Michael DeYoung: TruLife® Acrylic Feature Photographer Interview

I recently ordered a couple of prints using the TruLife® Acrylic face mount and I love the way they make my prints look.

TruVue reached out to me regarding one of those prints, interviewed me about the image (Turnagain Arm Lupine) and is featuring the interview on their site. Here is the link to the featured interview: TruLife® Acrylic Features Adventure Photographer Michael DeYoung

TruLife® Acrylic Features Adventure Photographer Michael DeYoung and his image 'Turnagain Arm Lupines'

Lupines along Turnagain Arm near Anchorage, Alaska

BEYOND THE CORRIDOR. What’s it like to backpack the Grand Canyon backcountry? What gear do you need?

Lauri tying back the screen door at a 0600 sunrise on the Tonto.

This blog features our April, 2017 trip: Tanner to Hance Rapid via the Escalante Route continuing on the Tonto Trail to South Kaibab Trail back to rim. Total distance: 54.5 miles over 7 days. Day 1 and 7 were half days. Total drop down Tanner Trail is 4,650’. Day 7 climb out was 3,650’ in 6.5 miles in 3.5 hours.

Moonrise and sunset from the end of Tanner Trail, above Tanner Rapid on the Colorado River with a touch of fall colors on riverside willows, November.

My bladder woke me at 4:48AM, 12 minutes before the alarm. The crescent moon with Venus to its north bathed in a subtle wash of blue and pink light dominated the view to the east. This was our final night on the Tonto, sleeping only with the mesh portion of the tent on a cool, calm morning. Our crew of 6 eagerly rose at 0500 to hit the trail at 0600. This was “hike-out” day and real food, a shower and beating the heat on a 3300’ climb were the main motivators for the early start. One more painfully short steep descent into the west arm of Cremation Canyon followed by a gradual 300’ climb brought us to Tip-Off Point where the eastern Tonto trail joins the South Kaibab. By the time we finish our bathroom break near 0700 on a Sunday morning we will have already seen more people at this one spot than we did the previous 6 days in the primitive sections of the Grand Canyon. In 3 hours, Lauri and I would complete our 11th multi-day Grand Canyon backpack trip.

Andy on the Tonto Trail at sunrise, coming out of Cremation Canyon approaching Tip-Off Point there the Tonto meets the South Kaibab Trail.

Most of our trips have been in March and April with two in November. This is when the inner canyon is most tolerable. For the most part, spring and fall don’t see much flash flood danger. Those floods take place mainly during monsoon season when tropical moisture can dump large amounts of rain in a very short period of time. Hikers can also face winter weather near the rim during this same time period. We’ve had trips where we used microspikes and gaiters up top with summer weather near the river.

13 year old Erich negotiating a lingering snow field with a steep drop off on the upper reaches of the Grandview Trail, April.

We’ve hiked in and out of every trail east of here including Grandview, New Hance and Tanner, including 5 Escalante Route hikes. Further west, we’ve done 2 Royal Arch Loop trips. Last November, we reluctantly did one corridor trip, camping at Bright Angel near Phantom Ranch. Finally after many years of talking about it, we did Rim to Rim (North Bright Angel to South Kaibab) in October in 12 hours. My Grand Canyon wilderness addiction started in 2001 when Lauri and I oared a raft through the Canyon for 225 miles on a private 21-day winter trip. I guess you can say we are experienced Grand Canyon hikers.

Our gang of 6 on this latest trip had a common Alaska bond. With us was long time friend and hiking buddy, John Hoffer from Seattle. Lauri and I met John at a mountain pass in Alaska in 1990 on a backcountry ski trip. We’ve been friends ever since. His two adult sons, Dean and Erich, were with us. That’s what made this trip special. We’ve known these boys all their lives and this was our first trip with them together as adults and it was great to see father and sons sharing this kind of trip. Rounding out our crew was our good friend Andrea DeVore, a lifelong Alaskan, and intrepid world traveler and hiker. All of us except for Dean, the oldest son, had been on a previous Grand Canyon backpack trip. John has been on 5 “Big Ditch” backpack trips with us. Erich did his first when he was 13 and Andy was on her second Escalante trip with us having done it for the first time in 2014.

Our mostly Alaskan group on our latest trip, hiking the Escalante Route, above Escalante Canyon

Erich at age 13 on his first Grand Canyon backpack trip down New Hance Trail, and Again, at age 20 on Tanner Trail.

A DESERT IN CONCERT. I submitted my permit application for this last trip via fax, at 8AM sharp, on Dec. 1, 2016 – the first eligible day and hour for trips starting in April. I got lucky. My permit notification was emailed to me a few weeks later. I knew that a trip in the third week of April had a greater than 50% chance of being HOT! The average mid April high at Phantom Ranch is 85, so even 5-10 degrees above average would put us at risk for heat injury. The Tonto is mostly shadeless and brutally hot. But I timed it for peak flower bloom and I’m glad I did. From what I understand, fall rains (and I remember a wet fall here) have as much influence on following spring blooms as winter rains do. It paid off.

Andrea walking among fields of gold on the Tonto Trail with prolific nakedstem in bloom as well as several species of cacti

Claret cup in bloom along the Tonto Trail, Hance Creek, April.

The Tonto Platform was in concert! In fact it was the best I’ve seen on a spring trip. Fields of nakedstem daisies, cliffrose, showy four-o’clock, paintbrush, globe mallow, prickly pear, beaver tail, hedgehog and claret cup cacti all in simultaneous bloom were everywhere not to mention the profusion of green from blooming black brush, mesquite, willow, cottonwood and service berry. This kind of desert beauty can’t be seen from the rim. Pictures don’t do it justice.

As it turned out we had average to slightly above average temperatures on this trip with zero rain and one night of strong winds. Average was hot enough. Ironically, our lifelong Alaskan, Andy, adapted the best. In fact, after a few days we were wondering if she was part reptile for all the sunbathing she did. For the rest of us, forget it. After leaving Alaska, the Hoffer boys grew up in Seattle, and Lauri and I re-located from Alaska to the high, dry and cold ski town of Taos, New Mexico. Our blood is still northern thick and probably always will be. If you hike smart and stay hydrated, the inner Grand Canyon heat is managable.

Andrea on the lower Tanner Trail, walking by numerous prickly pear cacti in boom, April.

When we arrived at Cardenas Beach, there was already a raft party camped there that we didn’t see approaching the beach from the trail above. I remember from our raft trip that there are many great beaches to camp on, but Cardenas isn’t really one of them as it is overgrown and rocky. We bushwhacked upstream of the rafters to eat an early dinner, hydrate (“camel up”) and chill in the afternoon heat. Another mile up would bring us to one of my favorite dry camps, above the cliffs that line Unkar rapid on river left. This time it would not be as pleasant as I was in previous trips. The all night westerly winds damaged a couple of tents and resulted in a short night’s sleep. Strong winds kept the temperature from falling very much. It didn’t go below 60 and I didn’t crawl into my bag until wee hours of the morning. Strong nocturnal winds usually relent some in the morning. They calmed to a slight breeze, enough for a fairly pleasant breakfast with a few minutes to enjoy the stellar view of the inner canyon, river and rapids below. What lied ahead was my favorite section of trail along the Escalante Route.

Three hikers On the Escalante Route, climbing above Cardenas Beach and the Colorado River with Unkar Rapid below, April.

A NIGHT ON THE BEACH. We had 6 miles to go to Escalante Canyon our next access to the river and water. From there it was another 1.5 miles to our camp that night. The day involved varied terrain, with a 1000’ climb around an ancient landslide, more dazzling wildflower displays and a beautiful slot canyon, Seventy-Five Mile. The day was hot, but there was shade. We would end at Papago Beach, a secluded lovely beach on the border of our designated use area and too small for a regular sized raft party. Most raft parties continue another half mile down river to the much larger camps at Hance Rapids. We’ve camped here 5 times and have always had it to ourselves.

Alaskan hikers, Andy, Lila and Ashley with a backpacker dinner in the sand at Papago Beach, on a 5-day Escalante Route trip, April

The last half mile from Seventy-Five Mile to Papago was the hottest. At 3 in the afternoon you are rock hopping over dark, hot, loose rocks. There is no trail, just a few loosely cairned routes. This is one of those spots on the Escalante where the going is slow. My skin was parched and I felt like fire would shoot out of my eye sockets at any time. I was the first to arrive at Papago with others not far behind.

When I took off my pack under a willow feet from a sandy beach along a large eddy, I stripped down to my shorts. You don’t even think about it. Do it before you cool down. The only way to end a hot hike into the Colorado River is with full and sudden commitment. I dove in to the 44 degree beautiful green water. It feels great for a split second. Then reality hits. In the desert air, you really don’t need a towel on a day like this. I was dry in 15 minutes.

Erich diving into the Colorado at Papago Beach on an 85 degree late afternoon. Papago is a nice hot weather camp as there is shade, cool water and the sun goes behind the towering walls of the Inner Gorge early.

