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.

nepal, trekking, everest base camp, kitchen, teahouse, phakding

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.

street life, nepal, trekking, everest base camp

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.

nepal, himalayaS, everest base camp trek, photography

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.

yak, nepal, everest base camp trek

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

 

London and Paris Redux

My last visit to these two cities was years ago.  I had just gotten my first serious camera, a Canon Digital Rebel and kit lens.  I got some nice shots and promised myself I would be back.

I learned I was going to visit them again about two months ago and started researching shots and locales.  I also put together a gear list.  Three weeks ago, Zeiss had provided me with a 28mm f/1.4 Otus and I knew this would be prime hunting grounds for this gem of a lens.  My camera pack came together like this:

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Bag full of Zeiss goodness headed to Europe

So the adventure began on the 14th and started in London, where we had rented an airnbn with a great view.

London along the Thames night view of the Tower Bridge

Next night it was up to the Shard for some handheld night shots of the city.  The 85mm Otus was my savior for sharp night shots from above.

Zeiss 85mm Otus handheld night shot of the Tower Bridge from the Shard

Zeiss 85mm Otus handheld night shot of the St Pauls and the Thames from the Shard

Really an amazing place, the Shard.  The next day we were off to the Tower to see how the 28mm Otus did.  More on that later  🙂

 

Enchantments Fall Colors Multi-Day Hike

My Enchantments party kept shrinking until there were two of us: Dan and myself. We headed up Sunday, leaving a parking lot packed and parked cars running down the road. I basically carried too much stuff. My pack was at 45lbs which is twice what I usually carry. Part of me is proud of this: Not bad for a 50yo, but also I need more gear discipline. Many of my gear choices paid off since we had snow the second morning but it still was heavy load. I brought two camera bodies, 3 lenses and a tripod.  Didn’t end up using the tripod, but the three lenses were nice to have.  The Arcteryx Altra 75 does carry well.

A ranger was checking permits at the Stuart/Colchuck crossroads. Much appreciated and we thanked him for hanging out there being the gatekeeper.

The fall colors going up were absolutely gorgeous, and never stopped. Took a while to get up Aasgard but we reached the top with a bit of light left to find our first camp spot. Dan had mistakenly dropped our Sawyer filter down a stream chute so it was unfiltered water for the trip. I’ll get back to you on how that panned out although I’ve usually had no trouble drinking unfiltered water up there.

We found a spot around the first of the lakes and camped there. We moved the next day to something a bit more wind protected. Weather was cold and windy, with snow apparently on the way. We got the snow the next morning. I didn’t sleep well, both hearing the snow and dealing with a mouse in my tent. I thought one was trying to come in. Who could blame them? I had some seriously yummy treats in a warm dry enclosure. Turns out once he ran across my head I knew that he was trying to get out. Eventually I got that sorted.

Anyway woke up the next day with a light dusting of snow. Really beautiful landscape. Eventually it started to continue to snow for the rest of the morning and we decided to head down on Tuesday. Snow turned to rain on the pass, and continued all the way to the car and down to Leavenworth. I think it was a good decision. We shared lots of beta with various other hikers. Drove back to Seattle where my cat was very curious about my pack and its intriguing smells 🙂

Ok now some gear commentary. What I brought and thoughts on it…someone might find this useful.

Arcteryx Altra 75 Pack: Carries very well, very adjustable and comfortable. It’s so big you can get lured into bringing more stuff than you really need 🙂

Shires Tarptent Contrail: Very light, roomy and easy to set up. Tends to sag when loaded with snow and rain. Very dependent on its stakes which creates issues in soft powdery granite sand. Not much condensation when set up up facing into the breeze. I didn’t use a groundcloth this time and had no issues. Uses a hiking pole to set up. I didn’t bring poles but instead used a single 48″ zpacks carbon pole.

Western Mountaineering Versalite 10 Degree Bag: I sleep cold. I know this about myself and bring much more bag than most would. Part of this is a slower metabolism that doesn’t create as much heat in the bag as it used to. That being said, I was warm in this bag, wearing pants and a light coreloft top. My little Sea to Summit inflatable pillow and Thermarest NeoAir XTherm pad helped create a very snuggly sleeping situation.

Anker Power Port Solar Lite: I usually get a hair of a Verizon signal in the Enchantments so I bring my phone to wake up in the morning, capture candid photos and text missives of well being back home. The Anker did a great job of keeping the chargeables charged. Keep in mind that the cold is working against your batteries and often just keeping them inside the sleeping bag at night will preserve some charge.

Mountain House, Backpackers Pantry, Good to Go Dehydrated Meals: Yuck. Sorry I don’t know what to tell you. We carried an assortment of these up the hill and back down. One dinner of these was enough. One reason I love overnights is that I can bring a zip lock bag of my frozen homemade bolognese pasta sauce or meaty three bean chili and reheat.

