Mountain Light

Mountain Light

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at Hooker Lake in Mt. Cook / Aoraki National Park, New Zealand on April 25th, 2012

It turns out that glacial lakes are cold, really cold. Not that I noticed right away. I was wearing hip waders so I could stand thigh-deep in the just-above-freezing Hooker Lake while shooting icebergs and Mt. Cook at sunset. Because I wasn’t wet, I didn’t feel the cold right away. No, it was only after I’d been standing in the water for 40 minutes then tried to move that I felt it. My legs had turned to cold iron, and I could practically hear the creaks as I willed them to move back up to dry land. All in a day’s work, and well worth it for a sight like this one.

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A Godley View

Aerial photo of the Godley River and Lake Tekapo, South Island New Zealand

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken 6,000 feet above the Godley River delta at Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand on April 24th, 2012

This photo was taken during a scenic flight around Mt. Cook and the surrounding mountains. I was sitting up in the very front of the plane and as the pilot performed a steep banked turn over the head of Lake Tekapo I had an awesome view straight down onto the Godley River delta. Even though the flight led to many breathtaking views of the majestic Southern Alps, this intimate view of the river and the lake turned out to be my best shot from the flight.

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Tranquililty

Sunset at Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand on April 21st, 2012

I first visited Nelson Lakes National Park in New Zealand in 2007 under a thunderous downpour. Outside the tropics I don’t think I’ve ever seen such power in a rainstorm. Overnight the level of Lake Rotoiti rose at least 3 feet. During my more recent visit in 2012 the conditions couldn’t have been more different: mostly clear skies, no wind, and -aside from the ducks quacking- almost no noise. The contrast was remarkable and served to underscore the tranquility of this scene I shot from the dock.

 

The Light Within

Ice cave in the Fox Glacier, South Island, New Zealand

Taken inside the Fox Glacier, South Island, New Zealand on April 16th, 2012

Glacierology 101: A moulin is a hole carved through a glacier by meltwater. Sometimes a moulin will grow until it becomes a cave in the ice, much like a blue slot canyon. And then, abruptly, the feeder stream will change course, allowing the cave to dry out and stabilize. Then it can be safe to venture into the cave and explore, which is exactly what I did on the Fox Glacier in New Zealand. Walking into the depths of the cave I watched as every color except blue was leached out of the light until eventually everything glowed with an internal cyan aura.

 

Wanaka Dreaming

Wanaka Dreaming

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at Lake Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand on April 8th, 2012

How far would you go for a tree? I flew halfway around the world for one. If this seems crazy to you please realize that this is no ordinary tree. Nay, it’s the famous Wanaka Willow, quite possibly the coolest tree I’ve seen. It’s like a bonzai on steroids, with gracefully sculpted limbs and the most amazing location ever. Growing directly out of one of the most scenic lakes on the planet, this tree is worth traveling for. Especially in April when the willow’s golden Fall foliage shines brightly against Lake Wanaka’s deep blues.

This photo is in my top three shots I’ve ever taken. In fact, no other photo I’ve taken has ever come as close to the vision I had for it as this shot. I’d spent years dreaming about visiting this tree and thinking about how I wanted to shoot it, how I could take a shot that put my own unique stamp on the spot. In my mind’s eye I pictured the tree in all its autumn splendor, the golden leaves contrasting beautifully against the blues of Lake Wanaka’s waters, with long exposure clouds streaking overhead. When I arrived at the tree on this morning to find completely cloudless skies I was disappointed, but managed a few shots anyway. Then, just as I was packing up to leave I noticed some billowy clouds beginning to traverse the lake. A few minutes later I pulled out my 10-stop ND filter and was able to capture this 62-second exposure, and the vision I’d held for the previous two years was staring at me from the back of my camera. Safe to say it was a pretty great moment.

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Some Views Are Worth the Itch

Picture Peak and stream, Sabrina Basin, Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains

“The mosquitoes will eat you alive.”

