Golden Larches Fall Colors Hiking and Photography: Enchantments 2017

Enchantments Prusik Peak Perfection Lake View

Enchantments Prusik Peak Perfection Lake View

Each year I contemplate the hike I will be making into the Enchantments for larches and fall colors.  I go over hiking gear lists, camera gear, food plans, compositions, etc.  I decided to go Snow Lakes route this year, having gone Asgaard Pass out of the Stuart Lake trailhead the previous two years.

My Zpacks pack ready to go at Snow Lakes Enchantments Hike Trailhead

My Zpacks pack ready to go at Snow Lakes Enchantments Hike Trailhead

We planned on staying 3 days near Leprechaun Lake.  The weather report indicated snow in the area we wanted to camp in and temps in the 20s so I packed accordingly.  My tent was the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1.  My sleeping bag was the Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0 degree and Thermarest Xtherm pad.  My pack was the Zpacks Arc Blast cuben/carbon pack.  Arc’Teryx Bora2 boots, Cerium SV and Alpha FL jacket, Rampart pants and Atom LT insulated pants.  There’s a reason why I worked retail at the ArcTeryx store for two years  🙂

My camera gear was my Sony a7r2, Zeiss 55 and Zeiss 16-35 lenses along with my Voigtlander 10mm.  I brought my carbon tent pole tripod, which was pretty underwhelming so my shots were all handheld.  For hydration, I brought two small bottles of gatorade and made more with Endurox R4 and electrolyte tabs as I hiked.  Food-wise, I had oatmeal and high protein granola, a stack of peanut butter and honey sandwiches and a pile of snacks heavy on Snickers bars.  I left the trailhead at 32lbs, which I was pretty happy with. FWIW, I don’t do poles after an unfortunately pole to tooth incident a few years back, and I drink straight out of fast-moving streams.  This has always worked for me, but I don’t necessarily recommend it for others.

Once the dates were in place, I put out some invites for others to go along.  All this inviting resulted in two people going with me: Jenn and Erwin.  Erwin insisted on camping halfway up which is new to me but we found camping at Snow Lakes to be a nice break and got some great shots there.

Snow Lake Enchantments Sunrise Light

Snow Lake Enchantments Sunrise Light

Another nice part of staying at Snow Lake is that the next section is flat for a while.  Having rounded Snow Lake, however, the climbing begins.  We took it slow and got to Leprechaun Lake in a few hours.

Jenn and Erwin Climbing up Towards Lake Vivianne

Jenn and Erwin Climbing up Towards Lake Vivianne

We camped near Leprechaun Lake and set out getting photos.It was a great trip as always.  Oncoming snow showers sent us back down a bit earlier than expected but we decided caution was in order.  As I write this a few days later, I, of course, already want to go back  🙂  Here is a random sampling of shots from the hike:

Many more shots at Mike Reid Photography

5 Days in Iceland – A Photographer’s Eden – Part Four

Time to finally check out Stokksnes.  I’d done some image research and decided to go around sunrise at 3:30am to see how the light looked. I arrived at the Viking Cafe, closed of course, and set about figuring out the self pay station.  The land owner charges a small fee to roam his land for photos.

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The Stokksnes Self Serve Pay Station. Took a few tries but it worked and only charged me once.

I headed north out of the parking lot, which I later learned was an error.  If you want the typical shot that most people get at Stokksnes, you need to head east towards the Radar Station.  I kind of regretted my error but then no because I got some unique vistas and was able to catch a great sunrise as well.

So I wandered across beautiful black and past the “Viking Village Movie Set along the massive peaks of Vesturhorn.  The beach was mostly dry, with a tiny pool of water showing at this point.  It would grow considerably later on on my way back.  I reached the bog around which I could see Brunnhorn peeking past Vesturhorn.

At this point, sunrise skies were on fire and I was backtracking all over the black sand getting shots. I was in my Salomon shoes, and getting soaked but didn’t care.

Looking back the other way was good too, as is often the case with burning sunrises.

