Last month my older brother and I planned a long overdue backpacking weekend up in Yosemite, to retrace some of the steps we took 19 years ago in Tenaya Canyon.  It was a fun badly-needed three days of nothing but hiking, camping, and photographing amongst granite and pines.We spent the first afternoon in thick fog, backpacking our way up a steep granite dome near Olmsted Point, the second day cross-country backpacking down its wide, long arête then navigating down another steep granite wall into Tenaya Canyon.  We sat and ate lunch on a granite slope dipping our feet in a small pool of rainwater, and as the afternoon light began to fade, we set off searching for a campsite for our second night out.  Working our way through a dense forest and criss-crossing the almost dry Tenaya Creek, we decided to each take a side and see who might find the optimal location to set up camp.  After a few minutes my brother yelled out, “this looks like a nice spot”, and I meandered over to inspect it.  The campsite was perfect – just 25 feet or so from Tenaya Creek, one flat area next to some pines perfect for a tent, a few logs positioned nicely as chairs, and a round glacial erratic granite boulder with a small fire ring built into the side- ironically the only evidence of a past campsite we found in the canyon, yet easy to overlook.

After setting up camp, building a fire, shooting sunset over Half Dome, and cooking dinner, the stars began to appear at twilight.  As we sat cooking apple sausage over the first, I broke out my gear again to see what I might capture that evening.  I soon realized the scene I wanted was to include the campfire, the granite boulder, and the stars, but I wasn’t sure which angle would work best.  After setting up a few shots moving around the erratic, and settled in on a view that would include the campfire.  Understanding exposure well (having written a book on the subject), I knew I’d have to wait for the fire to dwindle down to a small glow in order to have its exposure match the faint glow of ambient light from the stars above.  

When that moment came, I mounted my Nikon D800E DSLR onto my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and Acratech GP ballhead, attached my 12-24mm lens, framed a vertical composition, and began shooting, alternating between ISO 800 all the way up to ISO 3200.  The campfire was still too bright, so while waiting patiently I thought of another idea – to use the light from my headlamp to illuminate the area surrounding the boulder, to add depth and dimension to the foreground.  Firing my shutter for the long exposure, I would move to the right of the boulder, turn on my headlamp, “paint” the area quickly with light, shut it off, then wait for the exposure to complete.  With each frame, I fine-tuned my light painting to make it look as natural and subtle as possible.  This was the result:

 

The orange glow of a campfire blazing against the granite boulder glacier erratic, below the star-filled night sky including The Milky Way, Pleiades (bottom right- also known as Seven Sisters, Messier object 45 or M45, an open star cluster), Cassiopeia (upper middle left –  a constellation in the northern sky), and the Andromeda Galaxy (upper right – a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth, also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224).  I exposed this scene with my lens set at 18mm, in manual mode, spot metering, for 15.0 seconds using f/4.0 at ISO 1600.

Granite is my all-time favorite type of rock.  There is an energy it gives off that makes me feel so happy.  If I had a previous life, I must have slept on it staring up at the stars because it always feels like home.  Fittingly, granite is an igneous rock, which means “born from fire”, red hot fluid rock that cooled slowly allowing crystals to form within it. So maybe a mimicked nature’s creation with my own creation.


I call this image my ode to Stephen Lyman.  Stephen was a painter who works I greatly admire.  I recall falling in love with his romantic rugged scenes of the Sierra, small campfires glowing at twilight surrounded by granite landscapes.  Sadly he died what he loved doing, off on another trek to find new inspiration, his body recovered from a rocky ledge near the Cathedral Rocks area of Yosemite National Park in 1996.  An experienced outdoorsman, he was only 38.  If you’d like to view some of his great works of art, visit: http://lymanprints.com/

 
I look forward to making a very large print and matting and framing it for our living room.  Hopefully the photo will sell well in my image library, maybe as a magazine cover someday, definitely as a fine art print.  Regardless, it’s one I’m proud to have captured, and a memory with my brother I’ll never forget.
 
For more on experiences in Tenaya Canyon, check out my September blog post talking about our trip 19 years ago: http://www.the-photoguru.blogspot.com/#!http://the-photoguru.blogspot.com/2012/09/into-tenaya-canyons-abyss.html

A fellow photographer and colleague recently posted this link on his Facebook page and it caught my eye.  A Dad and his daughter were recently rescued in Yosemite when they got trapped in this dangerous valley I once photographed – check out the article to read more: http://www.nps.gov/yose/blogs/Stranded-Hikers-Rescued-from-Tenaya-Canyon.htm
 
When in nature, one wrong decision can turn into an ordeal, a lot of extra work, stress and exhaustion, or worse- severe injury or death.


