After my severely botched attempt last week to shoot Fern Creek and The Little Matterhorn, I returned to Rocky Mountain National Park again the following morning to make a second attempt. The legs were a bit sore, but this time I made sure I followed the correct trail past Fern Lake and up to the Odessa Lake area. I’ve photographed this area many times before but I have yet to come away with an image that really captures the essence of this area. All of Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful for varying reasons. The Odessa Lake area is certainly one of the more dramatic and stunning areas of the park. Odessa Lake rests below Lake Helene and above Fern Lake in a stunning alpine valley. The hike takes you up past Fern Lake, then you follow Fern creek to the outlet of Odessa Lake. Not surprisingly, most of Fern Creek is still buried under snow. More surprisingly was sharing the shoreline with four other photographers. Odessa Lake takes some work to get to, so one typically only finds the campers who were lucky enough to secure a back country pass for the campground. I did not get a repeat performance of the dramatic sunrise I managed to miss the day before, but nonetheless it was another spectacular morning in Rocky Mountain, and I’ll be sure to return again to capture that illusive image.
Normally I would consider myself a pretty good pathfinder. Getting lost is in the woods is not typically something I do. I would say under most circumstances I pride myself on being able to navigate either through the woods or to somebody’s home address. I had big plans this morning to photograph the Little Matterhorn and Notchtop Mountain from just below Odessa Lake. Typically when I photograph this area I drop down from the Bear Lake trailhead which makes for a beautiful 4.2 mile hike to Odessa Lake. Because of all the snow we’ve had this past spring in Colorado, I was figured there might be some large, slick icy patches in the area around Lake Helene. Because of this, I figured I’d take the longer but lower elevation route to the Odessa area from the Fern Lake trailhead.
Everything started out as planned. We arrived at the trailhead 10 minutes early for our 4:20 AM departure. I had two good friends along for the hike and we set off headed for our destination. The Fern Lake trailhead follows the Big Thompson River for a portion of the way. We made great time the first 1.8 miles to The Pool. The Big Thompson was raging and The Pool was quite a sight under the full moon. We traveled across the large wooden bridge and over The Pool with a quick pace, intent on getting to our location by sunrise. I could see pillow like clouds hanging over the peaks and a clear horizon to the east. This morning was setting up just perfectly. It was at this point where the train came off the tracks so to speak. While we were all busy admiring The Pool and the flow of water coming down off the Big Thompson, we forgot to pay attention to the trail sign. Just after crossing the river, hikers need to bear to the right to head up towards Fern Lake and Odessa Lake.
Instead we blissfully and unknowingly kept hiking up the Mill Creek trail under the nearly full moon. This is not where we wanted to be and it was not until I reached Mill Creek basin that I realized I had really screwed up. I frantically looked for a location to shoot the impending sunrise to no avail. It was clear at this point that we had just hiked 4 plus miles on the wrong trail. I had a feeling when we passed Cub Lake that something was off, but I was so confident that I knew where we were going that I did not even bring my trail map with me. I learned a few valuable lessons this morning. Never assume you know where you are going, and don’t leave the trail map at home. I was however, able to salvage a shot this morning while hiking back to the car. The wildflowers in Rocky Mountain National Park look great at lower elevations as do the small streams. I’m calling this small unnamed creek and falls ‘We’re Lost Falls’ in honor of our bumbling adventure this morning.
I try to avoid returning to the same locations on consecutive days if possible. That’s not to say I do return to the same location over and over again in an attempt to capture a scene under varying lighting conditions. You only have so many sunrises and sunsets, so I try to keep the line moving. I had previous commitments on Saturday and Sunday that prevented me from heading up into the high country or to Rocky Mountain National Park in search of images so I stayed local in Boulder.
We continue to have a very wet summer here on the Front Range of Colorado, and the monsoon has really kicked in full force. Most afternoons we are getting very strong thunderstorms and rain. This has made for some great sunrises the past few weeks. Clouds from the previous nights thunderstorms have been hanging around at dawn accompanied by good size breaks in the clouds on the eastern horizon out over the high plains. This particular sunrise of the Flatirons from Chautauqua park was particularly nice. Further north, over Rocky Mountain National Park the sunrise looked to be even more intense. Hopefully some other photographers captured that display, I was glad to be able to sneak in this image.
