Archive for the ‘snow’ Tag

Adventuring Death Valley: Extremes   16 comments

I’ve posted this one before, but it’s worth a repeat. Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range from Saratoga Springs in south Death Valley.

More than for most parks, appreciating Death Valley begs you to stop and smell the creosote.  Camp out and take a stroll out into the desert as evening is coming on.  Listen to the silence, perhaps broken by a coyote’s howl.  Wake early and experience day-break from the salt flats as Telescope Peak catches the sun’s first light.  Get off the beaten track and take off on foot up a canyon.  Have an adventure!

LAND OF EXTREMES

One of the main reasons I love this place is all the extremes.  The most obvious one, exemplified by the image above, is the extreme of altitude.  On my first trip to Death Valley as a freshman in a college group learning about its natural history, I found out how much I love extremes.  The instructor, who taught my 200-level series geology course, was also very much a biologist, birder and ecologist.  We learned about how the plants and animals are so perfectly adapted to the harsh realities of desert life.  It’s fascinating how everything here seems to work together as an integrated whole that reflects the park’s extreme heat and aridity, along with its extreme terrain and geology.

You have to be exceptionally clever to survive in Death Valley: coyote.

One day, with our teacher pointing out hawks and rock formations as we went, we drove the van up and out of the desert.  The narrow Wildrose Canyon Road leads to the high country of the Panamint Range, ending at the Charcoal Kilns.  These large stone beehives, perfectly preserved in the desert air, are ovens once used for turning trees into fuel to run smelters during the mining era of the late 1800s.  They’re lined up symmetrically in a forest clearing with views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada (image below).

We hiked from the kilns, heading up to snowy Mahogany Meadows, which lies in a saddle at the crest of the range.  While named for its mountain mahogany, the ancient pinyon pines here are especially impressive.  I remember wondering how we could have, in a few short hours, gone from toasty desert conditions to this other world, a cool, snowy forest.  From the meadows, which are perched at 8133 feet elevation, we peered down into the below-sea-level depths of the valley.  Talk about extremes!  We had a huge snowball fight.

The Charcoal Kilns with snow-capped Mt. Whitney and the Sierras in the distance.

CLIMBING TELESCOPE PEAK

The place impressed me so much I returned with friends a couple years later, again in March.  The three of us were set on climbing Telescope Peak, at 11,043′ the highest point in the park.  It had been a cold, snowy winter, with late storms that left deep powder mantling the high Panamints.   Though just a few inches lay at the Kilns, a couple feet of the white stuff greeted us at Mahogany Meadows, our planned campsite for the night.  And what a cold night it was!

We had an MSR camp stove with us, the kind that was euphemistically called a “blow torch” because there were just two settings:  off and rocket-blast.  It could also accept any kind of fuel, so when we realized we had forgotten to pack extra camping gas we had an idea.  Hiking back down to the car, we backed up onto a curb and tapped a small amount of gas from the carburetor.  Yes I’m old enough to have had a car with a carburetor; and no we didn’t have a hose to siphon from the tank with.

Magnificent old-growth pinyon pine: Mahogany Flats, Death Valley N.P.

After the kind of night where your body burns many calories just keeping warm, we woke just before dawn to find a half-foot of fresh white stuff.  We didn’t know it then, but tapping that unleaded was very smart.  It allowed us to eat a pile of hot oatmeal with raisins that morning, and we’d need all the energy we could get that day.

Telescope Peak is just under 7 miles one-way from Mahogany Meadows, with about 3300 feet of elevation gain.  Without snow it is a difficult but straightforward hike.  Years later when I repeated the ascent in much kinder conditions it was like I was climbing a completely different mountain.

What makes Telescope more difficult than it might seem is the necessity to hike over two large peaks (Rogers and Bennet) before tackling the main ascent.  Up until then I’d never really hiked a distance in deep fresh snow, but struggling that day through hip-deep drifts up steep slopes made a life-long impression (not least that snowshoes were a great invention).  By the time we reached the base of the mountain it was mid-afternoon and we were spent.

Descending into Death Valley.

DEATH VALLEY DATES

It was the dates that saved the day.  With only a PB&J each for lunch, it was lucky that we’d packed Death Valley’s famous dates for trail snacks.  Those dates, which you can buy at Furnace Creek where they’re grown, powered us up the steep, final icy slope to the summit.   A stupendous view, so different than any other in the park, greeted us.  But turning west, where the mountain had blocked our view on the ascent, one glance convinced us that summit time would be ultra-brief.  A compact but dark and angry storm was rapidly approaching from that direction, with lightning bolts shooting out of it at regular intervals.  It was headed straight for us.

