Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bears will be Bears!

Ok, so I lifted the title from my son's Yosemite National Park t-shirt!  It seemed appropriate.  After all, 'tis bear season in the Pacific Northwest.  Currently, bears are commonly being spotted along the Hoh River, Quinault River (duh!), Elwah River, Dosewalips River and Skokomish River in Olympic National Park (probably many more areas, too).  They are also making their presence known in Mount Rainier National Park, especially around the White River CG.

I thought I would share some images from last weekend.  These won't be up on my web site for some time, so you are part of the limited audience that will see them.  Thanks for checking out my blog!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Conditions at Mount Rainier National Park

Black bear near White River CG.
I hiked up to Glacier Basin in Mount Rainier National Park on Saturday, and learned several things:

  • There is a LOT of snow up there yet, even in the White River campground.  Patchy snow begins on the Glacier Basin Trail just past the Emmons Moraine Trail junction (1 mile) and becomes continuous around 5,200' (with some long stretches of solid snow before then).
  • Climbers are still finishing direct on the Emmons Glacier.  No need to visit the Winthrop.
  • The Glacier Basin Trail has benefited from a lot of work since my last climb of the Emmons, in which we had to follow temporary flagging around/over/under fallen trees, through slide alder and brush, and often through the creek.  It is a Cadillac of a trail now - thanks MRNP staff!
  • Bears are out!  Numerous bears are present around the White River CG.  I photographed two along the Glacier Basin trail, somehow missed a brown yearling wandering around the closed campground, and spent nearly an hour photographing a large bear roadside near the White River Road junction.
The park has just announced that they will be opening Sunrise on July 1st, just in time for the holiday weekend.  However, they will be offering limited services as much is still buried up there.  The Sunrise Day Lodge and gift shop will be open.  The trails are covered in deep snow, so plan accordingly.

Paradise still has a large amount of snow as well - 14' as of 6/22.  Check out the webcam.

No opening dates have been announced yet for the Mowich Lake Road or Paradise Valley Road.  Did I mention that there is still a lot of snow up there?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Yosemite National Park in Spring

Rainbow at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.
I had planned this trip to Yosemite months in advance.  I targeted my visit for the first week in April to coincide with spring break for my daughter, but also to hit the flower show at their peak.  I spent a lot of time researching the area, referencing several different hiking and photography books, following Michael Frye's blog, (a personal favorite) and even exchanging some e-mails with Michael, who lives in the area. 

I had my itinerary set long before leaving, and was excited to return to this fabulous park.  What I didn't plan for was the crazy spring that mother nature had instore for us!

El Capitan reflected in snow melt pond.
Flowers?  We arrived at Upper Pines Campground to 2' of snow on the ground, and found the campground hosts offering shovels to campers to dig out tent spots!  This was going to be an interesting week indeed.

I spent my first evening checking out the views from Tunnel View.  The scene was made interesting with ample snow and some low level clouds, but the light never really materialized.  It would prove better during subsequent visits.

My first morning was spent at Sentinel Beach for sunrise.  Snowshoes would have been helpful in the deep, soft snow.  Fortunately the walk was fairly short.  After photographing  reflections of El Capitan in the Merced River, I found a small reflection pool in a side channel of the river, still mostly snow covered.  I would not be able to get to this location a couple days later.

Evening light on Half Dome.
Half Dome was the focus of my evening jaunts, and even daytime scouting trips. It's such a spectacular and prominent feature of the valley that I found it hard to notice much else as the sun began to go down.  There are many excellent locations to photograph Half Dome from in the valley.

The week spent in the valley was mostly sunny and warm and the snow melted fast.  However, evenings still remained quite cold, with temps dipping below freezing.  Our campground went into the shade early - around 3:30 or so, and became cold very fast.  The family quickly learned that tagging along with me on my evening photography ventures, where the sun stayed out as late as 7:00, was a much better option than freezing in camp! 

Upper Yosemite Falls
Upper Yosemite Falls is a head turner no matter where you are at in the valley it seems.  There were numerous vantages to photograph the upper falls from.  I photographed the falls mid-morning from Swinging Bridge and some nearby meadows.  But I think my favorite location was actually from the side of the road near Curry Village.  This vantage allows you to see more of the basin, which was still covered in snow during my visit.

Another excellent place to photograph the falls from is on trails from the opposite side of the valley.  However, snow prevented access to these during our visit.

In late afternoon, Bridalveil Fall became the waterfall attraction of choice, photographed from a road pullout in the valley, the TH parking lot and lower trail to the fall, and my favorite - Tunnel View.

