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NEXT:  Page 5   Sonora Pass
2020 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Convict Creek Backpack 7/20
Convict Creek Backpack 7/21
Convict Creek Backpack 7/22
Convict Creek Backpack 7/23
Convict Creek Backpack 7/24
Convict Creek Backpack 7/25

2020 Trip Chronicles:  Page 4

Convict Creek Backpack

This summer of 2020 will be remembered by humans beings across our world as the one the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything forever in our lifetimes forward for the worse, in many ways few of us or society ever even considered was a possibility. By June the earlier concerns of the levels of contagiousness outdoors had diminished so outdoor recreation was increasingly available and increasing numbers of enthusiasts were doing so. Although some authorities both in local counties and in recreation regions continued to advise people to shelter in place, staying close to home except for necessary needs, that narrative beyond what was originally used in order to not overwhelm the health care system, was being ignored by so many not only here in California but across the nation, that it was unenforceable, especially after it became politicized. Additionally many businesses especially small ones existing in marginal niches, were opening that needed customers.

On Friday June 5, my beloved sister Denise that I was very close to, had sadly succumbed to pneumonia at a hospital while on an oxygen ventilator over several days in San Antonio, Texas. Her health had been poor for many years as she had undergone a few bouts of chemotherapy for cancerous intestinal polyps that weakened her immune system. My only sister in our large family, 14 months younger, with a husband and 2 daughters, she was very loved in her community as an amazing evangelical prayer warrior. I had spent a week with her, months earlier before Thanksgiving, that was very precious to me as I feared her time might be short. Her daughter Elicia had given birth to a wonderful baby boy a few weeks later that she was then able to spend 3 weeks preciously visiting with. The pandemic eliminated a possible immediate funeral that was then delayed.


Compounding my situation, was the medical issue I have dealt with all my adult life but which had waned considerably over the last two decades, had suddenly become serious again during this same period. At age 20, I suffered a splenic artery rupture referred to as a pseudoaneurysm that resulted in bouts of chronic spleen infarct soreness, ischemic pancreatitis, and infections within the peritoneal cavity due to the hemorrhaging. That is the primary reason I have never married as someone that might die anytime is not in a position to support a family. Over decades, I learned after a level of healing has occurred, activities like hiking and backpacking actually improve tissue healing as the strenuous activity tends to increase repair and replacement processes throughout one's body.

By early July, I began increasing local urban hiking that went well so planned a backpack into the Convict Creek basin that I have visited three times before including last during a group trip in 2014. As a serious photographer, I carefully plan backpacking trips into the high country often at short notice, for periods of peak aesthetic conditions that means minor amounts of remaining snow with streams still flowing, vegetation green and flowery. Such conditions vary considerably yearly, primarily due to winter precipitation, elevation, exposure, geology, and specific species. For instance heather species bloom just after snow melts while lupines and paintbrush species peak mid to late season. June had been a very dry month in California that compounded the low winter rainfall situation, drying out landscapes and vegetation quicker than I'd expected. Areas in the Convict region are dominated by Paleozoic geology with minerals that enhance growth of many flowering species like Pierson's paintbrush. During early July, monsoonal weather returned, watering crest regions of the range so I expected a spurt of fresh green growth, thus through recreation dot gov obtained a wilderness permit starting on Monday July 20.


Mid morning of Monday July 20, 2020, I began my drive east against the commute traffic, out into the Central Valley across the familiar route on SR108 across the range. By early afternoon I had reached Lee Vining where I stopped at the Mobile Mart for gas and a $5 pepperoni pizza slice. An hour later was at the Convict Lake trailhead under thunderstorm skies that sprinkled that 7.6k sagebrush zone while higher areas were being pummeled by more intense storms. About a dozen other vehicles were in the parking lot while the campground and day use areas were mobbed even on this weekday as has been common this summer with many people from Southern California not working due to the pandemic.
caltopo USGS 7.5m map

My strategy was to wait till later afternoon when temperatures would be less hot and then just hike to a large black cottonwood flat at 8.6k that would make reaching Lake Mildred at 9.7k more feasible for an old small 132# guy carrying 62# of gear or 47% of my body weight. In any case, I needed to reach the outlet zone of Lake Dorothy by the end of the second day that is 3000 feet of vertical over awkwardly rocky trails that was better split up into manageable chunks. The ups and downs of the trail add another 300 feet of vertical that would be about 1.3k this day over 4 miles. As expected the storms waned by 3pm and since temperatures had cooled some due to the storms, didn't need to wait till later so I hefted the unpleasant load on my back and set out. Informational images on these pages were taken with my small Canon ELPH 190 that normally goes in a zippered shell pocket even when carrying my pack.

