Picture Peak

Picture Peak and Moonlight Lake in the Sabrina Basin, Eastern Sierras

Taken at Moonlight Lake in the Sabrina Basin, Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, on August 22nd 2011

“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.

Yet 45 minutes into the hike I was still bite-free. I began to think the mosquito warnings were just a bit of overblown trail rhetoric, the kind of things you whine and bitch about but really aren’t all that bad. The more I hiked, the more confident I felt that things had been blown out of proportion. “Those foolish people and their mosquito talk, what were they afraid of. Ha ha ha, I’m so cool, and they are not.” And then I decided to stop and check my map.

Like little bloodsucking ninjas, a horde of mozzies swept out of the shadows to inflict bodily harm upon me. Every patch of my exposed skin was a target as they relentlessly swooped in to slurp the blood out of me. There was only one way out of this: keep walking.

But the mosquitoes weren’t going to be fooled that easily. Oh no, they had caught my scent and were sticking to me like tiny bloodhounds. So I fell back on another alternative: DEET, lots and lots of DEET. I imagined I could hear the mosquitoes sizzling and popping whenever they touched down on the chemical death now covering my body. But I didn’t feel any sympathy; quite the opposite: I was almost dancing in my petty triumph.

Over the next few days I fell into a standard routine: walk, DEET, swat. Eventually the mosquitoes and I came to an uneasy truce and they seemed to understand that if they got too close I was going to turn them into mosquito pulp. Soon the bugs stopped bothering me altogether and gave me the freedom to take pictures. Even the occasional sneak attack didn’t rile me up, because I learned a valuable lesson that trip: some views are worth the itch.

Shooting Stars by Moonlight

Shooting stars at Moonlight Lake, Sabrina Basin, High Sierra

Taken at Moonlight Lake in the Sabrina Basin, Eastern Sierra, California on August 22nd, 2011

Forget coffee, forget Redbull. Nothing gets me zipping along first thing in the morning like some high Sierra backpacking. On my last morning of a trip to the wondrous Sabrina Basin near Bishop, California I rolled out of my tent at first light in order to capture the warm glow of the rising sun as it hit the 13,000 foot peaks surrounding my campsite. Despite not sleeping well, I felt charged up as I hiked the mile to this patch of shooting stars I had found while scouting Moonlight lake the day before. I set up my shot and waited for the light to reach the far shore of the lake, all the while burning off my excess energy by smashing the mosquitoes intent on having me for breakfast.

 

Breathless

Breathless

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at Sand Harbor State Park, Lake Tahoe, Nevada on January 15th, 2011

Lake Tahoe has many beautiful places along its shores, but for me Sand Harbor is at the top of the list. The way the white granite boulders merge with the crystal clear, turquoise water is simply incredible. On this night I was shooting a sunset that I thought was going to be a dud. But as I packed up my gear, the clouds to the north lit up with gorgeous pink and purple hues and I raced to get my camera out to take this shot. With the beauty of the scene, and a complete lack of any wind, it seemed as though Tahoe and I were both left breathless.

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Split Rock at Sunrise

Tioga Lake and Mt. Dana at sunrise, Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park

Taken at Tioga Lake, Yosemite National Park, on October 29th, 2010

I generally try to take a zen-like approach to my photography where I calmly survey the scene before me, take my time to find a composition, and then wait for the good light to hit. That was absolutely not the case on this cold October morning. After a 2 am departure and a 4.5 hour manic drive to Yosemite, my friends and I arrived at Tioga pass as the new day was dawning. Leaping out of the warm car into the 15°F chill of daybreak at 10,000 feet, we sprinted down to Tioga Lake, scrambling to find compositions as night turned to day. I was lucky enough to spy this beautiful crack in a rock out in the lake. Gingerly placing a few stepping stones before me, I made my way out to the split rock as the sky filled up with pink and purple light.

Lovely Light = Lovin’ Life

Half Dome and Sentinel Rocks from Columbia Rock, Yosemite National Park

Taken from Columbia Rock in Yosemite National Park on May 14th, 2010

I once heard that 85% of visitors to Yosemite never get more then a quarter-mile from their vehicles. Incredible, I know, but it means that even with just a little bit of extra effort you can get to places that not that many people see, which makes for some rewarding photography. On this afternoon I sped up the Upper Yosemite Falls trail and stopped for awhile at Columbia Rock, which provides a fantastic, lesser-seen viewpoint of Yosemite Valley. Luckily for me, the light was beautiful, and it put me in a great mood for the rest of my hike.

