There is a lot of preparation and planning that goes into capturing the best quality that you can for milky way galaxy photographs. First off, 13 times a year, the pitch-dark night of the new moon is required. In the PNW, a good half of those can be counted out for the rainy season. That leaves, at most, six times a year. The planning helps to get it right for those few times where one can be at the right spot, at the right time. In that light, there were two spots planned, a primary and a backup.
First was at Pyramid Peak in the Naches area. Pyramid peak has a commanding view of the area, beyond being situated as an overlook on the border confluence of 4 Washington state counties, King, Kittitas, Pierce and Yakima counties. It also had the most simply amazing view of Mt. Rainier, still visibly covered in thick snow beyond the usual glaciers.
Mt. Stuart was visible to the northeast.
The chipmunks in this area are a good size, and surprisingly mellow. Usually they are territorial and will harass intruders with a shrill chipping sound and rapid trill. This little guy was about 12 feet away from me, at complete ease as he nibbled on the seeds and grass.
I had hoped to stay at Pyramid Peak for the evening, as the setting was perfect. The rapid change in weather at 5600′ elevation can always be counted on, and it did. Clouds were condensing against the opposite side of the Peak and were cresting above me, bringing chilled, moist air. The view was quickly lost after just a short time. As the cloud cover continued to get worse, and not wanting to be caught on his exposed overlook, I left for my backup location, 45 miles away off the Manastash Ridge Road at a spot I had camped at a few weeks ago. After driving along highway 410, and then up the well maintained National Forest Rock Creek rd for 16 miles, the second location didn’t work out so well, both due to some severe wind gusts as well as a few fresh, non-ungulate animal scat in the area.
It was 9 PM, getting late but still a few hours before the true darkness of astronomical twilight would begin. A new location was found on the shores of Kachess Lake, WA. It was quickly obvious I was not the only one at this location who was awake to experience the Milky Way in all it’s glory. Most of the campgrounds were occupied and once I stopped my rig and shut off the lights, the site was totally dark with no light, whatsoever. A few people were walking around wearing headlamps, some carrying astrophotography gear. Let me tell you, walking around a forest, in the pitch dark, with just a headlamp for lighting is an experience that is hard to describe. After a bit of being lost, I finally found a spot near the forested shoreline to get some shots. It was stunning how much could be seen with the naked eye. The pictures capture so much more of the faint light.