Day Trip To Yosemite National Park (5/20/2017)

Yesterday, I and Naresh made a day trip to Yosemite (5/20/2017). Valley is teeming with dogwood bloom, thundering waterfalls, joyous Merced flow and unfortunetely with lots of crowds. No, I’m not antisocial. As soon as we entered Yosemite valley floor, we were stuck in traffic on southside drive. It took 2 1/2 hours from Pohono bridge to Curry village (yes, I’ll continue to call it curry village. I’m not calling it halfdome village), which generally take 10 min.  So, we are obviously miserable. We roamed around at bank of Merced near housekeeping camp  (below picture). But did not feel like staying in the valley for long.

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It took another hour to cross Yosemite falls from Curry village (which takes 5 min. generally). But as we crossed yosemite falls traffic was better on Northside drive. So we stopped at Valley view and settled to enjoy the sunset.

Initially, I did not bother to shoot, but as I saw water shimmering in reflected light, I couldn’t resist. It was amazing play of light and rushing water.

Few pictures

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This is why, I like to avoid crowds !

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Happy clicking
Swamy

Iceland Winter 2017 Trip

When you hear the name Iceland, a thought of being there in winter sends shivers down the spine. Snow dominant sceneries comes to our mind. That being true to some extent, Iceland is more than just ice. In fact, the expression “Ice and Fire” is well suites to Iceland than any other place. Greens of highlands, blues of glaciers, dark shades of black sand beaches and beautiful orange shades of sunrises/sunsets over warmer coast lines together define Iceland as crown jewel of natural beauty. Warmth and simplicity of Icelanders is the sparkle of that jewel.

My primary motivation of this visit is to photograph northern lights (Aurora Borealis) and ice caves. Aurora Borealis is green light (there can be other colors a well) that dances in the night skies of polar regions. Electrically charged particles from solar winds interact with oxygen and nitrogen atoms of Earth’s upper atmosphere cause these lights. I have seen photographs and movies, but never witnessed in person. Ice caves are formed in the glaciers, when water flows under glacial ice through cracks or crevasses and eventually widen the gap by eroding/melting ice. Those caves are amazing inside. Unfortunately, I could not see northern lights due to bad weather conditions. Also due to weeks of rain days, all ice caves are either flooded or roofs are collapsed. Ice caves form and collapse every year. You need to wear good micro-spikes (as below image) or crampons to walk on glaciers. If you have to walk on steep areas, carrying an ice axe is advised.

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This cave is formed at foot of the glacier with eroded soil. So the ice is mixed with mud and look black.

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The cave under construction (or may be towards destruction !)

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In contrast to my typical solo trips, I joined a photograph tour group in this trip. The eleven complete strangers that I met before the trip are now I can call friends for life. That itself is a great experience in this trip. Formula for such phenomena is that everyone in the group like same beer 😉 . Alban and Kasper (Tour leads) planned our locations dynamically based on weather conditions and Eidur drove us in Big Red to get locations on time.

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We stayed in south and south-east coastal areas only.

Seljalandsfoss  (Foss means water in Icelandic)

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Skógafoss
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Both these waterfalls are close to Eyjafjallajökull volcano (5466 ft.) that erupted in 2010.  Vík is the closet town to this area. Here is sunset image from black sand beach near Vík.

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Svínafellsjökull.

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Jökull means glacier in Icelandic. But this is just one of many tongues of Vatnajökull glacier.

We stayed near Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon for two days and spent three sunrises photographing ice bergs in beach. Melting glacial waters form lagoons at the foot of glacier tongues (Haa, tongues with feet !). Jökulsárlón is one of such lagoons. Glacial ice that is separated from the mass, floats way into ocean. Proximity of the lagoon to  the ocean makes it possible that ice bergs are pushed into ocean when wind blow in the right direction. Waves bring those ice bergs back on the beach and deposit them.  It was wonderful experience to photograph at this location. Infinitely beautiful and unique elements to work with. Photographers need to exercise high caution and alert all the time at this beach. Some of the ice bergs are half size of SUV. If you are not alert, just one big wave is enough to knock you down. As you go close to ocean, ensure that your path to retreat is free of ice bergs. I had several close calls (not me, but for my camera) to shoot below images. at Diamond beach. Images from Jökulsárlón and Diamonds beach

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Even though, we spent three days, I’m still longing to go back to this area.
Vestrahorn Mountains at Stokksnes.

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Glacial Rose…Sólheimajökull

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Gullfoss

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Interiors of Iceland will be more accessible in summer. I want to explore highlands of Iceland someday and return in winters to photograph northern lights and ice caves. I noticed that coastal Iceland is almost like arctic tundra. Only two kinds of tree that I noticed, which are also very sparse. Birch trees, which are not more than 7 to 8 feet. May be groups of 10 or 15 tress together. They look more shrub than tree at times. Also one kind of conifer. I did not get chance to investigate closely, but locals said, it’s Juniper. Again, these trees are also not very tall, may be 9 to 10 feet only. I hope, I’ll get chance to explore more of highlands and get to learn more of Iceland.

 

Happy Clicking…

Swamy

 

 

 

Backpacking trip to Dusy Basin

I planned this trip to complete section of John Muir Trail (JMT) between Le Conte Canyon and Charlotte Lake junction in 6 to 7 days. To access JMT, I have to hike 13 miles from South Lake of Bishop over Bishop pass (11970 ft.) and climb Mather, Pinchot and Glen passes and exit from Kearsarge Pass. Inyo national forest issues permit for back country hikes. I got permit for Sunday (9/4/2016). There is quota for each day to enter the wilderness. Once you start the hike,  you can stay in the wild as many days as you want. Permit quota is only for entry.

Here are notes from my journal.

Sept 4th 2016 (Sunday):

I realized last evening that I forgot to bring quick release plate for my tripod. I had to drive 12 hours straight to home and back for it. Penalty for not being diligent in packing. I reached back to Independence at 5:30AM. Took shower, finished other errands and reached South Lake trailhead at 10AM. I have been on Bishop pass for 4 times now. South lake is a familiar place, but this is the first time I ever the lake without bathtub rings. Bathtub rings are ridge lines form/visible around lake bank during drought years.

My progress on trail was slow. I started to feel the pack weight with in few miles. This is the heaviest pack (55+ lbs.) I ever carried. Since this is late in the season with dropping temperatures, I had to pack some extra layers. I also changed food this time. I packed mostly “ready to eat” Indian foods instead of dehydrated food. I took about 8 hrs to climb Bishop pass. I was tired to last bone. Sitting at camp now, I still don’t know, which factor mostly caused the disappointing progress; pack weight, acclimatization (or lack of sleep) or bad knees ?

I realized immediately that if I struggled for Bishop pass itself, Mather and Glen  passes on JMT does not forgive me. Those two are known among JMT hikers to be notorious. I climbed down about 800 ft. to Upper Dusy basin to camp for the day. It may be good to stay couple of days at Dusy basin and return. No JMT this year.

Sept 5th 2016 (Monday):

Nice day. I slept well last night. Lack of sleep previous night or physical strain of the day helped me sleep like a baby. Generally, first night at high elevation is difficult to sleep. I was still on cusp between continue on trail or return. Physical exhaustion is common even for a strong experienced hiker while climbing up these mountain passes. But exhaustion to an extend that makes it impossible for you to appreciate nature around, beats the objective of hiking.  I could not allow myself of such moral infringement by continuing on hike for the sake of reaching the end. As I always remind myself,  it’s about journey, not just the destination. So decided to spend a quiet day here and return tomorrow back to South lake.