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Sunrise clouds above Vesturhorn on the beach in Stokksnes Iceland

I kept wandering back along the beach, while watching the sunrise.  I felt like I got some nice shots even though I didn’t make it out to the typical area.  I was thankful for the solitude, great light and calm smooth beach.

I got back to the pool of water on the black sand which was growing as I watched.  Looking back towards Brunnhorn, it looked like mercury reflecting the skies.

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Vesturhorn sunrise skies reflected on a mercurial pool of water.

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Vesturhorn and sunrise reflected

I made it back to the van and napped for several hours.  My Salomons were pretty much soaked to the core so I was happy I had several other pairs of shoes with me.  Eventually I ended up back in Hofn for coffee.  Daytime was either sleeping or scouting time.  I did a lot of both.  Checking the weather, I realized that the next morning was to be another day of gray rain so I had to make tonight’s sunset and sunrise count.  I planned on focusing on Jokulsarlon partially because I knew there was more to be found there and the ice had certainly been re-arranging itself. But also because I truly enjoyed being there.

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One more view of the beach at Stokksnes

 

5 Days in Iceland – A Photographer’s Eden – Part Two

I awoke in the parking lot at Jokularlon, the Ice Lagoon.  I had taken a few shots the night before, after all who could resist.  But now It was time to explore the area.  The beach where the ice washes up is on the east side of the highway.  The much larger parking lot and lagoon is to the west.  Serious crowds and tour operators start to show up early, including this entourage with a bride from China.chinese bride iceland

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People along the beach at Jokulsarlon, a very popular spot for sure.

I wandered around a while and then hit the road.  During the day is scouting time for me and I wanted to see what lie further down the road.  About an hour later I reached Hofn, a small town that would become my base of sorts.  I got some supplies at the local grocery, had lunch at Kaffihornið, a local restaurant and explored a bit.  There’s a large campground here with coin operated showers, a luxury I would put off for another day or two. At this point, my morning routine was to find a spot for espresso, use their WC after I had made my purchase and use the opportunity to brush my teeth and splash my face a bit.  All with considerable thanks expressed and gratitude.

Heading north on Highway 1, vast expanses again.  At one point I parked and just watched the shadows of huge clouds move across a hillside.

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Shadows of clouds moving across a huge slope during the day. Pretty mesmerizing!

I really didn’t know how much further I wanted to go at this point.  I was intrigued by a falls called Fossardalur, and hoped to find it.  One thing I was realizing about driving in Iceland was that the roads were narrow and pulloffs were, nonexistent, except for the occasional gravel driveway.  Usually what happened was I saw an incredible composition, then started looking for a pulloff with one eye in the mirror making sure I wasn’t holding up traffic.  Sometimes, however, I got lucky and there was an official parking area off the road.  After taking dozens of shots of other people, one time someone got a shot of me with my camera!

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And one time someone actually took a photo of me!

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My photo gear at the ready driving in Iceland

The rest of the day was driving north towards Djúpivogur, admiring the coast, dodging skuas and contemplating what was to be a gray rainy day the next day.

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My van, roadside again for the views

Eventually I found Fossardalur, and explored around the area there.  There is a lower parking lot (with the all-important porta-potties) which gives a hint of the falls and an upper one which puts you right in front of them  I got a few nice shots of the falls as the light began to soften in the afternoon.

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The various tiers of Fossardalur Falls

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The top of Fossardalur Falls Iceland

I explored around the falls area further and found a way down to the base from the lower parking lot.  There’s a somewhat tricky creek crossing but using my tripod as a stick helped get across it.

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The falls and various pools around the base.

More napping ensued into the late afternoon and I planned on heading back towards Jokulsarlon for the evening.  Rain was predicted by the next morning so I figured it was to be a day of scouting and rest.

 

5 Days in Iceland – A Photographer’s Eden – Part One

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Some of the many sheep I would encounter on my Iceland adventure.

I think I had been resisting  a photography trip to Iceland.  It certainly was the “hot” place to go.  Photographers in a steady stream went and came back with spectacular images. Instead, I went off and did the Everest Base Camp Trek in February and visited Banff in June.  I was certainly more than than happy with the shots I came back with.  A non-photographer friend of mine did the layover in Reykjavik recently and reminded me how impressed he thought I would be with the country.

