Ice Lake

October 23, 2020  •  1 Comment

 

Ice Lake 1Ice Lake 1San Juan National Forest, CO

Field Info:
Canon 5DS-R, EF24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 35mm, 1/20 sec @ f/16, ISO 100, 5 image panoramic

Overview

Ice Lake is a high alpine lake fed by meltwater from the snowfields on several prominent 13’ner peaks (13,000 feet or greater in elevation) that surround it. This hike also includes the picturesque Island Lake and several cascades created by meltwater from the snowfields. It’s a strenuous hike with about 2,400’ of elevation gain over 3.5 miles with an average slope of 27 degrees and some sections exceeding 40 degrees. Planning this as a one or two night backpack would provide more time to explore the area around Ice Lake and the basin while taking advantage of the light throughout the day.

This is a very popular day hike, especially on weekends. So, to minimize the impact of people on photographic compositions it is recommended to plan this hike during the week. The lower half of the route is below the tree line and shaded. However, once you’re above the tree line you will be fully exposed, so use sunscreen and watch for adverse weather.

The window for visiting this location is limited due to the deep snowpack that usually lingers through June. Intrepid hikers can use a combination of crampons/spikes and snowshoes to reach the lakes, but through June they are usually ice covered which limits their photographic potential - unless you are visualizing a winter-like scene. The wildflowers usually arrive by mid-July and will persist through August or early September. Snow usually returns in October.

If you are planning an overnight trek, be prepared for rapidly changing weather and temperatures. It’s common for overnight low temperatures at this elevation to be in the 30s or 40s even in the summer. I’ve had rain, lightning, hail, snow and 80 degree temps all within a 24-hour period at this location. Please observe all Leave No Trace principles.

 

Field Info

 GPS Coordinates  37.81459, -107.80729
 Rating  4 - highly scenic
 Difficulty  Strenuous
 Time of Day  Sunrise, Morning
 Dates/Seasons  July-September
 Trailhead Coordinates  37.80665, -107.77391
 Distance & Time  7.0 mi / 7-8 hours
 Elevation Change  2,855'
 Type of Route  Loop
 Comments  Best done as a 1-2 overnight backpack

 

Directions

From Silverton drive north on US-550 towards Ouray for 2.0 miles then turn left onto the South Mineral Creek Road for 4.4 miles to the trailhead. The road is well-graded and maintained gravel suitable for 2WD cars. The parking area is large but due to the popularity of this hike it is often full by 8 am, especially on weekends. Parking is permitted along the road provided the vehicle’s tires are off the road.

 

The Hike


 

Waypoints

Waypoint GPS Coordinates Dist Elev Comments
TH - Ice Lake Trailhead 37.80665, -107.77391 0.0 9,865' Parking lot is across from the South Mineral CG
1 - trail junction 37.81256, -107.79157 1.9 11,442'

Unsigned junction with the trail to Island Lake heading to the right and the Lower Ice Lake Basin  to the left

2 - Island Lake

37.81930, -107.80016

3.0 12,440'

Steep ascent to Island Lake. For a two night backpack, this is a good campsite location for the first night

3 - Ice Lake

37.81459, -107.80729

3.5 12,260'

There's a water crossing at the lake's outlet filled with rocks that enable an easy crossing. However, high water conditions may result in your feet getting wet.

There’s a hilltop on the south side of the lake that provides a terrific view of the Lower Ice Lake Basin and the valley across to Mt. Anvil.

4 - Fuller Lake

37.80323, -107.81346

  12,585'

A bonus location to explore especially if you are camping overnight

5 - Lower Ice Lake Basin

37.81251, -107.79415

4.5 11,500'

Steep descent onto the Lower Ice Lake Basin crossing a couple of cascades and a tarn nestled amongst the trees.

TH - return to trailhead

37.80665, -107.77391

7.0 9,865'

Steep descent retracing the route up to the trailhead.

 

Elevation Profile

Google Earth Satellite View

 

Composition Considerations

Lenses. Ice Lake and Island Lake are in basins surrounded by tall peaks thus most compositions require a 16-24mm wide-angle focal length to encompass the whole scene in one image capture. The focal length can be increased to about 35mm if taken vertically for a multi-image panoramic, which is how I took the photographs included in this blog. Using a focal length of 50-70mm to reduce the distortion effect of wide-angle lenses would require a 2 or 3 row panoramic of 6-8 images per row.

Shot Direction. While you can circumnavigate both lakes, the compositions incorporating the cirque of peaks is north or northwest oriented. As such the peaks receive excellent morning light and captivating reflections in the water if there’s no wind.

Nuances. There are good compositions throughout the day as the sunlight reflects off the mountains and the foliage providing interesting colors and patterns in the water. However, wind is a constant challenge in the mountains and it can be difficult to capture the reflections in the water - patience is a virtue. When the water is windswept it tends to turn a muddy brown color. Neutral density filters enabling a long exposure may help, but wind and sky conditions will really dictate the colors and reflections.

Since both locations are oriented northward the Milky Way will not be visible over the lakes. Through the summer the apex of the moon will be directly over the lakes limiting the photographic opportunities since the moon will generally be high in the sky and small.

Equipment. Using a pano rail that has been calibrated for each focal length to reduce parallax distortion will improve the quality of multi-image panoramic image captures. For multi-row panoramas a gimbal head is a necessity - make sure you determine the arc positions with 30-50% overlap for each focal length in advance.

 

Island Lake 2Island Lake 2San Juan National Forest, CO

Field Info:
Canon 5DS-R, EF24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 35mm, 1/80 sec @ f/16, ISO 100, 4 image panoramic

 

Other Information

Permits. No permits are required for the hike or overnight camping.

