Andy Porter

Andy Porter has 18 articles published.

Outdoor Photography – How to Capture the Milky Way

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Outdoor Photography
Learn what you need to know to take perfect outdoor photography shots of the Milky Way. Photo: First Beach

My favorite months to capture outdoor photography images of the Milky Way are August and September. The core of our galaxy is visible before the wee hours of the morning and we generally have fewer clouds to block the view.  Besides a cloudless night you also need to have no moon in the sky as it reflects so much sunlight into the night sky that the arc of the Milky Way is faint.

Camped under the Milky Way at Baker River
Camped under the Milky Way at Baker River

The next three New Moons dates are: Tuesday, Aug. 3, Thursday, Sept. 1, and Friday, Sept. 30.   If you head out and up (out of town and up into the mountains) for outdoor photography and Milky Way shots, you can get great images plus/minus 2 days of the actual New Moon.

I have been teaching Night Sky Photo Classes for some time at the North Cascades Institute and leading Night Sky Photo Tours for several years and here are the most important things to remember:

When doing outdoor photography, a full frame camera is preferred but not a necessity. What IS important is that whatever camera you use is to have an effective 10 – 20mm lens for your rig. If you have a full frame body, a 14mm lens is very good, and if you have a cropped sensor body, a 10mm is also fine.

Focusing your lens on infinity at night can also be a problem. The auto function will not work in the dark. You will need to set the lens to manual focus. It’s best to figure out where, exactly to set the focus ring on your lens BEFORE heading out. Here are some simple steps:

ourdoor photography
Dramatic night photo of Winchester Lookout.

Set your camera on manual focus and head outside in the daytime. Find some sign with sharp text, like a STOP sign, stand back about 30 feet. Set your aperture on its lowest f/stop number (as this is what you’ll use at night) using the built in light meter, adjust your shutter speed for a correct exposure. Now turn the focus ring all the way, past the Infinity symbol and take a picture.  Using the zoom function on the camera, enlarge the text on the sign.  Are the  letters perfectly in focus? If yes, great. If not, adjust the focus ring a hair away from the infinity symbol and try again and so on. Each time zooming in on the text, keep this up until you have found the sweet spot for your lens. You may be very surprised where that sweet spot is for your lens! Make a mental note, or use a pencil, or whatever so that you KNOW where to set your lens, on manual focus, so that its set to capture images in sharp focus.

Then you’re all set! Find a spot away from the ambient lights of people, get your rig set on a tripod, use a wide open aperture, and set your shutter speed based on the chart below and you’re ready for action!

outdoor photography


outdoor photography
Mount Rainier














Learn more about night outdoor photography at the North Cascades Institute or on Night Sky Photo Tours .




Best Camping Spots in Washington

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In Washington, great places to camp are nearly endless. But it’s summertime, which means you’re going to want to make the most of every weekend. This article gives you some of the best camping spots in Washington to add to your shortlist, so that every night out this summer can be totally epic.

Sahale Glacier Camp – North Cascades National Park

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Sunrise at Sahale

This just might be one of the best camping spots anywhere. The camp is situated atop 3 piles of glacial rubble at the toe of Sahale Glacier. Stone rings protect you from the wind. Goats often come for a visit. And the views! An ocean of jagged summits spread out before you… oh, and the toilet has the best view in the state.

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Camped at Sahale Glacier Camp


Isolation Lake – Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Isolation Lake

Hiking up Aasgard Pass with a big pack is no picnic, but once you get up, Isolation Lake is there, waiting. This is a land of rocks and ice. The serrated peaks cut the sky, and the crystal-pure, icy-cold lakes beckon. The images of this visit will stay imprinted in your brain.

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Camp at Isolation Lake


Lakeview Ridge, Pasayten Wilderness

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Jack Mountain from Lakeview Ridge

This is one of the highest points along the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington, located just south of the Canadian border. The hike in is sublime; from the trailhead at Slate Peak, you will meander up Rock Pass and shoot through Woody Pass onto the Ridge. Covered with wildflowers and affording views in every direction, you’ll have a hard time leaving.













Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Point of the Arches

Camping on the beach is always awesome: the ocean breeze, the sound of the birds, the feel of the sand in between your toes, a fire at night. Point of the Arches has it all: surreal sea stacks jutting out of the Pacific, tide pools filled with critters and unbelievable sunsets.

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Sunset at Point of the Arches


Snow Grass Flats, Goat Rocks Wilderness

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Mount Adams and PCT

If you want to have it all, this is the place to come camp. Endless meadows carpeted with wildflowers, views of both Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, great camping spots and… what else is there? From the Snow Grass Flats trailhead hike up, up, up – the higher you camp, the better the views. Don’t miss a visit to the Knife’s Edge, it’s close by.

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Snow Grass Flats

Where to Hike in 2015: Pasayten, Glacier Peak and Goat Rocks Wilderness

in Community/Trails by

Have you completely filled in your hiking schedule for the summer? Hopefully there is still some room to add a few more hikes, because these are three places you need to visit! Check out these recommendations for where to hike in 2015 in the Pasayten, Glacier Peak and Goat Rocks wildernesses.

Goat Rocks Wilderness

Where to Hike in 2015
Mount Rainier and Packwood Lake from the Lily Basin Trail

The Goat Rocks boasts some of the most scenic stretches of trail in all of Washington, unbelievable amounts of wildflowers, perfect views of Mount Rainier and Adams and the Knife’s Edge – a section of the Pacific Crest Trail that you have to hike to believe.

There are so many places to see here: Goat Lake, Lily Basin, Snowgrass Flats, Cispus Basin. Although this wilderness sees many visitors, especially along the PCT, it’s easy to drive to and the hiking is not very difficult.

Break out your guide book and make sure to visit the Goat Rocks this summer.









Glacier Peak Wilderness

Where to Hike in 2015
Spider Meadows and Phelps Creek

One of the more popular treks in Glacier Peak Wilderness is the Spider Meadows – Buck Creek Pass Loop.

The trip up and through Spider Gap and down to the Lyman Lake Basin  is one of my favorite trips… ever!

Just last October the Suiattle River Road was reopened after 11 long years, giving access to many fantastic routes.

Another glorious loop in Glacier Peak Wilderness is along the Entiat River with a trip to Ice Lakes.

Where to Hike in 2015
Upper Lyman Lake


Pasayten Wilderness

Where to Hike in 2015
Lakeview Ridge in the Pasayten Wilderness

The Pasayten Wilderness is where you go if you want to get lost. You can sometimes go days here with out seeing another soul.

Most hikers visit the western side, close to Hart’s Pass and the PCT (which is my favorite part of the trial in Washington), but I recommend that you make the long drive over to Tonasket and get started hiking on the Pacific Northwest Trail (also known as the Boundary Trail) and trek the 30 fantastic miles to Cathedral Pass and Amphitheater Mountain.

You’ll pass the old Tungsten Mine and Apex Pass and, if you do the hike in early October, you’ll see the most stunning display of larch in the state.

Where to Hike in 2015
Amphitheater Mountain

Where to Hike in 2015: North Cascades

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Where to Hike in 2015
Copper Ridge Sunset

This year’s warm start has me already thinking about backcountry trips. From the way it looks now, we may be heading for a wonderfully long hiking season this summer! The North Cascades offer so many opportunities for long and short trips; it’s hard to know where to start when making the summer wish list. Here are a few ideas on where to hike in 2015.


Copper Ridge – Whatcom Pass Loop:

This 3 to 5 day trek through the North Cascades National Park is one of the must-do trips in the Pacific Northwest.

Where to Hike in 2015
Chilliwack Salmon

Starting from the Hannegan Pass Trailhead, the loop visits Copper Ridge, plunges down to the Chilliwack River (filled with salmon in early August) and then loops around and back. A side trip to Whatcom Pass and the Tapto Lakes is highly recommended.


Sahale Camp:

This hike is frequented by day-hikers, but to truly appreciate its glory, you need to spend the night there. You’ll need a permit and will have to carry a pack up, but it’s infinitely worth it!