Beyond the Corridor trails with their bathroom, water, rest and emergency phone stations along the way as well as guaranteed tent sites with picnic tables and toilet, lies a truly wild Grand Canyon backcountry experience. I’ve backpacked in a lot of beautiful places, along the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails, including the High Sierra, North Cascades, the Colorado San Juan, the Idaho Sawtooth, and Glacier National Park not to mention many backcountry trips in the Alaska and Brooks Ranges. The Grand Canyon backcountry is world class offering stunning beauty, challenging trails and solitude. At first glance, going to rim viewpoints, and hiking the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails, you would’t think that solitude would be  possible here. Thanks to effective backcountry management it is – even at the peak of spring break.

Sunrise on the Tonto Platform, looking 1400′ down into the Inner Gorge, where Grapevine Creek meets the Colorado, 7-day Escalante Route-Tonto Trail, April.

I commend the NPS for their management of the backcountry. You have to know something about how the use areas are laid out, how to plan your pace and how to submit an application 4 months ahead of time. Demand is increasing and sometimes we don’t get a permit. That’s OK. Permit holders are pretty much guaranteed a quality wilderness experience, provided they have the skills, equipment and physical ability to execute their trips without incident.

The backcountry office can be hard to get a hold of on the phone but for the most part they have been helpful and knowledgable. There is a lot of good and helpful information on the backcountry pages of the Grand Canyon website including trail descriptions and water sources with distances and elevation changes that are helpful for planning. I’m not going to post links here. If you’ve passed Googling 101, these pages are easy to find. The book I use the most for ideas and planning is the Falcon Guide: ‘Hiking Grand Canyon National Park’ by Ron Adkison.

Elves Chasm, where Royal Arch Creek meets the Colorado. This scene is a 3 day backpack or a 10 minute walk for rafting parties.

At first glance, the Park Service’s trail descriptions seem to over exaggerate the difficulty and dangers of the wild and primitive trails. I understand their position though. They are the ones that have to pluck hikers out of the backcountry who over estimated their abilities or just ran into bad luck. Sure, there are some very steep and exposed sections of trail. If you have solid footwear, reasonable balance, accustomed to hiking steep mountain trails with a pack, you should be fine. Yes, there are potentially long water hauls across long stretches of unshaded and hot terrain. Have an itinerary that allows you to take long mid day breaks. If you have the capacity to carry needed water, know how to find it when it is not obvious from the trail, and have a manageable pack load to allow for heavy water loads then you will be fine.

The Royal Arch Loop requires a 20-foot rappel to get to Toltec Beach seen below beyond the edge of the shadow. We carried 1-inch webbing for a sling and one carabiner which we shared the rappel (to save weight) and lowered the packs with the 50 foot of line we carried. The rappel was the easy part. The approach to the rappel was very steep and exposed, difficult to follow (the first time) with razor sharp limestone and loose rock on steep slides. Below the rappel, the walking on marbles down steep slopes continue. It’s hard to get through this section unscathed. Leather gloves are a huge help here. March.

Navigation and route finding can be challenging especially on your first trip. Outside of boating the river, there is no direct route to anywhere in the Grand Canyon. Even on the well worn sections of the Tonto it can be easy to temporarily lose the trail if you are not paying attention. Don’t rely on just your phone as your sole source of navigation. Carry a paper map and compass and know how to read it. On our first Royal Arch trip, we lost the route on the Esplanade going around the Toltec drainage and ended up spending 3 hours going 1 mile over a treacherous landslide. At one point, Lauri accidentally kicked a rock the size of a recliner down and it almost pinned my leg and would have snapped it if it did get pinned. That would have ruined our day. We were not lost. We know where we needed to be. We just missed the cairned route that laid out the best way to get there.

The “trail” on the Esplanade, From South Bass Trail to Royal Arch drainage, May.

ASCENDING THE TONTO. Hance Rapid is an interesting place. It is the first technical rapid river runners encounter and it’s advisable to scout. A beautiful setting with abundant beach camping, it is where Red Canyon and the New Hance Trail, one of the South Rim’s most difficult descents, ends at the Colorado River. This would be our last river contact and last water re-supply before reaching Hance Creek, 1500 feet up and 5 miles away. Getting here is only .6 miles from our Papago Beach camp. However, the route took over an hour.

If there was any place one is likely to snap an anke or tib/fib it would be going down the Papago Slide. Loose, steep and rocky, it is easy to kick rocks down below. For safety we went one at a time. On the bright side, if you did get hurt here, it was only a short distance to the beach where a raft party could help. That didn’t provide much comfort to me though.

Hauling packs up the “trail” above Papago Beach, Escalante Route. March

At Hance, the Escalante Route ends and the Eastern Tonto begins. Once on the Tonto, the hiking is considerably easier as the trail contours around side canyons with only minor climbs and descents. This spring, water was more abundant due to a wet winter. It’s still hot though. The trail is narrow and the stiff branches of blackbrush will result in many superficial scratches on your calves. There are also stretches of trail through cactus mine fields. But the dazzling spring green, wildflowers, steep side canyons, and views of the river and inner gorge and awesome view camps made us forget about time on our remaining 3 days.

The Grand Canyon backcountry isn’t for everyone. We witnessed a disturbing reminder of that on our second Royal Arch Loop trip. We found an abandoned backpack on the far western end of the Tonto. Some guy left a nearly full backpack, with boots, clothes and food which were rummaged by rodents and ravens already. We ran into a volunteer sent down to investigate. We never did learn what happened there.

The Grand Canyon backcountry isn’t for everyone. We found this abandon backpack with men’s hiking boots and clothes and unopened backpack food which was already rummaged through by ravens and rodents, near Garnet Canyon on the western Tonto Trail on a Royal Arch Loop trip. This was a little spooky. We inquired when we returned to the Backcountry Office 4 days later, but never found out what happened. March

The primitive and wild areas of the Grand Canyon have become part of our normal stomping grounds. I don’t consider the Grand Canyon backcountry to be particularly dangerous or difficult as long as you have some sense of how trails and routes are laid out, how to read a map, have adequate food, know how to avoid heat injuries and dehydration, and know how to select suitable camps. That said, I never forget this is truly wild country and the canyon shows no mercy for the unprepared or for those with poor judgement and cocky overconfidence. The demographic that experiences the most injury and mishaps in the Canyon are young adult males who consider themselves athletes. Don’t be that guy! If you can, go with experienced hikers who’ve done the route before. If you have the right skills, equipment and sound judgement and approach this awesome vertical desert world with a sense of healthy respect then be prepared for a memorable, sometimes challenging, rewarding wilderness experience that will draw you back again and again.

Our all Alaskan crew making memories at camp above the Redwall, Tanner Trail, April.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

TRAIL PACE. The corridor trails are like other well worn mountain tracks such as the John Muir Trail but steeper and hotter. While hiking the JMT and other portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, doing a 15 mile day was effortless and we could easily do a 20 mile day if we pushed a little. That pace in the Grand Canyon backcountry would be a dangerous fools errand and an unneccessary forced march. On the well worn parts of the Tonto, we planned a 10 mile/day pace if you didn’t have to carry more than a day’s worth of water. Plan less if you have to carry 2 days worth. On the nasty approach trails such as New Hance and Tanner we plan on less than 1 mile/hour pace. This also applies to portions of the Escalante Route and Royal Arch Loop. Here we plan on 7 mile days. You need to leave time to not hike in the heat of the day. In addition, sometimes getting water can be an hour affair as you may have to walk 30 minutes up or down a side canyon to a water source. Unless you get lucky with cool weather, once in the lower elevations of the canyon your best strategy is to start hiking early to beat the heat, seek shade in the hottest part of the day then resume in late afternoon when more shade develops. When you have to plan your trip 4 months in advance it’s hard to determine what the weather will be.

John and Lauri standing near the Royal Arch, the largest natural arch in the Grand Canyon in the noon sun. It is a steep descent to the Royal Arch with several drops where you need to remove and lower packs down. Our strategy was to camp near where the trail climbs out of the the Royal Arch drainage over to Toltec beach, and then day hike down to the arch. Much easier on the knees and back. March

AT-LARGE CAMPING. Having the skills and confidence to choose your own campsite with 30 minutes of daylight left comes from years of experience and detailed map reading ability. The quality of at-large camping and solitude in the Grand is one of the main reasons I come here. Few places can rival the Esplanade or Tonto for star gazing with 360 degree stellar views. There is zero light pollution out here.

Our group sharing dinner from our last trip in April, 2017 at a dry at large camp on the Tonto Trail near the mouth of Grapevine Canyon

There seem to be two types of campers: valley and ridge campers. Valley campers like to be nestled and cozy, close to a water source. It’s not uncommon for three parties with a permit for the same use area to all camp at the same place, a perennial water source, such as Hance Creek. In these places you’ll find well worn tent sites, big shade trees and wind protection, but not solitude. As a photographer and hopeless claustrophobic, I’m a ridge camper. That’s where the action is. I don’t want to be in a hole, or under a canopy of trees with other parties I don’t know. I want to be where the first and last rays of light will be, and, as mentioned earlier, where the star gazing is along with 360 panoramic views.

Photographer and author, Ike Waits photographing the Milky Way from a dry camp on the Tonto Trail near Lonetree Canyon, November.

My preference is to dry camp and it is not that difficult. For one dinner and breakfast and teeth brushing between water sources it is only an extra liter per person (2 lbs). Otherwise the amount of water I carry between sources would be the same. So we “camel up” at a water source, then carry water to a dry camp.