The very dusty, heavily used horse trail just to the back of the lake, goes up and down a few times west-southwest through tall sagebrush and then climbs 400 feet switchbacking through pinyon pine and juniper before it turns south as the canyon doglegs below the impressive Sevehah Cliff face of Laural Mountain 11.7k or towering 4.1k above the lake. To the south of the lake is the equally impressive Mt Morrison at 12.1k. The world famous otherworldly geology of this Paleozoic Era roof pendant is a reason Star Trek Insurrection had sequences filmed here. This lower trail is pleasantly green and flowery before early July but was now dry and browning.

I stopped for a few minutes to chat with an impressive young woman that was on her way out after having climbed a few of the summits above the basin including the unpleasant steep unstable south facing 2k sagebrush pinion slope just southwest of the lake. A snowboarder recently moved to Mammoth, maybe someone I'll meet again in the future. With the storms gone, a few groups of dayhikers passed me on their way up the trail, most in shorts without gear or probably maps. Continuing my slow trudge upward, I increasingly stopped to sit on any available trailside boulders as is my style in while carrying such a heavy weight. Once the trail narrows west of Morrison, horses are unable to use it, that at times is buried in talus since avalanches occur whenever earthquakes or large storms bring down debris. Thus a trail one will not have to contend with horse apples and their flies.


Around 6pm, I'd reached my destination zone at 8.6k, then stumbled down off the trail into the mostly hidden from view shadowy black cottonwood and water birch jungle. There are two tentable spots right along the trail in this section that I might have used while above all the way to Mildred is just too rocky. Oddly, rarely do any groups ever enter the jungle, much less camp within it that is obvious once one is within. Looking at the satellite map shows plenty of open areas, however most are too unevenly rocky to tent on while there are some sandy spots I had noticed during 2014 explorations.
caltopo satellite view at 8.6k
More importantly, I would be able to retire in peace well away from the trail, near the stream where I could take a dip in, to later sleep feeling nicely clean.

Sun rises very late in this deep north to south oriented towering canyon with steep slopes. After a reasonable night of sleep, I was up before astronomical sunrise on Tuesday July 21, 2020 packing up gear, climbing back up a bit to the trail, continuing south. Another 400 feet higher was the junction of the Genevieve Lake creek branch where the trail crosses to the east side of Convict Creek. The old bridge was washed away during the monstrous 1986 flood and since that time has been a tricky ford till mid season. The image below looking up canyon, was taken 5 days later on my way out.

Although difficult to make out in the image, people had laid down small branches across all sections of the rocky crossing that one could managed to cross without having to wade by walking and crawling. By mid summer, fording is more difficult than one might expect because the geology apparently results in all rocks not in strong flows, even into the higher basin being coated by a very slimy brown bacteria. There are other spots one might choose to ford as far as another 100 yards upstream where it may appear one might use wet rocks to at least cross part way, however most of those rocks are extremely treacherous to step on, much less hop across dynamically on as one might normally cross on wet rocks.

I monkeyed through the crossing then stopped for a break before taking on the following 800 foot effort. The east side of the creek is also below a major landslide zone so the trail for about 100 yards is rather loose and unstable. I was surprised how well I managed the effort on the remaining trail up to Mildred Lake a 2 mile 1100 foot effort that I reached just before 9am when sun had reached the lake. My plan was to spend the morning in the valley above the lake, exploring, photographing, resting, plus lunch, and then in the afternoon would decide whether or not to continue on up to the outlet zone of Lake Dorothy that was critical to my day 3 early morning photography plans. Although this day began sunny, the NWS forecast during my whole trip included possible thunderstorms each day so I was also aware, I might need to camp in this area.