Where to Hike in 2015
Morning at Sahale Glacier Camp


Horseshoe Basin:

Horseshoe Basin is much less visited, though close by Cascade Pass. The circle of granite fangs draped with glaciers and waterfalls and filled with wildflowers is a sight to behold. Be sure to pay a visit to the Black Warrior Mine!

Where to Hike in 2015
Horseshoe Basin


Maple Pass – Lake Ann Loop:

This 7 mile loop trail is a favorite for a reason: It’s awesome! Camping is possible along the route, you can bring your dog and no permits are required. This hike is especially beautiful in late July- early August (because of the wildflowers) and also in early October for catching the larch trees turning color.

Where to Hike in 2015
Lake Ann from the Maple Pass Trail


The Enchantments:

Where to Hike in 2015

Who doesn’t want to be Enchanted? Gnome Tarn, Isolation Lake, Prusik Peak, Perfection Lake. These are all places you have got to visit. October brings orange larches, a spectacle not to be missed. Permits to stay overnight are offered through a lottery, which ends on March 3rd.

Where to Hike in 2015
Colchuck Lake, Enchantments


May this hiking season be your best ever!

Backcountry Photo Essentials: Wide-Angle Lens

in Skills by
Wide-Angle Lens
Glacier Peak

It’s a chore to carry a full-frame DSLR on a long backpacking trip. I have one standard lens, a 24-105mm lens, which I have been using for some time and have been very happy with. Together, I would guess that these two items add about 4 pounds to my backpack.

Because of this, I resisted the idea of getting a second lens— the added bulk and weight as well as having to change the lens often deterred me.

What changed my mind and got me to add a second lens was nighttime imaging. Simply put, the shorter the focal length of a lens, the longer you can set the shutter speed when capturing milky way images. I purchased a Rokinon 14mm Ultra wide-angle lens and got some sweet shots.

Now I find myself using the 14mm lens very often, not just for nighttime imaging. I am amazed at the depth of field and clarity of focus I am able to get.

Wide-Angle Lens 2
Spider Meadows

Colors are sharp and bright. And even though I don’t have a polarizer for the lens, clouds and sky look wonderful.

Wide-Angle Lens
Lake Ann from Maple Pass

Composing images when I have near and far elements is a lot of fun.

Wide-Angle Lens
Happy Hikers at Maple Pass

I know backpackers a never excited to add even a few ounces of weight, but for me the 14mm has now become a regular part of what goes in my pack for every trip.

Shooting the Milky Way

in Skills by
Milky Way
Palouse Falls

One of the biggest challenges in getting good shots of the Milky Way is simply getting far enough away from the ambient light of “civilization.” Once you’ve already lugged your stuff, not to mention yourself, all the way out to some fantastic spot to camp, why not take advantage of it by getting some shots of the Milky Way?

Nowadays, I find myself planning my trips around the moon cycle so that I can get to some remote, cool spots for astrophotography.










The basics of capturing good shots are not really very complicated. You’ll need a decent DSLR, a wide angle lens (anywhere from 14mm to 24mm), a cable release and a tripod— and a headlamp so that you can see what you’re doing!

Once you get the camera all set up on the tripod, just set your aperture wide open, your shutter speed to anywhere between 10 and 30 seconds and get started. As a note, I have two tripods, one “nice” one that I use near home, and one cheap version I got for $40 at Best Buy. It’s light and mostly plastic, but it works just fine. Who wants to carry a 5 lb. tripod 30 miles?

Milky Way
Virgin River and Orion, Zion National Park

One of my first efforts at nighttime photography was derailed because I didn’t know that I needed to manually focus my lens (The camera finds it hard to autofocus in the dark). You’ll need to check out your lens manual, or consult the manufacturer’s website, in advance and find out how to focus the lens on infinity manually.

Use a cable release so that you don’t in any way move or shake the camera when you’re taking shots. There are different variants on remote shutter releases— ones that connect with a cable and others that work like a remote control. No matter which you get, it’s an important piece of equipment.

Setting the exposure is variable, depending on your camera and lens. You may think that you’d have the shutter open for minutes, not seconds— but, actually, there is a definite limit for shutter speed when doing Milky Way shots. If you go over the limit (usually 10 to 30 seconds) the stars in your image will become blurry due to the movement of the earth.

