Snow Peak

Snow Peak, Gore Range, Colorado

I just dug this photo from the dusty depths of my hard drive. I took this sunset shot of Snow Peak (13,024 ft.) way back in March 2004. I was living in Denver at the time, and took advantage of an unseasonably warm spell in March to go winter camping up on this high ridge in the Gore Range, just east of Vail.

One of the great things about the Gore Range is that on the west side of the range there are numerous high points and ridges that are relatively safely accessible in the winter, offering awesome panoramic views of the main spine of the range. Better yet, the west side of the range gets great sunset alpenglow light since there are no large ranges directly to the west. From a photography point of view, sunset shooting is always a bit easier since you don’t have to wake up early, and you can spend the afternoon casually scoping out photo possibilities. On this evening, I had a really fun photo shoot; there were so many photo possibilities in every direction, and the wind-sculpted sastrugi snow formations on the ridge provided lots of interesting foreground possibilities. You can see some more photos from this evening here, here, and here.

Vacation Back Home

This last week I took a vacation from Jackson to go home to Ouray, see some friends, and help track up the three feet of fresh snow there! I went splitboarding on the same mountain for four days in a row, riding different untracked lines each day. It felt great to be back in the San Juans for a little while… I love those mountains. Here’s a few skiing and snowboarding shots from the trip.

snowboarding an untracked couloir
Mike Bryson carves into a beautiful untracked chute.

backcountry skiing colorado
Matt Wade skis the pow.

backcountry skiing in the San Juans
Tom Kelly skis a line next to the trees. Notice the tantalizing, but insanely dangerous, San Juan terrain in the background!

skiing powder
Jay Godson enjoying the freshies.

San Juan skiing panorama
Skinning up the ridge of my favorite mountain. That big crossloaded face in the center was virtually off-limits to sane people due to the avy danger; however, if you want to see a headcam video of me hauling ass down that face last year in more stable powder conditions, see here (the second descent in the video).

skiing powder in the San Juans
Tom Kelly slashes the powder.

Massive Sunset

Mt. Massive as seen from Mount Elbert summit, Colorado

I just unearthed this photo taken back in February 2006. This is the view of Mt. Massive (center) and the Sawatch Range, as seen from the 14,440 foot summit of Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado.

I had hiked up Mount Elbert in the afternoon, knowing that the clear skies and full moon would provide plenty of light to make my way down at night. The evening turned out to be one of my most memorable summit experiences ever; the air was perfectly calm, I had warm clothes on, and I spent over three peaceful hours relaxing on the summit in the twilight and moonlight. During my time up there I also took what is perhaps my favorite photo to date, “Elbert’s Moonshadow”.

Both photos were taken with the 4×5 camera, with Provia film.

Star Trails over Denver

Star Trails over Denver

This was an early experiment with the 4×5 camera, taken back in January 2006 in the foothills above Boulder. I first exposed the film for a few minutes to record the city lights, then I covered up the bottom portion of the frame using a thin piece of cardboard cut to fit in my cokin filter holder. With the camera in the same position and the city lights blocked out to prevent overexposure, I left the lens open for several hours to capture the star trails.

It’s hard to see at web resolution, but on the center horizon are a bunch of light trails from airplanes taking off from Denver International Airport.

Snowy Ouray with Canon 5D2

Beaumont, Ouray, Colorado

Despite my tenacious cold, I bundled up and walked around the block this morning to take the new Canon 5D2 and some new lenses for a spin. The fresh snow caking Ouray and the surrounding mountains made for a nice test subject!

The photo above was taken with a Contax/Zeiss 35-70mm lens, at 35mm f/8. This is an old, discontinued, manual focus and manual aperature lens, but I had read many glowing reviews about its incredible sharpness. Supposedly this zoom lens is as sharp or sharper than equivalent length prime lenses! So I picked one up on ebay for a reasonable price and this morning was my first trial run with it. I eagerly opened the files on my computer, and was not disappointed! The sharpness almost looks like it came from a Foveon sensor, but at a much larger resolution. In fact I’m so stoked I thought I’d share the fullsize file with all you pixel-peeping camera geeks out there.

>> Click here to see the sample full resolution file (7.6mb). The raw file had a sharpness setting of 3 (of 10), which does snap it up a little bit, but I figured since that’s about what I’d do anyways with my files, you might as well see it at that setting. The file was converted from 16bit to 8bit, I tinkered with the levels and color balance in Photoshop, added the watermark, and saved it as a quality 10 jpeg (to save a little bandwidth).

Anyhow, I am way stoked on the sharpness I’m getting from the 5D2, the 17mm and 24mm TS-E lenses, and now this Contax/Zeiss 35-70mm lens. I can’t wait to get out into the mountains again for some more real shooting with this setup! I’ve got to kick this pesky cold first though.