We shoved a few more dates into our mouths and prepared for a quick exit.  As I took one last look around, I noticed something strange about my two partners.  We’d all taken our wool hats off to shed heat during the climb, and now their hair was standing straight up, just like in High School science class when you touch that electrified ball.  I heard a faint but very distinct buzzing all around, and growing louder.  It was the first time I’d ever experienced something like that, but it was clear what was taking place.  We were about to see what lightning was like, up close and personal.  That is, if we didn’t get the hell off that mountain but quick!

The two white substances in Death Valley: salt and snow.

The return hike was long and exhausting (those two peaks were again in the way).  We had been going hard since sunup, and the Death Valley dates continued to provide critical energy.  We disagreed on a return route and ended up splitting up.  When Gene and I finally pulled into camp at dusk, Mel was sticking his head out of the tent, puking up dates.

Although on paper Telescope Peak shouldn’t even be in the top 50 hardest climbs I’ve ever done, it sticks out in my mind as one of the toughest, #3 or even #2.  Even after all these years.  We didn’t relish another frigid night at 8100 feet.  So we quickly struck camp and hiked in the dark a few miles more to reach the car.  Then it was down, down, and back to summer.  That warm air felt so good!  Parking at the sand dunes we grabbed sleeping bags and headlamps and stumbled a couple hundred yards into the dunes to crash under a huge night sky.  The stars must have been spectacular that night, but darned if I can remember ever seeing them.

Thanks for reading.  Wishing all a very Merry Christmas!

Evening draws near in the dunes at Mesquite Flat, Death Valley National Park.

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Merry Christmas!   10 comments

This is my most Christmasy image from the past year.  Since I haven’t yet gone out in winter to some forest to find a small fir tree in a meadow, decorated it (including lights), waited for a gentle snowfall, then returned with a small generator to photograph it, this one will have to do!

Merry Christmas to one and all!  (P.S. Friday Foto Talk returns next week)

Wind and snow create spindrift after a rare snowfall at Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Wind and snow create spindrift after a rare snowfall at Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Friday Foto Talk: Why Video?   4 comments

Nearly every digital camera sold nowadays has video.  In fact, I can only think of one DSLR without video that I would shoot with.  It’s the excellent Canon 50D, a camera that I used to own (I even took it to Africa).  Camera makers are building video in for a reason.  I don’t have to tell you that videos are very popular on the web.  But even for those of us who buy a camera thinking only of still photography, to have the option of shooting high quality video through high quality glass (lenses) is very tempting.  So it’s usually not long after that shiny new digital camera arrives that we switch to video mode and start winging it.

I say winging it because, while there are important similarities, video is quite different than still photography.  Mistakes are inevitable and can easily make our videos look amateurish.  This series is designed not to make you an expert videographer.  I can’t claim to be, after all.  It’s meant to get you thinking about capturing motion and sound rather than still scenes.  It’s also to give you a baseline from which to start your journey into videography.  This is the first time I’ve posted videos on this blog, and so it’s a bit of an experiment.  I’m inserting them from my Vimeo page.  They’re unedited but not too lengthy.

So why shoot videos at all?  Other than the novelty of capturing motion through a variety of lenses, videos are good for…

  • Mixing things up.  Anything you can do that’s different will help to keep you from slipping into a shooting rut.
  • Adding value to a shoot.  Even if you are shooting a portrait, where the goal is clearly to get a great still shot of your subject, a video is the kind of bonus that’s guaranteed to make him or her very happy.  Only video can show the laughs, changes of expression, and all the interactions that happen on a typical shoot.
  • Showing context.  If you put in a lot of work and money to get someplace great to photograph, you’ll want to bring home something that, while perhaps not your best stuff, is nonetheless critical for documenting your visit.  A wide-angle, so-called establishing shot or two that shows the wider area is one thing.   A video that pans through the area can show even more.  Plus it includes sound!
  • Showing movement.  I know, duh!  While it’s often interesting to show movement in a still photo, only a video can show movement as it actually is.
  • Including the sound-scape.  For me this is one of the most valuable (and challenging) aspects of video.  Still pictures have a huge shortcoming: lack of sound.  A motion picture overcomes that.
  • Profit.  If you are thinking of going pro at some point, there is another major advantage to capturing video.  You’re getting practice for that (inevitable?) moment when you make the transition.  If you follow a number of pro photographers you may have noticed that many if not most of them eventually make the jump to video.  They are doing this not because they like it better than still photography.  Most of them would much prefer to stick with what they love.  No, they’re doing it for money.  For reasons I don’t completely understand, it’s much easier to make a good living being a videographer than a photographer.

