On the High Sierra Route

In August I returned to the Ansel Adams Wilderness for a 3-night/4-day backpacking loop, visiting several high lakes along the Sierra Crest. My favorite Milky Way shot of the previous trip was slightly blurred and I wanted to do better. I returned to the same location for the first night. For the photo below, I took a series of 12 shots for the sky at 11pm. After that, I went back to sleep until 1:30am, at which time I took another shot as the rising crescent moon cast its soft light on the landscape.


The second day took us on cross-country route over two passes and into a wonderful glacial valley filled with cascading waterfalls and late-season flowers.

Morning Bouquet

One of the highlights of the 3rd day was climbing down a challenging pass. Another was approaching this high lake-filled basin (pictured below).

On the Trail

Before leaving on our 4th day, I ventured around the lake looking for photo opportunities. The picture below is a four-photo hand-held panorama stitch.

Granite Peak Reflections

I have many more photos from this trip. Click here to see them.

Ansel Adams Wilderness

In July I revisited one of my favorite places in the Ansel Adams Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. To get here requires backpacking about 8 miles. For this trip, I brought my good camera and tripod, adding about 8 pounds to my 3-night backpack. I timed the trip for dark nights in order capture the Milky Way rising over the mountains. I would take my photo in two parts. Before the moon rose, I would capture the Milky Way in the dark sky. After it rose, I would take another shot with the moon’s light illuminating the landscape. I got was I was looking for on this trip and more – waterfalls, afternoon storms and beautiful sunsets.

We had a perfect campsite on the lake. Directly up the hill, I could see the places from which I wanted to capture the Milky Way. It was a high prominence along the John Muir Trail. My route to get there, however, would not be on a trail, but straight up the steep hillside in the dead of night. I made the journey in the the afternoon to check things out.

Stormy Afternoon

Back in camp, I took some rest and missed most of a lightning storm. The storm cleared out as sunset approached, leaving just enough clouds to create an amazing sunset! I wandered around the shore of a small cove on the lake in bliss, soaking in the warm colors. After most of the color passed, I looked at my friend perched nearby on a rock. We nodded agreement that it had been an amazing scene.

Creamy Golden Sunset
Giant Toes

Around midnight, I woke to my alarm and headed up the hill. I got to the viewpoint by 12:30 and set up for my shot. Focusing at night is a challenge. Even knowing what is in the camera’s viewfinder at night is a challenge. To solve this I take test shots, reviewing the shot on the back of the camera, and then re-adjusting where the camera is pointing. Check and re-adjust until I like what I see. Eventually, I took a series of twelve 13-second shots to capture the Milky Way. Next, I had to wait for over an hour for the crescent moon to rise. Luckily it was a warm night (around 45° F), …warm when wearing a down jacket, beanie and gloves. It was so peaceful sitting quietly under the stars. At 3 am, the 17% moon was finally high enough to cast a soft light on the landscape. I took a 4 minute exposure for this shot.

Moonlight and Milky Way

The next day, after staying up most of the night, I was ready to take it easy. We took our time, photographing scenes along the shore of the lake. It was wonderful to have no destination – just a camera and a sense of exploration. The falls below are part of a creek that runs into the lake. When I arrived the skies beyond the falls were mostly blue with scattered clouds. I took a rest in the trees and when I got up, dark clouds filled sky. I took some more photos of the falls and continued up the river toward the pass. Such a beautiful area!!! It was hard to turn around, but with thunder rumbling and a light rain falling, I decided to head back to camp.

Thunder Falls

Click here to see more photos from this trip.