I realized that I never spent a complete day at one location during my hikes before…What place is better than this for that experience. Placid lake at foothills of Palisades group that stood over 14000ft elevation. Palisades group has 4 peaks that are over 14000ft. Grey granite with white streaks. I always wonder about these streaks. They start on one mountain and continue as straight line on adjacent one at same angle. You can see them on Mt. Winchell in my pictures below. They are like mountain graffiti. The only graffiti, well, second best graffiti that I like. First graffiti artists (that I like) of course are my kids; as toddlers decorated walls with their master pieces. Later artist were punished by mom for scribbling…who understand art these days, isn’t it? Anyways, graffiti artist on these mountains, nature, does not do anything without purpose and reason.

I sat before lake with coffee and Kachori (Indian spicy snack, not backpacking weight, but what the heck). A swarm of very small white bugs busy flying in and out from water. I don’t know what those are. They did not bother me, so I did not move from that place. Then I observed there are lot of brown trout also near the bank. They are coming from bottom and catching bugs as they jump occasionally out of water. Some just poke their heads and go down quickly. It’s fun to watch these fish. As lakes start to freeze,  their survival is really a struggle and  miracle. They stay at deepest point and slow down the metabolism dramatically. Lack of oxygen   sometimes kill many fish during prolonged winters. Temperatures are already going low at this elevations. Last night, 1/2cm ice formed on top of water bucket. I could able to took it out of bucket without breaking ( See the picture below).

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Sept 6th 2016 (Tuesday):

I hiked back to south lake. I climbed back to bishop pass with normal speed and ease. My knees are still strained, but did not bother. My pack weight reduced with less food and acclimatization for two nights that may be what caused my misery other day. But good lesson. I saw a  bear, unfortunately it was pretty far (see picture below)

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Here are some pictures from this trip

Window with a view

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Happy hiking

Swamy

Crater Lake Snow Backpacking Trip

At times, I feel like a passenger in fast moving train on timeline. Zapping through days, weeks, months and years quickly. It just appears as a dream of yesterday. You put away due to lack of time. Years goes by, dream remains as dream. When it comes to physical abilities, age does not forgive anyone. You may age graciously, but you still age. Passing time can drift  you far away from your dreams. When old age called upon you, you need memories of moments that you followed your heart, than remorse  on list of unaccomplished dreams. Don’t put away your dreams. It never too late to throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover (Paraphrased Mark Twain words).

I have been longing to photograph Crater lake in winter for many years. It involves snow shoeing and backpacking in snow. Crater Lake gets on average 44 ft. of snow in a year. The lake formed when Volcano Mt. Mazama was blew off over 7700 years ago. I was under impression that road closes at Mazama Village at foothills for winter. Which means, one has to climb up 1100 ft. on snow to the rim and who knows how long to go around the rim for good views. So, I was putting this away to get proper training in back country survival skills in snow. I had to cancel the training last two seasons due to lack of time. Last week, I learned that road that leads to the rim is open in winter and people can snowshoe around the rim and camp anywhere on the way (at least a mile away from where you start). I did not want to push this to one more year. I have no experience in snow shoeing or snow camping. But you will never get that experience, unless you attempt. The secret of getting ahead is getting started (~Mark Twain).

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I invited Saket to join last weekend for snow backpacking trip. He never refuses to a photography trip into nature. Together we did our first backpacking trip as well. So we decided to give it a try. I rented snowshoes and shovel on the way home from outdoor adventure company. Picked up some supplies from REI. Going in to wilderness in snow and camping is very tricky. I don’t have a four season tent.  But snow is not in forecast for Saturday night. Even if it snows, I would not expect more than 2 or 3 inches. I went with my trusted Marmot EOS1P. Temperatures can go down below freezing, so I got JetBoil 4 season fuel. If your gear and clothing got wet, you are done. Hypothermia is a chilling reality one must dread while on snow for extended times. So I used a construction  grade trash bag as backpack liner to protect from things getting wet, especially my down sleeping bag. I also changed my sleeping bad to R4 grade to get better insulation. I know we have to sleep on 10 to 15 ft. of snow. Learned from past mistakes, I wore proper snow boots and gaiters to avoid snow creeping into shoes.

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With all the gear, our backpacks weighed over 50lbs. I know we have packed extra, but I didn’t dare cutting any corners. We decided not to go beyond 3 miles one way in this trip. To my surprise, walking on snowshoes was not difficult. Going down the slope was tricky, but it is fairly easy on packed snow. We hiked up 3 miles until we have wizard island in clear view and decided to camp out. We flattened area with shovel and build walls around to protect from wind. Later realized, how much this helped in the night. Wind was howling all night. Here are some picture of campsite building.

 

Sunset was amazing. Miles of snow surrounded around us below and hues of red in the sky…simply mesmerizing. We had to be very careful about cornices. Lot of them started to give away due to warming weather. Images at sunset and sunrise (next morning). I’m not particularly happy with sunrise image. I woke up late and did not get chance to explore and also did not catch sun at right spot (right spot is at edge of the mountains for maximum sun-star effect).

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Wind was pretty bad in the night. But we came out safe without any incident. Hopefully, next year I’ll attempt hiking around the rim

(~32 miles) in 3 to 4 day hike.

Happy Hiking

Swamy

 

Keyhole Arch, Big Sur

Keyhole arch is located at Pfeiffer beach in Big Sur, California. Sea arches are great photographic subject and fun to watch as waves swash through opening and drift to shore and recede. Every action in nature has purpose. Eloquent in action and relentless in pursuit. Nature is like a craftsman with great appetite to create masterpiece after masterpiece. Sea arches are formed as result of continuous wave refraction that erode weaker section of headland from both sides and ultimately carve a hole through it.

Keyhole arch is special. Every year between mid December through mid January, sun position aligns close to the keyhole of the arch during sunset. A magical light shoots through the hole creating light shaft that extend to the beach. Its a spectacle. I was in Big Sur last week of last December (2015), but I did not know then that it only happens few weeks in year. A missed opportunity fulfilled this weekend (without that magical light shaft though)

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First picture is few hours before sunset. Shooting against sun is a challenge. Controlling exposure is tough task. But same time it provides ample opportunities as well. Like incorporating sun-star in the composition and backlighting.

Here are technical details on how to shoot sun-stars.

  •  Block the sun with other objects in the frame. Trees are common landscape object that you will find to block sun more often  (Example from previous trip to Yosemite)
  • Reduce aperture as small as lens allows.  When intense bright light passes through small hole, light waves diffract and  create star effect. What a coincidence that I had to mention refraction and diffraction in same article.
  • Use lens hood to avoid as much  lens flare as possible or cover top of the camera with piece of cardboard or filter cover such that no stray light  falls on lens.
  • If available, switch to digital view finder to block light entering from mirror viewfinder ( I “always” forget this)
  • Open the shutter to capture wonderful sun-star.
  • Number of points in the star depends on lens. If you have lens with odd number of diaphragm blades, number of rays will be double that number. If you have lens with even number of blades, it creates same number of rays. Keyhole arch was taken with 11-24mm lens that has 9 blades. Had I took proper precaution in blocking the sun properly, I would have gotten full sun star with 18 points. I used 17-40mm lens to take tree image from Yosemite trip. That lens has 7 diaphragm blades, so you can see 14 pointed star.
  • Exercise some caution as you see  directly (even through viewfinder) into the sun.

