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NEXT:  Page 13   Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
2017 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Styx Pass Backpack 6/13
Styx Pass Backpack 6/14
Styx Pass Backpack 6/15
Styx Pass Backpack 6/16
Styx Pass Backpack 6/17
Styx Pass Backpack 6/18
Styx Pass Backpack 6/19

2017 Trip Chronicles:  Page 12

Styx Pass Backpack

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After my morning down in Monterey County shores, weather along our coastline continued to be windy and or foggy that frustrated my desire to visit areas along the Sonoma coast. At the same time I decided to not do a short 3 day backpack to Falls Creek above Wapama Falls I had offered on the web to take others with me on and instead concentrate on the more important backpack it was supposed to prepare my body for. For about a decade, I'd been trying to fit in an early season backpack to the Styx Pass zone including Cherry Creek and nearby Yosemite National Park lakes of upper Bartlette Creek. However I wanted Cherry Creek to have high flows in order to capture most impressive whitewater and of late, the 4 year drought made that inadequate. Well 2017 fit that qualification and more. Unfortunately the heavy winter rains had also damaged roads to the trailhead that had Stanislaus National Forest gate access at the west side of Cherry Valley Lake reservoir dam. Doing so meant an extra hike of 4.5 miles and 1200 feet of uphill just to reach the usual Shingle Springs Trailhead. From there, Shingle Springs was already a too long for one day effort of 9.8 miles and 2300 feet vertical. But from the dam, meant 14.3 miles and 3500 feet or a difficult effort in 2 days for this person carrying my heavy load.

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With the extra distance certain to discourage other groups from backpacking in the zone, picking up a walk up wilderness permit would not be an issue. In the last decade, the kayaking community had proclaimed Cherry Creek to a similar world class status that rock wall climbers have for Yosemite Valley though the creek section they enjoy most starts a mile below where I wanted to work. My suspicion was the road issues were beyond the Lake Eleanor Trailhead that is 3 miles from the dam and later during my trip that proved to be true. Forest service personnel in fact were driving all the way to Shingle Springs as a trail maintenance crew had their trucks and camp there. Thus SNF could have gated the road at the Eleanor Trailhead however I suspected the real reason for gating the road way back at the dam was to prevent kayakers from smashing their bodies up in the high flows. A community with not a few unfamiliar with wilderness policy, young overly excitable extreme sport enthusiasts, the national forest has been working with to accommodate. Accordingly post trip expect they will move the road gate up to the Eleanor parking after the flows lower enough.

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By the second week of June, an especially cold and snowy front at a level that only visits about twice a decade, was bearing down on California with long range forecasts indicating an extended period of warm weather upon exit. Thus I prepared to start my trip as that storm was exiting. Given the extra effort, I had to add a couple more days to what I expected would have been a 6 day backpack. Depending on how I would cope with the strenuous effort, I planned out several scenarios of where I would camp to reach and return from the target zone. I'd also gleaned some snow coverage information courtesy of MODIS satellite images SNF had linked on their site that showed the zone I expected to visit was already snow free by early June. However that turned out to be faulty information as their algorithm discerning snow coverage is apparently not really ready for public use. The storm delivered an inch or two of snow down below 6k as far south as Yosemite though any accumulation was sure to melt within hours due to warm ground temperatures.

Online topo of Kibbie Ridge:   mapper.acme Kibbie Ridge

Tuesday mid morning June 13 I left the SF Bay Area, driving the familiar route east on SR120, reaching the Groveland District Ranger Station late morning where I quickly left, permit in hand. By a bit after 1pm with mostly sunny skies, a minor breeze, and temperatures in mid 70s, had parked in shade near the trailhead where 4 other vehicles were parked, and was heading down the road that crosses the dam. As I walked across the half mile long dam at 4700 feet elevation, a dump truck full of boulders passed, obviously engaged on repairing the eroded road damage. At the east end of the dam at 7/10 mile I stopped to sit on a boulder while another FS truck with someone inside was parked 50 feet away. My carrying weight was a bit over 60 pounds that included 16 pounds of camera gear and 9 pounds of food in a Garcia canister. Looked at the occupant smiling and wondering how far he could possibly drive me up the damaged road? I soon found the topo map trail did not reflect the actual trails along the reservoir. After a couple sweaty hours, I had reached the gravel road and Eleanor parking at 3 miles and 5200 feet. A few tiny mosquitoes had buzzed me between the reservoir edge and up along the trail that is near a seep stream. At this point I knew I would go beyond my minimal expectation point of 4 miles and likely beyond Shingle Springs then up to near the Kibbie Ridge / Kibbie Lake trail junction at 6.5 miles. One significant advantage with an early summer route up Kibbie Ridge is there are numbers of small ephemeral streamlets. By mid summer, the ridge trail can be dangerously dry for long distances.