Density of People. This is a very popular day hike which can attract an extraordinary number of people along with dogs, especially on weekends. Plan this trek for midweek to minimize the risk of high density of people. Very few people camp overnight - I’ve only encountered a few campers even during peak season. Few day hikers arrive at the lakes before 9 am. So, if you’re camping you should have generally people-free compositions early in the morning during the best light.

Cell Service. None that is reliable. You may get a sliver of a voice signal at one of the high points where you have an obstructed view of the valley.

Overnight Camping. There are several USFS campgrounds along South Mineral Creek Road and nearby along US-550. During the peak summer season these campgrounds fill up very quickly, especially on weekends. Most are free and all are first-come-first served (FCFS). The South Mineral Campground is one of the few hosted campgrounds and does require a fee. There are numerous dispersed camping sites throughout the area along US-550 and on South Mineral Creek Road alongside the creek. Overnight camping is not allowed at the trailhead and is enforced by the USFS Rangers. Please follow all Leave No Trace principles - there are no garbage containers so pack all your trash out.

Lodging. There are a number of lodging options in Silverton and Ouray, mostly historic hotels, lodges and B&Bs. There are numerous hotel chains and other lodging options in Durango which is 55 miles south and takes about 90 minutes to drive.

Restaurants. Numerous high quality restaurants with diverse menus, breweries and coffee shops in Silverton and Ouray.

Other Services. Full range of services are available in Durango. Services such as fuel stations, laundromats and grocers are available in Ouray and Silverton but are limited. There are no public showers except at the Ouray Hot Springs.

Cell Service. Generally adequate LTE voice and data signals for all carriers in Silverton and Ouray. You may get adequate signals at high points along US-550.

Storm Over Ice Lake BasinStorm Over Ice Lake BasinSan Juan National Forest, CO

Field Info:
Canon 5DS-R, EF24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 35mm, 1/60 sec @ f/16, ISO 100, 4 image panoramic

 

Bonus Location - Fuller Lake

Hike about one mile west across the Ice Lake Basin to a couple of small alpine tarns and alongside outflow creeks from Fuller Lake and the tarns. This is high alpine tundra, so please try to stay on the rocks and minimize your impact on the soils and vegetation. There is a surprising amount of marshy areas hidden under the foliage so staying on the rocks will keep your feet dry. The creeks have created a riparian environment with large areas of lush vegetation and wildflowers. You can wander north over the ridge line towards the Golden Horn and Pilot Knob to another couple of tarns and outflow creeks. These are not as photogenic and are very close to the mountain peaks which makes compositions difficult unless you are using a very wide-angle lens. There are remnants of an old mine at Fuller Lake, but the buildings have completely collapsed.

Golden Horn CascadesGolden Horn CascadesSan Juan National Forest, CO

Field Info:
Canon 5DS-R, EF24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 50mm, 1/20 sec @ f/16, ISO 100, 2 image panoramic

 

If you have questions about this hike or locations please feel free to contact me. 

 

Be an outsider, go on a hike!

 


Lower Yosemite Falls Moonbow

February 29, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Yosemite Moonbow 2 - HRYosemite Moonbow 2 - HRYosemite National Park, CA. The moonbow, which is a rainbow created by the light of a full, or near full, moon is only visible during a short window from mid-April through May. This year's moonbow was remarkable for the significant volume of the waterfall generated by a very high snowpack that had begun to melt. Capturing this amazing scene was further complicated by the strong winds and mist created by the waterfall as it thundered down.

Field Notes: Canon 7D Mark II, EF16-35mm f/2.8L lens at 20mm, 13 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 2000

Overview

During the months of April, May and June a moonbow, also called a lunar rainbow, can be seen in the mist at the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls. A moonbow is simply a rainbow that occurs using moonlight rather than sunlight. Therefore, a moonbow is only visible when there’s enough moonlight to create the effect, which is typically when the moon is full and a couple of nights before and after. The moonbow can only be seen during the month of April through June because the position of the moon and it’s angle to the falls is aligned to create the effect.

The moonbow is most often photographed from the footbridge on the Lower Falls Trail where it crosses Yosemite Creek at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. Although, there are locations in Cooks Meadow where the moonbow can be seen from a distance. A moonbow across the Upper Yosemite Falls can also be photographed from around Sentinel Bridge on the south side of Cooks Meadow.

 

Field Info

 GPS Coordinates  37.75039, -119.59667
 Rating  4 - highly scenic
 Difficulty  Easy
 Time of Day  Night
 Dates/Seasons  April - June
 Trailhead Coordinates  37.74603, -119.59621
 Distance & Time  0.35 mi / 15-20 min
 Elevation Change  30' / (50')
 Type of Route  Out-and-Back
 Comments  Full or nearly full moon

 

Directions

The trailhead is across Northside Drive from the Yosemite Lodge where there is parking. It is also an easy 0.2 mile walk along a paved trail from the Cooks Meadow shuttle bus stop. The Lower Falls Trail begins in a paved circular clearing next to the restrooms that has a clear view of the Upper and Lower Falls. Hike north on the trail through the grove of trees for 0.3 miles until you reach the footbridge. There is a clearing to the west of the footbridge surrounded by trees and large boulders that provides some measure of protection from the wind and spray from the falls. There are several wood benches that can be useful for preparing your camera.

When you are finished photographing, the easiest way back is to retrace the route to the trailhead. However, you can also opt to continue east on the Lower Falls Trail which loops around for 0.6 mi back to the trailhead with several spur trails that enable you to reach Cooks Meadow, Yosemite Village and the parking area.

