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Cirque of Towers Part 1: Shadow Lake

Following the eclipse, my brother and I set off backpacking in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. We did the Cirque of Towers look hike, about 25 miles through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the United States. I’ve wanted to go there for several years now after seeing some photographs taken by my buddy, Don Thompson, on a trip he made. After the wildfires in British Columbia canceled our hike in Kootney National Park, we needed to find an alternate destination that didn’t require a lengthy or complicated permit process. The Wind River Range was the answer. No permits needed, other than signing in at the trailhead. In preparation for the trip, I found this blog post, which provides a nice guide to the hike.

Divide Lake

After the eclipse, we made a sort-of-quick stop in Pinedale to borrow bear canisters from the Forest Service ranger station. BTW, apparently they accept reservations for the bear canisters, which we did not have. Luckily, several had just come in and they cleaned them out and let us have them. We started our trip on a Monday, if you plan on starting closer to a weekend, you may want to reserve (or bring your own). Bear canisters are highly recommended. Reportedly, the rangers will give out tickets to anyone who does not practice bear-safe food handling. Further, according to a sign at the trailhead, the bears in the area have learned to cut ropes to get hanging bags of food down. Play it safe, take a bear-proof container.

While picking up the bear canisters was quick, getting a “quick bite” before running off into the wilderness was not. We went to the Wind River Brewing pub and the place was packed, even though it was well past lunch time (about 3 pm). We found the last two seats available at the bar and waited. It took about 15 minutes to get a beer and an hour more to get our meal.

It was well after 4 pm by the time we left town. And while Pinedale is the closest town to the trailhead, that is not to say the trailhead is close to town. The hike starts at the Big Sandy Trailhead, a mere 54 miles (half over dirt roads) from Pinedale. Despite its remoteness and the fact it was a Monday evening, there must have been a hundred cars at the trailhead, many lining the road for a half mile before the parking lot. Tanya says I have parking karma, so I drove right up to the trailhead itself and parked in the open spot there.  We loaded our bear cans and repacked our backpacks to make them fit, and off we went, hitting the trail at the early time of 6:30 pm, entering the Bridger Wilderness shortly thereafter.

Dads Lake

Based on the blog cited above, we decided to hike the loop in a clockwise direction (I highly recommend hiking this direction due to the elevation gain), first traversing a section of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT). Needless to say, we didn’t go that far that first day. We hiked several miles until near sunset, aiming to camp at Divide Lake, which is about 1/4 mile off the trail. We weren’t the only ones camping there. A couple who had left the trailhead perhaps 15 minutes before us was there, and later, perhaps 10:30 pm of or so, we saw headlamps from another group wander into the meadow below the lake and set up camp. It was a pretty spot, though we couldn’t camp directly near the lake because of marshy conditions (besides, camping within 200 feet of lakes is prohibited). We made dinner in the dark and slowly ate, amazed by the brightness of the stars and Milky Way.

The following morning we hiked back to the trail and continued north, passing lake after lake – Mirror Lake, Dads Lake, Marms Lake, as well as several smaller unnamed ponds. Just past Marms Lake, we left the CDT and headed off on the Hailey Pass Trail for a mile or so before turning east on the Shadow Lake Trail. The scenery was grand along the trails, which run mostly through meadows and give views of granitic mountains to the north and east. Along the trail we met several other groups of hikers going our same way. This is not a trip to take if you don’t want to see anyone else for days. While the route was not lonely, but neither was it overwhelmed with people.

Marms Lake

We reached Shadow Lake late in afternoon. The maintained trail ends at Shadow Lake, but an unofficial trail continues on above the to more lakes and on to Texas Pass. Earlier in the day we talked with several knowledgeable hikers who suggested the camping was better at Billy’s Lake, the next lake (about half a mile) past Shadow, and upon reaching Shadow Lake, we considered continuing. But being tired (living at sea level and hiking at over 9,000 feet in elevation will do that to a person), we decided to camp at Shadow. Besides the view of the lake, and the backside of the Cirque of Towers above it, was spectacular. With a bit of scouting and boulder hopping, we crossed over the outlet creek and camped on the west side of the lake. We had this side of the lake to ourselves (three or four other groups were camping on the east side). For photography purposes, I suggest camping where we did, as I think the view of the lake and mountains is better from the northwest shore of the lake.

I shot a ton of images that evening, as the sun lit the mountains above the lake with orange alpenglow – though fish jumping played havoc with the mirror-like reflections in the water. And when the alpenglow faded, I walked a couple hundred feet on the other side of our camp, where Washakie Creek (the outlet creek from Shadow Lake) widens into a large pond studded with granite boulders and shot some more. I finished the day with some Milky Way shots as it rose over the mountain west of the lake.

