There I lay at 4:15am, trying to turn off my thoughts and get back to sleep. I was startled awake by an undetermined noise made by an inconsiderate person who was staying in the condo above ours. My family and I had arrived the day before to enjoy a peaceful weekend in the mountains but it was the thought of photography that toyed with my urge to slumber. In my mind I kept playing with the different setups I would use to shoot the peaks in the early morning light. The day before I had joked with my wife about getting up early to take a few pictures of the 14 thousand foot peaks that are nearby the Colorado resort town of Keystone. Little did I know that I would be lying restlessly in bed the next morning planning to do just that. After about 30 minutes I got up and got dressed (warm clothing is a must at 12K feet at 5am in the morning). I did a quick double check of all my equipment, loaded a roll of Agfa RSX II 100 slide film into my Nikon F4s, and headed out.
The drive from Keystone to Loveland Pass is about 8 Miles and has many spots to pull over and check out the scenery. I did this at every point along the way up to make sure I wouldn't miss a great shot later when the light was better. One particular stop presented an awesome view of the Arapaho Basin ski area bathed in moonlight.
The moon was a last quarter moon and there were some snowcats out on the mountain grooming the snow for the upcoming day's skiers. It was still very dark out but I couldn't pass up the chance to at least try to capture this spectacular scene. I broke out the Kmart special Slik tripod (it has trouble holding up our point and shoot camera) and mounted my F4s and 28-105mm zoom. I had planned to bring a new Bogen 3021 and 3D Magnesium head on this trip but I messed up my order (darn submit buttons) and it didn't arrive in time. I was worried about the tripod because of the wind but decided to give it a go anyway. I set up the tripod on the ground behind the minivan and left the legs fully retracted (a lot more stable but also harder to see through the finder). I found that focusing the camera was going to be a bit of a challenge. The features of the mountain were hard to see and the moon could only be focused on if I zoomed to 105mm. I found that the snowcats were lighting a portion of the mountain with just enough light to see some sharp detail. I pressed the shutter release and waited for the exposure to commence (timed release). The exposure ended after about 20 seconds. Here is the best out of the 5 or so shots I took at this location:
It was pretty dark but I really like the blue hue that comes out in this shot. The Moon is way over exposed but its soft overblown look is appealing to me.
I then packed up the camera and headed further up the pass. Once I arrived at the top of Loveland Pass (around 12 thousand feet above sea level), I got out and started looking around at what I wanted to shoot and from where. It was an interesting feeling to be up that high in the mountains that early in the morning. Twilight was becoming visible above the divide and the silhouette of the peaks was simply beautiful. I spent the next few hours taking shots with the 28-105mm zoom and my manual focus 180mm ED prime. Almost all the shots were taken using manual mode and mirror lockup. The wind was a bit gusty so many of the shots were ruined because of my flimsy mount. Below is a sample of some of my favorites from that morning.
As I decided to pack up and call it a morning I saw a grim reminder that in the beauty all around me there remains the undeniable truth that this environment is very unforgiving. As I glimpsed up the side of the mountain I caught sight of three stark testaments of this fact. I climbed up to the spot where three crosses were placed, said a prayer, and wrestled with the ethics of shooting the scene. I didn't know who these people were or when and how they died but decided that someone had placed those crosses there as a memorial to a friend or family member. A memorial is a way to honor and to some extent immortalize the event and person who most likely died doing what they loved. I took the following picture because I think a photograph is one of the best ways to do the same.