I like taking pictures that don’t suck.
But more than that, I like taking pictures, even if they do suck.
The act of taking a picture is completely awesome. Sometimes I imagine how great it would be if I had a camera attached to my head on “continuous shot” at all times. Except I would have to organize them, and choose favorites, and it would turn into this huge infinite cycle when I took pictures of organizing pictures of taking pictures of organizing pictures ad nauseam.
So what I do is take a ton of pictures all the time, until people start ducking and cringing every time I am around. But a picture of my mom scowling is only funny the first fifty times, and eventually I start thinking I should try to take better pictures. This is another situation where quantity eventually leads to quality.
In thinking about taking better pictures, I start thinking about artistic pictures. I figure I should start from the beginning. There are three main categories of photographs, each one capable of being split in to subsets of those categories. Basically, photographs are nouns… they are people (portraits), places (landscapes), or things (things, obviously). Mixing the three in interesting, creative, and thought provoking ways is what makes pictures “better”.
My favorite photographs to take are landscapes (my favorite photos to look at are not, but fuck that, I am completely not cool enough to take the pictures I want to take, and also, I would be copying other peoples awesomeness, so I take pictures of mountains and trees and shit). Taking landscapes allows me to blatantly brag about my accomplishments as a hiker, without making me look like I am completely stuck on myself.
In order to increase my awesomeness as a photographer, I decided I needed to plan out a picture I wanted to take, and not just go snap-crazy everywhere I went hoping for the best. I decided I wanted to take a picture of Longs Peak at dawn, with the moon setting behind it (preferable a full moon, but I would take anything except maybe a new moon, because that would be pointless).
After careful research into the matter, a bit of guessing, and some hopeful ambitions, I found what I thought was the perfect location to take my picture. From the top of a 9,200 foot mountain that has a nice cliff on the west side, and an uninterrupted view of Longs Peak and the Continental Divide. I even conned a good friend into getting up at 2AM in order to climb a mountain and be at the top at dawn so that I could take a picture. It was going to be fantastic.
It was also going to be freaking cold. It was January. But what an accomplishment! It would be SO WORTH IT, and I would be able to take some AMAZING pictures, and it would be on purpose!
And this is how the whole thing went down…
I slept for a couple of hours. More like drifted, I didn’t really sleep. This was partly because my sister was out visiting Colorado and was having a small party in the other room, and partly because I was far too excited to really sleep. Yes. I am a nerd.
I had originally come up with the idea several months before. After comparing charts I found on the internet between sun-up and moon-down times, I came to the conclusion that the first time this would happen anywhere close to one another would be sometime in December. Along the way, my shoot location changed from a nearby intersection, to a spot up in Estes Park, and eventually the top of Crosier Mountain. My friend and I scouted out the trail a couple of weeks before P-Day.
The trail starts around 7,000 feet, and climbs a little over three and a half miles to 9250 feet above sea level. When we got to the top, I knew it was the ABSOLUTE PERFECT PLACE AND IT MUST BE HERE. The west facing cliffs had an incredible view of the Continental Divide. I could see Longs, Meeker, and the Never Summers, plus a bunch of other impressive peaks that I couldn’t name.
I double-checked my calculations, and determined that I am completely stupid, because I had been looking at the wrong time zone.
I tried again. Choosing Denver as the closest place I could find, I came up with a new date:
January 11, 2009
Location: Denver (which would be close enough) (I hoped)
Sunrise: 7:20 AM Mountain Time
Moonset: 7:53 AM Mountain Time
I couldn’t tell if the time was given in Daylight Saving Time or not, but figured they were still 33 minutes apart, and I was pretty sure the sun didn’t rise any earlier or later than that in the winter.
What was even better was that it would be one of the brightest full moons of the year.
Before I went to “sleep”, I packed up some food, a tripod, warm clothes, hot water in a thermos, my camp stove, a backup camera, headlamp, and extra batteries.
Amazingly enough, my friend was still game to go, even though we had calculated that we would need to be at the trail head by 3:30 AM if we wanted to get to the top before dawn. That meant we needed to leave my house by about 2:30 in the morning. No matter how you might try, that is still night time and still an insane time to get up.
The sky was clear, barometer stable. But I had fears. My fears gnawed at me.
What if it was cloudy?
What if we didn’t make it to the top before dawn?
What if I can’t get my camera to focus, or it malfunctions in some way?
I will get pneumonia.
There will be wolves! (And I don’t care if there aren’t supposed to be any wolves left in Colorado. Since when did a wolf do what it was supposed to do?).
I am afraid of the dark.
I am afraid of failure.
I am afraid of everything.