Enjoy the images and let me know if you want to know more about the place or technique.

As a side note (for audience from west coast of US), Death valley is gearing up for phenomenal wildflower bloom (nick named super bloom) this year . This is kind of once in a decade opportunity. Last time it happened was 2005.  Don’t miss this opportunity . I don’t want to hijack this article into DV. Shoot me a message if you need more information.

Happy Clicking
Swamy

Yosemite Trip (1/9/2016)

Yosemite National Park is winter wonderland of Sierras that one can drive … of course with lot of caution and preferably on 4×4  vehicle or vehicle with snow chains. Among all the other seasons, I love Yosemite in winter. Although I cannot wander off into wilderness, valley floor itself is so magical with snow laden pines, snow painted crags, lazy Merced flowing through snow caped rocks and drifting patches of fog in meadows … it’s like a dreamscape came alive before you.

I used to visit Yosemite in winter at least twice every winter during snow blizzards. I couldn’t do that  last couple of years due to severe drought in California. El Niño this year coming with promise of lot of precipitation to the region.  Fresh snow was in forecast last Saturday (1/9/2016), so I planned a weekend trip to Yosemite to shoot on Saturday and Sunday morning and return.
Here few images from this Trip.  Few tips/notes on composition of images
  • Less is more. When number of elements in the image are less, it’s easier to work in composing the image such that you can place them aesthetically. Three brother image is example
  • Snow laden rocks frame the water fall tight and keeps the attention on falls. Tree branches on right are little distraction, but they are subdued in to the rock behind.
  • Tree with Sun-star is rather an example of how not to compose an image. Even though tree and sun star are the main subjects, placing the tree and sun-star in middle is not good. It would have been a good landscape image, had I included the meadow on left and/or place sun-star on top 1/3 of the frame. Due to the fact there are many people in the meadow playing in the snow and the lenses that I have restricted my ability to do so.

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Three Brothers Reflecting in Merced River

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Happy Clicking
Swamy

Everglades Trip (November 2015)

Everglades (Forever Grass) is aptly named national park in South Florida. Everglades is also referred as “River of Grass”. Kissimmee River drains into Lake Okeechobee. Lake Okeechobee is very shallow. Overflow from Lake Okeechobee in wet season creates a slow moving (1/2 mile a day) river 60 miles wide and over 100 miles long which is main part of Everglades. Waters flow across limestone shelf towards Florida Bay. There are only two seasons in Everglades, wet seasons and dry season. During wet season, May through October cause frequent flooding in the Glades. Saw grass thrives in these slow moving waters. Ironically, deep flooding may kill Saw grass as well.   Although Saw grass marshes are main feature in Everglades, there are nine eco systems exist in everglades.

We had opportunity to explore all nine eco systems in  Everglades. Even though I love to talk about each eco system in length, in the interest of keeping narrative short, I leave it by just naming them.

1. Freshwater sloughs
2. Marl prairies
3. Tropical hardwood hammocks
4. Pineland
5. Cypress Swamps
6. Mangroves
7. Coastal lowlands
8. Marine
9. Estuarine

During dry season, water levels goes to few inches. Relatively warm weather and easy fishing attracts many birds to Everglades starting from December. Ample food sources and secluded habitat promote breeding in dry season. This is the best season to visit Everglades. There is only one road that goes through Everglade National Park. East entrance near Homestead is best place to enter the park to explore by road. However there are two other entrances to the park, where you can rent boat or kayak or take air boat ride to explore this fascinating preserve.  Most of my  images are freshwater marshes and Mangroves.

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  • Top:  Great White Egret
  • Left:  Great Blue Heron
  • Right: Anhinga

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Wood Stork

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American Alligator is the only wild alligator species left in the world. The only other alligator species that still exist is Chinese alligator. Chinese alligators are critically endangered and only known to exit in captivity. Although American alligators were at the verge of extinction in past, they are fully recovered and thriving around Gulf of Mexico now. Unfortunately, there are 20 other species in the park still listed as endangered including West Indian Manatee and Florida Panther.

Happy Clicking

Swamy

An autumn day in the Eastern Sierras

Stray birds of summer come to my window to sing and fly away.
And yellow leaves of autumn, which have no songs, flutter and fall there with a sigh.

  ~  Tagore   (from Stray Birds, one of my favorites from Rabindro)

Tagore heard a sigh in autumn leaves as they drop down. I hear a song of triumph and celebration of life in autumn leaves. Leaves in general, main source of food generator. At least for land bound animalia.  Task well accomplished through the summer, as fall approaches, leaves of deciduous trees present their master piece to the world with shades of red. Autumn spectacle brings joy to the world.  There is a grace and elegance as they finally drop down to ground to a slight fall breeze. A song of accomplishment, beauty and grace flow in the autumn air.

I’ve never been to Eastern Sierras in fall till this week end. I have been to Tioga Pass in mid October couple of times but never crossed to other side of the mountains. I wanted to shoot fall colors in the day time and shoot sunrise at little lake valley basin with Mt. Morgan, Bear creek Spire and Mt. Abbot in background. Drive to Mosquito Flat on Friday was nice. As I was crossing Tioga pass, I recognized that my beloved weather forecaster’s prediction of 0% change of precipitation on Friday yet again wrong. Strom clouds are looming on South Sierras threatening to rain anytime.

Here are images right out side east exit of Yosemite.

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Eastern sierra elevation varies approx. from 4000ft. and to tree line and above. Fall colors change starts early at higher elevations starting around late August and continue till November at lower elevations. I knew that June lake area, which is known for best fall colors in eastern sierras is at it’s peak. So I took small diversion from highway 395 and covered 15 mile loop. I did not stop to explore the area, as I was getting late to reach Mosquito Flat camp grounds. Aspen grove on the Junk Lake loop are at their peak, shimmering in gold.

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I reached Mosquito Flat with faint twilight is all left. I quickly found a spot and pitched tent and started cooking diner. It started drizzling. Mosquito Flat is at 10,250 ft. elevation. It is the highest designated trailhead in the Sierra, where you can drive.  By the time, I finished my dinner and got into tent, drizzle turned into rain. Autumn rain at 10,000 ft. is pretty cold. It rained through out the night.  Fist time in my entire wilderness experience, I shivered in my 13 degree Fahrenheit down sleeping bag in the night. I wore my jacket and gloves, but still was cold. While I was preparing dinner, I left tent flap unzipped. Sleeping bag got slight wet. Although down based sleeping bags are lighter in weight for same rated synthetic bag, when get wet, they lose their loft so their ability to keep you warm. On top it, my air core sleeping pad got flat. Despite all that I had good night sleep. Back in my mind, I knew I have my car 100 yards away in case cold is unbearable.

Got up at 5AM and hiked up to Marsh lake. It’s an easy 1 mile hike. Even though stopped raining, cloud cover was pretty thick.  My hopes of seeing alpine glow on Bear Creek Spire is gone as it passed sunrise time. At 9:00 AM clouds cleared a bit allowing me to shoot this image. But with in 15 minutes, clouds covered the mountains again and started drizzling.

