In Ansel’s Footsteps – Twelve Significant Photographs in any One Year (2012)

Ansel Adams once said, “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” This doesn’t sound like very many but at that time Ansel was shooting with an 8×10 large format camera, a very heavy and bulky piece of equipment. Photography has evolved drastically since then with the advent of digital cameras, which are lighter and much more compact than the old field cameras Adams hauled around. With high capacity memory cards and bigger hard drives one can take hundreds of photographs without even thinking twice about it.

While it seems that taking photographs has gotten a lot easier, actually making significant photographs that stand out above the rest is a skill that still requires hard work and dedication, lots of patience, and sometimes even a little luck!

Due to an extensive amount of traveling this year I just couldn’t narrow it down to just twelve, so below are thirteen images from 2012 which are significant to me. Clicking on the image will open a larger, high quality version. Happy New Year everyone, Enjoy!

Emerald-Fairy-Tale

“Emerald Fairy Tale” – Adirondack State Park, New York

"Paradise Meadows" - Paradise Valley, Emigrant, Montana

“Paradise Meadows” – Paradise Valley, Emigrant, Montana

 

"Another Day at the Office" - Adirondack State Park, New York

“Another Day at the Office” – Adirondack State Park, New York

"Perfect Harmony" - Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

“Perfect Harmony” – Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

 

"Nature's Architecture" - Glacier National Park, Montana

“Nature’s Architecture” – Glacier National Park, Montana

 

"Ghost Ship" - Adirondack State Park, New York

“Ghost Ship” – Adirondack State Park, New York

 

"The Height Of Summer" - Crazy Mountains, Montana

“The Height Of Summer” – Crazy Mountains, Montana

 

"Frozen Wonders" - Adirondack State Park, New York

“Frozen Wonders” – Adirondack State Park, New York

 

"Glacial Chamber" - Glacier National Park, Montana

“Glacial Chamber” – Glacier National Park, Montana

 

"An Early Spring" - Adirondack State Park, New York

“An Early Spring” – Adirondack State Park, New York

 

"Beyond The Falls" - Hyalite Canyon, near Bozeman, Montana

“Beyond The Falls” – Hyalite Canyon, near Bozeman, Montana

 

"Mountain Paradise" - Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Montana

“Mountain Paradise” – Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Montana

 

"Grand Finale" - Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

“Grand Finale” – Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another World on Mount Marcy

 

While winter hasn’t officially made its presense felt here in the northeast yet this year there is one place you’re likely to encounter the white stuff, lots of it; the Adirondack High Peaks. In this trip report you’ll experience another side of winter, one that is extremely harsh and brutal, where winds are relentless and tree growth is stunted. This is winter in the Adirondack Alpine Zone.

This was to be my second attempt this winter at Mount Marcy, New York’s highest point at 5,344ft. On my previous trip I got a late start and the winds were gusting to 30mph in the woods, I could only imagine what the summits were like. I turned around shortly after Indian Falls.

For my next attempt I decided to wait until after a fresh snowfall, hoping that it would cover up some of the ice that’s on the trails right now. The forecast for this past Sunday showed a small storm moving through the area, so Monday was the day.

I awoke at 5:30 Monday morning and looked outside to see only an inch of snow covering the ground. I decided to make a go of it anyways. Arriving at the Adirondack Loj much later than I planned I was surprised to see 4-5 inches of fresh snow in the parking lot. Not sure what the temp was but it felt darned cold! I signed in around 8am and noticed that no one was going to Marcy. A group of 7 were headed to Algonquin and a couple of women on skis that left shortly before me were headed to Trap Dyke. I had my two huskies with me and the sight of fresh snow made them go crazy. I put microspikes on thinking the trail was probably packed down, at least to Marcy Dam. In hindsight I probably could have worn my snowshoes from the start. I caught up to the skiers at the Marcy Brook crossing. The crossing here was not a problem, although one of my dogs punched a small hole through the ice while venturing off track.

Once I reached the truck trail I passed the skiers and made my way quickly to the junction with the Van Hoevenberg trail. I dropped my pack and quickly changed into my Tubbs Flex Alps. The trail to Avalanche was broken out but I wasn’t so lucky. No big deal I thought, afterall, it’s only 4-5″ of snow and off I went.