What caught my attention was the location of where these hikers were rescued from – Tenaya Canyon.  Tenaya Canyon is an area just East of Yosemite Valley, slightly rising above and gradually continuing up toward Tenaya Lake in a series of steep climbs, thousands of feet below Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest, and Mount Watkins.  It’s the one area on the topographical maps of Yosemite and the Sierra labeled “Hiking in Tenaya Canyon is dangerous and not recommended”; and it’s one of the spots my brother and I found ourselves in one long backpacking weekend.

Here are a few shots of Tenaya Canyon from different vantage points:

Below: Two views of Tenaya Canyon from Cloud’s Rest, 5000 feet above – the first, a panorama of the canyon, and the second of the last section near Yosemite Valley (at bottom right)
 
Below: Two sunset/ dusk views of Tenaya Canyon below Half Dome from Olmsted Point
Below: A glacier carved Tenaya Canyon carving through the Sierra toward Half Dome (the black & white in morning light, and the color version at sunset) as seen from Mount Watkins (smoke from a distant forest fire rolls overhead)
 

John Muir wrote about this area in his story “A Geologist’s Winter Walk“, hiking up the canyon from Mirror Lake.  He writes I thought, a fast and a storm and a difficult canyon were just the medicine I needed.  It’s a good read as is any of his jaunts into the mountains.  In Muir’s words (which I edited down a bit), This canyon is accessible only to mountaineers…After I had passed the tall groves…and scrambled around the Tenaya Fall…ascending a precipitous rock front, smoothed by glacial action, when I suddenly fell — for the first time since I touched foot to Sierra rocks. After several somersaults, I became insensible from the shock, and when consciousness returned I found myself wedged among short, stiff bushes, trembling as if cold, not injured in the slightest.  Judging by the sun, I could not have been insensible very long; probably not a minute, possibly an hour; and I could not remember what made me fall, or where I had fallen from; but I saw that if I had rolled a little further, my mountain climbing would have been finished, for just beyond the bushes the canyon wall steepened and I might have fallen to the bottom. 

And then he writes a line I just love, and one that has become our silly mantra in the outdoors (and in other venues of life) was one he wrote after falling and knocking himself unconscious navigating the treacherous narrow canyon.  

I felt degraded and worthless. 

As in classic Muir fashion, he made it up through the canyon and returned to Yosemite Valley a few days later via a safer route.


By cool efforts, along glassy, ice-worn slopes, I reached the upper end in a little over a day, but was compelled to pass the second night in the gorge…I escaped from the gorge about noon, after accomplishing some of the most delicate feats of mountaineering I ever attempted.

I hadn’t read this account of the canyon before my brother and I took our August trip, but I wished I had.  We headed off on a three-day backpacking trip, not completely planned out, starting with a 7.2 mile trek up to Cloud’s Rest from Tenaya Lake.  We were either going to camp at Cloud’s Rest and return the next day, or spend another day out there somewhere – either heading to the valley or to another high country location.  Not growing up together, it was our first backcountry trip as brothers, so it was special.

Here are a few images I documented along our three-day journey.  The first (below) is a sea of smooth granite curved into a bowl-shaped depression as if from a cirque glacier, captured just down from the Cloud’s Rest trail in an area known as the First Rock Bowl.  This was after we spent a night atop 9,930 foot summit of Cloud’s Rest.  Heading back toward Lake Tenaya, we veered off the trail and cross-country hiked to get here, no designated trail leading us. 


It was a magical spot – Tenaya Creek trickling through various bowls of water we sat next to.  We plan on heading back here in the next month or so – it’s been too long.

 


At this point, we decided to head toward Yosemite Valley somehow. I had some knowledge Tenaya Canyon didn’t have a trail leading to the valley, so we headed West.  

This fourth image was shot as we head over a ridge cross-country from the First Rock Bowl to a dry creek bed just south of Olmsted Point.  Familiar with my surroundings, I had an idea where we were going, but without a more detailed topo map (mine covered the general area), I didn’t know if we’d hit a trail that would lead us to the valley.