 

Waypoint Dist Elev Comments
1- Lower Falls Trailhead 0.0 3,990' Across from Yosemite Lodge
2 - Old Forest Grove 0.1 4,000' Grove of old growth pine, cedar and hickory trees that offer photographic opportunities
3 - Footbridge 0.35 4,016' Moonbow viewpoint from bridge

 

Composition Considerations

Photographing the moonbow requires certain environmental conditions and camera preparations. It’s also helpful to understand that a moonbow looks different to the human eye than a normal rainbow. The human eye is not as sensitive to low light conditions, which causes the moonbow to be a dull white or almost gray arc. Our eyes are not sensitive enough to discern the colors within the rainbow since the moon’s light output is substantially less than sunlight. However, modern camera sensors are much more capable of vividly capturing the colors within the moonbow.

As with rainbows, there’s several conditions that are needed for the moonbow to appear:

1. The moon must be full or nearly full. Usually 2-3 days before and after the full moon may provide enough light. Although you will generally find the 2-3 day after the full moon is best because the timing of the moonrise occurs after sunset and you'll have a better chance of strong moonlight to create the moonbow before it rises too high in the sky. 

2. It must be dark, so moonrise times are important to ensure the moon is high enough in the sky and at the appropriate angle between 40-42 degrees for the moonbow to appear. Any lower or higher angle and the moonbow will disappear, which is why this phenomenon only lasts for a short while. There are a lot of tall trees between the moon and the falls, so you’ll notice the moonbow fading in-and-out as the moon rises behind the trees and finally above them.

3. The sky must be clear enough that clouds do not block the moonlight.

The quality of the moonbow may also be affected by the amount of mist and spray generated by the falls. The more spray & mist, the stronger the moonbow is likely to be. Fortunately, April to June is the peak period for Yosemite Falls as snow melt adds volume to the waterfall.

 

Be Prepared for Adverse Conditions

It is important to appropriately prepare for the conditions. Assuming the weather is cooperative, pay attention to the overnight temperatures and layer up as needed. The temperature around the falls is usually colder than elsewhere as all of the moisture in the air tends to cool the ambient temperature. Rain gear is essential since the falls generates a tremendous amount of mist and wind. It’s common to have very strong gusts of wind blowing across the footbridge simply from the force of the water falling into the basin at the bottom. The basin is u-shaped, which means the wind created by the force of the falling water has only one place to go - straight out across the footbridge! So, rain gear, a warm cap and waterproof gloves will help keep you warm and dry.

It will be wet on the footbridge, so cover your camera with a rain jacket and affix the lens hood. There’s plenty of room next to the footbridge where it’s sheltered from the mist to setup your camera and tripod. A sturdy tripod is a must - the wind will buffet the tripod and create vibrations on the bridge. I’ve seen people with small lightweight tripods get quickly blown over by the wind. You may need to hold down even a sturdy tripod. Some photographers bring bungee cords or straps to tie their tripod to the wood railing of the bridge to prevent it from accidentally blowing over.

 

Set Your Camera Settings in Advance

Before you setup on the bridge you should set your camera settings in advance to minimize fumbling around with wet fingers. There’s a few different compositions you can setup in advance. Its common to see photographers moving back-and-forth off the bridge to set different composition settings in the sheltered area. Many photographs are taken with a wide-angle focal length, often 16-24mm if you want to capture the entire scene using a portrait orientation. The differences in focal length mostly determine whether or not some of the sky and stars and how much of the rushing water in the creek are in the frame.

A general starting point for exposure settings are 13-15 seconds at f/2.8 or f/4 (depending upon the maximum aperture of your lens) and ISO around 1600. Depending upon the low light sensitivity of your camera sensor, you may be able to push the ISO higher to reduce the exposure time, but my experience has been that ISO settings greater than 1600 are often too noisy to acceptably process. But, if your camera has good ISO sensitivity you may want to try pushing the limits. There’s also some terrific digital post-processing denoise software now available. I use Topax DeNoise AI and have had excellent results, even with very high ISO captures. DxO PhotoLab 2 also has an excellent denoise program.

It is crucial that you set the infinity location on the lens or lenses you plan to use. While the LCD screen and live view can be used to set the focus, you’ll find that the wind and mist will make this challenging. Having infinity properly dialed-in before you step on to the bridge will simplify the capture process.

 

Capturing the Images

So, now you’re layered up, the camera is ready for wet weather and the exposure settings are set. Before you step out onto the bridge make sure your lens cap is on. You should keep a couple of cloths in your pockets. I have found two cloths are needed. One cloth is a larger highly absorbent micro-fiber I use to wipe water off the lens. I also use this cloth to cover the lens if I need to. The second cloth, which I keep in a separate pocket, is used to wipe droplets off the lens and ensure it is clean and clear.  When you are ready to take the photo, remove the lens cap and trip the shutter.

Try to time the capture with a lull in the wind and mist to minimize how much water falls on the lens. You’ll quickly find the process becomes a cycle of: remove lens cap, trip the shutter, wipe the lens, replace the cap, check the LCD live view. Repeat several times. After you have a handful of captures, remove the camera from the tripod and retreat to the sheltered area to wipe down the camera again (I usually bring a few extra towels for this) and review the images. It’s important that you take a moment and increase the magnification on the LCD screen to at least 1:1 if not 2:1 to see if the image is fatally marred by water droplets. My experience has been that only about 30-40% of my captures have an acceptably minimal number of water droplets (you can fix these in post-processing the same way you heal dust spots).

This cycle is basically the process I follow for the 60-90 minutes I’m photographing the scene. I recommend that you use the time to capture different focal lengths and exposure times. Generally, the captures should look overexposed on the LCD. Check the histogram periodically to ensure you’re not blowing out the highlights, which is remarkably easy to do on the moonbow itself and on the falls. This is a highly contrasted scene, so if conditions are nominal you can try bracketing the photos and blending them in post-processing.

