First test of a hike

First test of a hike

So, based on a recommendation from one of the long-time volunteers here in the park, I decided to hike the Fern Lake Trail, but from the opposite direction most people commonly do, for first light this morning.  The trail starts at the Bear Lake trailhead, then goes around over the top and down into a gorge that leads down to Odessa and Fern Lakes.  I originally intended to be on the trail at 3:30, but for some reason was moving slowly this morning and did not get boots on the ground until 3:55.  After a short while, I seriously began to doubt that I would make it to Odessa Lake, a four-mile trek, by 5:45, which is when the first hints of pink have been hitting the mountains this week. 

I hiked through the darkness with a headlamp for a good long while, occasionaly getting glimpses of a bat or bats swooping down at the mosquitoes that were in the air.  So long as I kept moving, that pesky insect did not bother me.  Once in a while, I caught glimpses of the lights of Estes Park below me.  Quite to my surprise, as it started to get light, I came upon a snow field that had covered the trail.  But, it was easy to find it again, and I kept going.  Soon, I turned off my headlamp just at around the time I came upon a massive boulder field and some rather spectacular views of the mountains and ridges ahead. 

I reached the final sign post before Odessa Lake shortly before sunrise, but that still put Odessa Lake at 1.1 miles away.  The mountains were right in front of me, and I knew this area would be great for first light.  But there were so many trees blocking the view.  I took a look at the map I had with me, and it indicated there was a small alpine lake, Lake Helene, in my immediate vicinity.  Could it provide a good location for first light?  I found an unofficial trail and followed it.  Not only did I find the lake in time, but a beautiful stream flowing from it.  I set up the tripod and camera, and worked steadily.  Once I felt I had what I needed, I moved as quickly as I could down the steep, rocky trail along the gorge down to Odessa.  There was still some decent light when I got there, so I photographed the stream coming from the lake and the lake itself.  When I was done, I took a break and had breakfast – an apple and a PBJ. 

On my way down to Fern Lake –  I had still not seen another soul yet this morning, save for the two climbers leaving the parking lot at Bear Lake for a Hallett Peak ascent when I arrived – I found a nice patch of columbine to photograph.  I had seen a few here and there along the way, but none that I could capture.  When I finished photographing the flowers, I came upon my first group of hikers.  By the time I was at Fern Lake, the light was pretty bad, but I still took a shot to document the lake.  Given the little time I have in the park, I don’t think I will be this way again. 

Past Fern Lake and to the trailhead, the flow of hikers coming up the trail was fairly steady.  People kept asking if Odessa was worth it, and I said that, yes,  it was, and how I wished I had a fishing pole there – the fish were jumping left and right.  I also ran into a couple who had attended my presentation at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center the other evening – they were hiking with their sons – and we had a nice chat.  One of the wonderful things about being a nature photographer is making connections with people, and this encounter reaffirmed that. 

Once at the Fern Lake trail head, I hiked another 0.7 miles along the road to the bus stop, where I caught a ride that eventually took me back to my car, about eight hours after I left.  My feet were definitely feeling a bit raw, and I was a tad tired at that point.  I went back to the cabin and started to photo edit, but succumbed to a nap that would last four hours.  Tomorrow morning – sunrise at the Gore Range Overlook and then on to the west side of the park in the afternoon.

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