YNP Photo Tour – Day Three – A Wild Adventure

February 5th, 2011

Our day started hectically as we tried to get to West Geyser Basin before sunrise.  Since we were also planning on staying the whole day outside the Old Faithful area, we wanted breakfast and lunch, but the box lunches we order the night before were late, but we did get a good buffet breakfast to go.  And, fortunately, the temp was only about -20 deg F.

As we came around the the curve on the descent to West Thumb, we could see very few clouds in the sky.  However, the micro-climate hanging over and around the geyser basin was impressive.  There were clouds of steam everywhere.  We ended up staying at the basin for almost 3 hours as the subject material was infinite, especially as the light changed with the rising sun.



Our journey continued along the road to the Fishing Bridge and then north to the Hayden Valley.  We saw a section of the Yellowstone River at the Lehardy Rapids that looked very interesting, so we snowshoed from the road down to the river’s edge.  The perspective to see the rapid well was not as good as we like, but I did find a few interesting shots.


On our way back to the snowcoach we happened upon a couple of feeding otters.


Our encounters with wildlife continued as we continued north on the road through the valley.  First, a pair of coyotes.

Then, a hunting red fox.

A flock of feeding Trumpeter swans.

At the lookout pullout on the road to Dunraven Pass was a beautiful panorama of the Absaroka Range, Red Mountain, and the Tetons.

We stopped at the Crittenden Bridge for a look at the rapids and the ice formations.

Finally, a stop at Alum Creek for sunset.

YNP Photo Tour – Day Two – The Deeper Freeze

February 3rd, 2011

Well, shall we just call it arctic. Minus 44 deg F at dawn. Needless to say I wasn’t going out before sunrise to find that perfect shot. We did, however, get an earlier start in the snowcoach and hit Riverside Drive again. The temp was -37 at the west entrance as we went through. The steam rising off the Madison River created a beautiful setting for our first extremely frigid shoot.

We stopped briefly at the warming hut at Madison Junction before making our way through the Firehole Canyon and a long, cold shoot at the main falls. The road was entirely shaded and offered no warming from the sun.

We continued on the road to Old Faithful stopping once along the Firehole River below the confluence with the Nez Perce Creek. As we were shooting pictures of the river and the frosted trees lining the shore, a cow elk began browsing behind us.

We stopped again along the Firehole just above the Midway Geyser Basin for some good shots of bison in the landscape and the river.

We headed past Old Faithful and stopped at Kepler Cascades. I don’t think it is as photogenic in winter as it is in the fall.

A quick trip up to the Continental Divide to see if it would be worth hiking up the Divide Trail later in the trip, but it looked too difficult with an uncertain benefit as far as taking good photographs.

Back down to Old Faithful and the Snow Lodge to check in and store our gear before leaving for Fountain Paint Pots and the sunset over Nez Perce Creek.

YNP Photo Tour – Day One – The Deep Freeze

February 2nd, 2011

We woke up to a frigid, clear morning.  Minus 29 degrees F.  I just couldn’t imagine trying to go out for a sunrise shoot.  It didn’t stop Pete and Doug.  They headed to the Madison River bridge on US 191 just north of town.  Leave it to Doug to capture a stunning shot:

(c) Doug Roane Photography

Jake met us at 9 o’clock at the motel and we loaded up the coach for our first drive into the park.  Unfortunately, Claron was not feeling well and decided to stay in the motel for the day.  The rest of us piled into the coach and headed into the park.

We stopped at couple of spots along the Madison River.  First, to try to capture some of the landscapes and waterscapes.  Then, to photograph a herd of frost covered bison.

(c) M. Brian Hartz

We made a mad dash to Norris Geyser Basin to have lunch and get ready for our main shoot of the day.  The basin is the hottest and most acidic area of the park with two separate and distinct parts:  Porcelain and Back Basin.

