Monday, March 31, 2014

Contest Winner

I just learned that Backpacker Magazine chose the picture below as the winner in their "Adventure Travel" photo contest.

I have mixed feelings about this shot. Above all else, I'm proud of it and really like the contrasts between the pillowy snow above, the chunky rock, and the silky water. But behind all that is tragedy. The story: I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with my wife, Gloria, and a friend who had come down to California from Tacoma. On the second day of a five-day trip, we were walking through the Desolation Wilderness (west of Lake Tahoe), swatting mosquitoes and feeling a little broken down, not quite trail hardened. And then we saw this cave where the creek had carved a tunnel through a snowbank. I suppose it's fortunate that I was going old school that trip and brought my Mamiya 7II medium format camera loaded with Kodak Portra film. Nothing else would have preserved the huge dynamic range of the scene quite like print film. So I plunged into the cave with a tripod and 43mm lens on the camera and worked the scene, shooting low angles, high angles, looking down one direction, down the other. Had a hard time protecting the camera from dripping water and I was always conscious of how slippery the rocks were. I took this shot as I was exiting the cave and turned around for one last look. The exposure time was about five seconds. I knew this was probably the best of the best and in a stupor of self-satisfaction I stepped outside the cave and promptly lost my footing on a wet rock. I dove into the creek which was deeper than it looked and could feel my body being swept downstream. I managed to jab the tripod into the creek bottom and stand up. The first thing I looked at was the camera. The lens had smashed on a rock and the body was soaked to the point of being inoperable. And then I looked up to see a group of hikers staring down at me flabbergasted as if they couldn't figure out whether to help me out of the water or laugh. They did neither.

I had to go the rest of the trip without taking pictures and I was miserable.

But at least I got this picture . . .

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Little Santa Anita Canyon

Little Santa Anita Canyon is lovely little stretch of rappelling goodness in the San Gabriel Mountains. Just hike 1.5 miles up the Mt. Wilson trail from a neighborhood in Sierra Madre (try not to suffer too many pangs of house envy there—the homes are spectacular) until you hit "First Water" and take a short spur trail down into the canyon. Thanks to the local drought, the canyon had a little bit of shin-deep water in its upper reaches, but dried out past the midway point. Too bad. There's a fun pothole at the end that, when filled with water, makes for a nice splash. Our little band of canyoneers have done this canyon at least four times and with the exception of one of us once dislocating a finger in a, let's just say, freak accident, the trips have always been relaxing and a respite from all that's urban and routine.

We had with us two irregulars, Kirk and Cammy, and at the first rappel, we met a couple—engaged to be married this summer—who were contemplating going back up canyon because Christina had never rappelled down a waterfall before and was intimidated by the notion of stepping over the edge. Her fiance, Steve, had just taken up the sport last year and thought it would be a great activity to share with his sweetie. Hmm. Good intentions but not such a great idea to do it alone. Either she had to go down first, doing something she had never done before with a dozen unknowns, or trust that she could hook up to the rope correctly and follow him down. (And if she lost her nerve and stayed at the top, he wouldn't be able to go back up.) Rich convinced them to tag along with us for that safety-in-numbers sort of thing, and she soon became at the very least more comfortable going down a rope. Our merry, nine-person group swooped through the canyon in just four hours.

One technical note: I've been experimenting with shooting the action using HDR (five exposures ranging from under-exposed to over-exposed shot in a quick burst) and blending the pictures together. This helps overcome the huge brightness differences you get in a canyon from deep shade to bright sun on nearly white granite. I started doing this on our Hades Canyon trip and refining it since. I took two of the pictures in this post using this technique and with any luck no one would be the wiser if I didn't say something first.

Rich gearing up in the upper canyon. He had just donned a wet suit, which became quickly unnecessary.
Christina on her first-ever rappel.
Steve on one of the wetter rappels.
Rich plunging down a water slide while Kirk waits to see if he survives.
A camouflaged frog, one of many there. I guess that's a sign of a healthy canyon.
Kirk working his way past an overhang with Rich acting as "meat anchor," a technique that's used when you can't find anything to anchor the rope and the last person down is able to safely down-climb the section. Rich is simply tied into the rope—a human anchor—and braced against the boulder.
Kevin helping Rich past the overhang.
Little Santa Anita Canyon does end with one slight indignity: one has to climb over a government fence at a flood control dam before walking through the neighborhood back to the car. I haven't heard of anyone getting impaled on the spikes, but, oh, would that hurt.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Stoned Sunset

Trust me, I'm not going to get all elitist and apologize for taking a picture of a sunset. Like a lot of photographers, I can't resist them. But I wouldn't show the whole world the shot unless it had a nice feel to it. And I liked this grab shot from the night before up in the Santa Monica Mountains. Just two guys smoking a joint and watching the sun go down.