Ridge top or open country camping is not without risk. We had one night of gale force winds on this last trip and two tents sustained mild damage. The ground is hard and not very stake friendly. Have a high quality 3 season tent and know how to stake it out with a deadman. Or cowboy camp, which is possible 90% of the time. Usually, we just sleep without the rainfly. This way we can still star gaze and be protected from little creepy crawlies in the night.

Lauri at camp on the Tonto with the Big Agnes Copper Spur Platinum with only the bug mesh. Tent is lit by a Luci light, an inflatable LED with built-in solar charging panels. We like this better than a headlamp. April

GEAR: The best strategy for off corridor backpacking in the Grand is to go as ultra light as possible. Adopt the PCT/AT style of backpacking. Dean and Andy had their base weights to 9 lbs. Mine was at 16 and that was OK with me. That included 3 lbs of camera gear. Having a manageable base weight makes it easier on your knees for the steep plunges down canyon and easier to deal with a 2-day water carry. Below I will lay out the big 3, pack, tent, sleeping system, food, then all the other stuff. Remember, you don’t carry a pack. You WEAR it. Pack selection and fit is just as important as footwear. Don’t go on an extended day trip, especially here, with a pack you have never tested before.

PACK: Lauri: ULA Catalyst, less than 3 lbs. Me: Custom fit and made McCale at 4 lbs. This pack comfortably carries heavier loads. With this pack I can hike 2-3 hours with a 35 lb load and not need a break. Other Ultra Light packs on our latest trip were a Gossamer Gear Mariposa (Andy) and a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest (Dean) – a great pack.

Dean with a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 ultra light backpack, heading down the Tanner Trail below the Redwall.

Cottonwood trees in peak fall color, the week before Thanksgiving in Cottonwood Creek. After 1 bone chilling day, the weather warmed to very pleasant conditions below the Redwall. This time of year, a 20-degree bag is a good idea. Lauri is carrying a ULA Catalyst pack, November.

TENT: There is a growing array of lightweight shelters from cottage industry manufacturers such as Six Moon Designs, Tarp Tent, Z-Packs and Hyperlite Mountain Gear. We have a Big Agnes Copper Spur Platinum 2.8 lbs with everything. That makes it 1.4 lbs per person well within ultra light territory.

The modern ultra light backpacker, Andrea, with an ultra light pack, Gossamer Gear Mariposa, a solo Big Agnes Fly Creek and a small 7oz solar charger for her iPhone. This is from a dry camp above the Redwall, looking into Furnace Flats at the end of the Tanner Trail.

SLEEPING SYSTEM: Nowadays, it is easy to get a high quality down bag (800 or 900 fill) 30 degree bag for less than 2 lbs. In fact you can get a 30 degree quilt for about a pound. Lauri’s 20 degree Feathered Friends Flicker quilt is 1.6 lbs. Pad: We use Exped Synmat at 14 oz and a Big Agnes Q Core SLX at 15 oz. We also use Z-Rests which weigh another 12 OZ. Some of the younger folks use only a Z-Rest. At my age, I’m sleeping comfortable. I bring both. The Z-rest is worth its weight in gold. I’ve never had an inflatable pad leak but if it did, I would still have some padding and insulation below me with the Z-Rest. I also believe the Z-rest helps protect an inflatable mattress. I carefully check it for anything prickly before I place it in the tent. I also use the Z-rest for mid-day naps and long rest breaks.

John star gazing from a bivvy sack at a dry camp above Hance Creek on the Tonto Platform, April.

STOVE: Soto Windmaster. 2.3 OZ. Best stove I’ve used. An 8oz MSR or Jetboil canister lasts 5-6 days boiling 1.5 liter a day for meals/tea for 2. Go stoveless for even lighter pack.

Dean making morning tea at a dry camp along the Tanner Trail with a Soto Windmaster Stove, and a Six-Moon Designs ultra light tent.


KITCHEN: 1 liter titanium pot with lid, long titanium spoon, a titanium cup, very small green scub pad and a very small bottle of bleach is our entire backpack kitchen kit. We also bring a small disposable lighter for back-up if the stove piezo lighter fails.

FOOD: We use the same guidelines we use for a long distance through hike. Generally speaking, we shoot for 2 lbs per person per day and most everything we bring meets the minimum of 125 calories per ounce. Going hungry on a backpack trip sucks. So does bringing too much or heavy food. A backpack trip in the Grand is no place to diet. You are burning calories and sweating out salts and electrolytes. Leave the fat free, sugar free, dairy free, (everything else that’s good free) crackers at home. Snickers bars and Cheez-its are your friend out here. We buy Mountain House freeze dried granola, and scrambled eggs in bulk and then vacuum seal our own portions. We also buy a lot of dehydrated bulk food at Winco such as mashed potatoes, beans and dried cheese. We also buy commercially dehydrated meats and put together our one-pot meals at home. Don’t forget electrolytes. We use Propel and Emergen-C. We bring enough for 2 liters a day of drinks with electrolytes. These greatly help with joints, energy level and brain function. Food is carried in ultra light stuff sacks.

Salt crusted shirt pattern from pack and shoulder straps on Dean from the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 pack. In the dry air, you sweat more than you think. Replacing electrolytes is important.

Our Alaska crew sharing evening freeze-dried backpack meal at a dry camp above Hance Creek on the Tonto, April

CLOTHING. All clothing for our 7 day trip is 2 pounds for a mainly hot weather hike. We carry different clothing for a cold weather hike. If you are in the Canyon in March or November you have to carry for both cold and hot weather. We basically adopt a wear one, carry one philosophy. I carry only one extra t-shirt, socks and undies. I have one pair of full zip long pants that slip over shoes and shorts with a draw cord waist for 6 oz. I have one pair of running shorts and one long sleeve button down shirt. Don’t waste your money on a $100 shirt that has an “SPF”. A used dress shirt from a thrift store will have the same SPF. And you can trash it. For $5. I take a very light t shirt for sleeping. I have a Patagonia hooded down jacket for 10 oz along with a lightweight fleece beanie hat to take off the morning chill. For rain gear, which I’ve only needed for 10 minutes on 11 trips here, is the Outdoor Research Helium jacket. For cold or wet weather hiking I take a very lightweight Patagonia base layer t shirt. SOCKS: I like Wright double layer socks, ankle high. The double layers really help prevent blisters. Lauri likes Darntough socks. They are too hot for me.

It’s not aways hot in the Grand Canyon. Even in November, cold spells usually only last a day or two before it’s nice again. Featured here is Ike and Lauri on a cold windy morning on the Tonto near Lonetree Canyon.

SHOES. The Grand Canyon backcountry is no place to test new footwear. Have your shoe/sock system dialed in before you come here and make sure you can hike several days in a row without getting blisters. They suck and really slow your pace down. I’m a late convert to light weight trail running shoes. Now I will never go back to the Swiss-Alpine leather waffle stompers I used to use. I use LaSportiva Wildcats. Lauri uses the ever popular Altra Lone Peak trail runners. They come from the factory ready to accept Dirty Girl gaiters. How cool is that? Dirty Girls, cheap with many cool patterns to choose from, are worth their weight in gold.

TREKKING POLES: We use Black Diamond carbon fiber Z-ploes. Poles save knees, provide ankle support, help flip pesky rattlesnakes off the trail, can be used as tent support (some UL tents are designed to use poles as their support) and can be used for deadman anchors on your tent in strong winds. We’ve even used them to assist in hanging a food bag on a branch just beyond our reach. If you do break a limb, then you have a readily available splint.

John Hoffer descending a typical ledge drop on Royal Arch Creek, Royal Arch Loop, March.

WATER FILTER: Sawyer Squeeze with chemical tablet back-up. The Sawyer filter system comes with collapsible 1- liter containers. You get your water from the source into these bags, then filter from those bags to a clean container. The Sawyer filter also fits on a Dasani/Aquafina bottle with just some minor leakage. In the past, we used a Steripen. We’ve never been sick from Grand Canyon water with either system.

Lauri filtering water with the Sawyer squeeze filter into a used over and over again Dasani water bottle at Cottonwood Creek along the Tonto Trail, November.


WATER BOTTLES: Steel canteens are heavy. We’ve used the same Dasani 1 liter water bottles for over a year now. Much lighter. We carry 2 each.

ADDITIONAL WATER CONTAINERS: MSR Dromedary bags were our gold standard for carrying water to dry camps or for long hauls. They are heavy. The new kid on the block is Hydrapack. We have 2 of the 3-liter collapsible containers. They are guaranteed against puncture and leakage. When not needed they fold up small and weigh much less than Drom bags. They are also more durable than the Sawyer collabsible containers. I make sure each person has the capacity to carry at least 6 liters.

Cooling off at Papago Beach after a long hot day’s hike on the Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon.

Pacific Crest Trail Personal Portrait Project

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL HIKER PORTRAITS.

The Smith Boys, three generations of hikers from Tehachape, on Kearsarge Pass in the Sierra. We ran into them as we were returning to the PCT from our last resupply at Independence.

