Kelly James is a long-time friend of Filson and an inspiring photographer based in the Pacific Northwest. At the age of 13, Kelly was drawn to photography for reasons he couldn't yet explain, but by 15 could already be found working in the darkroom of the local newspaper. Now, he has operated a commercial photography studio for over 20 years. An avid and passionate explorer, Kelly has captured images of views, vistas, and extraordinary experiences that many people will never see with their own eyes.
Solitude is a rare experience these days. I am fortunate in that I get to experience it more than most people. At least that was what I was telling my self as I trudged through the snow with a heavy pack on my back, snowshoes strapped to my boots, and only my moon shadow to keep me company. My destination was the west side of Crater Lake and I was about four miles in. The parking lot at the lodge had held three vehicles other than mine and I had one by one passed their owners heading out. The last being a young couple on skis I met just as the sun was going down. So I knew I was the only soul within many miles.
My intent was to find a good vantage point on the west side of the caldera, sleep in the snow and get up before dawn to photograph the sunrise.
Conventional wisdom has it that backcountry adventures should not be done alone but the nature of my work has always made it difficult to include anyone else. I had just had a meeting with one of my clients on Friday. I was going to be shooting their 2014 calendar. Crater Lake is to be featured on the January page. Of course that means a snow shot. I knew the weather conditions we were experiencing potentially could create some beautiful sunrise images. I had to deliver my daughter back to college in Ashland on Monday so I would be in the area, and Monday being MLK day entrance to the park would be FREE! Holy Cow! Rarely do the stars align like that. It seemed I'd be a fool not to give it a shot. Of course this was decided on Sunday. Hard to find anyone available on such short notice and willing to endure the conditions of such an assignment. So of course like always I was on my own.
Not quite to the peak called The Watchman I veered off the main trail and headed for the rim of the caldera. It was a steep climb and the snow was soft but not too difficult to manage. I only had a few hundred yards to cover. I passed though the tree line and emerged on a vantage point looking over the lake. Standing on the edge of the caldera the moonlit vista across the lake was incredible. I was still breathing a little hard from the climb as I stood there taking it in. As often happens after sundown the wind had stilled. The silence was profound. I was very excited.
A little hiking to the South found me a spot that I thought would make for some good images. Of course by this time it was quite dark and I was in the shadow of the trees. I pulled off my pack and made a simple camp. I anticipated the stillness so had left my tent back in my rig bringing just a ground cloth, a Thermarest, and a very good sleeping bag. Using a technique we taught ourselves snow camping in boy scouts I built a very small fire in the snow and ate my dinner.
Sitting there in the snow looking out across that moonlit lake, an occasional gust of wind whistling the tree tops, I experienced the most complete feeling of solitude that I had ever experienced on all of my solo adventures. An absolute calm and peacefulness, like I was meant to be there. My life has been filled with many such adventures and I realized long ago that not everyone was meant to do such things. I was thinking about that and how at that moment I was so thankful that I was.