This is one of my favorite shots from Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. I wrote this blog years ago in reference to this photo and thought it was worth posting again here...
The Question: To take the camera or to leave it home? This is something I really thought through for this trip. Sometimes I just need to get away and have time to relax and enjoy myself. To fully engage in in the place and, for lack of better expression, be one with my surroundings. The other more practical issue is weight... I am a bit of a minimalist on my adventures. Now, I have yet to resorted to cutting the tags and straps off my bag and equipment but I do try to keep things simple and lightweight. If you haven’t done any backpacking it may not sound like much but a few pounds means quite a bit over several hours of hiking. To take a full camera with lens and tripod is a significant weight to my pack. Knowing that I may not get this opportunity again I decided to take both. It also helped when I realized that doing so could make the trip tax deductible!!!
Lesson learned: My typical routine is to pack my bag then go through and decide which items are essential and which items are comfort items. I had brought two batteries but last minute decided to discard the extra. We had hiked in on Friday through Cascade Canyon which is the valley at the Northern base of the Tetons. We would be supporting ourselves for the next four days. The trail was moderate but the newness of the pack always takes a bit to get used too, “Pull straps tight to for weight on shoulders loosen for weight on hips.” A mixture of snow and rain made for beautiful scenery and a pretty cold hike. About seven miles in on the first day we turned to the south fork trail and made camp a mile in. As we made our way up the hill snow started to gain intensity. We made camp on a bed of snow packed down by numb feet. A warm but quick dinner followed by an early retreat to the sleeping bags. As I laid my head down I noticed the illumination through the top of the tent, it was still light. I felt my feet start to warm up going from numb to tingly then I was out. Rumors of bears kept me light with sleep. It’s not so much a fear of bears but the fear of being eating by a bear that seemed to be present in my much active mind. Morning came and the weather broke making it clear and chilly. Coffee.... Thank you starbucks for your one shot coffee packs. Light weight simple and ooo so good. After breakfast I pulled my camera out and noticed the light would be perfect for a few shots of the canyon. Light was shooting through the canyon, hitting the side of the mountain in front. Clouds diffused the light perfectly. As I put my rickety cheap tripod up and turned the camera on I noticed the my battery was reading ONE BAR. How could it be? It showed full power the day before and I had yet to shoot anything. I ranted for a bit then gathered myself and realized the opportunity I had. One of the reasons I debate taking my camera is that it monopolizes my thoughts. I spend so much time looking for a perfect shot that I loose focus of just seeing and looking around. I can shoot too much!!! With only a small amount of power I would not be taking many shots. I would be forced to be patient. I would also be forced to conserve power by not looking at that o so tempting screen on the back. No this would have to be shot the old school way– without the quick viewing of the image–Bringing me back to the days of film. I took three or four images making sure to bracket my exposure then turned off the camera. Making do: Saturdays hike was a day hike we took only the essentials. We continued on the south fork to Hurricane pass. The maps we had were very basic and tough to determine distance. We had estimated two hrs to get there and two back. After trekking through a foot of snow for three hours and several conversations of stopping short, we reached the base of hurricane pass. As we sat and looked at the intimidating climb we decided to fuel up a bit before attempting the final push to the top of the pass. As we ate our lunch we noticed a speck of a person slowly making their way to the top. We had been following his size 11 prints most of the morning. Well his and a few large bear prints... We finished eating then decide to give it a go. The trail was steep and each step sunk deep into the packing snow. there were roughly five big switchbacks that made the assent possible. Im not sure how the guy ahead of us found the trail but we followed each step. The last bit of trail was very thin but after about forty minutes we had reached the top. You could see for miles and miles. It made every bit of the trip worth while. I set my tripod up and looked for a good composition paying attention to our time. Shooting with bright sun is never the best option but thats all I had. I had trouble finding a composition that I really desired but I would have needed to hike half way around the ridge and another hour for that shot. Sometimes you just have to make due... Snow had turned to slush on the way back to camp. We sat on the rocks ate our dinner and I watched the sun change color on the rocks. Orange then a cool blue the the light was gone. The stars were brilliant that night.
The waiting game: Sunday worship was spent engaged in the sounds of nature. Water was rushing from the mountain and forming streams to our left and right. The Picas were gathering leaves and grass for winter storage. This was our short day. We got to our camp early and the sun was blazing! We were in shorts and t-shirts and looking for shade. A welcomed contrast to the previous day. We pulled our gear out and started to hang sleeping bags shirts wet socks and boots on the surrounding trees. Dry cloths are a great luxury in the back country. Half way through our routine. I laughed and sang a christmas carol. Our cloths looked like giant ornaments Hanging from the jack pines. After an afternoon of resting in the sun we made the decision to hike further to Solitude lake and make our dinner on it’s banks. As soon as we got there I hiked around the lake looking for a good shot. I found a few compositions but the light was too harsh and the contrast was too much. I made a few mock shots through my lens and anxiously waited for the sun to go down. After about an hr I realized that I was no where near the time it would be for appropriate lighting. My stomach was growling and I made the decision to abandon the shots and get some dinner. After worrying that I would be taking too much time and not wanting to keep the guys waiting I simply asked if they would be ok waiting a bit longer so I could take the shots I had planned. What else did we have to do. The guys patiently walked around and waited on me to finish the shots. It was still a bit early but I knew I would be able to bracket the exposures again and get what I needed. After obsessively walking back and forth lining rocks and trees up with reflections. I finally found my shots.
That’s all she wrote: We knew that we would be pushing it to get out on time so we decided to hike the next day over paintbrush divide and finish our tip at String lake where we started. It was a difficult day. The divide was at 10,700 ft and we descended on some rather slippery technical areas. Slowly but safely we made our way down to dry trail. On the way down I finished out my battery taking some fun shots of the guys and the terrain. Nine miles and several blisters later we were at the car finding relief by removing our packs. We drove through the night a total of thirty hours and were finally home! This is the first image from the trip took the morning after the blizzard.