family, photography, writing

Revisiting Shirley

When we first hit the road, back in June of 2016, Ellen and I had an idyllic summer up here in Wyoming. We had already spent a good bit of time in the area, but now we had the time and freedom to explore and get a deeper knowledge of these spectacular mountains.

One of our first day hikes was to a little known high alpine lake. I was scouring my maps one day and saw it…

“I’ve never been here,” I exclaimed to Ellen.

And like that, it was settled.

We saw Islay’s abilities as a true mountain dog blossom on that long, challenging 13.5 mile day hike, our confidence and trust in her solidified. We skinny dipped in the crisp high mountain lake for the first time, ate cherries on the banks as we dried out in the warming sun. It really was one of our fondest memories from our entire time on the road.

But we haven’t been back in over four years. It’s almost as though we didn’t want to affect or soil the great memories we had from that experience by returning. As though we might be risking disappointment somehow.

However, this year, we decided to revisit this lovely spot. And this time, we wanted to do an overnighter and spend a little more time.

 

We set out with heavy packs, and a new companion. Well, new to this particular hike. Skye didn’t join our pack until the winter of 2017, so she’d never been on this trek with us.

The hike for me wasn’t as hard as it was the first time, even though on that initial trip I was only wearing a day pack. This year, I’ve been backpacking all summer already. To me, a seemingly unending resume of much more challenging treks than this.

It was nice to feel this good and confident as I approach 40 this year!

Skye of course loved every second of it and fit right in to the new landscape.

I even got to explore the lake just above us this time, which was just as gorgeous and peaceful.

Photographically, it wasn’t the best trip, as I didn’t get any of the clouds or light drama I love so, but regardless, we had a wonderful time as a family doing what we love best.  

It reminded me that our memories are important, and that the ones we hold dear don’t have to be jealously guarded so as not to lose the sacred nature of them. But that perhaps to piggy back off of them by revisiting them, honors the memory and often times expands their beauty and specialness. Good memories beget good memories. And good memories beget gratefulness. And gratefulness begets joy.

 — Andrew


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photography

YET ANOTHER BASIN

My goal this summer was to spend most of my time backpacking and hiking my home range. So far, I am thankful to have been able to walk an inordinate amount of time and miles already in the Wyoming wilderness. This past week was no different.

I chose a really difficult loop that was 80% off trail navigation. I got to see countless lakes I have never visited previously, and a whole new basin. Waterfalls, granite monoliths, and miles of difficult terrain unfolded before me.

  

 

The weather was lovely, and the mosquitos are getting to be manageable at this point in the season.

 

 

And the wildflowers are still going off!

 

Several new peaks to fall in love with.

 

 

  

All in all, it was a very difficult hike, due to the massive elevation gains and losses, dangerous boulder fields at steep pitch, and miles of felled trees. I was so ready to be done the last day, and not sure I would do the hike again… but I am so glad I did it. I was able to see some of the most spectacular wilderness, AND I didn’t see a soul for four days! Unfortunately, that is becoming less common in these mountains these days.

— Andrew


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In The Silence: Jack Creek Lake

07/08/20

Light strikes sideways

Low and golden

Rainbows and browns rise

The crowns of the trees gently sway

In the momentary ebb and flow of the wind.

Colorful ripples dance on the lake,

And then smooth out like a carefully made bed.

Fire expands in a cloudless sky

Anticipating the brilliance of stars to come.

I am alone, and small.

— Andrew


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landscape, photography, travel

WHERE I BELONG

I’ve always told Ellen that I just feel at home in the mountains… more specifically, our little mountain range in Wyoming. Well, we made it back to our summer/ fall home base, and I couldn’t be happier to be here. I’ve already done a lot of day hikes and a few backpacking trips. Out “there” is where I feel most at home.

In fact, I just completed a four day, three night trip this week to two of my favorite areas in my home range.

The hike in is pastoral and gorgeous. I’ve been to both of these areas a few years back, but I wanted to do a specific photographic trip on my own. It is bit of a haul to get to either area in one day though, so you’ve got to work for it.

I got a late start to the trailhead, and five long hours, 14 miles later, I arrived at my first destination.

It’s a stunning, alpine basin with miles of towering spires and still lakes to explore. I spent two days surveying all of the available angles.