This second day grew long and after climbing up and down a few ridges, we came to a dry creek and followed it to the edge overlooking Tenaya Canyon and across to Half Dome, Quarter Domes, and where we started our day on Cloud’s Rest.  It was a great view but we knew we couldn’t enjoy it for too long because we had to make a decision.  Filled with an adventurous spirit, my brother wanted to head down into the rugged dry river bed, packed thick with granite boulders.  But it looked steep and was the unknown.  I had a bit more backpacking experience and felt uneasy with this choice, but after some discussion of our options agreed with the route.  I told him if we reached any places we felt were points of no return (such as a place were we might be able to get down, but not back up), then we’d turn back.  My fear was we couldn’t see the entire route down, and if it appeared more hazardous than we thought, without ropes or any rock climbing experience, it could be extremely dangerous.  We were also very low on water and expected this river to be one of our fill-up spots.

The rest of the afternoon was spent maneuvering through the boulder-ridden dry river bed, passing our backpacks down to each other as to be as balanced and safe as possible.  We even past an airplane engine, crumbled and rusted from a crash in 1958.  Soon the sun set and it grew too dark and dangerous to continue- even with headlamps.  We had to settle in for the night, in a cramped sandy area too small to even set up our two-man tent.  From this vantage point, we could see Pywiack Cascade flowing 600 feet over a granite lip into Lost Valley.  The base looked to be only a couple of hundred feet down it, maybe 15-20 minute away, but we weren’t even sure we could get there.  We were tempted to continue just for the mere fact our water bottles were now empty.  Without any water for dinner, we ate what food we could and crashed for the night, our throats parched and our spirits a bit dampened.

Daybreak couldn’t come any sooner.  As soon as the first light gave us enough to see, we packed up and continued our scramble down toward the pool of water at the base of the waterfall.  All we had were potable water pills, and the ten minute wait to purify the water was torturous.  When you run out of water and you’re thirsty, boy you appreciate it all the more.  At this point there was still some descent but the valley widened and flattened out, and I was a bit relieved.



Here we stood near the bottom of Pywiack Cascade that morning, deep in Tenaya Canyon looking toward Half Dome at the start of Lost Valley (below).  The image above looking at the Pywiack’s pool and the ridge high up from where we came- little did we know what was ahead.



We played around a bit, then followed Tenaya Creek from the waterfall down into the V-shaped valley, and soon most of the creek seemed to sneak underground as the river bed turned mostly dry, which made it a bit easier to hike through instead of the thick foliage on each side.  Piles of bear scat dotted the valley, a bit unnerving since I knew these bears were probably from Yosemite Valley and less nervous to approach people.  I also had a feeling this rocky dry river bed was the calm before the storm.  I kept saying to myself, this looks easy but where ever this creek comes out, I have a feeling it might not be a good place for us.

Sure enough after a few hours zig-zagging through the rock bed, we came to a sandy area, and just beyond a few large granite boulders (most likely glacier erratics) we came to a place I call “The Gorge of Death”.  A steep drop-off where Tenaya Creek burst out and down into an overhanging gorge, unnavigable without serious climbing experience.  Any hopes of getting to Yosemite Valley, which felt all too close, were dashed.  It was Sunday mid-day and knew we had to decide what to do, but it wasn’t much of a decision – the only option was to hike back to our car at Tenaya Lake, miles away and thousands of feet above.  As we made our way back, a creek bed to our right looked easier and more inviting, but we decided against it, figuring the route we came down was the one we knew best – it was doable and predictable albeit hard.

Below: Retracing our steps back up Tenaya Canyon through the relatively dry Tenaya Creek
 


So we spent the rest of the day retracing our steps, filling our bottles at the bottom of Pywiack Cascade, and after a long hike up a few thousand feet in elevation gain, scrambling up the dry river bed, and over a number of false summits, we finally made it back to Olmsted Point – almost out of water again, beat, yet a bit relieved to have no major incidents.  Ahhhhh.  Off with my backpack, remove the boots and socks, guzzle down a gallon of water, smile, hitchhike back to our car in Yosemite Valley, and drive on home.

I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Lost Valley – maybe above it where it’s safer and more accessible, but not all the way down into Tenaya Canyon.  It was an adventure, but one that could have easily turned bad.  With a little luck, being extremely careful when my inner voice was telling me to heed the warnings, we had a special memory instead of a nightmare.

Below: A ridge above Olmsted Point at dusk

For more on navigating Tenaya Canyon, take serious caution, don’t travel alone, know what you’re doing, tell someone where you’re going, take lots of water, and see the route description at: http://www.summitpost.org/tenaya-canyon/160152


15Nov

Join me on a nature shoot- December in the Sierras

For anyone interested, I’m planning to capture winter scenes in Yosemite National Park, the Alabama Hills (outside of Lone Pine) and in Death Valley sometime in December – creating new images and research for a few upcoming books and workshops.

If you are interested in joining me for three days of shooting, sunrises and sunsets, for a small fee ($250/person – 10 person limit) contact me via email.