Zipshot TR406 mini tripod. I have two monster Gitzo’s at home and they stay there when I’m headed into the Enchantments. I don’t use tripods much in the backcountry. I watch my shutter speeds and practice careful handheld technique to get sharp photos. That being said, to catch a timelapse, a small tripod helps. I like the 9oz Zipshot which basically has tent pole collapsing legs and a minimalist ball head. One secret to making this more stable that no one mentions is to spread the legs out wide enough to create some tension. That seems to help make it more solid.

Arcteryx Firebee Parka and Atom LT pants. Hiking up the hill, you are plenty warm. Its the time sitting around camp or waiting for sunrise that you need insulated layers. Like most NW natives, I have a whole closet of options. These two pieces however were essential to my warmth. I wore them constantly and was never cold, even in windchill gusts into the teens.

Endurox R4 and Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes. I like to think that I use every modern trick of nutritional chemistry to make the Enchantments a more pleasant hike. I mix Endurox into my water bottle as it does a great job of replenishing lost glycogen and helping with muscle damage and protein needs. Everyone has different thoughts on this kind of thing but Endurox makes me feel less sore the next day. Plus the banana flavor is yummy. Since I tend to sweat like a waterfall, eventually I’m going to flush out my electrolytes which leads to cramps. Putting some Endurolytes in my drink helps ward these off. A pinch of Sea Salt will do the same thing but I like the Mango flavor.

Ok that’s what I have….hope it helps

 

Enchantments Fall Colors Larches Photography and HikingAasgard Pass Enchantments Fall Colors Larches Photography and HikingPrusik Peak Sunrise Enchantments Fall Colors Larches Photography and HikingFire and Ice Enchantments Fall Colors Larches Photography and HikingVoigtlander 10mm Enchantments Fall Colors Larches Photography and HikingEnchantments Fall Colors Larches Photography and HikingLocal resident Enchantments Fall Colors Larches Photography and HikingIce, snow and granite. Enchantments Fall Colors Larches Photography and HikingPrusik Peak and skies reflected. Enchantments Fall Colors Larches Photography and Hiking

Elsewhere in Park Butte

I have never made it to the lookout. It seems like a nice goal but I always end up taking photos amongst the tarns. So when an overly smug 20something woman came along, noticed my overnight pack and informed me that the lookout was already occupied by overnighters, I didn’t care really. I knew I was heading elsewhere.

It was a brisk night but my friend and I found a nice clear spot to lay out our tents. Sunset was nice but sunrise was amazing. Lots of pink, interesting clouds and gentle breezes. I was trying out a new 13oz cuben fiber Hexamid Solo Plus tent from Zpacks and it really did the trick. No condensation. I was also happy with my lens lineup including a 10mm prime, 16-35mm zoom and 100-300mm zoom. Great night for photos. Always good to be back at the trailhead too and heading for a triple tall mocha. #zpacks

Zpacks Hexamid Tent Mount BakerNorth Cascades MoonrisePark Butte Mount Baker Reflection SunrisePark Butte Mount Baker Reflection SunrisePark Butte Mount Baker Reflection

Artist’s Point With a Nip in the Air – Zeiss 15mm Milvus

Trying to spend more time up here and catch the first snow before they close down the road to Artist’s Point. It’s a drive from Seattle but so worth it for the spectacular views. I have a few rituals heading out 542. I stop at Subway for dinner near Glacier. I hit the Starbucks off Woburn Street to get a triple tall mocha in the morning and wash up. If that isnt enough I also stop in Fairhaven at Tonys.

Anyway, the drive up is great. I know all the landmarks and once I pass the DOT buildings, I know the windy road to the top begins. Shuksan has a tiny dusting of snow on the peak. Table Mountain has no snow yet. Baker is beautiful as always. Its just enough nip in the morning that Picture Lake usually has mist at night. Because I am here for photos, usually I am heading in at dusk at others are heading out and vice versa in the morning. Met quite a few other photographers. Lent my tripod to one, had a nice snarky conversation with another talking about how many a7s shutters he has destroyed while making hours long time lapses. Also shared some homemade pumpkin bread with him. Helped a couple from Kentucky find some of the lesser known gems in the area. Gear-wise, I was carrying two bodies: Sony a7r and Sony a7r2. Zeiss had sent me a preview copy of their new Milvus 15mm so I was intent on using it as much as possible. I also put my Voigtlander 10mm to use for its unique perspective.

Once in the parking lot, I decided to stay in the area as sunset/sunrise would be good from the Huntoon area. Really happy with my decision.Mount Baker ReflectionTable Mountain Dusk LightTable Mountain Dusk Light in a Small TarnMount Shuksan and Night MistMount Shuksan Sunrise Reflection - Zeiss 15mm MilvusHeather Meadows and Table MountainMount Baker Sunrise Reflection in a Small Tarn at Artists Point