Winter in the Rockies are magical – yes any time of season can be defined as magical so what makes the winter different? For me it is the dead silence that envelopes one of our nations most populated/visited national parks. In the summer I’d probably encounter one, if not two other people, on the trails pre-dawn but in the winter….not a single soul. It is just me and the watchful eyes of the elk wondering what the hell it is that I’m doing that early when it is this damn cold!?!
Dream Lake in the dead of Winter (Rocky Mountain National Park)
Regardless of the temperatures there is nothing that makes me happier than seeing the light hit the peaks as daybreaks on the Rockies. I only wish that during these trips I knew better how to use my GoPro because I would have taped it to a tree and captured the movement of the sun over the mountains as the day announces itself.
Often overlooked as a photographic spot is ‘Storm’s Pass’ on Bear Lake Road which offers nice views of Hallett Peak at sunrise. Storm’s Pass has a tiny parking lot that fits maybe four cars and it is surrounded by much more popular destinations along Bear Lake Road – like Bear Lake itself, Glacier Gorge, Sprague Lake, etc… all of which draw hundreds of hikers and photographers daily. As I sat here photographing cars flew by but not a single person stopped to catch the view.
There is a river leading down from the mountain which draws a leading line through the trees which also help to provide a nice foreground. The only negatives are the two trees that have jumped up and partially blocked the views of the mountain….if only I had a saw (just kidding of course).
River to Hallett Peak (Rocky Mountain National Park)
I took this shot during my trip to the Rockies back in August (2014). One of my clients out there had just had me over at his house for dinner with him and his wife. Earlier in the day we hiked all the way up to the top of Hallett Peak which is still the highest elevation I’ve ever been outside of an airplane at 13,000+ feet above sea level.
The Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park is unique because the majority of it sits above the treeline (11,000 feet in the Rockies) which allows expansive views along the entire route.
View from the Ute Trail (Rocky Mountain National Park)
After taking in sunrise at Dream Lake I stopped at Sprague Lake to take some pictures of the Continental Divide and my favorite peak in the park – Hallett Peak. Last year I climbed to the top of this – 12,713 feet the highest I’ve ever been – and the view from the top is spectacular.
Hallett Peak over Sprague Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)
Seeing that it was the middle of the day I converted the image to black and white since the light wasn’t too impressive. I liked the imposing size of the mountain against the wispy cloud streaking across the sky.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Autumn in the Canadian Rockies (Banff Natonal Park)
I liked the balance of this image and as I set it up. Essentially, I thought that the contrast in the shape of the foreground offsetting the similar, opposite shape, of the background provided a nice balance to the image. Add in the fact that there was some nice color in the trees in the foreground and the morning light was still soft and I’m really pleased with how the image turned out. This isn’t a broad landscape but rather as Rick Sammon would say I ‘filled the frame’ with the mountains and the foreground – I had other frames where the mountain was reflecting nicely in the water as well but I thought this was a strong composition since the mountain dominates the image way it did while I was standing there.
Temperatures are in the teens and there is fresh layer of snow covering the mile and a half climb to Dream Lake. The smell of winter and wind chills dipping into the single digits convinces me to throw that extra pair of mittens into my bag – you never know if I’ll need them when not operating the camera.
I’m leaving from the trailhead at Bear Lake two hours before sunrise because I want to be sure that I don’t miss first light kissing the peaks of the Rockies. There are three other cars in the parking lot that holds 150 so cars generally. I presume the others are up in the mountains some place camping – I’m envious in a way and feel that my four hours of sleep in a warm hotel room are cheating somehow. Still I value that warm bed and most importantly value those precious outlets that allow me to re-charge camera batteries, laptops and cell phones – I can’t give those modern day conveniences up so easy. I’m a city kid from the Midwest barely equipped for the hike on a well maintained – albeit snow covered – trail. Still my knowledge of Rocky Mountain National Park has improved greatly in the past four years and I’m full of confidence as I start out. In those past years I’ve visited 12 times and know that on this last hike up the mountain that it very likely will be last (at least for sometime). I’m dreading that but am happy that I will some photos to remember the morning by.
Dream Lake Sunrise (Rocky Mountain National Park)
This place is where I fell in love with photography – if I wasn’t making quarterly trips out here for work I most likely would have given it up at some point along the way. I got lucky my first trip to the park and was fortunate to get some recognition in a photo contest from a shot I submitted of Fog Over Sprague Lake (Link Here). There were a few hundred entries in the contest and somehow I placed in the top 32 which may not seem like much but as someone who had just bought their first DSLR camera a few months earlier it was everything. My time spent outside of the office became increasingly dedicated to learning about photography – in fact at one point I posted a picture for 560 days in a row (which just seems absurd now) but trying to do that daily forced me to stay at it and learn to be better. At many times during those first eighteen months on the blog I’d get four or five visitors a day but none of that mattered because I was doing it primarily for me. I wanted to capture beauty with the camera and document the fortunate experiences in my life. It drove me to be better and now as I go back and look at some other photo – like the one below (from almost the same time of year and the same spot) it really makes me realize how much I’ve learned.
Winter in the Rockies – Version from April 2012
The processing is pretty shoddy and colors just aren’t realistic. It is not a great example of HDR but I was so happy with it at that point and thought it was wonderful. I look at it now and I can pick out all the flaws in it – I wonder if in four years I’ll be doing the same to the more recent version of this shot?
Who knows but I’ll continue to enjoy the journey and try to get better. There will be more ups and downs but that’s the fun of it.
“Life is not always perfect. Like a road, it has many bends, ups and down, but that’s its beauty.”
― Amit Ray, World Peace: The Voice of a Mountain Bird
I hiked up to Dream Lake for sunrise to take in one of my favorite spots in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. Dream Lake is one of those spots that looks good in any type of light but my favorite time of day is sunrise because you usually have it all to yourself as you work the scene looking for interesting angles. However, as I took this shot and worked my way up the left bank several other photographers showed up a bit tardy to the party. By the time they got their gear all setup they had missed a lot of interesting light and color on the mountains in the distance.
Frozen Dream Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)
We are over in Paris for the week so my posting will be more sporadic than usual. So far the weather hasn’t been too cooperative for outdoor photos but we are in Paris so who cares – I’m sure I’ll come back with plenty of nice shots to share on the blog.