So I got a call from a client needing my services in London and requesting that I set up my own air and travel arrangements with about a week’s notice.  At that point the Iceland stopover option came up again.  I did some research and looked into renting a camper to go exploring for 5 days.  I gave myself 5 days, considering this a preliminary visit of sorts.  People pointed out to me that I needed weeks or a month even.  I went with 5 days and it felt right.  And at the end of those 5 days I knew I would be back soon.

Day 1

Arrived in Keflavik and gocampers.is, the rental company I had chosen, picked me up at the airport and took me to their office in Reykjavik.  They had a range of vehicles available, and I went with one of the most basic.  A panel van, 2wd, manual trans and a mattress in the back.  My new home for a few days also included cooking utensils, pots/pans, etc for camping.  They also had a nice collection of camping chairs, larger stoves, sleeping bags etc for rent.  I had brought my own bag, a 10 degree down bag I use regularly.  I signed all the paperwork and off I went.  I had brought quite the pile of snacks from home but was pleased to find a market around the corner for some fresh fruit and juice. An hour later I discovered my van had heated seats!

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This was my home away from home in Iceland for 5 days.

Driving out of town was easy, just find Highway 1 and head east.  Drivers were polite and courteous, something I found throughout the trip.  I decided my goal was to get to Jokulsarlon, the Ice Lagoon and then sleep.

The scenery down Highway 1 was a revelation.  I was struck by the broad expanse of it all.  The peaks, the coastline, the highway off into infinity.  The sheep! Everywhere! Along the side of the road, far off on the hillside.  They were a constant companion on my horizon.

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Heading east on Highway 1 with vast expanses of lush green cliffs.

I continued driving, and eventually stopped at two well-known falls, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss.  You can see both coming up from the highway so they are hard to miss.  I felt these were very well photographed by others so I didn’t stay long.  In between them on the highway is the parking lot for the crashed DC3 airplane site.  No signage, just a full parking lot and lots of people heading off to the beach.  I decided to catch that on the way back.

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Seljalandsfoss’s long drop into wildflowers

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Skogafoss doing its thing

Continuing towards my goal, there was this long stretch of road, lined with lupine and volcanic remnants.  The vastness of it struck me.  The wind struck me too as I opened to the van door to take a look having pulled off at one point.  I recalled the warning at the rental office about the wind being able to take your doors off.  They weren’t kidding.  On the road you see a lot of cyclists riding around the country.  Its on these windy days, and the car wash rainy ones that would come, that you really get a sense of their dedication.

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Lush lava fields off into the distance

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Vast meadows of lupine along the road

I reached Jokularlon later that evening.  Sunset wouldn’t happen until 1130pm and even after that it never got dark.  Sunrise was at 330am.  There are two main parking lots at the lagoon.  The northern one has bathrooms but no camping is allowed.  Across the road and next to the beach is where you can sleep.  I parked my camper and pulled out my bag and crashed hard. The beauty created by chunks of glacier falling into the lagoon and washing out to sea and onto the beach would wait until morning.

First Visit to the Banff Area for Photography

I finally made a trip the Banff area for photos.  I think its hard to be a landscape photographer and not be aware of the beauty in this area.  June seemed to be a good time to go.  Lakes were melted out and the summer crowds had yet to hit hard.  We went for a week, flying into Calgary, renting a car and heading west.

Our first stop was a night in the Fairmont Lake Louise.  I was pleasantly surprised to be upgraded from our basic room to one of the 5 best rooms in the hotel .  Amazing views and it really set the bar high for our trip.

The weather, however, wasn’t as spectacular.  Clouds, rain, and wind were on the menu for the first few days.  This allowed a lot of scouting however and we drove all over figuring out compositions and how to get to certain places.

The remainder of our stay was in Canmore.  I learned not only is Banff mostly a sunrise location (to me) but also being in Canmore was a bit far from the spots I wanted to be at around sunrise.

