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As 2014 comes to a close, I wanted to get out for one last trek in Rocky Mountain National Park to wrap up the year.  A storm front was forecast to roll in late on Saturday after or early evening, so I was a bit hesitant to think conditions would be optimal as I started my planning using The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE), The Photographers Transit, Google Earth and Weather.gov [for cloud-cover %, wind speed and humidity %].  The conditions for sunrise on Saturday morning was looking reasonable when I took my last look at the weather on Friday night, so I headed off to bed setting my alarm for 4am, so that I could be up in the park before twilight.

My alarm went off at 4am and I was less than thrilled because I had not slept well.  I came very close to canceling my outing but had this gut feeling that something special was going to happen at sunrise, so I got a move on.

The trip up to RMNP was uneventful.  Thankful that the majority of the road construction on US-36 from Lyons to Estes Park is now complete.  Made decent time and arrived at my chose location for twilight & sunrise with a few minutes to spare.

As I grabbed my gear, the first hints of light were revealing exactly what I was thinking would happen, so walked quickly to where I wanted to create a twilight image, set up the tripod & camera, made sure my LEE filters were set and clicked the shutter release.

Pre-Dawn Color

My test shot was precisely what I had hoped for, though I needed to move the tripod about 10 feet away to make the composition work for the twilight shot.  A few minutes later, the sky came alive and I was truly blessed with an absolutely magical image:

Twilight Approaches

The colors were simply stunning!  I knew the light would not last long, so I hurried to the next point where I would turn myself 180 degrees to capture sunrise on the majestic peaks of the Bear Lake backcountry in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The sun’s rays hitting the clouds behind Otis Peak, Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain was ridiculous.  So bright you could see the orange-red glow reflected on the ice at Sprague Lake:

Sky Reflections on Ice

During my initial research, I was looking at going to Cub Lake, but as my planning continued, it looked like the winds would funnel down that valley making conditions less than optimal, plus I really wanted to create an ideal sunrise image of the Bear Lake backcountry.  The conditions on Saturday morning were absolutely perfect; +30F and no breeze or wind to speak of. Sunrise was still a few minutes away when I created the following image:

Sky on Fire Sunrise

About a minute after I created the Sky on Fire Sunrise image, the clouds over the horizon obscured any further magical sunrise images, though I did wait about 10 minutes, creating a few more images before heading off for a hike around Sprague Lake.  As I trekked around the lake with a mix of dry trail & snow/ice covered trail conditions, I happened on one of the bridges around the lake.  As I approached, I could see a few images in my mind, so I stepped off trail a few feet to create some images.  The stream outlet of Sprague Lake was flowing nicely still, and the sun was periodically peaking out to give the peaks some light.  The winds aloft looked to be moving the clouds along, so I took the opportunity to create an image using my LEE “Big Stopper” (10 stop neutral density filter) and LEE circular polarizer), in my continuing effort to maximize learning (always make time to learn or improve your skills!!).

Big Stop Bridge

Once I had a Big Stopper image, I removed the filter and re-inserted my 3-stop soft grad filter in its’ place (my normal filter complement of 3-stop soft GND + CP filters) and almost missed one of those neat shots where the sun highlights a point.  Flattop Mountain was being lit up on its’ northeast fast, so I quickly set focus, aperture and shutter speed and released the shutter.  Neat neat neat!!!

Flattop Highlights

Time passed and the light started to flatten out, so I packed up my gear to complete the trek around Sprague Lake and head on to my secondary goal for the day.  Last Winter, the snow had been so immense that any snowshoe treks to Lake Haiyaha were thwarted by Mother Nature (either by blizzard conditions or my amassing so much snow that finding a suitable path up was not possible.).  My secondary goal was to hike up to Haiyaha, running my Garmin Tactix GPS watch, so that I had a GPX file for later use.

One of the Volunteers I know was working at the Bear Lake trailhead, so I talked with Jon about the conditions up to Haiyaha.  He told me the conditions were packed snow/ice up to Dream Lake.  Beyond that, it would be mixed conditions of packed snow/ice and soft spots, but ice spikes would be sufficient for the trip.

I geared up and started up the trail.  This was my first trek in RMNP for a while and I felt like my lungs were out of shape (again).  I moved along at a reasonable pace though (averaging 2.8mph).  The light was still pretty flat, so I did not shoot many pictures along the way.  One spot beyond Dream Lake after I had climbed up to the summit point, I did stop for a couple of minutes to see what I could create of the Glacier Gorge area.  Nothing really spectacular, so I continued on to Haiyaha.

Getting out to the lake is interesting in the Spring/Summer/Fall with the huge boulders & rocks.  When there is snow like we had last Winter and the winter prior, it can be much easier with snowshoes to get out to the lake.  On Saturday (13 Dec 2014), with the mix of hard-pack and soft snow, I had to test the snow ahead of me with my trekking poles to see how hard it was or pick my line.  Eventually though, I did make it to a spot where I could create some images, if only the light would cooperate.

What amazed me about the conditions were that RMNP has been getting snow fairly frequently and the overnight temps have been sufficient to make most of the other lake frozen over.  Lake Haiyaha, however, was still not quite fully frozen.

Not Quite Frozen

The light was still pretty flat and the cloud cover was not make things very spectacular, but I did see that a monochrome image might work so I set up for that and created an image.

Vintage Haiyaha

After shooting a series of images, I was set for images, so I packed up the gear and started making my way back to the trailhead.  Always amazes me how the trip back takes so much less time than the trek out.  Perhaps it is the excitement for post-processing your work, perhaps it is due to the majority of the hike being downhill?

Once I got back home, I booted my MacBook Pro and to my dismay, the highly unusual occurred: it would not boot.  The boot progress bar stuck at ~25% and no movement.  YIKES!?!  What the heck.  OS X is stable and solid!  I’ve never had issues.  After a trip to the Apple store, I came home with a new 2TB slim drive to do a data backup (needed a new travel drive anyway) while in Safe Boot.  Once the data was backed up (a safety measure), I did a re-install of OS X Yosemite (Command + R while booting gives you the option to re-install.  The beauty of OS X is that the User folder is kept in tact generally speaking, so data loss is minimized (but it is always wise to back up thinks like LightRoom, Image masters, Documents, Music, etc).

After a re-install, my MBP was back in business and I was able to get back to the business of post-processing, otherwise this Blog post would not have happened.

Now it is time to start working on the Blog post for my “Best of 2014”…Stay Tuned!