Tag Archives: California

Exploring The Desolation Wilderness

27 Sep

Backpacking The Sierra Nevada in September

I recently returned from a 3-night backpacking trip in the Desolation Wilderness. This adventure offered a cornucopia of surprises including 50-mph wind gusts, heavy rain and snow and campground thieves. It was a heck on adventure!

The serendipitous choice to visit this remote pocket of wilderness near South Tahoe was based on logistics, subject matter, budget, and weather. The 50-mph wind gusts were predicted but not accounted for. I simply did not believe the forecast. And snow was never mentioned…

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“Enchanted Dreams” Off-trail in the Desolation about an hour before the rain

Three of the four days featured stormy, windy, and overcast conditions while a layover day was mostly sunny and breezy. Temperatures never exceeded 65 degrees. The howling winds smashing the side of my tent often affected my sleep. The last night was notably piercing and the open basin sounded like a wind tunnel.

Fortunately the smothering rain changed to snow after sunset and the frozen sides of my tent helped weigh it down. If it hadn’t snowed my tent would have surely flooded. The next morning was gorgeous until 9:45 am when the weather soured. By 11:15 am I experienced blizzard-like conditions ascending 8500-foot Maggie’s Peak en route to the Bayview Trailhead.

Overall, the wilderness was gorgeous with shimmering water and shining slabs of granite. Most peaks here top out just south of 10,000 feet so there isn’t as much vertical relief for photography. We saw only 5 people over the last 3 days and I was elated with the level of solitude! Obviously, the weather had something to do with that.

I’ll have a few more pictures on my website soon. Enclosed are a couple of cell phone shots. If you want to learn more about this trip, hit me up and I’ll pen a follow-up!

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A remote lake in the Desolation Wilderness

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A view near base camp.

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September Decisions

14 Sep

Autumn, the time when the weather cools, school starts, football returns, the leaves change and fall, and everyone’s lives get a little busier. This is notably true for landscape photographers as the fall is a consensus “favorite” season for many shutterbugs.

Late September is an unpredictable time as the last days of summer usher in a wide variety of atmospheric conditions. Humidity decreases, so does the bugs and crowds, creating innumerable possibilities for those fortunate enough to travel.

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I was hoping to revisit my favorite waterfall while in Yellowstone. This shot was captured in September 2009.

I find myself currently in this position with my girlfriend who works for a major airline, the opportunities are endless to explore new places. The plan was to return to Yellowstone, as September is known as the “golden month” in the world’s first national park. However, the upcoming weather forecast is calling for below normal temps and extended periods of precipitation (rain/snow mix), which makes backpacking less fun.

Long story short we decided to look elsewhere. Some of the places we considered were Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park (ME), Blackwater Falls SP (WV), Cathedral Gorge State Park (NV), Lassen Volcanic NP and Channel Islands NP (CA), and now the search continues. We still haven’t decided on a destination although it is now looking like California again. What places do you recommend during this time of year?

In other news, I am back in editing mode working on my new releases gallery. Most of the images will be from summer backpacking trips around the San Juans as I am diligently working toward a printed version of my book. However, you’ll also discover images from other states too. It is a work in progress but check back regularly for frequent updates and happy leaf peeping!

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A high key black and white image from Yellowstone Lake in early October

 

 

 

The Top Three Western States for Landscape Photography

19 Sep

As landscape photographers, we all have different visions and reasons to shoot the subject matter we chose.  At times, the experience of traveling to these places is as lasting a memory as some of the images that I create.  The following is my personal list of western states that I enjoy the most for landscape photography,  some interesting statistics, and characteristics that embellish them.

1. Colorado

Land Mass – 104,000 square miles or 8th largest in the country

Population – approx 5 million  or 22nd most in the country

Approx. Percentage of State Visited – 40% including the entire western border from Dinosaur National Monument to Grand Junction and Cortez

Pro’s:  Arguably the most scenic mountains in the US accompanied with superior wildflowers, and the most prolific autumn foliage in the Western United States. Diverse topography featuring many southwestern geologic features including sand dunes and red rock.  Summer monsoons and early autumn storms make fine art landscape photography possible at almost any time of day.  More accessible roads and fewer hiking and camping restrictions than found in most states.