Cathedral Spires reflection.
Another morning favorite was a tarn alongside the road that perfectly captured the reflection of Cathedral Spires.  I only spent one morning photographing here, but came away pretty happy with my results.

I found mid-morning to be the best time to photograph this reflection.  I arrived at first light, but found the scene most captivating with the shadows gone and everything fully lit by the sun.  I worked both horizontals and verticals with this scene - and liked them both.

Being alongside the road, I was never alone at any time here.  However I did not experience any compositional conflicts with other photographers.  It was an enjoyable morning to be out photographing in the valley, especially at such a serene setting.  The water held its reflection the entire morning.

El Capitan reflected in Merced River.
I returned to Sentinel Beach to find conditions much different from my previous visit.  Much snow had melted, making the gated road walk much easier.  It also entirely changed the physical characteristics of the beach itself.  The "snowmelt pond" that I had previously captured El Capitan's reflection in was now a deep channel of the river  itself, and was not still at all.  As a result, the river bar that I used to photograph reflections from was now inaccessible.

While I briefly had some company during my first visit to this beach (a couple I had actually met the evening prior at Tunnel View), I had it all to myself on my return visit.  However, I had better clouds and reflection opportunities during my first visit - just another reason why it is so beneficial to visit the same location multiple times to increase your chances of success.

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View at sunset.
Tunnel View was an interesting location to shoot from.  I never shot from the viewpoint proper.  Instead, I followed the recommendation of Michael Frye's book, "The Photographer's Guide to Yosemite" (the definitive book on photographing Yosemite, in my opinion)and hiked a short ways up the trail to a prominent viewpoint.  Though I climbed the described amount of elevation, I never located the abandoned road his book mentioned.  However, I did still locate a viewpoint that I much preferred over that at the road.

I spent a few evenings at Tunnel View, and really only got decent light on my last visit.  I scouted Tunnel View almost every evening, however.  It was interesting to watch the crowds.  On clear, sunny days, evening crowds would be small with rarely a single DSLR present.  Throw some clouds in the afternoon sky and the heavy duty tripods would show up in force!  It was very easy to distinguish the professionals from the amatures, and easy to predict simply by looking towards the sky!

Half Dome reflected in a tarn.
On my last evening I stumbled upon my favorite location to photograph Half Dome thus far.  I pulled over to the roadside east of Yosemite Falls where I had seen numerous tripods set up each evening.  I prefer to include interesting forefronts in my compositions, so this location hadn't really caught my interest previously.  However, I didn't want to repeat locations on my last night; I wanted something new and different.

I set up my tripod roadside and pulled up a chair to wait for the special light to strike Half Dome's face, but was totally bored with the composition.  I noticed a foot path nearby heading out into the meadow and decided to go for a walk.  I found a nice reflection shot in a tarn with some interesting tufts of grass to put in the forefront.  Bingo!  I was in my happy place!  Unfortunately, the dramatic light I hoped for never came as a system was moving in and a cloud bank to the west blocked the sun's final rays.  So many things have to come together for that perfect image.  While we photographers control some of these, many we do not.

A coyote hunts in the snow-covered meadows near Curry Village.
A new system was forecast to dump 12 - 18" of new snow in the valley the next day, potentially closing the roads accessing (and more importantly, exiting) the park.  Temps were expected to dip into the low 20's.  Not wanting to be trapped, we packed up that morning and began our long, indirect drive home.  Even as we left, chains were required on both Highway 120 and 41.  These roads were closed a short time later.

We were blessed with a special sighting along the way however - a coyote hunting and successfully catching its morning breakfast in the meadows near Curry Village.  It was very fascinating to watch.

If you've liked the images appearing on this page, then you will be happy to know that you can view them and many more in my new Yosemite National Park gallery!

Some final comments about our visit:

Bicycles were an excellent way to get around in the valley.  I did much of my scouting during the day on bike, riding the entire valley loop on multiple occasions.  I highly recommend bringing them.

The shuttle buses offered an effective way to get around as well, but were much longer and restrictive.  They were also quite full during mid-day and seats were at a premium.  Understand they were still on their limited spring schedule during our visit.  I still believe they serve an excellent purpose and recommend using them - we did!

