Misadventures in the Canadian Rockies with a side of Punk Rock
When I pointed the jeep toward the mountains after work, I didn't expect the biggest adventure would take place miles away from the hike I had planned. With Creepy dog quickly bored of the passing scenery and settled into her bed, and a mass of camera gear, hiking boots and a comically oversized back pack occupying the entire back seat, we throttled toward the trail head. But first - I needed to eat some dinner, and not just anything would do. I wanted a burger. Something that would fuel me for the hike ahead but would be fast to pick up and eat. I would sooner starve than miss out on some good light.
In my haste to beat rush hour traffic however, I had chosen a route void of fast food options. As I ventured out of city limits, the burger options dwindled, and soon became mere cows dotting the landscape. I pointed the cows out to Creepy and she immediately jolted out of her slumber and stared in the opposite direction I was pointing. Creepy loves cows.
I wasn't worried about the lack of fast food options though, I was approaching a cluster of small towns located in some of the finest farming and ranching areas in the province, surely, I would be able to find a burger. And I did.
I walked up to the trailer window to look at the menu while Creepy dog sniffed around the patio for leftovers. My first thought probably should have been "Why am I the only one here during dinner time?" or "The granola bars I packed will probably be good enough" or even a simple "Food poisoning is bad for you" but instead I went with "Oh! Well that sounds good!"
I placed my order and watched as the cook slapped a great deal of meat onto the grill. This wasn't going to be as fast as I thought it would be, and I took Creepy dog for a walk around the block. When I returned, there was a parcel waiting for me on the counter. I peeked inside and discovered it was my dinner. I decided I would dig in once I was on the highway again to save time, and loaded the parcel into the jeep. Once in the drivers side again, I noticed the burger occupied a great deal of the dashboard space and created a slight blind spot. I did my best to keep my eyes on the road ahead while Creepy kept close watch over the burger.
Back at cruising speed again, I retrieved the parcel from the dashboard and peeled the packaging slightly in order to contain the burger . I attempted a bite and came out with a mouthful of lettuce, paper and regret. I had greatly underestimated my road food capabilities. The burger was placed back on the dashboard and I began a 67 kilometre decision making process.
Do I pull over and just eat?
In the sweltering heat, I visually inspected the burger. It was a mass of bun, meat, other meat, and a pile of vegetables. I opened my mouth as practice, I wasn't entirely confident the burger would fit. I rotated the burger 12 degrees clockwise and opened my mouth again. It just didn't seem like it would be physically possible to get a bite with a good bun -fixin's- burger ratio without causing myself physical harm. I longed for a table, a plate a knife and fork and maybe a cheerleader or two for moral support. As I studied the burger and packaging, deciding on the best course of action, Creepy dog stared intently at me from her seat next to mine. Creepy loves cows.
Finally, I threw caution to the wind and took as big of a bite as my jaw would allow. Immediately, the burger exploded within the confines of the parcel, and the sauce made it's way through the bottom of the packaging and onto my lap. I placed a napkin on my lap to catch the drips, but the sauce soon began creating a precarious jalapeno flavoured time bomb in my crotch. I panicked. One hand punched the burger out the open driver's side window, sauce dripping down my arm and into my armpit. In the other hand, I scooped the napkin up and flung the sauce out the window, dripping it down the side of the jeep. There is a slight chance the sauce permanently discoloured the driver side door paint of the jeep, my armpits, however, survived unscathed.
This was messier than expected.
I stretched my body up against the steering wheel and strained to reach my face out the window to match my dinner laden fist. I tried to take a bite, my upper torso leaning out the driver's side window but I was just too short to make it work. Defeated, I slumped back in to the driver's seat, my left hand slowly became saturated with sauce as it held my dinner just out of my reach. When the flies began to buzz around, I shook my hand to drive them away and lettuce flew out of the burger. A fly, caught in the crossfire struggled on the windowsill, covered in combination of lettuce and sauce, much like I had done moments before. I desperately looked around for a solution, there had to be a better way.