Con’s: No access to beaches or coastline, eastern part of the state is flat, ATV’s are very popular and disruptive to solitude

Summary:  There is no better place in the United States to photograph than Colorado if mountains are your subject matter of choice.  Here you’ll find more than 60% of the 14,000 ft. peaks located in the United States. That’s more than twice as the next state Alaska, which is more than six times its size! Addition, Colorado also boasts some of the most dramatic weather in the country, hence the name colorful Colorado. In the summer months, the afternoon skies are littered with clouds during its monsoon season. Fall arrives early in the alpine areas and it is typical to get snow during peak fall foliage. This phenomenon is uncommon or not possible in most other states. Spring brings budding aspens and wildflowers in the foothills of its ranges. A true four season state, Colorado offers the best of the best for alpine scenery mixed with enough topographical diversity and southwestern reds to make every connoisseur of the landscape a happy camper.

2. California

Land Mass – 163,700 square miles or 3rd largest in the country

Population – approx 37.2 million, which is  the  most in the country

Approx. Percentage of State Visited – 40% including most of the areas south of San Francisco to San Diego, most of the Sierra Nevada’s and the Channel Islands

Pro’s: The most diverse topography, best alpine lakes, longest coastline, largest island, best sand dunes, tallest mountain, highest waterfall, and most national parks in the country.

Con’s: Poor air quality/smog, overcrowded parks, state running out of funds and tourism is being affected

Summary: The most obvious choice for number one, due to its sheer size and location California finishes a distant second on my list. While the Sierra Nevada’s offer some of the best backpacking in the world, there are too many clear days and way too many bugs to rate it ahead of the mountains in Colorado for landscape photography.  Air quality can also be an issue there, as it is in states desert park’s like Death Valley and Joshua Tree.  Yosemite and its sister parks King’s Canyon/Sequoia offer big views, lakes, trees, waterfalls and certainly crowds. In the spring, the Mohave Desert is joy to photograph as is the eastern Sierra during all seasons. California’s coastal ranges from Santa Cruz to Santa Monica are arid, homogenous and somewhat uninspiring.  However, its beaches offer as much opportunity as anywhere in the country. The Golden State is a place landscape where photographers have to work much harder to get original, high quality landscape shots.

3.Utah

Land Mass – 84,900 square miles or 13th in the country

Population – 2.7 million residents or 34th in the country

Approx. Percentage of State Visited: 80%

Summary: Utah seriously challenges California for the number two position on this list. I gave the nod to California for its diversity and size, but Utah probably offers more bang for the buck and as a whole is arguably a more photogenic state.  Utah’s most famous scenery comes from the southern part of the state, some of which it shares with Arizona like Monument Valley and the Wave. One also can’t forget the Subway, the Watchman, Mesa Arch, Zebra Canyon, the Narrows, Calf Creek Falls and Delicate Arch as well many others…From its famous national parks to the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains in the north, Utah offers world-class scenery throughout.  Its diverse climate and landscape makes it an excellent choice for visitors year round.

Pro’s: Most iconic southwestern landscapes in the country, easy to find solitude, five national parks, slot canyons, fall foliage, deserts, above average wildflowers and excellent alpine scenery.

Con’s:  High entrance fee’s to state parks, no access to coastline, middle part of the state is generally uninteresting, ATV’s very popular

Honorable mention: Wyoming, Oregon

Not included in these rankings: Montana, Idaho, and New Mexico

I’d love to hear some other opinions on this subject whether you agree or disagree. Please feel free to chime in!

Wild Moments in the Wilderness #4: Wild Weather + Bad Trail Maps = Mental Anguish

17 Jan

Ask any seasoned outdoor traveler and they’ll tell you that if you spend enough time outside, you’ll see just about every kind of weather imaginable. This is especially true when traveling in the mountains. Weather forecasts are generally unreliable when dealing with high altitude backcountry travel.  Currently, I find the national weather service’s website to be the best for detailed weather forecasts of hard to get to wilderness locations.

For example, this past summer Joyce and I were planning a series of two backpacking trips to the southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In late September, the weather is usually clear and mild even into the far reaches and heights of the High Sierra. For the weeks leading up to our trip, I continuously checked the weather forecasts. The forecasts, much to my dismay were clear, clear and more clear skies. They called for unseasonably warm temperatures during the first leg of our trip.