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an image from Chautauqua park of the Flatirons, so I figure were due for one. The meadow around Chautauqua park in Boulder is the place to be for the classic iconic image of the rock slabs that help make Boulder famous. Chautauqua park is a great photographic location in any season, but from spring through mid-summer its hosts a great display of wildflowers on good years.
Starting in early May the meadows below the Flatirons will host a display of varying wildflowers. On a good year, the meadow seems to produce flowers in a near scheduled pattern. Yellow Golden Banner is usually the first flower to make their appearance in the park, followed next by Wild Iris and Arrowleaf. Purple Lupine will cover the fields by mid June and the season will start to wind down with the addition of Sweet Pea in the area near and around the Ranger cottage. While the Sweet Pea makes for a beautiful display when used to frame the Flatirons, it really shouldn’t be there. Sweet Pea is actually considered an invasive species and was planted by some of the first settlers in and around Boulder. Even though we’d prefer these magenta, pink and white flowers found other areas to habituate, they do make for a point of interest for the photographer. Throw in some screaming morning light, some high cirrus clouds, viola! you’ve got yourself an iconic image of the Flatirons.
When discussing my photography with people and displaying my images, I often find there is a bit of a misconception about the effort that is required to pull off a successful image. The first great misconception is that the camera that I am using somehow grants me the ability to capture dynamic images. While I take pride in the fact that I am able to use state of the art technology and optics to help render my vision, I can only hope that is my vision that is being represented through my images, not the technology that I am using to record it.
The second misconception is that photographers just show up at beautiful locations, slap the camera on a tripod, click away and viola!. Here you have a beautiful fine art image ready to be printed, displayed and sold. Photographers understand that this is certainly not the case. We often have to make multiple trips to locations under various conditions before we come away with images that we are happy with. In fact, many of us may visit locations numerous times and never come away with an image whatsoever. Furthermore, there is much more that goes into capturing a unique image of a locations than just arriving on site. We often have to put in lots of back end work studying maps, seasons and lighting of a given locations before we can begin to attempt to do justice to a scene photographically speaking. That’s not to say that serendipity does not sometimes work in the photographers favor. I myself have been lucky enough to show up on a location for the first time and capture and image worthy of being added to my gallery.
The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of these locations I have visited dozens of times over the last decade attempting to capture a successful photograph. I have been lucky on a few of those occasions, twice in fact, to walk away with an image that I think represents the feel and spirit of Loch Vale. Dozens of times, I have arrived at the Loch to find conditions that are less than optimal for photography. Of all the times I have visited the Loch, I have never found the main body of the large lake to be glass like at sunrise. This is a windy locations, and oftentimes the main body of water has white caps from the wind sweeping through and down Glacier Gorge. The few times I have found the entire lake to be smooth, the lighting has been poor or less than optimal.
I nearly had perfect conditions this week when I started the 2.9 mile hike to the Loch at 4:20 AM. The wind appeared calm as I departed the Glacier Gorge trailhead. I’ve been fooled a few times with what appear to be calm winds, only to get into the Gorge and find the winds howling. There were also some clouds floating above the peaks, remnants of thunderstorms from the night before. I arrived at the Loch about 15 minutes prior to sunrise. I could got not believe my eyes when I got to the shoreline. The entire lake was smooth as glass. The clouds I was hoping for had dissipated, but I would finally be able to get a shot of the entire body of water in total stillness. I setup my camera and tripod and with fingers crossed that the wind would not pick up at sunrise as is often the case. I watched the Cathedral wall light up with the first rays of sun. The Loch remained smooth as glass and I quickly went to work attempting to capture a scene I have spent the last 12 years attempting to capture. While I’m pleased with the images I captured this morning, I’ll need to keep trying to capture this scene with an even more dramatic sky. And so it goes for the photographer!.