Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day 6 — Horseshoe Lake to Trailhead

August 27th, 2010

Our last day on trail greeted us with rain. There’s nothing like striking your tents and packing up wet, but by the time we were on trail the clouds started to break and soon we were shedding our rain gear. Chris was on a mission to get to the trailhead and to civilization, but Doug and I were plodding along. There really wasn’t any time for serious photography, but we did stop quite often to take shots of the wildflowers along the Upsidedown Creek Trail.

Richardson's Geranium

Wildflowers -- Upsidedown Creek Trail

The trail was generally downhill (duh!!! We were going from 9800+ ft to 6000+ft elevation), but there were a few uphill grades that got my heart thumping. There were a lot of switchbacks. I don’t think I’d want to start a trip from this trailhead. It’s very steep in sections.

Fields of Wildflowers -- Upsidedown Creek Trail

View across the Boulder River Valley -- Upsidedown Creek Trail

Leaving the Wilderness -- Upsidedown Creek Trail

Doug and I arrived at the trailhead quite some time after Chris and Tyler, a quick record shot of us all together, then off to drop Doug and I at Doug’s truck at our starting point.

Chris, Tyler, me, and Doug

Then, back to Big Timber and civilization and real food and cold beverages!!!

All and all a great trip (except my first day)!!! I hope to join the Roanes again for more adventures.

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day 5 — Owl Lake to Horseshoe Lake

August 27th, 2010

Doug and I got up early again hoping for some good morning light and even a few clouds in the sky. We were rewarded with just that wrapped in a very cool morning.

Reflecting Pond near Pipit Lake

Reflecting Pond near Pipit Lake

Reflecting Pond near Pipit Lake

Drainage above Owl Lake

After our photo shoot, we quickly struck our tents and packed up for our hike to Horseshoe Lake. It was a gorgeous hike along the Rainbow Lakes chain and up to Diamond Lake and eventually down to Horseshoe Lake.

Diamond Lake

We found a great site at the head of the lake and settled in for a relaxing afternoon and evening of fishing and photography. The starry sky got us excited about some more night photography.

Sunset -- Horseshoe Lake

Starry Night Camp -- Horseshoe Lake

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day 4 — Owl Lake

August 17th, 2010

Today was a rest day. We decided that we would hike to Horseshoe Lake tomorrow and just have a good time exploring the environs around Owl Lake.

Doug and I got up early for the morning light, but we were disappointed that the sky was cloudless. We still tried a few shots.

After breakfast we took a short day hike back down to Wounded Man Lake for a fishing expedition. I had broken one section of my fly rod either on the airplane or on the first two days, so I had to improvise. I eventually sacrificed my comb to use as a splint and it became a workable, if not, pretty solution.

We caught several fish. Tyler caught the most. I had a nice rainbow trout take a parachute Adams dry file. I landed it, but lost it as I took the hook out. I’ve always released my fish after I’ve caught them. I didn’t have a stringer with me and I didn’t know how to handle the fish once it was off the hook.

We hiked back up to our camp and had rainbow trout for lunch. After lunch, I tried fishing Owl Lake. I fished all around the lake trying several different flies, but without success. I’m pretty sure the lake is fishless.

We had another afternoon storm with some dramatic clouds and another rainbow:

The evening didn’t provide much for stars or northern lights, so we went off to bed fairly early in anticipation of an early start to Horseshoe Lake.

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day Three — Lake Pinchot to Owl Lake

August 15th, 2010


As you can see from our GPS track, Day Three was a short hike. We had been considering a hike and overnight stay at Asteroid Lake in the Flood Creek drainage. However, the trail conditions and the uncertainty of whether there actually was a trail from Lake Pinchot to Asteroid Lake made us reconsider that plan. Thankfully (IMO), we decided not to go east, but instead headed back toward the Rainbow Lakes area of the Lake Plateau.

We covered the same soggy ground between Pinchot and Wounded Man Lakes, but with much less weary eyes. Doug and I stopped a couple of times for some photo ops:

Wounded Man Lake looked just as beautiful and full of grandeur as the previous day.

We headed up the trail toward the Rainbow Lakes passing the trail to Fish Lake. There were beautiful meadows of wildflowers and a couple of cascades in the stream exiting Owl Lake.

Owl Lake is a beautiful setting, but unfortunately (we think) a fishless lake.

After we set up camp, I went exploring with my camera and took a few shots in the bright sunlight.


