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2017 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Sonoma Coast State Beach 7/22
Lake Aloha Backpack 7/25
Lake Aloha Backpack 7/26
Lake Aloha Backpack 7/27
Lake Aloha Backpack 7/28

2017 Trip Chronicles:  Page 14

Sonoma Coast State Beach 7/22


After returning from my Eastern Sierra trip on June 29, it was not until July 22 that I was able to get away again due to not being able to pass California smog testing in order to renew my vehicle registration. For several years I had been getting intermittent OBD-II catalytic converter fault codes causing the Check Engine light to come on with my 2007 Forester. After considerable unsuccessful efforts to have it pass, I eventually spent about $2k having the catalytic converter replaced. After that my smog test passed and I received the registration. Thus for 3 weeks was not able to be out in the field as expected.

On Saturday July 22 went fishing with brother Joe up north to Sonoma Coast State Beach with the image at right showing a sea stack and fog. Joe caught a nice brown rockfish. That trip showed my vehicle was running well providing confidence for making longer trips, especially the approaching Oregon road trip for the eclipse.

Lake Aloha Desolation Wilderness backpack 7/25

With wind forecasts showing breezy Tahoe weather would eventually calm down, online at recreation.gov obtained a 4-day Desolation Wilderness permit for starting on July 25 that one conveniently just prints out at home after reading supplied online policy information. Thus on Monday sunrise drove east up US50 to the busy Echo Chalet Resort trailhead where by late morning I took the $14 one-way water taxi across the two dam raised natural lakes that saves 2 boring miles of PCT trail hiking above the lake shores. I had barely managed to find a place to park as the area was bustling with all manner of visitors at this peak period of summer.


At short notice, there was no chance due to limited quotas, that one might secure a permit for anywhere along the PCT, especially Lake Aloha I was targeting. However the wilderness quotas are divided up into area sections, one of which included Triangle and Lost Lakes plus most of Kieths Dome. After spending a single night in a zone one has a permit for, one can subsequently camp anywhere. From the west end of that zone on Kieths Dome, I would be able to reach my target Lake Aloha areas I wanted to photograph, after a short sunrise Tuesday backpack of less than a couple miles where I would set up a base camp. It did not really matter I would not be at the target area over the first couple days because the weather forecast showed it would take that long before breezes calmed down. That would give me a day to explore the target zone and then two mornings to work what I found before hiking out.
Online mapper.acme topographic map link where I camped my first night at the center cross hairs in Desolation Wilderness.

Off north on the broad dusty Pacific Crest Trail starting from 7400 feet, it was about 0.6 mile and 400 uphill feet over rocky open sparsely forested terrain with views back south to the Echo lakes, to the Triangle Lake trail junction my permit was valid for. The trail was busy with both local Desolation backpackers, PCT thru trail long distance backpackers, and day hikers, young and old, including numbers of happy children and excited dogs. Skies were partly cloudy with pleasant low 70F temperatures. Per my leisurely trail style, I took frequent breaks on most available thigh high trail side boulders or logs. The 6 weeks of lower activity after my Styx Pass backpack had reduced my strength, but I was still relatively fit.


At the Triangle Lake trail junction I left the busy thru trail that then climbed more steeply 350 feet up and 0.5 mile through forest to a saddle where I would take a cross over trail west below Kieths Dome. An abundance of wildflowers were at their summer peak that was maybe 2 or 3 weeks later than on average years. Within the breeze sheltering forest through a wet seep section, mosquitoes were aggressive as I bothered to apply 100% DEET to my hands, wrist, and face, the only areas of skin my well armored clothing did not protect. By noon reached elevation 8350 where I stopped for a lunch break against a lodgepole trunk back rest with a view south across an open slope of lupine and other volcanic geology wildflowers. Outside my Bear Vault BV450, I'd put in a Ziplock bag, a 6 inch Subway tunafish and a Yoplait strawberry yogurt.