I decided to use the high river bridge at Phelps Brook not knowing what the crossing was like ahead, turned out to be quite frozen. The trail leading up to the junction with Phelps Mountain was rocky, especially where there was tree cover overhead. In these spots there was only about 2-3 inches of snow covering the trail. I debated switching back to microspikes but kept my snowshoes on.

After the second crossing of Phelps Brook the snow began to get deeper. I encountered some blowdown that wasn’t there two weeks ago, nothing major. By the time I had reached Indian Falls the snow was 6-8″ deep. I ventured over to the falls for a view but the light snow that was falling obliterated any chance of that.

I stopped shortly after the Hopkins Junction to put some chemical handwarmers inside my gloves since my hands were becoming chilled. I had on just a thin pair of gloves so that I was still able to operate my camera controls. There was a steady breeze blowing here that had some serious bite to it so I moved as quickly as possible so that I could stay warm.

On the climb up to the Phelps Trail junction I encountered extremely deep snow that made for some slow going. There was about 16 inches of new snow on top of a thin crust. Under the crust was another foot or more of snow! My dogs soon realized that walking behind me was easier so they fell in line like soldiers and slogged on. As soon as we reached the Phelps Trail junction I put on my down jacket and my gore-tex shell. I also sported goggles and a facemask to fend of the wind, which was now gusting to around 40mph. In the Alpine zone we encountered more waist deep drifts and trees encased in so much ice they were impossible to move! Some truly amazing conditions up there. It was one foot in front of the other and very tiring. I didn’t notice much ice on the trail, if it was there it was buried under all the snow.

With the mountain finally in sight I could see that the summit was in and out of the clouds and the blowing snow made for near whiteout conditions. We pushed a little farther but I made the call to turn around, less than three tenths of a mile from the summit. The lives of my dogs and myself is much more important than any summit. Besides, the mountain will always be there, beckoning me to try again.

Even though I didn’t get to summit I stayed in the Alpine zone for as long as possible and got some incredible images before heading back down. The rest of the way back to the Loj was pretty uneventful. I’m pretty sure my pups were relieved just as much as I was to have a broken trail to follow on the way out.

I can’t take all the credit for breaking trail that day, my companions did an amazing job as well. I have a lot more respect for people that go out and break trail to these peaks constantly.

I made it back to the Loj by 5pm and the rest is history. A truly EPIC day in the mountains!

Quadrantid Meteor Shower Kicks off the New Year with Impressive Display!

Happy New Year everyone! The first Meteor Shower of the New Year, the Quadrantids, put on an incredible display during the wee hours of the morning on January 4th. Despite the below freezing temperatures I layered up and headed out to watch, and hopefully photograph the meteor shower, which was predicted to peak around 2:20am EST with an estimated 60-100 meteors per hour.  

Earlier that evening I was listening for meteor echoes on Space Weather Radio (www.spaceweatherradio.com). The site has a live audio feed that is connected to the Air Force Space Surveillance Radar, each time a meteor or satellite passes over the facility an echo, or ping, can be heard. Very cool site and worth checking out if you’d rather enjoy a meteor shower from the comfort of your own home. 

Around 1:30am EST the pings were becoming more and more frequent so I decided to head out. The location I chose to watch the meteor shower from was a nearby section of the Hudson River known as “Snake Rock” to the locals, a popular swimming hole in the summer. I knew the spot would provide a clear view of the northeastern sky where many of the Quadrantids would appear to radiate from.

After settling on a composition I just sat on the rocks and gazed up at the night sky in awe. At times the sky seemed to be raining stars. The sky put on such a display I stayed and watched it for four hours. I counted nearly 60 meteors during that time, including this one shooting through the milky way galaxy. I am confident that number would have been much higher but I was to busy searching for different compositions and making exposures to watch the sky the entire time.