I spotted Creepy's portable hiking water dish, unfolded it and placed the dish daintily on to my lap, like the classy lady that I am. I centred the burger over top the 3 inch diameter target, and rolled up the window to keep out the flies. This burger had put up a good fight, but I don't lose fights to food. It was getting uncomfortably hot in the jeep, and I just wanted to get this ordeal over so we could get moving again. With Creepy on standby to pick up the pieces, I tore in to the burger and somehow wound up with an entire essay about it.
I will spare you the most graphic details of the burger consumption, I'll just say that by the end, my sunglasses were so greasy, I was unable to clean them enough to drive safely. Fortunately, I had a spare pair along with me. The greasy sunglasses may have explained the butter I found on my eyelid later, but what confuses me is that 3 hours passed by the time I noticed I'd been wandering around with a buttered eyelid. To complete my burger ensemble, I found chunks of onion and lettuce on my left shoulder - I'm going to tell you that I don't know how that happened, but truthfully, I was probably trying to fan myself with the burger in an attempt to cool down. As I sat there, about to finish eating and move on, some fishermen appeared across the highway. The fishermen looked at me, and smiled pityingly as they climbed into their trucks and drove away. I still wonder how much they had witnessed.
Once I was sufficiently marinated in hamburger fixings, Creepy dog and I went for a solo sunset hike in the alpine. That seems like that's where the adventure should begin, but I had already tackled the greatest challenge of the day and succeeded. A solo walk into grizzly country would be a piece of cake. As delicious as I must have smelled, not even a raven disturbed the peaceful valley we hiked into. No passing cars or distant sirens, no ringing cell phones or chatter, not even the sound of a plane passing overhead. The only sound was from my boots steadily gaining distance on the trail, the water trickling down the valley from unknown sources and the wind whirling clouds above me.
But that's not what's important here, the important thing is that I ate that entire burger without any help from anyone. I'll admit, it wasn't always pretty but a little recognition would have been nice, like a polaroid on the wall and a plaque with my name engraved on it next to the cash register. I don't ask for much.
Creepy and I scrambled up the creek for a better vantage point so I could watch the last light of day leave the mountains in the Elk Range. With so much empty and beautiful space laid out in front of me, the sense of isolation left me feeling both utterly terrified yet completely elated. It was a strange and wonderful feeling. I felt full, and I don't think it was because of the burger.
The clock read 10:43 pm as I set my alarm to ring at midnight, a mere hour and seventeen minutes to fall asleep and wake up again. "Photography is a stupid hobby" I muttered to myself, and shut off the bedside lamp. Instantaneously, the "It's 12:30, you're late, you should probably skip the shower" alarm rang and I bolted out of bed before I had the chance to protest. Not this time Llisa. Not this time.
Approximately 30 minutes prior, at the ringing of the first alarm, I had somehow convinced myself that I was definitely awake and was only going to rest my eyes for a few minutes before getting out of bed. I had accomplished this by placing my left foot on the ground and promptly falling asleep. The memories of the incident are hazy, but the outcome was clear - I had fallen for the oldest line in the book. The morning's objective was to be in the mountains and well above tree line before the sun rose, I did some mental math to calculate sunrise minus drive and hiking time and decided to ignore the alarm clock for a second time that morning. Despite the warning on the alarm clock to skip the shower, I turned on the bathtub faucet and stepped in to the tub. I figured cleaning the dirt off could only help a person become more aerodynamic, and I could use all the help I could get now that I was behind schedule.
The familiar drive from Calgary to Canmore, punctuated by dots of light on the horizon from approaching cars, was made more interesting by making up the life story of the occupants. What kind of crazy person would be out driving at this time of day, I wondered as I daydreamed my way West. In a flash, I pulled in to the trail head parking lot. The drive had flown by, yet somehow, I was still 30 minutes behind schedule.