Then, on day three, I used my route finding skills to blaze a trail up and over a pass only to drop down into the second basin of my choice. It wasn’t a lot of mileage that day, but the elevation gain and loss, boulder hopping, etc. made it a good half-day of adventure.

The last night, I finally got some good clouds and a lovely sunset. It was invigorating, as always when the conditions align.

All in all, the mosquitos were biblical plague level, and my water filter broke on day one, causing me to have to boil all drinking water, thus minimizing the mount I could drink. But in spite of the difficulties and set backs, it was an amazing and memorable trip. And it still felt like a place where I belong.

I will definitely head back out to both of these areas again before this summer ends… but I will likely wait at least until mosquito season is over…

— Andrew


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photography, travel

BACKPACKING + PHOTOGRAPHY

There is no disputing that some of the best, most unique images are created while backpacking. Why is that?

Well, for starters, not nearly as many photographers venture out far enough on foot to capture these rarely seen, pristine wilderness areas. It’s not as simple as pulling up to the next overlook in your comfy vehicle. You have to work for it. You have to carry everything on your back and walk miles upon miles to reach your shot.

So, aside from the obvious hurdle of energy exertion and being in good enough shape, what are the main obstacles to backpacking for photography? Well, simply put… weight. It’s the reason many pro outdoor photographers have made the switch to mirrorless cameras. Saving even ounces can really add up.

I have not yet mades the switch to the lighter, more compact mirrorless cameras. So I’ll be approaching this problem from the old-school perspective. But I believe I have some insight to give that will benefit both the DSLR photographers, and those who have gone mirrorless. The concepts for both are really one in the same. It’s all about saving weight anywhere you can.

First, you must try to accurately assess the location, and its specific gear needs/ requirements. I am including ALL gear here, not just photo related. If you can save ounces/ pounds with your general camping/ backpacking gear, that may mean the difference between taking a particular lens or not. For example, if you are backpacking the Pacific Northwest, you surely need to carry rain gear [waterproof jacket, pants, pack cover, tent fly, and camera cover(s)]. If you happen to be in the desert, leave most of that and simply bring the rain fly for your tent. If, in the off chance, it does rain, you can stash everything in the tent. There are certainly inherent risks in packing this way, but the reward may be that you save your back, and get the amazing shot you wanted. If you are new to backpacking all together, or just need some tips to pair things down, check out the godfather of backpacking, Andrew Skurka’s post on gear. It will prove insightful for both the novice and experienced alike. But keep in mind, he approaches this from a purely backpacking perspective, not photography.

Next, think through the possible shots you’d like to capture. This will take some research/ scouting. See my post on scouting for help if you are new to this concept. Once you have a detailed shot list created, this will help determine which (and how many) camera bodies, lenses, flash, tripod, intervalometer, filters, etc. you will likely need. Only bring what you really need to get the shots.

I have made the mistake so many times on excursions into the backcountry to take extra equipment that I thought I might need. This proved to be a waste of weight and energy exertion. I won’t downplay the difficulty in accurately assessing your pack list, but I also won’t downplay the importance to be as conservative as possible. If in doubt, just don’t bring it. Do more with less.

Make sure you have everything you need to survive, but be willing to sacrifice some comforts to get to a doable weight.

KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS. I recommend doing some test miles with your pack fully loaded to see if it’s something you can even handle. Hike at least two miles to get a feel for it. The rule is, your pack, fully loaded, should not weight more than 20% of your body weight.

This is much easier said than done. My pack, when on a photo trek is frequently closer to 30% my body weight. I DO NOT recommend this. Stick to as close to (or below) 20% as you possibly can. Your body (specifically knees and back) will thank you as you get older.

It can be intimidating to head out into the wild with everything on your back, especially for the first time. But don’t let that stop you. The rewards far outweigh the struggle. A paraphrased quote from Teddy Roosevelt sums it up best… “Nothing worth doing is easy.”

In a world of the similar photographs from the same places, that everyone posts to social media, we must work a little harder to be distinctive. The unique experiences and photos you can create are everywhere. They are simply waiting for you to find your way to them.

–Andrew

If you are new to backpacking, and would like a helpful first experience, I am excited to offer a fully-immersive, guided backpacking and photography adventure in my favorite mountain range on earth, the Wind River Range in Wyoming. I have not officially announced it yet, but if you are interested, let me know, and I will put you on the “first notified” list. You will learn first-hand from me, as I lead you into the most beautiful wilderness area in the lower 48.


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