Little Lakes Valley

Little Lakes Valley is one the places in the eastern Sierra Mountains that draws me back again and again. I have backpacked through it, camped at its lakes in both summer and winter, and climbed one of its peaks. On this day I arrived in camp at about 4 PM during a typical afternoon thunderstorm. At around 6 PM, most of the rain had stopped and I hiked into the valley. I arrived on the rocky knoll below around 7 PM.

Peaceful Knoll, 7:16 PM (taken with mobile phone while scouting compositions)
Mountain Spires, 7:58 PM

The first quarter moon was setting behind the ridges on the west side of the valley. I checked the PhotoPills app which showed that twilight ended and night time began at 9:45 PM. It also showed the Milky Way would be visible over Bear Creek Spire at that time. I decided I would stay. At around 9 PM, an hour after sunset, I found a composition and started by taking several beautiful shots throughout twilight as the clouds cleared.

Twilight Stories II, 8:56 PM
Under the Night Sky, composite, landscape at 9:38 PM and sky at 9:45 PM (12 shots)

After sunset the moon was completely hidden behind the ridges on the west side of the valley, but cast a glow on the opposite ridges and the clouds (in the photo above).

Window to Forever, composite. Sky at 10:10 PM (twelve 15-second shots at ISO 10,000). Landscape at 10:20 PM, I (one long 4.5-minute shot at ISO 1600).

I found myself standing on the top of this rocky knoll in the dark with a steep drop-off a few feet away. The thought of a wrong step was sobering and made me careful with my footing as I moved in the dark. To give you a sense of how close I was to the edge, I include the shot below. My tripod was set up in front of the two small puddles.

Perfectly Misplaced

I returned on the following evening , initially checking out a different location. After spending some time there, I returned to the rocky rise above the lake to try some other compositions.

Bridge to Wild Places

In June of 1997, I climbed Mount Dade with my good friend Gary. We probably camped the night before at the Treasure Lakes. It was a snow climb up the Hourglass Couloir, which I read here gets up to a 40° angle. In the picture below, the Hourglass Couloir has no snow. Click on the photo below to enlarge and see the names and elevations of the peaks. I climbed Mount Dade again in June 2011, but only as far as the top of the couloir.

Twilight Peaks

To see the rest of the photos from this trip, click here.

Sentinel of Tuolumne Peak

I am about to announce the details of a 2022 calendar that is available to purchase. Since this is my first calendar, I chose some of my favorite photos from the past 10 years with a focus on California vistas.

Creating a calendar has been a great learning experience for me. This is the first time I have committed to printing a collection of photos. In preparing the images, I printed each one at home and had to make various edits to get them to look as good on paper as I thought they looked on a computer screen.

Another fun aspect of creating this calendar was going through my archives, re-living past experiences, and re-editing photos with my current improved skills.

For this post, I would like to share the story behind one photo in the calendar, the Sentinel of Tuolumne (below), taken on August 3, 2012 just before sunset.

Sentinel of Tuolumne Peak, Yosemite National Park (Prints Available)

To get to Tuolumne Peak you start at the May Lake trailhead in Yosemite National Park. The first two miles are on a trail, but after that the rest of the route is cross-country up the open, rocky slope of the mountain. For climbers, it would probably be considered class 2, a steep walk or scramble.

On August 2, 2012 I made my first trip to the peak with a couple of friends that had been there before and offered to take me to lead the way. I loved that most of the way was off trail. Once on the peak, the views were stunning. I must have looked around for where I might camp if I wanted to spend the night, because that is what I did a few days later.

Edge on Tuolumne Peak – August 2, 2012

On the following day we headed to Olmsted Point at for sunset and hiked up the glacier-polished granite slabs near the turn-out. We didn’t have to walk far to have tremendous views.

Granite Slabs – near Olmsted Point

Looking north, we had a clear view of Tuolumne Peak and the cross-country route in the distance.

Tuolumne Peak’s Anvil – Tuolumne Peak is the high prominence on the right. August 3, 2012

A few days later, on August 6, the weather looked good and I decided to hike up to the peak on my own and spend the night so I could be in place to roll out of my sleeping bag and take photos at sunset and sunrise. The Sentinel of Tuolumne Peak was taken just as the sun was setting at 7:53 PM, with the landscape glowing gold. There was probably a fire some place, not too distant, that added wisps of smoke to the sparse clouds.

The next photo was taken after sunset, at 8:22 PM. The landscape was still reflecting the beautiful colors of sunset. I think the peak in the center background is Mount Hoffman, another great peak to climb in Yosemite. There is a trail all the way to the top of that one.

Serrated Ridges – Mount Hoffman, Yosemite National Park, August 6, 2012 (Prints Available)
Backcountry view of northern Yosemite National Park from Tuolumne Peak, August 6, 2012
Looking toward the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne

I didn’t get any photos overnight, but I remember being amazed at seeing the lights of the Central California Valley far to the west. The following morning I was up well before sunrise. I took some sunrise photos, but they’re not worth sharing. Below you can see the flat section of the peak where I was able to set up camp.

Tuolumne Peak Camp, August 7, 2012 at 5:39 AM
Camp Chair, 6:50 AM
Central Yosemite, August 7, 2012

As I started down from the peak I captured the shot above. May Lake is on the right with Half Dome behind it. Tenaya Lake is on the left. The Clark Range is near the center on the horizon.

The last photo here is a view looking back at the cross-country route to the peak.

Cross-Country Route to the Peak, August 7, 2012

To see more from this adventure, click here.