A few highlights from the trip:

Moraine Lake Banff Sunrise Alpenglow Reflection

Moraine Lake Banff Sunrise Alpenglow Reflection

Peyto Lake 10mm Cloudscape

Peyto Lake 10mm Cloudscape

Banff Avenue and Snow Peak

Banff Avenue and Snow Peak

Mount Rundle and Vermillion Lakes

Mount Rundle and Vermillion Lakes

Fairmont Lake Louise

Fairmont Lake Louise

Peaks Above Moraine Lake at Sunrise

Peaks Above Moraine Lake at Sunrise

Everest Base Camp Trekking in Nepal – Part One

These posts are reflections and images from my trek to Kalla Patthar in Nepal February 2017.

I had some work in India along the coast and was looking for a side trip afterwards for photography.  I thought about the Maldives but decided that would be depressing to be the single guy amongst all the honeymooning couples.  Sri Lanka also came up but didn’t really move me.  A friend suggested I head up to Nepal and do the trek to Everest Base Camp.  So I looked into it.

Looking into tour operators is like walking out of the arrivals hall in a third world airport. Everyone wants to be your friend.  Following lots of research and emails, I started working with Gopal at Himalayan Nepal Trek.  Questions led to more questions, a gear list came together and a rough itinerary.  I explained that my main reason to go would be photography and this was factored into the route and timing.

Honestly, when I finished my work in India, I was ready for home.  Instead, I headed for Kathmandu.  Gopal met me at the airport and got me set up at a hotel in Thamel.  I met my guide, Badri, got in some time for local photography and ate a lot of MoMo, a local version of pot stickers.  Smooth going so far, I began to see myself hiking in and amongst the peaks of the Himalayas.

The finicky nature of getting to Lukla, the start of my trek soon revealed itself, however.  Weather cancelled our flight for two days.  With a fixed exit date, this was becoming concerning.  On day two, we decided to get a helicopter and get there by that means instead.  Our helicopter was met in Lukla by a group of Australians equally eager to leave but unable.  We swapped seats and my trek began.

trekking nepal, himalayas, helicopter, lukla

Swapping Helicopters Near Lukla

Our original porter we had planned on engaging was hung over from New Years, so we hired another and set off up the trail.  Our plan was an easy acclimatization schedule with slow going and a set plan of overnights to get me used to the elevation.  In Lukla, we were at 2800 meters and our goal, Kalla Patthar, was about 5600 meters.

Wandering up the dusty trail was a revelation of life in Nepal.  Teams of yaks and mules carrying propane and hay, other porters with huge loads balanced on their backs, groups of trekkers.  Stretches of trail broken up by little settlements.  Teahouses, homes, dusty trail, businesses selling supplies to trekkers.  We were gaining slowly in elevation, nothing too intense.  That would come later.

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Teahouse Kitchen in Phakding

Our first overnight was in Phakding, a small hamlet about 4 hours up the trail from Lukla. Here I had my first teahouse experience.  Ordering from a menu I would see similar variations of throughout the trip, sleeping in a typical teahouse room, etc.  We were the only guests, its still the slow season coming out of winter.  The meals were excellent.  The room was seriously cold however.  I started to realize that I had made a wise choice in bringing my Mountain Hardwear Phantom Zero degrees F bag.  It was only going to get colder.  Speaking of gear, I was starting to work out what I would wear while trekking vs what I wore around the teahouse.  Trekking wear were light layers.  Arcteryx Rampart pants, base layer, windstopper pullover or light down jacket.  in the evening off the trail, I would slip into my Arcteryx Firebee parka for warmth around the teahouse.  I had been very happy with my Arcteryx Bora2 GTX boots and saw no reason not to bring them along.  The liners made nice teahouse booties at each stop along the way.  In the end, I hiked for two weeks with no foot issues, so my choice worked out.

