BRIDAL VEIL FALLS: Peace and Thunder

Spring runoff rages over Bridal Veil Falls

Waterfalls are often portrayed by photographers as peaceful places; we use long exposures that smooth out the rough water, lending a serene look that is entirely appropriate to a contemplative subject. That is what I expected to do when I approached Bridal Veil Falls (located on a side trail about a half mile long) along the trail to Lake Serene in Washington’s Cascade Range. But the thundering, drenching, roaring waterfall that greeted me and my companions was anything but serene. I quickly decided to embrace the nature of the subject rather than fight it, and worked my mind and camera quickly to capture the tumultuous nature of the falls. Using a high ISO of 400 enabled me to use extremely fast shutter speeds with the polarizing filter that I used to darken the blue sky. The sky was scattered with fast-moving clouds, and I urged my companions to “wait for the light” with me. It worked. The last pictures were the best, showing the waterfall above me, as if emerging from the tattered clouds in the sky above.

Then, satisfied, we hiked farther along the trail, soon coming upon a lower part of Bridal Vell Falls. The lower falls were better served by the contemplative approach, since much of the area was in the shade and quite dark. I used exposures of up to half a second, which rendered the water as smooth and soft. In this area we also enjoyed watching an American Dipper carrying food to its hidden young, and listened to the impossibly melodious and endless song of the utterly tiny and inconspicuous Winter Wren.

After that, we trudged up the rest of the 2,000 vertical feet we needed to climb to reach Lake Serene. The lake, located in a beautiful cirque below Mount Index, was a glacial blue-green color and was dramatic in its own right. We ate lunch and photographed the lake, sharing this early summer hike with perhaps 150 other hikers out for the first mountain hike of the year. Lake Serene is a dramatic mountain lake at a low elevation, making it a popular hike with Seattlites. For me, the highlight was the waterfall, with its Yin-Yang of moods, but it felt good to be out on the trail–despite the weak ankle I sprained (again) on the way down. As I photographed the peaceful lower falls in late afternoon light, I commiserated with a young man who had also sprained his ankle and was soaking it in the frigid meltwaters of the waterfall’s plunge pool. Rough trail, satisfying day.

The sun illuminated the tumbling water from behind

The more peaceful drop of the lower falls, with a long exposure

An extremely short exposure “freezes” the water drops

A longer exposure shows streaks of water

I had to frequently wipe the spray off my camera and lens

A small flow in the deep shade required a long exposure

A chaos of fast-falling water, with ferns & other leaves clinging to cliff

A detail of the lower falls, where I saw an American Dipper

After the falls, we visited Lake Serene, in its cirque below Mount Index

Grace of an old tree at the outlet to Lake Serene

The hike to Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene is described by the Washington Trails Association.

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