Zugspitze

Zugspitze, Wetterstein, Germany, klettersteig
Approaching the summit of Zugspitze via the Höllantal klettersteig climbing route, nearly 2,200m (7,200 ft) vertical above our start in the valley below.

At 2962m (9717 ft), Zugspitze is the tallest mountain in Germany. The white limestone massif of Wetterstein (of which Zugspitze is the summit) rockets out of the green hills below, towering above all surrounding peaks and dominating the landscape in this part of southern Bavaria near the towns of Garmish and Erwald. The mountain is reminiscent of the Dolomites in the way that its sheer walls soar vertically over the landscape, though the Wetterstein is perhaps even taller and larger than many of the Dolomite groups.

A month ago when Claudia and I summited Muttekopf peak in the nearby Lechtal Alps, we saw the impressive Wetterstein massif off in the distance and I immediately thought “What is that??!!”, followed soon after by the next thought “I want to go there!” We did, in fact, spend a few days then in the town of Ehrwald under the Zugspitze, but poor weather shut down any chance of climbing the mountain. So, last week we returned to the area and climbed to the summit via a fantastic klettersteig (cabled, aka via ferrata) route, and we even spent a night on the summit to catch a wonderful sunset over the clouds! Continue reading “Zugspitze”

Ferrata Trek in the Rosengarten

Dolomites, Italy, Rosengarten, via ferrata, Laurenzi, Molignon
Climbing along the ridgeline of Molignon during the Via Ferrata Laurenzi.

The Rosengarten is a group of mountains in the Dolomites with a dense cluster of exceptionally jagged peaks. 10 years ago I did two hikes through this range, and since then I’ve longed to return for some better photography and more challenging via ferrata climbing. Last week Claudia and I did just that, spending four days trekking, climbing, and photographing our way through the mountains. See lots more photos below! Continue reading “Ferrata Trek in the Rosengarten”

In the Dolomites

Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata, Cristallo
Ascending a ladder along the Cristallo via ferrata.

Last week Claudia’s father and brother drove down from Dresden to join us in the Dolomites in northern Italy for a fun week of hiking and climbing via ferrata routes together. The via ferrate are climbing routes with fixed cables and ladders, and by using a climbing harness with two short ropes with locking carabiners, it’s possible to safely climb exposed routes without technical climbing skills.

See lots more climbing shots from our week in the Dolomites below! Continue reading “In the Dolomites”

Lechtal Alps

Lechtal Alps, Austria, hiking, Gutelsee
Hiking above Gutelsee in the Lechtal Alps, Austria.

Our latest adventure in the Alps was an 8-day trek through the Lechtal Alps in Austria, the neighboring range just south of the Allgäuer Alps of our previous trek. In fact on many days of our trek we could look across the valley and see the peaks and ridges which we had just hiked and climbed over the previous week.

The Lechtal Alps are characterized by mountain ridges soaring steeply out of deeply cut valleys, topped with green basins ringed by countless jagged peaks. While the Allgäuer Alps seemed to offer mostly broad sweeping vistas, the Lechtal Alps have more immediate views of towering pyramidal peaks right in your face. The close and rugged peaks, combined with the clear air after some rains cleaned the haze away, made for some stunning photography! Continue reading “Lechtal Alps”

Strolling Around Prague

Charles Bridge in Prague
Portal from the Charles Bridge in Prague. The Vltava River flows underneath while rivers of tourists flow over it.

Here’s a mostly-random, not-at-all-comprehensive collection of pictures taken while wandering around the old city of Prague in the Czech Republic this week with Claudia, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. Good times! Continue reading “Strolling Around Prague”

A Summer in Europe!

Frankfurt Train Station
Frankfurt Train Station

Earlier this week Claudia and I arrived in Germany! We are spending a few weeks in her hometown of Dresden visiting her family and friends and soaking in the ambience of this beautiful city.

But this is just the beginning of our journeys here; we have all summer long to spend trekking around in the Alps! Our plan is to not have a plan – which is the best way to travel. But we do have lots of ideas. The rough outline will be to head south to Bavaria and spend some time in the German Alps. From there we’ll continue into Austria, then possibly down into the Dolomites in Italy. We’ll be back in Dresden at the end of August, then back to the Alps again for September, maybe to the Mt. Blanc area?

Basically, we’re just going to wing it and travel as fast or slow as we feel like. Of course whatever we do will surely involve a lot of hut trekking and photography, with some fun via ferrata climbing here and there to spice things up. For the next three months we’ll be living out of two backpacks and a roller duffel bag, mostly utilizing the efficient train network here to get around.