Normally, my pre-dawn-pre-hike routine starts by cracking the door of the truck open an inch to let some reality in, followed by the talking into or out of what I have planned, carefully weighing pros (sunrise photos) and cons (might miss the sunrise and this will be a waste of time, death) The culmination of the talk can end one of two ways, either the door is flung open and a pair of hiking boots hit the ground, or the door is carefully shut, ignition key turned and I retreat feeling a little bit sheepish. On this day however, the schedule was too tight for pep talks, and my boots hit the ground before I had a chance to properly consider my options.
Having hiked the Ha Ling trail once before, in the daytime, two years ago, with a horde of fellow hikers, I was fairly confident in my ability to hike it again, in the dark, alone. I reached the obvious monument marking the beginning of the trail with ease and I commended myself on my excellent route finding abilities as I stepped into the forest. The glow of my headlamp illuminated the gnarled tree roots exposed by thousands of boots, and I picked my way over every tripping hazard, slowly forging upward. Occasionally, I would find myself in a grove of bushes, and once, I found myself with toes toward a rather intimidating cliff overlooking the valley. Each time I would use my superior deduction and route finding skills to figure out that wasn't part of the trail, turn myself one hundred eighty degrees, and follow my flashlight towards a safer, more easily travelled path. My underwear was clean, but it wasn't emergency room clean and I wouldn't want to embarrass my mother like that. Not today Llisa. Not today.
If there's one thing I have learned about hiking over the past few years, it's the importance of pace. My own pace is an embarrassing rate at which to travel. It's not unlike an octogenarian's epic journey toward the bathroom light at 2 o'clock in the morning. I move forward a mere six inches at a time, my feet barely crossing in front of each other, at turtle speed. I'm painfully aware that I look like I might keel over and die at any second, but oddly enough, with my old man mountain shuffle I can now complete hikes in a fraction of the time they used to take me, without getting too tired. It's doubly satisfying to shamble past hikers who previously left me in their dust on their numerous breaks, but that is a daytime hiker's game and there was nothing on this trail to race except the quickly approaching dawn.
It could have been my old man mountain shuffle that brought me above treeline well ahead of schedule, or perhaps it was my freshly shorn legs and lusciously shampooed hair cutting down on wind resistance. I set my camera bag down right in the middle of the saddle between Ha Ling and Miner's Peak, not only before sunrise, but with enough time to spare to change into some warmer clothes, brew a cup of instant coffee and settle in for the show. The wind howled high above Canmore, and I teetered around with my tripod for stability, bracing myself against the force. I found a little bit of shelter behind a boulder and observed tiny specks of hikers far in the distance, giving scale to the immense rock walls below them. I silently saluted their insomniac insanity, and snapped a photo.
As the sun rose in the East, it lit up the mountain underneath my feet in an orange glow and I marvelled in every direction. The warmth of my blue speckled enamel coffee mug touched my lips and I drank it all in, both the coffee and views. The camera was poised and ready, but I ignored it for a moment in order to fully appreciate the scene unfolding before me as the clouds turned a brilliant pink and the first rays of sun touched my face. I always thought it was a shame that more people don't put the extra effort in to witness the sun rise, but as I stood there beaming back at the sun, I didn't mind the lack of company. Maybe photography wasn't such a stupid hobby after all.
The landscape of my psyche could probably be best compared to a dive bar bathroom. Unapologetically messy, a little bit dark and littered with tips about where to go for a good time. Unfortunately, just like the scribbled notes written on the wall of a bathroom stall inside a dive bar, there's also a lot of half formed ideas and misinformation thrown into the mix. This misinformation occasionally makes it a bit difficult to decipher where I should actually go for a good time, and where I should go if I just want to wind up feeling kind of dirty and wholly unrewarded.
Of course, I'm talking about landscape photography locations. Rather than poorly translated phone numbers scribbled on to napkins, there are notes strewn around my house with tales of mountain faces, lakes and other assorted neat looking things to point a camera at. But just like a randomized ten digit number, not all of those scraps of paper are a sure thing. In fact, lately I've been striking out seemingly every time I head for the door, a real dry spell despite my penchant for coming home soaking wet after standing around in various pools of water.
Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's bad timing, the wrong location or some cruel combination of the three. Maybe it's the camera gear or heaven forbid that human located behind the lens.
