Lake Oesa, not far from Lake O'Hara, September 1988.
Recently I was photographing around the Lake O'Hara area earlier this month, I had with me my 4 x 5 view camera a few lenses which included 120mm, 180mm and 270mm along with 20 sheets of Ilford HP5 film, that's just 20 clicks of the shutter to "get it right". Also I had a small point and shoot digital camera that I use for "snapshots". The day's weather forecast was calling for increasing cloud, wind and rain. I was split between going to Opabin Plateau or going to Lake McArthur, I decided to head up to Opabin Plateau. There are a lot of beautiful areas to hike and explore around Lake O'Hara area, it's simply impossible to take it all in during one day trip. Parks Canada has a restricted access policy for the Lake O'Hara area, to get in I had to make a reservation for the bus which I did 2 1/2 months ago.
First off I decided I wanted photograph Lake O'Hara itself, I thought to myself how many sheets of film should I shoot at this location? with a digital camera I wouldn't even give it a second thought as to how many pictures to shoot, I would just photograph what ever caught my interest, then edit later. With film photography I have to try and anticipate and think what might be around the corner. I ended up shooting 8 sheets of film of Lake O'Hara itself, in addition I ruined two sheets of film by leaving the lens open when inserting a film holder into the camera, not a great start! so I stopped where I was, closed my eyes and slowly counted to ten, relax and be calm I told myself.
After being at Lake O'Hara for only an hour I had used up half my film. I decided not to tarry around the lake any longer and get a move on to Opabin Plateau, as I made my way around Lake O'Hara and onto the Opabin Plateau trail I passed by a serene and beautiful looking Mary Lake, it was so tempting to photograph. The light on the surrounding mountain peaks was wonderful, the lake was like glass with beautiful reflections, I set up the view camera to take a picture, I had the camera all set up, looked at the scene and was about to insert a film holder and make an exposure and thought, nope not right, in the two to three minutes that it took me to set up the camera, the light had disappeared from the mountain peaks and the wind was kicking up ripples on the lake, so I unset the camera and did not take a photograph, I re-pack my gear for the grind up to Opabin Plateau which is short but steep.
Half way up the trail to Opabin an incredible view opens up for me, the sun breaks through the clouds which beautifully illuminates the distant mountain peaks with Mary Lake in shadow in the foreground while sandwiched by a set of darker clouds from above. So I think okay, this looks like a "keeper" so I get to work and set up the view camera and take one photograph then walk up the trail another 50 meters or so and expose one more sheet of film. Another group of hikers passes me, my view camera often attracts comments and in a conversation with one fellow, I mentioned that I wish I could foretell what the light would be like over the next several hours or even days, he said no one so far has been able to predict the future, so I'm out of luck in that regard.
I finish taking the photo of the Mary Lake, and head up what seems like a never ending series of switch backs along the steeply inclined trail, by the time I get to the top of Opabin Plateau, the beautiful light breaking through the clouds was no more, mostly heavy dark clouds with a cold biting wind, not exactly friendly to a photographer carting a view camera that acts like a sail when set up on some windy days.
While exploring Opabin Plateau, I came across a very nice scene that I liked very much after hiking along one of the trails for a short distance, before me lay an open meadow with a number of larch trees denuded of most of their golden needles, stark looking, through this meadow was a meandering ice covered creek, in the distance, was a spectacular ridge of mountains covered in fresh snow, above the mountains swirled a knot of angry clouds with the sun trying to break through, it looked very monochromatic, as the the colour had gone out of the grasses in the meadow tinged with frost. The scene called out to me, a black and white landscape photographer. I was very happy to make two exposures at this location, I altered my composition just slightly for each picture. Regrettably from here I made no other photographs in hind sight I should have, although I didn't feel the light was quite right, however the scenery was magnificent, with jagged mountain peaks, a undulating valley dotted with larch trees with large angular blocks of rock, simply unforgettable.
I did a bit more exploring of the Opabin area before heading back down, I found a spot for lunch at the top of a cliff over looking Mary Lake on my left and Lake O'Hara on my right, it looked very promising for a photograph, I was tempted! however the heavy cloud cover made for a rather flat tonal range in black and white, then unexpectedly the sun broke through the clouds, the scene lit up before me, unfortunately it only lasted a minute or so, no real time to set up my view camera. On the way down from Opabin the weather was rather miserable, low clouds, wind, rain with mixed snow.
After descending from Opabin Plateau, I still had some time left before I caught the bus out, I couldn't recall having ever done a complete circuit of Lake O'Hara, so this is what I did, I walked around the lake and photographed, I think at this point that I had something like 6 sheets of film left, I made 4 more exposures in the area furthest from the lodge but again the quick changing light bedevilled me, I waited and managed one picture, the wind was also an issue, just past the waterfalls, I set my camera up low to the ground and tried to find a protected area out of the wind for a longish time exposure of 1 or 2 seconds.
I saved two sheets of film for my walk back to the Lake O'Hara lodge area which was where I needed to catch the bus, since I had some time, I set up my view camera at the lake's edge near where I started in the morning, so I waited and waited for some kind of magical light to happen, it never really did, there was fleeting moments, by the time I pulled the dark slide out the film holder the light had changed, finally I made one photograph.
For one final photograph, I walked a short distance along the shore of Lake O'Hara and found this half rounded shaped rock about 2 metres long maybe 1 metre high or more, which I missed seeing earlier in the day. On one end of the rock there was this stunted little evergreen tree maybe 60 cm or less in height, clinging to what seemed like bare rock, in my mind's eye if I cropped out the background, I tried to imagine this small tree as a large full-sized tree clinging to the side of some forlorn mountain side, the "sky" being the background of the lake. Photography with a film based view camera can be a gamble at times, because of the limited number of photographs that can be made, its not not necessarily a bad thing, I have a motto "less is more" its much easier for me to edit a smaller number of good images rather than coming home with hundreds of digital images that I tend to shoot that need to be edited. I also study the weather, use my senses, learn to persevere and trust my instincts, in the end I try and make a photograph that will satisfy me to the best of my ability.
Postscript: My film from that day has been successfully processed and the negatives have been edited down, ready for scanning, regular readers will see these photographs appear on this blog and my Facebook page in the weeks ahead.
Lake O'Hara, September 1991.