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2018 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

NF Bishop Creek 9/25
NF Bishop Creek 9/26
NF Bishop Creek 9/27
NF Bishop Creek 9/28

2018 Trip Chronicles:  Page 10

North Fork of Bishop Creek

My last serious Eastern Sierra fall leaf road trip had been back in 2015. A 2017 fall trip to Bishop areas with my brother was more a short camping and fishing trip. As someone that has worked those areas extensively over decades, I already have a considerable body of strong work that improving on has limited possibilities. However most of that work is 4x5 Provia 100F film that has not yet been expensively drum scanned into digital form, so I do have some motivation to add some digital camera images since they can be of immediate value on 8k digital displays I will start exhibiting with in 2019. In order to bother drum scanning my best film work, I hope to first make income off the already display ready digital work I began in 2014 when I switched from my huge Wisner Expedition 4x5 view camera to the physically much smaller Sony A6000 APS-C mirrorless camera system.

So eighteen days after the 20 Lakes Basin backpack, I was off eastward on the road again on Tuesday mid morning September 25, crossing the valley stopping in Oakdale for gas, Subway, and food supplies, through Yosemite, then south down US395. At 4pm I turned off the highway onto the Ed Powers Road cutoff and then west on SR168 right to the Sabrina then North Lake Inyo National Forest public campgrounds finding both had several open sites. Great! So those campgrounds are not likely to fill up on mid week days. I selected site 11 at the latter pushing the self pay envelope into the green pipe, set up my cheap Walmart 2 person car camping tent, then tossed some gear in. I then began a quick road tour of of aspen grove conditions along South Fork Road up to the trailhead and then up to the Sabrina boathouse at the dam before returning to my camp spot. Trees were very green below about 8.5k while abruptly into color change above that. There were already some nice trees with less common orange to red leaves and the large clone aspen grove behind North Lake was spectacularly orange red. My 3 nights at the senior card rate would cost a total of just $36. The sun had set behind the tall Piute Crags ridge so it was becoming chilly. I expected streamside vegetation would be quite frosty by dawn. After cooking up a can of Van Camps Pork and Beans on my old Whisperlite, I filled my tent with a lot more gear for the night, got inside, and then under my 15F Pinnacle goose down sleeping bag. Though I rarely drink alcohol, I'd bought a bottle of beer and that put me to sleep quickly. Stream flows on both sides of my site made for loud water sounds all night that helped drown out talking at a couple of nearby sites with campfires.


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During the wee hours I had a bit of insomnia probably due to the beer, but that gave me time to prep my photo daypack for an early start in the morning. Awake at 5:30am Wednesday morning September 26, I was on my way up the trail by 6:20am, reaching a target area not far above I'd scouted out during the Humphreys Basin backpack in August. Bright orange light lit up the peak tops at 6:40am as I neared a location I'd checked out with Google Earth to cross the creek and ascend slopes of north facing slopes where no others ever go. While carrying my big tripod sans camera in one hand, I was soon bashing and stumbling up through willow seep jungles, then monkeyed through increasing quaking aspen, populus tremulides, atop small talus. Such dense stunted twisted clone aspen often grow on talus slopes with bedrock beneath where they share the same roots and sprout via root runners thus are genetically single trees often of considerable age while individual woody above ground trunks are relatively short lived.

With strenuous gymnastic effort, I climbed up rather high but did not find any viewpoints I could frame the expanse of yellow-orange hued aspen plus Piute Crags and 13118 foot Mt Emerson. Not the kind of place any sane person would choose to go haha. So dropped about hundred feet before removing my daypack to work the above modest image. I was surprised by the numbers of red paintbrush still blooming and over this day would see late blooms of about ten species. It was now 7:55am though sun had not illuminated my target background of Piute Crags to an optimal level as a rib kept a significant section in shade. Waiting for sun to rise higher with better coverage was not an option as it would only become harsh. Well now I knew and would not return in the future. I did crop that full image to the 4900 by 6400 pixel section at page left that I find much more aesthetic and should have took out my 60mm lens for. I worked a couple more modest subjects on my way out, returning to camp about 10:30am.


