GRAYnomad Nature Photography :: Essays :: Highs and Lows

Highs and Lows
From despondency to the top of the world in one day

It's funny how one can run the full emotional gamut in the space of just a few hours; such is the case for me on a walk to Albina Lake with fellow photographer David Houlder.

It begins raining as we reach the campsite, continues to rain most of the night, and in the morning looks like we are in for even more rain.

Emotionally I feel very low at this point, and looking around at the flat light I start thinking that maybe I should leave. It's beginning to look as if I will not get any photos at all, and I ask myself why I even bother walking to these difficult places when great images can often be made within metres of the car. Later that day my question would be answered.

The rain returns so I retreat to my tent, lie down and listen to the constant patter on the roof, obviously I doze off because the next thing I hear is nothing, complete silence.

Peering from the tent I am presented with an eerie, silent, and fog-bound world. I grab my camera, rush a short way up the mountain and make two photographs (Towards the Amphitheatre and There Comes a Storm) before more rain sends me scurrying to my shelter.

Towards the Amphitheatre

There Comes a Storm

Later that afternoon the rain stops again. By this time David and I are getting quite stir crazy so we shoulder our heavy large-format cameras and head up the mountain. Before long we reach the spot where I had earlier made Towards the Amphitheatre. David sees a composition he likes, so to get out of his field of view I decide to climb a little higher. On reaching the top of a small ridge I can see the slopes that lead to the top of Mt Alice Rawson."There's no way I'm going all the way up there", I tell myself, "I'll just see what's over the next ridge".

A large natural amphitheatre, with massive walls of granite and a floor of alpine grass carpeted with thousands of wildflowers, that's what is over the next ridge. It is outstanding. Wildflowers however, while beautiful to look at, are very difficult to photograph successfully in black & white. Anyway, by this time I am in the mood to climb.

I have a mental trick I use when confronted with a large climb like this. I tell myself that I'll just go to the next rise and see what's there. If I do this a dozen or so times I'm so near the top that I don't need the trick any more, I will continue to see what's on the other side no matter what. I use this trick to get myself up the mountain.

After some time I encounter a steep snowdrift. To cross it each step requires several kicks with the toe of my boot to create a foothold. It's very slow going, with my weight constantly on my toes and no rest for my calf muscles. But by now I am very near the top of the range and I'm determined to see what's on the other side, almost running the last hundred metres after crossing the snowdrift.

So what is on the other side? The rest of the world, or so it seems. Framed by massive granite tors is a vast, almost manicured, grassy area that leads my eye to a marvelous vista — thousands of hills, each a little bluer than its predecessor, stretching clear into Victoria. I climb to the top of a rocky outcrop to improve my view. A kilometre or so to the south is Mt Townsend, while further south I can see Mt Kosciuszko (Australia's second highest and highest mountains). To the north rises Mt Alice Rawson and behind it some massive clouds that herald a return of less than perfect weather. I unpack my camera and make The High Country.

The High Country

Repacking my camera I walk towards Mt Alice Rawson. On reaching the summit I turn to the south and see the delicate sidelight on the boulders. I make The Main Range.

The Main Range

This is great. To me this is what landscape photography is all about. I am alone in the mountains; I have the right equipment, the right level of fitness, the right light, and the right frame of mind. I feel euphoric.

Tomorrow I will return to civilisation, but for the moment there is just me, the rocks, the grass, and the view. Most importantly there is the light.

After all these years of photography I still get excited by the light.


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