Milky Way Panorama over Capitol Peak
Milky Way Panorama over Capitol Peak, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado
Spring 2016 was wet in the Colorado high country, but in early June the long string of storms finally ended. The clear weather coincided with new moon. That created perfect conditions for shooting a Milky Way panorama over Capitol Peak, one of Colorado’s most rugged Fourteeners. All that new snow, however, presented a challenge: could I even get to my shooting location with all the gear I would need to travel over snow, camp for three nights, and shoot a Milky Way panorama? I drove to the Capitol Creek trailhead and started in. At about 10,000 feet I lashed on my snowshoes. I’d never snowshoed in June before, and never snowshoed in shorts and a t-shirt! After six hours of hard labor, I finally reached still-frozen Capitol Lake. I had hoped to continue past the lake and over Capitol Pass to a campsite on the far side, but that proved to be a bridge too far. I stamped out a platform in the snow and pitched my tent in the timberline trees near the lake.
The next day I crossed Capitol Pass and scouted the big basin on its southwest side. The deeply incised ravines cutting across the basin proved much more difficult to cross than I expected. I finally reached the west side of the basin, my planned shooting location, confirmed that a Milky Way panorama would work, then snowshoed all the way back to camp, about two hours away. After a brief siesta, I snowshoed back up to Capitol Pass, climbed 300 vertical feet above the pass to shoot sunset, then descended as darkness fell, snowshoed back across the basin by headlamp and climbed up onto the sharp ridge forming the basin’s western border. Here I set up the tripod and shot several panorama sequences as the gigantic arch of the Milky Way rose slowly over Capitol Peak. By 1 a.m. the Milky Way had risen so high in the sky I could no longer comfortably include it and the land below. I called it a night and slogged back to camp, arriving around 3 a.m. thoroughly beat but confident I had captured the component photographs I would need to assemble the image I envisioned.