At sunrise, I was at it again, though the way geography is situated, sunrise photography is not nearly as good as sunset shots. Later that morning, we packed up and started up the trail to Texas Pass to hike into the Cirque of Towers itself. More on that in my next post.

Hailey Pass Trail north of Marms Lake

Heading toward the Cirque on the Shadow Lake Trail

Shadow Lake at the outlet creek

Shadow Lake near sunset

Another near sunset shot of Shadow Lake

Sunset over the pond portion of Washakie Creek

Milky Way over Shadow Lake

Morning light on the pond area of Washakie Creek

Morning light reflections on the shoreline of Shadow Lake

 

 

 

 

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My Take on the Eclipse

My original plan was not to shoot the recent solar eclipse. The day of the eclipse, I was scheduled to start a backpacking trip in Kootney National Park in British Columbia. But with the wildfires raging in Canada, that trip got canceled, and my brother and I decided to go to the Wind River Range in Wyoming instead. I didn’t even realize we would be near the path of totality under after we made arrangements to go (and was trying to find a motel room for the night of Sunday August 20th). So we made a minor change of plan – camping along a National Forest road instead of a motel and starting our backpacking trip in late afternoon instead of mid-day – so that we could observe (and photograph) the eclipse.

Our backpacking trail was slightly south of the path of totality, so we planned to camp the night before in the Bridger-Teton National Forest near Jackson, Wyoming prior to hitting the trail. It took us a while to find a spot to set our tent, as there were many people with a similar camping idea, but we found a nice spot at the intersection of Granite Creek with Little Granite Creek, which is also the intersection of two Forest Service roads. Unfortunately, however, it seemed like every 20 minutes or so throughout the night another car or truck would come driving up the road and stop at the intersection to decide which way to go – stopping such that their headlights shone directly onto our tent. So much for a peaceful night’s sleep.

It was frosty in the morning, with a few clouds. But these cleared off and the temperatures warmed as the eclipse drew near. We set up above Granite Creek, a half mile south of our camp site,seemingly having the whole landscape to ourselves, at least until after totality was finished – all those cars stayed wherever they had ended up in the night until after the total eclipse was over, when there was a slow, but steady exit along Granite Creek Road.

I shot with two cameras – my Canon 50D equipped with my 28-300mm zoom set at 300mm, and my Canon 6D with my 17-40mm zoom set at 17mm. I was using the wide-angle lens to get a shot of the landscape during the eclipse. I had a solar filter on the telephoto lens, and used a neutral-density filter on the wide-angle lens (combined with an f/22 aperture and fast shutter speeds) for the partial phases of the eclipse. During totality, the filters came off, and the camera settings changed to reflect the deep twilight type conditions. I bracketed like crazy as well.

During the partial phases, I took bracketed shots with both cameras about every eight minutes, using an intervalometer on the 6D and manually operating the 50D whenever the 6D shot. The bracketed telephoto shots look pretty good. However, most the bracketed shots with the wide-angle lens are underexposed (even though I was solely trying to shoot the sun and not the landscape).

Just as the eclipse started going total, things started hopping. First, my 50D started flashing a battery dying warning. I was prepared, with extra batteries for both cameras in my pocket. However, the timing was horrible. Cursing, I pulled the battery out of the 50D and tried to stuff a new battery in. It wouldn’t go. Cursing louder, I tried again. No dice. It was the battery for the 6D! Quickly pulling out the other battery out of my pocket, I slipped it in the camera, turned the camera back on, pulled off the solar filter, re-found the sun in the viewfinder, and shot off several sets of bracketed frames.

I paused briefly between cameras to look up at the eclipse with my own eyes. Amazing – like a hole in the sky with heavenly light radiating out of it! The landscape dark, like deep twilight, the sky a very dark blue. The temperature rapidly dropped to the point where it was cold without a jacket.

Then back to the work. I pulled the filter off the 6D and reset the exposure for the landscape. Unfortunately,though at the time I didn’t know it, I once again shot underexposed, even with the bracketing. To get the final image I wanted, I also rotated the camera to the left and right for shots to be later combined into a panorama.

And then, just like that, totality was over. The total eclipse lasted about one and half minutes, but it seemed much quicker. I reset the 6D back to its original position and continued shooting every eight minutes until the partial eclipse was totally over, about 85 minutes later.

