Our musings about landscape photography, outdoor travel, hiking, gear, technology, politics, and other topics we find interesting
I’m looking forward to a month long Canadian Rockies landscape photography “expedition”, which I have been planning since December, and doing hill-training since April.
The basic itinerary:
For the first time, prior to one of these expeditions, I’ve done hill training. I've done up to 2300’, 6.5 miles with a 33 lb backpack in as little as 3 hours. My biggest day should be 2800’, 13 miles, with a 35 lb backpack. Now that I am in my mid-50s, my legs were telling I could not just “get up and go” as I have done in the past. I tend to do photography extensively on the trail, so 13 miles can take 9-12 hours with all the stop-and-go.
I did a similar Canadian Rockies expedition in 2014, with Kathy joining me for part of that trip. This time will simply be different locations, different trails.
I have done Berg Lake before, but am going back because on my first trip, it rained most of the time and the cloud ceiling was low. I am hoping for better weather this time.
I will be on my own the entire time. There are risks, as there always are. Chief risks on my mind are falling, wildfires, lightning strikes, drowning, and grizzlies. I’ll do my best to manage them. Last year in Denali was the first year I started taking bear spray and a Delorme emergency personal locator beacon. I will be doing so again on this trip.
I'm ratcheting down my no-go and bug-out criteria: If nearby wildfires or smoke from distant wildfires (shuts down my photography), or expected lightning storms, or high rains are forecast for any given backpacking trip, I won't go.
If all goes well, I hope to return with hundreds of beautiful photos of Canada’s magnificent landscapes.
Wish me Godspeed.
For our photography jaunt last spring in Utah, we did astrophotography in various locations of Capitol Reef National Park. This was our final image of of the final night, from a location near the entrance to Capitol Gorge. It is a 22-frame, 254 megapixel stitch from a 35mm lens.
A great way to end an outstanding trip. Hope you like it.
Jeff and Kathy
My parents and my sister smoked almost all of their lives. I never smoked. My Father passed away from the complications of lung cancer. My Mother is now battling her own lung cancer. I will tell you this: Smoking is a hell of a thing.
This is just a small glimpse of what smoking has done to me, and I never smoked.
Smoking is legal because this is a free country. Tell me this: How free was I to not have to go through this? I don't feel free. When someone smokes for themself, they are not the only person who pays a steep price.
Smoking. Smoking has plagued me for 55 years. Smoking is not a hell of a thing. Smoking is Hell.
If you smoke, and if there is anybody in this world that you love: a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a brother or a sister, a parent….then please, stop smoking…..if not for you, then for them. No one should have to go through this.
I like this photo because it shows the sky transition between morning and night. There is the beginning of a sunrise on the left, and there is the still-visible Milky Way on the right. Kathy and I shared this truly gorgeous morning.
Last year's trip to Utah was one of our best astrophotography shoots to date. On that 2-week trip, Kathy and I spent 3-4 nights, dusk until dawn, walking around the desert and shooting the stars and the Milky Way in Arches, Zion, and Capitol Reef National Parks.
This is one of my favorite photos from that trip. The Milky Way was rising, and as we looked for night-time compositions, I was able to find a spot where the Milky Way appeared to flow into Skyline Arch. This photo is a composite of 25 stitched photos from a 35mm lens, so it shows a huge amount of sky and a lateral ground distance of probably more than a mile. The visible Milky Way distance in the shot is probably about 25,000 light-years, give or take. The stars at the top of the photo were approximately straight up.
Hope you like it
I really, really like astrophotography. But it has some drawbacks: you are out are most or all of the night, so it is really hard on sleep. The photos are time-consuming to set up and take, so if I come away with 5 really good ones in a night, that is pretty good. They require good timing and a lot of research: when will the moon be up? is it clear? which way will the Milky Way be, and when? I usually need to do at least two trips: the first one is to scout the location during the day so I know exactly where I want to be. Plus, for the most part, there is one major angle: the Milky Way. I am trying other angles, however, like moonlight, reflections, obstructed views, people in the landscape at night, and so on. Some people do it way better than me. Paul Zizka comes to mind.
