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LUCA JÄNICHEN

My way to the Pacific Northwest

I think it is the mystery and diversity of this place, that always wanted me to go there. As a person that loves spending time outdoors and as an adventurous soul, this place had my attention since I first heard about it. As a small child we always went out and built these little cabins and huts out of branches in the forest. I spent days just building walls, paths and holes even in the worst weather. Pouring rain and snow couldn’t stop me from going in the forest again. Over and over again, not stopping until I got sick or the bottle of tea got empty and I had to go home. Somehow It was almost like a second home out there, where you are completely on your own and can be your own creator – at least until the forester came. When growing older I spent less time there, got to know the strict rules of German forest protection and realized that there are more beautiful forests than near my town. I almost forgot about this forest and others, when I had to study for final exams.

So, it was like a wakening call, when I saw these moody pictures of the American Pacific Northwest on Instagram a few years back. At first, I tried to recreate these images in the German forests. While I was doing this I went out in the rain again, even started to love the weather again, where others don’t even take a step outside. It brought me back to nature and I am very thankful for that. However, I soon had to realize that there is something different. I had the feeling that the pictures of the PNW were much more intense, more interesting, more mystical, showing the soul of the forest at its purest. At that time, I had just started with photography and as I already said I tried to implement the image style into the German forest. But I soon learned that it is not all about the way of capturing things or editing them, but more about the location itself. That’s what makes a picture special. A rainforest on the other side of the world just can’t be compared to a small german forest squeezed in between a highway and a village. Right when I finished school my plan was to go to the US and Canada to see this spectacular place. A few months later I found myself in the bus to the airport. It was finally happening!

After staying in Vancouver for a few days we rented a car and crossed the border. Equipped with everything we would need for a camping road trip we began driving to the Olympic Peninsula. After all these years of waiting, I was finally able to see this landscape in real life. On our way to the Olympic National Park we took the route over the Deception Pass and crossed the Puget Sound with the Port Townsend ferry.

The next morning we started to explore our surroundings finding ourselves in a vast forest covered in rain. There was so much green around – green gras, green trees, green moss. We couldn’t believe our eyes. It is simply a paradise for plants because it rains so often. I always thought that the pictures from here were edited in a way that made the landscape look greener and more alive, whereas in reality this was the case without any crazy editing. A dream came true for me when I hiked through the wet dripping and moss covered woods of the ancient rainforests.

Actually we wanted to visit the hot springs located deep in a valley, but soon the road was blocked with signs and we found out that the road was washed away by heavy rain in the last few weeks. Hard to imagine, as forest fires were still raging on the other side of the national park. Instead of walking to the hot springs we decided to look for some waterfalls and we eventually found them. An absolute highlight that we only discovered by chance while walking along the river were jumping salmon that made their way upstream. It is incredible to watch these big fish jumping with all their power trying to reach their breeding grounds. A small crowd of people were waiting to see them just for a few seconds.

We only did a few shorter hikes here and there as it rained continuously. For the evening we looked for a place to stay at Rialto Beach and came across a Park Ranger Station, where we learned a lot about how the National Park system and the overnight stay regulations work. If you’re going there the first time it is hard to understand where you can stay overnight, what you have to do, what formulas you have to fill out and what pass you need. There are also exceptions here and there and sometimes local Rangers have different points of view on certain restrictions. So it is definitely good to talk to them, especially if you want to stay overnight and do longer hikes, since they would also start looking for you if you didn’t show up at your car after a certain period of time. They often also have campgrounds near their stations where you can fill up your water and have a shower, its a pay system based on trust. Although we didn’t use them on our trip I can definitely recommend to check them out, if you’re looking for a cheap place to stay with your tent.

Instead, we camped on the beach. The first evening at the beach was super windy and it rained a lot. We met one of the Park Rangers at the beach again and she happily started to explain us the different bird species from the area. It got dark pretty early but we stayed a little longer to watch some surfers hitting waves that the wind made come ashore. One of my favorite images came to live in this scenery. A surfer, tired after some time in the cold pacific water, takes his board and walks towards the lights of La Push. Nothing posed. Just a raw, pure emotional moment that was captured. For me photography is documenting a moment you have experienced in an individual way and I really like it when you can get emotion out of a picture. Not everybody gets emotions out of my pictures neither do I get emotions out of every single picture from anybody else. But for me it’s really important that the photographer himself gets the emotions when looking at his own work and can transfer these emotions to his viewers by telling a story.

Because of the weather at the coast we went a little inland and stayed in a national forest for the night. On the next day we explored some more forest roads and trails and ended up in another rain shower. In the evening, we finally packed up our backpacks and started hiking towards a beach for the night. It was the first evening since days when we had a sunset without a cloudy sky. The coastline of the Pacific Ocean around the Olympic Peninsula is pretty raw, huge tree stomps and rocks laying around on the beaches. Wind and rain are shaping the stones and forests along the coast and in between there was a pile of woods. We built our camp right there, pumped up The Cave and made a small campfire sheltered from the wind. After a stunning sunset, where we ran around like ants setting up the camp and taking pictures, the last locals went home from the beach and we had the coast for ourselves. It soon got dark and we had to find more firewood for the camp. Shortly after we started cooking dinner it began to rain again and we searched shelter in The Cave. Far away from any human being, we only heard the sound of the waves crashing and the rain dripping onto the tent. Every now and then there were strange sounds coming out of the forest. It’s not uncommon that you get to see a bear, moose, deer or other animals. To prevent a bear from visiting us, we brought a Bear Can with us. You put your food in there during the night and put the can somewhere outside of the tent, so the animals can’t get it and don’t attack you on their search. The only animals we saw on the beach were crabs, blue birds and a squirrel trying to steal our breakfast. After battling with the squirrel it was time to disassemble the tent, which is pretty easy and fast especially if you have two people. I was surprised how well it withstood the heavy wind on the beach. We put some rocks on the lines to make it stand even safer on the sandy ground.

The days after we kept exploring some areas of the Peninsula we made our way to Mt. Rainier National Park. But that’s another story. Looking back I really enjoyed staying in this part of the world. If you have the feeling that your stay somewhere was too short, then you probably enjoyed it and will come back sometime. Seeing this amazing landscape in real life for the first time in my life really blew my mind and exceeded my imagination. I’m definitely going to visit the Pacific North West again soon!

Luca Jänichen