During the 2022 – 2023 winter, the Sierra Nevada was pummeled by storms. In fact, it ended up being the snowiest winter in recorded history, with the southern Sierra receiving over 280% of its average snowfall. Even places that rarely see snow, such as the town of Lone Pine, were getting coated white.
But unlike storms in places like the Pacific Northwest which can go on consistently for week after gray week, storms in the Southern Sierra are always dynamic. This is due in part to the extreme geology of the area. In the span of barely a hundred miles, the elevation drops from 14,500 feet at the top of the Sierra crest to 282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin. In between the Sierra and Badwater there are two major and two minor mountain ranges (the Inyo, Panamint, Coso, and Argus ranges), which force the storms into bizarre contortions.
Having observed this atmospheric chaos for many years, I know that even during the wildest storms, the high peaks of the Southern Sierra can emerge from the clouds at any moment. I have also learned that breaks between storms are likely to showcase stunning light and mood. Thus, whenever I see stormy weather arriving I grab my camera and go photograph.
During mid-January 2023, storms were crashing over the Southern Sierra day after day. Each morning during the storm cycle I woke early to make the drive to one of my favorite viewpoints of the mountains. And each morning I was treated to a spectacular atmospheric show: high wispy clouds one morning, lenticular clouds the next, dappled light the third.
On this particular morning I arrived on location to see the mountains draped in wreaths of low cloud. The way the atmosphere danced around the peaks blew my mind and I began to sense the potential for a spectacular photograph. As I watched the mountains, I saw that Lone Pine Peak kept appearing and disappearing into the clouds like a granite mirage.
I couldn’t pull my attention away from this marvelous show, and I knew this could be an incredible focal point for a photograph. Ignoring the rest of the scene, I used my long lens to zoom into 400 mm, isolating the highest peaks and ridges of the mountain. As the atmosphere swirled, I waited for just the right moment. The clouds parted, sunlight streamed across the mountain, and the top of Lone Pine Peak emerged. I triggered my shutter and captured this image.