Here, finally, I am posting a collection of hiker portraits as personal photo project. Some of these images have already been published on previous posts from my PCT 2016 hike. I hiked the trail with a new camera, a Sony A6300 with a Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens, so I was learning the camera as I hiked and used it. As a way to learn the camera, as a chance to come out of my comfort zone as a photographer, and focus on a weakness, I set out to make portraits of select hikers I came across on the trail.

I did not take a tripod with me on my hike through Washington to save weight. I wanted to do something a little more dynamic as a self-portrait than the cliche “standing at Monument 78 at the border” shot, which I did anyway. Four miles from the border at Hopkins Pass I fiddled with the self timer mode and propped my camera on some rocks to make a few self portraits. The distant ridges in the background are Canada.

Don’t get me wrong. I also took plenty of images of other subjects within my normal area of expertise, like landscapes, hiking action and camp scenes. I did all my trail photography as a minimalist. I had no lighting. All I had was one camera and one lens. Sometimes I would run across hikers in the middle of a harsh sunny day and after a 5-minute conversation, try to make the best portrait image I could given the conditions. Other times I photographed hikers who became friends and hiking companions – most notably, the Frenchtastic Four. These were four millennials from France, all friends prior to hiking, doing this big adventure together in America. They were so awesome to hang out and hike with.

Nancy and Linda, two delightful women at the Stehekin, Washington Campground, who hiked in from Highway 20 at Rainy Pass. Linda, on the right, had a vintage rucksack – almost the exact pack I carried at Philmont Scout Ranch in 1976 except mine was burnt 70’s orange. They were camped next to me when I arrived and we talked for several hours.

My hope was that being in a wilderness environment and connecting with like-minded people would ease my apprehension of asking people to be photographed. It did help but I was surprised at how hard it was to overcome my extreme introverted persona even on the trail. I don’t feel these are earth shattering portraits by any means but I do feel like I’ve improved and that is a good feeling. Ironically, soon after we pulled off the trail, I was hired by a national client to make portraits, mostly sports portraits mixing natural with strobe lighting. Fortunately, they were pleased with the results.

Zed (Liam) is a Scottish Southbound hiker. He is a seasoned world traveler, having worked as a nurse and hiked in Australia, Tasmania and Iraq. He was the first PCT hiker I met on the trail, on day one, 4 miles from Harts Pass. I was starting my northbound “tag the border” hike and he was returning from his border tagging and continuing south. I didn’t photograph him then as it was raining. We leapfrogged each other regularly in the northern half of Washington. I photographed him here in the Glacier Peaks Wilderness. A day or two after this meeting he dropped his very expensive carbon fiber ice axe on the trail. I picked it up and carried it for two days and got it back to him at Snoqualmie Pass.

Gang of SOBOs in the rain and hail at Mica Lake, waiting for visibility to clear before heading up Fire Creek Pass. Sherry, Andrew and I went first despite the horrible weather. New hail and snow covered the trail and boot pack on the pass so we had to do a few minutes of GPS navigation to find the trail.

Lauri and I will be section hiking all of Washington this summer and I will continue with this project then.

Northbound thru hiker, “Hummingbird” (Tela) in morning fog on summit of Grizzly Peak just outside the southern boundary of the Glacier Peak Wilderness. She was the first PCT thru hiker I photographed both in action and here as a portrait. She had done most of the trail northbound being stopped by fires. So she was section hiking Washington northbound.

“Hummingbird” (Tela) in morning fog on summit of Grizzly Peak just outside the southern boundary of the Glacier Peak Wilderness. I wouldn’t classify this as a true portrait. It represents what I’m more comfortable with: action and environmental portraits. This was one of my most liked Instagram post from my PCT hike.

I never got her name but this is one of my favorite portraits of a hard working trail maintenance volunteer from 350 Blades, Washington Trail Assocciation and Pacific Crest Trail Assocciation working near Govermnent Meadow Camp and Mike Ulrich Cabin near northern border of Norse Peak Wilderness. I spent about 30 minutes talking to and then photographing several trail crew members.

This is CC, Color Coordinated, from the Class of 2015 who successfully thru hiked in 2015 northbound. I met her in the Norse Peak Wilderness in Washington. She was section hiking Washington only, northbound, because the previous summer it rained during most of her hike.

Section hiker, Dutchess, is a life coach and author. She teaches women over 50 how to backpack. Here she is in a hammock tent and camped where I stopped to have dinner nearby a stream. Her website is www.transformation-travel.com

Southbound thru hiker (SOBO) trail name “Neemore” (need less, want more) hiking in early morning at Scout Pass with Mt. Rainier in background

Thomas of the Frenchtastic Four, pauses along the Knife-edge in the Goat Rocks Wilderness as Juliette (seen in his right sunglasses lens) finishes crossing a snowfield.

Juliette and Thomas, a couple, part of the Frenchtastic Four from Paris, eating dinner at camp at sunset high up in the Goat Rocks Wildernness.

Pierre, part of the Frenchtasic Four, at camp near Old Snowy in Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness. We just finished a 19 mile day. I hiked with him and his 3 other Parisian friends through the Goat Rocks. These four French friends did most of the trail southbound and stayed together for most of the trip which is remarkable.

This is Custard, and his human companion, Julie, section hiking in Washington in the Mount Adams Wilderness. Custard has his own hiking permit attached to his saddle bags. And he liked to be vocal. Too good to pass up on this totally candid moment.

This portrait essay would be incomplete without a totally candid shot of my sweetheart, showing that her left leg is now fully intact 4.5 months after breaking her tibia plateau. Here we are at camp on her first night on the trail last fall in the Sierra. A combination of weather, business obligations and realistic limits after healing from a broken leg, we only hiked 230 miles in the Sierra, dodging a few snowstorms and storm force wind events. We will be back in late summer/fall, 2017 hiking through Washington, southbound.

Hotwater (Brooke) is a Canadian southbounder who caught up with us as we were heading to Sonora Pass. We were both resupplying at Kennedy Meadows Resort. This is him packing up on the porch of the main lodge. Another hiker, Honey Badger, from Georgia is in the background.

Spicerack (Aly) was a successful southbound thru hiker. I met her way up in Washington in early July as I was heading north to tag the border. She was heading south after tagging the US/Canada border. We chatted in the rain and cold but regretfully I didn’t photograph her then. I got a second chance when she arrived at Kennedy Meadows resort near Sonora Pass in October and I photographed her and her friend, Crusher, as she was heading back out to the trail.

Lauri hiking into Tuolumne Meadows during the beginning of the snowfall that eventually closed the road over Tioga Pass into Yosemite a few days later.

Not exactly a classic or flattering portrait but nonetheless, graphic and realistic. This is the price you pay for having not learned that skin can atrophy like muscle, when not used for 4.5 months. Her right foot was unscathed. I took this during a layover day in Mammoth Lakes.

Best Of 2016 – New Mexico to Alaska and Points In Between

In this post I am showcasing a selection of my most memorable images of 2016. Each one has an expanded caption providing context on how the image came to be.

Are these really my “best” images of the year? Hard to say. The hardest part in doing a “best of” series is narrowing your selects down to a reasonable number. Photographers, even with 20+ years of commercial experience, are still their own worst editors. To help with my selection, I relied on the opinion of others. First, I chose 6 of my top 10 Instagram posts of 2016. Next, I chose several selects from 4 memorable assignments. The remainder are personal favorites with little regard for their commercial potential. They are shots that represent milestones for me or just shots I really dig. My personal favorites include a mix of Alaska and Southwest landscapes and some from my Zion workshops.

Instagram Top 10 – Spring photo workshop, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F/4L IS at 28mm ISO800 1/40 sec @f6.3 hand held with Image Stabilization.
This is Roxanne, one of my Alaskan friends that took my spring workshop. After the workshop, she hung around so we could go to places that we can’t go to during the workshop like hidden slot canyons that I don’t reveal. This shot is a bit cliche’ but it is my top Instagram post for the year. It also got picked up by Canon USA and Canon UK where it received thousands of likes.

I always try to challenge my photographic weaknesses, mostly shooting candid portraits. I define “weakness” as being uncomfortable or unconfident that I am making good images in a genre that I normally don’t shoot much of. I like action and environmental portraits better than static ones. I tried this mainly on the trail as I anticipated instant camaraderie with fellow trail hikers. Even then, I only “clicked” with a few fellow hikers that I felt comfortable photographing at close range. Fortunately, 2 of my action portraits, one from the PCT, made my Instagram top 10. That gives me some validation that I am getting better at portraits!

Sometimes great images just fall into your lap. But that is the exception, not the rule. There are a few here where that happened. For example, on a foggy ridge just outside the Glacier Peaks Wilderness on my southbound Pacific Crest Trail hike through Washington, I almost literally “ran into” Hummingbird, a northbound hiker. 5-minutes later, I made an on-the-spot action portrait of her that became my favorite trail portrait and my second most popular Instagram post of 2016.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70/F4 at 26mm ISO400 1/25sec @f6.3, with B+W polarizer, hand held.
This shot exemplifies the ideal of spending more time finding the image than actually shooting it. We arrived at this location at Island Pass in the Sierra in mid-afternoon with the mountains you see in harsh backlight with a stiff breeze across the lake. This is Banner Peak, an icon around Mammoth Lakes and the Minaret Range. Most people shoot this from the well-known Thousand Island Lakes which was 2 miles further down trail. After analyzing where the morning light would be, we decided to stay here to make sunrise shots. When my iPhone alarm went off on this frosty fall morning, we were blessed with clear skies and calm winds. Lauri knew exactly what to wear and where to go. I knew exactly where to shoot from to frame up a pleasing horizontal and vertical versions of this image.