We had our lunch and then decided to take a short day hike to the west to check out the upper Rainbow Lakes. You can see my GPS track to the west of Owl Lake past Pipit Lake. I went a-wandering off trail to scramble up some of the rock ridges and escarpments overlooking the small lakes in that area. I stupidly didn’t bring my camera!!!

Tyler, Chris, and Doug stopped at a few spots to fish, but didn’t keep any of them.

After we returned from our hike, I lounged and browsed my iPod touch Audobon Guide app attempting to identify wildflowers that I had seen over the last three days:

Pink (aka Lewis) Monkeyflower
Pussytoes
Wild Lupine
Mountain Bluebells
Heartleaf Arnica
Mountain Arnica

An afternoon thunderstorm raced through with some very cool lighting on the eastern slopes, even a double rainbow.

Owl Lake Rainbow

The evening cleared and we had a great time identifying planets, stars, and constellations with Pocket Universe, another iPod touch app.

I even tried a few star shots:

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day Two — Lake Columbine to Lake Pinchot

August 14th, 2010

Friday started early again, at least for Doug.  He was up by 5:30 am to shoot in the early morning light.  I was so sore and tired, I just rolled over and went back to sleep!!!

Fortunately, I woke about an hour or so later and had breakfast and check my lungs and legs by heading down to the stream to collect water to filter.  I felt pretty good.  We spent quite a bit of time trying to dry out our gear and finally hit the trail to Columbine Pass by 10 am.

The climb up to Columbine Pass is beautiful!!!

The trail down to Favonius and Pentad Lakes is equally impressive!!!


The creek exiting Pentad Lake had multiple cascades and was very inviting.  Wish we could have stayed there at least a night, but we’ve got to get to Lake Pinchot, the “crown jewel” of the Lake Plateau.

I had some problems with my hydration system cinking the tube. I could still get water, but it wasn’t flowing very fast. When we stopped for lunch, Doug told me about the clips in backpacks that will hold the hydration bladder in place and keep it from slipping. Voila!!! Unfortunately, I think I was already too far behind in hydration to catch up.

To compound matters, when we crossed the stream flowing out of Jordan Lake, I forgot to stop and filter more water. The climb up to Jordan Pass was steep and slow (for me) and when we reached the top, it started to rain and then hail. Doug and I stopped to change into rain gear not thinking that we were standing in the middle of a meadow. Fortunately, no lightning strikes!!!

The descent into the Wounded Man Creek drainage was mostly like being in the Pacific Northwest. It was rainy and the trail was swamped with standing water. The trees were tall and obstructed our view of the valley floor. When we were able to see it sure looked like a long way down…It was!!!

The rest of the hike is pretty much a blur. Another climb up to Wounded Man Lake and then on to Lake Pinchot. My hydration status was terrible. I had drained my hydration bladder by the time we got to the bottom of the trail down from Jordan Pass. I never thought to fill it up at Wounded Man Creek or Lake!!!

By the time we slogged through the swampy low lying ground around to the northwest corner of Lake Pinchot, I was exhausted. We had hiked about 20 kilometers and I was really dehydrated. I just plopped my back down on the driest piece of land around our campsite and just stumbled around until we were able to get some water filtered. I did help Doug set up our tent, but I still don’t really remember much.

I finally got enough fluids down that I was able to participate in a search for a bear bag handing tree and get dinner started. Of course, just as we started to eat another lightning storm came roar over the ridge and drenched us. I was unwilling to go into the tent until dinner was finished. The only shelter near our site was a small stand of trees that I was also unwilling to go near with all the lightning and thunder.

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day One — Trailhead to Lake Columbine

August 14th, 2010

My flight to Billings was late, but Doug was there waiting for me, and, since I didn’t have any checked bags, we were able to leave the airport quickly.  Doug and I both sat up for awhile before heading to bed.  I still had to unpack my gear that I had previously shipped to Doug’s office and organize it and pack it in my backpack.  I probably didn’t get to sleep until 1:30 am.

Morning wakeup was too soon!  We were on the road by 6 am to meet Chris and Tyler at Big Timber.  Then, on the road again to the trailhead on the Boulder River.  It was a slow and bumpy drive after we got past the small town of Mcleod.  The trailhead parking area was full of trucks and horse trailers.  I was expecting to see a lot of people and stock on the trail but that didn’t happen.

The first order of business was to get water (I had forgotten to fill my hydration system before we left). The Platypus gravity filtration was put to its first test in Montana, and passed.


