Spending a few days in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park really helps to bring some clarity and purpose back to the forefront. In what has been one of the more challenging summers to photograph the park due to both the persistent smoke for western wildfires and mostly placid weather conditions, just getting out for a few days to enjoy the quiet of the backcountry gives you time to reflect and appreciate the summer months even when it has not been as fruitful to ones photography goals.
While summer 2021 feels a lot more normal than summer 2020 did, norms are still off and everything is different. This year Rocky Mountain National Park went to an online only reservation system for backcountry permits. The computer system RMNP had in place was overwhelmed by the volume and after multiple attempts to correct the problems, the park ended up using a lottery system based on email submittal to determine who got what backcountry sites on which days.
I missed out on getting many of the spots I had been coveting all winter due to the growing pains with the newer system, but I did manage to score a few nights at the Solitaire backcountry site up the East Inlet on the west side of Rocky. Keep in mind that much of Rocky’s backcountry is still closed off and damaged from the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires from last year so one did not have the selection from years past.
Air quality and smoke have been the biggest hinderance to photographers this year in RMNP, and this would be the case for this two night trip up to the Solitaire site. Clear skies most of the time also looked like they would be and issue as well.
One always has grand plans for where they will end up shooting, but based on the smoke and clear skies, I ended up photographing Spirit Lake one of the two nights I spent up the East Inlet. Spirit Lake is a spectacular lake above Lake Verna and photographing while photographing here requires a good bit of effort, it’s a little easier than some of my favorite locations further up the East Inlet.
On my second night in, the smoke cleared out enough later in the afternoon and we even had a few clouds show up to help add some interest to the scene. While this trip was not as productive photographically speaking, it was great in refocusing and gaining perspective on what has been a tricky summer to navigate.