In an effort to minimize my “eLife” during our travels I won’t be posting blow-by-blow photo trip reports of every trek, nor fully-processed landscape photos, but I will be posting snapshots and short journals from each adventure. So check back often to see what we’re up to!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Wetterhorn Peak

Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Unlike other mountain ranges in Colorado, the San Juans have a volcanic history. Around 35 million years ago this region was home to several dozen stratovolcanoes, similar to those in the present day Pacific Northwest. Then, starting about 30 million years ago the volcanism here was characterized more by massive circular calderas. Many of the mountains in the San Juans owe their uniquely rugged shapes to the eroded volcanic ash (tuft) that was deposited by all of this volcanism.

In the Uncompahgre Wilderness, with its craggy peaks rising out of vast tundra-filled basins, one can visualize this volcanic history more than in any other part of the range. While the specific geology is certainly more complicated, it’s easy to imagine Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak as the eroded lava plugs from ancient volcanoes.

Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, climbing

14,015 foot tall Wetterhorn Peak feels kind of like a volcano when you’re hiking up it – it towers over the surrounding landscape. Here Claudia ponders geology during the spicy exposed scrambling section towards the summit. Continue reading “Wetterhorn Peak”

Whitehouse Mountain

wildflowers, spreading globeflower, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June
Globeflowers : Prints Available

On Friday Claudia and I went backpacking to a lesser-known basin in the Sneffels Range.

wildflowers, spreading globeflower, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June
Globeflowers #2 : Prints Available

Summer is in full swing in the mountains! Except for a few lingering patches, most of the snow is gone and the tundra has come alive with its vibrant green grasses and early summer wildflowers like these Spreading Globeflowers (I think that’s what they are called).

Potosi Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June, sunrise
Potosi Peak Sunrise : Prints Available

Sunrise light on Potosi Peak (13,786 ft.) – June.

We woke up at 3:30am to hike up to a high saddle from where I shot the sunrise light on Potosi Peak, one of the giants of the range. (For reference on how little snow we have this year, check out the photos from skiing/snowboarding down Potosi’s north couloir in June a couple years ago).

Potosi Peak, Whitehouse Mountain, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June, hiking
Hiking on Whitehouse Mountain with a view of Potosi Peak (13,786 ft.) – June.

Our goal for Saturday was to hike up Whitehouse Mountain, a seldom-climbed mountain on the northern end of the Sneffels Range. Continue reading “Whitehouse Mountain”

Panel Loader Backpacks for Hiking Photographers

It’s probably safe to say that most photographers are gearheads to some degree, whether we’ll admit it or not. We devote much effort into researching all the specs and reviews to find the cameras and lenses that suit our needs as closely as possible. But as a photographer who shoots mostly while hiking or backpacking, I am as much concerned about HOW I carry my camera as I am with the camera itself!

Panel loader backpacks
F-Stop Satori, Granite Gear Aji 50, and Boreas Sapa Trek

When it comes to finding a photo backpack that not only provides easy camera access but is actually designed for carrying weight comfortably on long treks, the options are surprisingly few. The vast majority of dedicated photo-bag companies seem to have a design philosophy based entirely around camera storage, with human ergonomics a distant afterthought. These backpacks offer endless configurations for camera and lens compartments, but they are typically overweight with under-built, poorly designed suspensions (the frame, shoulder straps, and hip belts) and little extra space for normal hiking/camping gear. These packs might be good for carrying gear across the street from your car to a roadside overlook, or maybe even for a short day hike, but serious hikers cannot rely on these backpacks to comfortably carry a load for many miles.

The obvious solution for most hiking photographers is to simply stuff their camera gear into a real backpacking backpack and deal with the inconveniences. The outdoor backpacking companies really know how to make comfortable, high performance backpacks; however, quick and efficient camera access is usually not even a consideration at all.

This huge gap between camera-centric and athlete-centric backpack design has left a big niche market which is begging to be filled, but with surprisingly few companies attempting (successfully) to do so. The only company I know of that is proactively filling this niche is F-stop, but the demand for their packs is so great that they cannot keep up with the production; pre-orders of their out of stock backpacks can take half a year to be fulfilled (as did mine).

So, are there any other backpack options for the hiking photographer? Yes, panel loader backpacks! Unlike the usual backpack design that has cumbersome top-loading access with buckles and cinch straps, panel loaders have zippers that unzip the entire pack, allowing for quick and easy access to the contents within. The camera gear can be organized in a basic padded camera case (of which there are many options), and the case is simply placed into the panel loader backpack. This is essentially what F-stop has done, with a few extra bells and whistles.

I’ve done a LOT of research lately trying to find the best panel loader backpack options for photography, and in this article I will share and review some of the options that I’ve found. Continue reading “Panel Loader Backpacks for Hiking Photographers”

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