Next time we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of shooting video.  Have a fun weekend everyone, and press play!

Mountain Monday: Outback Oregon   4 comments

Winter begins by dusting the Pueblo Mountains of southeastern Oregon.

Winter begins by dusting the Pueblo Mountains of southeastern Oregon.

I posted Friday on photography around stormy weather but neglected to include snow.  Good images are really difficult to get when it’s snowing heavily.  So let’s follow up and correct that error.  This is an image where the snow had just fallen on the mountains but never really reached me.  It was early morning and I was hoping for the mountains to show themselves.  It was chilly so I though maybe there would be snow, but I was surprised there was so much.

I was in what is called Oregon’s “outback” (apologies to Australia).  Southeastern Oregon is very thinly populated and is wide-open high desert.  Geologically, the mountains are fault-block type.  This simply means that they were formed by high-angle faults which throw one side down (becoming the valley or basin) and one side up (forming a long relatively narrow range).  It’s also known as basin and range terrain and continues south through most of Nevada and east to the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.

The reason I didn’t get snowed on is because of the “rain shadow effect”.  This is when rain or snow is essentially blocked by a mountain range.  The clouds are lifted by the mountain slopes, cooling the air and causing precipitation.  When the air descends the lee side of the range, it warms and dries, leaving little or none of the wet stuff for the valley beyond.  In areas where the weather pretty much comes from one direction, there can be very dramatic differences in vegetation between the windward and lee sides of any range that runs nearly perpendicular to the direction of prevailing winds.

Enjoy your week and Happy Labor Day to my fellow Americans!

Friday Foto Talk: Shoot in Any Weather   19 comments

A blustery cold winter morning at Joshua Tree National Park, California gave me the opportunity to shoot something I’ve always loved to see: spindrift in bright sunlight.

Occasionally I see someone post on Facebook or mention elsewhere that they are anxious for the weather to cooperate so that they can get out with their cameras.  They’ll say they are inside playing in Photoshop because the weather is keeping them from shooting, or that they’re looking forward to getting out when the weather finally improves this weekend.

The message for this post is very simple.  Quit making excuses and get out there!  Short of hurricanes, tornados, and other dangerous situations, there is really no weather that you can’t handle with clothing and gear.  Check out my series on winter photography for tips on how to protect yourself and your gear.

It’s springtime now in the northern hemisphere, and that means quickly changing weather.  So why not go out to see what happens?  Maybe it will clear up just before sunset, rewarding you for your persistence.  But even if it stays weathery (or even gets worse), don’t worry!  The most important thing to remember is that there’s really no kind of weather that doesn’t offer at least a few good photographic possibilities.  Here are some examples:

The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee.

The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee.  It was raining pretty heavily but I walked to a high lookout anyway, just in case.  Grain added during processing.

  • Rainy & Foggy.  Especially when paired with fog or low clouds hugging hillsides, rainy weather can be the perfect time to shoot mood-filled landscapes.  And if it suddenly clears, hello rainbow!  Rain also offers good people shooting.  With typically bright raincoats and umbrellas, the flat light of cloud-cover can really bring out those colors.  Rainy conditions can also favor flowers and other small colorful close-ups.  Droplets on flowers and other vegetation look great in macro photos.

 

When you're in a Costa rican cloud forest, and it's raining, these are the kinds of shots that jump out.

When you’re in a Costa Rican cloud forest and it’s raining, these are the kinds of images that jump out.

One recent morning I woke to clouds and a missing sunrise, but this fog made it well worth shooting anyway. Toning added during processing.

One recent morning I woke to clouds and a missing sunrise, but this fog made it well worth shooting anyway. Toning added during processing.