I've been using a 35mm lens, which is probably double the focal length that I should use. That causes me to take a lot of frames and stitch them together, increasing the degree of difficulty. The resultant shots, however, are very large: 70-100 megapixels or more.
With all this said, below are some of my favorite astrophotography photos taken to date:
This photos was taken at Bryce Canyon National Park. When the Milky Way is low in the sky, it looks curved. I like this photo because I (finally) got the curve of the Milky Way, plus it was silhouetted (partially obstructed) by trees. I hope to take more photos like this.
These two photos were taken at Heart Lake in Adirondack (State) Park. They are some of my very few astrophotography reflection photos.
This photo was taken looking south toward Monument Valley, in southern Utah.
This photo was taken at Snow Canyon State Park in Utah. There was just enough light from a distant town to reflect off the underside of the clouds.
This is Mt. Assiniboine, Canada. I hiked 20 miles alone over two days, in prime grizzly habitat, to get in position to take this photo. A clear night was not guaranteed.
This vertical panorama was taken in Canyonlands National Park. It is the result of about 15 stitched photos.
I love shooting vistas and panoramas of wide open spaces . More intimate photos, like macros and forest-only (ie. no streams) shots, just don't appeal as much to me. I don't really know why. I will shoot forest shots, but in my opinion, they are quite difficult to do well. It's probably due to the lack of a clear subject. Plus, there are just a lot of forests that are just not photogenic to me. By "forest shots", I mean those shots taken "in the forest", not those taken from "above the forest", which I do all of the time. I like being in the forest, but a lot of them are just not that pretty. That means, to make a forest shot interesting, it (probably) needs to be about the patterns, the colors, the contrasts, the simplicity or cleanliness, the rarity of the forest, or some seeming story that can be inferred from the composition.
Here are some of my favorite forest photo shots, along with why I like them:
The photo above is from the Kepler Track in New Zealand. What makes it work, IMO, are the mossy trees and rocks (rarity and patterns), the color saturation, the tilt of the trees, the very limited sight distance, and the cleanliness of the trail. Add to that my memory (story) of that magnificent landscape, and I like it.
The photo above is from Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand. New Zealand has probably the most interesting forests that I have seen. The bark and the moss provide contrast. It is an unusual forest (rarity). There is no subject other than the colors, the contrast, and the patterns. But in sum, it works.
This forest in Michigan's Upper Peninsula works due to the contrasting birch, the patterns, and the color saturation of the forest green.
This forest in Shenandoah National Park works due to the unusual moss and fog (rarity), and the resultant color saturation.
I like this shot from Shenandoah National Park due to the backlit trees with sunbeams (rarity). I purposefully moved so that the trees blocked the sun, so that the sunbeams were more clearly defined.
This photo, also from Shenandoah National Park, work due to the saturated ferns (color, patterns), and the moss on the distant trees (rarity), plus the cleanliness of the scene.
I like this very old shot of trees in Redwood National Park due to its rarity, cleanliness, and the color saturation.
I like this shot in Lolo National Forest for its rarity (I have not not done many winter trips, plus the partial "snow ghosts"), plus the simplicity of almost no color: the photo has mostly white and unsaturated darks.
Kathy and I are Michigan natives, now living in North Carolina. Lots of reasons: warmer weather, higher quality lifestyle, less traffic,.... We grew up south of Detroit, and we did visit Michigan's Upper Peninsula while we lived in Michigan. But only once, and only for a handful of days. In 2013, I was looking for an out-of-the-way fall color destination where we could avoid the crowds associated with Vermont, New Hampshire, and Acadia National Park. My search led me back to my home state.