My plan was to capture all phases of the eclipse to put together composite images, one with the closeup images and one with the wide-angle images. The telephoto images went together (in Photoshop) without much problem (see below). The wide-angle images are another story. Being underexposed, the landscape needed to be lightened, and there is a fair amount of noise in it. Luckily, with the sagebrush and evergreen trees texture, the noise is not too obvious. Combining the 3-shot panorama didn’t work so well either. Lightroom (which I normally use to make panoramas) wouldn’t do it, so had Photoshop put it together. I wasn’t happy with Photoshop’s auto masking of the three images, so I modified them myself. Then there was the issue of putting in all the separate images of the partial phases. Though small in the frame, the wide-angle distortion made the sun in each of these images quite distorted. While it was fairly easy to correct the distortion for a single image, making the sun round again, correcting it in each of the successive images and then setting the multiple sun images in the correct spots in the composite proved difficult. To solve this issue, I used the wide-angle images of the partial eclipse to indicate the correct position of the sun, but then overlaid greatly reduced in size images taken with the telephoto lens on the distorted wide-angle suns. The final result is shown above. It was a lot of work, but I think it came out well.

Overall, it was an amazing experience, and I was very happy we decided to go to Wyoming instead of smoky British Columbia. And I learned a few lessons about exposure and photographic technique in the unlikely event I ever photograph another total eclipse. Your comments are welcome, as always. And, if you had the opportunity, let me know how your eclipse watching went.

The so called diamond ring effect – I probably took this one with a little too much sun visible

This one, cropped way in to for detail, shows some solar flares

Just a shot of the total eclipse with 300 mm on a a 1.5x cropped sensor, then cropped a bit more in processing; notice the star visible as well in the lower left hand corner

Another shot of the total eclipse


Third Time’s a Charm

As I mentioned in my last post, Tanya and I recently spent several days camping east of Chinook Pass, during which I drove up to the pass for sunrise each morning. Chinook Pass is a great sunrise location, as it sits almost directly east of Mount Rainier and the view of the mountain is fantastic there with two alpine lakes – Tipsoo and Upper Tipsoo. Because of how the two lakes are situated, it is easy to get a reflection of Mount Rainier in upper Tipsoo Lake right from the shoreline, so it is the preferred lake for most photographers who know about it (Upper Tipsoo is not visible from the road, so unless you have prior knowledge or a map, you may not know it is there).

This is a great sunrise location because the rising sun imparts a beautiful alpenglow  on the mountain when it is visible. That’s the tricky part, when it is visible. I tried three consecutive mornings for the shot. The first morning was cloudy; the second morning was foggy at the pass (but clear elsewhere). It wasn’t until the third morning (the day we packed up camp), I was able to capture the sunrise in all its glory.

Another feature of Mount Rainier favored by photographers is that the mountain often forms lenticular clouds. Such clouds can dramatically add to a sunrise (or sunset) shot, particularly if there are no other clouds around to break up a totally blue sky. Such was the case that third morning. In fact, there were two separate lenitcular clouds over Rainier that morning, delighting myself and the, perhaps, 10 or 12 other photographers there.

As you can attest by the photo above and below, I think it was worth getting up a 5 am to drive to the pass by sunrise at 5:30 am to capture this scene.

Sunset shots at Chinook Pass are a more iffy proposition. Because the mountain is west of the pass, you are not guaranteed a good showing of alpenglow. Instead, much depends on the clouds and how they light up. I did try for one sunset shot at Chinook Pass on the trip; the result is below. This shot was taken from above Tipsoo Lake, right next to the highway. Though the sunset was lackluster, luckily there was a lenticular cloud present that gave a bit of color. I captured this image the evening before the sunrise shots above.


Waterfall Hunting at Mount Rainier National Park

Several weeks ago, Tanya and I camped for a few days east of Chinook Pass. There are many Forest Service campgrounds along Highway 410 east of Chinook Pass, and these make a great basecamp for exploring the eastern side of Mount Rainier National Park if you don’t want to (or cannot get into) the campgrounds in the park itself. While there, I drove up to Chinook Pass for sunrise each morning to capture the rising sun on the mountain reflecting in Upper Tipsoo Lake. The first morning was cloudy, the second morning was foggy at the pass (but clear elsewhere), and finally on the third morning, I was able to capture a decent shot (the shot deserves a post of its own, I’ll post it soon).

Deer Creek Falls

On that first day, the overcast conditions persisted through the day, but lightened and became partly cloudy later in the day – though there was still no view of Rainier. However, the light overcast day was perfect for another photographic subject – waterfalls. The Visit Rainier website claims there are over 150 waterfalls in the park. The Park Service just says there are “many.” I venture there are several hundred. My go-to guide for Pacific Northwest waterfalls, the Northwest Waterfall Survey, lists 317 waterfalls in Pierce County, and the majority of these are in Mount Rainier National Park.

However, camping and traveling in a place with little to no cell service, calling up the Northwest Waterfall Survey to locate waterfalls to photograph was a non-starter. I needed to do it the old-fashioned way – look at a map. I had my Mount Rainier East Green Trails map, and I noticed a couple of water falls off Highway 123 near the Owyhigh Lakes trailhead. Though I had no idea whether these falls were visible from the trail, nor how photogenic they are, this seemed like a good destination.