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I began the climb up the Kibbie Ridge Trail stopping frequently on every sitable log and boulder. At 5400 stopped awhile where 3 moms and their daughters that tried to reach Lake Eleanor reservoir sans adequate map, had set up camp trailside after obviously taking the wrong trail. They took photos of my maps with a smart phone and I hoped they reached either Kibbie or Eleanor the following day. It was about 6:30pm when I reached Shingle Springs where I did a torso dunk in the cool pool at the trail crossing. A FS work crew set up at the nearby Shingle Springs parking lot came by and we chatted briefly as I learned about the true nature of the damaged gravel road. An hour later reached the bench on Kibbie Ridge at 6400 along its small stream where exhausted, foot sore, in semi delirium, I dropped my heavy load, made camp, cooked a Mountain House Lasagna 2 serving dinner, and immediately retired into my BA UL1 tent.

After a pleasant night of recovery, I was up at sunrise Wednesday June 14, packed up, and soon wandering up slabs and through brush looking for the trail. Well except for having to re-inflate my leaky Thermarest NeoAir mattress every time I woke up during the night haha. A week before the trip I had given up trying to repair the dozens of tiny holes in the 2011 bought NeoAir and ordered a newer Venture model that had not yet arrived. Over the last couple decades, at least 3 fires have burned much of Kibbie Ridge including the monstrous 2014 Rim Fire. Accordingly what had been a heavy tall forest decades ago when I hiked this same trail was now a very different landscape. After such fires there are always many burned dead trees that over a period of winter storm winds, topple and that causes considerable trail blockage that people then have to climb over or go around. Additionally burned tree debris as bark and branches tends to fall from still standing dead trees making walking uneven thus awkward. Also many small trees from 1 to 15 feet tall given birth in the rich sooty soils, densely grow about in patches making trail hiking unpleasant and off trail hiking awkward.

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Two miles into the trail, I misread my trail position on the topo map where the disappearing trail routed through granite slabs in nearly flat topography with view blocking tall trees, and ended up east of where I should have been, thrashing around for an hour in a nightmare of marsh, dense willow, whitethorn ceanothus, bog blueberry, and fallen logs. By time I realized I was not where I thought I was, it was too late to backtrack. Before continuing on, to make certain I did not compound route issues, briefly turned on my cell phone and got a Trimble Navigator GPS position fix verifying my actual position. To get back on route to the trail required an unpleasant sweaty effort thrashing through more of the same and then bushwhacking up through whitethorn where I toppled over at one point impaling a few thorns into my soft hide that later required tweezer work. By time I was back on the trail at this day's 3 mile point, it was obvious I was much too exhausted to have a hope of reaching Styx Pass. Thus spent an hour taking a longer break, eating some food, napping. Upon continuing, I found my body not as weary as thought, so Styx Pass was again a maybe.

At my 5 mile point reached a large frog pond at 7260 feet where I would stop for 90 minutes before tackling the final 650 feet and 3 miles. Took a dip in the shallow pond that had an unpleasantly soft bottom as I sank in mud nearly a half foot down. Then after some more snack food, napped again. Continuing on, the first trailside snow appeared at 7400 feet. I reached soggy marshy Sachse Springs at 7 miles and 7800 feet after 6pm. Much of the landscape was now covered in patchy snow as much as 3 feet deep. I realized the MODIS satellite images had apparently been misleading. Keeping on the snow buried trail was futile so instead was guided by where the route with melted water everywhere was least unpleasant. Eventually reached the final ridge at 7900 feet that then beyond blocking trees led down across sparse forest and granite joint cracks and slabs to Styx Pass. My actual destination had been the no name lake basin west of Mercur Peak, aka lake 7777. (see topo link above) Unfortunately there was a whole lot more snow everywhere and I was dead weary, stopping every short while. So was content just to immediately find a reasonable granite slab zone free of snow to tent on.