  • Snowy & Cold.  New-fallen snow glistens like an older snow-cover never does.  And when the wind starts playing with snow magical things tend to happen (as in the image at top).  It can certainly be a challenge to deal with the contrasts of a snowy scene.  All that white, when it fills most of the viewfinder, demands that you are careful with exposure (your camera’s light meter is ‘fooled’ into underexposing).  The cold air of winter offers a clarity that can give your landscapes a sense of depth, and make your backgrounds stand out better.
The drive out to this spot in an ice storm was not fun but how else are you going to see and shoot unique light like this? Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

The drive out to this spot during an ice storm was a little sketchy, but how else are you going to see and shoot unique skies and light like this? Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

  • Windy.  I’ve been shooting in some wind in the desert lately and have posted a few of those.  The nice part about wind is that it will pick up sand and other loose materials and blow them around, creating moody effects.  Of course windy conditions present some challenges.  You need to think about camera stability; decide if a tripod is better than being buffeted while you’re holding the camera.  As long as you weight it down by hanging a heavy bag from the center post, a tripod will work well in wind when exposures are too long for hand-held shots.  And don’t try to change lenses out in the wind, unless you don’t want to have your camera’s sensor & interior cleaned afterward.
Owen's Valley, California in a sandstorm.

Owen’s Valley, California in a sandstorm.

  • Clear Blue Skies.  This is the bane of every landscape photographer.  It means the sun’s light isn’t really filtered and reflected while it’s still in the sky, before it gets to your subject.  Thus most photographers think the light is poor in times of clear weather.  While it’s easier to get a great landscape image when there are clouds in the sky, that doesn’t mean great shots aren’t possible.  Subjects have to be unusually strong when under bluebird skies, and there is a tight window to shoot in when the sun is very near the horizon.
Mount Rainier and its famous subalpine flower meadows under soars into the clear blue near sunset.

Mount Rainier and its famous subalpine flower meadows under soars into the clear blue near sunset.

  • More Clear Days:  Clear skies are also decent times to shoot close-ups and macros.  A portable diffusing panel helps out, or you can shoot when the sun is very low.  For similar reasons people pictures can turn out very nice in clear sunny weather.  You need to find shade or again shoot when the sun is low.  Placing your subjects at the edge of the shade and near broad reflective ground surfaces helps to give beautiful illumination backed by darker backgrounds.
I photographed this particularly striking food vendor at Angkor Wat, Cambodia in shade but adjacent to a brightly lit square.

I photographed this particularly striking food vendor at Angkor Wat, Cambodia in shade but adjacent to a brightly lit square.

  •  And Clear Nights:  When it’s clear, some subjects (architecture being a great example) look very good at the so-called blue hour.  That’s well after sunset but before it gets dark and the sky loses all of its blue color.  If you want to shoot a star-filled sky, clear and moonless is the time to do it.  I actually like a partial moon to help illuminate the subject or foreground.  I also like some clouds in my starscapes and don’t care too much about the Milky Way.  But I’m in the minority there.
A crescent moon was setting as I captured this image at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

A crescent moon was setting as I captured this image at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

I think you can see that almost any conceivable weather is good for photography.  The trick is to think about all the types of pictures you may want, not just the one or two that you happen to desire at a given time.  If you have this mindset, then no matter what the weather you’re likely to find just the right kinds of pictures to shoot.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Just before sunset the clouds started breaking and voila! Columbia Gorge, Oregon.

Just before sunset the clouds started breaking and voila! Columbia Gorge, Oregon.

Winter Photography, Part VI: Cold Shooting   16 comments

Morning at East Zion, Utah

Morning at East Zion, Utah

I’m not happy right now.  I had to leave Facebook (time for a break anyhow).  Not that it’s a big deal, but still, I don’t like being sort of forced into things.  You don’t want the dirty details.  Suffice to say, much as I believe I was born at least 100 years too late, I don’t think I’m made for today’s photography, at least in the landscape arena.

I’m thinking of giving up landscape photography it’s got me so discouraged.  The way to become popular in LS photography is to follow a path that I don’t want to follow.  In fact, I’m including pictures in this post that, while I like them for a few reasons, I’m really not satisfied with.  Maybe I’m being hard on myself, and tomorrow morning I’ll probably be out shooting happily.  But I’m really ready to move onward and upward, and am frustrated with my lack of artistic progress.  I’m not into this for a hobby.

A frozen pond on 13,000-foot Independence Pass in the Colorado Rockies.

A frozen pond on 13,000-foot Independence Pass in the Colorado Rockies.

Is this fun? An image I got by wading through a cold waist-deep stream, pushing aside floating ice.