Yosemite Moonbow 1 - HRYosemite Moonbow 1 - HRYosemite National Park, CA. The moonbow, which is a rainbow created by the light of a full, or near full, moon is only visible during a short window from mid-April through May. This year's moonbow was remarkable for the significant volume of the waterfall generated by a very high snowpack that had begun to melt. Capturing this amazing scene was further complicated by the strong winds and mist created by the waterfall as it thundered down.

Field Notes: Canon 7D Mark II, EF16-35mm f/2.8L lens at 24mm, 30 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 800

 

Digital Darkroom Considerations

If you do an image search on Yosemite moonbow photographs you’ll see a huge number of images, which may be helpful as you pre-visualize how you want to capture your own image. A perspective I would offer up for some consideration is that I’ve noticed many, if not most, photographs are way too bright and overexposed. While digital cameras are wonderful for capturing light and colors beyond what our human eyes perceive, I think many photographers take that too literally and end up with photographs that look like they were captured in broad daylight with a weirdly blue sky that has stars in it. The reality is that the falls are dark at night, but with interesting light patterns from the moon projected onto the rock wall and the highlights on the cascades of Yosemite Creek below the falls.

My image at the top attempts to balance the reality of the scene with its moody darkness and patterned moonlight which emphasizes that this is a night scene while taking advantage of the colors in the moonbow that the human eye is not able to discern. The artistry comes in revealing the moonbow’s color while realism establishes the context of a moody nighttime scene.

As you prepare to photograph this remarkable natural phenomenon, you may want to visit www.yosemitemoonbow.com which is a website maintained by photographer Brian Hawkins dedicated to the moonbow. Every year he actually goes through the effort to calculate the prime dates and times to photograph the moonbow. And his site offers detailed helpful information about the moonbow and his own perspective on photographing it.

 

Be an outsider, go on a hike!

 

 


Horsetail Falls Firefall

January 31, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

FirefallFirefallHorsetail Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

The annual Horsetail Falls "firefall" event in Yosemite National Park is a unique and somewhat rare natural phenomenon that occurs for about one week in mid-February. Near sunset the sun's alignment focuses on the thin wispy falls perfectly to create an orange and sometimes red glow that makes the waterfall appear to be like flowing lava.

What makes this a somewhat rare event is the conditions that have to align. In February, the waterfall is usually not flowing or only slightly since it's still cold. Also, there needs to be snow in the mountains feeding the waterfall, which has been scarce during the drought of the last few years. And, the sun must not be blocked by clouds, which happens frequently near sunset.

This year the Sierra Nevada mountains was enjoying the largest snowpack in recent history. The afternoon temperatures warmed up enough to melt enough of the snow to generate a robust waterfall, which was helped by some high winds. And, even though the El Nino weather patterns tended to generate a lot of afternoon clouds, during the week we had two sunsets where the clouds didn't obscure the light.

It was a magnificent natural spectacle to watch and a beautiful demonstration of Nature's ability to instill awe in people.

Field Notes: Canon 5DS-R, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens, 200mm, f/11, 0.4 sec, ISO 100

Overview

For a short window of about two weeks each year from mid to late Feb the setting sun’s light illuminates the wispy Horsetail Falls on the east face of El Capitan. This phenomenon was first photographed by Galen Rowell in 1973 and has since evolved into an annual frenzy that now resembles a tailgate party. However, it is a remarkable natural phenomenon that is fascinating to see if you’re willing to brave the crowds and the potential disappointment that often occurs because there’s several factors that must be present for this display to manifest itself. There must be a significant enough snowpack accumulated atop of El Capitan to provide the snow needed to create the waterfall; then during the two week period the setting sun is aligned with the falls it must warm up enough for the snow to melt and the falls to actually run; there cannot be any clouds that block the sun’s rays which is often the case in the afternoon during this time of year; and finally the atmosphere itself must be clear enough to prevent any haze from blocking the sun’s light.

 

Field Info

 GPS Coordinates  See Waypoints Chart
 Photo Rating  5 - world class opportunity
 Difficulty  Easy
 Time of Day  30 min prior to sunset
 Seasons  Winter: mid to late February
 Trailhead Coordinates  37.73398, -119.60184 (WP 3)
 Distance & Time  Negligible to 30 min for WP 3
 Type of Route  Out-and-back for WP 3
 Elevation Change  Negligible to 500' for WP 3
 Comments  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Directions

The Firefall viewing locations are located within Yosemite Valley, which is about 175  miles and 4 hours from Sacramento to the north via CA-99 through Manteca and then east on CA-120 until you enter Yosemite National Park. From Fresno to the south there’s a couple of routes that take about 2.5-3.0 hours, but is dependent on the weather and road conditions. The fastest route is via CA-41 through Oakhurst and Wawona, but road conditions can change quickly during the winter once you enter the surrounding Sierra National Forest, so make sure you check in advance whether or not the road is open. The alternative route is slightly longer at 120 miles via CA-99 north to CA-140 in Merced and through Mariposa. This route is also subject to closure due to winter storm activity, so you’ll want to check road conditions in advance. If both of these routes are closed the only other route is to take CA-99 to Merced and continue north on J59 (LaGrange Road) to Chinese Camp and then turn east onto CA-120 into Yosemite National Park.

There are multiple viewing locations within the valley, which I explain in more detail in the Composition Considerations section.

