A Night On The Mountain

Before arriving at Garibaldi Provincial Park, I was quite familiar with the area. It was years ago that I first learned of the area from a photo that rolled across my tumblr feed. From the moment I saw that photograph, I knew that this Garibaldi Provincial Park was a place I must visit. Since then, I’d been researching and eagerly anticipating the day I would finally make the trek.

So when I arrived at the trailhead, I had an agenda. I knew that I wanted to photograph the unique Black Tusk mountain and Garibaldi Lake from Panorama Ridge at both sunset and sunrise as well as photograph the Black Tusk under the starry sky. The only issue was that the ridge was four miles from my campsite and the hike was not a simple, flat hike. So in order to capture the images I wanted, it would be necessary to make the difficult hike for sunset, return to my campsite in the dark, and rise extremely early to hike back up for sunrise. Now after four weeks of consistently losing sleep to sunrise and sunset shoots, this approach held little appeal. Travel fatigue had begun to set in and my body simply didn’t feel up to the task. And that is how I made the decision to spend the night up on the ridge.

As I hiked up to Panorama Ridge, I was filled with awe as the place that had occupied my imagination for years became tangible, real and far more vast than I had imagined. The dozens of images I had seen of Garibaldi Lake throughout the years seemed to only diminish the grandeur of the view when I witnessed it with my own eyes. And the Black Tusk with its jagged edges and slopes of scree seemed to defy gravity with it’s sharp, unnatural angles.

Sunset provided some beautiful light on Garibaldi Lake and sunrise didn’t prove very colorful for the mass of clouds blocking the sun. The memory that really rises to the top, however, is what happened that night.

When my alarm sounded at 1:30AM, I reluctantly unzipped my sleeping bag to peer outside. All I could see was white. There was no Black Tusk, no stars; only half-illuminated, white clouds enveloping me and the ridge. Disappointed, but also slightly relieved to be able to return to the warmth of my tent, I returned and snuggled back into my sleeping bag.

A few hours later I found myself partially awake and decided to take another look outside. This time, however, the scene that greeted me was just what I had hoped for. What had previously been all obscured mountains and sky, was now a dark night sky with thousands of pin prick stars. And at eye level, the incredible Black Tusk jutted up out of a sea of clouds that crept along the valley floor. I knew that the scene was unlikely to remain still for any length of time and so in my half-asleep state, I tore myself from my warm, dry sleeping bag, grabbed my camera and stumbled to a place from which to photograph the scene. With my understanding of night photography, it didn’t take more than a minute to focus and frame the shot. And gratefully the scene waited the moment it took.

After thirty seconds the shutter snapped back into place marking an end to the exposure, and the resulting image filled the screen on the back of my camera. My jaw dropped. As expected, the image displayed the Black Tusk with clouds flowing around it and up onto surrounding bluffs. But unexpectedly, behind the the Black Tusk was a curtain of vivid green Aurora Borealis. In my rushed and groggy state, I had not even noticed the atmospheric phenomenon that so many people never witness. In that moment, I simply forgot about my camera and stared out at the scene through the tears in my eyes for several minutes. And no, I’m not exaggerating; there were tears.

When I regained my composure, I hurriedly captured a few more exposures of the scene to make sure I had it and then the clouds found their way up the ridge and I found myself surrounded the dim white of clouds again; the only evidence that the scene had existed on my camera’s memory and my own.

The scene had only lasted ten minutes at the most, but somehow I had been lucky enough to witness it.

Disclaimer: Camping up on the ridge is not allowed and I do not advocate doing so.

Additional Images