Coming out of forest on the ridge, I was happy to find the south facing rib west of Mercur 90% snow free and thereupon found a nice spot to camp on a gruss flat beside Sierra juniper trees at 7835 feet, about 1/3 mile west of the rib saddle of similar elevation one crosses to reach the lake 7777 basin. For the second straight evening, I made camp, cooked a dinner, and in a very weary state went right into my tent to recover over the night.

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Waking Thursday morning June 15, I was glad the strenuous effort was now all behind me. My body after another night of recovery felt surprisingly capable to this senior citizen. In the past, there have been first of the season backpacking trips where I've awoken to muscle and joint soreness from not being in adequate shape but such was not the case this year as I've been quite active even if not exercising daily. Skies were sunny with some high thin clouds and a chilly sunrise temperature in the mid 30s I expected to soon warm up given the storm of 2 days before was now probably exiting the Rockies and into the Great Plains. Keen to make sense out of what the zone offered before packing up and heading off somewhere, I made some hot chocolate and was soon out with my camera gear on a route across the granite slab landscape looking for aesthetic junipers. My first subject was the fine old Sierra juniper, juniperus grandis, in image above.

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I wandered past several other nice yet not worth stopping to work junipers reaching the rib saddle then climbed up on the west slopes of Mercur Peak for a better overall view. Lake 7777 basin per image above was 90% snow covered with the lake showing just a small spot of open water. An area the MODIS satellite showed was free of all snow! Was glad I had not packed up and bothered to try and hike there. At this early time of day, snow fields were still rather firm causing slippery footing. In the distance east southeast could see way too much snow in the Boundary Lake zone so my plans for that area were also not going to happen. I wondered how much snow there was on the east side of Mercur Pass at 7650 feet but that knowledge would need to wait till the afternoon. Instead decided on hiking down then searching for a pleasant place to camp west of that pass on the warm south facing slabs. Along the way worked a beautiful jeffrey pine I could see needed to be returned to for a dusk earth shadow up in sky shot. Found just the camp spot on a narrow bench with flat tenting, afternoon shade, and ready water draining down across warm slabs including much glacial polish.

Unlike the traditional mindset of backcountry users that site in shady forest with an accessible supply of nearby fire wood, generally I have a fondness for open glaciated granite slab landscapes because I almost never make camp fires, there are less mosquitoes, and I like the clean rock with small flats of granite sands between bedrock.

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QY09158-09177-4x1v  11900x5400 pixels  4 frame 4 column 1 row 20 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
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Down below in a shady dense lodgepole pine grove were piles of melting snow covered darkly with much pine needle and branch debris and a nearly melted out frog pond at 7625 feet. Since air about the pond was dead calm, I went down to the pond taking a set of images for the modest reflection 4 wide stitch photo above. Water draining from this whole zone southwest of Mercur Peak drained into this pond and then south down to Many Island Lake and not across Mercur Pass. I could readily imagine that once the piles of snow melted, this dim lodgepole pine area would become a whining ground zero mosquito hell. I had not seen a single mosquito since on the trail Tuesday half-way up Kibbie Ridge. So indeed as hoped, the cold snow storm had done a terrific job killing any early snow mosquitoes above about 6.5k thus I would be able to enjoy this trip without bothering to apply DEET, covering up my skin with clothing, or keeping my tent mosquito net door closed at night. An added bonus was there were no reasons to expect any bears this deep into still melting snow zones as summer green vegetation was barely out of the ground, thus little to eat. Without spending more time hunting images, I returned the 3/4 mile back up to my camp, packed up gear, returned to this new spot, then set up a very nice camp.