 

Waypoints

Waypoint Dist Elev Comments
 1 - El Capitan Picnic Area  0.0 4,025' Classic location popularized by Galen Rowell. There are several viewing locations around the picnic area and the small meadow to the east.
 2 - Southside Picnic Area 0.0 4,025' Alternate location with a longer view about midway between the Cathedral Beach picnic area and the Swinging Bridge along the banks of the Merced River.
 3 - Four Mile Trail viewpoint 0.7 4,480' The first 0.7 miles of this trail has a few switchbacks that enable long distance views of the falls with the entirety of El Capitan and the area on top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The challenge with these locations is that they are relatively small areas and the popularity of the event results in hundreds of people, cameras and tripods jammed together. Photographers often begin staking their claim to a tripod location shortly after sunrise, setup a camp chair and just spend the day enjoying the outdoors (assuming the weather cooperates) and communing with other photographers. The challenge is finding views of the falls that are clear of the numerous tall trees that often block the line of site. As such, there are only a handful of places that offer a clear viewpoint.

Compounding these compositional challenges is recent efforts the NPS has instituted to control the crowds and mitigate some of the damage that has been occurring to the meadows. These efforts include closing the Northside Drive to cars, implementing a lottery system for parking, and severely restricting where people can go to view the falls. This is a work-in-progress for the NPS, so you’ll need to check the Yosemite website under the Plan Your Visit > Places to Go > Waterfalls section for the most current information - https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/horsetailfall.htm

Assuming the roads have not been closed to parking, there are minimal parking areas on both North and South side drives, so unless you arrive very early in the morning to stake your claim, be prepared to park in one of the lots near the visitor center or the lodge and be prepared for a 1.5 mile walk each way.

Firefall 1Firefall 1Horsetail Falls, Yosemite National Park, California
The annual Horsetail Falls "firefall" event in Yosemite National Park is a unique and somewhat rare natural phenomenon that occurs for about one week in mid-February. Near sunset the sun's alignment focuses on the thin wispy falls perfectly to create an orange and sometimes red glow that makes the waterfall appear to be like flowing lava.

What makes this a somewhat rare event is the conditions that have to align. In February, the waterfall is usually not flowing or only slightly since it's still cold. Also, there needs to be snow in the mountains feeding the waterfall, which has been scarce during the drought of the last few years. And, the sun must not be blocked by clouds, which happens frequently near sunset.

This year the Sierra Nevada mountains was enjoying the largest snowpack in recent history. The afternoon temperatures warmed up enough to melt enough of the snow to generate a robust waterfall, which was helped by some high winds. And, even though the El Nino weather patterns tended to generate a lot of afternoon clouds, during the week we had two sunsets where the clouds didn't obscure the light.

It was a magnificent natural spectacle to watch and a beautiful demonstration of Nature's ability to instill awe in people.


Field Notes: Canon 5DS-R, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L with 2x tele-extender, 240mm, f/16, 0.6 sec, ISO 100

Composition Considerations

The Classic viewing location is the closest to the falls and offers the most diversity in terms of focal length to capture more expansive images that include the surrounding face of El Capitan and the sky, especially if there are interesting clouds and color, to tight close-up photos of the falls or sections of the falls. Sometimes low clouds will develop below the rim that offer some interesting compositions and high winds can create some very interesting effects as the waterfall spray is dispersed and lights up in the air and across the face of El Capitan.

Generally, focal lengths from 100mm to 300mm are effective. Use of a polarizer is recommended to mitigate the glare that can occur from the sunlight shining on the water. A neutral density filter may also be useful as you experiment with different exposure lengths depending on how silky and diffuse you want the water to appear.

The Southside viewing location has a similar perspective as the Classic, but from a further distance. The view of the rim is expanded so that you can actually see the snow and the incline of the terrain atop of El Capitan, although you have more trees to workaround or try to incorporate as a frame depending on your focal length. Since you are located further away, longer focal lengths will be necessary to capture close-up images.

The Four Mile Trail viewing locations are located on the west pointing switchbacks within the first 0.7 miles of the trail. This is an easy, well maintained trail but, it may be snow covered and you should be prepared with micro-spikes or sturdy hiking boots with an aggressive tread if there’s snow on the trail.

As you hike up the trail there are tantalizing glimpses of El Capitan and the falls through the trees, but few locations that offer an unobstructed view. Unless you bring a very long lens and sturdy tripod that can truly keep the camera vibration free for a long exposure, the compositional opportunity is primarily to capture the falls within the larger context of El Capitan. This perspective also enables you to capture more of the snowpack and pine trees on top of El Capitan. This can be a compelling composition if there’s a colorful sky or interesting clouds along with a strong display of color in the falls to help them standout amongst the larger frame of El Capitan.

For more information regarding Horsetail Falls during this special annual phenomenon I would recommend following the blogs of Michael Frye and Gary Hart, both are Yosemite photographic experts who provide good insights each year into the conditions that are needed for the falls and excellent tips on how to capture strong images of this amazing occurrence.

 

Be an outsider, go on a hike!

 


Fall 2019 Newsletter

October 25, 2019  •  1 Comment

Greetings from the trail! The year has gone by more quickly than I could have imagined and packed with diverse adventures. I’m taking a short breather at the Colorado base camp as the autumn season transitions to winter and the first major winter storm is forecast to dump snow in the mountains.  So, I thought I would share an update on some of the adventures and my latest images. This is just a sampling, so please check out my portfolio to peruse the rest.
 

The year started out with a winter excursion to Yellowstone National Park, which is a magical place covered in snow - there's very few people, it's eerily quiet and the wildlife are mostly clustered in the valleys enduring the harshness of the weather. Sandy joined me for a few days at the Snow Lodge adjacent to Old Faithful where we hiked through the geyser basin and enjoyed the quiet solitude. On one excursion to the interior of the park on specially modified snow vehicles we came across a mating pair of coyotes that were hunting voles. It was fascinating to watch them alternate between romping around and then stalking voles by the sound they made while burrowing under the snow. The coyotes would silently stalk, cocking their heads while they listened intently. You could tell when they detected a vole as their tail would point straight up and they would arch their body for the leap.....and the rest was dinner!

