On December 31st of 2011 I took a trip to Devil's Lake state park. It would be my first of two consecutive trips to the park. The goal was to get there before sunrise, hike the bluffs in the dark and be set up and ready to shoot as dawn arrived. On my first trip I chose to hike the west bluff so that I could get the sun rising over the east bluff. Hiking in the dark and knowing that you are probably the only one in the park is a little unnerving but at the same time very exhilarating. The west bluff climb is moderately easy and doesn't require that you risk your life. I reached the top about 6:30, found a good place to set up and waited for the morning color to cover the horizon. It was a clear morning and not to cold so I was anticipating some nice opportunities. As the sun broke I could see a fog bank gathering over a valley at the base of the east bluff. This made for some great shots especially with the birds eye view that I had. I moved to several spots along the ridge during the next 45 minutes so that I could shoot different angles of the rocky bluff. I am not a religious guy but being alone on the ridge and overlooking the landscape as the sun rises is nothing short of a religious experience.
The crisp quiet morning, the white untouched snow, the different shades of blues, reds and oranges and the detachment from everyday life was an overwhelming experience. It's one that will stay with me for some time.
About 7:45 the fog bank turned into a massive wall and filled the entire park within minutes. The big pines became shadows of grey and green and the lake disappeared. I took this as a sign that it was time to depart and head down to the lake front for another hour or two of shooting. As I hiked down the bluff I though about how lucky I was to be able to have these types of experiences. I have always loved the outdoors but having the ability to capture its beauty for others to enjoy has given me a second life and I will be forever grateful.
A week later my middle son Jordan accompanied me on my trek up the east bluff. We arrived at the park around 6am, put on the headlamps and searched for the trail. This trail is a fairly steep hike and not for the faint of heart. It was probably a good thing that it was dark so that all I could see was the next rocky step and not the impending death that was two feet to my right or left. Both of us had recently seen the 60 minutes segment on a guy who climbs sheer cliff walls with just his hands and feet, no ropes, nothing. We laughed at our wimpiness of worrying about climbing a man made trail while this guy hangs by his fingers a mile above the ground. Jordan's a strong guy and very athletic so he brought up the rear in case I needed to be caught. I knew it was tough when he started to talk about how his calves were burning. He's a fitness trainer so you can imagine what my legs felt like. At this point all I could think of was what it would feel like to be dragged to the top. With the way my legs felt it was only a matter of minutes before that experience would come into play.
Well, we finally reached the top and took a break. I enjoyed a bottle of water and a nutri grain bar that was in 7500 pieces. We found a spot and set up to shoot. As we waited for the sun to rise Jordan reverted back to his childhood and tossed stones over the side to see how long it would take before we heard them shatter against the rocks below. When we finished shooting we spent the next hour or so hiking off trail which usually led to "here, hold this while I jump from this rock". Finding the way back to the trail brought along a huge potential for ankle sprains and broken bones as we moved about the fallen rocks and dead trees. When we finally found the path you'd think that we had been out in the wilderness for 2 weeks. After the high fives and the water break we continued to the other side of the bluff and then down the icy path to the bottom.
After some more childlike play of throwing big rocks on the icy lake and walking on thin ice we headed down the railroad tracks and back to the car. The shots I got on the first trip were 100 times better than this one but the company of my son was something I wouldn't trade for anything.