2017 has blown past us and we’re already steamrolling deep into 2018. January 2018 was so busy for me I barely had a chance to reflect on the previous year as I like to do. So now that I have a bit more time I’m taking a look back at 2017 and some of the wonderful moments and experiences I had. Enjoy the reminiscing! This is Part 1 of this article, which looks at January through April. Check out Part 2 for my summer travels in the US, and Part 3 for my year end wrap up.
January of 2017 was one of the biggest months of one of the biggest winters in recorded Sierra Nevada history. There was a period of three weeks where it snowed an average of 10″ day in and day out. That might not sound like a lot until you realize it adds up to 210″, which is almost 18 feet. In Mammoth roofs were collapsing and the National Guard was called in to help remove the snow from town. During the midst of this I escaped to Death Valley for a few days and went on an adventure to one of the most incredible and unique places I’ve ever seen in the park. But due to the sensitive and delicate nature of the area I will refrain from describing or showing any photographs of the place. Suffice it to say that Death Valley holds some incredible magic if you’re willing to look for it. On the same trip I observed incredible lenticular clouds over the Panamint Range, and I’m happy to show a photo of that instead:
The winter of 2017 was also when I taught myself how to ski, not so much because I wanted a new sport (I was already very happy with snowboarding), but because I wanted to be able to create unique opportunities for photography. One of those opportunities was skiing up to Minaret Vista a number of times to photograph the stars. The first few attempts didn’t yield usable results, mostly due to high winds shaking my tripod. But toward the end of the month I made a solo trip up to the Vista with a vision of a star trail photo in my head. Finally the night was calm enough for me to take a single 31-minute exposure and create this image:
February started off pretty mellow: I continued to learn how to ski and took advantage of the insane snow conditions we were receiving.
And truth be told that mellowness was a nice way to build some energy up, because at the end of the month I left for a 2.5-month, bucking bronco of a trip in South America. Initially I had planned to meet my friend Jessica in March for some serious hiking but that plan got slightly derailed when Nikon contacted me to shoot some sample photos using their at-the-time-unreleased fisheye lens. So I rebooked my tickets three weeks earlier and headed off to Southern Patagonia for a couple of weeks on assignment with the lens.
I started off the assignment in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile’s most famous NP, and home to one of the most striking landscapes on Earth.
The park served as a wonderful playground for a few days as I explored, hiked, and photographed.
In early March I continued with the Nikon fisheye assignment but decided on a change of location, so I got in my rental car and drove to El Chalten and Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. Along the way I stopped in El Calafate and enjoyed a few visits to the extraordinary Perito Moreno Glacier.
Once in El Chalten the weather was a mixed bag. It started off beautiful but turned stormy and rainy, which prevented much hiking or photography. However I was able to get out for a quick and moody overnight trek to Laguna Torre, as well as a great day hike to Lago De Los Tres.
With the weather looking continually bad I decided to return to Torres del Paine in Chile to finish off the assignment for Nikon.
I finally wrapped the assignment around the middle of month and focused on my personal travels. And of course, while doing an assignment for Nikon is an incredible experience and opportunity, it’s also very intense and stressful. So with a large selection of images in the bag it was time for a little R&R.
For that I opted to take a ferry from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams, which is the southernmost town in the world. This ferry (basically a commuter service) was extraordinary. For 32 hours we navigated the fjords of southern Chile and saw endless glaciers and mountains, multiple species of whale, dolphins, penguins, sea lions, and more albatross than you can count on your fingers and toes. Once the ferry arrived in Puerto Williams I spent a few days relaxing, doing some easy day hikes, and chatting with other travelers. Then I jumped back aboard the ferry for another sensational 32 hour ride to Punta Arenas.
At the end of March I spent a few days in Valparaiso, Chile, petting stray cats and going to Chilean karaoke bars. Good times.
In the beginning of April I decided to visit the complete opposite end of Chile, both metaphorically and geographically: the arid north. Fearing the mind-numbing nature of a 26-hour bus ride from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama I instead hopped on a 2 hour flight to the bizarre mining town of Calama, and from there rented a car to visit the Atacama. Extremely dry and windy, the Atacama is like no other place on Earth. Well, except maybe Death Valley. Throughout my time there I was struck by how similar these two places were, despite being on opposite ends of the planet.
Of course, the Atacama has a few things Death Valley lacks, like 19,000-foot volcanoes, flamingos, and vicunas to name a few.
And this incredible altiplano spans two countries: Chile and Bolivia. And it’s a fairly simple matter to get from one country to the other to experience the weirdness of the world’s driest desert.
In the latter half of April I flew to Colombia and met my friend Joe in Cartagena for two weeks of exploring. We began in the hot, sweaty north, spending a little bit of time in Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Tayrona National Park. The jungles and beaches were cool, but we weren’t stoked on much else there, including the weather (think 99° with 99% humidity).
Tired of sweating, we then flew down to the town of Salento in the coffee growing region of the country where conditions were much more pleasant. We also found wonderful scenery in the wax palm forests, as well as the highlands of the Los Nevados National Park.
At the end of those two weeks, and the end of April, I met my friend Jessica at the airport in Lima and we flew back to California.