By early afternoon a stronger wind was blowing as I vectored off the trail and up onto the ridge line of Kieths Dome where I kept my eye open for possible camp spots that were few given just wind stunted trees and awkward dark metavolcanic rock. Google Earth had showed a few ephemeral ponds at the ridge line not shown on the USGS 7.5 minute topo and as expected given the big winter, there was considerable lingering snow just over the crest on the lee side of the ridge that I expected would provide easy water on what was during most summers by this time of July a rather dry zone to try camping at. Eventually reached an open forested bench per image above left at 8460 west southwest of and below the dome that was right on the edge of my legal camping zone. Streamlets from patches of melting snow provided easy water and being well away from trails would be quiet without any bear visit worries. The rest of my afternoon was rather pleasant as I made camp, set up cooking for dinner, then leisurely explored nearby flowery slopes, though the wind inhibited close-up wildflower work I might have pursued. Late pm climbed to the dome top for some informational shots east down into the Glen Alpine Creek basin. The atmosphere was quite very hazy with water vapor.


I was up at dawn Tuesday morning July 26, and soon rambling down slopes towards Lake Margery. The forest became more dense with considerable areas of snow in shady areas. I stumbled about through awkward jumbles of lodgepole pine and mountain hemlock logs and marshy snow melt areas to reach the shores of the heavily forested lake where I then set up my camera for reflection photos. But an intermittent breeze made that effort futile so continued north along the shores and came upon the map trail I then took northwest. The image above right shows a patch of snow on that trail that had partially melted through leaving a tunnel with a snow hole above the trail. Notice all the dark debris atop the snow surface that are mostly pieces of trees, especially needles, broken off during winter storms. In forested areas such snow patches increasingly concentrate debris on snow surfaces as the melt cycle evolves. Modest numbers of mosquitoes were buzzing around so I applied DEET to my face, hands, and wrist.

The most significant issue preventing many Sierra Nevada visitors from enjoying and visiting at this time of summer are mosquitoes. It is the most beautiful time of mountain summers when greenery and wildflowers are peaking, forest animals and birds are most active, patches of snow still adorn landscapes, and many lively streams flow over the magical land. Surprising to the majority, numbers of we experienced folk are hardly bothered at all by those flying blood suckers and in fact infrequently get bit. There are two keys to that enjoyment. First one must dispense with the usual summer hiking attire of t-shirts and shorts and instead cover up as much skin as possible with clothing mosquito proboscis cannot penetrate. Yeah, save that clothing for late summer after bugs are gone. Second on the little remaining exposed skin areas one needs to apply DEET and I highly recommend 100% DEET. In fact after applying 100% DEET swarms of buzzing mosquitoes usually find the smell so unpleasant that whole whining swarms disappear.


The image above right shows my usual hiking attire, where only my hands, wrists, and face are exposed to mosquitoes. Those are Levi 505s with tops an inexpensive lightweight hooded single layer nylon shell with front zip and side pockets, elastic cuffs and waistband. Mosquito proboscis cannot penetrate the tight nylon weave, much less the robust jeans that also protects my legs from brush and all manner of off trail abrasions. Beware of similar appearing polyester shells because those soft weaves are not as impenetrable. Additionally being well covered protects skin from strong UV radiations one finds high in mountains eliminating the need to apply greasy sunscreen except on one's face. My hat has a considerable Velcro detachable neck drape keeping bugs off my neck and ears that mosquitoes instinctually zero in on. For decades I have been enjoyably hiking wearing such clothes at peak summer aesthetics when mosquitoes are still rather numerous and rarely get any bites except for a few on my hands that tend to lose applied 100% DEET due to my dipping them into water for many reasons. When strenuously hiking with a backpack, I wear the quick drying nylon shell without anything underneath, usually with the front zipper down for ventilation. Though note in cooler weather and sans pack around camp, I may wear a cotton t-shirt with the shell over it as mosquitoes otherwise readily poke right through thin cotton clothing.

Within the hour I had reached my camp zone, found a reasonable place to set up at well above the PCT trail where I doubted anyone would venture upon, then made camp per image above right. For decades I have been siting camps in pristine locations well away from popular lake edges and trails where the experience is more like true wilderness. Wind had again picked up to levels making photography impractable and skies were mostly clouded, so I spent the rest of the day thoroughly exploring photography subjects in the zone including a trip down to the shores of Lake Aloha. I enjoyed some morning time with my usual music diversions, then at noon cooked up a big lunch.


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The slopes had usable knobs for clear morning views down across large Lake Aloha and a few excellent Sierra juniper trees I would work the following couple days. In the afternoon did shoot the above spectacular flagged wind monarch Sierra juniper, juniperus grandis, since it's sturdy branches were not much affected by wind. By day's end the atmosphere appeared much clearer as drier air pushed through, giving more hope for better warm light the next morning.