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QY09189-09213-5x1vv  14800x5900 pixels  5 frame 5 column 1 row 25 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 60mm
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Though late morning, I had a worthwhile task challenge. I wanted some distant shots of Many Island Lake at 7323 feet on a bench below this pass basin. To get there I would need to pass beyond my pond and then climb up through areas of now softened up snow between rocky outcrops. That would provide some learning challenge walking on sloping areas of snow. In little time I was out to an overlook by 11:30am then worked the above 5 wide frame that shows plenty of snow on the mostly north facing rib just east of the lake while the more level basin of the lake proper below was nearly snow free.

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QY09228-09247-4x1v  11900x5400 pixels  4 frame 4 column 1 row 20 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 SEL55210 @153mm
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Wanting a telephoto stitch of just the main lake area with many of its islands, I pulled out the Sony SEL55210 zoom, set it to 153mm and took this next image above. Gee such fine places to camp later summer when water had warmed up and spend a couple days swimming and lounging about on granite islands. But not this trip, nope, I'd already come to a decision as to how this trip would now play out. I would spend two days on Cherry Creek below Lord Meadow and then on day 6 hike out half way down Kibbie Ridge where I could then reach the dam and car on day 7 with a spare day to use if some body part became sore.

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Back at my camp per image above, cooked lunch, Mountain House Beef Stroganoff with Noodles 2 serving size, then later lounged afterward an hour attacking my food bag quietly in a cool spot between a rock wall and sun shading lodgepole. About 2pm found a small tub sized pool about a foot deep in a joint crack where snow melt flowing over the south facing glaciated slopes warmed the water up to about 70F per reading on my infrared thermometer. I took a pleasant dunking then no soap washed my socks and t-shirt.

Mid afternoon it was time to climb up to view points east of Mercur Peak. Upon reaching the top, found extensive snow fields mixed with areas of rock so climbed down. I set up for a 4 row vertical frame of the whitewater stream below page top at right from Leighton and Yellowhammer Lake cascading down into Cherry Creek canyon with a nicely round dome on the skyline. To better appreciate the image look at the enlarged vertical slice view. I took some modest telephotos of distant peaks then checked out landscapes east of Mercur Pass I would be dropping down through Friday morning. There was one steep zone where I would be going through snow.

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I returned to camp briefly, switching to late day gear that always includes my headlamp and warm North Face fleece jacket, then headed up to the saddle area west of Mercur Peak I had checked out after sunrise. After working 3 modest subjects of the beautifully curving exfoliating granite dome, with 90 minutes to burn before sunset, continued north on the ridge through a mix of snow fields and rock outcrops but views down into the canyon were blocked so returned to the saddle where I set up a 2 column horizontal frame stitch then waited out the above sunset shot that occurred about 8:25pm PDT. As skies were still clearer than usual given the passing cold front a couple days earlier, late orange-red light was more saturated than normal. At the right edge of my frame, a nice juniper snag pokes up into the sky.

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On my return to camp, I revisted the jeffrey pine, pinus jeffreyi, I had worked in the morning, setting up for the dusk earth night wedge per image above that occurred at 8:46pm. Back at camp enjoyed a Knorr-Lipton rice meal before retiring about 9:30pm. The thought of climbing down to Cherry Creek early the next morning excited me.

After another pleasant night without the tent mosquito netting zipped nor any worry about possible bear visits, dawn came and I was soon up making hot chocolate, and packing up gear on this Friday morning June 16. About 6:45am was on my route below past the soggy lodgepole grove and frog pond then walking up and down piles of snow in the large joint crack the trail follows escaping over the rim of Cherry Creek canyon to the east. Upon dropping more steeply into the canyon, snow fields covered more areas again as the trail gushing with snowmelt water switchbacked down the hill with considerable trailside rock works and steps. At one point it all disappeared into a snow field where I made my way down about 50 feet of moderately steep vertical by vigorously kicking steps into the not yet soft snow. At the bottom of that snow, I vectored northeast away from the trail gaining a ramp to open slab slopes I had viewed the previous afternoon from above, taking that snow free all the way to the creek 400 feet lower. There I took out my camera gear at a couple fine subjects and worked whitewater images below Lord Meadows before continuing down to a wooded glen at 6980 feet. Then my route got into trouble.