Porcelain is a wide open treeless area with multiple fumeroles, springs, and pools.  The East Fork of Tantalas Creek flows though it.  Several of the little streams from the thermal features that feed into the creek have a bright green color from the thermo/acido-philic bacteria that live in the water.

(c) Peter Arneson

The Back Basin is home to Steamboat Geyser which is the largest geyser in the park.  It erupts massive (300-400 feet), but infrequently (last eruption was in May, 2005). The basin has many more tree. both living and dead.

The steam in the basins created the opportunities for many unique shots.

Our timing was not good.  We left Norris in hopes of finding a good spot for sunset, but in retrospect we probably should have stayed at Norris.  It was a cloudless sky, so we probably didn’t miss too much.

The evening was spent rehashing the day at the bar and then off to work on photos and a sharing/critique session.

The forecast for tomorrow:  minus 44 deg F!!!  Even colder than today.  Fortunately, the high is supposed to be in the upper teens.

We’re On Our Way

February 1st, 2011

Our day of departure started with great news: the temperature tomorrow morning in West Yellowstone could be as low as -30 deg F!!! Oh well! We may be able to get great “sun dogs” from all the ice crystals in the air. It will just be great to be in the Park again.

Snowy roads welcomed us when we all left for the airport. Claron’s shuttle ride from Rochester was slow, but uneventful. There was one accident on I-494 near the Minnesota River bridge, but fortunately in the west bound lane. Still, the ambulance heading to the scene caused a lot of slowing.

gear, Gear, GEAR!!! Do I have enough gear? I think I got everything I could possibly need, but boy did I have to do some creative packing. Fortunately, we are flying in the Embraer 175 that has reasonably sized overhead bins unlike the Canadair RJ. Still, I had to check 2 bags. I hope we can fit all our gear in the SUV when we get to Bozeman!!!

Well, we got to Bozeman and all our baggage arrived with us!!! We stopped at the REI store at picked up our snowshoes and some hand warmers. When we got out of our truck at the store there was Doug!!! What timing.

We headed straight to West Yellowstone via US 191 through the Gallatin River Valley and saw quite a bit of wild life. Three moose, several elk, and one bighorn sheep. No good place to stop for photos unfortunately.

Forecast is for extreme cold overnight with lows -28 deg F. Ouch.

Almost There — Yellowstone 2011

January 26th, 2011

Bison - Old Faithful Geyser

After a very fun workshop last February in Yellowstone National Park, I decided to plan a trip back to the park for this winter. Last year’s workshop was a great introduction and overview of the park thanks to our instructors and guides, David Marx and George Wuerthner.

At the end of the workshop, I asked two of the other participants in the workshop if they’d like to come back for a reprise, but with our own itinerary and a smaller group. They were all for it and that began a several month process to find a couple more photographers to split the costs. We recruited a couple of other photo enthusiasts here in Minnesota to join us.

If you remember, last year I took a snow coach tour out of West Yellowstone with my fishing guide friend, Jake Chutz. It was a great time and the coach was much more comfortable then the Xanterra or Days Inn coaches we used during the workshop.

I contacted Jake and we setup up a tour chartering through his company, Yellowstone Alpen Guides. The Bombardier snow coaches are refurbished from the original design with modern power-plants. They feature “galley” rather than row seating, which is much more comfortable and engaging for the passengers. There is a co-pilot seat, too. One of the great features is the sun-roof that you can stand up in and take pictures while still in the coach.

The planning has included arranging accommodations in West Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and Gardiner. We’ll actually be in Old Faithful the same time as this year’s RMSP workshop, so we’ll be able to see this year’s instructors, David Marx and Doug Johnson. We’re planning on having photo sharing sessions in the evening to see what great images we’ve captured. We’re also hoping to share some of our Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop techniques and workflows.

Weather permitting, we’re hoping to continue our exploration of star photography. Doug has been very progressive in this field and I’m hoping to learn more about it. I’m bringing a small, off-camera flash with some colored gels to play with. The moon will be new to a waxing crescent during the tour, so it probably won’t be a prominent subject or light source.