2011 had been an extremely snowy year in the Sierra and the massive snowpack was keeping the meadows marshy and bugs buggy a full month later than usual. As I chugged my way up the Blue Lake trail into the Eastern Sierras’ Sabrina Basin that refrain kept ringing in my ears and I debated turning back because of the dire warnings.

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Day After Day

Pothole Dome at sunset in winter, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

The Sierra high country is timeless. These granite mountains, these meadows, and even this tree sentinel have been here longer than I’ve been alive and will be here much longer after I am gone. They stand day after day, month after month, year after year. Not waiting for anything, not expecting anything. No deadlines, no schedules, no Mondays, Wednesdays, or Saturdays.

If you spend enough time in the mountains, you begin to tap into that endless cycle. The feeling of “having to do something” slips away, along with pressures, schedules, and responsibilities. I don’t know anything quite so pacifying and relieving as connecting with the stillness of the mountains.

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Monolith

El Capitan reflected in the Merced River in winter, Yosemite National Park

Taken in Yosemite Valley on December 29th, 2011

At the very end of 2011 I found myself camped in Yosemite Valley. One morning I forced myself out of my warm sleeping bag only to see a lovely pink glow already filling the sky. The color quickly faded, but the sky remained full of wispy clouds. Making my way to the Merced, I found a bend in the river where a near-perfect reflection of El Capitan filled the icy waters. Stamping my feet and flexing my fingers to ward off the cold, I waited for the sunlight to make its way down El Cap’s bulk, and then I snapped this shot.

Global Warming

Frozen Tenaya Lake sunset, Yosemite National Park

Taken on Tenaya Lake in Yosemite on December 27th, 2011

It all started before Christmas when I saw a video of people ice skating on a frozen Tenaya Lake in Yosemite’s high country. Wow, that’s cool, that doesn’t happen very often, I thought. Then, about halfway through the video, the filmer unwittingly showed something that had my eyes bugging out of my head: thick and crunchy pressure ridges and cracks running through the vast ice sheet covering Tenaya’s surface. And that sealed the deal: since Tioga Pass is open this late into the year maybe once in a generation, I knew I needed to take advantage of this unique photographic opportunity.

The week after Christmas I set out for three days of camping, hiking, exploring, and shooting the high country near Tuolumne Meadows. My timing was just right and I had three days of incredible shooting conditions and more natural beauty than you can shake a stick at. This shot is from the sunset on the first night: a rip-roaring pink and purple glow which set the icy reflections and cracks aflame on frozen Tenaya Lake.

Tuolumne Tundra

Tuolumne River and Tuolumne Meadows in winter, Yosemite National Park

Taken in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park on November 27th, 2011

Just when I thought Tioga Pass was closed for the season, a magical thing happened: some late season warm weather melted the ice from the road and highway 120 reopened. How fortunate then that I was visiting my family a mere 1.5 hours from Yosemite when this occurred. I was already planning on going into Yosemite Valley to camp, but with the fortuitous reopening of Tioga Pass, I decided to spend the day instead exploring Tuolumne Meadows under a blanket of snow. My mom came along as well and we spent the day freezing our toes off, exploring the icy Yosemite high country.

 

Yosemite Thunder

Thunderstorm at sunset at Olmsted Point, Yosemite National Park
Taken at Olmsted Point in Yosemite National Park on September 12, 2011

I was in Yosemite to help my mom celebrate her 61st birthday by hiking to the top of Half Dome. Because of the new permit system, the date of your hike is not changeable. So we started to worry a bit when the weather forecast called for massive thunderstorms the entire week of the hike. But secretly I was overjoyed at the prospect of shooting a thunderstorm in the park. The night before the hike I drove up to the Yosemite high country to shoot Tuolumne Meadows. But when it became clear the best light was happening out over the Valley, I flew back to Olmsted Point to witness this awesome display.