In 2017 I hiked into the Kearsarge Lakes area of Kings Canyon National Park. During the trip I climbed to the top of the 4th Kearsarge Pinnacle and gazed in wonder at the wild backcountry of Kings Canyon. In that instant Kings Canyon cemented itself in my mind as one of the most beautiful regions of the world. I pulled out my topo map and began noting the huge peaks and beautiful granite cirques in front of me. One place in particular that caught my eye on the map was the Gardiner Basin. It looked so remote, so wild, that I figured it had to be a place of great beauty.
After that trip ended and I was back at home I pulled up Google Image Search on my computer and typed in the words “Gardiner Basin.” Although there weren’t many photos from the area there were enough to convince me that my intuition was right: here was one of those supremely magical places in the Sierra. And so I began to plan a 5-day trip to visit the Basin and see its beauty for myself.
Fast forward almost a year to late July 2018 and conditions for just such a trip were looking beautiful: I had a good chunk of free time in between projects, I was fit and in good health, and critically, massive thunderstorms were battering the the Sierra. In my opinion there’s no better time to be in the High Sierra than monsoon season, and so it was with great anticipation that I parked my car at the trailhead at Onion Valley and began what would become one of the most extraordinary backpacking trips of my life.
Rather than attempt to do justice to the experience with my poorly written words, instead I’d like to invite you along on the trip with me through a series of video journals that tell the tale of what happened each day. For my sensitive readers, please note that I do use some foul language in these videos. After all, there was nobody out there to hear it except me and the f#cking mosquitoes.
Day 1 highlights include getting lost on Dragon Pass. Sketching myself out, not one, not two, but three times while trying to get over it. Seeing bighorn sheep at the top. 1000 feet of scree boot skiing. And a beautiful sunset over the Rae Lakes Basin in Kings Canyon National Park.
Day 2 highlights include: Rae Lakes Basin, thunderstorms and mammatus clouds on a cross-country pass. Incredible rainbows, and a barn-burning sunset over the monumentally beautiful Gardiner Basin.
Day 3-5 highlights include more explorations of the Gardiner Basin, idyllic country living in the 60 Lakes Basin, monster views from Glen Pass, an afternoon hiding from the rain under a rock overhang, and one of the most blistering backcountry light shows I’ve ever seen.
Now, I know y’all are wanting to see the resulting photos, so here are a few behind-the-scenes images and some fine art photos from the excursion.
Did you enjoy this kind of trip report video journal? Let me know in the comments!
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About the Author
Josh Cripps is a wilderness landscape photographer living in beautiful Mammoth Lakes, California. He shoots campaigns and gives presentations for Nikon. His work has been featured in publications like Outdoor Photographer, Pop Photo, and Landscape Photography Magazine. Josh also runs photography workshops, teaches online courses, and runs the popular YouTube channel Pro Photo Tips. Sometimes he talks like a cowboy and can grow an enormous beard when the need arises.
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Hi Shorty, that was a great trip. Thanks for hauling us along. This is my version of heaven as well and I’ve got four backpack trips planned for Summer/Fall 2020. Curious as to what photo gear you deem essential for capturing nature at its best. Thanks much and look forward to seeing you in Kanab next month.
Thanks, Scott! Will be great to see you in Kanab. As far as critical camera gear on backpacking trips, here’s my current list:
14-30 mm f/4 lens
24-70 mm f/4 lens
70-200 mm f/4 lens
Carbon fiber tripod
Screw-on filters (CPL, 10 stop, 6 stop)
Extra batteries, memory cards, and lens wipes
That’s pretty much it!
Dang it Josh! This is the third keyboard I destroyed drooling over your photos and trips!
Seriously though, thank you for sharing your trip with us. What a phenomenal trip and spectacular photos.No wonder you are one of the top 10 photographers in the world!
Enjoyed your trip report very much!
Don’t you worry about getting struck (directly oder indirectly) by a lightning during a thunderstorm? I had one night in the Dolomites in May where I was surprised by a thunderstorm at 1am. Had to leave me tent and seek shelter in a cave nearby for 3 hours, as I was too afraid to stay in the tent while the thunderstorm was there. Any precautions you can take, or do you just trust in your good luck?
Hey Thomas, thanks a bunch!
Most of the time I don’t worry too much about lightning because you know where the storms are in the Sierra and can avoid them. In this report I joked about being up high near the lightning and thunder but the truth is that the storm was miles away. As I’m sure you know you can count the time between the flash and the thunder and figure out how far away the storm is. If it starts getting close then I get down quick! In general I try to use common sense and don’t get up on exposed areas if the lightning threat is imminent. I almost always camp in protected areas with trees around, and it’s almost always possible in the mountains here to get into a covered area quickly if you are hiking. Sounds like an intense experience you had in the Dolomites! Glad nothing bad happened.
Good to hear from you. When the thunder woke me up at 1am, I decided to count the time between flash and thunder, just as you explained, and that I would leave the tent if it went below 10secs. After 30min, this happened and I left the tent to seek shelter in the cave. I was scared. So much that I did not even spend a thought on how I could possibly get a photo in this situation.
It was so loud and so bright, I have never experienced anything like this before. In retrospect, it was a great experience and it is cool to talk about, but to be honest, during these hours I was really, really scared and not so amused 😉
That was beautiful and hysterical at the same time. At first I thought you were acting a part, soon realized it was just you. Amazing and entertaining. So fun watching you get excited over the beauty of nature!!!! You are sooooo lucky to be able to do all that, live in Mammoth and make a living from it, best of both worlds!!!!
PS where are most of the mellon farmers?
Thanks, Jackie! Well…… to be honest that Shorty Harris is a character I put on for these videos. Something about narrating these trips in that accent cracks me up inside. And thank you; I do feel incredibly fortunate to have this freedom.
p.s. most people watching this are from the US, but there is a solid group scattered all around the world.
Really enjoyed you sharing your fun videos, but also letting us see that part of the back country that many of us may not have the chance to see on foot. Stunning images!
What an awesome trip Josh! Great photos too! I have been over Kearsage Pass a couple of times and Glen Pass once (I agree with your feeling about Glen – what a trail). That rainbow was amazing! I got my map out and started dreaming and planning!
Thanks, Lori! This certainly was a wonderful trip. Glad you’ve experienced the beauty of Kings as well.
Great video journal Josh. It was fun (and easier) to live vicariously through your 5 day jaunt – of course would have loved to see that beauty first hand. Great job!
Cheers, Graham. If you can make it up Kili you can do this. 🙂
I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed your video journal. You are a great storyteller in prose or video and funny, too. You take your audience with you. Thank you very much!
Thanks for watching, Carolyn! And for your kind comments as well. I plan to make more video journals in the future.
What a terrific job of video and photography–it was a pleasure to join you on your adventure–well done!
Thanks so much, Roy. Glad you enjoyed the trip.
Amazing….enjoyed your journey, thank you for sharing.
Fun videos and some lovely images. My back hurt just thinking about five days hiking with my home and camera gear on my back so I lived vicariously through you. No bears? Loved the big sky photos.
Thanks so much, Wendy. Didn’t see any bears at all…in fact I’ve never seen a bear in the backcountry. Only in places like Yosemite Valley where they can snack off irresponsible humans’ leavings.