(Click on image to see large)

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There are some back country camp sites at Marsh lake. But one needs wilderness permits to camp at these sites. So next time, I will camp right next the lake to avoid 1 hours hike in the cold. I wanted to go up further and check out the trail for better compositions for next time. After contemplating, I err on the side of caution. Stormy weather and improper sleeping gear can put you in tricky situation. Mountains are unforgiving to unprepared visitors.

Fall in Sierras is not all about Aspen groves and bright yellow color. In fact most of the color is close to ground.  Grass and brush change color dramatically.
Here are few images …
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(Click on image to see large)

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While driving back home, took this image with familiar deserted home on highway 395 with dramatic clouds on mountains.

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Happy Clicking
Swamy

Climbing Grand Tetons, Hakan Yalcin Journal

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” —Mark Twain

Finding purpose of life is a journey. Every individual need to discover their own paths and find their passion. People who can pursue their passion not only makes difference in their own lives but inspires others as well.

Here is one of such inspirations… Hakan Yalcin

Hakan is very accomplished mountaineer. He summited several mountains all over the world including dozens of  Sierra-Nevada peaks. He has commendable  knowledge on Sierras peaks and geology. I was fortunate to hike Glacier Canyon with him last year (trip report can be found few posts below).
Here is one of Hakan’s recent trips… Summiting Grand Teton.
Tetons range is part of Rocky Mountains that are spread from New Mexico to Canada British Columbia. Teton range is very photogenic range located in Jason Hold, Wyoming.  During my two trips to Tetons National Park,  I had opportunity to shoot Sunrise with Tetons in back ground. But looking at Grand Tetons craggy terrain, climbing it would have never crossed my mind.
Here is Hakan’s photo journal of Climbing Grand Tetons…

https://picasaweb.google.com/sierrawolf/GrandTeton201502#slideshow/6197164867615760914
To youngsters in audience …
Being inspired is good thing but, as Ben said (Benjamin Franklin), “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins”.  Class 5 climbs are technical climbs that need professional training and lot of experience. Just don’t take rope and cams to attempt rock climbing tomorrow. Attempt like this needs years of preparation and gradual built up of experience  🙂

Happy Trails

Swamy

Supermoon Lunar Eclipse and Stalking Lion

Today (9/2/62015)  is Super moon Lunar Eclipse. It’s called super moon since  moon’s orbit gets closer to earth, thus it looks slightly bigger than usual.  I went to  Don Edward Wildlife Refuse in Fremont to shoot the total eclipse sequence. Unfortunately, clouds covered east completely. So I could not even see moon rise. But north and west were clear. So we had gorgeous sunset.

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I had hardly 10 minutes to pick a location and compose this image. When fast flowing stream merge into slow moving (opposite direction) or stagnant waters, whirlpools are created.  If you slow down your shutter speed significantly (15 sec. in this case), you can create concentric circles as you see in this image. You can see lion’s eyes, nose in the water with cattail (grass) as mane.

I came back home and found there are no clouds in San Ramon and I could see moon clearly. I missed total eclipse and so called blood moon phase. Here is what I could capture last one hour.

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Happy Clicking

Swamy

Weekend Trip to White Mountains

 

Meet senior citizens of the world…

Bristlecone Pine trees that grow at about 10,000ft elevation are longest living non-clonal organisms in the world. Current oldest  (known) living tree is over 5000 years old located in Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest on White mountains in California eastern sierras.

My friend Saket proposed a overnight trip last weekend (9/12/2015) to White mountains. It might be our last new moon day  this year before winter set forth in Sierras. New moon days are excellent time to photograph night skies. There isn’t better subject than ancient bristlecone pines to compliment mysteries heavens. It’s insane 350 miles drive to White mountains with opportunity to shoot one evening. As Marilyn Monroe said, it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.  As long as passion does not turn into obsession and overpower your will, little craziness fuels the zest in your life.

We reached visitor center at 5:30PM on Saturday evening. We wanted to check out Patriarch grove, which is another 12 miles, but it was wash boarded dirt road, climbing another 1000 ft. to total of 11,000 ft. elevation. We could not drive faster than 15 to 20 mph. After driving 9 miles, we realized that there isn’t enough time to go further before sunset. Idea is to find nice composition with a tree that shows some character.

Here are couple of images just before sunset.

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Sunset wasn’t great. Southern skies were covered with nimbus clouds. Milky way comes up in southern sky in northern hemisphere. Best time to photograph milky way is between June and September in northern hemisphere. There are several apps (both on IOS and Android) that can guide to check out best time of the year for rest of the world. We can see milkyway throughout that year but September to June, we can see part of the galaxy that is not very bright. So not great time to photograph the milkyway during that period. We could not find a good composition to shoot Milkyway galaxy. As sun went down the horizon, we resorted to the tree in Methuselah Grove that I photographed couple of years back. We drove back to Methuselah grove, which is right next to visitor center. This tree is just about 1/4 mile from trailhead.  By the time we hiked up, clouds disappeared mostly. It was pitch dark, perfect for night photography.

Here are some brief technical details on how to photograph milkyway galaxy. Photographing galaxy involves three step process technically. Artistic side, choosing the subject and composition to convey interpretation is personal choice. First step is to shoot sky in complete darkness. This requires a very fast lens; f2.8 or better. Even at largest possible aperture, it is difficult to capture sufficient light to expose galaxy. At wide opened aperture, there are two choices to increase exposure. Slowing down the shutter speed or increasing ISO. If you slow down the shutter speed more than 30 seconds, stars show streaks due to earth’s rotation. So set shutter speed to 30 seconds. Even at 30 seconds exposure, light will not be sufficient. Change ISO to 3200 or even 6400. Even with a good DSLR, beyond ISO 800 introduce lot of noise in the picture. There are several techniques to reduce noise, like enabling long exposure noise reduction in camera or using one of several noise reduction softwares in post processing. Second step in the process is to shoot foreground. Light the foreground with good flash light. You should take this shot at same aperture and shutter speed. Reduce ISO to 200 or even below. While  shutter is open, switch on the flash light to illuminate the foreground. You do not need to keep the flash light on as long as shutter is open. take several shots keeping falsh light on for different lengths of time; till you get correct exposure. Third step is at home processing these two images. It’s very simple. Stack these two images together in Photoshop and choose blend mode “lighten”… you will see well exposed foreground picture with gorgeous galaxy behind together. Note that you need to use tripod while taking these two images. If you are interested to know more and have any questions, you are always welcome to send me an email. I’ll respond back with what ever information I know.
We met Christopher Eaton at the tree. He is professional photographer from Colarado. After introductions, Chris suggested that we coordinate together such that we do not ruin each other shots by flashing unwanted light into other’s shots. He brought excellent studio lights with him. Without his lights, foreground would have been as clear and bright as it came out. We spent upto 11:30PM shooting galaxy and star trails, until coulds came back indicating it’s time to say good night.

Here are the images from that night (click on image to see large)

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We drove back to Bishop for the night. Next morning, we were so tired, did not bother to go back for sunrise. We drove back home.

Backpacking Trip from Florence Lake to South Lake

What price do you pay for a cup of coffee ?

A cup of coffee at twilight, at peaceful alpine lake that is reflecting a mountain range which is shimmering in alpine glow? My price for such experience for 5 days was 49 miles and 9800ft. climb.