However, the forecasts also predicted a strong cold front  coming into the region (from the Pacific NW)  by the middle of our trip. This was not supposed to change, and believe me, I scoured every website looking for anyone or anything calling for clouds.  

There weren’t any surprises concerning the weather (clear, blue Sierra skies) when we started our trip. Unfortunately, the weather on day two was even much hotter than what was forcasted. It was literally scorching hot without a cloud in the sky. Coincidentally, it was also one of our most arduous days of hiking. Despite the incredible scenery, this made traveling unpleasant. Oh, not mention, our National Geographic topographic map seemed entirely inaccurate. What looked to be a fairly straight line on the map was actually a winding, weaving, up and down, thigh burner of a trail. It ended up being at least 3/4 mile longer than what was stated.

When combined with the hot weather and long distances can really demoralize a hiker’s attidue.

This was sunset at Hamilton Lake taken on the hottest evening of the trip. The High Sierra Trail is visible on the far side of the lake - this is where it makes its final ascent towards the Great Western Divide.

The  following day the weather started to change. Just my luck, another perfectly clear sunrise without a cloud to be seen.

Taken shortly after sunrise near Hamilton Creek.

The Changing Day

Two hours later, the clouds came out of nowhere and started rolling and swirling around. At first it was in a concentrated area and then things really started to intensify. We didn’t break camp until almost noon and so thereafter the fog started descending on us – hard.  On this particular day, the map was even less accurate. It was a long, cold, strenuous, uphill venture and fresh bear scat along the trail added to the intensity and mystery.

This is the view from the top of a steep fall on the way to Tamarack Lake.

What was even more difficult was the fog covered all of our vantage points so we really had no visual frame of reference as to how how far our final destination was. Long story short, after several hours of exhausting travel we arrived at the lake.  A couple of times, I actually thought the fog might lift and we would be treated to a spectacular sunset. Alas, that never happened.

Later that night, it started to snow. It snowed hard for several hours, which seriously worried Joyce. Rule one for wilderness travel is to hope for the best, be prepared for the worst and keep a level head. That’s what we did and things turned out just fine. The next morning it was sunny and clear. Once again, not a cloud in sight. Later that day, the fog settled in, right on cue.

That’s about three days worth experiences summarized in three paragraphs. There are several lessons to learn from all of this. Remember, the difficulties in backpacking are 50/50 mental and physical. Weather patterns while traveling high in the mountains are completely unpredictable.  It is crucial to be both mentally and physically prepared for the worst. Keep a level head and take one step at a time. Don’t rely too much on trails maps for complete accuracy.  If you need to cut back on some weight, you can always leave some of your camera gear at home . Well, hopefully not! I hope you enjoyed this post. Look for #3 around next Friday.

What Would John Muir Think About Yosemite….Part 2

24 Jul

A spring or summer day trip by car  through Yosemite Valley most likely will not produce solitude.  If you have ever been to a national park, you know this is not difficult to figure out. My first trip there was no exception, I knew this was coming….the hordes of people and vehicles. While certainly distracting, it doesn’t completely taint the incredible beauty of this world-class place.

Honestly, this kind of overzealous commercial development in our parks does have its perks.  For instance, in Yosemite Valley you have your choice of numerous places to eat or stay or go shopping. The restaurants have cable television, which is great is you are trying to catch a sporting event.  Additionally, Yosemite NP is the only park I know  that has what is basically a full-sized grocery store, complete with its own liquor section. It is actually pretty amazing and sometimes very convenient.

Before I further expound on this subject, I want to share with you a serene, yet magical  image from Yosemite Valley taken by a photographer I respect very much. It was this image that helped inspire this post…

It is called “Paradise” and it was captured in the early morning quiet hours in Yosemite Valley by California photographer Chris Chamberlain.  I didn’t ask Chris exactly where he composed this image, but my guess is it wasn’t too far from the road.  For me, this photograph serves as a melancholy reminder of the incredible beauty of this sensitive area and how imperative it is for our government to manage it properly for the people.