Upon reaching the lake, an up canyon breeze had not yet started so I didn't waste time getting my photo gear out and working a reflection from the inlet stream beach. However by time I began taking shots, a breeze had arrived so the lake surface in the resulting shot was rather wavy. Also, I find much of the rusty plus white geology as an unaesthetic combination.

Some photographers instead increase the rust orange to an unnatural high saturated more red hue though an important feature of my work has always been to show landscapes reasonably natural as is practical even if that means they are less aesthetic. Of course given my hi tech electronic hardware career, I have not been one that depended on photography for income, so that has been an easy choice. The fact I have pointed that unnaturalness out on some photo enthusiast boards has not been received well by those many that do so as they would invariably be the last to admit to the public they do so. As is usual on my web chronicles, there are always more subjects that I work than those I then select to publicly display and just like any others, I certainly have some clunkers that I later wonder why I bother working. It is true that as one gains more experience, one will learn to minimize unproductive subjects. Additionally my body of work is so large and varied from decades of work that I haven't as much need to capture many subjects that I already have many of. Note this would be my 207th Sierra Nevada backpacking trip with my first in 1972.

Another issue bearing on my work during the trip was my Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC DN lens had shown an odd failure during the end of my Upper Kern Basin backpack in 2019 that I never effectively checked out afterward, in part because I did so little work during the subsequent Duck Lake backpack. But I would find out after the trip the lens was now failing almost every other shot. What had occurred was after I bought the lens in April of 2019, an IC failure occurred losing a focusing function that had me sending it back for warranty repair. Upon return, the lens seemed normal, however opening it up apparently resulted in lens elements becoming somewhat loose that increased over time with use. The result was a general lack of sharp focus at all apertures, but noticeably worse wider open, less focused on the left frame side where I also had tilt. It was only because I use a few different apertures when focus stacking and take so many shots per frame that I was later able in tedious post processing to in most cases end up with usable images though some are so marginal that are not likely to ever to see commercial use. After my Rock Creek backpack, I sent the lens back to the warranty repair service that thankfully quickly sent me a brand new lens that I've verified is tack sharp.

The breeze also dampened my interest in working any wildflower close-ups of which there were considerable about along the talus edges of this long level valley upstream of Mildred Lake. Most of that is covered by water grasses, willow, meandering stream channels, and bits of turf that until mid season is rather soggy. All this was a result of the bedrock behind Mildred Lake damming areas above. The image at page top taken on my last morning shows this landscape.

Considerable springs also emerge from talus edges that create a maze of wet walking. I continued south to a familiar spot with large boulders where I would leave my main pack while continuing exploring areas up canyon. It was likely I might spend my last night in the area so exploring now for subjects was a useful task. Despite the soggy landscape, mosquitoes were few as a result of well entrenched voracious dragonflies and damselflies. However as I explored the south end of valley, I did encounter some areas with numerous mosquitoes that came out late morning when the breeze suddenly stopped as cumulous built up.


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One of the locations I'd wanted to explore from analysis before the trip turned out to have a bonanza of flowers. Though conditions were somewhat past peak, the recent monsoon period had obviously boosted its greenery and the resulting image above is possibly the best gurgling mossy seep spring image I've managed to photograph over the years in part because such would not have been possible due to depth of field limitations in the past before digital focus stack blending arose. After arriving at this spot, I spent quite some time positioning my tripod before running through the 19 shots. How fortunate to have dead calm at 11am in the morning as well as diffuse lighting from the now cumulous cloud overcast. Although some of the shots did indeed exhibit the 30mm lens focusing issue mentioned, I was able to render the whole image sharply that is a joy to view at 100% pixels on my 4k 24 inch UHD monitor. Giant red paintbrush, castilleja minata, monkshood, aconitum columbianum, swamp onion, allium validum, common monkeyflower, mimulus guttatus, plus a few others already gone to see as corn lily, veratrum californicum. In the background at frame top are also willow where their longer roots are able to reach bedrock through the deeper sediments where such seeps first near surfaces, but where the shallower rooted flowers cannot.

