Starry Night

Posted on 8th December 2014 in Landscapes

My headlamp lights the way as I slowly plow my way through the waist deep snow. My friend, Jeff, is behind me and I can tell he his struggling to power through too. I can’t remember the last time I was this tired. I keep telling myself it will be worth it, but I’m starting to believe it less and less. Doubt is creeping into my brain as my muscles weaken. What if I screw up the exposure? What if I forgot something? What if it clouds over by the time I get there? I shake the negative thoughts out of my head and remind myself: No Risk? No Reward.

I had scoped out this spot a month ago during a hike on my birthday. I wanted to hike up to the Picnic Lakes and enjoy the beautiful autumn day. It was about a 4 mile hike with 2300 ft of vertical one way. I told Brittany it was going to be a 2.5 mile hike with 1000 ft of vertical. A minor underestimate. Besides, it wasn’t raining so I didn’t see what the big deal was.

two people near a lake
Beautiful day in the neighborhood

She learned to automatically adjust all aspects of my estimates awhile ago. Double distance, elevation, and triple the time. “60% of the time it works everytime.” When Brittany and I reached the lake, I knew I would be back. I wanted to capture a winter wonderland with twinkly stars, and this place would be perfect. I just needed to wait on the weather.

trees and lake
Picnic Lakes

A month later, a window opened up. There was snow in the mountains and a forecast of a clear night sky. I knew if I waited any longer, the snow would be too deep to reach the lakes. I asked Brittany if she wanted to join me. She laughed. I took that as a no.

I called my friend Jeff up and asked if he was up for an adventure. I said it would be about a 4 mile hike in 6-8″ snow, probably a little deeper at the top. Jeff, an outdoorsman himself, was willing so he grabbed his snow gear, his rifle, and we headed towards the trail around 4:30pm. Two miles before the trailhead, a tree had fallen and was blocking the road. After failing to move it out of the way, we donned our gear and started our hike a little early. There was about 6″ of snow on the road, and we probably should have taken it as an early warning sign of things to come.

When we arrived at the trailhead, the sun was setting and the snow was almost knee deep. We trekked onwards, and now we are here, wading through waist deep snow, taking turns carving the path while the other one takes a break. It’s pitch black and I keep checking my phone to see how close we are to the top. It’s 11pm and I’m really regretting not eating dinner before heading out. The only thing keeping me going is knowing I’m closer to the lakes than the car.

When we reach the top, Jeff sits down and says nothing. I know I underestimated how difficult this would be, and I know Brittany is used to that and rolls with it, albeit begrudgingly. What I do not know is how Jeff handles it. Realizing he is armed, tired, and probably hungry, I give him some space and start setting up the camera. Once I start the shot, I sit down next to Jeff and we remain there in silence. Now that we aren’t moving, the cold starts to creep in and we struggle to keep warm. Unable to light a fire or turn on our headlamps because the light would mess up the shot, we shiver in silent misery until the photograph is finished.

I pack up the camera and we start the long journey back to the car. Going down is much faster than going up since we already paved our way through the snow. Using a gravity assist, I start running down. I stop and see Jeff isn’t jumping on the gravity band wagon. He grimaces and grabs his knee every so often. I realize I’ve probably pushed him too far, and I feel terrible. After two hours, we reach the truck and the adventure is over.

It takes me a month before I start to edit the photo. Not sure why, although part of me we worries I screwed up the exposure and it won’t turn out. As long as I don’t look at it, it is like Schrodinger’s cat. Could be good. Could be bad. I finally start to process it and am pretty happy with how it turned out. I have a print made and I give it to Jeff. I ask him if he’d be willing to go on another adventure. He says, “I’d probably go again, but I’ll definitely do my own research before heading out.” Fair enough.

– Nick

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