This is a kind of interesting blog post: a trip report. Something that I have not done before. Another thing that is unique to this blog post is how fast I did post-processing of photos. Typically, it takes me days if not months after an actual trip. This time I’ve done it in a day.
Yesterday with a good company I went on a one way hike starting at Melakwa Lake trailhead and finishing at Pratt Lake trailhead. It was an interesting and challenging hike, slightly over 14 miles long (not counting the side trips we took). Just walking it would take us 7 hours. 5 more hours we spent photographing and taking side trips. Overall the trip took us 12 hours. We started hiking at around 6am and finished around 6pm.
Not far from trailhead the trail passes under I-90 viaduct with its nice curve:
In 40 minutes we got to the first waterfall without a name. We just passed by since we tried to get to Keekwulee Falls by sunrise. It was another 30 minutes before we got to Keekwulee Falls and we missed sunrise which turned out to be not a big problem since there was no beautiful sunrise and the light was not aligning with the waterfall either.
It was still great that we got there so early. The early morning sun was lighting up granite wall across the waterfall reflecting back soft warm light while waterfall itself stayed in shadow with water reflecting deep blue of the sky. Keekwulee Falls was a great destination for photography: it has so many intricate streams, cascading water, emerald pools, that provide endless opportunities for images.
We spent one and a half hours by Keekwulee Falls. I could easily spend there even more making more images. Once we left this waterfall we went on climbing even steeper higher to a pass. Doing this early morning with air still cool after night definitely made it easier. At some point we passed one more waterfall but it had no close approach. We could barely see it thru trees. Once over the pass we quickly got to the first alpine lake on our hike: Melakwa Lake with Upper Melakwa Lake just a short distance away. At this point the sun was high. The light was flat – the kind of landscape photographers don’t like. I was not discouraged by that since the main goal was exploration. Still I made it a goal to take at least one interesting photo on each lake. So here the go in the order of appearance.
Lower Tuscohatchie Lake:
Near Pratt Lake:
Pratt Lake was the last alpine lake on our trail. Once we passed it the trail went up steeply to a pass that would get us over the ridge closer back to civilization. Unfortunately I must say I did not find lakes very picturesque. The all elongated north to south with approaches from south or north end surrounded by tall granite walls on both west and east side. This means that there is no photo opportunity at sunrise or sunset.
Once we got to the top of the ridge I saw this tree covered with bright orange mushrooms. Just had to take a picture of it:
Over the ridge and on the way down to Pratt Lake trailhead the trail was uneventful: monotonically old growth forest. It was an easy walk down but I was not surprise to see tired faces of people walking up. For them it was long, steep and boring hike. There were occasional small streams but they were lacking enough water to become interesting. It has been a very dry week here and it was a sunny side of the ridge. Still there was one interesting waterfall which I’d like to return back to after rain:
Day 5. Wake up!
Josh woke me up way before sunrise as I asked him last night. He was the only one with an alarm watch. I was hard to wake up. Morning sleep is the sweetest sleep of all! Especially after night with wind gusts waking me up every now and then.
Over night clouds moved in. This was great for photography. It was our last sunrise at Enchantments.
I tried to wake up John but he refused. He was tired and sick. It was still dark but I saw some color in the sky and took a few long exposures. I saw on the back of my camera that the sky was already red. I showed it to John and that woke him up. He went on with his plan to climb back up to Core Enchantments. And on the way there he made one of the best photos of the trip.
I went to the spot which I found the night before. The sunrise was blocked off by a small ridge on the right but I did not count on it. I was counting on Prusik Peak lighting up and photographing its reflection in Lake Viviane. Unfortunately the wind was still strong and the lake was unrestful. There was no reflection and the sky remained dark.
I lost hope to get good photo. Suddenly a cloud above the Prusik Peak lighted up with bright red. I started taking one panorama after another not sure if I got it. Only when I assembled panoramas back at home I found out that I got it in one of them! (click on the image to see it larger)
Morning at Lake Viviane
Day 4. Getting Closer to Home
After yet another lunch out of freeze dried bag we started moving back home. The goal was to relocate our camp back to Lake Viviane where we would spend photographing sunset and sunrise.
There was one big challenge for me on the way to Lake Viviane. At one point we needed to walk down a face of big boulder. With each step the slope was getting steeper and steeper. And the only thing that the one walking down could see was an abyss of the valley far down.
I’m afraid of heights. This place got me worried even when we were walking up. But back then I just put those worries in the back of my mind until we would head down. Now it was the time to fight my fears.
My first attempt was unsuccessful. Midway thru I panicked and turned around trying to get down on all four. Which turned both scarier and riskier. It was scarier because I could not see land under my feet at all. All I could see was the valley below. And it was riskier because I did not have full foot traction and could slid down.
Josh and John told me to climb back up. I obeyed. Josh offered me to help with backpack and I handed it over to him. While Josh walked down with y backpack I did breathing exercise to calm myself down and restore oxygen balance (I was hyperventilating at that point).
The exercise was surprisingly effective and in about a minute I made second attempt. I chose slightly different path that I was more comfortable with. I was looking strictly down to my feet. That helped and I got down.