Maybe my standards have risen beyond my capabilities for the time being. It happens from time to time, a necessary part of growing, but damn if it doesn't start to get a little bit discouraging after a while.
Whatever the issue, it's made for some long, cold, boring photo shoots these last few months.
Just the other morning, I spent nearly two hours fidgeting in a muddy puddle along the side of the highway waiting for the sun to rise. I rearranged rocks along the side of the ditch. I shuffled my feet, sometimes dancing to poorly hummed music, but more often silently to stay warm. I pointlessly narrated every lens change, every filter change every shuffle of the tripod to my audience of birds. I knelt down in the mud and stirred all the ice in the puddle with a stick until it was broken up into tiny little pieces. At one point, I even spent a few minutes imitating the initial wash cycle of an old top loading clothes washer, twisting my torso back and forth with rubber arms and letting inertia wrap them around my body. Limp, spaghetti arms flailing from side to side to side to side to side. Still, the sun would not show itself.
If you're getting into photography so you can tell your friends about the glamorous life you lead, you have two options: Don't get into landscape photography, or lie.
The team at Calgary's haven for live music, Distortion (affectionately known throughout it's four locations simply as "The D") recently celebrated their 10th anniversary of entrepreneurship. I've attended many shows at the club in it's current location as well as the Distillery locations in the decade before. Like most of the family that frequents the space, the memories we've made over the past ten years are cherished. For myself, I played some of my first gigs on bass at it's 5th Avenue location, got married in the Ballroom location and photographed my first wedding at the third location. Most importantly, and a common theme among it's patrons, I made lifelong friends under it's roof.
The party to celebrate those ten years of memories was, considering the venue, appropriately chaotic. With performances from some of the city's best long time running bands, reunion shows, freak shows, dancing girls and more, I came home bruised and grinning from being in the mosh pit like I was 20 years old again. With a beer in one hand and a camera in the other, I tried my best to balance documenting the night and toasting those who have spent the last ten years not only building up a business, but tirelessly cultivating a community in the process.
Here's to another 10 years Distortion.
I'll be the first to admit, I suck at editing photos.
I'm impatient, slow to learn new techniques and generally an old fashioned curmudgeon when it comes to editing photos. I don't like to go too crazy in Photoshop on an image, partially because it's kind of boring to sit around on a computer, but also because I spent a bunch of money on camera filters to get things right in camera (And then watched them bounce 100 feet down a cliff face. Thanks Mt. Yamnuska) So when Sleeklens recently got in touch with me and offered to send over a sample of their Adventure Landscape photoshop actions to review for them, I was a bit hesitant to say "yes." However, I am a HUGE fan of free things, and so I found myself with a new toy to play with and a review to write.
I've never used Photoshop actions before and I was a bit relieved when Sleeklens also provided some foolproof youtube instructions on how to get started along with their loot. I watched a few seconds to get the basic idea because I'm impatient and then with barely enough knowledge to be dangerous, hunkered down to dig out some photos to edit.
What have I gotten myself into?
Finally, I added a few Photoshop actions to finish the image up. You can see the ones I used on the right side of the screen cap, below, although I found myself bringing the opacity of each action way way down. The basic adjustments the actions are set to are, in my opinion, overpowered. I prefer to keep things at least semi realistic and it was easy to get completely out of control. I hope I managed to keep the final image within believable range.
I did really enjoy choosing the "Enhance" actions, likely because of my odd internal monologue repeating "Enhance" in a robot voice any time I clicked the play button and then giggling madly to myself when it actually worked.
Final image: Sleeklens workflow. Enhanced.
Start off slow, I'm only enhancing what was already there. Maybelline style.
Maybe I'll push it a bit further, see if anyone will notice....
That's when my inner Jeff Goldblum shut me down.
As it turns out, you can do quite a bit with this little set of Sleeklens Photoshop actions. Given my grumpy old lady stance on editing photos, I don't think they're the be all and end all of photo editing, but that's totally fine. It's good practice to start with a solid image worth putting time into, and not rely on Photoshop to go on a recovery mission. The images I edited that I thought sucked to begin with, still sucked after throwing some Sleeklens actions at them. Garbage in, garbage out.