Is this fun? An image I got by wading through the cold waist-deep water of Oneonta Creek, Ore., pushing aside floating ice.  P.S. it wasn’t really difficult, just making it seem that way!

So back to winter photography.  Here are a few parting tips for successful winter shooting:

  • Don’t Stay in Bed.  This is the hardest thing, at least for me.  Let’s face it, the best light is usually in the early morning or late afternoon, or with today’s cameras even in the middle of the night!  You can do winter photography at any time of day, but since days are shorter your time is limited.  If you want to focus on the golden hours near dusk or dawn, you have two chances each day, and they are much more closely spaced than in the summer.  So get out early and shoot late; you’ll still get plenty of sleep!
  • Positive Exposure Compensation.  Use your exposure compensation feature and over-expose by about a stop when you’re shooting in bright snow.  The amount you need depends on how bright the sun on the snow is, and on how much snow is in the frame.  The old film rule of thumb was +2 stops, but with DSLRs I’ve gotten away with anywhere from +2/3 to a stop and a half in most circumstances.  If you’re shooting RAW you can always bump up the brightness of the snowy parts on the computer, but it’s always best to get it right in camera.  Just don’t actually over-expose anything.  The easiest way to check for this is to set your blinking over-exposure warning (available on most all DSLRs) and always review the image on the LCD.
The Goblins in snow, Utah.

The Goblins in snow, Utah.

  • Watch the Weather.  Yeah, I know it’s great advice any time of year.  But I’ve found that weather patterns will settle into an area and make it so that one time per day is best, and that these conditions could last for a week or more.  I’ve also noticed that this bias is more prevalent in winter, at least in North America.  (It’s one of those things I pass on in this blog that nobody really talks about.)  That preferential shooting time could be around sunset or it could be sunrise.  If it happens to be dawn that is better than sunset, you better get your butt out of bed!
  • Strive for simplicity.  While this is a good thing to come back to from time to time, no matter the season, in winter the opportunities for simple compositions (and simple themes!) seem to abound.  There’s the obvious fact that snow blankets a lot of chaos with a smooth white, but even without snow there tends to be more simple compositions available during the cold months.
  • Take your tripod.  Winter makes it even more important to consider the limitation of low light.  Even during daytime, take your tripod just in case.
An approaching winter storm at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah.

An approaching winter storm at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah.

Alpenglow lights up Mount Hood in Oregon. Snow-covered Mirror Lake is at bottom.

Alpenglow lights up Mount Hood in Oregon. Snow-covered Mirror Lake is at bottom.

  • Be Ready.  Unless you are in Alaska or somewhere in high latitudes during that hemisphere’s months of shorter days, you should be ever cognizant of the brevity of the light.  In temperate regions (which includes nearly all of North America & Europe), so-called golden hour is noticeably briefer during winter months.  Of course your style may dictate that you are set up and ready at all times.  That’s not me, I wander even during good light.  Just be willing, during winter especially, to decide on a composition and subject well before the light comes.
New-fallen snow along the skiing trail: La Sal Mtns., Utah.

New-fallen snow along the skiing trail: La Sal Mtns., Utah.

  • Look for Details.  In winter, often the light is very clear but also quite boring.  That’s the time to look for details and macro opportunities.  Ice is a world unto itself, and often snow or ice clings to the most improbable objects, creating unusual and beautiful photos.  That is, if you’re looking for it.  As you travel through the environment, keep looking near and far, close-up and wide-open.

Okay, that’ll do it for Winter Photography.  I don’t like to be too prescriptive about photography, so it’s up to you from here on out.  Just bundle up and do it!  I’ll try to maintain the blog, even during my pause on social media (talk about love-hate).  But maybe I don’t consider this blog as the typical social media platform.  Anyway, have a great holiday season everyone!

Yesterday morning, with dramatic skies heralding coming snow, a simple corral up an unnamed canyon, southern Utah.

Yesterday morning, with dramatic skies heralding coming snow, a simple corral up an unnamed canyon, southern Utah.

Winter Photography, Part V: Get Away from the Road   6 comments

Are you tired of seeing Mount Hood covered in snow yet?

Are you tired of seeing Mount Hood covered in snow yet?

Let’s continue the series on photography in wintertime.  With the holiday season approaching, we all have more time off from work.  So don’t spend all of it inside baking cookies (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).  Get out and shoot some too.  We’ve covered the getting there part, plus how to dress for winter.  Now it’s time to hit the trail.