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QY09605-09  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 5 image focus stack blend  A6000 19mm
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At the bottom of the cascades at 7000 feet on Cherry Creek is long curving pool surrounded by a dell with tall pines and a couple of outcrops with some steep slopes. Below the brushy outcrops are marshy willow and more brush. And within the tall trees are lots of logs wedged into the tree grove during high water. I chose to climb west around the willows but that ended up a worse choice because of heavy brush. Eventually I thrashed through to the end at 6960 but not before expending a lot of effort that much like the blueberry bog Wednesday, left me weary. I continued down more open areas of the canyon below and thrashed through yet another brushy patch I should have avoided before stopping. At that point pulled off my camera daypack and continued down where about 10am I worked the above subject with my Sigma 19mm F2.8 DN lens where the creek is visible for a long nearly straight distance down slabs per image above.

Note besides the still images shown in this feature, I also recorded numbers of short 15, 30, and 60 second 1080p video clips with my A6000 camera that I will eventually set up online at Youtube. For the sake of superior front lighting, images viewing whitewater downstream were shot mornings while those upstream in the afternoon. Generally whitewater images with a camera pointing upstream create better aesthetics and also on this section of Cherry Creek canyon during late spring with sun azimuth rising and setting about 30 degrees north of due east or west, the late afternoon sun altitude is much lower than early morning due to canyon orientation, a prime reason targeting this canyon zone.

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QY09634-09651-3x1v  9600x6000 pixels  3 frame 3 column 1 row 18 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
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About 10:30am worked this section of the stream beside a beautiful section of glaciated slab slopes. Such a bright white granite canyon works well mid to late morning photographing whitewater falls and cascades because the exposure values between the two are close. Conversely whitewater through an otherwise shady, forested, and or dark rock zone would not work as well because the contrast would be greater. Obviously the sound around these granite slab cascades is rather loud. The granite rock itself tends to be unusually clean, free of debris and dust thus the whole stream surroundings is a wonderful environment like one finds at some ocean shores minus the sticky salt haha. I drank right out of Cherry Creek over my 2 plus days in the canyon as any biological contaminants as giardia would be extremely diluted. The one big negative at this time of snowmelt is the water is really cold at about 40F.

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These two above close stream image subjects as well as those below on the page present a puzzle for those like this person interested in focus stacking multiple shots into single frame images. The basic issue is every time the shutter exposes the subject, the water in the scene changes enormously, impossible to blend in a way that the result will look natural. The rest of the scene is basically static and can be focus stack blended using usual post processing. My solution to this requires first capturing all moving water areas with a single shot using an aperture with adequate depth of field focused at a middle water subject distance while not resulting in too much inverse loss of speed that cannot freeze the water. With my Sony A6000 I will not go faster than ASA 200 in order to not lose resolution for serious work thus the above works best in brighter sunlight. In post processing I create a mask from the one water image and use that to mask off water elements of the static zone shots so they cannot be used during blending of the stack. I then blend all the shots. For most subjects I might actually shoot the water 3 times, choose which one looks most impressive then delete the other two. The same strategy can be used for other general subjects where there are moving elements.

I returned up stream and found several superb gruss flats well above the creek to set up camp at. Chose one with a fine view up and down the stream with a large jeffrey pine for shade at any time of day. After cooking another meal of MH lasagna, while the pot cooled, jumped into a 3 foot deep quieter backwash of the roaring cold creek, then instantly exploded back out like a jack-in-the-box on steroids. Conveniently laid out where I went in, on smooth warm glacial polish at the water edge. I and those I backpack with do so almost every day regardless of how cold water may be.

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Of course the vast majority of backpackers never get into cold water regardless of how sweaty, dirty, sticky, itchy, smelly, and grubby they were earlier during a day on the trail, because... its cold and they are wimps. Thus the common brag one hears about how they have been on a trail XX days without taking a shower... and don't mind. Of course their expensive down sleeping bag is probably rather unpleasantly rank too. The trick is to get in and get out as fast as possible before the cold has time to conduct down to one's larger bones down deep where it would compress the blood fluid and nerves inside causing usual pain. Thus I quickly get in and fully go under water rubbing my face and neck momentarily then bound out and immediately lay down on a warm smooth rock. Within less than a minute, one is feeling much better and so clean and fresh. Amazing how wonderfully clean one becomes from even such a fast dip.