I would like to see these actions improved upon in the future with more options for using layers and layer masks, I like to have a safety net to fall back on when I'm editing and a lot of the processes tend to have you working on the background layer which makes me cringe and hit undo a lot. Even as they are now I'll likely be adding them to my arsenal of "Photoshop things that I know how to do" in the future, it's nice to have a new little tool in the kit, and they are useful tools if you take the time to learn how to use them.
I recently spent the weekend nestled in a cabin in the mountains between Banff and Lake Louise to celebrate another trip around the sun. I could have happily stayed out there forever, but Creepy-dog was a bit concerned that we lived there now, and spent every night crying to go home. Sleep deprived, I was determined to make the most of my time and set my alarms to make sure I didn't miss out on any good light to point a camera at. As I sat at the kitchen table in the dark at 6 am, nursing a precious cup of coffee and calculating how long I could nap before the sun rose, I was painfully aware that only a few years ago the annual celebration would have seen me awake from dusk to dawn with only a fraction of the effort and only self inflicted pain. I finished my coffee, scrutinized the dark circles under my eyes, grabbed my camera bag and hobbled out the door, wondering if the local wolf pack would accept a cute new member by the name of Creepy.
The week before, I had unsuccessfully scouted a location near Lake Louise for a potential sunrise photo, losing a pair of hiking poles in the process. After trudging through the snow for a few hours, I determined that the best views were in fact, at the trail head parking lot. Fortunately the scouting trip wasn't a complete waste of time, I had noticed a far more accessible location earlier in the day, and upon returning a week later, made it my first stop for sunrise.
I kicked myself for choosing an East facing range to focus on with such an explosive sunrise behind me, but just as I suspected, the first light of the day lit up the peaks of the Massive Range to the West in a brilliant display of alpenglow. I tried my best to steady the tripod on mounds of ice over the open water, failing often but occasionally succeeding.
Mr. Bastard struggled up some of the trail at Marble Canyon while I lagged behind him, bragging about my grippy yak-traxed hiking boots and breezing up the snow packed hills. Unfortunately, my grippy boots couldn't save me when, to the delight of Mr. Bastard, I fell into a snow covered hole and did a dramatic slow motion face plant into the snow. I shut up about my boots after that...
(Mr. Bastard would like to state for the record, that despite his non-grippy boots, he didn't fall, not even once)
My eyes darted nervously as I gripped my bear spray, looking for the squeaking pack of ravenous wolves. They must be famished if they can only muster out such a pathetic squeak. My hands trembled as I started to move my camera gear back towards the bag to pack and make a hasty exit. The tripod legs brushed against the bridge railing, squeaking as they folded in. With solid evidence refuting my hypothesis about a pack of ravenous squeaking wolves now laid before me, I still required a few deep breaths to calm the nerves and steady the camera.
"It's only the tripod" I muttered to myself.
My first photography outing of 2016 was on the coldest day of the winter, I’d left the house without a clue where to go and had been aimlessly driving around the city for hours, feeling completely uninspired. For me, trying to capture a photo I’m happy with before having at least a location in mind is usually a recipe for disaster. With the sunrise only minutes away, the morning’s effort to crawl out of bed, go out in frigid temperatures and commit the rest of the day to exhaustion was soon to be a massive waste of time. On track for disaster, something finally clicked and I had the idea I’d been waiting for.
Red Rock Coulee has been on my radar for ages, my birthday gift to myself this year was a luxurious car camping trip in the middle of January where I spoiled myself with a $4 pack of cheese strings and some warm premade caesars. I had to cut my trip short due to a winter storm, which made me really want to see the place in the summer. 6 months later I returned for another attempt at seeing a nice sunrise, instead I got more than I bargained for when I woke to find myself in the path of a wild prairie storm. Being completely alone on the prairies, surrounded by lightning was an unforgettable experience, although a tad bit nerve wracking.
