West Coast

Copeland Track rainforest

A couple days ago I left Wanaka and drove over Haast Pass toward the infamous West Coast. I say infamous because this region is notorious for its huge amounts of rainfall (up to 7 meters annually in some spots!). As I drove to the west the forest got bigger and bigger, and by the time I reached the top of the pass I was surrounded by full-on rainforest – lush, green, and mossy with misty clouds hanging about the vertical mountains. And raining of course. I was truly in awe as I drove the windy road, trying to take in the view while simultaneously keeping my car on the road.

I ended up driving to Fox Glacier, a small town next to… you guessed it… the Fox Glacier. The Fox Glacier, along with the Franz Joseph Glacier (a few kilometers north), are two really long glaciers that pour out into the rainforest from the heavily glaciated alpine basins above. These glaciers are special because, due to the steepness of the mountain valleys and the heavy precipitation, the glaciers advance well below treeline, at a very fast rate – they supposedly advance a meter a day! I don’t have a photo to show you yet, but I will soon.

Yesterday, heeding a recommendation from a Kiwi hiker, I hiked part of the Copeland Track to the Welcome Flat Hut, where there are some natural hot spring pools. Read on.

Continue reading “West Coast”

Wanaka and Queenstown

Lake Wanaka

After my time in Mt. Cook Village, I caught a bus to Wanaka, a small town on the shores of Lake Wanaka at the foot of Mt. Aspiring National Park. This town is pretty nice… lots of green trees and great views across the big lake towards the snowcapped peaks to the west. On a nice sunny day I took a really long walk along part of the lake shore – a long, flat, easy walk that felt great for my legs after the rugged hiking of the previous days. There’s a great cinema here that has all comfy couches inside, and they serve wine and drinks during the show. Why aren’t all theaters like that?

I discovered fairly quickly though that Wanaka is not a great base for hiking, as many of the trails require a drive to reach. There are shuttles available, but they are way too expensive for the relatively short drive you get; plus you’d also have to arrange a return trip. So, with a poor weather forecast anyways, I got back on a bus and headed to Queenstown, with the intention of renting a car and returning.

Continue reading “Wanaka and Queenstown”

Aoraki/Mt. Cook

Aoraki, Mt. Cook

The last several days I’ve been based out of Mt. Cook Village, a little tourist outpost based mainly around the Hermitage Hotel, situated in a remote valley at the foot of New Zealand’s highest mountain – Aoraki/Mt. Cook. This region, on the eastern rain shadow of the range, reminds me of the Fitz Roy area of Patagonia, with broad barren basins surrounded by rocketing, glacier-clad peaks. Huge glaciers fill the upper valleys, pouring out into terminal lakes and moraine fields. The mountains are relentlessly steep and rugged here, rising around 8,000 vertical feet above the valley floors.

I’ve scored perfect bluebird weather for the last four days, and have been taking full advantage. I stayed one night up at the Mueller Hut, which is situated on a high ridge with panoramic views of of the surrounding peaks and glaciers. Nothing like basking in the sun on the hut’s deck, watching glacial avalanches across the valley!

Upon return from there, with a good weather forecast, I immediately headed back out after a quick stop to restock my food. I did a three day trip over Ball Pass, a high pass on the south side of Mt. Cook going from the Tasman Glacier valley over to the Hooker Glacier valley. It was so incredible to trek safely through such rugged and glaciated terrain, and I’ve put my crampons and ice axe to good use. This was a challenging route, for me at least, and I feel like I’ve started my New Zealand trip in grand style!

Snowboarding Down Under

Mt. Hutt
Nikki and Jamie atop Mt. Hutt ski area.

Skiing Mt. Hutt

This weekend in Christchurch some friends of a friend back home (who is also from Christchurch) have been gracious hosts to me, taking me around the city and even cooking me some excellent dinners. They hooked me up with some snowboard gear (Nikki works at a ski shop here in town) and today we drove up to Mt. Hutt to enjoy the last day of the season – with great coverage, sunny weather above the clouds, and fast spring snow conditions. What a great feeling to get back on a board and haul some ass! A totally unexpected day and heaps of fun.

Tomorrow I’m off to Mt. Cook Village, to check out the biggest mountains in New Zealand.

Off to New Zealand!

Tomorrow morning, after dropping off my mail-in ballot at the post office, I’m heading to the airport for a journey to New Zealand! I will be there for 7 weeks total. I’m all packed up, with my big backpack and a small carry-on backpack. I’m taking all my camping stuff, along with crampons and ice axe (it’s spring down there and I’ve heard they’ve had a big winter). I’m leaving the 4×5 large format camera and all its film behind (gasp!) in favor of traveling light and easy with my small digital SLR, one lens, and little tripod.

I have lots of ideas for places to see during the trip, but not much actual plans. I think I’d like to generally spend most of my time hiking and tramping in the mountains of the South Island, but I’ll see how it goes. I also want to take it easy and relax in some of the towns too, between hikes. While I am of course excited about getting into the photography groove for almost two months, I’m almost equally excited to have a real vacation, doing whatever I feel like doing each day.

Anyhow, I will try to post some updates on this blog when I can – hopefully with some pictures too.

Take care,

Dawn on Baldy Peak

Sneffels Range panorama

[+] This morning I woke up at 3:45am to hike up Baldy Peak in hopes of a nice dawn vista of the Sneffels Range and its golden aspens. I hiked this peak a few weeks ago, so I was familiar with the route and knew I could make good time to the summit. Nevertheless I still made it up there an hour too early, so I bundled up in my down jacket and balaclava, laid down behind some trees to get out of the wind, and took a nap for a while. Once the sky brightened enough at dawn, I was pleased to see a thick cloud bank of an approaching storm over the Sneffels Range. The warm dawn glow about a half hour before sunrise provided the perfect illumination of the range. This resulting panorama is three exposures stitched together.

In my previous post, “Ouray from the Air”, you can see the same mountain range and aspen fields, from a perspective about 20,000 feet higher!

Ouray from the Air

Ouray Aerial

[+] On a plane ride from San Diego to Denver yesterday, we passed right by the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. I had a great aerial view of Telluride, Ridgway, Ouray, and the vast expanses of the San Juans. It was helpful too to be able to see where the aspens are still colorful, and I hope to get out and photograph them in the next few days. In this shot (if you click on the photo to see the larger version) you can actually see the streets of Ouray, tucked into the mountains at the head of the Uncompahgre Valley.

NANPA Showcase

I am happy to say that four of my photos have been juried into the 2009 NANPA Showcase (North American Nature Photographers Association). The first two images below were selected among the top 100 images, out of 4,120 entries by NANPA members!

All four images will be published in the annual “Expressions” journal that features the top 250 images of the Showcase. The previous “Expressions” journals that I have are among the most inspiring collections of nature photography that I’ve ever laid eyes on, so I consider this to be a great honor for my photos to be included.

El ChalténMaroon Bells Reflection


Sultan Mountain
Croatia Waterfalls


Ironton Autumn

Ironton Aspens

Glorious fall colors at Ironton, along Red Mountain Pass south of Ouray, Colorado. Red Mountain #1 rises in the background.

There’s something so magnificent about fall which photos can barely capture. With every changing of the seasons, whether winter, spring, summer, or fall, I say to myself “This is my favorite season of all”. But it really is hard to deny that fall is the most spectacular. I don’t think that the mountains in Colorado can get any more beautiful!