Tag Archives: sierra nevada

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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5 Photos in 5 Days – Tips, Techniques, and Insight into Making Stunning Photos

17 Sep

Today is the first of an exciting new series revealing  the technical details, creative thought processes, and other relevant information behind five of my personal favorite images. My goal is to make this series extremely informative – so please come back every day and tell your friends too! Today we’ll start with my newest image from my most recent trip to the Sierra Nevada’s entitled “Land of Enchantment”. 

Dappled sunlight shows off the morning colors of a high alpine drainage near the Great Western Divide.

Location:  Sequoia National Park, CA 

Technical Info:   Canon 5D Mark 2, 16 -35 L/2.8, F/16, 1 Second, ISO 160 

Filters:  Tiffen 1.2 ND, Lee .9 GND (Hard) 

Processing: Adobe Camera Raw and CS4 

Creative process:  This image was captured during a 6 day/5 night backpacking trip along the High Sierra Trail while camping at Hamilton Lake. Truth be told, I find it very difficult to consistently capture good images when I am backpacking.  First off, it is physically and mentally exhausting. Secondly, you are constantly on the move, which leaves little time for location scouting or layover days.  Here was my approach to this image:  The lakes in the High Sierra normally have tributaries. For many of them, there is water running in on one end and running out on the other. These tributaries tend to be dramatic and this was no exception. Following the creek downstream from our camp,  I found this perch after locating the view that captivated me  on the way in the day before. 

I love shooting water if possible. For this image, I used the top of the fall as my foreground element which also opened up the first third of the image. I want to have a clear, unobstructed view of the domes without any distracting foreground elements.  The spacing of the trees and bushes work out well here, there is enough to provide interest but not any noticeable overlapping colors, shapes, or patterns.  

This image was captured at approximately 8:30 in the morning. Fast moving clouds created exciting, minute by minute changes in the light. I still needed to use a neutral density filter to slow the shutter speed to one second to capture the water in a silky state. Because of weight limitations, I only packed one graduated neutral density filter on the trip and it was .9 or 3 stop filter. (I actually packed the wrong one). Using a filter holder, I placed the filter at approximately 3 o’clock  darkening the sky and the top of the peaks. I also exposure bracketed and blended back in some of the clipped highlights most notably in the middle of the fall and rocks on the right side of the middle part of  image.   I was very fortunate to be blessed with the kind of light necessary to pull off a shot like this. (The version on my website is slightly better with modified shadows/highlights – see if you can tell the difference) 

Hopefully this was a big help to you. I will be posting all weekend with more information about some of my best photos!

What Would John Muir Think of Yosemite Now? Part 1

16 Jul

Anyone who has ever visited Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park knows how crowded and potentially dangerous it can be during peak tourism season. Today I am starting a series of essays chronicling my personal experiences in Yosemite National Park as they relate to the iconic naturalist and conservationist, John Muir.

Most of you probably are cognizant of who Muir was and what he represented, and you probably already know that he was literally the person responsible for putting this classic park on the map.  Often times I wonder what he would think about Yosemite in its current state; a place much different from the one he knew and loved. This especially pertains to Yosemite Valley, the thoroughfare and commercial hub of the park, and for that matter, just about any park. After recently viewing a fine art photograph of the area, I was inspired to begin these essays, which are for everyone, whether you’ve been there once, never visited, or know it like the back of your hand.

Most visitors to Yosemite enter either through the South or West entrances. Both can be accessed from the California city of Fresno. Both entrances are fairly similar in scenery and length…In terms of this essay, either one of these entrances could apply.

For many, the City of Fresno represents the gateway to Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, you normally can’t see the mountains from there because the area is so hazy. I imagine it’s probably a combination of the pesticides and chemicals used on the farms in the area along with the California smog that seems to permeate everywhere. The journey to the park begins here, past the fruit and vegetable stands of the rural surroundings. Eventually the city gives way to the Sierra’s rolling foothills. Slowly, subtly, and steadily you begin to climb, passing small towns along the way. The trees get bigger and the road gets steeper as you venture further into the mountains. Soon, you are in a full-fledged, unmistakable mountain forest with rushing streams and larger than life-sized trees.  After several more miles of driving you round another blind, sharp turn and out of the corner of your eye you catch the glistening highlight of a whitewater of gushing steam. What the heck..you think…its worth a couple of minutes of your time and pull off to check it out.

Immediately it’s the sound that catches your attention. This stream is no joke. As a matter of fact, its more like a rushing torrent and upon closer inspection, you realize that one false slip into that and its certain death. You also realize that the stop was well worth your time.

As you continue up the mountain your natural appetite for scenery magnifies as the journey continues. After a short time, you reach the park entrance, a nondescript area in the forest where they take your money, give you a brochure, and let you in. The idyllic drive continues and you eventually you start to descend weaving your way down the mountain towards the valley below. Soon you begin to catch glimpses of what you’ve been longing for all along. As you continue your descent, the views get better and better.

After going through a tunnel, the scene completely unfolds before your very eyes. Massive waterfalls, monolithic towers of granite, sweeping vistas, and an absolutely pristine river meandering through a tranquil meadow surrounded by trees literally takes your breath away. God willing, it’s only a matter of minutes now before you enter this fairytale landscape. The road continues downward and soon you reach an intersection…

It is now onto the valley and its record-breaking spectacles of nature. All at once, the traffic picks up significantly. You notice this curiosity immediately at your first stop, the elegant Bridalveil Falls. Here the whipping, free-flowing, waters of Yosemite Creek gracefully plunge over 600 feet to the valley floor, making it one of the largest waterfalls in the park. The mist is everywhere and the rainbow it creates is a pleasant, natural surprise. The sound is unmistakable, like an oversized snake hissing and beckoning in the distance.

Never mind the scenery though, it’s the traffic that gets your attention first. The parking lot is packed with people running around as busy as bees. Meanwhile there are vehicles coming and going, pulling out, pulling in, backing up, turning and parking. This all reminds you of some sort of strange mating ritual of man and machine here on the concrete and black top, with a gargantuan waterfall as a backdrop. They act like they are the only ones there. Oblivious to any kind of danger, they walk out in front of moving vehicles while shouting and yelling to their friends and family.

Suddenly, you find yourself making a hasty exit from the oversized parking lot of craziness thinking you’ll catch the next one instead.

To be continued………….

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