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2016 Trip Chronicles:    Contents
Tuolumne Rim 6/11
Tuolumne Rim 6/12
Glen Alpine Cr backpack 6/17
Glen Alpine Cr backpack 6/18
Glen Alpine Cr backpack 6/19

2016 Trip Chronicles:  Page 9

Tuolumne Rim

A week after my Memorial Day holiday road trip, as a late Friday after work week evening decision, I hit the road east returning to the same zone where I already knew my weekend would be productive. Thus waking up dawn Saturday morning June 11 along Evergreen Road, quickly got moving and drove into Yosemite National Park driving along SR120 a bit past Gin Flat. There were soggy meadow areas with shooting stars. A breeze rustling tree tops indicated a stronger wind was likely not much higher up in the atmosphere and likely to reach ground level soon. I hiked down the upper Cascade Creek drainage where I worked a few modest subjects about sheltered locations before returning. Other areas along the highway seemed rather dry, not as nice as expected so drove back out of the park and back along Evergreen Road in Stanislaus National Forest where I visited an Ackerson Meadow area I'd worked the previous weekend. However the growing winds quickly rejected that notion and I drove into Yosemite at Mather and out to the Poopenaut Point granite flats on the Hetch Hetchy Road.

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Out on the granite flats were colorful Layne's monkeyflower, mimulus layneae, in image above peaking in the many rock cracks. Though breeze was becoming unworkable I persevered to capture the above subject. In gravel flats between slabs was an abundance of elegant brodiaea, canchalagua, and farewell-to-spring clarkia in vane I tried to image.

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Using both my colapsible disks to block the wind, I barely managed to capture this canchalagua, centaurium venustum next to a dense flower owl's clover, castilleja densiflora, and then gave up on any further work for most of the rest of the day.

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Near sunset breezes calmed down as expected so I drove back to Ackerson's meadow for one last chance at capturing a dense mass of wildflowers. Thus in late skylight worked the above intimate landscape including sky lupine, lupinus nanus, large flowered woolly sunflower, eriophyllum lanatum var. grandiflorum, yarrow, thin lobed owl's clover, castilleja lineariloba, and madia, madia elegans.

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Was close to driving home and calling it a weekend but somewhat weary from hiking around all day decided the easy decision was to spend the night in a very peaceful area along Mather area then work part of the morning. So Sunday June 26 up at sunrise began working areas along the area I overnighted at. My first subject was a broadleaf lupine, lupinus latifolius, where a Lorquin's admiral butterfly, limenitis lorquini, with a partially missing wing was immobile in the cool of morning sleeping hanging down on a lupine flower. Some distance away, I set up the appropriate gear with my camera 60mm plus extension tube on Benbo Trekker for a mug shot close-up then slowly carefully inched closer and closer. Nicely the subject remained quietly still. Possibly now slightly awake but too cool and groggy to do anything as long as I didn't make any gross movements or noise. Select the enlarged vertical slice view to see this beautiful creatures delicate head features. How amazingly we live in a world with such beautiful wonders.

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Although a lighter breeze had started than on Saturday, there was enough air movement to slow my work. Exploring an area about skeletons of manzanita where the Rim Fire had burned very hot leaving little, I laid on the ground to put the purple milkweed, asclepias cordifolia, image above up against the sky. Monarch butterflies drink nectar from this species the flowers of which contain alkaloids poisons that then given their bright orange coloration, deter birds and other predators from eating them.

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This next image is of a bushy species one finds on hot sunny exposed slopes, yerba santa, eriodictyon californicum. These plants are generally not aesthetic standing beside but up close blue sky provides a nice complementing color in image above that also shows its shiny oily surface. A null in the breeze occurred for about a half hour that allowed capturing this flower that would normally be forever slightly bobbing about.

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Nearby low to the ground were numbers of one seeded pussypaws, calyptridium monospermum, and selected the plant above for an image. The color and form of these pink flowers in white partitions has the color and form and feel of century old pleated women's dresses. By mid morning as the breeze began to increase once again, I was quick to get on the road home and salvage something of my Sunday.

Although I had indeed managed a few nice photos, generally the breezes had made my experience quite frustrating. I had started to work several times as many subjects as are displayed on this page, sometimes taking a few frames in the process, only to abandon an effort as hopeless. The task of capturing focus stack close-ups for subjects that may move in a breeze like fall leaves or wildflowers is a difficult challenge requiring a lot of patience. With hindsight I would not have gone on the road trip this weekend if I knew breezes would be at the level that I found them. Generally the majority of days are not workable however weather forecast in the Internet era can bring into focus those days when calm is most probably. But at best one can only look at the weather forecasting detail then make a decision that at some level is just a gamble. And one needs to gamble some because there are days forecast with marginal weather that turn out to be wonderful.

