Storming the Castle...ish
I’m very fortunate to have a small break each February designated for photography. Having been sidelined due to illness for a short time, traveling for the holidays, and a feverish pace teaching after I got back to Vacaville, I haven’t been able to do any real shooting since last October. This might be the longest I’ve been sidelined since picking up a digital SLR in 2004. Needless to say, I was itching to get out, hit the trail, and get to shooting.
We’ve had a dearth of rain and snow this season, which sucks, but I decided to use it to my advantage and try to grab some shots I’ve been wanting of Mount Shasta from above Castle Lake in Northern California. The trail is typically impassable from November until late April, but due to the lack of moisture and warmer than usual temperatures, there was just a little ice and snow here and there to keep me honest.
Arriving at the trailhead Monday night I had just enough time to rush up the hill and do a little scouting. The sky had plenty of color, but as per usual it was in the wrong direction. No bother; adjust, turn, shoot, move on. Just as I started getting a feel for the terrain, I set up to grab a couple shots, and before I knew it, it had gotten dark on me. I figured I’d be hiking out after hours, but I didn’t realize how far off trail I would end up. It seemed like the trail along the western edge of the lake would be the quickest way back to the rig, so off I rumbled and tumbled off the mountain. Let me be the first, or the second, or even the third person to tell you not to go hiking alone, off trail, after dark, in a place you’ve never been when there’s ice everywhere. Sheer dumb luck, two small tumbles, and a rolled ankle got me back to the Tacoma after some very questionable decisions and about an hour and a half of choice language to myself.
I rolled back into town, drowned my sorrows in some chicken fried steak, and headed back up to the lake to grab what can only be described as an uncomfortable nap before setting out again.
Luckily I was already up when my phone reminded me at 5am it was time to get rolling. Checked the gear, layered up, and headed back out. My second try was a lot more successful, and I was able to get quite a bit higher than the night before. I climbed up and over Heart Lake, which was not quite completely frozen, and set up to catch the exploding colors of sunrise. They never came, but it didn’t really bother me. The wind was howling, the fog was flowing in the valley, and I had a world class view.
After an hour or so of shooting with Castle Lake as my anchor, it came to me that without color, the real shot was a long exposure of the fog and clouds moving along the base of Shasta. To get to this, I had to leave my post and head back down to the saddle, and then up the peak on the eastern side of the lake. This one was a beast, especially at high altitude with two recent hikes on my legs, but I made it. I have to say that the view from here was absolutely unbelievable. I let go of the fever pitch pace of shooting, and just tried to take it all in. 360 degrees of rugged mountains, mountain lakes, a sea of fog… unreal. This is why I choose to be a photographer. Moments like these that recharge the batteries and kick me back into balance with nature.
I finished up shooting, which for me means packing up the gear, seeing another shot, unpacking, shooting, repacking, taking a few steps, and repeating the process. After several of these, I meandered off the mountain, at more of a leisurely pace than normal, and rolled down the road for my next adventure.
Man I love photography.