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. This is Part 2 of this article, which looks at May through August. Check out Part 1 for my travels in South America, and Part 3 for my year end wrap up.
May was a really wonderful month. Even though I arrived back in the US after my South America trip on May 1st, I didn’t head immediately home. I was once again traveling with my friend Jessica, who is from a small French island called Reunion. On our previous trips together I had talked up the beauty of California and Utah and she decided to spend a few weeks to see if I was full of shit or not. So once we landed in LAX we did some touristy crap around Hollywood for an hour, and then hightailed it for the desert southwest.
Our first stop was Zion National Park. Jessica is an ultra runner, having completed 50-km, 70-km, and even 160-km foot races, so I knew she wouldn’t be content with simply riding the shuttle bus and looking around. Instead we opted for hiking, hiking, and more hiking. On day 1 we roamed around off-trail near the Checkerboard Mesa. On day 2 we hit up Observation Point and Hidden Canyon. Day 3 was Angel’s Landing, and on our last day in the park we won the lottery for a Subway permit and splashed out to that geologic marvel.
After our days in Zion we headed for Escalante, where I promised Jess days of slot canyon adventures. “But Joshua,” she said, “I’m not sure I’m interested in that many canyons.” Well, let’s just start and see what you think. Needless to say, she was hooked and we had a grand time exploring some of the classics like Zebra, Peek-a-boo, and Spooky. We made a day of exploring the semi-technical and extraordinarily fun Egypt 3, and we day-hiked the 20 miles from Red Well to Coyote Natural Bridge and back. Someone also stole my tripod, left it in a parking lot, someone else found it (along with a note I had left under the windshields of all the cars in the parking lot), drove it to Panguitch, and left it for me there in a motel. Odd things happen in Utah.
All in all we spent about 10 days in Utah, not nearly enough, but nevertheless we had to leave because I wanted to show Jessica the beauty of California as well before she had to fly back home to France. Our first stop was Death Valley and by this point in mid May the temperatures were already toasty. The evening we rolled in it was 99°F when we stopped at Zabriskie Point. Neither of us minded though as there was a breeze blowing which felt incredible. There were also incredible clouds in the sky and when we ventured down onto the cracked mud flats for sunset we were treated to a barn-burner of a light show.
From DV we made a quick pit stop in Mammoth before heading over Monitor Pass to the western Sierra to visit Yosemite Valley.
Thanks to some luck and good timing we were able to score a campsite for a few nights in the Valley, a virtual miracle in May. Because the park is starting to get really busy at this time of year I thought I’d take Jessica to a few of my favorite off-the-beaten path locations. We hit up the Merced Grove of Sequoias, Sierra Point, Fern Ledge, and the Diving Board. All great adventures with some spine tingling exposure (except for the grove).
Sadly, I then bid Jessica adieu as she made her way to San Fran to fly home to France, and I returned to Mammoth to enjoy the beginnings of summer.
Of course the enormous winter meant that summer was a little slow to get off the ground. In fact on May 31st my friend Lane and I went out for an overnight ski trip into the Little Lakes Valley, where we found everything at 11,000 feet frozen solid and covered with gads of snow.
After a slightly chilly night I jumped out of my bag in the morning to photograph the intense alpenglow on the mountains above Ruby Lake.
As soon as the sun came up the temperature rose and Lane and I went skinning off in search of corn snow, which we found in buttery abundance. Not a bad way to kick off the 2017 backpacking season!
In the middle of the month I flew up to Washington State to hang with a good homie for a few days before heading out with Jim Patterson to lead our annual Palouse Photography Workshop in the eastern part of the state. With incredible, dramatic conditions (including getting caught in a backlit rainstorm) and a wonderful group of participants it was a fantastically fun way to enjoy a few days of photography.
About 10 days after I got home from Washington I was on another plane, this time to Chicago. I had been invited to present and teach at the Out of Chicago Conference, a superfun melting pot of different genres, different people, and different ideas in photography. That was a unique experience being a landscape photographer in the heart of Chicago, but I believe it’s always good to push yourself, your boundaries, and your comfort zone, so I embraced the experience. Made a lot of good new friends, learned a ton, and had a blast.
Almost immediately after getting back to California I was invited on a quick overnight backpacking trip by my friend Elisabeth. She wanted to visit Temple Crag and though I’d already been I have a hard time saying no to a night spent in the Sierra. The skies were 100% clear during the trip, which meant it was a great opportunity for some Milky Way photography. I set up a composition, went to sleep, and woke up at 3 am when the core of the galaxy was in position where I wanted it. The shooting star was pure luck.
July is arguably my favorite month in the Sierra, and this year was no exception. Things got off to a great start when Jim Patterson flew down for our annual High Sierra Summer Monsoon Photo Workshop. We romped all over the East Side, Mono Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, and the Central Sierra with our group enjoying the monumental scenery and all-time conditions. The sunset from the top of Pothole Dome was a true highlight, as were the fields of flowers in Big Pine Creek, and our final sunrise from Minaret Vista.
The day the workshop ended beautiful clouds started brewing so I took myself back down to Big Pine Creek and was treated to a gorgeous monsoony sunset.
A few days later I enjoyed one of the greatest backpacking trips of my life. My friends Josh and Mark were hiking into a remote Sierra basin and invited me to join. It was a long, hard, hot climb full of mosquitoes, but once we arrived in the Royce Lakes area it was like we’d stepped onto a planet made of ice and rock. We were also treated to striking light shows, and a rare sunrise rainstorm that led to an extraordinary session of photography.
Toward the end of the month Rafael from the amazing PhotoPills app came to visit and we put on a fun, educational seminar about how to use the app and how to do Milky Way photography. We had almost 75 excited photographers join us for the event, which was capped off by a night of photography at Minaret Vista and then Mono Lake.
A few days later Rafa and I ventured into the nearby mountains to do a little personal shooting. Over the course of 2017 up to this point I had been letting my beard grow and it was getting pretty wild after almost 8 months of unchecked growth. I was tired of it and ready to shave it off but first I wanted to shoot a classic “mountain man” portrait of myself in full beard.
August was a time for backpacking, and I managed to squeeze in four separate trips over the course of the month. The first was with my friend Patrycja into the South Fork of Big Pine Creek, which involved fording a waist-deep creek raging with icy snowmelt. That was, uh, a chilly experience. Ultimately we ended up in a basin surrounded by the southern peaks of the Palisade range.
The next trip was with my friend and fellow photographer Ryan Alonzo. He’d been smitten by the northwestern Yosemite wilderness and wanted to share the joy. We set out on a mellow 3 day trip, looping out of Green Creek and ending at Virginia Lakes. Along the way we enjoyed the serenity of Green Lake, cruised over rugged Virginia Pass, fished in a meadow below Virginia Peak, saw carpets of wildflowers, and did some fine bootskiing on lingering snow patches.