Michigan's Upper Peninsula, especially the northwest portion of it, is surprisingly (to me) photogenic. The best areas, in my opinion, are
Below are some of my favorite photos of these areas from our 2013 trip. To see more, visit our Michigan Gallery.
Go in the fall to escape the bugs. The summer flies and mosquitoes can be truly miserable. While we missed peak color...we were early, and then high winds took down the leaves, we still felt it was both very scenic and productive.
Kauai is a landscape photographer's dream: Na Pali Coast, spectacular beaches, tropical sunrises and sunsets, Waimea Canyon,...the list goes on and on. Something that is truly unique is the wave action at Ke'e Beach in the winter when the surf is high. Just off the beach are some cliffs. The high waves come rolling in, hit the vertical cliffs, and then those waves bounce back and go the other way back out to sea. Those bounced waves hit the incoming waves, and the result is spectacular "constructive interference". I've had the pleasure of being at Ke'e Beach on several occasions of high surf. Maybe these waves occur elsewhere in the world, but I've only seen them at Ke'e Beach. You can photograph them from the main beach, or get closer via an unofficial "herd" path.
Last year, Kathy and I toured northern Ontario for fall color. Pukaskwa National Park, and Algonquin, Killarney, and Lake Superior Provincial Parks. If you want to get away from it all, and avoid the fall color crowds in the USA, may I humbly suggest northern Ontario. Mile after mile of nothing but forests. Wow.
One morning, our goal (OK, my goal) was to get to a trailhead at sunrise. We were on the road driving to the trailhead, and got to watch a truly exquisite sunrise start to develop through the trees. There was mile after mile of trees, so there was no place to get a clearing to photograph the sunrise. Then, we passed a house on the side of the road. The house had a pretty large clearing that offered a good view of the sun lighting up the underside of the clouds.
In general, I don't do a lot of photography off of main roads. I don't do much shooting over houses or yards. Perhaps I've turned into a little bit of a landscape photo snob.....I want my photos to be taken deep into a hike and way off of the road.
Kathy was much smarter than that. She wanted to stop. We stopped and she happily started taking photos of this exquisite sunrise. I watched her do that for a couple of minutes, and then decided that the sunrise was too good to pass up. It really was. It was one of the best sunrises I've seen in a couple of years.
I was fortunate to spend two weeks in Denali last summer (2016), mostly camping: 3 nights at Savage River, 8 nights at Wonder Lake. Wonder Lake Campground (CG) can only be reached by an 88-mile bus ride into the park. It's about as close to "end-of-the-road" as you can get. The wonderful thing about Wonder Lake CG (yes, that was a pun) is that if Denali is out, it looms huge over the campground, even though it is about 25 miles away.
Unfortunately, Denali was not out (it was hidden by clouds) much during my trip. Denali got epic, and I do mean epic, rain during my stay. It rained about half the time...not half the days, but half the time. While I stayed warm and dry (due to impeccable preparations), the rain created all sorts of trouble, including a landslide that took out the road and cut-off Wonder Lake CG, and then later made access to and from the CG difficult. The buses, instead of running about 6x per day, ran just once in the morning, and once in the late afternoon. During that time, if you missed the bus, you really "missed the bus", and your walk would be a minimum of 20 miles. Because of the weather, before my last morning, I had seen Denali out only 2 or 3 times.
While camping, I often wake up several times during the night. Sometimes I use those opportunities to see if the stars are out. If they are, sometimes I will get up at, say, 2 am to shoot the Milky Way. On my last morning at Wonder Lake, I woke about 4 am, and noticed this blue glow outside of the tent. That is usually a good indication that the sky is clear, and the glow suggested that Denali was out. I opened the tent door and I could see that Denali was out, and it was truly spectacular. I grabbed my camera gear and hiked about 1/2 mile to an overlook that I had discovered a couple of days earlier. I shot the mountain in pre-dawn light in all of its glory, which was a lot of glory.