I setup an online forum for the tour participants and, I think, it has been very helpful in sharing ideas and info about the tour. I hope that we’ll be able to continue to share ideas in the forum even after the tour is over. Three of us from Minnesota got together one night a couple of weeks at my home to share equipment ideas and just share our excitement about the tour (also to have a couple of beers, too!!!).

Just a few more days of prepping and gear sorting/packing and then off on another great adventure!!!

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine, July 2010 — Day Three

August 30th, 2010

A warm night!!! I don’t know if it was because the temperature never got as low as the night before or if it was due to the blanket, but I stayed much warmer. I was up early for a busy day. My plan was to pack up my gear and head over to Running Eagle Falls before the light got too intense and then catch the boat tour to the head of Two Medicine Lake and begin my hike to Dawson Pass. Since I wanted to head back to Whitefish that afternoon, I thought using the boat was a great way to shorten the approach to the “real” hike up to the pass.


I didn’t get up early enough!!! The light at Running Eagle Falls, although much, much better than two years ago, was still intense. I think I’ll need to be there before dawn and catch more twilight. And, to top it off, I lost my polarized sunglasses somewhere on the hike out from the falls.

The camp store to the rescue again!!! I quickly grabbed some sunglasses, a couple more sodas, and headed to the boat for a very uneventful, but beautiful trip to the head of the lake.

The hike is quite gentle as you leave the shore and follow the creek. It turns to the right from the spur that leads to Upper Two Medicine Lake. After the trail meets the north shore trail, it starts to climb and the grade seemed to steadily increase albeit broken by several short downhill sections at creek crossings.

After the trail passes the spur to No Name Lake, it really starts to climb and soon I was nearing timberline and large snowfields. Without crampons and a snowaxe I was feeling pretty nervous on a couple of the fields. If I slipped, my trekking poles were no substitute for an axe to try to self-arrest a fall. I was quite cautious and let a party pass me before I even tried to cross the first field.

All was well after the third field. A more southerly exposure had melted any other patches and the trail was well used and stable. The thought did cross my mind that I was going to have to cross those fields again on my way down.

I ran across a hoary marmot (I think), but my camera wasn’t setup properly to try to catch wildlife (still setup up for waterfalls). Nothing but blurry pictures.

Upon reaching the summit of Dawson Pass, my heart stopped. What an incredible view back towards Two Medicine Lake! But, what a more incredible view to the west and down into the valley.

The party that I had let pass me before were just finishing their lunch break and offered to take my picture at the summit:

They encouraged me to continue the loop trail to Pitamakin overlook and back down the other valley past Oldman Lake to the Two Medicine campground. The distance seemed much too far to me. Again, I estimated 20 miles for the whole trip. In hindsight, it might have been closer to 16 miles since I had taken the boat.

They were headed for the summit of Rising Wolf Mountain. Just an extreme hike to them. But it looked much more difficult than I would ever try without climbing gear!!!

After taking a lot of pictures at the pass, I knew I better get moving if I was going to catch the boat back to the parking lot. Especially since I still had to cross those snowfields again. Without an axe I didn’t try glissading down the fields, but it sure looked like it would be fun to have tried.

When I arrived at the boat landing I was dehydrated and hot. A cool dip in the lake helped, but still I was out of filtered water and the boat was late. I groggily waited for the boat and misplaced my ticket. I thought I threw it in the garbage. Couldn’t find it. Fortunately, the captain remembered me from the morning ride and let me board. I found it later in my pocket!!! Dehydration is an amazing thing.

Once I was better hydrated I left the park for Whitefish and thinking I’ll have to come back for a backcountry adventure in Two Medicine.

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine, July 2010 — Day Two

August 30th, 2010

My second day at Two Medicine started out miserably just because of my horrible night sleep. How was I going to stay warm tonight? After a couple of strong cups of coffee and oatmeal, I headed off to the camp store at the foot of Two Medicine Lake. There I got a bag of ice for my cooler, a couple of bottles of huckleberry soda, AND a BLANKET!!! Now, I felt better, and started off on my hike to Cobalt Lake.