This isn’t a planned event or workshop with a specific agenda. I’ll simply share my thoughts on photographing the outdoors while we shoot, talk about equipment tips, and so on. We’ll capture images together, you can watch how I work if you wish, see the gear I carry, and talk all about photography. I’ll also sign my Exposure book (if you bought one of my books, bring it along & I’ll sign it- and I’ll have copies with me).

We’ll have a great time in some beautiful locations.

This is something I did last January. I invited a group to join me in Yosemite to photograph for a day while I captured images for my new book on nature photography. They paid a $100 fee to join me that day, I had eight people, and they all loved the experience (thankfully)- said it was well worth it. I shared a ton on photography, but it’s a bit different since I’m shooting images (instead of a workshop where I would focus more on students and their equipment and needs).

So here’s the plan this time around. I envisioned a 3-day road trip photo shoot – first in Yosemite, then off to Lone Pine (Alabama Hills), then finally in Death Valley – one day in each (and some travel of course between locations). We could all shoot together and learn from me, just as long as the group knows I’ll be shooting as well most of the time (I reiterate this only because some think I’m solely there for them). It’s actually a great way to learn, and a way preferred by many, but again different from my normal workshops.

SCHEDULE (somewhat flexible depending on weather & how tired we all might be)

Day 1: We’d meet in Yosemite on the first day at sunrise, shoot all day ’til sunset, have dinner together & spend the night, then head off to Lone Pine (probably the next morning).

Day 2: Shoot sunrise again, drive to Lone Pine/ Alabama Hills, shoot sunset in Lone Pine/ Alabama Hills, spend the night.

Day 3: Shoot sunrise in Lone Pine/ Alabama Hills, then head off to Death Valley, shoot sunset

Day 4: Shoot sunrise, drive home

COST:
$250 per person (not including travel/ gas/ food/ car, etc) and I’d need a group of at least eight, ideally ten.

DATES:
Haven’t decided on specific dates yet, but thinking sometime around December 15th. I’m flexible – if dates worked for the majority of the group, then I’d try to work around that.

If you’re interested, contact me at:

Thank you and Happy early Thanksgiving!

20Dec

Join me on a nature shoot- January in Yosemite

For anyone interested, I’m planning to capture winter scenes in Yosemite National Park sometime in January- new images and research for my the book I’m currently writing.


Join me for a day of shooting, sunrise to sunset, for a small fee ($100/person – 10 person limit).

This isn’t a planned event or workshop with a specific agenda. I’ll simply share my thoughts on photographing nature while we shoot, talk about equipment tips, and so on. We’ll capture images together, you can watch how I work if you wish, see the gear I carry, I’ll sign your Exposure book (if you bought one of my books), and we’ll have a blast.

If you’re interested, contact me at:

Thank you and Happy Holidays!

10Sep

Time flies & love blooms when you haven’t blogged


Seconds turned into days turned into weeks- I haven’t blogged for almost a month- crazy.


The past month I shot a few assignments (built an on-location studio for a company in the North Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area, capturing 40 food & wine displays), taught an exposure course with a book signing at Book Passage in Corte Madera (a great bookstore in the Marin/ Mill Valley area), licensed some images to a few magazines and clients (a nice double-page spread of a Half Dome image which you’ll see in a few months), worked on two new books which I’m very excited about (out in 2010-2011), and sold five 30×50 prints to recruiting company. All while my girls started school- a busy August.

But what I wanted to write about was something I found out while lecturing at Book Passage. Two past workshop students came to take the class, told me they met at my weekend workshop two years earlier at Pt Reyes, and ended up falling in love- now married- they said, I could add ‘match-maker’ to my list of accomplishments. I was tickled pink (when was the last time you heard that term?!). Actually, it really was a cool thing to hear. As we all go through our daily grinds, move through our busy lives, setting up events, meetings, goals, we rarely consider how it might affect other lives.

When I plan my workshop presentations, I think of all the experience and knowledge I’ve gained through my 19-year career, and how I can add specific images and information into my lectures and field notes to help photographic enthusiasts improve their skills – to help them learn how to communicate with their cameras better. But I don’t think I ever imagined two people meeting at one of my events and deciding to spend the rest of their lives together. It doesn’t seem far fetched, but I just never thought of it.

So here’s to photography bringing more love to the world – in the day and age of glorifying ridiculous rude behavior on tv, where wars continue to tear lives apart, where corporate greed runs rampant, and where a wealthy country like the US can’t find a way to take care of its own, I seems like we could use a bit more love.

eHarmony, eat your heart out.