April Photo of the Month: Fleeting Moments in the Backcountry

© Alex Spaeth

Photos and writing by Alex Spaeth

This picture was captured during an amazing sunset from Glacier Vista that capped off an absolutely perfect bluebird day of ski-touring. This was also our first winter return to Mount Rainier since an initial fateful trip on New Year’s Eve weekend roughly two years before.

At that time, my girlfriend and I were still relatively new to the whole backpacking thing. But we fell in love with it fast and decided to winter camp on our second try. While our first night was spent under ideal conditions at Artist Point in the Mount Baker Wilderness, we decided to journey to Mount Rainier and camp at Reflection Lake the following day. (We were still living in Wisconsin, so we wanted to make the most of our trip.)

While the forecast called for 2 to 4 inches of snow, it proceeded to snow all night and thoroughly buried us in about a foot and a half of heavy, wet snow. We were completely alone and slept little, for fear of our tent collapsing. After the sun rose and we packed up, we became intimately familiar with what it truly meant to break trail while navigating to avoid avalanche danger. It was an eye-opening experience with many lessons learned.

This marked just the beginning of prioritizing our weekends and vacation time on backcountry adventures, primarily in America's national parks. Like many folks these days, I spend much of my waking hours looking at some variety of glowing rectangle, so I take any chance I get to breathe in the fresh air off the grid.

During these trips, I was inspired by landscapes both big and small that made me pause and think, “Wow! Mother Nature can produce scenes that even history’s best artists would struggle to imagine." I often found myself thinking about all the elemental changes and erosive forces that occurred over eons to form these mountains, canyons and valleys and how fortunate I am to be there to appreciate those fleeting, yet lasting, moments.

A photo of Mount Adams from the same evening. Photo © Alex Spaeth

The desire to appropriately capture those moments and memories was a natural next step, and so I eventually graduated from iPhone photography to a “real” camera soon after, and now it’s what I spend much of my free time doing. I know not everyone is able to see these places in the flesh, so I like to share these experiences for those people with the intent to also inspire still others to get out there and feel the wonder of nature. 

Over the years, I've steadily focused my efforts on time-lapse photography. This takes patience and can lead me to cold and sleepless nights capturing the Milky Way, but I find the end results to be worth it. Doing so allows me to both capture the moments while being present in them: The best of both worlds!

Eventually, this love for hiking and photography led to our decision to move to Seattle, and we’ve loved exploring the endless playground that is the Pacific Northwest every chance we get. From coastal rainforests to glaciated volcanic peaks, living here means we’re surrounded by any sort of landscape one could possibly want to explore. Plus, the large and positive outdoor community of people on the trails with their family and friends (and dogs) always brings me joy.

In the past two years since that first trip, we’ve changed jobs, moved cities, got engaged, acquired new skills, made lifelong friends and experienced countless memories. The one constant throughout was our desire to be outdoors and explore nature. Our lives would not be as rich or fulfilling without this passion, and it’s a desire that I plan on nurturing forever.

Alex Spaeth is a Seattle-based health-care IT consultant, photographer and explorer whose creative work is focused on outdoor adventure and the night sky. He prioritizes spending weekends and vacation time on backcountry adventures, primarily in America's national parks, and uses landscape and time-lapse photography as a way to inspire others to experience Mother Nature and discover beautiful places. You can see more of his work on Instagram.