Coyote PounceCoyote PounceYellowstone National Park, WY
Winter is an awesome time to observe wildlife as they survive the harshness of winter.

Field Info: Canon 7d Mark II, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4EXT lens @ 560mm, 1/800 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 100

In February I traveled to the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile for two weeks, which is the end of summer in the southern hemisphere, with a group of other photographers led by Don Smith, an outstanding landscape photographer based out of California and Ron Modra, who was a staff photographer for Sports Illustrated for many years. This is a remarkably beautiful region that is still remote enough it hasn't been overrun by tourism. Just getting there and back was a 36 hour odyssey each way! The fantastically rugged peaks of the Andes Mountains form the border between the two countries and extend all the way to the tip of the continent where fjords, glaciers, lakes and rivers abound. We barely scratched the surface, so an extended return trip will be getting scheduled soon! One of the most recognized features of Patagonia is Mount Fitzroy in the northern section inside Argentina and whose profile forms the logo for the outdoor equipment company, Patagonia. These mountains are so enormous they generate their own weather and Fitzroy is notorious for being shrouded in clouds most of the time; many people who come to visit never see the peak! We were very fortunate that on our first morning the sky was clear and we were treated to a beautiful sunrise complete with alpenglow and purplish-blue skies thanks to a light layer of clouds that reflected the pre-dawn light.

Mount Fitzroy Sunrise 1Mount Fitzroy Sunrise 1Patagonia, Argentina

Field Info: Canon 5DS-R, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens @ 140mm, 0.4 sec @ f/8, ISO 100, three image panoramic

     Mount Fitzroy and the Andes Mountains at sunrise

 

By mid-morning the notorious clouds had arrived and shrouded the peaks as storms began to rage. It was a fascinating display of weather to behold since it was pleasant in the valley while the tempest lashed the peaks.

Stormy Mount FitzroyStormy Mount FitzroyParque Nacional Los Glaciares, Argentina
Mount Fitzroy is part of the Andes Mountain range along the border between Chile and Argentina more commonly known as Patagonia. It is so massive that it generates its own weather and is often shrouded in clouds.

Field Info: Canon 5DS-R, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens @ 200mm, 1/500 sec @ f/11, ISO 250

     Storm clouds over Mount Fitzroy

 

As we made our way southward and into the Chilean side of Patagonia we had the opportunity to tour glacial lagoons and fjords that were breathtaking. Last year I traveled across Alaska for a couple of months and photographed the glaciers and fjords, which I thought were impressive. However, the ones in Patagonia are an order of magnitude larger and impressive - the glacial walls towered for hundreds of feet above the lagoons! The capstone of Chile Patagonia is the famous Torres del Paine National Park in the southern Andes Mountains. Photographs do not adequately convey how massive these peaks are as they tower thousands of feet above the valley.

Torres del Paine 1Torres del Paine 1

     Cuernos del Paine, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

 

The return trip to this amazingly rugged and remote region will involve backpacking into the Andes Mountains where I can get up close to these massifs. The national park services of Chile and Argentina have created legendary trails through these mountains where you can reach glacial tarns and moraines, high altitude meadows, and wildlife along trails that span the parks. 

In March my daughter Kim and I took a quick trip to Anchorage, Alaska to photograph the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. The aurora is caused by charged particles streaming from the sun as they collide with our atmosphere, particularly over the earth's poles. Solar storms can spew large bursts of particles that can also disrupt electronics when they race across our atmosphere causing satellite and phone outages. The intensity of these storms are rated on the Kepler scale (Kp) with a 1 being quiet to minimal solar activity and 10 being a storm so strong people in the southern U.S. states would see the aurora. Generally, a Kp 4 or 5 storm is strong enough to create colorful aurora displays across Alaska, Canada and the northern portion of the U.S. The sun has an eleven year solar cycle of activity and we are currently in the lowest most quiet period of that cycle. It will be another couple of years before periodic solar activity increases. However, in March the NOAA issued a Kp-5 alert. I was able to quickly find a flight to Anchorage so we grabbed our gear and hopped on a plane to Alaska!

It was a challenging three days driving around all night in frigid temperatures chasing the aurora. We had to find clear or nearly clear skies in areas that had visibility to the northern sky; which is actually quite challenging in Alaska since the trees are tall and dense everywhere you go. But, we did chase the aurora down a couple of times and were able to watch and photograph amazing displays of color and light.

Aurora 1Aurora 1Field Info: Canon 5d Mark III, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L lens @ 16mm, 13 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 800

After a brief return to base camp in Colorado, I embarked on a nearly three month trek up the coast of California, through Oregon and then Washington. This was my first extended exploration of this region and the beauty is overwhelming. I started in California and Sandy joined me for the first leg as we traveled to Yosemite National Park and then up the Pacific Coast through Big Sur. The rugged coastline was beautiful with a lot of sea stacks, beautiful beaches and quaint seaside towns. It was remarkable how remote and rugged so much of the area is in between the densely populated and built-up urban areas. 

Yosemite Moonbow 2 - HRYosemite Moonbow 2 - HRYosemite National Park, CA. The moonbow, which is a rainbow created by the light of a full, or near full, moon is only visible during a short window from mid-April through May. This year's moonbow was remarkable for the significant volume of the waterfall generated by a very high snowpack that had begun to melt. Capturing this amazing scene was further complicated by the strong winds and mist created by the waterfall as it thundered down.