After returning to my boulder day camp, I cooked some lunch and took a nap while skies continued to look marginally threatening. Later in the afternoon took a dip in the creek and then as cloud dissipated, feeling quite refreshed and capable, packed up and about 3pm continued on slowly towards Lake Dorothy at 10310 feet another 700 feet of vertical that would be 1800 feet over 3 miles for the day. The windy outlet zone where the trail meets the lake, was not surprisingly occupied by other groups, so I crossed the stream and per pre-trip analysis followed the Genevieve Lake trail north, setting up camp in a nicely secluded quiet zone on the lee of the winds with access to the outlet stream that was closer to my interest for the next morning.


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After a pleasant night of sleep in which the winds died down, I awoke at dawn on Wednesday July 22, 2020, packed up the tent, grabbed my photo gear, then set out on an excursion to view points that went well. The above single frame subject was the third subject I worked using my Sony SEL55210 telephoto zoom.

I don't tend to use the Sony SEL55210 lens much as it is rather soft at frame edges as is the case with many zoom lenses and a reason I otherwise use just primes. Actually it is disappointing that e-mount APS-C doesn't have a single prime telephoto zoom available in the range of 90mm to 120mm that I could readily use for focus stacking.


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This next subject above is a 4 column stitch blend with Lake Dorothy. My camp zone was at frame bottom mid right. I had access to water from the outlet stream below the frame. In the enlarged vertical slice view one can see trout feeding on the calm lake waters that are likely eastern brook trout. Years before I did catch some rainbows but did not see any on this trip while noting the lake with its small drainage area does not have any usable spawning streams for rainbows and is likely no longer planted due to the yellow-legged frog court decree that stopped planting fish in our backcountry lakes. Brook trout can spawn using underwater springs that bubble up in talus areas.

My morning early work was somewhat disappointing as I should have understood the main subject was not likely to work due to cast shadows until at least mid morning but because I was so intent on reaching my next camp zone to the south, I was not willing to wait around. Back at camp, I packed up and was on my way south on the lake trail before vectoring off to an area I will not discuss herein. I made camp, took a dip in a stream, made lunch, and had a nap, all the while confident of a productive afternoon. Later began a photography hike that turned out a dud not only because it was somewhat breezy but basically because the subjects were blocked from trees or expected flower areas appeared too dry and never really came out this year.


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Near the end of the afternoon, I did work the above 4 column panorama stitch with my 60mm lens of the impressive Paleozoic ridge line south of Mt Baldwin with Corridor Pass at frame right. The face's bizarre metamorphosized sedimentary layer folding is due to its passage through deep areas of pressure and heat over geologic time, that is marble and chert strata of Pennsylvanian Age, 324 to 298 million years ago, a Paleozoic Era period when there were great forests and swamps across the planet. I also worked another wider 30mm lens version of that area including the valley below but that was one image upon post processing that suffers too much from the OOF loose lens elements. I shot the same slopes late in the day near sunset with warmer yellow-orange light, however although such subjects in warm light tend to impress fair numbers of others, unless such color is well saturated, I tend to consider such less interesting versus earlier while in true color unless there is something special. On my next visit a bit earlier in a summer, I plan to camp below the lower left frame area for a day.


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After rising on day 4, Thursday July 23, 2020, I visited some mediocre areas near my camp and decided to move on. Also during early morning, I hiked up to work the above modest image of not too calm Lake Dorothy. That is probably a chronic cold sumping breeze flow during early mornings because there is a huge amount of talus to the south of the lake. At frame right is Laural Mountain while a bit of Bloody Mtn pokes up above the ridge west of the lake. To this point on day 4 of my trip I had only managed a couple strong images.

Thus packed up rather early and headed for the south end of Lake Dorothy where I set up within some tall whitebark pine at a ready-made camp spot well up above the lake that also had a trickling water supply unlike any places close to the shore. I was surprised to find nice areas of wildflowers, however after a bit of frustration decided it was not calm to bother with at that time so instead chose to go fishing.