About 5:30 am I headed back to the CG to strike camp and to catch the 6am bus, the only bus out that morning. My next chance would be about 4 pm. As I was taking down my tent, the sun rose and bathed the mountain in a beautiful red glow. It was amazing. I debated grabbing my camera and going back to take more photos. However, I was pretty sure I would miss the bus if I did that. After two weeks in Denali, even though I had a GREAT time, I was ready to go. So I caught probably the best light show in history that occurred while someone took down their tent and struck camp. As my beautiful wife likes to say "enjoy it with your eyeballs" (instead of photographing it). I took her advice. That amazing light show now exists solely in my mind.
PS: I will have my Denali photos up later in 2017. I'm way, way behind on processing photos.
Some are just in the ideation stage, but about half are already planned and reserved.
3. Sandhills Gamelands, North Carolina. Day hikes and astrophotography
4. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan. Backpacking. Jeff only
5. Colorado Rocky Mountains. Day hikes and astrophotography
7. Quebec National Parks, Canada. Day hikes, maybe some astrophotography
9. British Columbia landscapes via snowmobile, Canada. Jeff only. I've not yet done winter astrophotography. Maybe on this trip
We are truly fortunate. Looking forward to it all.
Jeff and Kathy
PS: Our 2014-2016 Trips. The links below point to our photo galleries
1. Southwest Utah: Zion, Arches, Canyonlands & Capitol Reef National Parks, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, & Snow Canyon State Park. Day hikes and astrophotography. As of today, only about 20% of the photos have been processed and uploaded, the remainder to go up sometime in 2017
2. Great Smoky Mountain National Park 2016. The focus was on streams. All photos are up.
3. Denali National Park. Jeff camped for almost two weeks; including 8 nights at Wonder Lake Campground. Epic rain, but spectacular at the same time. As of today, only one photo has been processed and uploaded. The rest (2000 frames, ~400 compositions (aka photos)) will go up later in 2017
4. Ontario for fall color: Pukaskwa National Park: Lake Superior, Algonquin, and Killarney Provincial Parks. Arguably the toughest hiking we've ever done. Go figure. Jeff has not yet processed these photos, but some photos from this trip that were taken by Kathy are up on her Favorites page
2. Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Jeff backpacked the Appalachian Trail across the western half of GSMNP
3. Adirondack Park for fall color. One of our all-time best trips for photography
2. Texas Hill Country for wildflowers
3. Banff and Jasper National Parks, Canada. One amazing month. Jeff backpacked for two weeks and then Kathy joined him for day hikes
From time to time I am asked "is it dangerous to do the the outdoors activities that you do"? Sometimes. I'm out by myself about half the time, or more, which adds to the risks. I try to be smart and to manage the risks. But $*it can happen.
In 30 years, I've been charged by moose, elk, and deer (bucks in rut), but they were easily avoided by using trees as barriers. For all the grizzlies I've seen (over 200), I've never been charged. I've shivered uncontrollably all night long, one night, in freezing temperatures in a bivy (down sleeping bag got wet). I've had heat exhaustion one time. Twenty years ago, I overturned a snowmobile in the backcountry solo at night when the temperature was about -10 F. That could have ended badly. However, the closest I came to dying was the time that I almost drowned while kayaking a Michigan river. I came very, very close.
It was about 25 years ago. I was solo kayaking the Sturgeon River in Michigan. The Sturgeon River is a small class I-II (ie. "easy") river in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. I was a competent kayaker and I have always been a strong swimmer. The day was gorgeous. The kayaking was fun....until I rounded a corner and saw a pretty large logjam on the opposite bank of a sharp turn. I thought I could power through the turn, but the current carried me right into the logjam, the kayak overturned and I got carried underneath the logs. I did not have time to take a breath. The current in that spot was about 4-5 mph, so there was no fighting it.
A logjam is known in kayaking circles as a type of "strainer", something that allows current through but that traps solid objects. If someone gets caught in a strainer, as I did, the survival rate is only about 5%.