Room with a View

Room with a View

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken from above the Upper Yosemite Falls trail in Yosemite, on May 14th, 2010

Finding a unique viewpoint in Yosemite Valley to photograph is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Nevertheless, that’s what I set out to do this evening in May. I had a vague idea for a shot which included two valley icons, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome, so I set out along the upper falls trail, unsure of what I would find. After about three miles of hiking, I turned to find an incredible vista of Half Dome and the roaring Falls. Unfortunately, the base of the upper falls was blocked from sight by vegetation. I solved that problem by (perhaps foolishly) climbing about 60 feet up the granite cliffs behind me and shimmying out onto a small ledge, which while slightly terrifying, gave me the clear view I needed to capture this image.

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In the Presence of Giants

Tenaya Lake, Pywiack dome, Medlicott Dome, Yosemite National Park

Taken near Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park on August 31st, 2009

Slightly less visited, but no less dramatic than Yosemite Valley, Tenaya Lake is a classic high Sierra lake: tranquil blue waters surrounded my massive granite monoliths. After a short backpacking trip to Cathedral Lakes, I was headed home along highway 120 when the smoky, partly cloudy sky at Olmstead Point caught my eye. After shooting there for a while, I turned around to see the clouds sending undulations of light across the lake and its surrounding peaks and domes, and knew I had to capture this scene as well.

 

Cathedral Peak

Cathedral Peak

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at Upper Cathedral Lake, Yosemite National Park on August 30th, 2009

Living and working at sea level makes life tricky in the high country. Even though this was my second day of backpacking at the Cathedral Lakes, and should have been somewhat acclimated to the altitude, my unaccustomed lungs were still sucking wind as I clambered around the bluffs above Upper Cathedral Lake shooting the incredible alpenglow that glazed Cathedral Peak. Of course, part of the reason for my dizzy spells and headache could have been the thick smoke wafting through the Yosemite high country thanks to the Wildcat Fire burning near Foresta, some 30 miles to the west. And even though the smoke made my lungs burn and found me dizzily shooting from the tops of 100-foot bluffs, I couldn’t complain too much as the setting sun shined through the haze to cast a vivid red light on the top of Cathedral Peak.

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Lofty Heights

Chiswell Islands and jagged mountains in Resurrection Bay, Seward, Alaska

Taken near the Chiswell Islands, Resurrection Bay, Alaska, on August 16th, 2009

Alaska is one of those surreal places of the planet: a place that has scenery so breathtaking it seems impossible. The peaks in Resurrection Bay aren’t particularly high, but their sharp spires and glacier-covered flanks make them seem unassailable. I wanted to enhance this fairy-tale, unreachable quality of the mountains, so I placed the warmer, gentler, rocky slopes of the Chiswell Islands in the foreground of the photo to provide a stark contrast to those looming crags off in the distance.

 

Lenticular Masquerade

Lenticular cloud and lupines, Gareloi Volcano, Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Taken on Gareloi Volcano, Aleutian Islands, Alaska on June 24th, 2009

Gareloi Island has clouds like no place else I’ve ever been. Clouds of all shapes, sizes, layers, and colors. Lenticular clouds formed above neighboring Tanaga Volcano constantly, but despite the similarities between Tanaga and Gareloi, we never had any lenticulars, just clouds like this weird, orb-shaped one. I finally got it when my girlfriend, Mel, pointed out that this was in fact a lenticular, just seen from underneath.

Aleutian Afternoon

Gareloi Volcano, Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Taken near the summit of Gareloi Volcano, Aleutian Islands, Alaska on July 23rd, 2009

A slog. That’s what the trek up to the top of Gareloi Volcano was: a vertical mile of knee-high grass, treacherous talus, and shifting snow. And despite my group’s steady pace, the summit never seemed to get any closer. When we finally did near the top, we were stopped dead by a steep slope of impossibly crumbly rock and icy snow. Since we didn’t have any technical climbing gear with us, we decided to stop where we were and savor the vista: an awesome view of Gareloi’s ever-steaming South Crater backed by the beautiful northern Pacific and the islands of Kavalga, Ulak, Amatignak, and Unalga.

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Banner Peak over Garnet Lake

Banner Peak over Garnet Lake

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at Garnet Lake beneath Banner Peak in the Ansel Adams Wilderness on July 27th, 2008

Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine how beautiful certain places on the planet can be. Garnet Lake in the high Sierra, with its clear, clean waters, pond-studded granite peninsulas, and spectacular backdrop, is one of those places. While camped there in the summer of 2008, I got up early one morning to find Garnet’s waters glassed-out to a mirror’s smoothness and the sun’s rays diffused warmly over Banner Peak, all of which made for an amazing photo-op.

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