Abundant about Cherry Creek canyon granite flats were short height red Sierra onion, allium obtusum, with white flowers that have tasty leaves. The leaves are wonderfully soft and juicy like lettuce, readily chewed into pieces. The mild onion taste is optimal and am able to eat a handful of leaves and repeat the experience minutes later. During my backpack I often tossed a handful of leaves into completed cooking from my packaged meals, especially the Knorr-Lipton rice meals. Image above left shows several leaves floating on the surface of my cooked Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce.

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About 3pm explored up stream about the dell and found an awkward way through dense marshy willows I would use Sunday to leave the zone. Stopped to work an area of back lit vibrant green rising corn lily plants above right and for an hour lounged under the shady tall pines about clean sands beside the sinuous pool. With the bright sun waning, about 4pm began working the large cascades just above with this 4 column stitch blend per image above. In the background, is the still snowy slopes of the trail up to Boundary Lake. After the above subject, I worked a few more images that went well then returned to camp.

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QY09928-42  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 15 image focus stack blend  A6000 19mm
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Late afternoon was back down stream and shot the above whitewater with my 19mm lens in optimal light at 7:30pm. Having also backpacked on a few trips down the Tuolumne River to view Le Conte Falls and Waterwheel Falls in high flows, there were more spectacular waterwheels along this section of Cherry Creek although peak flow volume of Cherry Creek most springs would not be enough to be comparable. Waterwheels occur when streams gain higher speed flowing down lengths of unobstructed bedrock stream bottom slopes and then run into narrow width bedrock obstructions causing water to shoot upward in arcs. They are usually not the result of hitting boulders because the intense force of such water will push any loose material down-stream regardless of weight. Accordingly the phenomenon is most common on immobile glacially smoothed granite bedrock. In the image below most of the bumps in the flow were waterwheels.

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QY09945-49  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 15 image focus stack blend  A6000 30mm
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At 7:43pm with warm light on the landscape, I worked with my 30mm lens, the above whitewater from the bottom of a long straight whitewater section . At this time of the summer solstice when the sun sets furthest north of west, that is right down the center of the canyon over the relatively low ridge separating this main branch from the West Fork of Cherry Creek. Indeed quite an ideal canyon for late light early summer.

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QY09991-98  4000x6000 pixels  1 frame 8 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm
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With a dissipating band of cumulus clouds far in the background, I expected some nice dusk light color in the clouds so located the above subject of a shallow pool in a glacial polish depression then captured the above at a late 8:47pm and was able to back away a good distance from the pool in order to use my 60mm so more color in the distance would be within the frame. I also did not want to get too close to the whitewater, because shutter speeds in dim light are too slow resulting in blur. I might have put on one of my neutral density lens filters to blur water to a silky smooth quality however light changes rapidly late or early allowing just one good shot choice. Note areas of the polished granite left of the pool have cracked off. I then enjoyed walking up the stream a half mile back to my campsite in waning light that was approximately about the trees at the top of the whitewater in the image. Back at camp, I enjoyed a Knorr-Lipton rice meal in the dark, again not having to bother with any mosquitoes, and stayed up the latest into the evening on this trip.

I slept well that night despite the loud sounds of cascading water. Why not? There was little to be concerned about without mosquitoes, flies, bears, or other humans. And rose slowly, lazily rolling over at dawn before getting up only when sun hit the tops of the west canyon wall on this Saturday morning of June 17. It would still be awhile before that light dropped down to stream level so I enjoyed a double package of hot chocolate. A couple hours later, I was downstream at a familiar spot where I had taken a fine image Friday morning where a backwash in strong whitewater flow was circulating creating a whirlpool with an emerald green color, the trip's marquee image at page top, QY00044-53.

