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First Trip to the Eastern Sierra

Hey, remember me?! Once upon a time I took a bunch of photos, wrote about them, and then shared them with you all. Then one day I, or rather my wife, got pregnant and we had our first child! The last year has been a roller coaster and unfortunately one of the things that took a back seat was writing about my photography. Fortunately, I've still been shooting and now I have a huge backlog of photographs to share with you all.

California is an amazing and confusing place and living here after the move from Colorado has given me the opportunity to explore amazing landscapes from Yosemite to Big Sur and a few places in between. One minute you can be on the coast overlooking rocky shorelines and crashing waves, the next you can be up in Yosemite Valley staring in awe at giant granite monoliths, and then if you keep driving up and over the mountains you can be in the desert in the rain shadow of the tallest mountains in the lower 48 states. I'm really excited to share my adventures with you all but I thought I would flex my sharing muscles with an easy one first, my most recent adventure, and my first trip to the Eastern Sierra.

This trip took shape when I started getting homesick (can you get homesick for someplace you weren't born?) for Colorado and the fall colors. I would look at Facebook and Instagram and I would see people who I follow sharing incredible photographs. I got jealous, and then I called my buddy Kyle and told him we were planning a trip to go find some aspens. He is always down to go shoot so we picked a weekend, packed the car and hit the road. Because we are insane, we decided to leave work a little early on Friday and drive to and then through Yosemite, up and over the pass, and down the other side of the mountains to Mono Lake. We then drove another 30 minutes or so south to an area called June Lake. We found a place to camp around 11:00 and then, because we came to shoot, we went to the lake to see what we could get.

June Lake, Inyo National Forest

June Lake, Inyo National Forest

The moon was bright, the air was cold, and we were tired. After shooting for about an hour we decided to hit the sack and get ready for sunrise. That night the temperature dropped to about 17 degrees so by the time the alarm went off to get us up for sunrise we were both a little cold and ready to warm up in the car for a few minutes on our way to find something interesting to shoot. After all that, I wouldn't say sunrise was exactly a bust, but I also wouldn't say it was a smashing success either. Without a cloud in the sky and being in a valley between mountains to the west and tall hills to the east, the lighting for sunrise was definitely not ideal. But anytime you can be up at dawn and smell that cold mountain air and watch the mist rise off the river and have a camera in hand is a good time in my book.

Rush Creek, Inyo National Forest

June Lake, Inyo National Forest

We decided to call it quits on our morning shoot and hit a nearby diner so we could grab a warm breakfast while simultaneously thawing our fingers and toes. At breakfast we pulled out our maps and spotted a trail leading up into the mountains to reservoir named Gem Lake. We didn't have anything better to do so after we finished eating, we strapped on our cameras once again and hit the trail.

It had been a while since I've hiked at altitude (the trail started around 7,200 feet above sea level and ended at around 9,000 feet) so either I held my own on the trail or Kyle is really nice. Either way we made it to the top and, after almost being landed on by a helicopter, took it all in. There is something about high alpine lakes that just does it for me. I'm not exactly sure what it is but when I'm up there sitting on the edge of one of those lakes with a cool breeze blowing and nothing but sky and mountains in front of me, I'm pretty content. Not to get too sappy but that is definitely a happy place for Mr. Ian.

Gem Lake, Inyo National Forest

Agnew Lake, Inyo National Forest

Silver Lake, Inyo National Forest

We hung out at the lake for about an hour, met some cool people, and then set off back down the trail. We made the trip out here to find some aspens and by golly we were gonna hit the road and make that happen. Back in the car and back on the road (after a pit stop for a beer or two at June Lake Brewery) we set off south in with the compass pointed towards Lake Sabrina, about an hour or two south of where we were currently.

Lake Sabrina definitely had its fair share of aspens, but it also had its fair share of tour busses full of people from LA. We parked, took a few shots, then got creeped out by the crowds so we skedaddled. Fortunately for us the road to Lake Sabrina forks and a side road heads to the apparently lesser known South Lake. The road to South Lake had exactly what we were looking for.

Lake Sabrina Aspens, Inyo National Forest

Lake Sabrina Aspens, Inyo National Forest

Lake Sabrina Aspens, Inyo National Forest

Lake Sabrina Aspens, Inyo National Forest

Now, I'd be lying to you if I said that the trees here were as good as they are in Colorado, I mean come on and oh yea, but the colors were pretty dang good. And you get something here that you don't get in Colorado and that is bright yellow leaves set against the bright gray granite background of the Sierras. The contrast was something that caught my eye immediately. I'm OK with the shots I got but I'm already planning my trip next year now that I know what kind of possibilities are out there.

South Lake, Inyo National Forest

The sun was going down and at 5:00 it was already under 40 degrees at South Lake. We decided to scrap our plans to camp there for the night since we had enough of being frozen the night before. We hit the road once again and head off to Alabama Hills. Now Alabama Hills is something like a playground for adults who love the outdoors. The landscape reminds me of a cross between Utah and the surface of Mars. The area also just so happens to be at the foot of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. Needless to say, it has a couple things going for it. We got there after dark, found a place to camp, and promptly went to sleep. With a full moon and amazing rock formations we probably should have taken advantage and done some night shooting but neither of us got much sleep the night before and we were beat, sue us. This way I can at least have another item on the Cali bucket list to check off someday.

Morning came around as morning does, so we as photographers got up for sunrise as photographers do. Kyle knew of a spot where we could get a great view of Mt. Whitney with the desert landscape in the foreground so what else were we to do but go get the shot. Unfortunately for me, I'm a dummy and I just assumed that the mountain dominating the skyline had to be Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states you know. I happily clicked away as the range in front of me turned from blue, to pink. I moved around and got a bunch of angles, set up some panoramas and congratulated myself on some good shooting. That is until Kyle pointed at a peak off to the right of where I was aiming and mumbled something about isn't the summit of Whitney crazy looking. Turns out I was pointed at Lone Pine Peak the whole time, though one of my panos did happen to get Whitney in the frame (see last paragraph re: California bucket lists and whatnot). I did eventually turn in the right direction but probably after the light had been at its best.

Lone Pine Peak

Lone Pine Peak

Lone Pine Peak with Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney

With sunrise over and 7 hours between us and home we once again hit the road and sometime in the late afternoon arrived back in Monterey to complete our 48-hour journey from the ocean to-and-over the mountains and back again. I think I already mentioned that California is crazy and amazing and I can't wait to share more of my travels through this amazing state.

Until the next time,



Camera - Nikon D850

Tripod - Manfroto 190X Pro 3 with 804 Mark 2 head

Lenses: Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8

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