Milky Way
Liberty Bell from the Washington Pass Overlook

There are a whole host of websites you can find easily that detail more of the technical end of nighttime imaging— my advice is to watch tutorials, practice near home, and try to get the bugs out before you head off to that magical, once in a lifetime spot to get milky way shots!

There are also websites where you can find a chart that shows the maximum shutter speed for different focal length of lenses. Generally the shorter the lens the longer you can have the shutter open.

Mountain landscapes provide a wonderful foreground for Milky Way images. Tents, mountains, trees and lookout towers, to name a few, are awe inspiring. You’ll have to experiment with different ways to light the foreground. Sometimes a simple head lamp in the tent works fine. Be sure to try lots of different things when you’re out there.

Milky Way
Camped on the Baker River


Next time you’re headed out, check on the moon cycle and go for some Milky Way shots. You’ll be glad you did!

Cabin Fever

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Cabin fever has a hold of me. Come March I am in the throes of agony. Four months of gray, dark, cold and rain has taken its toll on my psyche. My suffering has reached an intolerable level, all the more now because the end is near. Or at least, I tell myself, nearer…

Cabin Fever
Sahale Glacier Camp, North Cascades National Park

Yesterday’s warm temperatures were but a tease. Today again is gray, snow is forecast and disappointment floods back like a tide on time lapse.

Underneath it all I know that I could in fact get outdoors more during the winter, go snow-shoeing, learn cross-country skiing or any of a hundred other activities. The realization that I am just being lazy starts to creep into mind. Quickly I banish such pesky thoughts: suffering only works when you pretend that there are no options.

Cabin Fever
Liberty Bell and the Milky Way

Wikipedia says: “One therapy for cabin fever may be as simple as getting out and interacting with nature. Research has proven that even brief interactions with nature can promote improved cognitive functioning and overall well-being.”

Ah, cognitive functioning, that’s what I am lacking!

Cabin Fever
Mount Rainier, from the Lily Basin Trail

My idea of outdoors activity is backpacking through meadows of lupine and paint brush, gazing for hours at mountain vistas, cooling off in a fresh stream, setting up camp in a secluded meadow.   

So, I sit and read trail and trip descriptions and hone my list of trails for the summer. I look up meadows and vistas on the computer, searching for images, imagining my visit, planning my photographic opportunities.

Cabin Fever
Snowgrass Flats, Goat Rocks Wilderness

I revisit my photographic records of hikes from last year, fretting over my errors in capturing the beauty of a sunset or field of flowers, vowing to carry my tripod on every trip and take more time to stop whenever I see the light beckoning.  

Cabin Fever
Horseshoe Basin, North Cascades National Park

My head swims with anticipation of a trip south to Utah and a jaunt over to the coast. But what I am really jonesing for is another hike up to Sahale Camp, a tramp through endless Goat Rocks wildflowers, or a chance to relax and soak in Mount Baker in the morning light.

Is it time yet?

Cabin Fever
Mount Baker from the Park Butte Trail

Salmon Encounters

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When I plan a backpacking trip and am working out where to camp each night my main consideration is “Where can I take the best pictures?” I think about the best views and which angle of light I want. And so my camp sites and hiking goals each day are based upon trying to be at the right place at the right time.

waterfall 2-Recovered em copy

Capturing images of wildlife is not as easy to predict. Bear, goats, deer and marmots are all doin’ their own thing. One never knows when you’ll cross paths, so I simply hope for a magical moment and that my camera will be ready!

This summer I hiked the Copper Ridge – Whatcom Pass Loop, in North Cascades National Park. I planned camp sites atop Copper Ridge and Tapto Lakes. But the most magical part of the trip was my encounter with salmon spawning in Indian Creek at its confluence with the Chilliwack River.

salmon 3 copy

The trek began at the Hannegan Pass trail head; we hiked up into the park and out along Copper Ridge. Silesia Camp, atop the ridge is unbelievably stunning.