Although my attempt to complete John Muir Trail this year is foiled by wild forest fires, wilderness experience was amazing as always. I set out on August 16th 2015 with 12 days, 110 mile hiking plan to finish the trail from Muir Ranch Trail to Mt. Whitney and eventually to trailhead at Whitney Portal. Unfortunately  I had to exit the trail on 4th day into the trip, as rest of the trail was impacted by Rough fire smoke. Reaching end of the trail is never my intention. My goal is to experience the journey and mountain scenery along the trail. More than the destination, I want to remember the journey. I do not want to walk the trail for the sake of “finishing” the trail. I’ll go back to the trail next year to experience rest of the trail.

Here is map that shows where the fire is burning vs. my route

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I wanted to publish trail journal for entire JMT together, but since this trip is short, I publish it anyway. Here is my day to day journey…

Day 1

Vermillion Valley Resort hikers van picked me up from Fresno Hotel at 8:00AM.  We picked up my wilderness permit on the way at Prather. Ranger briefed me on usual wilderness rules and wild fires. She told me that no fires are in my way and nothing that I need to be concerned about. After 3 hours of driving, van dropped me off at Florence lake at 11 AM. I was happy to be back at Florence. There is nothing but a small store that operates boat across Florence. Next boat was at 12:30PM. I gulped two ice cream bars as waited at the store. Once boat leaves the dock, it will be long before I can taste any thing yummy again. Two rangers came from other side of Florence. We had short chat and they left as their ride arrived. I crossed Florence and started the hike at 1PM to Muir Ranch.

Florence Lake is at 7300ft elevation.  Trail climb 500 ft. immediately and flattens till Muir Ranch.  I met a couple and JMT Yahoo group co-moderator John Ladd at Muir Ranch.  I spent about an hour and took off for Piute Creek. Just another small elevation gain but it was nice 3 miles hike next to south fork of San Joaquin River and Mt. Henry

Here is an picture on the way

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I crossed Piute Creek and entered into Kings Canyon National Park. I camped next to Piute Creek below Pavilion Dome.

Sunset illuminated Pavillion dome

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Over all about 900 ft. elevation gain and 8.5 miles hiking today

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Day 2

Broke camp at 10AM. Sun was harsh already. Predicted high was 100 degrees that day.  Trail continued next to south fork of San Joaquin River, climbing very gradually.

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I followed San Joaquin until Evolution Valley, where Evolution creek drains into San Joaquin River. I left San Joaquin and followed Evolution creek upstream and started to climb up switch backs. It was intense. But Evolution Creek has numerous cascades made the effort worth.

Here are few Images

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I crossed Evolution Creek before Evolution meadows. This creek crossing on JMT is considered dreadful in normal snow years. Lot of planning revolves around the creek crossing such that it is crossed early in the morning while water levels are low. California is under serve drought since last four years with worst/least snow fall last winter. So this so-called dreadful creek crossing was merely few inches above my ankles.

Here is the picture of the creek. You can search YouTube for Evolution creek crossing to see typical water levels of this creek.

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After few miles hiking, I reached McClure Meadows. It was so beautiful. I wanted to camp there. It’s great place to shoot sunset and sunrise. The meadow might see lot of wild flowers in early to mid July. It is worth paying a visit during that time. McClure attract more people and get crowed as well. 10 tents at one place is called crowed in wilderness. I did not stop at McClure and continued further about 2 miles and camped right at foothill of Mt. Hermit. It was great place.

Here are images of Day2 campsite (taken in the morning of Day3)

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I hiked about 10 miles today with about 2000 ft. elevation gain.

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Day 3

Broke camp at 9:10AM. It was a big day. I crossed Muir Pass and reached close to Big Pete meadows. Effective elevation gain was about 3100 ft. with 12 miles hike. As I left campsite, trail immediately started climbing towards Evolution Lake. Mt. Hermit and Evolution valley were in sight for some time.

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Eventually I crossed Evolution Lake, Sapphire Lakes.  All the mountains in this region are named after scientists worked on Theory of Evolution (click on images to view larger)

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I crossed Wanda and McDermand Lakes before reaching Muir Pass. Muir Pass is 11,955 ft. The pass is on saddle between Mt Solomans and Mt. Warlow. Sierra Club built a stone hut in 1931 and dedicated to memories of John Muir. It’s shelter for hiker who may stuck on the pass during bad weather. We cannot camp in the hut itself in fair weather conditions. I want to camp near the pass next time so that I can photograph Muir hut with Milky-way galaxy.

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Sitting in front of the hut, you can see Evolution range and Black Giant in front yard. Mt. Solomons in backyard.

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I spent about 45 minutes in the hut and started descent into Le Conte Canyon. I dropped down to Helen lake at 11,600ft. and things changed dramatically. I started to see and smell smoke strongly.

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From Helen, I caught middle fork of Kings river and started descending into Le Conte Canyon. With in few minutes, I met a hiker coming in opposite direction. He delivered the bad news, “Rough fire is gaining ground, 0% contained so far and the trail all the way till south of Forester pass is under smoke”. He told that on ranger recommendation many of the south bound hikers exiting via Bishop pass. As I climbed down further, situation was very apparent to me. Mt. Langille was right next to the trail, but I could not see it. I came down as close as possible towards ranger station, so that I can get there quickly in the morning to assess the situation. I camped that night close to Big Pete Meadows. Night was miserable. My eyes were burning and smell made me wake up all night.

That day I hiked 12 miles with 3100ft. elevation gain

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Day 4

Morning was much better. Smoke considerably reduced. Here is a view from my camp site.

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While climbing down 4 miles to Le Conte Ranger station, I spoke to several hikers coming up from north. Everyone said it’s not worth going south any further. Ranger station is located at 8700 ft., where trail from South lake (bishop) joins JMT. Ranger told me exact same words that I have been hearing past couple of hours. Ranger posted this note on the trail.

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Air was clean in the morning few hours until wind picks up and bring smoke. I could hike in those hours and take break rest of the day.  But it defeats the purpose of being in the mountains. I cannot see and enjoy them in smoke. And with that pace I can not reach Wood Creek in two days to catch packer who is bringing my resupplies. Without them, I had to exit the trail from Kearsarge pass anyway.

Next steps become apparent to me. Trail from here to South lake is 12.8 miles with 3300 ft. elevation gain. It goes thru Dusy basin, over Bishop pass to South lake. Given the worst experience last night, I wanted to climb up as much as possible to escape the smoke. Dusy basin is familiar grounds to me. Kiran and me hiked this area two year ago via Bishop pass. We stopped at lower Dusy basin. But did not come down to Le Conte Canyon that time. Another long day, but climbed up all the way to Upper Dusy basin at 11,200 ft. Smoke persisted through out the trail, but not bad at upper basin.
I camped at upper Dusy basin lake.

Palisades are the first 14ers on the trail. I should have seen the full range on JMT. But from here, Mt. Agassiz, Mt. Winchell, Mt Thunderbolt and North Palisade should be visible. I can see Mt. Agassiz in haze, but rest of them are barely visible. Alpine glow on Palisades was great treat, despite of the smoke.

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Night was cold and peaceful.  Overall that day I hiked 11 miles with 2700 ft. elevation gain.

