Huckleberry leaves glowed scarlet against the glacier-rounded granite
When I backpacked to Horseshoe Lake and Lake Stuart in The Enchantments in early October, I knew that I would be photographing lovely landscapes filled with rugged mountains, serene lakes, golden larches, and (hopefully) Mountain Goats. All of those scenes came vividly to life in a landscape so breathtaking, I could hardly bear to leave. I took hundreds of photographs of the Mountain Goats that joyously greeted us, and hundreds of photographs of Alpine Larches and dramatic mountainscapes.
But when I’m out in the wilderness, Big Landscapes are only part of what I seek. I also like the sun on my face, the scent of forest mushrooms in the air, the way scarlet autumn leaves play along a granite surface, the perfect reflections of golden sedges at the edge of a pond. In short, I love the intimate landscapes as much as I love the Big Landscapes, perhaps more. This blog post is a visual celebration of the intimate landscapes that caught my eye. Think of these as haiku, in comparison with the epic poetry of the vast and breathtaking scenes.
Swamp Horsetails thrived in dense colonies along the shore of Stuart Lake; I was astounded at the brilliant yellow-green color when they caught the late afternoon and early evening light
At the edge of our campsite, I photographed the reflections of the blue sky, mountains, and horsetails on the small waves lapping the shore (while I left Karen to set up the tent on her own)
Late in the afternoon of the first day, the sun broke out across Lake Stuart; here the waves reflect the sunlit cliffs and forests in a bright abstract pattern
Early the next morning, before the sun rose, Lake Stuart was perfectly quiet, with the mountains across the lake reflecting among the horsetails
In a wetland farther up the valley, along the way trail leading to Horseshoe Lake, the clumps of autumn sedges glowed a rich gold among the cottongrass
We are familiar with Cottongrass from sphagnum bogs in the midwest and vast stretches of Alaskan tundra; it was good to see it again here in the wetland. It actually is a sedge rather than a grass, and the seeds float in the air to new destinations much like dandelion or milkweed seeds.
We climbed the steep trail to Horseshoe Lake, then broke into small huckleberry meadows with granite outcrops and views of the mountains above the lake
There were numerous large mushrooms, about four to six inches in diameter, that live in association with the Alpine Larch roots; these relatives of boletes MAY be edible and excellent, but there are two species with similar habits and one is less edible than the other, and we weren’t able to identify them in the field
Autumn sedges in a wet meadow, in a photograph with an impressionistic feel
Many of the Alpine Larches were at their peak of color; they stand with the Whitebark Pines as the last bastion of trees at timberline
Alpine Larches have exquisitely soft needles that turn golden in the fall, then drop off when October winds scour the basin
We camped along Horseshoe Lake; the next morning I photographed the granite outcrops and quiet lake before the sun awakened the scene
Most trees reach to the sky; this larch bowed down to the granite, apparently in response to heavy winter snows that piled on top of it
It is rare that I see such photogenic sedges in the mountains, and I loved the pattern of the autumn-tinged clumps against a tarn reflecting the blue sky
Chartreuse Wolfia lichen growing abundantly on a branch, with a selfie of my wrist
In a glacial cirque above Horseshoe Lake, a stream winds gracefully through a meadow that just lost its snows from last winter in the last month or so; this stream flows into Horseshoe Lake
In the cirque, a couple of remnant snow fields remained and, where the tiny creek flowed under the snow, an ice cave formed. Such caves can collapse, so I just crawled into the entrance to take a series of photographs.
The scalloped patterns inside the cave were typical of others I’ve entered … other worldly!
Here it was October, and there were still some wildflowers blooming because the snow had melted out so recently. Shooting Star is among my favorite mountain flowers; it thrives in wet meadows, and I inevitably get soaked when I lay down to photograph it.
Gentians are more typical of late season wildflowers, but October is even late for them
The talus slope above the wet meadow was alive with Pikas, those small rabbit-relatives who live among the rocks and put away cut greens in order to get through the long winter under the snow. They don’t hibernate, so they need plenty of food.
The stream through the meadow took a very meandering course; beyond the stream you can see the talus slope where the Pika live, as well as some young Alpine Larches growing among the boulders.
Golden Alpine Larches and golden autumn sedges at Jack Lake; the richness of color is the last gasp before the high country is deep in snow
Clumps of sedges grace the edge of Jack Lake, as if carefully placed by a landscape artist
One of the sedge clumps gracefully reflecting in Jack Lake
Just prior to our hike, a fierce windstorm apparently blasted through The Enchantments, because there were numerous fallen fresh Alpine Larch branches wherever we went
When the granite cracks and weathers, soil accumulates in the cracks, giving huckleberries a habitat to explore
Alpine Larches and Whitebark Pines live to a hearty old age in the high country. When they eventually fall, the weathered wood shows one of the secrets of their strength: spiraling twisted grain that can withstand high winds and heavy snows better than perfectly straight grain
Such patterns also look good in black-and-white photography
I love photographing these fallen warriors, with their tough bones
Lichens on the granite can be ancient and colorful; this pattern looked like it was left by an ancient civilization
Horseshoe Lake is ringed with smooth granite outcrops; the perfect place for a human to dip water for breakfast or a Mountain Goat to take a sip
One windy night the moon was bright behind the trees; I photographed the shadow of one Alpine Larch with the moon glow dancing off the waves around it and got this ethereal result
An impressionistic view of huckleberry leaves and distant larches
A cloud catching alpenglow at sunset
The Alpine Larches were awe-inspiring; the equivalent of Vermont’s Sugar Maples or Colorado’s Trembling Aspens
Speaking of aspens: on the hike out, we came upon a couple of Trembling Aspen groves trying to compete with the Alpine Larches for the camera’s attention; aspens are not nearly as common in the Cascade Mountains as they are in the Rocky Mountain West
We found these blue-black clumps of mushrooms on the way out; it turns out that they are relatives of the chanterelles, but didn’t taste nearly as good, at least to our palates
To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my NEW website at Lee Rentz Photography or go to my Flickr Photostream.
I would like to thank my wife, Karen Rentz, and our companion, Junko Waibel, for all their patience during my epic time spent making photographs on this trip.