Lake Agnes is high on the list of favourite places of mine. I love to visit in the early hours of the morning before the sun and the crowds arrive. However one of the highlights of my year was spending a night above the lake during the summer solstice to watch the sun go down and wait for the stars come out. Even better was the leisurely downhill hike for sunrise.
When we made the decision to wander down Highway 22 early in the New Year, our plan was to pick random roads heading West to see what we could find for a nice Saturday afternoon drive. We found some lovely areas tucked away in the South West corner of Alberta, but eventually we also found some trouble.
The deeper we got into the mountains, the more snow we found and eventually we were driving in some ruts in the hard packed snow. Twenty kilometres away from anything, out of cell range, on a steep mountain road with a cliff on one side, the hard packed snow gave way. The jeep sunk. We were stuck. We had unknowingly ended up driving the jeep on a snowmobile trail.
With darkness falling quickly we debated what to do. Do we stay the night and walk out in the morning? Do we try to keep on going and try to make it to the next town? Could we get the jeep turned around without going over the cliff? Though we had supplies packed in case we had to spend the night, our adrenaline was through the roof and our normally hyper Creepy-dog cowered in the back seat of the jeep.
With the help of some shovels and some rather tense manoeuvring, we managed to dig our way out and get turned around. This is the triumphant Mr. Bastard and Rambo (the jeep) posing in a freezing cold wind tunnel shortly after returning to solid ground. It may not have resulted in the best photos, but it was definitely a memorable moment for us in 2016.
It’s not often I get to hang out with my little brother, it’s even less often I can convince someone to wake up at 3 am and start walking up a mountain with me but I got to do both at the same time with a sunrise hike up Abbott Ridge in Glacier National Park. The opportunity to watch the sun peek over Mt Sir Donald while sipping a cup of hot chocolate with my little brother ranks as one of my favourite moments this year.
My most memorable moment of 2016 - Rawson Lake at Sunrise
I have attempted to get here for sunrise on multiple occasions in the past few years and failed, most of the time due to the fact that I find hiking 4 km alone in the dark more than a little terrifying. Rawson Lake seemed to be the unattainable location and I had built the place up in my head a little bit. A dangerous thing to do, as I could have been setting myself up for a major disappointment.
Happy New Year everyone, thanks for following along.
Select photos of World Class White Trash, Bogue Brigade and Snakepit at Nate Trash's birthday party.
Select photos from the Press Gang CD Release party with Pelican Death Squad, The Foul English, Electric Revival & The Press Gang
October 29, 2016
Pelican Death Squad
The Foul English with their brand of "Dadcore" punk.
I love photographing The Electric Revival, not only because of the awesome music but for Dan's hair. Just once, I wanted to get a photo of Dan's hair whips with his face visible and I was able to get quite a few shots I liked.
The Press Gang, home from a very successful cross Canada tour. It was great to hear the new Album from start to finish and to finally have the new cd in my hands. You can get your own copy here
Tossing and turning until well after midnight, I can't say I was all that surprised that I slept through my 2 am alarm clock, still, I was a bit disappointed in myself. Mr. Bastard had gone to Saskatoon the day before and I was looking forward to spending the day in the mountains. I dragged myself out of bed, 7 am, too damn early for a Saturday and yet still too late to catch any of the good light. These weekends go by so fast, I feel guilty when I waste a perfectly good opportunity to go photograph things. I slunk toward the kitchen, warmed a cup of day old coffee in the microwave and then collapsed onto the couch. I didn't quite feel sick, but I sure didn't feel well either. A mere flight of stairs had already felt like too much effort and I decided I would need to formulate a new plan that was a bit more gentle on the body than the intensive two day sunrise chasing photo frenzy I had hoped for.
I mulled over my options. I'd heard about something similar to the sunrise phenomenon that might also afford good photographic opportunities, and then it dawned on me.
The tire was losing air at a rapid rate and I didn't have a spare.
I dug around in the jeep for a pen and scrap piece of paper and scribbled out some instructions and a phone number.