The first one I visited was Deer Creek Falls, a short half mile down the trail. The view from the trail looks down onto the falls as is cascades through a small, steep canyon. The view makes the falls look larger than its stated  height of 62 feet. It is quite scenic. A wide-angle lens is required to capture the full falls, with your tripod set right on the edge of the canyon cliff looking almost straight down. When you first arrive at the falls, there is a rope “barrier” (easy to step over) to encourage people not to get too close to the cliff edge, but I actually thought the view was better a bit further down the trail, past the end of the barrier.

From Deer Creek Falls, I continued down the trail to its intersection with the Eastside Trail. Heading north on the Eastside Trail, the trail crosses two bridges, one over Deer Creek right before its confluence with Chinook Creek, and the second over Chinook Creek just above the confluence. A small unnamed, unmapped waterfall (maybe it is too small to be considered a true waterfall?) is located on Chinook Creek just upstream from the second bridge. Though small, with a height of 5 to 10 feet, I liked the look of it with a clear green pool below the white water and spent about half an hour here photographing from various angles.

Small waterfall on Chinook Creek near confluence with Deer Creek.

Continuing north, the Owyhigh Lakes Trail splits off westward from the Eastside Trail. There are two more waterfalls a mile or so up the Owyhigh Lakes Trail, but I left those for another day and continued north on the Eastside Trail to find Lower Chinook Creek Falls, which can be viewed about a third of a mile past the trail junction where the trail makes its first switchback up the hill. The view is not very good, with plenty of trees in the way. I looked for a way down to the base of the falls, but decided it was too steep. The Northwest Waterfall Survey does suggest there are two possible routes, but one requires going considerably downstream and then back up to the falls wading in the creek itself, the other requiring a rope. Instead, I found a spot a short distance off the trail where I could get a good shot using my telephoto lens.

I needed to get back to camp soon, so I decided against hunting for waterfalls I hadn’t seen before and go to one last spot that is a proven winner that I have photographed several times before – Silver Falls. I hike back up the hill to the car and drove to the Silver Falls Trailhead, on Highway 123 just south of the Stevens Canyon turnoff and park entry station. It’s about a quarter-mile downhill to the falls. This is an amazing waterfall, big and powerful, on the Ohanapocosh River. Below the falls, the water is funneled into a narrow gorge with a foot bridge over the top. The best views, in my opinion, are from the trail on the east side of the bridge and from the large, flat rocks above the river on the west side in between the aforementioned viewpoint and the falls. The featured shot at the beginning of the blog is from this spot. You can also easily access the area on the west side near the top  and above the falls. It you follow the trail north of the falls, there are several spots where you can get down by the river for more beautiful shots. The Ohanapocosh River, with its clear green and blue water, is perhaps the prettiest river in the park.

Lower Chinook Creek Falls

Here is the gorge below Silver Falls. I took this image several years ago.

This is a sample of the Ohanapocosh River above Silver Falls. This image was also taken several years ago.


Shooting Seattle with Airbnb

I’d like to announce I am now offering a photography shooting experience with Airbnb. Airbnb started offering “experiences” as well as home and room rentals last year, and Seattle was one of the first cities they chose to offer experiences in. In early spring, I read in a magazine about Airbnb offering experiences and thought I should apply to host a photography experience in Seattle. I thought about offering a walking photo tour of Seattle – starting a Pike Place Market, covering the waterfront and Pioneer Square, and ending in the International District.

After spending several weeks working on my application to host, I received an invitation to attend a new host seminar in Seattle. I met with the region representative from Airbnb along with about 10 other new hosts. We received instruction and help editing our experience descriptions. They also offered the services of a professional photographer to document my experience and use on my experience webpage (see link above).

Then it was a long wait. Finally, months after initially starting the process, my experience went live a week ago or so. By this time, of course, my summer had filled up and I don’t have many days I can offer it – right now, I’m only scheduled for three days in August. But I’ll be adding more days soon.

In anticipation of going live, I thought I should actually do a dry run since up to this time my timing of my offered experience was made up of a Google estimation of the time necessary to walk the route and my guess at time needed for photography. So on a recent Saturday, I headed up to Seattle to do a dry run with Tanya as my tour “guest.” It was good we did this, as I learned a few lessons I’ll put into action when I actually do my first tour next week. And we were lucky, we ended up in the International District right as Dragonfest was occurring. I was able to get right up in the action and capture the above shot of the dragon parade.

While I can’t offer Dragonfest every time on my photo experience, I do hope to show my guests some of my favorite shooting locations in the city. If you are traveling to Seattle, consider signing up for my experience, I’d love to show you the city.