I cannot describe amount of joy I was experiencing. There is nothing like overcoming your own fears. (Jumping ahead when we were walking down steep rocks next day I was smiling because I was not afraid anymore.)
* * *
We had big hiking and photographing plans when we would get to Lake Viviane. When we actually got there we realized just how tired we were.
I felt tired because I did not have enough calories in my food. As strange as it may sounds I had to bring more deserts, candies and other sweet things. John got sick. Josh was the only one that had energy to move around. He went to yet another lake while John and I stayed by Lake Viviane.
I went to check on possible photo opportunities around Lake Viviane for sunrise:
I found a small niche where I could photograph reflection of Prusik Peak in Lake Viviane. After taking a few photos with the last light of the sun I took off my clothes and plunged into the lake. The water was icy cold but after four days of sweating it felt nice and refreshing.
When I got out I put on fresh clothe getting ready for descent on the final day of the trip.
Day 4. Midday Light
Midday light was steep and harsh with clear sky. The previous day we spent midday resting. The last day before heading back I went back to the area between Leprechaun Lake and Perfection Lake. The day before I liked the stream and a line of larch needles along it but in afternoon light it was cut in half by a shadow of a mountain on the left. So, I returned there midday to avoid any shadows.
It was interesting from technical perspective as I used focus point “bracketing” to get everything sharp throughout the image.
Day 4. Catch the light
The day before when Josh and I went to photograph sunrise to Leprechaun Lake, John stayed by the camp and photographed by Perfection Lake. At night we shared what we got and I liked what I saw in the back of John’s camera (here is the image that John posted on his blog). So the next morning I stayed by Perfection Lake for sunrise.
The night was cold, bitterly cold. There was frost on the ground. The first light that hit the granite wall was deep red:
In just less than a minute it turned yellow. In fact the panorama above is the only image I’ve captured with that light. After that it looked like this:
Day 3. Afternoon light
One of the advantages about going backpacking and staying in one place is that you’re walking the same surroundings over and over and you can see landscape in different light. And you start appreciating light in a whole new way…
As I wrote earlier when we entered Core Enchantments on the second day of our trip we saw the area between Leprechaun Lake and Perfection Lake in the afternoon light and it look gorgeous. Unfortunately we have not captured much of it. So the next day in the afternoon I went back from our camp to Leprechaun Lake to photograph in the afternoon light.
The air was as still as possible. There were no ripples on the water. So reflections were perfect.
By the time I got to Leprechaun Lake it was late afternoon. The sun light was getting warmer turning golden larches into bright orange shifting further and further towards red. Leprechaun Lake was absolutely still and reflections were perfect. It was taking photo after photo but I felt they were falling short of the beauty around and the actual feeling of being there.
Day 3. Wherever You Go
Enchantment Lakes is a place of incredible beauty. Wherever you go you see something pleasing your eye.
I want about 10 meters from the camp just to pee (pardon me) and I saw this scene: golden larches glowing in the sun on a deep blue background of the sky; playful light and dark spots on the ground. It was so beautiful I forgot about why I came there. I went back to the camp, grabbed camera and tripod to capture this:
Or on my way to Prusik Peak I stopped by a small carving in the ground where larch needles formed geometrically perfect arcs:
A little bit further the trail itself fascinated me as much. Spots of light and shade over the rocks:
Day 3. Morning
Sunrise is always tricky in the mountains. From our camp Prusik Peak was blocking our view toward sunrise which made it hard to make out how close sunrise was.
Josh and I took off back toward Leprechaun Lake while John stayed to photograph near the camp. Once Josh and I got out of Prusik Peak shadow we saw the sky burning red. It meant that we took off too late. Walking turned into running, trying to get to the area between Perfection Lake and Leprechaun Lake which was the only one opened to sunrise.
We did not get there in time to photograph sunrise but we got there in time to catch the first rays of son shaving the tops of the larches.
Day 2. Lake Perfection
Our destination in Core Enchantments was Lake Perfection. That was where we planned to setup our base camp for a few nights. We were walking along the streams and lakes. Gorgeous afternoon light was making golden larches glow.
Maybe this was the hardest part of the trip. It was so beautiful around that I wanted to drop everything and start photographing. Josh and John were more practical and wanted to stick to the plan and get to the camp site first. Needless to say that once we got to the camp site, we dropped backpacks grabbed cameras and tripods and fanned out to photograph. Setting up the camp could wait till darkness falls.
Day 2. Entering Core Enchantments
After resting and photographing by Lake Viviane we’ve put on our backpacks that seemed to get heavier and heavier and headed out to Core Enchantments. It was a short but dangerous hike, since at some places we’d need to walk on a ledge no more than one meter wide with a steep wall on one side and dropoff on the other.
In some twenty minutes or so we entered Core Enchantments…
It was like entering a magic kingdom – realm of white granite, golden larches, emerald lakes, delicate waterfalls and snow white mountain goats.
No picture can describe it. Photos show lakes, mountains, larches. But it was is much more than that. It was an oasis secluded from the rest of the world by steep cliffs of white granite with spiky tops filled with lakes with incredible pure emerald water connected by an intricate web of silky streams and cascading waterfalls.
It was peaceful, remote, isolated, inviting, unique. Like no other place on Earth.