My first thought after being swept under the logjam was total surprise that I had not powered through the turn and that the kayak had flipped. That surprise lasted a fraction of a second, and then I knew I was in serious trouble. The logjam was big, and I was being carried to the very center of it. The current slammed me into the underwater river bank. I could see that there was no place to surface. I started to use my arms to pull myself using the logs toward the edge of the logjam, but I had gotten tangled in the underwater debris and was stuck. It took me precious seconds to free myself. I then resumed pulling myself underwater along the logs toward the edge of the logjam. The problem was, by then, I was suffocating.
Years later, I was asked about this event - "didn't you panic?" I said "No, I did not panic. I knew that if I panicked, I would be dead". Interestingly, I had no fear. What I did not say, however, was that I was desperate....as desperate as I have ever been. I knew my time was up. I was determined to not breathe water into my lungs. The pain of suffocation, the pain of not breathing in, was excruciating. As I pulled myself under the logs, I could tell my vision was narrowing -- the periphery was becoming increasingly black. I was rapidly losing energy....like a battery running out of juice. I started to have diaphragm spasms, which result from the body trying to force you to breathe. I had several spasms, the last few in quick succession. I estimate that I was underwater for 1.5 - 2.5 minutes. I just kept pulling myself underneath the logs through the pain. Just as I was blacking out, I cleared the logjam, my face found the surface of the water, and I breathed.
The only problem was that I had not yet fully surfaced. I breathed in water. My body reacted with a laryngospasm, which is where the larynx, to prevent drowning, clamps shut and thus closes the airway. I went under a second time. I struggled to surface, but I did. Reflexively, I put my head back (I did not know this at the time, but that is the exact thing you should do with a laryngospasm) and tried to breathe. My larynx was completely closed. My mouth was above water, but I could not breathe. More excruciating pain. I was dying, and I could feel it. There was no airway...the air just kind of leaked in...very little. However, it was enough. The laryngospasm relaxed ever so slightly. I was able to take second tiny breath, and then a third, and then a fourth, all extremely small (not enough), labored and painful. Then the laryngospasm relaxed, and my airway opened.
I sputtered and gasped and wheezed for about half a minute. When I stopped wheezing, my hearing returned. I had lost it due to the hypoxia. I could hear everything around me. It was eerily calm...like nothing had happened. The birds were chirping. The water of the river was gurgling. I can still hear it all in my mind. I knew how very close I had come to drowning. My kayak was already more than 100 yards downstream, so I swam to get it and to collect as much of my gear as I could find.
$*it can happen. In retrospect, I probably should not have escaped the logjam. And even when I did, the laryngospasm should have killed me in my hypoxic condition. I just kept fighting, all the way to the bitter end. There was no place for self-pity nor fear, just fight. I escaped death by about one second, maybe less. I'm glad no one was with me. If someone had been with me, I'd have died trying to save them....because I would have used up that one second and more.
Since that event, I think long and hard about every single time that I ask Kathy or anyone else to go outdoors with me. If it is too risky, we don't go or we stop. We've stopped many times: the rocks were too slippery, it was too late in the day, there was lightning and no cover, there was a grizzly on the trail.... Sometimes, people don't understand why I sweat the risks the way that I do. I've even had people get angry about it. But I have seen firsthand how easily an ordinary outing can turn very dangerous. If I ask someone to go out with me, I mentally assume a lot of the responsibility to make sure that they return home safe and uninjured. Why? Because I asked them to be out there with me.
Get outside. Enjoy the wild. However, if you get into serious trouble....my advice? Don't panic. Have no fear. But be very, very desperate. It might just save your life.