Chester Lake Trail head
Maybe sunset with its reasonable hours, wasn’t so bad, I thought, as a young couple wandered out of the forest right on cue. “Excuse me” I asked “Are you returning to civilisation?” The couple stared at me. I remembered we were in a parking lot, in the woods and the parking lot was nearly deserted. I tried to smile and curled my mouth upwards in the least axe murdery way I could. “Civilisation, are you headed to town? I have a flat tire, can you text my husband for me?” The couple inspected my flat tire with pitying looks and readily took the piece of paper I scribbled on. Mikey was on his way home from Saskatoon last I’d heard, it would be a few hours before he got my message. I thanked the couple and then started up the trail.
The whole sunset business had quickly gained another point, hiking alone in the day light is significantly less terrifying than hiking in the dark and I marvelled at the scenery around me. Birds chirped in the trees and I welcomed the sound rather than freezing in terror wondering what that noise was. The mountains soon appeared over the tops of the trees as I gained elevation and I resisted the urge to stop and photograph them, I knew that the view would keep getting better if I kept on. I reached the meadows before the lake as the sky began to glow a brilliant gold, and that’s when I noticed the bear in the distance.
Moose-bears, flat tires and traffic notwithstanding, I had timed the trip a little bit too perfectly. Driving time and hiking time were well accounted for, and I arrived at sunset as I had planned. What I forgot to account for was the absolute chaos that broke out once I arrived at the lake. Layers I had shed on the way needed to be put back on, right side out. The boots came off and then had to be put back on and re-laced. My camera bodies had no batteries, no memory cards and no lenses attached and the assembly was a little difficult with my cold fingers. My tripod, nearly frozen shut, required coaxing to open and then there was the issue of a composition.
I’ve grown accustomed to having some sort of a plan in place when I take photos, but having never laid eyes on Chester Lake before I had no idea what to expect. I had no plan for this place and it showed. I ran across a bridge with my gear in tow and immediately negated having used the bridge at all when I splashed into the outflow creek, nearly slipping on the algae covered rocks. I set up a camera squarely in the middle of the creek and then promptly decided to switch lenses for each camera. I juggled all the gear precariously, somehow rescuing the leaning camera laden tripod without spilling an armload of lenses into the water. My backpack laid in the snow nearby vomited assorted accessories. I was uneasy about being alone, but entirely pleased that I had the place to myself. Chaos doesn’t like an audience.
Finally, after a multitude of lens changes and filter swaps, I got into a system and snapped long exposures with one camera while using the other camera to shoot some telephoto photos in the opposite direction. I finished one last long exposure and, seeing the swath of sunlight bathing the mountain face in a pastel pink wash, decided I’d need yet another lens swap and a slightly different composition for that particular shot. I stuffed as much of the gear into the backpack, shouldered the tripod and carefully tiptoed across the creek once more. I sprinted up the bank of the creek, threw the backpack in another pile of snow, plunked down the tripod, swapped lenses, readjusted the composition, removed a filter, readied the camera to take a photo, placed another filter back on and pressed the shutter just in time to see the last of the light leave the mountain face.
I missed it.
I bloody missed it.
I couldn’t believe it.
I stared around me in disbelief half expecting the sunlight to reappear but it was gone.
I shook my head at the thought of coming all this way just to miss out by mere seconds. I snapped a consolation photo and surly stuffed my gear into the backpack. I checked the time, sunset was definitely over and I’d been barely been at the lake for fifteen minutes. It seems absurd to put in so much effort only to turn around fifteen minutes later. At least I’d been shooting with two separate cameras, so it was sort of like I was there for half an hour. By my calculations, I would have just enough time to hike back to the trail head and cook a bit of dinner before Mr. Bastard came to help deal with the flat tire. I stepped back onto the trail in the quickly darkening forest and hurried back towards civilisation. Once back at the immobilized jeep with a pot of snow and oatmeal slowly turning into dinner on the stove, I studied the back of my camera screen. I felt like a fisherman coming home with the catch of the day and raving about the one that got away.