The long descent down to the ford of the Chilliwack River provides a wonderful opportunity to observe striking changes in flora. Pine forests slowly transform into rain forest as one nears the valley bottom. The forest is wet, humid, different…

salmon 2 copy

Then come the two fords, first the Chilliwack. My sore aching feet welcome the cold fresh waters…then I hobble across a short section of wet forest and come to Indian Creek.

The creek was full of salmon, bright orange in color, hovering in the crystal clear water. Here Indian Creek is about 10 meters across, its banks enveloped with dark green. The sky is a narrowing strip curving away.

salmon 31em copy

Looking up steam, back towards the North Cascades, Indian Creek is choked with fallen trees. The river bed is soft silt and brightly colored stones, adding to the illusion of the salmon practicing a form of Jedi levitation.

The view north, towards Canada is equally alluring. The confluence of the two streams creates an opening. The sky is now blue with dark clouds gathering.

I feel like I have been transported to an entirely different point of the globe. Time seems to stand still. There is a fallen tree stretching out in the middle of the stream and I make my way there. A birch provides some support as I try to balance myself and marvel at the majesty of the fish. Some seem playful, darting here and there, others simply hangin’ out, languidly gliding in the waters.

As I wander around the banks I sense some motion up stream. Looking up I see a huge brown bear, maybe 800 lbs along the right side of the creek. I freeze, as does the bear. My racing heart slows after a few minutes, my thoughts reactively consider flight, then a millisecond later I am calculating how far the camera is and how brave I will be to approach such a huge bear.

The allure of photographing such a magnificent creature snacking on salmon easily wins the moment. Gathering the camera I start up stream towards the bear. My partner, seeing our visitor, lets out a scream, and off he goes, back into the forest.

I stand still for a while, reviewing the image of the bear in my mind…wow, what a fantastic place!

The night brings horrific storms, heavy rain, incessant thunder and lightening envelopes our tiny tent. But here in this deep gash of a valley we are protected. With all the noise I wonder if our giant furry friend will come visit us, maybe hungry for some of our food, but I realize that he is likely very well fed and not interested.

The early morning fog lies thick across the water. We linger for some gap in time. The crisp, fresh air and cold clear water sharpen my senses. I am quite happy to be alive!

Every year the first weeks of August brings the salmon back to Indian Creek. Maybe next year I’ll see you there…


Goat Rocks Wilderness – Summer Planning

in Trail of the Week/Trails by

Pull out your bucket list. This is one to add for next summer. Photographer Andy Porter outlines why this is a favorite.

Wildflower display in the Goat Rocks Wilderness copy
Wildflower display in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

The allure of finding the perfect wildflower display is born out of an addiction to bright colors. Blue skies, red paintbrush, purple lupine and lush green grasses combine to start a chemical reaction in my brain. My particular obsessive-compulsive “disorder” commands me to seek out early summer meadows, take scads of pictures and smile a lot.

Last July, I was entranced by the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Located in the southern Cascades of Washington State, between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, the Goat Rocks boasts post-card views of both peaks and yes, more than a few wildflowers!

Goat Rocks Wilderness_2
Mount Rainier and Packwood Lake from the Lily Basin Trail

Heading up into the high country in July is always somewhat dicey: finding trails that have melted out enough so that they can be easily hiked is not easy, getting accurate up to the day reports on current conditions not easy to do.

My Goat Rocks Trail Guide described a sort-of loop along the Lily Basin Trail, up over Goat Ridge and into the Snowgrass Flats area. We arrived and the first day hoofed it up along the ridge to a fantastic camp site with views of all three volcanoes, Mounts Rainier, Adams and St Helens.

The sunset on the ridge is unforgettable.

Goat Rocks Wilderness_3
Mount Rainier at Sunset

The next day we navigate west, along the trail up Goat Ridge. But we find the way blocked: the snow fields are miles long, steep and treacherous. With no ice axes and 40 lb packs a slip would mean getting airlifted out with lacerations and fractures. We considered all options and agree to hike out the way we came, stay in a hotel that night, and then drive around to the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and so arrive in wildflower heaven from the other side.