P.S. I dedicate this blog post to my mother, Judy Dupuie, who is battling Stage 4 cancer, and who has enough fight in her for a small army. I got my fight from somewhere. I mean this as a true compliment
I've started to process the aerial photos that I took during my 7-day snowmobile-based landscape photography trip to Montana with Rich Ranch. See our Montana: Lolo NF and Bob Marshall Wilderness Gallery for more photos of that trip, and see my blog post that describes that trip in detail. Below are some of my favorites so far; more to be processed. Great flight with Mike Lindemer.
I just returned from a 7-day winter snowmobile tour of the Lolo National Forest and surrounding areas with the good folks of Rich Ranch. I’m looking for the right words to describe my experience: Outstanding? Not good enough. Fabulous? Still not good enough. Spectacular? Not quite good enough, but I’m running out of words, so Spectacular will have to do. Rich Ranch took it from pretty darn good to Spectacular.
My backstory is that the last time I did winter landscape photography was 20 years ago. I’ve been itching to get back out in winter, but I knew that I was going to need to do a snowmobile-based tour. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing were out. I was not interested in an auto tour. I wanted to get out close to and into the wild, and I wanted to cover a lot of ground.
I looked far and wide. I have a spreadsheet filled with options: the Yukon backcountry (I knew this exceeded my skills), British Columbia (looked pretty good), Togwotee, West Yellowstone, Montana, Alaska, Quebec,…. I pretty much looked at all of them, and contacted four outfitters/guides. My criteria were:
After I spent some time talking and corresponding with Jack and Belinda Rich, at Rich Ranch, I decided to “take a chance” and go. I’m very glad I did.
On my trip, Rich Ranch was able to dedicate a daily guide to me as a lone snowmobiler. That was good, but it got a LOT better. Early in my stay, I showed Jack some of my photos so he could see concrete examples of the type of landscape photography that I like to do. Some of those were aerial photographs. Jack mentioned that he had a friend who owned a Cessna plane, and that that friend might be able to do a flight if I was interested… I said “Sure”. The next day, family friend Mike Lindemer, who also owns the local Lindey’s Prime Steak House, was very kind to take me up for an 80-minute, open-window flight photo tour of the surrounding mountains. Wow!
Each day I would “make medicine” with Jack (his term) to determine the best places to go. With about 1500 miles of snowmobile trails in the surrounding mountains, there were lots of choices.
Days 1 and 2 were mostly clear. Days 3-6 it mostly snowed. However, I had planned ahead and brought an umbrella. I was not sure how the guides would feel about holding an umbrella over the camera to protect the lens, but they did it with a smile....including Cecil, a former bareback bronc rider!
On day 7, Jack treated another snowmobile group and me to an outdoor BBQ hosted by Mike Lindemer, in the National Forest, which was a very nice touch. Also on day 7, we went looking for snow ghosts: trees totally covered by snow, after four days of snow. We came close to finding them. I really like the photos from that day. What was more remarkable was that Jack dedicated two guides: Jon Kimble and himself, in case we got stuck in the terrain. Jack and Jon even spent a few minutes creating a passable trail down a ravine and over a stream, just so I could get into the area and get some photos. More wow!
In the evenings, I also got to learn a little about Rich Ranch, and about Jack and Belinda, and their family, friends, and staff. Interesting tidbits, such as
Before this trip, I had never done any type of guest ranch experience. Kathy and I, or I, always venture into the outdoors and into the wilderness on our/my own. I feel fortunate that my first guest ranch experience was so good. For that, I give special thanks to Jack, Belinda, Shannon, Jon, Cecil, Mike, and Raeann for their exceptional hospitality. I simply had a great time.
The ultimate criterion that I had for this trip was “did I get great photos?” I did. I am very pleased with the photos I was able to take. You can see some more of those photos here in our Montana: Lolo NF and Bob Marshall Wilderness Gallery. Some photos are up now, and more will be forthcoming over the next few weeks.
Disclosure: I have received no financial nor non-financial incentive, nor any discount, nor future promise of any type, for writing this post. Nothing. Nada. I wrote this post based solely upon the goodwill built by Rich Ranch during my stay.