There are a number of different ways to get to Moon Lake, many of them requiring multiple day hikes in the deep backcountry. Steve and I chose the most direct route from the Pine River trailhead (north of Vallecito Reservoir) because we wanted to maximize our time at the lake and not just make it a stop on a larger thru hike. As a photographer, I much prefer what I'll call destination backpacking...where I pick an area that I'd like to photograph, backpack out to it and base there for multiple nights in order to shoot the area in a variety of weather and lighting conditions. I've found that trying to photograph on thru hikes, where you pack up every morning and move to a new location, tends to be very counter productive. I'm often too tired or not left with enough time to explore the new areas the way I'd like and my photography suffers because of it.
With this in mind, our initial plan was to take two days to hike in and out of Moon Lake (which was 16 miles from the trailhead) with nightly stopovers at the Emerald Lakes each way. We'd then spend 3 nights at the lake itself. The total vertical from trailhead to lake would be 3600 ft. which was pretty evenly distributed on each day. It seemed like a piece of cake! Well, it would've probably been the case had I adequately trained for the trip! Somehow, life kept getting in the way and the end result was that I began the trek in the worst shape I'd been for any backpacking trip. Fortunately, the first six miles along the Pine River were pretty darned level and served as an excellent warmup. However, once we crossed Lake Creek and began hiking up its drainage, I quickly found out that I was meant to suffer the remainder of the trip! The next five miles were pretty much a moderate climb to Emerald Lake, but somehow it felt like an assault on Everest for me. I arrived at our campsite exhausted and sore, but felt good in the knowledge that we'd done a lion's share of the distance the first day and had only five miles left to Moon Lake.
So after setting up camp, soaking my aching feet in the lake, and a relaxing dinner, I recovered enough to join Steve in investigating our surroundings in search of compositions both for the evening and following morning. For the most part the evening session turned out to be a bust due to uninteresting conditions (milky white skies and flat light). We did find an interesting spot for the morning along Emerald Lake and took advantage of the calm conditions to capture the surrounding peaks reflecting in the lake. All in all, it was a very pleasant stopover with some amazing alpine scenery. My appetite was whetted for Moon Lake!
|Our Moon Lake Campsite|
We awoke the following morning to typical Colorado high country conditions...clear, calm and cold. With a touch of frost on the ground, we hiked out to the east side of the lake and shot the first light on beautiful Mt. Oso as it reflected in the calm lake. We then proceeded back to the tarn to shoot the scenes there as well. I considered these all "bird in hand" shots. That is, compositions I really like that are shot in so-so conditions. It gives me something to take home from the trip just in case it storms the rest of the time, but I'm hoping the conditions get better. After breakfast we spent the late morning hours climbing the cirque and scouting for shots there. The view looking down on the lake was nothing short of spectacular! Clouds were building so I took a few images with black & white processing in mind and took note that the best light would probably be in the early evening. When we arrived back in camp, both of us commented on how warm it was getting. It was time to take a dip in the icy cold lake!!
|Bathing In Moon Lake!|
The silver lining photographically from all this is that it can sometimes result in spectacular morning conditions. All that moisture on the ground and in the air often mean clouds in the morning hours. And that's exactly what we got. Not too many as to obscure the sunrise, but enough to accentuate the first light on the mountains and make for some incredible scenes. When Steve poked his head out his tent in the pre-dawn hour and I heard the word "epic" come from his mouth, I shot out of my warm sleeping bag and gathered my gear. Back to the tarn I went to try and better the "bird in hand" shots I had taken the morning before. And better them I did! I rifled shots in all directions as the light and sky dictated. Then I hopped down to the lake when it calmed down and got some more. It was an incredibly fun morning that all photographers dream about. This was made even sweeter when I stopped to reflect on what I had to endure in order to capture these images (both physically and weather-wise) and that we had the place all to ourselves for our own private photoshoot.
|First Light On Mt. Oso|
|Lake Creek Waterfalls and Wildflowers|
|Monsoons Over Moon|
The next morning we awoke to the typical clear sky, but we didn't care. We had already got what we came for photographically and just enjoyed the scenery while we packed up for the trek downwards (which sounded awfully good to me after the hellish hike up). By the time we reached our camping destination for the evening, it was already spitting rain and the sky was growling. Instead of setting up camp in an oncoming storm, we made the executive decision to just keep going for the trailhead. It sounded good at the time, but after 16 or so miles and over 3600 vertical feet down, I was barely able to walk by the time I saw my beloved Xterra!! The pizza and beer in Durango that evening never tasted so good!
To see more of my imagery from this trip, click on the link below...
Moon Lake Backpacking Trip