I had hoped to catch up with my friend and former Mount Rainier climbing ranger, Mike Gauthier during my visit.  Mike is now serving as Chief of Staff for Yosemite National Park.  Unfortunately for us, he was back up in our home state of Washington enjoying some down time during this particular week - next time, Gator!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Kings Canyon National Park and John Muir Wilderness

Mt. Agassiz and Palisades reflected in Dusy Basin.
The Eastern Sierras are one of my favorite playgrounds.  I have returned multiple times to this wonderful area to enjoy what it has to offer - namely, rugged peaks and granite lake basins, with lots of off-trail exploration possibilities.

My first backpack in the John Muir Wilderness was over Piute Pass to a high lake in Humphreys Basin below Muriel Peak.  A storm blew through that evening, and cleared out just at sunset for amazing light on the peaks and clouds.  We were fortunate to stay dry, but did not get so lucky the following night.

On the same trip we spent a multi-day trip hiking over Kearsarge Pass to Kearsarge Lakes, then over Glen Pass to Rae Lakes.  From Rae Lakes, we spent time exploring Sixty Lakes Basin.  Bears were a problem in this area, though we didn't experience any problems personally.  The scenery was fantastic, and I hope to return to Rae Lakes again.

Cloudripper Peak reflected in Sixth Lake at sunrise.
I returned to the Eastern Sierra on subsequent solo trips.  From Lake Sabrina, I enjoyed a backpack to Blue Lake and on to Emerald Lake - located a short ways off trail.  I had the lake all to myself, despite regular foot traffic on the main trail.

My trek up to Sixth Lake below the Palisades was also spent camping by myself, and included some memorable reflection shots taken at sunrise, including Cloudripper Peak as seen above.

Venturing once again to the Palisades, I backpacked over Bishop Pass to popular Dusy Basin.  Again I found a secluded tarn off the beaten path, shared only with a lone coyote who sang to me throughout the evening.  On this trip I also visited nearby Knapsack Pass and climbed Columbine Peak.

All these images and more can now be seen in my new Kings Canyon National Park and John Muir Wilderness Gallery.  Please, enjoy!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where's Don?

I can't believe it has been several weeks since my last update.  Typically, I am chomping at the bit to share the latest news and events going on with my photography.  Lack of postings certainly does not mean things are slow - quite the contrary.  I've been busy with submissions to various publications.  It's tedious and even boring work at times, but has the potential for an exciting outcome, which makes it all worth while.  I do hope to have news pertaining to some calendars and a tourist travel brochure to share soon.
"I need a cup holder"

Other things have been keeping me busy as well.  Yep, that's a boot on my foot in the picture to the left.  As some of you know, I fractured my ankle in early April while hiking in Redwood National Park.  I would like be able to tell you how I was traveling off-trail on an extremely exposed and dangerous traverse when the accident occurred, but it was actually a simple hike with family.  Takes the sexy right out of the story, huh?

Two miles from the trailhead, I rolled my ankle and heard a "pop".  I knew instantly.  I still had to walk the two remaining miles back to the car - not much fun.

Back home, x-rays confirmed an inversion fracture of the fibula in two places at the ankle joint.  An inversion fracture is when the tendon, instead of stretching or tearing, pulls away chips of bone.

So, I was introduced to a walking boot for six weeks.  Not so much fun.  No more runs, bike rides, or even walking with the kids around the neighborhood.  Instead, I got to sit around and rest my ankle and throw on a few pounds.

I've been out of the boot for a while now, and just finished with my physical therapy.  I had an excellent physical therapist in Nicole Nelson, and highly recommend her to anyone in the Fairwood area.

I am now on a home exercise program thanks to Nicole, working hard to strengthen my ankle and prevent this injury from happening again.  I have been biking for a few weeks and recently just started running again.  I have a lot of work ahead of me to get back in the shape I was in before my injury.  But it will happen!

Fill-in coaching the Fireballs.
I'm also the father of two very active kids.  Our son Brendan is taking swim lessons at nearby Lindbergh Pool and is improving immensely with each lesson.  Kids get to a point where they all of a sudden "get it" and their abilities take off.  Brendan is getting it.  Much like his sister did before him.  It's fun to watch.

Equally fun is being heavily involved with our daughter Karissa's soccer team.  She has only been playing since last fall, but is strong, competitive and fun to watch.  I help out with each practice, have filled in as a substitute coach (thanks, Coach Aaron), and have unofficially served as team photographer.

Needless to say, I'm very proud of my kids and excited to be a part of their activities and watch them grow and excel in them.  I wouldn't miss it for the world.

So there you have it, some behind the scenes so to speak of my life outside of photography, hiking and climbing.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programing...