This leads me back to my initial question:  what would John Muir think about Yosemite now? To answer this, it is necessary to provide some  background about a part of  Yosemite NP that John Muir was immensely fond of. For those who don’t know, there is a less visited, often overlooked little slice of paradise  in the northwestern section of the park called Hetch Hetchy. Muir absolutely loved it there.

During Muir’s lifetime , this area was very similar to Yosemite Valley and rivaled  its sheer beauty. All of that changed in 1923 when it officially became a reservoir providing the city of San Francisco with 85% of its drinking water – even to this day. The birth of the reservoir started 10 years earlier when then President Woodrow Wilson approved the plans to dam Hetch Hetchy. The story goes that Muir fought bitterly against this proposal. His inability to stop it eventually broke his heart and led to his death in 1914.

With this mind, I often find myself wondering if  John Muir could have seen 100 years into the future, which valley would he have preferred? The one full of commericial development, traffic, and people with all its amazing natural features. Or the valley submerged under water, retaining only part of its beauty, but much less visited. To me, it’s an interesting question and certainly one to ponder. What do you think? I would love to hear your opinions. We’ll continue this topic in my next post. Have a wonderful weekend!

Intricacies of Decision Making

29 Apr

Let me give you an example. This one has to do with backpacking, but it can easily apply for even the most “metro” of travelers. Last summer, we made an epic voyage backpacking through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite National Park. For those of you who don’t know, the Tuolumne River provides the city of San Francisco with its drinking water and has to be one of the most inspiring and pristine rivers anywhere in the world. In a course of approximately 20 miles, its aquamarine, crystal clear waters turbulently spill, plunge, and drop through a canyon of sheer granite walls and almost unimaginable beauty. 

 We made the trek in early July of last year when water levels were still very high. This had its pros and cons. The waterfalls were absolutely incredible running at almost peak volume. Around every corner and turn, there was white water. Conversely, it was difficult and dangerous to swim because the current was SO swift.

 I greatly enjoyed my experience, but if and when I visit again, I’d like to come back in late August or early September just to experience a different kind of tranquility. Water levels are lower and much slower moving then. It is easier to go swimming, especially when it is very hot out.

What’s even more interesting is the reason we chose this time of year. It was because of the water levels, but it’s not what your thinking. You see, we were doing a backcountry loop of 70 miles, which finished in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, but didn’t start there. The trip began with a 13 mile passage on the Pacific Crest Trail, through an area known as Virginia Canyon, which has notoriously very little water in it. The streams there trickle and by late in the season run dry. We didn’t want to deal with spending a night in the backcountry without a reliable water source for cooking and drinking and that factor greatly influenced our decision to make the trip earlier in the season. 

Here’s the ironic part, because of the water (the snow was still melting at 8000 ft) and time of year, the bugs were absolutely atrocious! (see picture on previous post). Knowing what I know now, I would rather deal with the lack of consistent water sources and have little bugs then vice versa. So if I were to do the hike again, I’d do it in late August instead of early July. In case you are wondering, yes, we closely monitored the temperatures in making our decision and early July and late August are historically about the same in Northern Yosemite. It’s the middle of July to the beginning of August that are the hottest times of the year there. 

Standing at the top of the Waterwheel Falls section of the Tuolumne River after 60 miles of hiking with 40 plus pounds of gear. It was a grueling trip. This water was really moving fast and one slip could end in certain physical death! This picture was taken near the top of the canyon coming out and there were many more tributaries down below adding to the rivers intensity.

Hopefully,this story gives you an entertaining and insightful glimpse into how these factors (temperature, time of year, elevation, bugs, wildflowers, and water levels) all influence one another. There are always pros and cons in every decision and it just depends on what is important to you and how it fits into your schedule. 

Lord willing, during my next post I will discuss one more potentially important consideration when making your summer travel plans to our National Parks. You don’t want to miss it. Until then, may the good Lord bless you and have a wonderful day and we’ll talk to you again soon. 

This is Return Creek. A major tributary of the Tuolumne River. This scene was about 3 or 4 miles down the canyon from the last shot. One interesting tidbit about Return Creek is that it also forms the northern boundary of Virginia Canyon - so we actually crossed it twice. Joyce captured this wonderful image from a bridge, but while leaving Virgina Canyon - we precariously forded this puppy! In between, we looped around up and over two high mountains passes and up the canyon for 40 miles.

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