Kelly James is a long-time friend of Filson and an inspiring photographer based in the Pacific Northwest. At the age of 13, Kelly was drawn to photography for reasons he couldn’t yet explain, but by 15 could already be found working in the darkroom of the local newspaper. Now, he has operated a commercial photography studio for over 20 years. An avid and passionate explorer, Kelly has captured images of views, vistas, and extraordinary experiences that many people will never see with their own eyes.
Photos courtesy of Kelly James. All rights reserved.
The road up Green Ridge snakes through dense forests until you reach a place near the top where it makes a hairpin switchback and breaks into the open. From that spot there is a view of the east side of the Central Oregon Cascades. I had driven to that spot in the middle of January. There was about five inches of snow covering the gravel, and mine were the only tracks in the snow. I parked at the hairpin and scrambled up a very steep embankment to try and get some photographs of the sun setting behind the peaks.
I had spent the day shooting images of snow covered forests for a client. For most of the day I had bright sunshine to make my images more interesting. That was not the case when I reached my vantage point on Green Ridge. A bank of clouds had formed on the Western horizon and it looked like the sweet light was going to be blocked. The best shot I could get was of the clouds rolling over the top of Three Fingered Jack. I shot what I could until I was left to scramble down the embankment in the dark.
I loaded up my gear, turned the rig around, and drove through the hairpin heading back down the ridge. Immediately after rounding the curve, a set of tracks came onto the road from the down hill side. They were not there when I came through before. Coyote was my first thought. I followed them down the road until the next switchback where they continued straight into the forest. I stopped the rig and got out to investigate. Not coyote. I went back to the rig and positioned it so the headlights were lighting the tracks then grabbed my camera and tripod. These were cougar tracks and I could see some potential for an interesting image. Cougar populations have been on the rise in Oregon and this wasn’t the first time I had crossed trails with one of the mountain predators. Still, these were the biggest tracks I had ever seen. I set up my camera and took my shots. At one point I reached down with my hand to measure the track. The paw print was way bigger than my fist. This is one big cat. I turned around to check the tree line to make sure I was not being stalked. Now, cougars have several names and I always wondered about that. But at that moment I had the realization that if the animal weighs more than I do — as this one undoubtedly did — that is when a cougar becomes a mountain lion.
As I was packing my camera back into the rig, I thought of just how close that animal had passed. My next thought, might want to start packing my pistol.