After forking in pieces of a raspberry coffee cake with milk, I decided to visit another area I'd found 3 decades earlier so was soon hiking out again. Before 11:30am I had reached a most obscure off trail pond not shown on the topographic map where I worked the 4 column stitch blend panorama at page top with rusty red metamorphic geology of Piute Crags at right and 13118 foot Mt Emerson at left reflecting in a shallow grassy pond. Nicely stunted quaking aspen growing in talus were at peak yellow-orange color across this obscure pond. Despite being late morning, with the sun altitude low in the fall, one can work into late morning off sun axis without too much harshness. In the enlarged vertical slice view left slice one will see an old male mallard duck. The species is common across North America and are common during summer in the Sierra. This duck's behavior was rather interesting. I had the feeling it was lonely because it swam over quacking to just a few feet from my tripod position looking at me while contently head dunking feeding all the while like I was a friend and repeated the same when I returned the following day. Of course mallards are common about farm ponds where they may get used to humans, such pleasant vulnerable creatures, my buddy.

Most aspen along the towering Eastern Sierra Nevada are down at mid elevations in canyons where backgrounds of its crest peaks are not easy to fit into frames. A prime reason for my traveling 320 miles to this location was that this area is one of the few where one can get both elements into frames and a reason why North Lake is so popular. However I've never seen any images from other viewpoints in the drainage, an indication of how little other people venture out beyond what is obvious from road sides.

I worked another reflection at the pond, however an increasing breeze was making the water grass move too much. So decided to return and work the subject the next day morning when light was better and maybe calmer. Back to exploring the zone, I enjoyed eating numbers of bog blueberry in a soggy meadow I'd done the same decades earlier. It is amazing what small details our brains can suddenly recall when returning to locations from a distant past. Along a use trail I met a couple my age now living in Bishop and sat down in shade for a pleasant lunch and conversation. Later I explored another area of aspen that had the best area of orange and red leaves on larger trees that I was to see in the basin. I worked a couple subjects but light on the crags was less than optimal back lit. Thus decided to return Thursday morning when light was better. After that I returned back to camp after the sun had set behind the tall ridge. I cooked up Campbell's Spaghetti O's with Meatballs and then unloaded a pile of gear, food, and amusements into my tent where I relaxed reading one recent Time magazine over a couple hours and eating much snack food before drifting into sleep about sunset that now in late September was about 6:45pm PDT.


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By pre dawn Thursday morning September 27 I was awake and restless to start my day after more sleep than I usually get at home. This day I was on the trail at 5:35am and reached my pond destination at 6:20am where I found early light on the peaks not as aesthetic as I'd hoped. Although I worked a subject, upon processing it was as mediocre as expected. Although fair numbers of other landscape photographers like such subjects, I find them rather boring because shadowed areas don't hold much detail. Fine for small web sized images but not large prints. My buddy the mallard duck greeted me with much quacking and in fact I had to nudge him away to feed away from my tripod position as it kept disrupting the reflection while feeding. With an hour plus till sunlight lowered to the pond, I instead spent a couple hours exploring considerable nearby areas before sunlight reached down to the pond level. About 8:30am I worked this above image looking up canyon towards Piute Pass with Mt Emerson and Piute Crags at right and topo peak 12961 at frame left. An intermittent slight breeze was moving the water grasses that meant more difficulty in post processing. Key to being able to process such an image would be my Zerene Stacker program together with exif data I dump from running a command line batch file on all images that then goes into a complex Excel spreadsheet. An attempt to repeat shooting the subject at page top was frustrated by the increasing up canyon breeze so I didn't linger.


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At 10am I set up for the above subject I had sized up on Wednesday where with my 60mm lens, I worked the above 5 column 2 row 15000 by 10000 pixel stitch blend of a firy orange red group of aspen in front of peak 12961 and Piute Crags. Note the yellow patch in the distance is an area of clone quaking aspen on talus. Most of this forest behind the aspen are lodgepole pines, pinus contorta, while trees up on the craggy peak slopes are whitebark pine.