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QY00089-95  4000x6000 pixels  1 frame 7 image focus stack blend  A6000 19mm
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My plan this morning was to first work areas further down Cherry Creek than I did Friday. On the way, stopped to photograph the largest streamlet coming off the steep towering west canyon walls in this zone that were fed from deeper cornicing snows at the rim of the lake 7777 basin 950 feet above. Where I set up, the water that had been spread out about small cascades and slabs above, then found a small joint crack where it recombined into a raucous fast narrow streamlet.

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QY00104-00120-3x1v  9400x6000 pixels  3 frame 3 column 1 row 17 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 60mm
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I climbed up smooth slabs one hundred fifty feet or so above the creek to an optimal viewpoint down creek to photograph where the canyon curves out of sight before the canyon's major dogleg left towards the reservoir several miles south. To reach this spot required careful friction walking on smooth inclined granite. Attempting a down canyon hike carrying a heavy backpack at this time of high water would be dangerous because one cannot access the east side of Cherry Creek where gradients are lower. Note areas of avalanched snow blocks down at the creek level at 6800 feet, the lowest elevation snow I would find on this trip. The smooth steep granite slopes above are extremely prone to avalanching during winter so much snow piles up at the bottom about the stream. After that worked a few modest images then returned to camp for several hours of easy lounging about enjoying.

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QY00366-74  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 9 image focus stack blend  A6000 19mm
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Late afternoon back down canyon to the long water slide, shot the above at 6pm. The nature of these granite slab landscapes without usual creek side soil banks allowed me to get very close to powerful whitewater flows where splash zones are delineated by boundaries of wet and dry rock.

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QY00429-00452-3x1v  9600x6000 pixels  3 frame 3 column 1 row 24 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 60mm
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At 6850 feet is a wonderful wide glaciated granite slab zone of the canyon floor with scattered trees, grassy green areas of soil, and at this time of snow melt, lots of small streamlets. At certain early or late times of day with the blue sky at a low obtuse angle, water reflects sky color nicely. Here at 6:25pm, went for a wonderfully bright combination of the blue streamlet, green grass, Cherry Creek, and cyan-blue sky.

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QY00455-00480-4x1v  9400x6000 pixels  4 frame 4 column 1 row 26 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 60mm
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I wandered up on the slab canyon slopes hunting for an optimal viewpoint for to capture at 6:45pm, a broad landscape of the snowmelt streamlets, slab flats, Cherry Creek, and snow fields in the higher elevation background. There used the 60mm medium tele so distant elements kept reasonable perspective and size.

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QY00547-54  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 8 image focus stack blend  A6000 30mm
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I wanted a late shot just before the sun dipped behind the West Fork of Cherry Creek Ridge. And I was rewarded with the above image in warm light at an amazingly late 8:03pm PDT. Note long shadows on rock across the creek. It was time to hike back up the creek having successfully accomplished a couple days of work on this target area I had been looking at on the map over years.

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Sunday morning June 18 was all about hiking out of the canyon hole I was in, up 1000 plus feet to the 7900 foot ridge above. It was now the peak of a heat wave setting records across the state and filling Sierra Nevada rivers with peak snow melt flows. Thus the sooner I made it up and over the pass before it became unpleasantly warm this day the better. I had considered working some areas up about Lord Meadow, but that and upper Bartlette Creek lakes really needs a few days of time that were best left for a future trip. And I have good reason to return as the zone is so wonderful to experience.

Thus I trudged up through the uneven landscapes, stopping frequently every short ways on whatever to sit down on. First made it up to the end of Lord Meadow, then up and up to Styx Pass. Whew! At my Thursday camp area took a longer break, then continued on across slabs towards the ridge. Was amazing how much snow had melted out in just the few days. By time I reached the ridge, I had only had to walk across a couple hundred feet of snow versus the half mile on the route in. I could actually see trail for long distances where it had been an unseen mystery beneath white.