I couldn't have been any older than 16 years old by the time I decided that I would instate a lifelong objection to mice and mice related critters which I have deemed to be "gross" or "icky" This lifelong objection shall include, but not be limited to rats, voles, deer mice, field mice, shrews and packrats. Critters related to mice but classified as "cute" or "awwwww" shall not be included in the lifelong objection.
One dark winter evening, I had entered our dog run after dinner to feed our dogs and refresh their water. The only light shone from the bulb used to heat the dog house, but I'd performed the chore hundreds of times before and didn't need the light to know where everything was. I could make my way from the house into the carport and through the gate to the pen with my eyes closed. The evening I began my lifelong objection to mice, I refreshed the water bowls and went to grab some food for the pups, they wriggled with anticipation as I reached for the 10 gallon bucket high on the shelf above me.
Did I reach inside the bucket for the scoop first, or had I clumsily knocked the bucket over before I knew what was inside?
But the thrill of the camera poised and ready just before dawn can make a girl do strange things. Brave things.
Standing in the farmer’s field early one morning, the countdown to the moment of sunrise in its final minutes. Prairie morning chattering in surround sound. Early birds chirping loudly as they fly startlingly close to my head in search of the worm they were promised. Wind picks up and rustles golden wheat fields as the first light of the day warms the cool night air. A peculiar scratching noise in the grass at my feet. What was that? I looked down and noticed the field mice ducking in and out of view between blades of grass. Was it the mice that made that squeaking noise? I think it might have come from me.
Despite my best efforts at scaring them away, the mice were not vacating the premises, and continued along with their morning activities. Right on cue, the sun began it’s grand entrance onto the stage.
I turned my attention to the task at hand and tried to line up a composition but needed to get a bit lower to make it work.
I tried to get lower to the ground without bending my knees, keeping as much of my body above the grass as possible in case the mice jumped. The composition needed to be just a little bit lower still. I bent at the waist and teetered unsteadily, craning my neck to see into the viewfinder. I needed to be just a little bit lower still, and the sun was not waiting around for me to figure out how to do that without touching the ground.
I reluctantly bent a knee. The left one. Slightly at first but as the photo came into view the knee began creeping towards the ground until finally it landed with a soft thud. The right knee followed suit and my face, glued to the viewfinder was soon at grass level. The danger zone, but I was already too immersed in the camera to notice. It wasn’t long before I was scurrying around in the grass on all fours like the very mice I had been avoiding. Once the sun was up and I clicked out of photographer mode, I realized what I had been doing without fear of mice for close to an hour. I briefly considered lifting the lifelong objection, until I arrived back at home to find some telltale little pellets on my kitchen floor.
One of the ways I like to scout out locations for sunrise photos is Google maps, and I've had a pin set on Rawson Lake for years. The picturesque, mountain bound lake is situated at the bottom of a big rock wall with enough open space to the East to promise some excellent morning light. My absolute favourite kind of location. So why did it take me so long to get there?
I've used every excuse in the book to mask the fact that ultimately, I was just scared to go there alone.
Somewhat relieved, I gave up Plan A in favour for Plan B.
Still, I had been so close to finally seeing a sunrise at Rawson Lake that nothing else would suffice in its place.
It wasn't a week later that I found myself at the trailhead.
Determined not to make any more excuses.
Like, for real this time.
The weather conditions were perfect, the bridge was in place, I had just enough time to make it to the lake before the sun and I supplemented two cans of bear spray in lieu of courage and hiking companions.
I set off into the woods, wielding camera lenses and yelling my battle cry of "boats! Boats! BOATS!" into the darkness. Steadily I climbed, not daring to take a rest lest my fortitude relied on inertia. The promise of light tumbling down the sheer rock face kept me moving until the mountain appeared through a break in the trees and I froze in place, breathless. A hint of dawn illuminated the cliff in front of me, it's imposing beauty doubled by the calm reflective waters of the lake. High up a dusting of snow and clouds swirled in an ethereal dance and for a moment I forgot every problem, every excuse and every fear I had.
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