I snuck away from the school just a few minutes early and began mentally packing gear as I cruised home on my bike. The turnaround time there was short because Corey was equally ready to get the weekend started. Thickening high clouds were heavily filtering the light from the setting sun as we started up the trail, and I wondered how it could be that my camping coincided with the only cloudy night in a near two week span of clear days (an absolutely remarkable occurrence for the month of September in Juneau). Still, the temperature was ideal for a moderate uphill hike, and the fall like conditions provided a unique twist on the extremely familiar Perseverance Trail.
We shared the trail with few other hikers and passed a single fellow camper about a quarter mile prior to reaching our destination in the heart of Granite Basin. Having grown accustomed to the lingering daylight of the Alaskan summer, I couldn’t help but comment at how quickly the light faded. Corey agreed, and though the amber grasses near our campsite seemed to posses their own luminosity, I realized my camera was not going to make a compelling visual record of the location until morning. Photography took on more of an experimental aspect, and I ended up burning a fair amount of battery life on a forty minute exposure while Corey and I watched shooting stars, satellites, and planes cross the sky overhead.
The table-shaped boulder we chose for the tent had ample room around our gear for us to lay back and converse on topics ranging from fall travel plans to the remarkable nature of starlight. The moon we never saw was casting enough glow onto the sharply pitched valley walls that we were easily able to transition to the tent late in the night after my camera was ready to be packed away. The flatness of the campsite was able to counter the granite hardness, and sleep was comfortable.
The time of rest was short though, and morning came early (considering proximity to the equinox) accompanied by clear blue skies. The new day comes to life slowly underneath steep slopes and watchful peaks. Between attempts at recording the spectacle, Corey and I meandered this or that way as if Granite Basin were our own private world. Sporadically splitting up and reuniting, we explored with our feet, our eyes, our souls. Eventually daylight beckoned us to the upper reaches of the basin, and climbing out of the shadows, we greeted the warmth of the sun.
The complacency spawned by the rising temperature was fleeting, and I soon continued upward toward a set of snow caves that continually caught my eye. Leaving Corey to collect low-bush blueberries on the gentler slopes, I ascended to the snow, and I marveled at its seeming permanence from inside its dripping caverns. Corey caught up with me shortly, and admittedly, that should have been the moment we turned back for camp.
Instead, the next hours were spent under the misguided assumptions that terrain would be more comfortable just above us and that a treacherous backtrack and descent is always to be avoided. Between deep breaths, whispered prayers, and decisions not to watch the rocks that fell after we pulled them away to reassure our tiring grips; we progressed to eventual safety. Almost immediately, the fear of epic falls and an embarrassing death faded into a sheepish satisfaction at having passed the self-inflicted challenge.
As it should be on one of the most glorious days for hiking in all of Juneau’s history, the path down the valley was choked with all manner of outdoor enthusiasts. Though the scenery was as priceless as ever and the sun was in perfect balance with the autumn breeze, the transcendent experience we were having seemed to fade in proportion to our increasing number of companions. The overflowing trailhead was a harsh welcome back to the arms of civilization, but…
Life is not all lonesome summits, nor should it be. Home, family, obligations, community, service; these are all materials that build a satisfying life. They make our wilderness adventures even more valuable and provide a framework from which to appreciate them. Granite Basin was more than able to live up to the hype I had built for it in the preceding weeks, and like those in the past, this visit will only serve to spur additional highly anticipated returns in the future.
As a photographer of natural beauty and God’s creation, I know that many times a camera can get in the way. It can interrupt the connection between my subject and myself. If that was the whole story, I suppose I would have given up on photography a long time ago. The other side to the coin is the way the camera has trained me to get absorbed in the moment, not to let a single situation slip by. Because I want to record meaningful places and times into creative photographs, I put myself into situations of high potential for spectacular sights and experiences. There’s a give and take between my camera and me, and in the end, I find myself on the receiving end more often than not.
On their way out the door yesterday, I told one of my photography classes to be looking for “shape” and “negative space” for the rest of the day. Of course they wanted to know if I’m actually always thinking about the same things, and while those particular design elements are not often at the front of my mind, the question reminded me of the accompanying photo. On my way home from work a couple weeks ago (riding a bike helps keep the connection with what’s going on around you), I was completely caught up in the way the light was playing off the clouds and the mountains. During the seven minute ride, I was able to evaluate the situation and plan a trip to a spot near home to which I’d never been. From the moment I walked out the door of the school to the setting of the sun was well under an hour’s time. That’s why you have to have your eyes open.
A little over a year ago, my attempts to combat the remarkably high contrast within this very softly lit scene were hampered by my propensity to develop predominantly brighter images and my tendency to think in color first. While the arrangement of shapes pleased me, the slightly shallow depth of field and the difficult processing caused me to move on to other images. I came across the photo again the other day as I was scanning my catalog for a project. Time and the experiences of life tend to reshape the way I think (which I imagine is true for just about everybody). I’ve recently revisited the location where this photo was made, renewing my passion for all aspects of a trip to Granite Basin. For whatever reason, low-key monochrome seemed the perfect answer for the scene the moment it appeared on the screen. From there, the version presented here came together quite quickly, and even if there might be more time invested in this photo, I’m confident it will be very worthwhile.