It was 7:30 AM and I'd just woken up. I was cozy in bed, very tired and about to go back to sleep. The night before I'd left my ringtone on, which I don't typically do, and suddenly it chimed. A text. Okay, I better check my phone. It was Matt Jackisch with a literal last minute invite for an overnighter. A weather window had opened for potentially epic conditions in a place where we've all been trying to get said epic conditions. "Be at the SkyTrain station at noon if you want to come" he said.
I thought about it for a half hour or so. The bed was nice and I was exhausted--one of those low energy days and not much sleep as of late. But I had to admit, Matt was right. The weather setup was there and I couldn't miss this, so I replied and begrudgingly pulled myself out of bed. Morgan Carmont was coming too. I suppose we're both ideal candidates for last minute shenanigans like this.
I scrambled to pack up and catch the bus into town. Thankfully there were no delays and the three of us met up at the SkyTrain station and hit the road in a timely manner! The weather was moody along the Sea to Sky highway through Lion's Bay and Squamish, low clouds hanging in the trees and rain falling. We knew it was going to be good and the excitement was building. After a few hours of driving, we arrived at the forest service road just north of Pemberton. The top the road was deserted and not a single soul was parked at the trailhead; we would have the entire place to ourselves! It was still raining, much to my delight, and it was a pleasant five degrees Celsius. Mist danced and swirled around the trees, like silent phantoms in the distance.
Forest service road views made for some good b-roll.
Our packs sorted and double checked, we glanced at the "bear in area" sign that is always here and then began our hike. The trail started off flat, winding through bushes, mud and forest. Although it's no coastal rainforest, the forest here is rather beautiful in a more subdued way. If we weren't in a hurry to get to the top I would have taken my time photographing as many lichen-covered trees as possible. Old man's beard was everywhere, draping from the bark and branches. Soon the trail became much steeper, reminding me of how much I'd neglected my fitness over the summer. The day's general exhaustion didn't exactly help! Despite the cool temperatures and rain, I eventually had to take off my jacket because I was overheating. Fortunately this hike is quite short and easy, regardless of the steepness, unlike some other trails in the area.
Bear in area. I truly do love this forest!
As we approached the height of the hike, the rain switched to blowing snow and our excitement began to elevate. It was here the three of us split off to do our own things. I pulled out my camera, knowing that opportunities for photographs would be soon presenting themselves. Behind me a peak revealed itself from behind the moody clouds, framed by trees and snowfall. I fired off a few exposures and kept walking up the trail, slipping and nearly falling in some mud because I was so distracted by the beauty.
Atmospheric beauty at every turn.
The view at the top.
"A Crack in the Heavens"
The sight as I reached the top of the rise was incredible. Looming mountains were shrouded in mist, while snow falling and sunlight bursting through accentuated the dreamlike atmosphere. Autumn foliage lined the trail; rocks and dirt glistened with fresh moisture.
My tiredness fell away, as if I were slipping off a cumbersome cloak, and everything else was forgotten. I was still carrying all of my overnight gear in my backpack, but when your focus becomes so singular things like that cease to matter. The only thing that I cared about was living in the moment and experiencing all that Mother Nature had to offer.
I immediately got to shooting. The scene before me was so beautiful it almost didn't feel real, pulled straight out of an Albert Bierstadt painting. A few minutes later, I heard Morgan shout that he had slipped and sprained his ankle. I walked over to him to see if he was okay. It didn't seem great, but he was determined to power through it and keep shooting. Apparently it would take more than a sprain to interrupt our fun on this day! After making sure he was one hundred percent certain of his decision and okay to be on his own, I kept on hiking. My plan was to do a nice loop around the basin that would include some spots I'd been keen to photograph in better weather. And this was my definition of better weather indeed.
I quickly fell into a flow state and my tiredness vanished completely. In this state, everything becomes instinctual and effortless. The ten thousand hours you've spent practicing a skill take the wheel. It's not a state I've achieved many times, but when I do it feels like the camera is a natural extension of my body and I become extremely productive. Everything just clicks.
"Flow State Amnesia"
One of the most fascinating parts of this is what I've dubbed flow state amnesia. I don't actually remember shooting the exposure for the photograph above! Other times during my walk I can remember taking the photograph, but I don't remember certain details. For example, I don't remember lining up the sun with the waterfall and lake in the image below. I don't remember consciously observing the top part of the alignment at all, which is interesting because I do remember changing my shutter speed to bracket for the extreme dynamic range. The brain is fascinating! Or perhaps I'm starting to get old.
I find that switching to mirrorless has helped immensely when it comes to getting into a flow state, because it negates the need for a very distracting tripod in most cases. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of my flow states have occurred since I switched to mirrorless! Lens choice has an impact as well--while hiking around most of my photos were made with a 24-200, a huge and flexible range that doesn't require interrupting lens changes.
Everywhere I walked, there was something interesting going on and a photograph to be made. Eventually I completed my loop and arrived back at the main camping area. I took a break to setup camp, finally ditching all the extra weight, and then met up with Matt and Morgan again. Together we all shot sunset. I found it difficult to settle on a composition and just shot as many different options as I possibly could. Some of the clouds behind the mountains turned a beautiful purple while fog rolled in. We couldn't have asked for better!
"The Seductive Dark" - Blue hour fog.
Fog rolled in at blue hour and we returned to camp. Morgan's ankle wasn't looking so great and had ballooned in size. We ate dinner and got ready for bed. I slept about four and a half hours total, but every hour of mountain sleep feels like two hours of home sleep! It was difficult to unwind from the excitement of the day and I woke up multiple times throughout the night because I was too warm. The sound of snow falling on my tent was calming to occasionally wake up to, and I peeked out a couple times to see snow covering the ground, illuminated by the bright moon. I probably should have gone for a walk to shoot a moonlit landscape but I was content in my warm bed.
In the morning we woke to zero visibility, but we knew the rising sun would burn some of the fog off. Unfortunately the low cloud cover increased the temperature significantly, melting most of the fresh snow before the sun even came up. Somehow Morgan was still managing to hobble around and take photos.
Heavy fog before sunrise, with remnants of the overnight snowfall in the foreground.
We set up for our sunrise compositions and waited. As the sun rose and temperatures warmed up, the fog began to burn off. It was beautiful.
"Forsaken Dreams" - Time blend.
After sunrise I took down my tent and then wandered around a bit more. It was a beautiful morning, but we had to leave soon so that Matt could go work his evening shift. The view from the main gathering area was rather spectacular so I asked Matt to take a photo of me. It's always nice to have for the memories and to show family and friends!
We finished packing up and soon it was time to go. Naturally we encountered some incredible light on the way out, as if Mother Nature was teasing us. Morgan somehow managed the hike out with his sprained ankle, but it wasn't quite over yet. I suddenly slipped on some benign looking mud near the end of the trail, falling hard onto my hand, bending it too far the wrong way. It exploded in pain. Two sprains in one trip! Though thankfully mine was much lighter and mostly healed within a week. Morgan's ankle is still healing almost two months later.
Despite those little setbacks, it was an incredible trip and I feel fortunate that I have friends able to convince me to get out of bed for last minute things like this. I don't expect to ever have such a productive 16 hours in a location ever again.
With the release of this blog, I've also released my gallery of photographs from the trip. Hit the link below if you'd like to take a look!