Glen Alpine Creek Backpack

Late April I had obtained wilderness permits on the www.recreation.gov website for a 9-day backpacking trip for 3 of us into the John Muir Wilderness in mid July and then myself solo 10-days over Shepherd Pass into Sequoia National Park early August. In order to cope with the strenuous effort backpacking requires and to make aware any gear issues, I have an annual habit of preparing for such with an earlier short weekend warm up backpack. Thus this year set up such a trip for the June 18 and 19 weekend to Half Moon Lake out of the Glen Alpine Springs trailhead in Desolation Wilderness of El Dorado National Forest that is a very heavily used area west of Lake Tahoe. Saturday starting dates for most of that wilderness's trailheads on that weekend already had reservable quotas filled. Such overnight visits require wilderness permits with trails under quotas in order for people to have some chance of a wilderness experience without too many humans about. Recently as permitting processes have increasingly moved online, in the case of Desolation one can now perform the whole process including printing out the permit online and thus forgo a traditional person to person permit pickup need at a ranger station office. Thus I used this to advantage by selecting Friday June 17 as our starting date, a day I would be working at my hi tech job till mid afternoon. My plan was to leave work, drive a couple hours to pick up the 2 others, drive up to Tahoe, and then mid evening start hiking up our trail. By something after 11pm we would stop within our camp zone making camp legally on the 17th, get some sleep, then continue on to our destination Saturday morning. In the past for such a short weekend trip we would have had to wait in line usually about 8am Saturday at a ranger station office putting a serious dent in the little time a weekend trip offers.

A couple days before the trip weather forecasts showed a late spring cold front would be moving down from the Gulf of Alaska with its trailing end brushing the Tahoe region. That implied a chilly, cloudy, windy period I would otherwise choose not to endure. Any easily wind moved photography subjects like flowers or water reflections would be unlikely. Instead I would focus on one of my favorite landscape subjects, Sierra juniper trees that exhibit the Sierra Nevada ranges most consistently spectacular forms. Desolation Wilderness has an abundance of these spectacular junipers. Upon getting out of my Forester on evening of Friday June 17, at the Glen Alpine Springs Trailhead at 6650 feet that is just west of large Fallen Leaf Lake, conditions were unpleasant, cloudy above with a temperature in upper 40s, and generally loud blustery sounds from trees. At the time it appeared the front might bring more serious weather than was forecast including several inches of snow as such sometimes happens. The trail for the first mile is a gravel road very easy to follow with trail beyond well worn and obvious in our headlamps. I could see many flowers blooming at these lowest elevations, especially brush species, but flowers would rapidly decrease as we rose in elevation. Accordingly I decided to stop then set up camp at a more forest and ridge protected location along the trail versus the open exposed bench just south of Half Moon Lake. About 2am I awoke to the sound of sprinkles on my Big Agnes UL1 tent, got up to check my gear outside would not get wet and alerted the two others.

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As morning sunrise warmly illuminated orange clouds above on Saturday June 18 we rose, packed up, and continued on towards our destination. However I was quick to change those plans as the weather was still threatening. Now we could see how fast dark clouds were moving above and areas just west on the Sierra Crest were not visible within a continuous orographic cloud that also appeared to be dropping precipitation. So we instead hiked to a location I was familiar with protected by a ridge and grove of trees then set up our tents and gear to endure whatever was ahead. After doing so with considerable energy to yet burn, I hiked about our zone in rain gear sizing up potential photography subjects for later as intermittent sprinkles continued. By mid day it appeared the storm was waning with some blue spots in the sky showing though wind was still strong. Back at camp we enjoyed some hot lunch then went out together to enjoy where we were. We also began to see other backpackers moving along trail areas.