Lunar Alpenglow at Ice Lakes Basin

lunar alpenglow, moonlight, Ice Lakes Basin, Colorado, alpenglow, stars
Lunar Alpenglow : Prints Available

The rising moon casts lunar alpenglow on the peaks of Ice Lakes Basin in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado on this chilly November night.  The 30-second, high ISO exposure enhanced the light and stars beyond what our eyes could see. 

On Thursday I headed out backpacking to Ice Lakes Basin, near Silverton, Colorado. This previous week there has been a high pressure system over Colorado, with warm temps and clear skies, so I figured it would be a good time to head up into the high country for a quick overnight trip. The trail up to Ice Lakes Basin generally faces south, and I enjoyed a dry trail most of the way to the lower basin, and even after that the snow was only shin deep at most. With no snowshoes or snow-boots required it was like winter camping but easier! I found a nice little flat spot near the lake and set up my tent.

I knew the post-full moon would be rising an hour and half after sunset, so I hiked around looking for a good vantage point of the basin, set up my camera, and waited in the dark. While I was waiting I was having fun experimenting with my new camera setup – a Canon 5D2 with tilt/shift lenses. This camera has better high ISO performance than any other camera I’ve used, so it was fun to be able to take photo of the stars and the Milky Way. The moon rose on time, providing some nice lunar alpenglow on the peaks with the stars above. The photo above was a 30 second exposure at f/4 and ISO 2000, with the 24mm t/s lens.

Winter tent at night in the mountains

Here’s the obligatory illuminated tent shot! Even though I was warm and cozy inside in my -30º sleeping bag, I hardly slept a wink due to the erratic gusty winds all night. The wind must have been coming in pulses, or else it was swirling around like mad in the basin, because it would be calm and quiet, then a blast of wind would pound my tent, over and over again every 30 seconds or so for the whole night. I knew the tent was fine, but still the noise was disconcerting enough to keep up awake most of the night.

Ice Lakes Basin, sunrise, San Juan Mountains, Colorado
Icy Ice Lakes Sunrise : Prints Available

A gorgeous sunrise over snowy Ice Lakes Basin, November.

This was right before sunrise. I was stoked to see clouds in the sky after a week of bluebird days.

As for the new camera, so far so good! Everything seems to be laid out nicely, and it seems to do what I expect it to do. But most of all, the lenses I got are sweet. I’ve said it before on this blog, but I am a sucker for good lenses, and the whole reason I decided to get into the Canon system was for their new tilt/shift lenses. Being able to carefully shoot a full-frame dSLR with lens movements makes it feel much more like shooting the 4×5 field camera; I can be ultra precise with the focussing from near to far in the scene. Also, I can easily make two-frame panos by taking two exposures with the lens shifted to either side; then the two exposures can be placed together almost perfectly, with no software stitching required. The first shot above, in fact, was made with two exposures with the lens shifted vertically. Anyhow, I’m sure I’ll write more about this camera setup later on when I know it better, but for now I can say I’m happy with it and will probably be using it for a while.

Niwot Alpenglow

Niwot Ridge, Indian Peaks, Colorado

Here’s another one “from the vault”. This was taken back in November 2005 when Scott Bacon and I went for a pre-dawn hike up to Niwot Ridge in Indian Peaks above Boulder, Colorado. It was only the second time I had shot my 4×5 field camera, and the first decent photo I ever made with it. I was shooting with a 90mm Nikkor lens that Richie Voninski was kind enough to lend me.

I remember back then when I was just starting out with large format, I had all the pieces of my gear wrapped in socks and stuffed in different little bags throughout my backpack, and keeping track of it all was quite a challenge with numb fingers up on this cold windy ridge, trying to get it together before the sunrise alpenglow light faded away. In fact as I figured out soon enough, one of the biggest boosts for my large format photography performance was to get a camera case that could fit and organize all the different gear into one convenient and quickly accessible case.

Anyhow, when I got the film back from that morning, I was also introduced to one of the joys of 4×5 film, when most of my transparencies had big light-leak streaks going through the frame. (A warped Kodak Readyload holder was to blame). This was one of the ok shots, but you can still see faint traces of the light leakage at the bottom. So that was a good lesson to try to never let direct sunlight hit the camera while film is exposed.

First Ride of the Winter!

Hiking up snowy mountain

It’s been snowing the last few days throughout Colorado, and this morning my buddy Mike and I rode our first lines of the winter! Above is a view of the top portion of the line we snowboarded. It was very cold up there, more like mid January than October.

snowboarding in october

Mike Bryson shreds the powder. Despite a few rocks lurking underneath, the snow was light and fluffy, and all in all it was a great first line, especially for October!

snowboarding in colorado