Before setting up camp, I came across an illegal fire pit not only because it was above 10k but also because it was just 15 feet from the lake edge. Conveniently, to destroy the fire pit rock work, I just needed to toss or roll the big rocks over a few feet that then crashed over a drop to the watery shore. Along with the rocks were several unused pieces of wood that were now boats floating along the shore. During the trip, I regretted taking the fishing gear along as that added an extra 3 pounds or so. The main reason was because on a 1987 group trip I'd caught some nice rainbows in the lake though had doubts that was still the case. Heck with that annual $52 fishing license I was going to need something to show during this pandemic year. So I fished a couple hours casting out small lures and managed to catch 9 and a 10 inch brook trout that served its purpose. Back at camp, I made a half cup of rice that I mixed in with the trout making a quite delicious meal and afterward spent useful time working down my excessive supply of snack food like nuts, dried fruit, candy, and sweets.




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By afternoon weak thunderstorms had built up sending me into my tent for an hour where I spent the time enjoying a nice nap until pitter patter on the tent fly ended. Outside the air was relatively calm with a nicely diffuse overcast sky so went over to a nearby now dry streambed where I worked the above image. Note the bluish gray at top frame edge is the lake. There was enough air movement that I expected a lot of registration issues between focus stack shots and indeed that was the case as later after returning home for post processing, I endured about 10 hours working on the image. Most of the problems were the tall gone to seed grasses that tend to move in gentlest breezes. Wandering daisy, erigeron perigrinus, crimson columbine, aquilegia formosa, five-finger cinquefoil, potentilla gracilis, roseroot, sedum rosea, amid willows. This was the same drying stream I used for water where it ran above the surface for a short stretch above this position before sinking back into the porous boulders and sediments of this granite geology. As someone that rarely carries a water filter on trips except late season, I have learned where such streams are likely to provide running water that are especially filtered clean after passing underground through soils. In this Google Earth era, such small seep spots often show up when one looks for still green areas on older Historical imagery versions with fall dates.


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The above close-up was one of the flowers within the field of the image above it.

Using an extension tube to capture such a flower with such high magnification takes careful tripod positioning and work. With an extension tube, that limits a lens's adjustment range, so one needs to verify the adjustment of adequate focus at both closest and furthest elements intended to be in focus. And of course it needs to be dead calm to focus stack so close. Any slight movement of the tripod position say due to a loose knob or touching the camera too strongly is a disaster.


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Also near my camp was talus below a steep glacially smoothed bedrock cliff face where some of the face showed darker granite inclusion in the granite that had then broken off and fallen into the talus pile. I photographed this above flat section of a boulder that had obviously been on the surface of that face with interesting patterns of the inclusions. This is also a useful example of why some types of images with fine detail may lose their primary reason for being photographed if downsized that can readily be understood when viewing the beautiful crystalline elements via the enlarged vertical slice view.


Later in the afternoon pointed my lens down from a cliff like prominence above the lake that allows seeing deeper in the clean clear lake waters that also reflects blue sky light as it is absorbed. Lake bottom surfaces will have layers of accumulated sediments, some of which are inorganic due to inflows washed in while others that tend to dominate are organic from algae and other life. With increasing elevation the amount of organic debris tends to decrease. Bright white granite geology is also likely to reflect up more light from lake bottoms versus those within metamorphic or volcanic geology but even better is deep water without anything but absorbed blue reflecting upward. Additionally the blue sky above that is the source of absorbed blue is more saturated at higher Sierra elevations due to low humidity, air particulate clarity, and less intervening atmosphere. The most important factor on how blue a lake appears is probably the angle of the sun from the perspective one is viewing and that is usually where the opposing sky is bluest at the time of day it is bluest.

Most photographers will parrot information that the sky is darkest blue a half hour to hour from sunrise or sunrise but that is actually not true. First "darkest" is not most saturated or purely blue in hue. Blue light is filtered more than longer wavelengths so early and late sun azimuths filter more blue light from the sum of wavelengths and Rayleigh radiation patterns off molecules reflecting blue downward are weaker. At high noon the incident angles are so reduced as to interfere from the sun so bluest sky is at moderate angles of azimuth. Thus when a worldwide contest was performed for bluest skies worldwide using an accurate spectrometer, 10am was chosen as the standard sampling time for each location at an axis opposite the sun. I expect to work a special location on a cliff overlooking Lake Tahoe this September on a clear day after a front passes to capture a much better image than this one above.