Quadrantid Meteor streaking through the night sky over the Hudson River

 
This photograph is a blend of five exposures to overcome various technical limitations of the camera and lens; three for DOF (Depth Of Field) @ f/2.8, one for the sky with the meteor, and one for the water and distant landscape. All 5 images were taken from a tripod in the same exact spot. The first image that I made was a 74 sec. exposure @ ISO 800 for the water and distant mountains. The sky shot with the meteor was taken using a 25 sec. exposure @ ISO 1250.

Considering the vast amount of meteors shooting through the sky they seemed to be avoiding the area where my camera was pointed. After a considerable amount of time (and patience) I finally got a bright meteor to shoot through the frame about an hour and a half before dawn. Once I had an acceptable meteor I took the three remaining exposures for DOF, all shot at 30 Sec. @ ISO 1250. I would have used a lower ISO and longer exposure here but my cable release froze up and stopped working.

Such a wonderful night to be out under the stars, and one I definitely won’t forget anytime soon. What a great way to kick off the New Year!

Prints of this image can be purchased through my website here: http://www.adirondackzack.com/Galleries/New-Work/New-Work-Adirondacks/14362035_nqdd95#!i=1660234604&k=ZRW9KMk

Windswept World

Marcy and Colden from Iroquois windswept col“Marcy and Colden from Iroquois’s windswept col”

I had been planning a winter ascent of Algonquin (5,114ft) and Iroquois Peak (4,840ft) in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks for some time now, in hopes of getting some nice shots of the snow covered trees on and around the summits. I was afraid the mild temperatures combined with the wind and rain we’ve been having this last month of winter had stripped all the trees of their snow. As fate would have it I got my break two days before I was to attempt the climb, it came in the form of snow, but I did not know this at the time. While the southern Adirondacks were being targeted by heavy rains the higher elevations were actually getting snow. This turned out to be a wonderful blessing as it covered up much of the ice above treeline.

Plans were hashed out and my hiking partner and I decided on an 8am start. I reached the trailhead at approx. 7:45 and self registered at the Adirondack Loj. There I met up with Dan and we loaded up our gear and hit the trail shortly after 8. Trail conditions were great, the melting and freezing of the snow created nice hard pack conditions and we were able to make really good time. Iroquois would complete Dan’s 46th Winter High Peak (He has done them all in other seasons as well), so this was the main goal of the trip for him. On the trail he told me that this was his 3rd attempt this winter at Iroquois and one of those times he was less than 150 yards from the summit but was forced to turn back due to extreme whiteout conditions and the numerous spruce traps that he encountered along the way. I told him the weather forecast looked very promising, and although this can change in an instant, it called for clear skies and relatively calm winds on the summits. If there was ever a day to bag Iroquois, this would be it!

We continued onward, marching like ants up one snow covered slope after another, only stopping to catch our breath and take a few sips of water in between elevation gains. The tops of the trees were now starting to show a layer of ice that had built up from the extremely cold temperatures at this elevation. I was getting excited, knowing these were exactly the conditions I was after. An hour and a half later, at a little over 3 miles, we reached the junction to Wright Peak. The summit of Algonquin was now a little less than a mile away, though if we were to get Iroquois we would be looking at over 2 miles still to go.

Dan nearing Algonquin's windblown summit
“Dan nearing Algonquin’s windblown summit”

After a short breather we were off again. I was sporting a newer pair of Tubbs Flex Alps mountaineering snowshoes I picked up earlier this winter and Dan had on a pair of MSR Denali Ascents, we were ready and eager to tackle mountains! The ascent from the junction was grueling, with some extremely steep pitches that seemed to go on forever. Our aggressive snowshoe crampons did their job and before long we had views behind us of Wright Peak and Whiteface way off in the distance. Even the Green Mountains of Vermont made an appearance through the distant fog. The views seemed endless, I could only imagine what they must be like from the summit. The air was very clear and the wind was extremely calm by High Peaks standards. I soon asked Dan if he had seen a nicer day this winter while in the mountains, to which he quickly replied “No!”.