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Day 5

Got up to clear skies and clean air. I could see Palisades clearly. I finished regular chores and started for Bishop pass.
With in an hour, I was on Bishop pass. Hakan suggested me over satellite communicator to leave the pack on pass and climb Mt. Agassiz. It looked tempting. It would be 1900ft. climb from the pass. First 3/4 on loose rock thru a gully and top 1/4 was on solid rock a class-2/class-3 climb. After reconsidering the situation, I dropped the idea. There were still lot of unknowns. I need a ride from south lake trailhead to Bishop. Don’t know how long it takes. Once I get to Bishop, I need to find one way rental car. If I get the car in time, need to find what road are  open to get back other side of the mountains. So I dropped the idea and hurried down the pass.

On the way, I met Abraham. He has been in Sierras doing cross country for last 30 days. Hopping one lake to other and fishing. He is going back in for another 30days. We had long chat on his where about. Very interesting personality.

Small geology lesson. As you see Mt. Goode has cirque in below picture. It accumulate lot of snow durig winter. During thaw, water runs down the slopes and feed lakes. Northern slopes not exposed much to sun during summer, thus snow on northern slopes last longer. Over run from each lake at upper elevation drains in to slopes. If the flow encounter a basin, it creartes another lake and over flow from that lake drains into slopes again. It usually continues until water reaches a river.
You can see Sierra water shed pretty clearly as you hike JMT. Below  picture shows South fork of Bishop creek starts at Bishop lakes (no lake above it) and drains into Saddlerock Lake.  Next image shows Spearhead lake that is below Saddlerock. Spearhead lake drains into Long lake, which eventually drains water into South Lake. Bishop creek has three forks. South fork, Middle fork and North fork. Like south fork that drains into South lake eventually , middle fork drains into Lake Sabrina and north fork drains into North lake. All three lake outlets created Bishop creek. Bishop creek altimately flows into Owens River. This is typical water shed configuration in Sierras.

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Here is 5th day trail

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As soon as I reached South Lake Trail head parking lot, I saw someone pulling out their SUV. I asked for lift and they accepted. They just finished their hike from Onion valley to South Lake. That whole stretch was under smoke. They told me their horrible experience.

I could not find any rental car in Bishop or any town around. I stayed that night in Bishop in Hotel and rented one way car from Reno. Next day at 7:30AM, I took Bus from Bishop to Reno airport (Eastern Sierra Transit) and picked my car at Reno Airport and drove back home.

That concludes my attempt to hike JMT this year. Except the smoke part, this part of Sierras is wonderful.

Now that I landed back in civilization, I need to be more alert as probability of dangers increased 1000 times than that in wilderness.

Over all this trip statistics are 5 days, 49 miles with about 9800 ft. elevation gain.

Click here to download KML data that you can upload to Google Earth and explore the trail online in detail.

Here is the overview of the trail that I traveled in this trip

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“I saw the mountains, with grey veils down and songs seized
Mourning for burning forest and fallen comrades
Among the mountains, I stood with my arms wide open
Not as an emancipator of their anguish, but with empathy and understanding
Among the mountains, I stood with grievances
Not seeking a culprit, but solutions for animosities against nature
Among the mountains, I stood in guilt and self incriminated
Remorse itself is not a solution, but need your actions”
~ Swamy Lokanadham

I thank thousands of firefighters battling with Rough fire over last few weeks.

Happy Hiking

~ Swamy

Mountains are calling and I must go – John Muir‏

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Mountains are calling and I must go  ~John Muir

Mountains have been calling me as well, but my responsibilities at work and home were screaming much louder :). Finally it is time to show my allegiance to them and indulge myself with treats they offer.

As most of you know my endeavor that I started last year to hike and photograph America’s most beautiful hiking trails John Muir Trail. Last year, after hiking 110 miles, I exited the trail on 12th day from Muir Ranch Trail.  A cautious decision due to my weight loss and slightly sprained back muscles.  I’m going back this year again to finish the trail from where I stopped last year. Nothing changed much in the pack (still 45 lbs.) except food. I’m not carrying as many calories as I did last year, but carrying what I definitely eat.  The challenge is higher this year in terms of elevation gain. There more number of mountain passes this year.  All of them over 12000 ft. and some of them are notorious, including summating Mt. Whitney.

 I’ll start my hike on Sunday to reach Muir Ranch (6 mile hike from Florence Lake).  I’ll camp at Muir Ranch on Sunday to get acclimatized.  I’ll be on JMT starting from Monday, 8/17/2015 and expecting to finish the trail on 8/28/2015.

You can track my progress at following link.  It points my location live on map once in every 10 minutes.

You can stay in touch by send message thru same web page (click on message icon, web server send the message to my satellite communicator)

https://share.delorme.com/llmswamy

Here is all the planning that is required for long distance backpacking. I try to follow more or less day to day plan on trail, but some time, change as I go. Nevertheless it’s important to have a plan in hand.

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Happy Hiking

Swamy

Backpacking Trip to Cathedral Lakes and Sunrise Lakes (6/27/2015 -6/29/2015)

During my last year (2014) John Muir Trail (JMT) journey, I made a list of beautiful places that I need to revisit to photograph. Top of the list (as I passed this area on 3rd day) was Cathedral Peak and Upper Cathedral lake. As me and Kiran climbed up Cathedral pass last summer, we were greeted by an afternoon thunderstorm on the pass. Slight rain continued till we reached Tuolumne Meadows that afternoon. So I did not get chance to photograph Cathedral peaks last year.

Being 7 weeks away from my JMT endeavor this year, I thought it’s high time to unpack the gear and field test in order to prepare for the hike. Cathedral lakes trail was unambiguous choice. Saket was interested in going along. After our first trip to Thousand Island lake, we haven’t done backpacking together again. I also invited my colleague Umkant who was eager to experience the wilderness through hiking and backpacking. He joined us with his 14 year old son Vinayak.

We all set out on  Saturday, June 27th (2015) early morning 5:30AM. Our plan was to reach Tuolumne Meadows wilderness permit office by 10AM and seek permit for next day. Camp at Cathedral lakes on Sunday night and get back to trail head by Monday afternoon and drive back home. Only 10 walk-in permits are available to Cathedral lakes per day. Fortunately we got permits for Saturday itself. Once you get permit for one day, you can choose to stay in the wilderness how ever long you want. Daily permit quota does not apply beyond first day. You must however specify date of exit on the permit application. I recognized the ranger who helped us. She was the same person who helped me on JMT permit last year in Yosemite Valley. We had little chat on JMT. We four had nice lunch at Tuolumne Meadows Grill. Vegetarian chilly was fantastic.

We started at 1:45PM from Cathedral Lakes Trail head at Tuolumne Meadows.
At the trailhead… when they didn’t start hating me for bring them on this trip 😉

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Trail started to climb almost immediately. Upper Cathedral Lake is 3.5 miles from the trail head and climbs from 8500 ft. to 9600 ft. elevation. I had lighter pack of 35lbs comparative to my JMT trip, which was 45lbs. So it was much easier to hike up.

On the way we met this familiar trail buddy … Marmot
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Once we reached the lake, it took a while to figure out away around the lake to camp at appropriate location. I never used deet before as much as  I used in this trip. Mosquitoes were pettry bad at Upper Cathedral lake. Thankfully, hooded jacket that covers hands neck and deet on face made it easy to tolerate them. As sun went down, mosquitoes were gone as well. We reached around 6PM at camp site. Pitched our tents and finished our  errands like fetching water from lake to cock dinner, setup sleeping pad and bag etc….  But I had run for shooting sunset before I could cook my dinner.