Field Notes: Canon 7D Mark II, EF16-35mm f/2.8L lens at 20mm, 13 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 2000

     Moonbow over Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA

McWay Falls 4x5McWay Falls 4x5McWay Falls, Big Sur, California

Field Info: Phase One IQ-380 XF, Schneider LS 75-150mm f/4 lens @ 115mm, 1.3 sec @ f/16, ISO 50

     McWay Falls, Big Sur, California

I criss-crossed between the Cascade Mountains that run from northern California through Oregon and Washington to the Pacific Ocean coast including Mount Shasta, Lassen Volcanic Park, Crater Lake National Park, Redwoods National Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Olympic National Park, Mount Saint Helens National Monument and Mount Rainier National Park. The coastlines are beautiful with endless beaches, rugged coastlines, sea stacks and birds. The Cascade Mountains are ragged majestic peaks that are mostly active volcanoes. The Cascades are part of the Pacific "ring of fire" chain of volcanoes, with Mount Saint Helens being the most obvious one given its eruption in 1980. But, the other mountains are all active volcanoes albeit some are more quiet than others. 

Hoh Rainforest 1Hoh Rainforest 1Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, WA

Field Info: Canon 7D Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens @ 70mm, 1.6 sec @ f/16, ISO 400

     Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, WA

 

Olympic National Park was fascinating - it's enormous and extremely remote. The surrounding area is comprised of Native American reservations and small villages. Most of the park is designated as a wilderness area, which means no infrastructure or man-made features. There's only a few entry points into the park and from there it's long distance hiking into the wilderness. The Hoh Rainforest was a magical place that evoked thoughts of Tolkien's Middle Earth as I hiked through the lush forest. 

Mineral Creek FallsMineral Creek FallsHoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, WA

Field Info: Canon 7D Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens @ 75mm, 1/4 sec @ f/16, ISO 400

     Mineral Creek Falls, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, WA

 

Mount Olympus dominates Olympic National Park with towering mountains covered in glaciers and snowfields. These massive reservoirs of snow and ice release tremendous amounts of water during the warmer months creating innumerable cascades, creeks, rivers and waterfalls throughout the park. The mountains are so massive they block weather systems moving east from the ocean forcing them to release torrents of rain throughout the park creating the rainforests. This explains why the eastern side of the mountains are barren scab lands creating an extraordinary environmental paradox within a few miles.

Tree of LifeTree of LifePortland Japanese Gardens, Portland, OR

Field Info: Phase One IQ-380 XF, Schneider LS 40-80mm f/4 lens @ 40mm, 6 sec @ f/32, ISO 50

Sandy joined me for part of this excursion where we spent a week exploring Mount Rainier National Park. Most of the park was still closed and covered under feet of snow, but that made it an even more exciting adventure. We spent most of our time climbing the snow fields on the southern side of Mount Rainier, a massive stratovolcano that tops out at 14,411' with over 13,000' feet of prominence above the surrounding area! It is so huge that the icefield cap feeds 25 active glaciers.

First Light on RainierFirst Light on RainierMount Rainier National Park, WA
Sunrise lights up the peak of Mount Rainier overlooking the still frozen Lake Tipsoo in late spring.

Field Info: Phase One IQ-380 XF, Schneider LS 40-80mm f/4 lens @ 50mm, 8.0 sec @ f/8, ISO 50

     Tipsoo Lake and Mount Rainier, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Mount Rainier National Park now ranks as one of my favorite parks and I plan to spend a lot more time there. There are amazing vistas from all sides with a diverse array of glaciers, snowfields, tarns, lakes and meadows to hike. Rainier is also known for its prolific wildflower displays in the summer. 

     Standing on the summit of Mount Adams with Mount Rainier in the distance

During my extended journey through the Pacific Northwest I experienced a couple of weeks of dry, warm weather with generally clear blue skies. Actually, the worst conditions for landscape photography! But, it did present an opportunity to explore the summits of the Cascade Mountains. During my period of service in the U.S. Army many years ago I completed some basic mountaineering training and certification. Its been a long time since I've tackled anything more challenging than boulder scrambles, so I found a local guide company and spent a couple of days getting re-certified. It was kind of like riding a bicycle, many of the techniques and skills came back quickly; although I still have some practicing to do with the different knots that are required! Then with ice ax in hand, mountaineering boots I picked up at a local outfitter and a set of crampons I proceeded to summit Mount Adams, an active 12,300' stratovolcano, via a steep and arduous climb of 12 miles in 12 hours and 6,700' of elevation change. The pitch in some sections was very steep and when I would take a break I had to lean against the mountain and set my crampons in the snow to ensure I didn't start sliding down! I really wish I had brought my skis, it would have made the return trek much quicker and easier - there were several other climbers who had brought theirs and I was quite jealous watching them glide down the mountain back to the trailhead.

I then almost summited Mount Hood, a classic active 11,140' stratovolcano, but got weathered out near the top. It's a 7-mile roundtrip with 5,200' of elevation climbing up the Palmer Glacier. This summit is a little trickier in that the last pitch has a couple of routes that are very steep and require more technical skill to ascend. I went with a group of other climbers and we made good progress to the the Devils Kitchen area, which is one of the active vents from the volcano; the sulfur smell was really strong. We started the climb at 1 am trying to stay ahead of a storm system that was forecast to roll in later in the morning. Unfortunately, it arrived with a vengeance several hours early. As we approached the Steel Cliffs for the last pitch to the summit the storm came howling in with sleet and high winds that started blowing rocks and ice off the cliffs. This is why we wear high quality helmets! One of the climbers got nailed by an ice chunk that crushed his helmet, but thankfully he was uninjured. So, sanity prevailed and we retreated down the glacier. I'm planning to try again next year.

While we were in Mount Rainier we did some partial climbing about 2,400' up the Muir Icefield, which is one of the routes to the summit. However, Rainier is a serious climb with over 9,700' of elevation and takes three days to reach the summit. We've signed on with a climbing group to summit Rainier next May.