Algonquin's summit from just below treeline
“Algonquin’s summit from just below treeline”

Snowshoe Hare tracks below Algonquin's snowy summit“Snowshoe Hare tracks below Algonquin’s summit”

Surrounded by snow covered trees and distant views we continued for another fifteen minutes or so until we both agreed that we were now higher than Wright Peak, which stands at a lofty 4,587ft. With my camera in hand, I scrambled up some more steep pitches passing lots of snowshoe hare tracks along the way. The snow and ice encased summit of Algonquin was now coming into view. Winding our way through the scrub trees we finally reached treeline. A little further up the trail Dan yelled down and said “You’ve got to get a shot of this, this is really unique”. It was a small spruce tree completely covered in snow and ice, and intricately sculpted by the wind. I insisted Dan go ahead as I was going to take some pictures from here, and told him that I would catch up to him. With blue skies and fresh snow all around me, I was in a photographer’s paradise. I barely noticed the last section of steep pitches and before I know it I’m walking across the summit of Algonquin with incredible vistas in all directions. Dan was making good time and was already nearing the col between Algonquin and Boundary when I finally spotted him. I snapped a few photos of him and put my camera back in the bag.

Dan's unique find, a spruce tree sculpture!“Dan’s unique find, a spruce tree sculpture!”

Krumholtz Line on Algonquin“Krumholtz Line on Algonquin”

Cloud whisk over Algonquin“Cloud whisk over Algonquin”

I made a quick descent of Algonquin and decided to take my camera back out when I saw a puffy cloud whisk making its way towards Algonquin’s summit. High winds had ravaged this area, carving out unique patterns in the snow. I stopped for more pictures before ascending Boundary, the peak between Algonquin and Iroquois. When I reached the summit of Boundary I could see Dan making his way up Iroquois, I took some more photos of him and then hurried to catch up. I was on the summit not to long after and he congratulated me upon arriving, telling me that this is one of the harder peaks to get in the winter. I congratulated him on his 46th winter High Peak and we decided to have a snack. He checked his watch, it was 11:15, not bad considering the two mountains we climbed, well, technically three if you count Boundary. It was a bit windier on Iroquois than it was on Algonquin so I put on an extra layer. I took a couple of photos of Dan with Marcy and Algonquin in the background and then asked if he would take my picture.

Single cloud over Algonquin“Single cloud over Algonquin”

Marcy from windswept col“Mount Marcy from windswept col”

After refueling we geared back up and began slowly making our way back. Back down Iroquois, up Boundary, down Boundary, and back up Algonquin, phew! Now our legs are feeling the effects of all the paces we’ve put them through. We decide to take it easy on the way back up Algonquin, stopping every so often to give our legs a break. Just before we reach the summit a group of 5 climbers greet us on their way to Iroquois. We chat with them briefly and then make our way to the summit. We have a quick look around and then start our descent. The snow is nicely packed and still a bit icy so we take the opportunity to glissade on our bottoms down the extremely steep pitches that we had to climb while making our ascent. Our legs and knees thank us.

Another unique spruce tree sculpted by the wind“Another unique spruce tree sculpted by the wind”

Iroquois panorama“Iroquois panorama”

Upon reaching the junction we stop for lunch and a much needed break. We agree to talk it easy on the way out, as it was such a beautiful day there was no need to hurry. Back on the trail we talk about hikes we’ve done in the past and places we’ve been until finally reaching the parking lot a little after 3pm. Our total round trip was around 10.5 miles. All in all it was a great day to be in the woods, and a great way to spend a day.

I would like to send out a special thanks to Dan for accompanying me on this climb and congratulations again on your winter 46 buddy!

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
-John Muir

Ampersand Mountain

Ampersand Mountain

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on my blog here, mainly because I have been taking advantage of winter and getting out to shoot as much as possible. I shot this beautiful sunset from the summit of Ampersand Mountain near Saranac Lake, NY, this past Monday. The forecast called for gradually clearing skies throughout the afternoon so I was anticipating a nice sunset. After hiking nearly 3 miles I reached the 3,352 ft summit and found these wonderful wind sculpted patterns in the snow. The rest of the summit was mostly bare rock from being blasted by the wind constantly. It was so frigid my camera ate up 3 lithium batteries in the relatively short amount of time I spent on the mountain. Temperatures were only in the single digits and with the wind it was well below zero. My camera looked like an ice cube by the time I was done shooting the sunset. Hiking back down under a starry night sky is always an exhilarating experience!