Lost Lake sits nestled in old growth forest in the foothills of Mount Hood. In the summer it is a destination resort, but in winter the camps are closed and the roads are gated as snow settles in. This year, the snow is behind schedule, and so it appeared to be a perfect opportunity to hike up to the lake on a moonless, windless, and freezing night to capture images of stars reflected in the surface of the lake.
Lack of wind was an important factor, as I wanted the lake’s surface to be undisturbed for a clean reflection. The forest was whisper quiet and dark. I carried three flashlights and tracked my hiking route via GPS. Hiking alone, in this magnificent old forest, illuminated only in the narrow beam of of my flashlight was frankly, a little creepy. I made an attempt to adjust my eyes to the starlight and see if I could manage without the lights – but after several minutes of standing alone in the dark I could see nothing but the brilliant stars above the tree canopy. Lights back on, I kept going.
Arriving at the lake was obvious as the forest disappeared into a black hole. I carried with me notes about where the views of the mountain were best, because I wasn’t sure it would be visible even with a white cap of fresh snow. Sure enough, as I picked my way down to the shore, all I could see were stars with a vague sense of the surrounding hills. I could not see the mountain at all.
My solution was to randomly aim my camera into the back void and shoot a 30 second exposure at f2. The mountain was clearly visible on the LCD screen. Through trial and error I managed to line up and focus the camera.
The lack of any sound was strangely troubling, so when the call of a loon echoed across the lake it was reassuring, and also rather haunting. After about an hour, as I was wrapping up another sound shot across the lake – this time much more mysterious. I’m not sure how to describe it. It was either a coyote in distress, or a barred owl caterwauling. Perhaps neither.
For the first time in my little hike I began to feel uneasy. There is nothing like being alone in the darkest of woods with an unidentified and disturbing sound nearby. However, I made a point of finishing my final shots and checking focus, and then properly packing all the gear away. I admit hiking the mile or so back to my car was rather unsettling even though I never heard the sound again. The imagination runs wild. The forest had a primordial feel, as if at any moment a dangerous predator might spring from the blackness. It occurred to me that countless numbers of my ancient ancestors had faced such a scenario, although back when there was more magic and yet also real danger in the woods. By comparison I was taking a walk in the park.