"The sun scorched the clouds scarlet and orange as it died behind the majestic ranges."
SMW Films in association with WinkMedia present: 'Desolated'; A short film about escaping the habitual fast-paced urban lifestyle and finding peace of mind within the solitude of the Sierras. The goal was to create a visually driven social commentary, about the need to break away from technology and tune into the universe through the beauty of nature. Director: Sean Michael Williams, Executive Producer: Gus Winkelman (guswinkelman.com), Starring: Matt Karpinski and The Desolation Wilderness
On October 4th 2012, Gus Winkelman, Matt Karpinski (Pink) and myself set out on a journey into the Desolation Wilderness in the El Dorado National Forest, California. After dealing with a flat tire and getting on the road late, we arrived at Echo Lake around 9:30 pm. We all got bundled up in layers of snow gear and set our headlamps to bright as we began a brutal 5 mile trek uphill to an elevation of 8,000 feet. Our backpacks weighed about 70+ pounds, with all of the camera and camping equipment unevenly balanced in each pack. We traversed around lower Echo in about an hour, yelling out 'Hey Bear!' every so often to discourage any lingering bears looking for a late season meal before a long winter. Pink lives in Colorado and is used to high elevation hikes, so he blazed the trail while blasting an Ipod playlist through small speakers in his jacket. Gus and I kept a slower pace, heaving and wheezing our way up the steep terrain in between water breaks. We eventually reached the summit where the trail evened out a bit and we briefly stopped to admire the incredibly bright belts of stars above the tree-line silhouettes on the horizon. 4 hours and 2 mountains later we arrived at Lake of the Woods and collapsed at the very first campsite we came across; Which happened to be the same site my girlfriend and I had camped at on 5 feet of snow in July the year before. We were dead tired and frozen cold from a bone chilling wind that dropped the temperature down between 0 and 10 degrees fahrenheit. We decided to build a small fire to keep from freezing to death, seeing how Gus the wilderness badass wanted to sleep under the stars without a tent. We then remembered reading a sign at the trail head saying: "$5,000 fine or 6 months in jail for camp fires". With the windchill threatening to freeze our bone marrow, we all agreed the fire was well worth the risk of either bankruptcy or imprisonment. So with a small fire built, Gus and I went down to the lake and set up 2 tripod timelapses facing different directions. We returned to the fire and shared a few sips of Jack to warm our bellies. about an hour later we broke down the cameras, doused and buried the fire, then shivered ourselves to sleep.
The next morning, I awoke to a strange voice yelling out through the campsite. "Hello! Anybody here?! Forest Ranger!" Right then I knew we were in trouble and half asleep and stumbled out of the tent to greet Ranger Rick. He was a slender older fellow with a white zinc nose and mid thigh khaki shorts. He set down his walking poles and said " Well, smells like you boys had a fire last night! mind if I take a look around your camp? Oh and I need to see your Wilderness permit." So as I fumbled through my bag grabbing the permit, I tried to sweet talk the old timer and distract him from looking down at the semi covered fire pit. He asked me if we had a fire and I told him we only burned a small stove, long story short, he ended up giving me a $400 ticket and then was off on his merry way. Needless to say we were a bit discouraged by the set back and so we got off to a slow start that first day. Gus ended up being pretty sick when he woke up and after a few hours of moping around, we finally decided to set up the Dynamic Perception Stage 0 and Stage 1 dollies that we lugged up the mountain with us. Gus has over a year of motion controlled timelapse experience in the field and set up all the measurements for what we were trying to achieve on the stages. After getting both set up, we realized we were missing the cords to run the Stage 1. Needless to say, we were pretty annoyed by the fact we couldn't run both Stages simultaneously and that it was now pointless to even have 2 Stages. We set up 2 different motion controlled timelapses of clouds above Lake Of the Woods, then decided to pack up camp.