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On Wednesday morning July 27, awoke early dawn then climbed up to one of the viewpoint knobs I'd surveyed to capture early light on the Crystal Range ridge line behind Lake Aloha. Thus as the pink earth shadow rose up in the sky to the west behind the ridge at 6:03am PDT captured the above 3 column horizontal panorama of pink sky, ridge, and lake. Not close to the best such pink earth shadow sky color I've seen, but better than average.

It would be easy to jack the pink colors up in Photoshop as all too many current era photographers tend to do, however per my realistic style, prefer presenting such images reasonably close to what I naturally really experienced with my human eyes even if the result is not as aesthetic.


Don't understand what such manipulation is about maybe because you are not familiar with Photoshop, a very expensive and complex program? Well the above is another downsized version of the same image in which I spent just a couple minutes changing the Selective Color for White using Cyan and Magenta sliders and then jacking saturation. Looks beautiful yeah but totally phony versus the actual dawn I experienced. The photographer majority in this era that manipulate per the above and in all manner of ways beyond, will also be the last ones to come out and publicly admit they did so.


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This next image above without focus stacking was shot at F7.1 with my 60mm lens just after sunrise at about 6:12am. Color change for such events changes rapidly from early red to orange so I did not have the luxury of waiting till sun light worked its way down the full ridge. Instead I waited until it lowered enough that color was reflecting across most of the lake water. This is a large image 20800 pixels wide from 7 vertically stitched frames. Please select the enlarged vertical slice view to view how sharp the full image is left to right, top to bottom.


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Then 4 minutes later about 6:16am with light a bit further down the Crystal Range slopes shot the above 6 column stitch blend. Note the brighter light change to less red, more orange that occurred in just a few minutes. My trip was purposely made during an early enough summer period when considerable snow would still show on the Crystal Range peaks in order to provide brighter areas in shadows below and warm sunrise color above mixed in with interesting snow patterns. The difficult parameter to insure was a clear morning sky and this Wednesday morning was indeed better than average.


And again to impress on how so many photographers in this era easily manipulate such images, this phony downsized version above of the same image required less than a minute to shift the Hue control -10 degrees into more red and jack the Saturation slider 17 points. This person greatly values the less saturated version...because it has reasonably fidelity to what really occurred. And doesn't that have the ring of value? Of course one will also see numbers of such images where saturation is way beyond anything natural like Rudolph's glowing red nose. Why? Because clueless in their audience will predictably be stroking with WOW...AWESOME. And then they will reply with, "Yeah we were so lucky to have such amazing light that morning."


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Early morning light about 6:40am on the Crystal Range reflection in a small lake with rusty geology. The peak at frame left is 9983 foot Pyramid Peak and the one at frame right Mt Price at 9975 feet. Both peaks are readily visible from the Sacramento urban area on clear days. On the right slice of the enlarged vertical slice view, the top surface of the snow bank above the lake edge has suncups that at this late date in the melt cycle have evolved to shallow depressions. A month earlier when snow density was less consolidated, those suncups would have been much deeper. The suncups are depressions where solar radiation acting like a solar oven concentrates increasing melt rates versus level areas. In the full image the snow bank at frame left at the lake edge is still calving into the waters leaving floating bergs that tend to rapidly melt away within a day.


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Per image above, I returned at 7:15am to the same knob view I used for sunrise to capture the full 2 mile long lake. Early morning shadows on the east shore from the ridge to the east had receded allowing better illumination of the whole lake while the blue sky saturation above increased with rising sun altitude. Note this is another natural lake where a small dam was built across its outlet. Decades ago after stream flows below such lakes decreased by mid summer, lake level lowering mechanisms on these dams were used as a source of water for increasing stream flows and providing irrigation water for farming. Although large numbers of visitors travel on the Pacific Crest Trail that further north is closer to the shore edge, very few visitors ever bother to climb up well above onto this ridge to the east in order to experience this grander view of the whole lake. Much of the lake is of course out of view down by the shore blocked by the irregular shore, trees, and view blocking peninsulas.

In the right slice of the enlarged vertical slice view, below Pyramid Peak a grove of wind and avalanche stunted whitebark pine are growing on a steep talus slope with dark geology. During mid winter, those trees are protected by a deep layer of snow. Any branches that protrude above the snow level are readily pruned by storm winds. Down below at the lake edge, the majority of trees are lodgepole pine that are also at the bottom of the center slice foreground.