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Later in the afternoon after sprinkles waned, I explored another special turf meadow area I had analyzed pre-trip and was surprised to find unlike other meadow areas I'd been disappointed with the amount of wildflowers, this area was right at peak with parts of the meadow as dense as one will find anywhere. Given the dim cloudy light, I would need to return early morning before leaving for my final camp night of the trip. I did shoot the above intimate subject that worked better in diffuse light. The shallow tarn has layers of brown bacteria on the bottom that are common in such ponds by mid summer. Note how small pieces float on the surface as their organic processes produce gasses. I particularly liked how the reflecting plants contrast against the white cloudy sky. Areas reflecting the turf and ground were dark so the bottom dominated the incident light. Frame left reflects out of view background peaks. One should never walk in such areas as the soft mud becomes deep over decades.


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On Friday July 24, 2020, morning, I was enthusiastic about how my destination would look so got an early start on the hike. There are 3 named lakes above Dorothy and all have interesting features worth returning to including turfy meadows with ponds beyond shores. Given the thunderstorm weather the previous afternoon then clear night air that radiation cooled condensing out humidity, the morning sky was particularly clear with deep blue. The grass had some frost indicating temperatures had dipped into the 30F's. The above was the second subject I worked on, a 3 column 2 row 6 frame stitch blend that required unusual cropping during post process stitch blending to eliminate soft areas due to my 30mm lens issues. The air was near dead calm that allowed a perfect reflection of the interesting talus. I waited until the edge of the sun was just entering the pond while foreground rocks were still shadowed in order to capture deep saturation and positioned my tripod as high as possible on a near shore boulder in order to orient the talus into the reflection.


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This next image above targeted the densest turf flowers that included Pierson's paintbrush, castilleja personii, little elephants head, pedicularis attollens, and wandering daisy, erigeron perigrinus. A deep turf stream is at right that emerges out of a turf tunnel. Such talus meadows develop atop more level talus areas over centuries as debris accumulate, then mosses and grasses cover soils that create picturesque narrow, often deep channels that often flow underneath the turf within the boulder matrix below. I positioned my camera low on the tripod so the large grass clump filled the otherwise boring shadowed dark area behind it. A month earlier, there would be heather species blooming in this same spot.


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The above is another meadow zone in partially backlit sunlight that increases saturation of the translucent wildflower colors. Note shadows on near boulders. In the background is Mt Morrison that is behind popular Convict Lake.

When positioning for such subjects, it is key to evaluate how saturated flowers appear to one's eyes from various angles including height. Also by getting a lens low, more of the frame will be of the colorful flowers at a denser view versus the complementing landscape beyond. This type of perspective would not be practical with fixed lens camera systems before digital focus stacking as even by stopping down to small apertures, a result would be soft in areas away from primary focus planes. That is why I used a 4x5 view camera for years before changing over to digital as tilt movements overcome that limitation as long as frame elements receed relatively evenly.


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This drying turf pond with interesting elements within its normal banks shows what such shallow bodies of water look like below their water lines. Within a few weeks, this will likely be dry and less interesting. The turf hummocks are being fed by the small foreground streamlet that during peak snow melt erode turf areas beyond frame left, into the pond, then those on the periphery of the main flow get snagged on rocks and thus develop areas of turf that within decades may become peninsulas into the body of the pond. In the background are whitebark pine that readily colonize steep granite sun lit slopes where winter snows are shallower and snow avalanches don't run as is the case on this meadow.

I worked a few more subjects in this zone before leaving back to my camp. There were some subjects in the area I hoped to capture during mid afternoon so decided to delay my exit down to Mildred Lake until afternoon. Thus packed up and moved my gear further north along Lake Dorothy where I spent a few hours passing time including cooking lunch. Since it was Friday, more groups and day hikers from the other end of the lake were passing by and I chatted with some. A few groups were trying to figure out how to reach Bighorn Lake and obviously were not topo proficient as they had passed by the unsigned trail up to that lake by eyeball following what looked like the main trail expecting just following the lake shore trail would end up routing so. Another couple wanderers got blocked out along the southwest shore by cliffs then had to climb up at least 200 feet to get around the cliffs. By later in the afternoon, I decided to head off to my pm destination and spend time there instead of waiting at the lake shore.


