Welcome to the Bridger Mountains – one of my favorite places in Southwest Montana. Climbing up a rocky and rutted dirt forest service road that is more suitable for high clerence 4×4 vehicles than cars, I was hunting for alpenglow this particular morning and decided to head for Fairy Lake for that very reason.
Alpenglow is the same phenomenon that gives birth to Homer’s “rosy fingertips of dawn.” For those of you not familiar with the term, here is the world according to Wikipedia:
Alpenglow (from German: Alpenglühen, Italian: Enrosadira) is an optical phenomenon that appears as a horizontal reddish glow near the horizon opposite of the Sun when the solar disk is just below the horizon. This effect is easily visible when mountains are illuminated, but can also be seen when clouds are lit through backscatter.
Since the sun is below the horizon, there is no direct path for the sunlight to reach the mountain. Unlike sunrise or sunset, the light that causes alpenglow is reflected off airborne precipitation, ice crystals, or particulates in the lower atmosphere. These conditions differentiate between a normal sunrise or sunset, and alpenglow.
The term is generally confused to be any sunrise or sunset light reflected off the mountains or clouds, but true alpenglow is not direct sunlight and is only visible after sunset or before sunrise.
After sunset, if mountains are absent, the aerosols in the eastern part of the sky can be lit in the same way by the remaining scattered red light straddling the fringe of Earth’s shadow (the terminator). This backscattered light projects a pinkish band opposite of the sun.
Anyways. . .
Sitting just below treeline and the rocky escarpment of Battle Ridge is Fairy Lake. Ringed in spruce and sub-alpine firs, with gin clear waters, this lake was carved out by retreating glaciers thousands of years ago. Given its elevation in these mountains, it holds water year round and is refilled each summer from snow melt.
I had never photographed here before, and even a Google search turned up little more than iPhone shots from local MSU students who come to hang hammocks in the surrounding trees and drift away on the back of so much pot smoke. Although I had hiked around the lake a few times, I really didn’t know if these mountains were going to light up like this at sunrise. But, if any of the peaks in the Bridger’s were going to glow, I knew these had the potential to be the best – given the long stretch of vertical rock face the thrusted up out of the top of these mountains.
With the first hint of light on Sacajawea Peak, I launched my Phantom 4 into the air and immediately climbed to 400 feet – the legal limit for flying in the US. Soaring out over the forest and lake, I could begin to see the beginnings of alpenglow and quickly scrambled to find an aerial composition. Given the presence of the lake, and how Battle Ridge sort of unfurlled off toward the north for many miles, I quickly maneuvered the drone to work these two key compositional elements together into the frame.
The lens of my camera held a circular polarizing filter, my ISO was set to 100, aperture to f/2.8, and shutter was dialed in at 1/25th of a second.