Here is the sunset image.
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I expected colors to change deeper shades of red as sunset progressed, but unfortunetely did not happen. I climbed down a bit close to lake shore and composed this image with super wideangle 14mm lense to shoot this scene with stars trails. It would have been spectacular.

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I expected some wind to blow away the clouds to make skies clear such that star trails will be visible without interruptions.  After waiting for 30 min. I dropped the idea and went back to the tent. Well, good excuse to come back to this place again.

I got up at 4:30AM to shoot sunrise. I expected alpine glow on Cathedral peak, at least partially. But didn’t happen. Seems I need to get to Budd lake to able to see Cathedral peak in alpine glow (thanks to Hakan for the suggestion). Budd lake is other side of Cathedral peak. Here are image from that morning.

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It was pleasant morning with quiet lake and blue skies.

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We had nice coffee and breakfast. Broke the camp at 9AM and headed towards to sunrise lakes. Our first stop was at Cathedral pass. As we started to move away from Cathedral peak, we came across a nice patch of lupine on edge of a large meadow.

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Cathedral pass is at just about 10000 ft. elevation with spectacular views. Cathedral peak itself is not visible from the pass, but Echo peaks, Cocks comb, Voglesanag, Mt. Lyell and Mt. Mcclure can be seen from there.

Saket relaxing on the pass
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We reached Sunrise High Sierra Camp around 2PM through long meadows. Sierra Penstemons are in bloom.
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We saw plenty of lupins, Sierra Penstemons and Mountain Pride in bloom. Sunrise High Sierra camp (SHSC) is not opened for the season yet.  We took an hour break as it rained. We met two 60+ year old PCT hikers. Their supplies did not reach Tuolumne Meadows yet. Instead of taking couple of days break off from hiking, they are hiking to Yosemite valley from TM. Very inspiring. Taking up 2700 mile hike at 60+ years deserves an big applaud. Me and Kiran camped at SHSC on 2nd day of our trip last year.

We left John Muir Trail at SHSC and took sunrise lakes trail at the junction. Trail climbed up about 200 ft. and leveled off. We hiked about 2.3 miles to Sunrise lakes for the night. We crossed larger lake and camped at smaller lakes. It was great place. Rain forced us to setup tents quickly and take an hour break as it continued drizzling.

Camp site was pretty neat, large site with fire pit.
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We were treated with great sunset. But area was surrounded by trees. It wasn’t easy to compose a frame without distractions.

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Woke up in morning. Did not bother to photograph sunrise. Just sat before the lake and enjoyed solitude.

Those are the kind of moments, I hike up to these places.

(Click on the image to view larger picture)
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We broke the camp at 9AM and within few minutes we hit trail junction where sunrise lake trail joins other trail that goes from Tenaya lake to Yosemite Valley through Clouds Rest. We took Tenaya lakes trail. That climbs down 1100 ft. to Tenaya lake in 2.5 miles. As we climbed down, we had great view of west side mountains.

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We reached Tenaya lake by 12PM.
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Tenaya lake is right next to Highway 120. We took shuttle bus that runs between Olmsted point and Tuolumne Meadows lodge. Had lunch at Tuolumne Meadows Grill (another Vegetarian Chilly) and drove back home.

It was great trip with very relaxed pace. Great trail for beginers to gain backpacking experience. We hiked about 14 miles in 2.5 days with about 3000ft. elevation gain. I highly recommend this trail, particularly for those who want to get into backpacking world.

Here is our tracks and elevation profile of our trail.

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Happy Hiking

Swamy

Backpacking to Mt. Whitney

My new year resolution this year was to climb Mt. Whitney. Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in continental United States (48 states out of 50; Alaska and Hawaii excluded) with 14505ft elevation. Alaska has 11 mountains that are higher in elevation than Mt. Whitney, including the tallest in North America, Mt. McKinley with 20320ft elevation.

Mt. Whitney hike need wilderness permits. During summer, every day 60 permits for back packers, 100 permits for day hikers are issued. Every year in February, permits are issued based on lottery. I was a bit disappointed when my application was not selected in last feb. I was still hopeful on cancellations, so kept an eye on permits web site (www.recreation.gov). I almost gave up my hope as October approaching, which brings strong winds and icy conditions on the mountain. Finally on September 13th, someone cancelled 6 permits for September 22nd. I grabbed 3 of them and with in an hour rest of them were vanished as well. So hike was set for Sunday, September 22nd and completes on following day (Monday ) evening.

Now that I got permits, it’s time to assess my fitness for the arduous task. It’s 22 miles hike with 6200ft elevation gain. Distance wise, just 4 miles longer than previous two trips, but elevation gain is almost double. Also it’s solo hike as all my hiking partners have commitments during September 22nd week. It was a short notice. In fact, I also have hard deadline to be back in office by Tuesday as a customer visiting us for rest of the week.

I started September 21st, Saturday afternoon to eastern sierras. Plan is to stay in Lone pine village that night and start my hike next morning. As I entered in Stanislaus national forest; I could see the damage caused by Ring fire last month. I took below panoramas with point shoot camera. Also see in the insert, how it used look prior to the fire. Fire destroyed significant amount of forest that I always cherished on my way to Yosemite valley. Don’t know how many decades it takes to restore back the forest.

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It was raining throughout my drive, but as entered Yosemite, it started snowing. Exactly what I wanted to avoid in my hike. I went ahead anyway. As I crossed Bishop, Storm is cleared and found that there is no rain in lone pine at all. It took 8 hours to reach Lone Pine. I picked up my wilderness permits and WAG bag from night box at visitor center ( you need to make arrangement with rangers to leave your permits in night box). Inyo National forest instituted mandatory rule to pack out human solid waste from elevations higher than 12000 ft. So they provide WAG bags (waste alleviation and gelling) along with permits.

Mt. Whitney hike in summer done in multiple ways. Mountaineering route needs technical skills to summit. It’s class 4 or 5 climb. But people without technical mountaineering skill can do it two ways. Day hike from Whitney portal is more popular. You have to start your hike well before ( 2 to 3 hours ) sunrise to finish 22 miles, 6200ft climb by end of the day. Based on your stamina level, you have to plan for 14 to 16 hours on trail. Problem with this way is that you will be walking first few miles in dark, either during predawn or dusk. So you will not be enjoying this portion of the trail. But if your target is the summit, this is better option as you do need to carry huge loads on your back. I have chosen another way that is to backpack for two days.

On Sunday early morning, I went to foothills of Mt. Whitney ( This area is called Alabama hills and featured in many many Hollywood movies). I missed peak alpine glow on the mountain range while driving on dirt roads and fanatically searching for good composition. However managed to get this huge panorama with good light on it. I labeled the mountains for reference.

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I started my hike from Whitney portal at 9am. Trail head is marked pretty clearly. There is a weigh scale to check backpacks for final time.

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Here is map to the full trail

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You cross several stream as you climb up from 8300ft to 10000ft in 2.6 miles to Lone pine lake. You need to take a short 0.1 mile stroll to lake shores. Permits are not required for hiking upto here, but for overnight camping needs permits.

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You leave lone pine lake and enter in to Whitney zone here. Beyond this point permits are required and pack out human waste is mandated. Another mile on almost flat trail takes you to a beautiful meadows. Crossing the meadows you enter into outpost camp. This is one place some backpackers like to camp. If you are feel the altitude effects, this is just right place (10300 ft.) to get acclimatized.