Over the hump, it was now a long mostly downhill slog of several miles to my target zone at 6670 feet, about 8 miles for the day. I stopped for an hour lunch at one shady area with still melting snow seeps for water then slogged on mile after mile. Big thunderstorms were dark and booming over the high country by mid afternoon while Kibbie Ridge was just beyond the clouds. When I finally reached my target zone, that was about the same area I lost the trail on the route in getting into trouble, I did so again. Wandering about wondering why the map and what I saw were not matching, I wasted 3/4 hour. It was then that I stopped, sat down, and carefully examined the map and what the landscape showed, that I actually discovered where I had made the earlier hike in mistake reading the map, thinking I was at a different location than I actually was.

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So instead of an 8 mile day it was nearly 9 miles, and I was pretty dead weary again. My camera had stayed in the day pack all day. As thunderstorm clouds with lightning and thunder looked to be finally moving over my zone, I made camp, took a dip in Snow Canyon creek, made dinner, and just as the first rain drops pattered on my rain fly, retired. The rain was mostly light off and on for an hour with a brief bout of hail. There were also a few more mosquitoes about late in the day than I had seen anywhere earlier on the trip.

Instead of rising and racing the nearly 8 miles back to the trailhead, I would spend 4 hours early morning exploring and enjoying this delightful slab and forest area on Monday morning June 19. It was an optimal late spring date to do so as the area was at peak greenery with many species of wildflowers about gruss flats and marsh areas. In just a few weeks most hikers visiting these mid forest elevations would find otherwise boring conditions with such plants having run their course gone to seed drying brown.

Above left is a close-up of short height spurry buckwheat, eriogonum spergulinum var. reddingianum, that covered many granite sand aka gruss flats that interspersed bedrock. Another short height annual growing in same areas, were pretty pink with red dot whiskerbrush, leptosiphon ciliatus. In the image above right the short flowers were next to a decaying long sugar pine cone.

Also about these landscape were these three modest images below page top.
Picturesque burned stumps, QY00658-64, up in the sky.
Dense alpine shooting star, primula tetrandra, in a wet marsh, QY00635-41.
In the same marsh area, a grove of quaking aspen, populus tremuloides in front of three towering, QY00608-12, white fir, albies consolor.

My final image below in my camp area taken at 10:10am was a wonderful species find at the edge of a marsh meadow. There beside the trail was a large patch of wood strawberry, fragaria vesca, many with their white flowers but all too early for their delicious red berries that though much smaller than commercial varieties one finds in supermarkets are in fact usually sweeter. Note the small balls of dew at leaf edges.

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QY00665-74  5200x4000 pixels  1 frame 10image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm extension tube
enlarged vertical slice view

Before 11am had broken camp, hoisted my not quite as heavy pack onto my back, then began what would be a 7.5 mile mostly downhill hike back to the Cherry Lake reservoir dam trailhead and my Forester. A few clouds had begun to form over higher areas to the east but skies were otherwise very sunny with heat wave temperatures certain to make the afternoon even at these mountain elevations uncomfortable. After crossing a marsh, the trail climbed up 150 feet through a patch of head height whitethorn. All along Kibbie Ridge such trail patches were overgrown with the brush branches spreading out into the narrow trail widths thus need trail maintenance pruning. Walking through such spiny thorny sections wearing shorts would be sure way to get stuck and scratched. At one spot I suddenly saw movement of something moving off the trail and then recognized a northern Pacific rattlesnake, crotalus oreganus oreganus. The fat 3 inch diameter 4 foot or so long snake had been sunning in the trail opening and probably thought I was just a deer moving up the trail so lazily did not even bother to rattle.

I continued on reaching shady waters of the Shingle Springs Trailhead at my day's 3 mile point where I enjoyed a torso dunk. On down another 2.5 miles and I'd reached the shores of the huge very full reservoir. There took a longer refreshing break, getting into the not that cool waters, letting my by now sore feet recover a bit before the final couple miles. By mid afternoon reached the Subaru and was soon driving the 4 hours it would take to get home. A most successful trip, especially photographically after I'd post processed images of which there are numbers more than those chosen for this feature. The adventure had not rolled out as I had ambitiously planned due to a lot more snow than expected. However once arrived at the target zone and seeing conditions, I adapted as I have needed to do so over many trips in the past. With my body stronger, more trail adapted now, I am looking forward to more great 2017 summer backpacking trips.

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   David Senesac
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