More often than not, great images are the result of spending more time finding the image than the actual shooting. Your ability to find and exploit great light, to make light when Mother Nature isn’t helping, and to read your subject’s emotions and personalities directing and motivating them to get what you are after visually are all important skills beyond your technical mastery that define who you are as a photographer. They define your vision and it is your vision, not your equipment, that gets you hired. On assignments and personal productions alike, there are always problems to solve and creative soul searching to do that lead to great imagery.

As a workshop leader and instructor, teaching and motivating others on how to take better images, I am careful to make sure I always practice what I preach, placing more emphasis on vision and creativity than on technique or equipment. Focusing and improving on your life skills and creative vision make it possible to fully exploit unforeseen, “fall into your lap” photo opportunities even when you are on assignment executing a shot list. It sure helps keep photography fun!

Personal Favorite – Turnagain Arm, Alaska
Canon 5DIII 24-70F2.8L at 29mm ISO100 1/3 sec @f16 with Singh-Ray 3 stop, soft step graduated neutral density filter
Lupine wildflowers at sunset along Turnagain Arm, near Girdwood, AK. Been shooting these for decades. Never gets old. I just keep updating my landscapes on newer digital sensors. The sky, the water level and color, and feel of the light are always different.

Assignment Image – Clovis, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F/2.8L at 40mm ISO320 1/500 sec @f7.1 with ST-E3 transmitter and 600RT speedlite with Spinlight 360 grid.
I got another chance to make some sports portraits using our strobes and mixing the light with the waning sunset colors and stadium lights at the Clovis High School. This was Rohan, a Wendy’s High School Heisman 2016 national finalist.

Personal Favorite – Tonto Trail backpacking, South Kiabab Trail to Grandview, Grand Canyon National Park.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 16mm ISO3200 15 seconds @f4
This is our friend and fellow photographer Ike on a November backpack trip. At an at-large camp above the Inner Gorge with virtually no light pollution, we were shooting lit tents (Lauri painting with a headlamp) when I noticed his LCD screen illuminating his face. So I made him next to his tent my subject allowing the very low intensity light from his camera LCD to paint him with light. Ike did great holding still for 15 seconds. I shot this with my new backpack camera, the Sony A6300 mirrorless with Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Subway, Zion National Park, Utah
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 17mm ISO100 1/20sec @F/16 with B+W circular polarizer
After our Zion Fall Landscape Workshop, I got a permit for the Subway, a 6 mile hike to this very spot. We can’t go here during the workshop so I went here the day after it ended and one of my participants went with me. I’ve been at the Subway multiple times but the last 5 times has been from the top down, which most photographer’s don’t do since the top-down route is technical and involves swims and rappels. When I do that I focus on the adventure side of the Subway. I wanted to go back and re-do a lot of landscapes on newer cameras. When we got here there was a group of 6 people lined up all across this scene. But no other shooter saw this angle. When one photographer pulled out I went to his spot but I decided to stand in the waist deep pool behind me and shoot this low angle. I asked the photographer to my right to move over slightly (which he obliged) but I still got a piece of his tripod in the image.

Assignment Image and Instagram top 10, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 20mm ISO200 1/125sec @f16 with St-E3 on camera and 600RT with Spinlight 360 with half cut CTO and 1/4″ grid
This is from the La Tierra Trails in Santa Fe. I love working action with more than one person and using off camera lighting and making it all work. I prefer to shoot into the light with some sort of natural fill light (snow, sand, light colored dirt or walls) and then using off camera strobes to supplement the light. This is the type of assignment shooting I love doing the most.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Cascade Mountains, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 44mm ISO400 1/500 sec @f7.1
Southbound (SOBO) thru hiker trail name, “Neemore” (need less, want more), hiking in early morning at Scout Pass with Mt. Rainier in background. I met Neemore at like 6:30 am at Scout Pass as I was frantically looking for my lost spoon, my only eating utensil. He simply gave me his spoon (which was identical to the one I lost) saying he wasn’t using it and thanking me for lightening his pack. People rarely look good with direct sunlight but the sun was just on the horizon and still soft enough to make a decent front lit portrait.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 19mm ISO400 1/20sec @f8 with B+W circular polarizer
First light on peaks above Lemah Valley with reflection on small nameless pond near timberline. This was the first location on the trail where I had to remind myself that this hike was not just about making miles. I stopped here in mid-afternoon and stayed predicting that I would get nice first light on these peaks. The altocumulus clouds were a plus. I did not bring a tripod on this stretch so I relied on the image stabilization in the camera to help. It did great.

Instagram top 10 – PCT, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss16-70F/4at 70mm ISO400 1/80sec @f9
Most long distance hikers adopt trail names. Somebody else gives you one and you can choose to accept it. They are often funny and easier to remember than real names. But, I do know her real name as well. This is northbound PCT hiker, “Hummingbird”, walking in the fog as she was approaching the Glacier Peak Wilderness. We talked for a good 5 minutes. She has a warm and outgoing personality and she was the first person on trail that I asked to photograph. I could not pass up such a great subject in soft light that makes everyone look good. She is the real deal and about as authentic as you can be as a thru hiker. This is my favorite trail portrait from all of my hike.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Washington Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 41mm ISO400 1/60 sec @f9 hand held
After a frustrating week of wet, cold weather with very little good light, in July, I awoke on the summit of Grizzly Peak in fog. But this time I rejoiced knowing that at some point the fog would thin and I would get some great sun shafts. This was quite a treat after a week dry spell in photos.

Instagram Top 10 – Hikers on Portage Pass, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 200mm ISO400 1/500 sec @f4
I put together the 3 things needed to get a good image. We went to a target rich scenic area, I was with amazing and photogenic talent, Lila and Kelly (both of whom are life long Alaskans and intrepid hikers), and be there in good light. With all that, everything else just falls into place. Hiking Portage Pass with views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal, Prince William Sound, Chugach NF, Alaska

Instagram Top 10 – Hikers on Portage Pass, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4L at 17mm ISO400 1/640 sec @f9 with Singh_Ray LB polarizer.
I put together the 3 things needed to get a good image. We went to a target rich scenic area, I was with amazing and photogenic talent, Lila and Kelly (both of whom are life long Alaskans and intrepid hikers), and be there in good light. With all that, everything else just falls into place. Hiking Portage Pass with views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal, Prince William Sound, Chugach NF, Alaska

Personal Favorite – Stock production.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 17mm ISO400 1/640 sec @f8
This was completely different from what I planned on shooting and I am glad I have the ability to be adaptable and think outside the box. I planned on doing hiking scenarios with a young couple at Byron Glacier. But Whitney, one of my favorite people to work with, shows up with a new, clean car with a sun roof. If anyone can pull off still looking good with a 17mm lens in their face it’s Whitney. I knew she excels at enthusiastic expressions. I quickly summed up the resources I had in front of me and remembering the credo of “shoot what’s happening”, I abandoned, or rather postponed our hiking plans to shoot this concept on a beautiful early evening in Portage Valley. Please, no comments about how I am promoting unsafe activities. We were well aware of the Bear Valley to Whittier tunnel schedule and we did this on a half mile stretch with virtually no other vehicles on this side road.

Assignment Image – Chartered Sport fishing from Seward, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F2.8L at 42mm ISO400 1/400 sec @f10
Photos can be made more compelling by finding interesting and unique perspectives. Being a fisherman myself, one of the crew members brought a flyfishing float tube and fins so I could get in the water and get this nice low angle of a charter fishing boat in Thumb Cove. The tides are always changing so I am shooting while kicking with my fins to keep from spinning around and drifting too far from the boat. And, yes, even with thick fleece pants and waterproof chest waders, this glacial water is still damn cold!

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Buckskin Canyon, Paria Wilderness, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 176mm ISO1600 1/160 sec @F4.5
After our Spring Landscape workshop in Zion, I took some friends and fellow photographers to Buckskin Canyon – a well known and popular place amongst photographers. It was a great day. Remembering Jay Maisel’s words, “If you are shooting something everyone else shoots, make it your own.” So I began keying in on people’s expressions and emotions seeing this magical place for the first time. This is our friend and fellow photographer Tammy. I’ve worked with her before as talent and I saw that she was very impressed with this location and experience so I asked her to re-create her expressions I saw earlier. The best part was that others got to see my whole creative process from coming up with the idea to creating the shot to the post processing.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F4 at 17mm ISO100 1/15 sec @f16 with Singh_Ray 3 stop, soft step graduated neutral density filter.
When I find a place I really like I go back there multiple times at different times of the year, if feasible. This is one of my “go to” sunset locations overlooking Hop Valley. The clouds, and sun position are always different. My favorite landscape technique is to shoot backlight with reflective subject matter, like the light sandstone which helps bounce warm light around. After our Spring Landscape Workshop, I took a few participants to this location where we can’t legally go to on a commercial workshop.

