Return to Lake Irene


     High up along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, in the pine forest just to the west of the Continental Divide, sits a little lake called Lake Irene. Its nearby picnic area makes it a well traveled spot, and it is a beautiful location, but most of the time it lacks a really standout feature for photography. However, in the late summer & fall the Milky Way swings into alignment over the lake and provides some more interesting possibilities. 

     In September of 2018, I led a group of photographers up to Lake Irene with just that goal in mind, but it was not to be. The window of opportunity to get the best composition here goes fairly quickly and the sky where the Milky Way would be was covered with clouds. After waiting for about half an hour, with no opening in sight, we moved on to our next location for the night, where the clouds did eventually open and gave us some success. Some might copy in a night sky from another photo to make it work, but that's just not my style. Instead, this would go on the list of locations to return to and try again. Within 3 weeks the snow came and Trail Ridge Road closed for what turned out to be the rest of the year. This location would have to wait a year to try again. 

     On the last night of August, I returned to the high country with another group with Lake Irene as the goal. This year there was also an opportunity to photograph the crescent moon as it was setting at sunset, and with the sky being completely clear we set up to capture this as well. This photo shows the moon setting into the twilight colors over Howard Mountain & Mount Cirrus in the Never Summer Mountains on the western boundary of the park. This was a beautiful moment and definitely worth the time spent to capture waiting for darkness to come. Once the moon had set, we journeyed down off the alpine tundra to the parking area for Lake Irene, where we found a surprise. When we had visited here last year there was nobody else there and we had this peaceful spot all to ourselves. This year was just the opposite, as we arrived to a parking lot that was nearly full, with just enough spots left to accommodate our group. Down at the lake we found probably at least 20 people, with conversations going on all around in the dark. Instead of being able to choose what might be our favorite tripod spot, we were forced to make do with what was left. Nonetheless, the lake was still offering a beautiful reflection and the sky was clear. We would just have to wait for the galaxy to move into the perfect spot. After waiting for nearly an entire year, what's an extra 30 or 45 minutes to nail that composition? The photo at the top of this post is the result of all that waiting. The smooth surface of the lake offering that mirrored reflection, and the dark skies allowing us to capture so much detail of the stars in our galaxy and beyond with our cameras. Eventually the crowd dwindled and only a few of us were left taking in the beauty at this peaceful little lake. I'd say it was definitely worth the wait, and this will definitely be a location on my list for night photography workshops next year.

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