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Nepali Boy near Phakding Nepal

By the second day, I had worked out a plan for photography.  The good light was of course in the morning and evening.  But sights still presented themselves along the way during the day.  I had brought two cameras, Sony a7r and a7r2, with four lenses:  Voigtlander 10mm, Zeiss 28mm Otus, Zeiss 55mm and Zeiss 100-300mm.  The 55 would be my walkaround, with iphone ready for quick snaps.  I didnt use the 10mm, with most of my shots spread around the other three focal lengths.  Badri did a great job of carrying my a7r2 with the 55 at ready.  I swapped on the 28 or 100-300 as scenes presented themselves.

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Morning in Namche – Taking photos

Our first major climb was the ascent into Namche the next day.  It began with a climb to the second of two suspension bridges to cross the Dudh Koshi Nadi river, which for most of the trip we were on one side or the other or crossing over it via suspension bridge.  I had been hydrating well, and adding Endurox R4 to my bottle for additional recovery support.  This first climb really wrung me out.  I began to see this was going to be a bit more intense than I thought.  Badri helped me slow down as my instinct was to get up the trail as fast as possible so I could rest at the top.  The length of some of these stretches plus the altitude was going to conspire against me quickly.  Donkey steps I began to call them. Slow and easy.  The people who got in trouble with the altitude were the gung-ho crossfit types who tried to go too fast.  I saw this happen to others later on.

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One of the Many Suspension Bridges to Namche – Yaks Have the Right of Way

Namche revealed itself soon enough and we settled in for two days there to acclimatize to the altitude.  I had my first hot shower in a few days which was mostly a warm trickle, teasing me but wonderful none the less.  I also finally had some choice of time and location for photos and got some nice sunrise/sunset shots of surrounding peaks, the town itself and of Ama Dablam in the distance.  Our teahouse accommodations had other guests as well and I began to get to know other trekkers who I would see again and again along the trail.  I found a local beer, Sherpa Ale to be quite refreshing, although Badri advised no more ale after this stop since it would mess with our acclimatization plan. More Sherpa would have to wait until we came back this way on the route down.

View of Namche and Kongde Peak in the Morning

View of Namche and Kongde Peak in the Morning

In Namche, I also began to learn how to evaluate teahouses.  Where was my room in relation to bathrooms? How was the food, ie. what was on the menu vs. what actually appeared?  How could I charge my phone and was the wireless free or not?  These were important questions and I learned to quickly assess.  Related to food, the menus were a mix of western and local favorites.  Ordering local was not a guarantee of good eats however.  As we got further up the trail, the freshness of ingredients waned.  It was obvious to me to stay away from the pizza and hamburgers however even from the start.  I remember drinking a lot of tea, eating a lot of momo, fried rice and french toast.  Oat porridge eventually became a mainstay with a wide variety of condiments, and on the last day, I had finally figured out to order toast, with peanut butter and honey, which I made into a great sandwich.

Next:  Part 2 – Onward and Upward to Tengboche and Dingboche

Schlepping That Beast – Zeiss 28mm Otus Goes to Europe

I sent a few photos from my trip to my contact at Zeiss.  Her response was:

“Wow, Mike. These are great.  You should get some badge of honor for schlepping that beast around with you.”

It didn’t seem like much at the time but yes the Zeiss 28mm Otus isn’t subtle.  I had planned my visit to London and Paris around my Zeiss deliverables, but you really have to carry it day to day to get the whole picture of its size.  It’s kind of like the Blazing Saddles Moment. “S’cuse me while I whip this out…”  On the other hand, most of my shots are handheld, so it’s clearly manageable.

The payoff of course is stunning image quality.  Shots that really stood out on my editing laptop really bloomed in vivid, contrasty detail on my home 34″ 4K monitor.  And clearly my editors at Zeiss are happy.  Now where’s my badge?  🙂 #zeiss

Liberty London Interior Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Pons Invalides at Sunset Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Palais Garnier Opera House Stairwells Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Palais Garnier Opera House Ceiling Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Dusk Notre Dame and the Seine Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Dusk Flower Shop Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Dusk Eiffel Tower Shadow Zeiss 28mm OtusTower Bridge View from the Tower of London Zeiss 28mm OtusThames Sunset Big Ben Reflection Zeiss 28mm Otus