Instagram Top 10 – Sunset over Hop Valley, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4L at 17mm ISO400 1/20sec @f16 with 3-stop soft step graduated neutral density filter.
This is how we ended the day on a very challenging shoot. This is Heidi who has shot for us for years in Alaska. This was her first shoot with us in Utah. I was in a funk because Lauri had broken her leg earlier in the day. (We didn’t know it was broken at the time.) She was resting comfortably at our friends house in Springdale and encouraged me to go out and do our planned shoot. Heidi is just awesome and has time after time saved a shoot when my creativity wasn’t where it needed to be. Luckily, I knew the location and we shot a bunch of stuff earlier with her partner, Hunter, as a couple. When she did this I knew it was golden. Getting great talent is half the battle.

Personal Favorite – Winter trail runner, West Rim Trail, Taos, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4 at 155mm ISO400 1/1000 sec @f7.1
It is rare when I can get someone doing something while there are big flakes falling with no wind. Usually, it’s too cold, windy, or no talent is available when soft snow is falling. This is Kendra who is the real deal and hikes and or runs daily. She is on the very popular West Rim Trail, a 7-mile trail with a gentle grade that has great views into the Rio Grande Gorge. I almost always use a telephoto to help emphasize the snow. This one was tough to choose as Kendra is really photogenic and I wanted to show her face. But the running away from the camera and the contrast of the trail unfolding in front of her captured my imagination more.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Emerald Pools, Zion National Park, Utah in winter.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 70mm ISO100 1/2sec @f16 with circular polarizer
This is another example of bad weather = good images. The falls don’t run all the time. With the sun out, the light would be harsh and contrasty. With the new snow melting, the falls were running strong, and great colors and saturation were happening. I love snow in the desert! A similar to this was selected for a State of Utah Calendar.

Favorite Images of 2013

Favorite Images of 2013 shot by Adventure Photographer Michael DeYoung

 

This is the longest blog I’ve put out so far. Hopefully it is broken down into easy to read segments. It is about my favorite images for 2013.

Usually my editors or my clients choose the best of my images and trust me, this is a good thing. This time I am choosing my favorite images for 2013 with a brief description as to why. This was a good exercise in practicing what I preach and doing a tight edit. Most photographers struggle with objectively editing their best work. That’s why this blog is about my “favorite” not necessarily my “best” work.   I mean I would like to think my favorite work is my best work, but that isn’t reality.  I will still show deference to my editors.

With nearly 42k images shot in 2013 and edited down to 10.3k in my Lightroom master catalog, it was tough to narrow them down to 13. (OK, I’m stretching the truth a little. I’m counting 3 very closely related pairs as 1 photo so total is 17.) Why 13? It’s not because it was 2013 but more because I’m feeling “anti 10.” Too many things seem to be “top 10 this” or “best 10 that.” Why is “10” the most popular number for a collective? Who knows? It could be due to the metric system or Moses. If Moses had come down the mountain with 9 commandments our magazine world might be different today. Magazine articles or blogs that read: “9 best whatever” don’t sound all that bad to me. Well, baseball and golf courses like 9 so it can’t be all that bad. How does 9 “whatever” relate to 13 photos? It doesn’t. It’s just silly thinking. Let’s look at some photos. Hope you enjoy them.

Skiers hiking up Kachina Peak to ski down Main Street, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Skiers hiking up Kachina Peak to ski down Main Street, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

PEAK EXPERIENCE. Sometimes timing is everything when going after the “killer shot” It takes me about an hour to hike from the top of Chair 2 at Taos Ski Valley to the top of 12, 400′ Kachina Peak. We picked a great day with fresh snow, blue skies, light winds and two great skiers. Everyone expects killer ski shots to involve air and exploding powder. For me pulling off a good ski lifestyle shot is more difficult. Hiking up Kachina slows me down and, as my lungs are searching for oxygen, it gives me time to think about crafting different shots. This shot is being used in an ad campaign to promote Taos as a winter destination. About a half hour later we started doing ski action shots with my two great skiers, Matt Gresham and Andrea Krejci.

On this action shot, shooting into the sun with a fixed 20mm lens, I asked Andrea to ski right at me and do a sudden stop about 5 feet in front of me. This is where I trusted her ability to execute a precision move and not mow me over. The reason I had her do this is because the terrain opposite the sun sloped downhill and away from me and thus not providing enough natural fill. I knew that if Andrea executed this move the way I envisioned (which she did – several times) she would create her own fill light at the last second.  It worked. This shot was used by the original client for the cover of the Taos Ski Valley Visitor Guide.

Skier carving a hard left turn on Main Street off Kachina Peak, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Skier carving a hard left turn on Main Street off Kachina Peak, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

THE GRAND ROYAL HIKE. Good friend John Hoffer, Lauri and I got to go where few people go to and what could be the most awesome and moving spot in the Grand Canyon – the Royal Arch. It took three days of backpacking to get here. As the sun was cresting over the top of the arch, I laid on my back and captured my two hiking companions with the 15mm fisheye. Leaving the arch involved a precipitous hike out and gnarly descent with a 20 foot rappel (with backpacks) down to the Colorado River and a two-day hike out along the Western Tonto and out Bass Canyon.

Hikers/backpackers standing beneath the Royal Arch in Royal Arch Creek, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Hikers/backpackers standing beneath the Royal Arch in Royal Arch Creek, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

BRING EARPLUGS NEXT TIME! This is a mental note I made to myself after sitting in a raft, 4 feet away from screaming 8 and 9 year old girls. This is a shot I had envisioned for several years but was never able to pull it off due to timing and scheduling. The original concept was to cast a group of college age women all enjoying the thrill of a raft trip. I still plan to do that. In this shot, all five people in the raft, the guide, Matt, and the four girls are all skiers and I worked with all of them the previously at Taos Ski Valley. When I saw how well the girls worked together I knew they would be a hoot in a raft. With the water being really low last summer, it seemed more fitting to have a younger crew based on the smaller rapids. We scheduled the shoot for later in the day for better light and I sat on the bow with my rig in a housing. This shot is a fav because of the girls and their energy and because I had envisioned this for a long time. This is a classic case where literally the success of this was 90% planning, 10% shooting.

group of four 8 and 9 year old girls screaming through a rapid on guided raft trip, Racecourse Run, Rio Grande, New Mexico

group of four 8 and 9 year old girls screaming through a rapid on guided raft trip, Racecourse Run, Rio Grande, New Mexico

GLACIER EXPRESS. These 2 were part of my assignment for the State of Alaska covering tourism in the Portage-Whittier area. Our tour included taking my two super models, Melody and her son, Adam, both lifelong Alaskans, out to Spencer Glacier were we would be in the very capable hands of Matt Szundy, owner of The Ascending Path, for a short paddle and glacier hike. I really wanted to capture a shot of a person feeling the wind and being enthralled with the scenery as the train whisked along through jaw dropping Placer River Valley. This was a very tight space as both Melody and I had to squeeze in the 4 foot space between rocking and rolling train cars. I have my back slammed up against the car opposite of Melody with my arm stretched out as far as possible blazing away. I knew that shooting really wide at such close distance would create facial distortion. I did not want to ruin her pretty face with the brutality of 17mm lens. This is one of my favs because it was a “longshot” and it is all Melody. She really pulled off a nice look that I was after and she held up well against the 17mm lens.

Passenger on Alaska Railroad's Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

Passenger on Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

After several near backbreaking sessions to get the shot I really wanted Melody stuck her head with her hair down completely out the window and I loved her long black hair flying forward. A quick re-positioning of the strobe and I got a light hearted shot I liked even better.

Passenger on Alaska Railroad's Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

Passenger on Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

CLASSIC TURNAGAIN ARM IN JUNE. The great thing about tourism assignments is they can involve landscape images in addition to the recreation, adventure and portraits involved in travel photography. Literally the day after we arrived in Alaska and not even fully unpacked we were down on Turnagain Arm where every few years there are epic blooms of lupine. Wait for a high tide around sunset (near 11:30pm here), employ 3 strobes and a 3-stop ND grad and presto, lupine at sunset shot. In full disclosure, since I am a commercial shooter I use all tools available to maximize visual impact. I strive to do as much as I can in the field. To fill in the sky I added some low clouds I shot a few days later near the same location at sunset.

Lupine along Turnagain Arm at high tide at sunset, Southcentral Alaska

Lupine along Turnagain Arm at high tide at sunset, Southcentral Alaska

BEARFOOT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD? I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked Denali Park and have driven the 90 mile road on permit and assignments for 20 years. Even though I focus primarily on landscape images there I still have a healthy file of wildlife – including bears from Denali. I am not a big fan of “wildlife on the road” shots either. This is my only decent shot from Denali this summer. Because of assignment demands I was only able to use 2 of my 10 allotted days and we were basically weathered out, as in no mountain. We followed this young bear early one morning as we were heading west for Wonder Lake. Park rules say you can’t force wildlife off the road. Generally, they leave the road in a few minutes anyway but not this fella. No, we crawled behind him for 45 minutes stopping and shooting whenever I saw a decent composition. We could have pushed him off the road. It was just us and the bear but we behaved and just let it go. The foot makes the shot. In post I brought back a little of the dusty backlit morning sun feel that we sometimes see there. It was just a subtle tweak.