The way back along the Lily Basin Trail is hot and tedious…until we enter the Cathedral of Avalanche Lilies. I feel like I’ve been teleported to Avatar, the flowers are ALIVE and they are talking directly to me.

Goat Rocks Wilderness_4
Mt Rainier and Lillys

Their joyous message assimilated into my being we head back to the car and off to Packwood for Burgers and a shower.

The next day we arise at the crack of dawn and head up the valley. Our maneuver to out-flank the snow fields is a success and we soon find ourselves in the midst of famous Snowgrass Flats.

Goat Rocks Wilderness_5
Snowgrass Flats Wildflowers

Expecting to camp among endless meadows of flowers I am somewhat distraught at the rather uneven topography of the “flats”, but no worries, we set a base camp and head out to explore.

Goat Rocks Wilderness_6
Goat Rocks Beargrass and Flowers

Our path soon meets up with the Pacific Crest Trail and we begin the long gradual ascent of the Goat Rocks. Remnants of a long-gone volcano the ‘Rocks’ are a perfect setting for the myriad flower displays. We hike up and up, to the highest point on the PCT in Washington Sate, where the trail itself has been blasted in to the very summit of the peak…

Goat Rocks Wilderness_7
Pacific Crest Trail, atop the Goat Rocks

The views here are breathtaking, mountains, rocks, sky and flowers, fresh air, warm sun, it is all perfect.

The next two days are all about exploring, commiserating with flora and lots more smiling. One of the perks of arriving so soon after the snow melt is that the flowers are FRESH. The new blooms are rich, clean, fragrant and bursting with colors. Image 9

I discovered a wonderful camping spot, high on the ridge in the midst of the grandest spot I’ve seen in quite a while.

Yes, I will be coming back soon!

Goat Rocks Wilderness_8
Mount Adams and Goat Rocks Wildflowers

To access the Goat Rocks Wilderness:  Head east on Hwy 12 to the town of Randle then drive 12 miles on Highway 12 to forest service road 21. Follow it about 14 miles (dirt road) to forest service road 2150. Turn left onto FS 2150 and drive 3.5 miles staying right at the Chambers Lake turnoff. Follow the signs to the Berry Patch trailhead.

This trail is best accessed in mid to late summer when wildflowers will be at their peak.

For more info check out the guide at

Arches National Park

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Wow! It’s hard to know where to start when describing Arches National Park. I spent a week there and wish it had been a month. I visited in the first week of April with my wife and 8-year-old son and a good friend. We made reservations, in advance, at the Devils Garden Campground at the north end of the park. The Devils Garden Campground is a standard car camping drive-in set up. Each site is more or less secluded, has a table, tent pad and fire grill. There is water nearby and the views just from the campsite are not bad!


This turned out to be a great idea. The park entrance is about a 45 minute drive from camp, so if you stayed out of the park somewhere then you’d have a long drive each day to get to the trails. Everyday we had trips planned.

But enough from me! Let’s hear from the leader of the trip, Max.

max copy

My Dad had a great idea to go to Arches National Park. So we rented a car and got Mom and one of Dad’s friends to come along, and we drove all the way to Utah. We went through Oregon, and Idaho and then to Salt Lake City.


We arrived in Moab and made it to the park. The squiggly road into the park made me feel car sick, but the trips excitement defeated it. The camp site took a long time to set up because there were two tents, yet afterwards we wandered around the grounds. The camp was cool, awesome and windy! It had a really awesome hiding place and rock tower.


We ate pancakes in the morning and went day hiking to see all sorts of arches, like the Double-O Arch, Landscape Arch and Window Arch. It was hot and there were lots of cactuses and bushes all over the place. The wildlife was just as great as the landscapes. In one of the bushes I saw a really cool lizard.

We also went up the Devils Garden Trail, it was very long and steep in some places. If you go off onto a different trail you’ll find a rock pillow. We saw a ton of different arches here too, like the Balanced Rock and Park Avenue.


One night we hiked up to Delicate Arch and watched the sunset. Dad took pictures of us. Later, we bought some really cool fossils and rocks in Moab. This is a great park for kids, especially if they like to climb, run and jump. I hope my Dad takes us back there someday!

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