The trail travels along the south side of the lake, but you really can’t see the lake through the thick forest and marsh areas. Great moose habitat, but I didn’t see any. The trail crosses a couple of creeks before heading up the valley between Painted Tepee and Rockwell Mountain on its way to Two Medicine Pass.


The first part was a fairly gentle climb through several meadows that looked like they were created by massive avalanches. Downed trees, tall grasses, weeds, and wildflowers dampened by the morning dew made the trail inconvenient and wet, but not much of a problem. Then, I heard the roar of water and realized that I was approaching Rockwell Falls and the beginning of the more steeper grade to Cobalt Lake and Two Medicine Pass.

After passing the lower falls, the climb begins with several switchbacks and glimpses of several other falls the form a very long series of plunges. Unfortunately, many of the falls and cascades seemed too difficult to reach. I decided to save any exploration until my return trip.

The climb continued up the cirque valley until it reach a ridge line that interrupts the cirque that extends south and west from Painted Tepee. There under the cirque rim were several large snowfields due to the northern exposure. And, on the closest field about 300 meters away were animal tracks. The animal was large and had been traveling east over the field. The tracks were fresh and I assumed it was a bear. Fortunately, (or unfortunately) there were no animals in sight. It did make me sing louder as I hiked and I was definitely more alert. Why were there no other hikers on the trail?

After crossing the creek that I assumed eventually made its way down to form Rockwell falls, I climb through meadow after meadow of Buttercup blossoms. It was incredible.

I arrived at Cobalt Lake just in time for lunch and a well deserved rest. The backcountry campsites were still covered in snow and the lake still had ice floes floating in it. It looked cold even though the air temperature was well over 65 degrees F.

I spent my lunch break drinking and eating my Clif bar and dried fruit and trying to take pictures.


It was getting frustrating dealing with the midday sun and the harsh light. I was beginning to understand why so many photographs of Glacier’s backcountry are usually taken in harsh lighting conditions: unless you get up very, very early or stay up late (both dangerous propositions in bear country) you are going to have midday lighting conditions. The only solution, I see, is to camp in the backcountry and that will have to wait till another visit.

After lunch I considered (very briefly) continuing my climb up to Two Medicine Pass, but the distance was about 3.1 miles from Cobalt Lake. That would have made my roundtrip almost 20 miles. Too far for me at my current physical conditioning. So, I started back down the trail. I took more time to take pictures visiting more off trail spots.

I started meeting other hikers who were heading up towards the pass. I thought it was pretty late in the day, but then again I’m not accustomed to the late evenings at this high latitude.

I tried a few more shots around the falls, then made a bee line back to the parking lot at the foot of Two Medicine Lake and the campground. An early test dinner of dehydrated foods and a relaxing cigar smoke while strolling around the lake. I hoped my new blanket would keep me warm overnight.

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine, July 2010 — Day One

August 30th, 2010

During a visit to Whitefish, Montana, I was able to break away from my work on my car that I store there to visit the Two Medicine are of the park.  I had visited it very briefly during the RMSP photography workshop in July 2008.

This visit would allow me to camp for a couple of nights and three days of hiking and photography.  I used it as an opportunity to test some of my new and old equipment prior to my Lake Plateau trip.

Needless to say, Two Medicine is a magical part of the park.  I just wish it wasn’t quite so accessible.  There’s a paved road from East Glacier all the way to Two Medicine Lake and the campground.

Staying at the large campground there (100+ campsites) is more like being at a KOA campground.  The car and RV traffic is annoying and the noise is disturbing for those who are trying to get away.

That accessibility does make it easy to get to trailheads for some great hikes in that portion of the park.  There was a trailhead a hundred or so yards from my campsite and the trailheads to Scenic Point or Two Medicine Pass were probably less than a half a mile away.