Young grizzly bear walking on road in morning, Denali National Park, Alaska

Young grizzly bear walking on road in morning, Denali National Park, Alaska

NEVER TIRE OF THAT MOUNTAIN. I always look for new ways (at least new to me) to show North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley (a.k.a. Denali). Believe it or not I have never shot much in Denali State Park. I was astounded how quick it was to get to this location from the road. The thing is, you can’t see this from the Parks Highway. Last summer we had an exceptionally long stretch of clear and I mean HOT days. In an hour and a half we were able to walk through the horrifying mosquitos in the bog and forest below to the less horrifying mosquitos on the tundra of Ermine Hill with this commanding view of Mt. McKinley towering above the rest of the Alaska Range. We went up here a few days earlier and shot on assignment with 2 hikers for the State of Alaska tourism. On this shot, Lauri and I went by ourselves and ventured higher and off trail to this little knoll. We went early to avoid cumulus clouds obscuring the 20, 320′ peak. The light is “good” not “great” but I am always a sucker for a good shot showing the scale of Denali relative to a hiker. It is not as easy as you think and I just love this south side view.

Lauri on Ermine Hill in Denali State Park dwarfed by Denali viewed from the south

Lauri on Ermine Hill in Denali State Park dwarfed by Denali viewed from the south

MY FAVORITE SHOT OF THE SUMMER with some super outdoor ladies. This is another case where talent and timing are EVERYTHING! A couple of years ago I did a ladies getaway as part of a campaign promoting South Carolina. Ever since then I’ve been wanting to do this my way. Well, after dealing with assignment pressures all summer I was able to get a group of outdoor, lifelong Alaska ladies together who just have GREAT synergy. Meeting after work, my crack team of Lauri and our hard core talent hiked 5 miles in one of my favorite haunts, the South Fork of Eagle River Valley, to shoot an hour of a ladies backcountry getaway, pack up and hoof it back to the car after 10pm returning in the waning August light. My plans to shoot with a warmly lit alpine peak backdrop quickly eroded when low clouds off Cook Inlet started invading the valley. So I turned into the setting sun, employed our speed lighting skills and captured this shot of the ladies enjoying a glass of wine at camp perched on this rock. I would never tire of doing shoots like this. Too bad it rains so much and people have to work all the time!

Four women camping and conversing with drinks at sunset, Chugach State Park, Alaska

Four women camping and conversing with drinks at sunset, Chugach State Park, Alaska

LEAP INTO THE LIGHT.  Sometimes you just gotta play and test some lights.  I was getting ready for my Speedlights,  Camera,  Action workshop that I teach and thought it would be a good idea to just test all the lights and sharpen up what I wanted to demonstrate.   So we took Lila and 3 speed lights, 2 on stands with 1/8″ grids, and one overhead with a soft box and lit Lila up as she is running along a hill in the dark green woods surrounding Anchorage.   Love the woods and all the devil’s club but man, is it dark in there!  So thankful for portable, wireless, TTL speedlight systems.

Trail runner leaping over log, Coastal Trail near Anchorage, Alaska

Trail runner leaping over log, Coastal Trail near Anchorage, Alaska

 

WELCOME TO MY WORLD. This shot is from the Business of Outdoor Photography class that I teach at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana. This was our last field shoot and I got to take my group to Holland Lake to do a sunset shoot DeYoung style. We hiked out to Holland Falls late afternoon dealing with forest fire smoke, rain, hail, thunder and lighting. Those who were patient were rewarded with this well above average sunset overlooking Holland Lake and the Mission Mountains. Then we hiked back returning to the trailhead under headlamp. All in a day’s work.

Photographer at sunset, overlooking Holland Lake and the Mission Mountains, Montana

Photographer at sunset, overlooking Holland Lake and the Mission Mountains, Montana

ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES. This is out of the box for me, or should I say, “in the box.” I’m not an indoor shooter but my awesome editor at one of my agencies worked with me on doing a series of personal trainer and client fitness shoots. Well, fitness is right up my alley so why not take it indoors once in a while and stretch my lighting skills. Why this shot is a fav is because I was able to actually execute what I visualized. When I saw what Jennifer was capable of, I wanted to focus on her intensity as she threw a punch with trainer David Garver at Aura Fitness in Taos, New Mexico. I am programmed to usually use big soft boxes or scrims when photographing women. To keep it real and show a more raw training environment including some real sweat, I kept my light on the harder side. I think Jennifer still looks great. How can you go wrong with those eyes! I took a related shot that focused on David after the training session.

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

25th CELEBRATION IN THE DOLOMITES. Lauri and I celebrated our 25th Anniversary hiking Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites and I’ve blogged about that earlier. Yes, this was a personal trip but to do it without bringing a camera ensemble and at least trying to capture pro images would be unthinkable especially in a place like the Dolomites. Over the years I’ve developed a pretty good feel for knowing when to put the camera down and enjoy the moment and the company you are with and when to get serious and make an image. Any place I go be it on assignment, shooting stock or just personal I at least try to capture that one shot that sums up the essence of the place and why we are there. We were only at each place for a day so I have to make use of all my skills to make compelling shots. This is our second morning leaving Prato Piazza. I loved the pastoral nature of the valley beneath these towering peaks. We went out early, before breakfast to catch sunrise light on the trail we would eventually leave on. I was blessed to get some radiation fog below us as I had Lauri walk toward the trail sign. There were clouds to the east blocking light on the foreground. The way the terrain was situated didn’t lend itself well to using a graduated ND. So I took separate exposures and blended them in post to capture the feel I wanted. Of the thousands of shots I took documenting our trip in the Dolomites, this one says it all to me.

Hiker leaving Prato Piazza Rifugio along Alta Via 1 route at sunrise, Dolomites, Italy

Hiker leaving Prato Piazza Rifugio along Alta Via 1 route at sunrise, Dolomites, Italy

FIVE MINUTE SUNRISE SHOOT AT ZION. In the mid latitudes or prevailing westerlies (the westerlies shift seasonally) there are two scenarios that predictably produce dramatic light. They are approaching storms at sunrise and clearing storms at sunset. This was shot on the morning of an approaching cold front and Lauri and I raced from Springdale up to one of our familiar valleys on the East Mesa section of Zion National Park. We had scouted this the morning before. The light on the cliffs and the color in the clouds lasted maybe five minutes but we were ready for it. Off camera speed light with a grid was used to pull Lauri away from the dark background. Five minutes done. Flat stormy light the rest of the day. This was the first week of November and due to unseasonably cold temps, we were late for fall color this year in Zion Canyon. This shot was the best we got.

Hiker on slickrock on East Mesa at sunrise, Zion National Park, Utah

Hiker on slickrock on East Mesa at sunrise, Zion National Park, Utah

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME, OR NEAR ANYTHING FLAMMABLE.  I love it when an unplanned street shot works out.  I don’t do that a lot.  Such was the case with a Bonfires on Bent Street holiday celebration on Bent Street and the John Dunn Plazza in Taos.  Melarie Roller was out twirling her flaming firestick or baton.  Even though we are shooting from the hip, we don’t sacrifice good technique.  Lauri was working the gridded speedlight off camera and I was using a slow shutter to blur the motion of the baton while the strobe rendered her sharp.  During a break prior to this shot I had asked her to stand closer to this group of kids and face the camera so I could make this shot.  No model releases, nothing serious, just out having fun and celebrating the holidays.

Melarie Roller performing at Bonfires on Bent Street holiday celebration in Taos, New Mexico

Melarie Roller performing at Bonfires on Bent Street holiday celebration in Taos, New Mexico

 

 

Backpacking With Your Dog

Senior lab mix with saddle bags on trail to Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

Senior lab mix with saddle bags on trail to Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

Kyia near Ice Basin Trail on Oct. 1, 2013.  She’s been backpacking with us ever since we rescued her.  She is 12 now, had 2 knee surgeries and it’s heartbreaking to see her slow down so much even though she still wants to go.   We are very patient with her.  It took her three hours with frequent shade stops (below timberline) to climb the 2,800 feet and 3 miles to Ice Lake where we camped at 12, 300 feet.  We camped on a ridge top where she was content to lay in the bug-free cool tundra and overlook the massive valley below to South Mineral Creek.

My mission was to get sunrise shots of Ice Lake.  It was a little late in the season as fall was well past its peak at this altitude. Fortunately, there was some new snow to provide some visual interest.

tent at Ice Lake Basin, Colorado

Camp in dawn light, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

Ice Lake Basin, Colorado

Sunrise, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

 September hiking/backpacking at Ice Lake, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

September hiking/backpacking at Ice Lake, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

 

 

Alaska’s Scenic Gems: 10 Road Accessible Landscape Photo Ops

Recently, I was featured (May, 2012) in Popular Photography and interviewed about lesser known Alaska locations for photography. Expanding upon that and drawing upon my 25 years of romping around Alaska I am profiling 10 road accessible places that offer excellent landscape photo ops. You can find all of these in the Milepost which is the best road guide for Alaska and northern Canada travel. This list is subjective and there are countless scenic views along the contiguous Alaska road system. If you are new or unfamiliar with this vast area, these locations are a good place to start.

