Up to Chasm Lake

Thu Apr 21 2016


For my “finale” hike of this residency, I decided I wanted to go up to Chasm Lake. I really did not care for the idea of starting the trail head at 2:00 a.m., so I considered options for staying the night near there. The nearest formal campsites are miles away, still not the best for doing what I wanted to do – a full night time lapse and some good morning shots. After some inquiries, I was able to secure a bivy site at Mills Glacier, at the base of Long’s Peak on the back side at Chasm Lake. Normally, these sites are only available to people climbing the mountain. But, when you are the artist-in-residence and you have a project in mind, things can happen.

Needless to say, it is a challenging hike. The first 2.5 miles are not bad, more like a slightly steeper version of the hike from Bear Lake to Lake Helene. Then, you hit the sign post for the spur trail off to the Battle Mountain campground. From then on up, a mere 1.7 miles, it is a one-step-at-a-time struggle if you are not used to this elevation and have a fully-loaded pack. Now, there are all kinds of people who hike this trail in no time – 1 1/2 or 2 hours. There was even a park ranger 30 years ago Sunday who made the hike, made the Long’s Peak summit and was back to the parking lot in 2 hours and four minutes. I am not them. But, I wanted to get this shot.

The 0.7 mile Chasm Lake Trail from the Mills Moraine is the highlight of the trail. It has the highest concentration of columbine I have seen in the park, and has beautiful waterfalls. There are tremendous views of Long’s Peak and its adjacent ridges. But you pay for it all after you get to the ranger patrol cabin. From there, it is a several hundred feet scramble up a boulder field to get to the lake

To keep things as light as possible, I brought only one of my Nikon D300s, two lenses – the 12-24mm and the 24-85. I brought the Lee filter system, Moose’s warming polarizers for each lens, and my Hoya IR filter in case I wanted to do any Infra Red. The last thing I would need is to be miles up a mountain side and see a great possible IR shot, but no IR filter. I also brought my Hassleblad for the really spectaclar scenics, but to also capture a 3-hour star trails while the D300 was capturing the time lapse.

I started the D300 on the time lapse at around 8:00 p.m., shortly before sundown. I set the camera at ISO 400 on aperture priority, taking a photo every ten seconds. I came back after sunset when it was starting to get dark to adjust the exposure settings. No matter what the ISO setting, shooting at aperture priortiy will not get any sort of exposure other than black for nighttime photos, especially during a new moon when it is really black. So, I jacked the ISO up to 3200, set it at f/4.0 with a 15 second exposure, set to take a photo every 31 seconds. Why 31? At 15 seconds, with the long exposure noise reduction, it takes 15 seconds to process the image. Thus, a total of 30 seconds to take and process a 15 second photo. – hence the need for the one second margin.

As I was readying my camera for the darkness that would follow, something small, soft and fuzzy hit me in the back and bounced off. Then on the side of the head. Then in the chest. Moth after moth after moth was coming out, taking the to newly darkened sky, and not expecting my body in their flight paths. My only light source was my headlamp, and I was able to capture glimpses of dozens of moths within the reach of my beam as they scattered about in the dark night sky. Then I started to hear the fluttering of wings, to my left, behind me, off to the right. With my headlamp, I was able to determine that the fluttering of wings came from bats that were swooping out in great numbers and going after the moths. It made me think of the flying creatures from “Pitch Black” and how they exploded into the sky once the three suns in the sky set – not the sort of thing you want to think of when you are alone in the dark. In the morning, as the light started to show on the lake, I saw the aftermath of the aerial battle – hundreds, if not thousands, of wings and various moth parts blowing up against the lake shore. I wondered how many bats there could have been airborne at one time, and the sheer magnitude of this event was awe-inspiring.

I came back at 1:00 to start the Hassleblad, which I had propped up on rocks and framed the shot before it went dark. Everything was ready to go – I just needed to set the shutter cable to lock and walk away. At 4:00 a.m., I stopped the Hassleblad. At 4:30, I started adjusting the Nikon D300 exposure to compensate for the increasing light. Over the next hour, I constantly adjusted the exposure, ISO, and eventually was able to get back to aperture priority again, which would be the best way to accurately expose the changing lighting conditions. As soon as first light was in full swing, I stopped the time exposure and went to taking stills of the scene.

first light on long's peak, chasm lake