When I started breaking down the Stage 1, we found the threads on the extender rails were screwed into the end piece too tight. After 30 minutes of wrenching and twisting, I finally decided to just carry the 6 foot dolly to the next Lake. We began to break down camp and pack up when I changed my socks and noticed 2 coin sized blisters on each foot. We filtered some water, I gave my feet a dip in the ice cold Lake and we mounted up and headed out to Lake Aloha. Our next destination was only a few miles away, the first mile was traversing back and forth up hill before it leveled out into the next valley. We made our way through the dry lake bed, to a patch of trees next to a small body of water. I started thinking about the last time I had been to Lake Aloha, it was full to the brim and still frozen over and covered with snow on July 4th. We decided to camp on a nice flat area under the trees and right away rigged up the Stage 1 with and our gear as the sun crept lower in the sky.
We all trekked out into the dry lake, over huge granite slabs and loose gravel. Gus and I set up a few stages of the clouds against the granite ponds as Pink climbed up the face of a ridge. Gus filmed a quick shot on the 70-200 of his silhouette against the sky which turned out pretty cool. Gus and Pink ended up heading back to set up camp, so I stayed out and ripped off a few more stages of the sun setting over the valley. The sun scorched the clouds scarlet and orange as it died behind the majestic ranges.
When I got back to camp the boys had settled in, we were all a bit tired and dehydrated. Darkness began to creep through camp as I drank the last of my water. We cooked up some freeze dried food, then we tied up the rest over a tree out of the reach of any animals. Before long we were rigging up and heading out under cloud covered stars. I had seen a very unique looking tree sprouting out of a rock earlier that resembled a wind blown bonsai. We found the spot and set up the stage with the eastward ridge as the backdrop. We snapped off a few test shots with Pinks headlamp lighting up the tree. We dialed in the settings on the Stage0 and let the 5DMark 3 run down towards the rock. The headlamp ended up dying about 15 minutes into the timelapse which made the composition even stronger as the moon began to rise right under the tree.
We set up a timelapse on the 7D facing the valley and captured the moon shadows running across the barren landscape. After about an hour all the clouds in the sky had disappeared and the stars glowed bright even through the moonlight. We headed to another tree that Gus and Pink had spotted earlier farther into the valley. It was a tall dead tree that ran parallel to the Milky Way as we looked upwards. So we set up the 5Dmk3 with 16-35 mm on the stage running down and angled it up, with the granite ridge anchoring the frame.
Again we set up the 7D on sticks, shot out at the big dipper low in the sky, cradled on the northern range. Pink hike out to filter some nice and stagnate water from a nearby pool. At this point we were all feeling the effects of dehydration in the high altitude. Gus and I both felt light headed and shaky, so we decided to cut the lapse a bit short and get back to camp around 2:00 am. The boys passed out almost immediately when we arrived back at the site. I rigged up my 5D on the sticks and grabbed the lantern to head down by the small lake next to our camp. I snapped off a few test shots before getting the lighting on the grass perfect. I let the timelapse rip and about an hour later it turned out being one of my favorites of the trip. The moon shadow slowly revealed the moss and rocks, all the way from the lake to the grass.
After breaking down the shot, I bundled up in the tent and passed out shivering. The next morning we were all struggling and thirsty. We started boiling the water we filtered, just to be safe. After rehydrating a bit and grubbing on some granola bars, we got some video of Pink with the fishing pole. Gus set up the Glidecam and we got some sweeping campground shots. We came across a manmade aqueduct in the dried lake the day before and decided to head back to get some shots. I wanted to capture a long shot of Pink walking alongside the stone bricks, into the Desolation Wilderness with his backpack on. I set up the 5D on the sticks with the 70-200 and Gus filmed from the side perspective with 7D on the GlideCam. We nailed the shots and headed back to camp to get packed up to make the trek out. Gus and I were struggling with serious dehydration, blisters and overweight packs. We ended up leaving Lake Aloha around 1 pm and 7 miles and 4 grueling hours later we were back at lower Echo. I remember staggering down the last mile of the trail weaving back and forth, switching hands carrying the 6 foot Stage 1 we couldn't break down. I ended up getting a little sick at the base and well actually...out the car on the way home, but when it was all said and done, it was well worth it. We had a brutal, but great experience and captured some amazing shots. Look for 'Desolated' coming soon to a monitor near you, November 2012. Dedicated to Matts loving Brother and my good friend Chris Karpinski, forever in our hearts.
Sean Michael Williams