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By early afternoon I'd returned to my North Lake camp spot and cooked up some Progresso Beef Barley soup before enjoying a nap. A bit later in what had become a windy afternoon I explored the bench east of North Lake while enjoying Classic Rock on my MP3 player earbuds. East of the lake becomes much drier with increasing sagebrush and mountain mohogany. I took a refreshing dip in the outlet stream where well out of view of where others venture, it starts to diving steeply down to Aspendale. Back at my Forester at the parking lot southeast of North Lake, I worked 3 intimate close-up subjects in shade skylight including the one above. There are many small stunted aspen in that area with excellent red and orange leaf color. Aspen that have leaves that turn orange and red are much less common than trees with leaves that change to only yellow. I slowly wandered around and around looking for about a half hour before settling on the above frame with nicely isolated leaves hanging like colorful Christmas tree ornaments. Preferred condition would be diffuse cloud lighting though skylight will work if one in post processing shifts away from the strong blue color balance. The breeze went into a lull just enough to capture this wonderful subject while the other two I gave up trying to focus stack due to leaf movements. Back at camp with the sun making its early exit behind the ridge, I continued to attack my considerable food supply while once again prone in my tent with magazines. I studied the topo, making plans for Friday morning after which I would be driving north.

After another pleasant long night of sleep, I rose slowly after sunrise on Friday morning September 28, making some hot chocolate while leisurely putting gear back into the Subaru. I drove off then down to the same parking lot near the outlet of North Lake. A night cold air sumping breeze was too strong to bother working any close-up subjects so while dressed warmly, amused myself in the area over the following hour plus before walking over to the eastern shore to set up my camera. A few other photographers were about the shady shore in 30F temperatures and likewise waiting for the constant down canyon breeze to wane that made the surface unaesthetically wavy. At the same time several wiser fishermen parked in the large main parking lot northwest of the lake, were enjoying warm sunshine on that far shore while one person was out on the lake duck paddling in their float tube. In hindsight, I regretted not spending that first hour amusing myself wandering about in the sunny grove across the lake. A near full Moon was slowly lowering towards the distant Sierra Crest ridgeline and nice thin high clouds increasingly drifted across the skies. The lake surface was considerably reflection disrupted from abundant trout feeding on lake surface insects. And that is the usual situation at this fall time of year so at best one can only hope for a painterly level reflection.


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Finally at 8:40am it was time to start what would require 103 individual shots within a 10 frame 5 column by 2 row matrix that I would blend together in processing later. Thus would be focus stacking about 10 shots in Auto Spot Focus mode on each frame using F5.6 the sharpest aperture of the lens and other smaller apertures to make certain there were no soft zones between F5.6 settings. I first carefully sampled exposure at the brightest orientation looking at my viewfinder histogram, then set the exposure lock I use for all stitch and focus stack subjects. After shooting the top row of 5 column sets, I changed to Manual Focus mode set to infinity, aperture to F8, then quickly shot an individual shot for all 5 frames and then shifted my Nodal Ninja III MKII manual panoramic head to the lower row, set to focus to about mid lake, then quickly shot once for each of the lower column positions. After that returned to Auto Spot Focus and continued with the lower 5 columns. In post processing I masked off the blended sky for each of the top 5 row frames and substituted in the 5 frames I rapidly shot at mid process and also cropped off lower areas of those frames containing lake waters. Then likewise masked off all the water areas of the lower row frames substituting in the 5 shots I rapidly shot for each lower row position. My Autopano Kolor application blended all that surprisingly well with just a few pimple artifacts I easily cloned out. Can you see the Moon reflection in the lake water? View the enlarged vertical slice view center slice. I have several old 4x5 film images of this scene however none with as wide a panorama. At 15400 by 8600 pixels this can make a large high detailed print.


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Back at the parking lot, I dumped all warm clothes, then headed up the steep slope south of the lot where a lack of a use trail showed few others ever bother consider climbing up. Why did I climb up where other apparently don't go? Because beforehand, I analyze places I intend to work with a topographic map in order to figure out likely good photographic perspectives. And that way also, I don't waste huge amounts of effort just exploring anywhere as these places are vast. But before leaving the bottom, I worked the above image with Piute Crags in the background at center and the large orange clone aspen grove just to its right. The trees atop the steep rock slope at frame left and those in the background on orange slopes of the crags are limber pine, pinus flexilis, that are common on dryer sagebrush slopes above Eastern Sierra Nevada lower elevation canyon bottoms. Beside the clone aspen grove are dense darker green areas of mountain mohogany. At center foreground are big sagebrush, artemisia tridentata a common understory on dry sunny slopes along the east side of the range.