Alaska panoramic landscape. View of the upper Matanuska River and the north face of the Chugach Mountains seen near Hicks Creek along the Glenn Highway north of Anchorage, Alaska.

Alaska panoramic landscape. View of the upper Matanuska River and the north face of the Chugach Mountains seen near Hicks Creek along the Glenn Highway north of Anchorage, Alaska.

Like all subjects photographic, your lighting is a key element to the success of your images. Skies are generally sunnier in the interior and north than they are on the coast so you have a better chance of capturing Mt. Sukakpak in the Brooks Range in nice light than you would capturing Portage Pass (which experiences some of the worst weather in Southcentral Alaska.) Mt. McKinley is only out on average of 3-4 days a month during the summer and best chances are in the morning. The north side holds the iconic view rising 18,000′ above the tundra from near Wonder Lake. I like the south side better where the mountain rises above dense boreal forest. Remember, good weather doesn’t last long in Alaska so if you happen to be at one of these locations in nice light, jump on it. My guiding principle is shoot what is happening now. There is no time like the present!

1. Polar Bear and Eagle Peaks – Eagle River Nature Center, Chugach State Park

This scenic gem of national park quality is in the Municipality of Anchorage. Take the Eagle River exit north of Anchor town (Anchorage) and follow Eagle River Road 12 miles where it ends in the parking lot of the Eagle River Nature Center. The views are incredible here but walk 10 minutes down to a boardwalk and deck overlooking the clear North Fork of Eagle River. Polar Bear and Eagle Peaks rise abruptly 6,000 feet above the valley floor. Around the solstice, the sun sets near the opening of Eagle River Valley and this is a great evening shot. In late June there is usually a great display of geranium and wild rose along the trail.

Alaska landscape. View of Polar Bear Peak rising near 6000 feet above the North Fork of Eagle River, Chugach State Park, near Anchorage

Alaska landscape. View of Polar Bear Peak rising near 6000 feet above the North Fork of Eagle River, Chugach State Park, near Anchorage around 10:30PM in June.

2. Mt. Sukapak – Brooks Range From Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot

Sukapak isn’t the tallest mountain in the Brooks, topping out at less than 5,000 feet, but it is an incredible limestone escarpment photogenic from both the south and north sides at several points along the Dalton. My favorite is its morning reflection in one of several un-named ponds visible from the highway. There are good photo ops at both sunrise and sunset (3-4 hours apart in June/July) but I prefer early morning with steam rising off the lakes and sometimes even the Koyokuk River.

Alaska landscape. Brooks Range, above the Arctic Circle a view of Mt. Sukapak and reflection in early morning off the Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot, Alaska.

Alaska landscape. Brooks Range, above the Arctic Circle a view of Mt. Sukapak and reflection in early morning off the Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot, Alaska.

3. Mt. McKinley – South Side From Byers Lake

This is a developed state park with camping, boat rentals, and a public use cabin. What I like best about Byers Lake is that you can’t see Mt. McKinley from the developed (west) side. Take the trail to the east side or better yet, get in a canoe or touring kayak and paddle to the northeast end for a breathtaking view of McKinley and the Alaska Range. Be there at sunrise which means in July – 5am. More likely than not, you’ll get a great reflection of the range on the lake and if you are lucky one of the nesting trumpeter swans will pay you a visit.

Alaska landscape and recreation. Alaska's highest peak, Mt. McKinley rising above Byers Lake and a canoeist. Chulitna Valley, Byers Lake State Park.

Alaska landscape and recreation. Alaska’s highest peak, Mt. McKinley rising above Byers Lake and a canoeist. Chulitna Valley, Byers Lake State Park.

4. Mt. McKinley – South Side From Petersville Road

If you don’t have a boat to access Byers Lake then there are great morning views here of Denali on clear days. In fact, Denali views are nice along most of the road with lots of fireweed. Several miles in, there are some nice small ponds that offer a great morning reflection. The approach to the water’s edge is boggy and buggy. Plan on getting your feet wet and bring a bug jacket.

Alaska Landscape. View of the south side of Mt. McKinley, 20,320' rising above the Chulitna River Valley, viewed from Petersville Road.

Alaska Landscape. View of the south side of Mt. McKinley, 20,320′ rising above the Chulitna River Valley, viewed from Petersville Road.

5. Wrangell Mountains From Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge

After a decent dinner and a brew you can get a great panoramic view of the Wrangells with the expansive Copper River and Klutina River Valleys below. Stay up late as this is a great spot for a sunset panoramic. Also, nearby Willow Lake a few miles down the road offers some nice views from the parking lot but I like the high view better.

Alaska Landscape – Wrangell Mountains. Evening alpenglow view of 16,390' Mt. Blackburn of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park rising above the Copper River Valley.

Alaska Landscape. Evening alpenglow view of 16, 390′ Mt. Blackburn of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, rising above the Copper River Valley.

6. Worthington Glacier

You can see this gem coming at you for many miles as you travel south on the Richardson Highway approaching Thompson Pass towards Valdez. There is a developed State Park parking lot and outhouses with developed trails that take you down to the foot of the glacier. I like the view from further north before you get to the State Park turn off. In late June and July look for fields of lupine in meadows off to the west. Morning light is best here.

Alaska landscape. Meadow with lupine below the Worthington Glacier, Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest. Seen along the Richardson Highway near Thompson Pass.

Alaska landscape. Meadow with lupine below the Worthington Glacier, Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest. Seen along the Richardson Highway near Thompson Pass.

7. Keystone Canyon Waterfalls

Further down the Richardson Highway and south of Thompson Pass, the Lowe River cuts through a steep and verdant green canyon with several really nice roadside waterfalls. My favorite is Bridal Veil Falls. For many years there were great fireweed displays here in late July and August. Road crews mowed it all down a few years ago. Hopefully they will come back. This is a wet area and is one that is most photogenic during cloudy weather and even light.

Alaska landscape. Fireweed below Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon, Chugach Mountains, seen off Richardson Highway near Valdez, Prince William Sound, Alaska

Alaska landscape. Fireweed below Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon, Chugach Mountains, seen off Richardson Highway near Valdez, Prince William Sound, Alaska

8. Portage Glacier from Portage Pass

Portage Glacier Visitor Center is the most heavily visited tourist spot in Southcentral. You can’t see the glacier from the lake anymore as it has receded considerably. Most tourists view the glacier from a boat tour that takes you to the end of the lake. It’s a fine view but with a little effort you can leave the crowds behind. The best view of Portage Glacier is from the pass, a short but steep, 20-minute hike up a very well defined trail. Simply drive through the tunnel to Whittier and take the first right past the restrooms. Follow the signs to the trailhead. The glacier is only nicely lit in the morning. The light tanks about 9AM so be there early. The weather here sucks most of the time so if you are lucky to be there in clear conditions (check the FAA weather cams for Whittier and Portage) jump on it!

An Asian (Korean) female hiker on Portage Pass overlooking Portage Glacier in the Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest, above Prince William Sound, Southcentral Alaska

A hiker on Portage Pass overlooking Portage Glacier in the Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest, above Prince William Sound, Southcentral Alaska

9. North Face of the Chugach Mountains Above Hicks Creek Along The Glenn Highway

Years ago it was risky to stop here on the narrow road with guard rail and no shoulder. Now there are huge pullouts there near Milepost 100 just before the Glenn Highway descends to Hicks Creek. The Matanuska River flows between 2 cliff walls with beautiful rugged peaks in the background. The surrounding birch/aspen/poplar forest is stunning in the fall (mid September). Best time is shortly after sunrise. There are many great places to photograph this incredible mountain, river and forest scenery. The Hick’s Creek view is part of my favorite section that stretches from Chickaloon to Sheep Mountain Lodge. Along this stretch, Long and Wiener Lakes offer great photo ops.

Alaska landscape. Autumn view of the north face of the Chugach Mountains above the Matanuska Valley, Chugach National Forest. Reflection in Weiner Lake off the Glenn Highway.

Alaska landscape. Autumn view of the north face of the Chugach Mountains above the Matanuska Valley, Chugach National Forest. Reflection in Weiner Lake off the Glenn Highway.

10. Ninilchik

Many people (except salmon anglers) bypass this quaint seaside village off the Sterling Highway on their way to Homer for the classic view of the Homer Spit and Kachemak Bay. I used to really enjoy flyfishing the Ninilchik and just hanging out. The main attraction here and a photographer’s favorite is the Russian Orthodox Church that sits on the bluff on the north side of town. It is a well kept beautiful little church that has a lovely white picket fence and dazzling wildflowers – especially the fireweed and geraniums. There are several good photo ops here. You can line up the church with Mt. Illiamna and the volcanoes across Cook Inlet for a great telephoto shot at sunrise and early morning.

Alaska coastal landscape. Summer wildflowers of lupine and cow parsnip on bluff above Cook Inlet with Redoubt Volcano in background. View near Ninilchik, Alaska off the Sterling Highway.

Alaska coastal landscape. Summer wildflowers of lupine and cow parsnip on bluff above Cook Inlet with Redoubt Volcano in background. View near Ninilchik, Alaska off the Sterling Highway.