This morning I watched a few other photographers in Zion National Park.  They were, as usual, sticking to the roadside.  By far most pictures are captured from within a few yards of the road.  I don’t completely avoid it of course, having gotten some great shots even by standing on top of the car.  But although it’s even more tempting in winter to shoot near the car, getting away from the road is key to making the kinds of photos that are unique to your own vision.

The top of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park, Utah.

The top of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park, Utah.

The last post focused on winter clothes, but there are a few other things that can help greatly when you’re traveling in snowy or icy conditions.  So let’s look at how to stack the odds in your favor during a winter outing.

  • Camera Pack – Fit:  Though not unique to winter, it’s even more important to have a camera backpack that fits and carries well.  The typical blocky camera pack isn’t really good for hiking, but its shortcomings are even more pronounced in snow or ice where the simple act of walking is more challenging.  So find one that carries most of its weight closer to your back and doesn’t swing the weight around.  A sternum strap & waist belt are very helpful, for example.

 

  • Camera Pack – Size:  Since you’ll be carrying some extras beyond photo gear, it’s necessary to get a pack that has a roomy compartment for clothes and other non-camera stuff.  If you already have a pack that is fairly large and comfortable, but without a dedicated compartment for extras, try taking out a few velcro dividers meant for extra lenses and making a place for the extra stuff.

 

  • Filling that Pack:  In summer, typically short photo hikes can be done without a lot of the safety equipment that’s necessary both for longer hikes in summer and outings of all distances in winter.  So think carefully about which lenses to take and take out any extra camera gear that you may not need.  This makes room for extra clothes, some food plus the 10 essentials.
Now this isn't how I planned to fill my pack!

Now this isn’t how I planned to fill my pack!

  • Just in Case – Ten Essentials:  Google the 10 essentials, but realize in winter two of them are especially important:  light and fire.  Take a good headlamp with extra batteries (and don’t forget extra batteries for the camera).  Being able to easily make a fire is very important in wintertime.  Waterproof matches and a ziplock full of dry newspaper and other tinder (and perhaps some fire-starting compound) can save your butt!

Horsetail Falls, Oregon.

Feet – Extra Help    

Once you have good warm boots (see last post), consider where you’ll be hiking.  The snow and ice of winter often demands something more for your feet:

  • Traction Devices:      If you don’t plan on going through deep snow much, you don’t need snowshoes or skis (see below), but if you’ll be in icy conditions, consider the small traction devices that slip on over your boots.  Yak-Tracks are a popular brand.  True crampons are too much; they’re for mountaineering.

 

  • Snowshoes are popular with winter photographers for good reason.  They’re simple to use and sure beat wading through hip-deep powder snow.  Buy a pair that is appropriate for your size and weight.  I would avoid the super-small and light kind; they’re for the crazies who run races in them; they normally don’t float enough in soft snow.

 

 

  • Snowshoe Technique:  Practice walking in snowshoes before you carry your camera pack, then add the gear on the next hike.  While you do need to walk with a slightly wider stance and lift your feet more, most novices exaggerate this movement, wasting energy.  The idea is to sort of shuffle, lifting just enough to avoid getting tangled up and tripping.  If you never trip and fall, you probably aren’t learning to do it right.
  • The Ski Option:  I’m biased, but in my opinion skis are the best way to get around in snow.  Sure it takes a little more time to learn than snowshoes, but that time is paid many times over with more speed and more fun when you’re out.   In most terrain, I can leave snowshoers in the dust when I’m skiing.  With short days, trying to catch the light, snowshoes are too slow for some destinations.  And fun?  On downhills snowshoers are plodding while I’m whooping and hollering.
A rare selfie: Enjoying sunshine & powder, La Sal Mtns., Utah.

A rare selfie: Enjoying sunshine & powder, La Sal Mtns., Utah.

  • Using Cross-Country Skis:  Modern cross-country skis are shorter, wider and much more stable/easy to use than the long skinny skis I learned on.  And this kind have been out long enough now to go used.  Just get a basic set of touring skis, boots and poles.  With the money you save I recommend taking lessons.  It probably goes without saying, but your camera needs to be stowed safely in your pack when skiing.  I wear a small bag for my camera (Lowepro Toploader) over my chest, clipped to the straps of my backpack.  Load distribution is even more important when you’re skiing, so make sure your backpack doesn’t swing around as you move.
An alternative way to get around in winter that isn't covered in this post.