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After climbing up 300 feet by moving towards the lake, one reaches the brink of a cliff-like steep with the dusty dirt road and views of the lake below. It also has a direct view of the clone aspen grove in back of the lake I shot at page left. As someone that has seen the grove during several fall leaf periods, it appeared orange color this year was the best I've seen with a wider area of color than before. In a week there would be more red color in the clone grove but by then little green would remain below that leaves fewer interesting hue variations. It may be that the high precipitation during the 2017 winter expanded the above ground tree area that during the recent 4-year drought had shrunk. After finishing the above shots at 10:15am, light was increasingly harsh. I worked a couple more modest subjects before rambling back down to the parking lot.

Leavitt Creek gorge

It was time to drive north so was soon on my way down the long incline into Owens Valley. I bothered to minimally drive into Bishop to add enough gas to reach Sonora then headed north on US395. At Lee Vining diverted a bit to the Mobile Mart for a pepperoni pizza slice and continued north while keeping an eye west towards familiar aspen grove color. At Conway Summit trees were still very green while up another 500 feet most were yellow. Further north I turned west on SR108 and into the West Walker River basin where conditions were similar to areas south. Along Leavitt Creek gorge I stopped to look at a favorite section and found peaking conditions so decided to camp east of the pass this night and then continue my drive home early Saturday morning when I was less weary. A benefit of being retired is there is no rush to get to places. My first task was to organize gear and take a refreshing dip in the chilly stream. Fall leaf color work is a particular dusty time of year and this person does not like feeling grubby especially at night in my clean goose down sleeping bag. After 4pm I took a few mediocre contrasty shots down into the granite gorge but decided to wait till the sun dropped lower so I could take some skylight images that would provide more even lighting. Diffuse clouds at mid day would be optimal but then one has to work with what is possible.

This first image below is a 4 column stitch using my 30mm F2.8 Sigma lens. Pointing a lens radically downward as I did on this cliff overlook, causes perspective issues during stitch blending that tend to eliminate areas at lower image corners so one needs to include more subject area than a processed result will deliver. Much of the inner gorge looks manicured like a Japanese garden with considerable fascinating color and intricate small detail. The shrubs down along the creek are yellow willow while the mixed red to yellow hued shrubs in their early color change stage are creek dogwood. Just above the yellow willow at right are slightly reddish gone to seed drying fireweed. Note the lichen colors on the granite rock in this very shady moist environment that are much more evident in the enlarged vertical slice view. The trees are lodgepole pines and note the long snake-like root of the tree at top center frame hugging bedrock at its precarious location. The full image shows considerable interesting detail.


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This next image below was from near the top of the gorge that does not quite show the creek below. The pastel cyan plant in the left foreground is rabbitbush while the shrub behind the boulder behind that is a stiff branched mountain mohogany, cercocarpus montanus. The bright yellow trees in the left background are quaking aspen while pink to reddish shrubs are more creek dogwood. The bottom of the gorge at this time of year from mid day to sunset is a wonderful place to spend a few hours with the sound of many small waterfalls loud due to the enclosing walls. And that is especially so on an overcast day with diffuse light. Early morning is not as pleasant as cold night sumping breezes flow down confined within the walls. And earlier in summer the water flows are too high. An example of an extraordinary hidden view landscape close to a well traveled highway that few people ever experience because few bother to get out of their vehicles and explore unless they can see something obvious from roads or there is a signed viewpoint.


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After returning to my car after the sun had dipped below the crest to the west, I drove up the highway to 9000 feet for my last subject of the trip and shot the below aspen grove in skylight that each fall has excellent color. Shrubs in the foreground are yellow willow. After parking roadside, I spent my final night sleeping pleasantly in the rear bed of the Forester. During the evening wind arrived as had been forecast before my trip and continued through the night and into Saturday. Thus I did not waste time after waking to get on the road west and was back home by late morning. Upon processing, considered results well worth the long drive, adding some unique large pixel imagery to my large body of work that will display well on 8k displays when I begin exhibiting next year.


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2018 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

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