John Muir Wilderness
Luxury Archival Metal Print
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Taken at Ediza Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California on July 23rd, 2023

Ediza Lake is one of the most beautiful locations in the High Sierra, sitting in a cradle deep under one of the most famous sky lines in the area: the Minarets on one side, Ritter and banner on the other. Yet despite the extraordinary scenic beauty of the place, it has often challenged me to produce a strong photograph. On most of my trips to the location I’ve had crystal clear skies, howling winds, or some other factor that has made it a challenge to come home with a portfolio quality image. But in the summer of 2023 my luck finally changed. Thanks to the massive snowfall of the preceding winter, the High Sierra was covered with snow late into July. Many of the high country lakes were frozen solid months past the date when they normally would be swimmable and fishable. This situation was one of the most unique that I can remember in all of my years of backpacking in the range, and I spent as much time as possible that summer trekking through the mountains. So when my good buddy and fellow photographer Miles Weaver invited me to join him on a two-night exploration of the Ansel Adams wilderness it took no convincing for me to say yes.

Departing from a trailhead near Mammoth Lakes, Miles and I trekked in the half day to Lake Eliza on good trail. As soon as we reached the shore of the lake however, it was like summer ended and wintery emerged. The entire lake was surrounded by feet of snow and the lake itself was still nearly two-thirds frozen over. We set up our camp on one of the few spits of rock emerging from the snow and spent the next 36 hours exploring this winter wonderland in the middle of summer. Despite the huge amounts of snow and ice, the weather was absolutely perfect, and we spent our nights sleeping out under the stars in beautifully warm and comfortable conditions.

We woke early final morning of our trek to find the sky riddled with puffy clouds. Seeing breaks to the east we sensed that that morning slight show could be spectacular. The main question I had at the moment was where to photograph, as we had discovered endless beautiful compositions during our previous day’s rambles. However, one commonality of all these compositions was that they either featured the Minarets, or Ritter and Banner, but not all of them at once. With the promise of a great light show at hand, I decided to attempt a photograph that would feature all of the mountains towering above the lake. Strapping on my crampons, I set out from camp and circumnavigated the lake until I reached its eastern shore. This vantage point afforded me a spectacular view of the Minarets and Ritter and Banner. However, there was still something amiss. The lake had a thin skin of ice on top of it that was distorting and obscuring the reflection of the mountains.

I knew that the mountains would be doubly impactful if I could showcase their reflection in a photograph, so I got to work clearing a patch of ice. I went into the forest and grabbed the longest branch that I could carry. I brought it back to the lake and used it to break through all of the ice along the shore. Then using the branch like a broom I swept the shards of ice out of the way to the left and to the right until I had opened up a small patch of water approximately eight feet wide and four feet across. By squatting down and putting my tripod as low as possible, I was just able to squeeze the reflection of the mountains into this open patch of water. However, the scene was so grandiose that it exceeded the wide angle capabilities of my 14 mm lens. I knew a panorama was the answer.

Flipping my camera to its vertical orientation and leveling my tripod, I watched as the sun rose and turned the clouds pink, and then disappeared. At first, I was afraid that I had missed the decisive moment of the morning. But then I saw that higher in the sky direct light was striking the clouds with a ferocious burning intensity. I knew that as the sun rose that light would slip down the clouds and eventually strike the mountains. I watched as the light dropped lower and lower, and finally the moment I had been waiting for arrived. The sun’s early morning beams struck the Minarets, Ritter and Banner like a fire hose of light. Spinning my camera from left to right, I snapped a sequence of photos at the moment of peak beauty. I knew the photos had potential, but it wasn’t until I successfully stitched them together in post-processing to reveal this panorama, that I knew I had finally captured this magnificent lake in the way that it deserved to be seen.

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