An alternative way to get around in winter that isn’t covered in this post.

Near sunset, I skied past this natural ice sculpture high up on Silver Star Mtn., Washington.

Near sunset, I skied past this natural ice sculpture high up on Silver Star Mtn., Washington.

Friday Foto Talk: Winter Photography, Part III   2 comments

Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes at the end of winter, early July!.  Winter sticks around at these altitudes.

Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes at the end of winter, early July!. Winter sticks around at these altitudes.

This continues the series on winter photography.  In order to get through it before the official start of winter (December 21st), I’m going to begin to post more frequently than just on Friday.  That’s just for this series though.  We’re still on safety, and despite well-publicized incidents of people getting stranded and dying of exposure, in wintertime 90% of the danger lies on the roadways.

I'm throwing in a recent shot:  Zion Canyon, Utah.

A recent shot from Zion Canyon, Utah.

 

Car & Tires

In the last post on winter driving I did not discuss types of cars, chains, etc.  That’s because I believe these come in a distant second to good winter driving technique.  Sure, having a good winter vehicle can reduce the dreaded white-knuckle syndrome.  But never make the mistake of thinking a 4×4 or traction devices allow you to go faster or otherwise drive as if the roads were clear and dry.  I think we’ve all seen more SUVs rolled over on snowy shoulders than we have cars.

  • Four-Wheel Drive:   I think most photographers would rather spend extra money on that shiny new camera or lens than a new SUV or Subaru.   So does it really make sense to buy a special vehicle plus traction equipment for winter driving?  Obviously the more snow you drive in the more sense it makes to outfit yourself with permanent traction aids.  And a 4×4 is a large, rolling traction aid.  Most 4x4s have good clearance, which helps on unplowed side-roads, and sometimes even the driveway!
Pinyon pine cones catch little mounds of pristine snow in southern Utah.

Pinyon pine cones catch little mounds of pristine snow in southern Utah.

  • Non-4wd Snow Cars:  A good alternative to the 4×4 SUV or truck is an all-wheel drive car.  These work great in snow and come in handy when it’s rainy out too.  Small front-wheel drive cars do amazingly well in snow as long as it’s not too deep.  If you tend to frequent unplowed roads, in deeper snow, front-wheel drive and (most) AWD cars have too little clearance.  Pair either the AWD or FWD car with traction tires, of the snow variety if you’re frequently in the white stuff.
  • Chains:  I recommend just keeping a set of chains in your vehicle.  For one thing, chains have helped me get out of mud in situations where a tow would have been extremely expensive.  If you drive in snow or ice only occasionally, chains are enough; a 4×4 isn’t necessary.  Do yourself a favor and practice with them in a dry driveway.  You’ll be lying down, so a small tarp will keep snow and slush off your clothes.
Mount Hood from Trillium Lake on a full-moon cross-country skiing outing in Oregon.

Mount Hood from Trillium Lake on a full-moon cross-country skiing outing in Oregon.

  • Tires:  Even it’s snowy where you live you may not need a 4×4.  If  sharp curves and (especially) hills are in short supply, you can get away with good snow tires and (as a backup) chains.  Going with an extra set of snow tires for winter makes sense, especially where winters last half the year or more.

 

  • Studs:  I only had these in Alaska, and then only because I couldn’t afford a 4×4.  Now I’m anti-stud!  They tear up the roadways and ultimately force gas taxes to rise.  Go with traction tires and chains instead.  People think they need studs because of ice.

On short stretches of ice, you can get through by slowing greatly and practicing good technique as described in the last post.  In more widespread icy conditions, hills or not, chain up and go slow!  The only time studs are appropriate is in extreme winter conditions where roads are snow- and ice-covered continuously, and you rarely if ever drive on pavement.  Then a 4×4 with studs all around is the way to go.  But this is very rare indeed.

Cows seem to handle snow and cold without complaining:  Long Valley, Utah.

Cows seem to handle snow and cold without complaining: Long Valley, Utah at sunset.

Merry Christmas!   8 comments

A cold winter's dusk just after one of Crater Lake's typical heavy dumps of snow, followed by a moonlight ski back.

Weather starts clearing on a cold winter’s dusk after one of Crater Lake’s typically heavy dumps of snow, followed by a moonlight ski back.  I miss skiing and I miss Oregon!

Wordless Wednesday: Winter’s Last Act?   8 comments

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