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Mirror lake is just 1/2 mile from outpost camp, a very picturesque location at 10600ft. However, camping is not allowed in this area.

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From here trail is all rocky. You leave the trees below as climb above tree line. So no shade beyond this point. I headed to trail camp for the night. Plan is to summit next morning and return back to trail head by evening. So I can drive back 7 hours to home. Trail camp is located 2 miles from Mirror lake and still 1400 ft to climb. I wanted to plan tomorrow such that I can get down mountains (cross yosemite) before sunset.So I started asking returning hiker on where did they stayed last night and when did they started the summit and when they reached to summit. what I gathered from the hiker was a scary story of last night. It was snowing heavily and winds swept away many tents ( rain flys). 8 groups that stayed at trail camp (groups I spoke with) did not even attempt to summit in the morning. They said that they were so tired dealing with weather last night, so they slept in the morning and climbing down now. Such weather is not strange here; particularly in September. I prepared well for the weather and carried extra guyline to secure my tent. No preparation ever going to be adequate in nature anyway. I met many people who coming from John muir trail as well. They successfully completed summiting and were coming down with victory. John Muir Trail (JMT) starts from Yosemite Valley goes through many vistas and valleies and ends on Whiteney (200+ miles). I met atleast 5 people in this trip those completing their last leg of JMT…a life time achievement… bravo.

I reached Trail camp at 3:30pm. I setup my tent and socialized with fellow campers around.

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At 6 PM, while I was enjoying hot coffee by the lake, We heard that a day-hiker at trail creest was seriously ill with altitude sickness. With an hour, we loose light and she is still another hour and half away from where we are and 6 to 7 hours to trail head (if she can walk at regular pace). we all concerned on what to do. I offered to leave my tent and sleeping bag for her and go back. But suggested that it would be better for her to continue to descend to trail head. We all concurred on that. We contacted the group that was assisting her over the radio and informed on what we are thinking. Some people offered electrolite and food. The group descended to trail camp at 8:30pm and continued to trail head. I was concerned a bit as terrian is very rocky for next coouple of miles, but moon came out so strong and illuminated the landscape very bright. So I hope they made it back safely. Next day I asked a ranger on way back and he did not heard anything about them. So news is good news in this case.

Even though I want people get on to these trails and get close to nature, I want to caution about altitude sickness also known as accute mountai sicknes (AMS). Elevation over 8000ft considered as high elevation and some people start to see affects (generally over 10000ft ) like severe headache, nausea and fatigue. The concentration of oxygen remain same at sea level and higher elevation, but due to decreased atmospheric presure, number of oxygen molecules per breath reduce to 50% (approx.). So in order to properly oxygenate the body, your need to breath more. But its difficult to supply same amount of oxygen as low elevations. If your body need more oxygen while walking, it makes situation further worsen. High altitude and lower air pressure causes fluid to leak from the capillaries which can cause fluid build-up in both the lungs and the brain. If any symptoms are observed, its advised to take it easy and wait an hour without any activity. If symptoms persists, its highly advised to climb down. The only reliable way to fight AMS is acclimatization for a day or two at moderate high elevation before assending higher. Listen to your body and act wisely. You should know fail safe situations. Never cross the thin line that separates self-determination and fanaticism. Ranger told me about a fatal case of AMS on Mt. Whitney three weeks ago.

Anyway, I had my dinner and rested in tent for the night. Had no mood for night photography. I carried my camera gear this time as well, but all the pictures except mountains panorama (taken from Alabama Hills) is taken with point and shoot camera only.

Night was quiet, no wind or snow. Two things that can go wrong on these mountains are weather and AMS. Nothing to worry about Sierra bears.
But again, do take right precautions. Bears does not reach 12000 ft. Thunderstorms are very frequent in this area and first sight of thunderstorm, its highly
recommended to climb down. I got up at 4:20AM and started my hike. Moon was still bright. It was pretty cold. I saw couple of headlights already climbing up on trail. From Trail camp its about 5.8 miles, 2500ft elev. to summit.
I regularly climb same elevation and mileage (mission peak) at home about an hour. Mission peak climbs from elevation 200ft to 2400ft elev. in 2.6 miles. It took 4 hours to reach summit. I took two hours to climb 99 switch back and reach to the trail crest. Just in time to watch sunrise.

Switchbacks (actually taken during my descend.

switchbacks

Just couple of minutes before sunrise

trail_crest_web

It was mesmerizing. Just about a day back, I was frantically searching to shoot alpine glow on these mountains and now I was part of the scenery.
I liked more west side valley with Mt. Hitch cock, Hitch cock and Guitar lakes. Excuse me for poor panorama stitch. I was shooting panoramas using point and shoot (which does not have panorama assistance feature) without tripod. This is the time, I missed my DSLR dearly.

west_side_valley_web

sunrise_web

Trail crest is at 13500ft. and 2 miles to the summit. I meet couple of happy faces climb up from west side at John Muir trail junction.
They knew that this the last difficult segment in the journey that endeavored 2 or 3 weeks ago. I heard many stories about how people take wrong trail at this point and go deep into wilderness instead of climbing down the Whitney at right side. I do not figure out, how people can go wrong with such a clear signage at the junction.

jmt_junction

I was thrilled at my the first sight of Smithsonian hut on the Summit.

smithsonianhut

Finally at 8:20AM, I was on the top. Signed the prestigious summit register.

register

This is for my Dad. His love for forest and decades of public service in forest agencies of India are commendable.

I spent 15 minutes on Summit and started my way back. By 4PM. I was back at my car. It was long day about 12 hours on trail covering 16 miles. Unfortunately, my day wasn’t over yet. I had to driver 7 hours back to home. I was on Tioga pass during sunset. Mountains on Tioga are just decorated with very first snow (on Saturday) and meadows are simmering white with fresh snow. Alpine glow on mountains are so inviting. This is the kind of scenery that I travels miles and miles to photograph…but I have my targets to reach home in time for tomorrow. So I kept driving. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed both Whitney and Tioga pass this time. With last three backpacking trips this summer, I really experienced sierra for first time.
Again and again, I remembered John Muir’s book that read couple of years ago, My First Summer in Sierras.

http://books.google.com/books?id=ymNIAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Snow on Tioga marks, no more backpacking trips for this year (probably). I’m looking forward to take entire 211 miles John Muir Trail next summer (if I can take 3 weeks off).

Happy Clicking

Swamy

Symphony of Nature

Symphony of Nature

Symphony of  Nature is a place (blog) to share  my admiration of nature.  Small moments that I capture through lens connects me to the whole experience that lead to these images for ever. This is the place where I want to share my experiences,  knowledge of places I visited and techniques learned behind the camera.

I posted last 3 trip reports already in the blog. While reviewing the content of these posts I realized that its more about planning and events of the trip. I hardly covered the three important topic that I mentioned above. Well, I’m not a writter and I’ll try not to pretend to be one (going easy on readers, isn’t it? :D).

I have two main section in the blog, one to cover my trip reports and other to cover different articles  about different techniques of photography, details about locations/places and etc…

In main page of the blog, please enter your email-id and click “sign me up”  for (auto subscription) receiving email notification of new article postings.

There is a “Leave A Comment” link at the end of each artcle. It always nice to hear your comments. I’m very open for critic, good or bad 😀

-Swamy