By mid afternoon winds also became less continuous allowing me to work some subjects between more gusty periods. Of course wind will shake one's tripod and though junipers are very sturdy robust trees, they do have leaves and branches that move about unacceptably in wind. I patiently set up on the subject of two trees under stormy skies at page top until I was able to knock off a quick set. It was important to capture the two sections of sky that I would stitch together during post processing with minimal seconds elapsing between each exposure in order for the background clouds to keep registration. The moving clouds were also a reason anything beyond a couple stitch frames was impractical. Note snow on the background peak at frame right. By moving back enough from the subject I was able to use a wider aperture with fast shutter speed to freeze motion that would require a minimum of shots. At this 8k or so elevation there were still considerable areas of snow about landscapes with many small melt pools and draining streamlets. Many mid summer tenting camp spots in the zone were unusable puddles of waters. Most green plants of summer were at most just small green herbs though early species like the heathers were already showing some flowers.

Next I moved close to the juniper at frame center using my 30mm lens to capture its image above. I chose a moment when sun shone through thin clouds to better stand out against the background trees. A tree is termed flagged when winds over its lifetime have caused a trunk to bend in the lee direction of branches to shape out on to a side of prevailing storm winds. Locations of such trees are predictably atop ridges, outcrop hills, passes, and at the end of long unobstructed flats about mountain landscapes. The Sierra juniper, juniperus occidentalis var. australis, tend to be found growing down into rock cracks on sunny rocky exposures where other trees cannot compete or survive the harsh environment. Sometimes growth on harshest sites can assume a krummholz habit of growing low to the ground even when mature with a wide trunk. Beneath trees will be a dense layer of soft dry leaves, bark, seeds, and cones that can make for a wonderful shelter for tentless bivysack siting. Oldest trees may be a few thousand years old and quite look it. The white hued wood of dead snags tends to last for decades making for some spectacular works of natural art.

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By 5pm larger regions of the sky were becoming blue so I began repeat shots on the same subjects I had earlier worked with cloud. The above are the same two trees in the image at page top frame with a bit more centering. Notice how the more contrasting sunny conditions cause darker frame elements like the rock to view darker while color of the tree bark is more saturated.

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I then hiked out to a superb group of 4 trees I could put up against the blue sky allowing them to stand out more clearly than it had been with cloud. One tree was a spectacular dead snag. About 6:45pm I carefully maneuvered my tripod position to capture the above set of 5 vertical stitch columns with my 60mm lens. Growing end of day shadows prevented including much of a foreground. At lower frame right is a stunted tree with a very short wide trunk. Actually it may be a branch of the taller tree behind that is underground within rock between the two. The form of junipers is such that multiple trunks may arise from roots tenaciously filling root cracks below ground. Also at frame right are distant peaks to the east, the tallest in the Tahoe region at over 10.8k. Behind those peaks one can see a receding white band of cloud that had been over our area much of the day.

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Rapidly moving across the awkward metavolcanic rock terrain, at a bit after 7pm captured the above last subject of this day, two more junipers up in the sky. Being a mountain landscape photographer at the level I have practiced at requires considerable fitness climbing up and down raw terrain because optimal light or cloud conditions on landscapes is often brief requiring one to quickly move about then set up camera equipment.

During the night after some refreshing sleep I awoke and thought out how I would attack morning subjects. Having worked this basin in past decades knew the Crystal Range ridge to the west held superb potential for early unblocked sunrise light. And after a front passes the atmosphere is likely to be especially clear providing more intense warm light. Thus I resigned myself to another reality of being a mountain landscape photographer, rising very early in often cold, dark pre-dawn, putting on clothes, getting gear quickly together, then rambling with headlamp out to some location in order to capture an event.

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And so I did that morning of Sunday June 26 for considerable distance from camp in order to reach Heather Lake. Beginning that hike, optimism rose as I noticed unexpected calm. After all the storm winds just a few hours earlier one normally finds following hours still relatively breezy. Well I reached the lake happy to find rare calm. I set up with just a few minutes wait before sun began glowing on the top of 9983 foot Pyramid Peak and 9975 foot Mt. Price, then captured the above horizontal 2 frame stitch split mirror reflection. Water of this good sized lake was not glass so reflections show usual small wave wobbles probably the result of some sumping cold inflow at the far end of the lake flowing down from the large unseen basin with Lake Aloha just above the shadowed ridge. I could have created a larger image but these kind of sunrise reflections without foregrounds tend to work best as small to mid-sized prints as detail is lower.

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Later on that early morning as sunlight expanded across the landscape, returned to the same lake edge position and with the water now not quite as calm captured the subject again. After another hour of modest work I returned to camp, we finished packing, and began our descent back to the trailhead. With sunny skies many more day hikers were now out on the trail and by time we reached the parking lot, cars were driving around in circles hoping for others to leave and parking far down on pullouts along the narrow paved road.

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   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

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