Blown Away

“A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.”
   Catherine the Great

In June and July Pat and I camped several times in Glacier National Park. Our trips were several days each, three times in a four-week period. June is often rainy; this year being no exception, we got wet in Apgar, Bowman, Two Medicine, and Rising Sun campgrounds. Run-of-the-mill drizzle or light showers present no problems. Storms, with high wind, lightning, and wind-driven stinging rain are less fun for tent campers and can be dangerous. One doesn't want to be caught on trails or open areas when one of these storms comes up.

Of course, the transitions, those periods where interesting weather is moving in or moving away, as I've written before, often offer the best conditions for outdoor photography. To get photos with great atmospherics one must have, uh, great atmospherics.

Morning storm over Glacier's Lake McDonald

A photo made during a break in the morning storm over Glacier's Lake McDonald. We broke camp and headed east soon after this picture was made.

We started one of our June trips on Glacier's west side, staying in the Apgar campground. A clear, hot day became breezy in late afternoon; the sky darkened very quickly as we prepared dinner over a fire. Just as our meal had cooked to perfection the storm sent us running to the car. We grabbed our place settings from our site's picnic table, took the food off the fire, and ate in the car, not a favorite dining room, while the wind blew and the rain pelted. A car (small SUV in our case) is like a large tin can with windows; a hammering rain can be deafening. Hail is much worse, but luckily we were spared that this time.

Such storms are often short-lived. The rain passed in fifteen minutes, allowing us to clean up our site, dry things off a bit, and enjoy the last of our meal outside the confines of the car. This improvement in the weather didn't last, however. The rain returned, coming down periodically throughout the evening (no golden-hour photos this evening) and night, leading to our decision to move camp in the morning. Before breakfast I managed a short photo session on the shore of Lake McDonald, capturing a dramatic sky, getting a little wet in the process.

We broke camp, loaded our wet gear into the car, and then drove across to the Two Medicine campground on the park's east side.

This Is Not An Improvement!

Our drive on US Rt. 2, along the southern border of the park, provided an opportunity to stop at Silver Staircase Falls for some morning photography. Except for a bit of a breeze, conditions were excellent. I'm sure I got a couple of keeper photos of the falls. We then had a nice drive as we moved on to Two Medicine. The cooperative weather we experienced at the falls soon turned unpleasant.

Weather systems typically move west to east; last night's rain followed us across the park. To make up for that, it had become quite windy; wind is a given east of the Continental Divide. We set up camp in strong wind, making an interesting task of deploying our tent. The sky turned dark and gloomy. Wind-driven rain fell in fits and starts. We made a short hike around Two Medicine Lake, but otherwise the day was unproductive. I made no photos after the earlier shooting at the waterfall.

Rain fell sporadically through the night, the wind howling without let-up. Our tent held up just fine, keeping us dry, but provided no insulation from the noise. We didn't get much sleep, which made it all the harder to get out of a warm sleeping bag in the morning. About 5:15 I looked outside, saw the dark and cloudy sky, and considered staying in the sack. Applying my usual argument (I'm here, now. Gitcher butt up.) I forced myself to get up, strap on my camera pack, and walk the short distance to the shore of Pray Lake. Any chance for a break in the clouds? Any hope of some decent light on the mountains? Any possibility of staying upright in this wind?

Never Say Die

Yes, yes, and mostly! I saw, and photographed, amazing sunrise light on the mountains around the lake. The photos below, with a little help from their captions, tell the rest of the story. Note that no filters were used when making these pictures. Unlike the over-saturated eyeball-bleeding pictures made popular in magazines like Outdoor Photographer, I made no saturation enhancements when processing these images. I'll leave satuation-slider accidents to others. The pictures below are good representations of what I saw while photographing along the shore of Pray Lake.

Pray Lake and Sinopah Mountain in a stormy sunrise, Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.

5:31 AM: I walked out of the trees around our campsite to find this. Pray Lake is choppy in the gusty wind. The sky is solid, blazing clouds, but the pre-dawn sun found a way to light Sinopah Mountain. The shadow in the air at right is cast by Rising Wolf Mountain (seen in the next picture).

Pray Lake and Sinopah Mountain in a stormy sunrise, Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.

5:45 AM: The sun can't been seen through the clouds behind me, but the amazing light continues on Pray Lake, Sinopah Mountain, and Rising Wolf Mountain at far right. Cloud shadow just touches Sinopah's peak.

Pray Lake and Sinopah Mountain in a stormy sunrise, Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.

5:50 AM: The light begins to fade as the cloud shadow continues its crawl down Sinopah's peak.

Pray Lake and Sinopah Mountain in a stormy sunrise, Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.

5:55 AM: The final image in the sequence, and my favorite. The light in the trees looks like the glow from a wildfire. The wind still howls, rain begins lashing me; in a few minutes the clouds will swallow the last of the light.

You can sleep any time. Breakfast will wait until you're done shooting. When it doubt, get up, go have a look, see what's happening. You might just be blown away by what's waiting for you.

July, 2013

The Monthly Disclaimer:I'm sorry about the big © in the middle of the pictures. I hate doing this, and dislike the mess it makes of the images. But I constantly find my pictures all over the Web, often using my bandwidth to display them. There's very little that can be done to stop this violation of my copyright, but I've found when I insert the watermark, the images are virtually never stolen. Therefore I continue to do this.