After I arrive there in the late morning, I found a camp site close to the far end of the campground and set up my tent and had a quick snack before preparing and then setting off for my hike to Scenic Point.
This was an ambitious, if not, stupid choice.  It was a the shortest of the three hikes I was planning, but it also has a very steep gradient.  And, to top it off, I forgot my trekking poles at the campsite.  At first it was no problem, but as the grade steepened and the exposure increased I really wanted those poles.

Reaching the first shoulder of the face of the ridge felt like quite an accomplishment until I realized I still had quite a while more to go.  And, across a couple of patches of snow!!!

Once I reached the sign on the trail for Scenic Point I still had to hike up a short hill to the point.  What a spectacular view of Two Medicine Lake and Lower Two Medicine Lake and all the peaks surrounding the Lakes:  Rising Wolf Mt, Sinopah, Mt. Helen..  It was awesome and a great place to have lunch.  The lighting was very bright and harsh, so most of my pictures are less than appealing.  I did stitch together a panorama from the point:


I stopped a few times on the way back down to shoot some wildflowers and deadwood along the trail.

I made it back to the camp site just in time to lounge around the site and have a snack and a short nap.  Dinner was a test of the dehydrated food I was planning on taking with me on the backpacking trip.
Man, the sun stays up late in early July.  I still had time to take a short walk around the lake and river and walk the fish rise for a very impressive hatch of mayflies.

I was cold during the night.  I don’t know what the temperature dropped to, but my REI Kilo +40 degree sleeping bag did not do it for me.  I wore long underwear and several layers of shirts and still was freezing.  The Kilo bag was not going to go on my backpacking trip for sure.

Glacier National Park — 100th Anniversary

August 27th, 2010

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the park four times so far this year. I’ve already blogged about my short foray this past winter after my photo workshop in Yellowstone park.  The second was just a trip through the southeastern part of the park as we drove to the Missouri River to fish.

This past July I was able to do a quick trip to NW Montana to work on the car I store in Columbia Falls and do some training for my Lake Plateau backpack trip.

Liz, Rose, and I just got back from a family trip to visit Mike, Marie, and Ella in Whitefish, Montana and were able to spend five days and four nights in the Bowman Lake area of the park.

Glacier National Park is definitely the “Crown of the Continent” and I feel privileged to be a frequent visitor to the park.

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Lessons Learned

August 27th, 2010

After a couple of weeks of reflection on my trip, I thought I’d list as many things as I can remember that I learned. The first few lessons didn’t require much reflection!!!

  1. Never, and I mean never, fly in from low elevation the night before and expect to be able to perform at 5000+ more feet elevation the next morning!!! Next time I’ll plan better and spend at least a day or two acclimatizing. Gingko biloba just ain’t enough.
  2. Train harder, i.e., climb more. It’s no substitute for being there, but I just didn’t push myself hard enough during training.
  3. hyrdate, Hydrate, HYDRATE!!! A liter and a half just isn’t enough for a 12 mile hike!!! I’ve got to take the time to stop at streams and reload my hydration bladder.
  4. Maybe a bigger lunch (more calories), or a mid morning snack.
  5. Don’t rush at the trailhead and use a checklist. I forgot: a canteen, duct tape, to synchronize camera clock with GPS clock (for geotagging), and to load my hydration bladder with water before getting to the trailhead.
  6. I don’t need very many filters for my lenses.
  7. A smaller camera like Doug’s Canon G11 would work as a backup, but also as a great camera during the hikes. I wouldn’t have to carry an “all-round lens for my D700.”
  8. A strap to carry my “torso camera pack” when it’s not hooked to my backpack. And, design a better carry my lenses when they are not in the backpack.
  9. Redesign how the “torso pack” to the backpack, i.e., make it more like the Kata bag rigging.
  10. Protect my fly rod!!!
  11. Better gloves for those cold mornings and hailstorms!!!

This is probably just a partial list. I’m sure I’ll think of a lot more things. I can’t wait to put my new knowledge to the test!