My friend picked me up at 2:25 AM. More props to her, because she agreed to drive me, and we got to the trail head about a quarter after three. The moon was like a spotlight above us, and there wasn’t a hint of a cloud in the sky. This was going to work!
Hiking at night is a surreal experience.
We didn’t use out headlamps much because of the brightness of the moon, and the openness at the beginning of the trail. All of the colors were washed out, and almost grainy in the poor light, but it was good enough to walk.
As we moved into the trees, I noticed that the night breezes were making the trees move and creak in creepy ways. I could hear what sounded like murmuring around me, and a high pitched squeak.
I thought it must be cows.
I don’t know if you know this, but cows make some super creepy noises at night. We didn’t talk much. Step, step, squeak, groan… murmur, murmur, murmur, snap, step, step, stub my toe slightly, squeak, and so on.
At first, I didn’t mention my creeped-out state to my friend. I kept thinking, “Cows. It’s just freaking cows. Don’t have a cow, it’s just a stupid cow, damn it, what the HELL was THAT?”
I finally couldn’t take it anymore.
I stopped for a drink of water.
Me: “Wow, those cows sure do make creepy noises at night, you know?”
Her: “What do you mean?”
Me: “You know, all that moaning… it almost sounds like someone else is out here and talking.”
Me: “But you know, it’s probably just cows. Or the trees. Or something.”
I was trying hard to not let the near panic into my voice. I think I might have failed.
Her: “I didn’t even hear it until you said something.”
Me: “Ha ha.. yeah.. sorry…. Um… what do you think that squeak is?”
Her: “What squeak?”
Me: “I don’t hear it now. I only hear it when we’re walking. Why don’t we keep going?”
We started up again, my friend being noticeably quieter. I know we weren’t talking before that, but now she radiated silence. I was berating myself for bringing up the subject at all, when she said, “I think the squeak is my gator strap, but that groaning is kinda weird. Do you think it’s the trees?”
Me: “Oh yeah. There is a little breeze. It isn’t trolls or anything.”
Then we were quiet.
We were quiet for a long time after that.
Why the fuck did I have to bring up trolls?
Hi, I am Laura, and I have this urge to escalate any disconcerting situation. The idea of mountain lions, bears, wolves, and God-knows-what-else isn’t enough for me. I also have to start worrying about trolls, demons, ghosts, vampires, and fuck knows what else. I am not doing this to be mean. I’m scared, too.
On the other hand, I don’t think I have ever made it to the top of that mountain so very fast. Seriously. We got to the top at about 6AM. We didn’t stop. We didn’t take breaks. We might have been walking a wee bit faster than usual.
The first brightening of the sky was starting at the top. And suddenly, our clear open sky of no clouds was gone, covered with a grey layer of piss-me-off clouds.
The wind picked up.
We hunkered down behind a rock to drink hot cocoa and start my camp stove.
I had never used it before.
I couldn’t figure out how to use it now. Don’t laugh. I couldn't get it to light.
We spent some time screwing around with it, before it dawned on me that it was brighter out. It was MUCH brighter out. Oh, shit! I am going to miss the dawn!
I jumped out from behind the rock and ran into a wall of the coldest wind in the world. It was heart-attack stopping.
I jumped back behind the rock immediately, and put on more layers, almost unable to talk.
I tried again, slowly.
Going slow didn’t really help, but I did finally made it to the edge of the abyss.
The sun was underneath the clouds, and turned the entire divide into a glowing pink line of amazement. I started snapping pictures. I would snap, and then turn away from the wind to warm my numb fingers. I was wearing leather mittens with down linings, completely waterproof and windproof. It took approximately 1.5 seconds for the piercing numb to reach intolerable levels and I would turn away, thaw a little, and then turn back again to snap again. I don’t know how cold it was exactly, so I will just call it 1,000 below zero with a wind chill factor of 100.
A minute or two of my little spinning routine, and I was not only a little dizzy, but my brain had sluggishly started thinking about something other than the trolls in the trees coming to get me when my back was turned. I realized something was missing.
Where the FUCK was the moon?
I backed behind another outcropping enough to pull back my sleeve and check my watch. It was 7:20 AM. The moon wasn’t due to set for another 33 minutes! And actually, the sun wasn’t supposed to start rising for another 2. I don’t get it!
I had a clear, uninterrupted view of the Continental Divide from the southwest all the way almost north. THERE WAS NO FUCKING MOON! THE INTERNET IS A LIAR! IT WAS STOLEN BY TROLLS!
Anyway. Here are the beautiful failures that I took that morning. I battled trolls to get them. I did it for you.