 

     View from the south rim of Mount Saint Helens looking across the crater to Mount Rainier

I was also able to obtain a last minute permit to summit Mount Saint Helens. Permits are limited and difficult to get, so I was very fortunate to grab one when another climber cancelled at the last minute. It was a beautiful day for a climb on the Ptarmigan trail starting at 4 am and hiking up the south side with terrific views of Mount Adams and Mount Hood at sunrise. Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980 and exploded transversely to the north which is where most of the devastation, debris and ash fall occurred. Mount Saint Helens is also an active 8,400' stratovolcano with steam vents and a lava dome that is continuing to grow within the caldera; this elevation is after it lost about 1,500' from the 1980 eruption! As with the other stratovolcanos there are glaciers and snowfields running down the sides. The climb was 8.5 miles roundtrip with 4,500' of elevation change. What made this climb particularly challenging is that there are two choices to the top - climb the snowfield and Swift Glacier or scramble up Monitor Ridge, which is an enormous boulder and cinder field created by the 1980 eruption. I wanted to climb on the snow, but when the sun came out it softened the snow to the point that I was post-holing my way up, which is an exhausting way to climb. So, it became an incredibly slow and arduous scramble up the boulder field trying to not disturb the ash deposits, which could be 2-3 feet deep. The ash was like a fine talcum powder and I learned quickly not to step in it as the ash would plume into a cloud that was difficult and dangerous to breathe it in. Route-finding became focused on staying on the rocks and avoiding the unstable cinders and not disturbing the ash. It was worth the effort though - the view from the rim was magnificent. I plan to return next year if I'm able to secure a permit with the intent of starting the climb at midnight via the glacier in the dark so I can be on the rim for sunrise.

 

Grand Teton Moose 1Grand Teton Moose 1Grand Teton National Park, WY

Field Info: Canon 5DS-R, EF 200-400mm f/4L lens @ 340mm, 1/1000 sec @ f/4.5, ISO 640

     Young bull moose in Grand Teton National Park, WY

I photographed the fall colors in Grand Teton National Park. I've been here many times and this was the best color I've seen in years. The cottonwood trees along the Snake River were vibrant along with the aspens. During my two weeks in the park three snow storms came through draping the mountains in successive layers of snow. I had several moose encounters, beautifully frigid mornings and colorful skies. The hiking was terrific, including a trek to Delta Lake at the base of the Grand Teton Mountain that had a wickedly steep boulder scramble for the last half-mile.

 

Purple Mountains Majesty-2Purple Mountains Majesty-2Schwabachers Landing, Grand Teton National Park, WY
I have photographed this location many times, but this was the first time I experienced the rare purple sky. Frigidly cold temperatures the day after a light dusting of snow on the mountains created the perfect conditions for the pre-sunrise light to briefly cause the mountains to look purple.

Field Info: Phase One IQ-380 XF, Schneider LS 40-80mm f/4 lens @ 70mm, 30 sec @ f/8, ISO 50

     Schwabachers Landing in the pre-dawn light on a frigid morning following one of the storms

 

Traingle X Horse 2019 1Traingle X Horse 2019 1

     A lone American Paint horse from the Triangle-X Ranch sauntered across the meadow as the storm clouds began clearing.

 

Mormon Barn 1Mormon Barn 1Mormon Barn, Grand Teton National Park, WY
An intrepid group of 27 Mormon homesteaders settled the area in the 1890s. These ranches were actively worked through the 1950s by generations of families.

Field Info: Phase One IQ-380 XF, Schneider LS 75-150mm f/4 lens @ 120mm, 1/10 sec @ f/16, ISO 50

     Mormon Barn, Grand Teton National Park, WY

 

In September my daughters and I completed the 25 mile Grand Canyon hike from the North Rim to the South Rim with an overnight stay at Phantom Ranch. It was a challenging 14 mile and 6,200' descent from the North Rim followed by an 11 mile 4,600' ascent to the South Rim. On our return home we visited Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, hiked to Native American ruins and petroglyphs on Cedar Mesa in southern Utah and photographed the iconic Mesa Arch at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park.
 

Mittens Sunrise 2019Mittens Sunrise 2019Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Park, AZ and UT

Field Info: Phase One IQ-380 XF, Schneider LS 75-150mm f/4 lens @ 120mm, 4 sec @ f/11, ISO 50

     The Mittens at sunrise in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, UT and AZ

 

Procession Panel 1Procession Panel 1Bears Ears National Monument, UT
This is a portion of a 15-foot long panel of 179 petroglyphs in three streams that appear to be converging on a central gathering place.

Field Info: Canon EOS-R, ER 24-105mm f/4L lens @ 50mm, 1/80 sec @ f/8, ISO 100

     The Procession Panel, Bears Ears National Monument, UT. This is just a portion of the 15-foot long panel that depicts three groups of people and animals that appear to be converging on a gathering place.

 

Mesa Arch 2019 1x2Mesa Arch 2019 1x2Mesa Arch, Canyonlands NP, UT

Field Info: Phase One IQ-380 XF, Schneider LS 40-80mm f/4 lens @ 70mm, 2.5 sec @ f/16, ISO 50

     Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, UT

 

If you plan to visit any of these areas and have questions about how to plan your trip and see these amazing places, please reach out to me – I’m always glad to help. My portfolio of high resolution photographs (much better than what I can show in an online newsletter) is available to view or purchase on my website: www.donmetzphotography.com . I have thousands of photographs and only a select few are posted on my website, so if you're looking for anything in particular please let me know - I have many more photographs to choose from.

I post regularly to Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/donmetzphotography/ and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/donmetzphotography/ if you’d like to follow my sojourns closer to real-time.

 

Be an outsider, go on a hike!  I'll see you on the trail....

 

 


 

 

 


Alaska and Canada Newsletter - March 2019

March 16, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

To view my Alaska and Canada newsletter please click here --> March 2019 newsletter
 

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