At the same time thunderstorms to the south began moving towards Red Slate Mountain and before long, I heard thunder and shortly after rain drops so rambled back to my gear. By time I reached the gear, hail began to fall so I then prepared for a fast escape with rain gear though did not waste time putting on my rain pants that would have required removing my boots. I was surprised the main storm that I could see to the south had suddenly began moving north so quickly and I was soon moving as fast as I could carrying my heavy load north on the trail as hail began falling harder amid frequent ground stroke lightning. Lightning tends to follow down the more conductive paths with heaviest hail and rain that I could sense behind where I was moving due to the loud sounds made advancing north on lake waters. It wasn't long before I realized I would not be able to reach the far end of the lake before the peak of the storm arrived so began looking for options sheltering under larger whitebark pine. Fortunately the ridge to my east above the lake was steep and high enough that it was more likely to take any lightning strikes.

I stopped trail side under a tree where it was soon evident I would soon be soaked if I didn't find something better. There was a tent spot about 200 yards back on the trail I considered fleeing back to, but setting up my Copper Spur HV UL1 tent in a gusty storm with heavy rain is not something that can be done quickly. I noticed a larger tree up the slope with a split trunk so climbed up to that, then scootched down against the V of the trunk and placed my ground sheet over the pack and me that reached down to my boots. I then endured the awkward position for over an hour as several periods of heavy hail and or rain moved through. If the sky had not lightened up some to the west with storming into the evening possible, I was prepared to move back to that tent spot and endure setting up in the rain that at least would allow survival from exposure despite getting a lot of gear wet in the process.

As the storm waned to sprinkles, I dropped down to the trail and rambled quickly north. I soon had more regrets for not putting on my rain pants as the trail often routed through areas of now wet willow that had overgrown the trail and readily soaked into my Levi 505 cotton jeans. By time I'd covered the mile to the far end of the lake, the drama was over and noticed 3 groups of others that had endured the storm as the white surfaces of hail on landscapes quickly melted away. Not trusting the skies, I then set up my tent and was prepared to spend the night there. After setting up I explored that zone for nearly an hour before skies lightened indicating there would not be further storms. At about 5pm I decided to break the camp I'd just set up and move down to Mildred where the strenuous descent back to the trailhead would be less effort. Thus packed up and by about 6pm was setting up camp in a familiar sandy zone southeast of the lake. Four other tents were also about the lake. I cooked a hot broccoli cheese rice meal and retired early.


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During the evening I planned out how I would spend my final day of the trip and that would involve not leaving till after early morning giving me time to work some subjects in hopefully calm conditions I'd missed on my second morning. As warm sunlight reflected on peaks high on the west side of the canyon on Saturday July 25, 2020, I broke camp packing up gear except for my photo gear. A slight breeze was already on the lake itself so I continued south looking for vegetation subjects that would remain in shadows for an hour thus sky light illuminated. The geology above included beautiful cyan blue to purple dolomite that is metamorphosized marble so I looked for plants near such rock. The above image of a mountain willow, salix eastwoodiae, against dolomite was my first subject and I took 32 shots with my 60mm using a 10mm extension tube to make sure there would not be any frame area in soft focus. The clumps of pistillate flowers have gone to seed. Especially liked how the rock and underside pubescent leaf color were similar hues.

When focus stacking close-up subjects, a limitation is near objects that are significantly closer than any objects behind them without intervening elements to focus on. That is a reason I look for situations where the main subject and its background are reasonably close. An example would be shooting a flower 18 inches from a lens with a background rock another 12 inches beyond. The classic strategy is to use a wide open aperture for bokeh and I often do such. If one takes a shot focused on the near object and one on the background, as one uses wider apertures, the out of focus fuzzy edges will increase. During post processing if those are the only focus points used, one will need to clone in pseudo detail along edges. To reduce that one can add some smaller aperture shots at those two focus points but the gap may be greater than that can affect. A more effective though tedious and prone to error strategy is to use manual focusing adjusting to unviewable points between.