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Although this sunny day was not windy like the previous two days, by early morning a modest breeze had developed that blunted my interest for exploring down along Lake Aloha or any of several no name ponds in the area, most of which were not on the topographic map but that I had noted pre-trip on Google Earth. Thus climbed out on the Cracked Crag ridge brink at a couloir where I could view across the face of the cliff towards Susie Lake in the distance, a lake I've visited a few times over the decades. Note the long white cascade of Glen Alpine Creek below the lake. The rusty metasedimentary rock about Susie that is the same as the couloir, tends to be a difficult geology to find flat tenting sites on due to its angular shapes. Below the couloir is granite while the dark geology in the background at Dick's Pass is metavolcanic.


It was now later morning and I had found a higher nearby location wind protected below a Sierra juniper to move my campsite to that would be closer to areas I expected to work. Thus picked up my camp piecemeal, completing the move before 11am per image above after which I cooked lunch and then spent a few mid day hours lounging under shade. Those strong winds are very evident in the lake waters in the image above.


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Later in the afternoon, I worked the above colorful Sierra juniper on an open landscape that has considerable small interesting details of plants and rock. Clouds visible in the background sky had made work during the breezy afternoon difficult as shade moved across broader landscapes faster than I shoot frames intended to stitch together.


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I endured the breeze enough to capture the above leichtlins mariposa lily, calochortus leichtlinii, below granite with quartz and dark black iron rich minerals that are rusting out.


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As summer snow melts, debris increasingly concentrates on its surface layer. The above close-up shows fascinating detail of lodgepole and jeffrey pine needles both still green and dried brown, sap, bits of wood and plants, dust, seeds.


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And also found another favorite flower species of mine for close-ups that grows low against the ground in granite gravel flats, out of breezes, pussy paws, calyptridium umbellatum. Note how its pedicels that is flower stems are also pinkish red while the male anthers atop filaments that visiting bees first contact picking up pollen are a darker red.


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On Thursday July 28, I was up early again, the fourth and last day of this trip. After a full morning photography session would pack up and hike out. My first destination before sunrise was a body of water I'd visited previously. Before sunrise I had calm air for the first time during the trip allowing a good reflection. In the above reflection of the distant Crystal Range sunrise, the near shore mountain hemlock, tsuga mertensiana, provide an excellent graphic while shore snow banks add excellent detail to what would otherwise be a dark shadowed rock. In the enlarged vertical slice view, the top of the hemlock has broken off in this windy ridge top site while the tree to its right has the more common form for young hemlocks with a drooping top.


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After the above, I quickly rambled to another location where I had a full view of Lake Aloha. It was north of the knob I'd used Wednesday to shoot the whole lake with the north end of the lake less obstructed by trees. Thus shot the above 8 column panoramic stitch at 6:50am. With calmer conditions, the reflection was better. Notice a wee bit of darker smoky air moving east behind the ridge at frame left. Near the top of the center slice of the enlarged vertical slice view, notice the vertical linear sagging patterns in the steep summer snow field. At the bottom of the same slice near the lake edge where the slope is more gradual, notice how those snow fields where gravity forces are weaker, lack the vertical lines but have a pocked form due to suncups.


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It wasn't long before breezes once again made their appearance so my interest in visiting the shores of Lake Aloha for images was dismissed. Instead climbed back up to the Sierra juniper wind monarch and positioned so the tree was against the range and lake in image above.

By about 8:30am the sun altitude was high enough to fully illuminate west shore areas of Lake Aloha, so I climbed up to a high viewpoint to capture the image at page top. On the enlarged vertical slice view one can see yellow and orange tents along the granite bedrock shore area. Notice how lake areas at frame left are relatively calm while breezy downdrafts are visible at the far end of the lake. Such erratic wind patterns are common in mountainous terrain as topography redirects winds in varying directions. The PCT routes up the forested strip above that part of the lake, over Mosquito Pass at 8420, then down into the Rubicon River drainage. The triangular peak above it is peak 9441.


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At 9am worked the above ravine foreground of red mountain heather and spirae wildflowers with Lake Aloha and Price Peak in the background. The group of plants with large leaves at frame right are corn lily that will bloom later. By 10:30am I had packed up and was dropping down slopes to the Pacific Crest Trail. Within a couple hours I was back at the Upper Echo Lake taxi ferry dock where several other people were also waiting the boat ride across the lakes. By noon I was back at my Forester then on my way home.

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   David Senesac
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