to ground contact and eliminate heat loss.

Normally we love winter camping, but having a four season sleeping pad really makes all the difference. I woke up just before sunrise and really didn't care at that point whether I was in my sleeping bag or out in the morning air, I'd be cold no matter what. I set up my camera, put on my 10-stop filter (This reduces 99.8 percent of light coming through the lens) and took a 5 minute exposure of the alpenglow gracing the adjacent Mt. Bachelor. This allowed me to achieve very soft lighting and keep the morning gradient of the horizon.

All in all, having a partner in crime motivated both of us to go out that night. Misery loves company, and quite frequently, some of the most beautiful things we've witnessed have been in miserable conditions. It adds to the experience and we wouldn't trade that for the world.

Thanks for reading our story, and stay tuned for  more to come!
Henry and Mark

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