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This next composition is of pinemat manzanita, arctostaphylos nevadensis, against a type of wonderfully pastel hued siliceous metamorphic rock with lichen. This species also has red wood with anthocyanin pigments that works well for images.

I spent quite some time working a couple plants against dolomite that I won't display herein before the sun had reached meadow areas so then scurried out to a shallow former stream meander pond for a nice, reflection with Red Slate. After that shot Red Slate Mountain at 4000+ meters with the creek as a 3 column stitch blend at page top showing a curving section of Convict Creek with Red Slate Mountain in the background. The deep meadow stream with its willow shrouded undercut bank creek was full of small eastern brook trout and I wondered if the more sizeable rainbow trout we used to catch in Mildred Lake that it flows into were still inhabitants? The lake and its all year stream above in the valley are ideal for rainbow or golden trout spawning so I would be fine if the DF&G rotenoned that basin if the brook trout had so dominated these waters as they tend to do that rainbows no longer exist.


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Another fascinating feature were bright green algae growths out of the talus springs streamlets at edges of the grassy wet marsh. There was an interesting green obviously ancient type of green stick plant growing out of those streams I need to identify. I was not confident a focus stack of the subject would work out in post processing but the result was fine as I added some small aperture shots to take care of focus issues.


SW09974-93  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 20 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm
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My last subject of the trip was at the edge of Convict Creek with interesting metamorphic stones that give a different look to the water including areas of gray than any usual granite geology stream. In the future, will work some more of these types of stream stone subjects. It was important to capture the flowing water at faster apertures including a shot focusing one the bottom down under the water that results in a crystalline look. The very slippery slimy brown bacteria layer I mentioned at stream crossings is visible at the water edge frame left.

I hoisted up my pack at the Mildred Lake area just before 9am and began my trek down the empty trail expecting Saturday would show many others hiking up trail. My photo gear including the big tripod was packed away so was not expecting to come across any serious subjects and rather would just use my ELPH 190 compact digital camera that was in my left shell pocket. Moving slowly looking at interesting rock, by 11am I had reached the creek ford though had not yet met a single person moving up the trail. But there must have been about a dozen at the ford including a group of young women backpackers that were checking out the options for crossing. The below image better shows the crawl across branches crossing than the image I offered at page top. Interested in checking out the upper stream ford options, I managed across higher up though again noted how treacherously slippery the brown bacteria slime was and further the route down along the side of the stream was no better than the loose scree of the main route.

Below the ford I encountered at least three dozen others, most of which had begun their hike at noon in what was a hot day. Several asked me how far the "lake" was and were disappointed when I related they had yet not made half the effort. By time I reached Convict Lake my feet were aching for the end. Across the lake were a fleet of rental boats, a few with loud partying groups and the far shore of the day use area looked like a crowded beach scene with considerable sounds of people talking and enjoying themselves. I trudged on sitting on each available boulder and eventually climbed the last 150 foot high hill of the lateral moraine, through the sagebrush and back to the parking area. On my drive home, I stopped for another slice of pepperoni pizza at the Mobile Mart and at the SR108 crossing of the West Walker River, walked out to the river and took a refreshing dunking in the pleasant temperatures of the river. At Sonora Pass spent a couple hours roaming the hillsides and given some nice areas of wildflowers decided if I returned for my next trip within a week should spend some time there. Overall, the trip had mixed success.

Although I did successfully capture a few strong images and a few more moderately aesthetic images, due to the afternoon thunderstorms, dry landscapes, and especially my 30mm loose glass lens focus issues, I was not able to bring back a number of stronger subjects I did see and that will tend to motivate a return trip at some point though at my age, time is running out for those kind of returns. In any case, the most important facet of each summer's backpacking personally is not the photography but rather the natural human visceral experience of being out in these fantastic natural places of our amazing blue water DNA life planet, that any king of ancient times would pay a chest of jewels to be able to experience that ironically so few people in this modern urban era given myriad worldly distractions put much value in.


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2020 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

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