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Reader photo: Putting in the work for a nighttime shot of the Milky Way

June 29, 2022 Updated Wed., June 29, 2022 at 5:02 p.m.

John Wehrer took this photo of the Milky Way on June 19 from Mount Adams. Wehrer took the photo from the Lunch Counter camp at 9,280 feet. At 12,276 feet, Mount Adams is the second-highest mountain in Washington and third highest in the Cascade Range. Wehrer took the photo at 1 a.m. It was 23 degrees outside, but the cold morning and waking up early were all worth it for an inspired shot.  (Courtesy of John Wehrer)
John Wehrer took this photo of the Milky Way on June 19 from Mount Adams. Wehrer took the photo from the Lunch Counter camp at 9,280 feet. At 12,276 feet, Mount Adams is the second-highest mountain in Washington and third highest in the Cascade Range. Wehrer took the photo at 1 a.m. It was 23 degrees outside, but the cold morning and waking up early were all worth it for an inspired shot. (Courtesy of John Wehrer)

John Wehrer, who was joined on the adventure by Madeleine Rush, recounts the climb and what it took to get the shot:

“Weather is a fickle thing in the high-alpine regions of Washington this early in the season,” he said. “Permits were purchased in early May for the Mount Adams summit attempt. As the climb became closer, the weather grew more volatile. Two days prior to my departure, a weather window appeared and the trip was on.

We arrived at 2 p.m. to the trailhead ready to climb 3,700 feet and 4 miles to base camp at 9,280 feet. Clouds and fleeting sun greeted us as we made the slow journey up the mountain. At 8 p.m. we arrived, set up camp, and did anything to stay warm during the snowstorm and 23 degree overnight low. My alarm went off at 12:10 a.m. as planned, although it was unnecessary as I barely slept. I had a 45-minute window with the Milky Way visible prior to moonrise. With a bright moon this time of year, the detail of the galaxy would be significantly less visible once the moon nudged over the horizon. With the help of an app called Photopills, I was able to plan the exact time for this shot.

Leaving a sleeping bag when it’s 23 degrees out is no easy task. Once I opened the tent to see such a clear night and stars as bright as the Utah night sky, I knew I had to get the shot. I exited the tent, set up my composition, and with the help of Rush lighting the tent, the shot was made.

I slept two hours that night, one prior to capturing the photo, and one hour after. I awoke to the new day sun highlighting the sky a dark orange, put my frozen boots on, strapped on the crampons, and set off for the summit push. There is something surreal about the silence of the high alpine environment. With no wind present, the sounds were limited to that of metal crampons piercing ice and snow. In about 2 hours, I had climbed 3,100 feet and 1.85 miles to reach the summit at an official 12,276 feet. Gusty winds and temperatures cold enough to frost over my beard limited my time at the top, but the descent was filled with the euphoria of snagging a peak in such a narrow weather window. I was lucky enough to be greeted with views of Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and a blanket of clouds wrapped around the bases of these tall peaks.”

To see more of Wehrer’s photography, visit johnwehrer.com.

Below are the camera settings Wehrer used:

  • Camera: Sony A7III
  • Lens: Sony 20mm F1.8 G
  • Aperture: F1.8
  • Shutter Speed: 10 seconds
  • ISO: 3200
  • Five pictures stacked for reduced noise

Web extra: Submit your own outdoors-related photographs for a chance to be published in our weekly print edition and browse our archive of past reader submissions online at spokesman.com/outdoors.

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