The next two to three hours past on the trail without much notice.  The trail winds through tall forests of subalpine and Douglas fir with the sound, but not the sight of the creek in the distance.  We meet one party coming out of the wilderness and were past by a group of young men as they entered.  We eventually past them as they rested on the side of the trail.

There was a trail maintenance group of eating their lunch at Lake Kathleen.  We talked with the USFS ranger who was leading the group.  She was impressed that we were heading to Pentad Lake.  We decided to have lunch there, too.  It is a pretty little lake surrounded by high walls.  It looked a bit too shallow to support fish and we didn’t see any sign of fish feeding.

This first section of the trail was a relatively gentle uphill climb, but after lunch it seemed to increase in grade steadily.  We met a group of horseback riders and pack horses on their way out.  It offered me a good chance to rest.  I was definitely starting to feel the effects of the sudden altitude change (living at 300 meters and arriving less than 13 hours later at 2030 meters at the trailhead).  By the time we reached the Rainbow Creek trail I was in tough shape.  My legs and feet were fine, but the heart and lungs just couldn’t keep up.  We still had 4-5 kilometers (and 400+ meters) to go just to Lake Columbine.  I started to realize that I was not going to make it to Lake Pentad today.  There was just no way.  I was feeling disappointed and really felt like I had let the others down.  But they were understanding and decided to make camp at Lake Columbine.

I knew I had trained hard, but I hoped that it was just the lack of acclimatization. I really didn’t want to let them down, but I knew they were disappointed in not making it to Lake Pentad.

Doug and I did get out to photograph the creek out of Lake Columbine:

An hour or so after we set up camp, our decision to stop was validated as a huge lightning and hail storm suddenly erupted over the pass and then descended on our camp.  We had just started eating our dinner when dime sized hail fell for what seemed to be an hour leaving the ground covered with about 5 cm of hail.  And it rained and we got soaked.  Fortunately, Chris and Tyler are quite the firebugs and got a good fire going and warmed us up.

That's me trying to get warm after the hailstorm

After that excitement, my energy level drained quickly and I headed off to bed and the dryness of our tent.  Before I was settled in my sleeping bag it started to rain again.  Doug called it quits, too.

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip

August 4th, 2010

I was invited to go on a backpacking photo/fishing trip in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Montana by a fellow Rocky Mountain School of Photography student.

It has been a time consuming obsession over the last two months trying to mix work and training in preparation for this great adventure.

I’ve spent many a night in northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, but always relied on a canoe and plentiful water to provide the bulk the carriage of my gear.

While the portages require you to unload your canoe and carry everything (including the canoe) over land, the portages are generally short (less than a mile in most cases) and not too steep.

This trip will be a new experience for this flat land, stubby legged adventurer. Our trip leader has set out a first day trek of over 11 miles (18 km) with a vertical ascent of more than 3700 ft (1100+ meters). The following day will be challenging too.

I’ve been obsessing on the weight of my kit. I’ve purchased a lightweight pack, sleeping bag and pad. I’ve really tried to go as minimalist as possible, except for my camera gear, although I did buy a new Gitzo tripod that is much lighter than my older carbon-fiber tripod. It’s not as sturdy, but I am planning on using rocks to help weigh down the tripod when I’m using it.

The weight limitation has been painful. What parts of my photo kit do I leave behind?

I settled on the following items:

Nikon D700 — got to have the FX sensor for this:
Nikon 14-24mm lens
Nikon 24-120mm lens
Nikon 60mm micro lens
CPL filters
ND and VariND filters
Step up ring for 60mm lens
Grad ND filters and holder for the 14-24mm lens (probably a mistake)
Lens cleaning supplies
Gitzo GT0541 tripod
Kirk Photo BH-3 ballhead with L-bracket mount for the D700
4 8GB CompactFlash cards
2 extra batteries
Cases for lenses, camera, and gear

It’s a heavy kit (more than 6 kg). Oh well, I better get some great pictures.

More details tomorrow from Montana before we hit the trail head, then it will be a black out until we get off trail on Aug 10.

You can check on our progress via my friends SPOT Messenger web page.

HealthEast St. Joseph’s New Emergency Department

August 4th, 2010

I was totally flattered when the Emergency Department’s Clinical Manager asked if I’d be interested in having my photographs considered for display in the new Department’s lobby and hallways.

Well, they’ve selected 6 photographs, 4 that I’ve printed.

The other 2 will require an outside lab to process and print them due to the size.

This is very exciting and I can’t wait till they’re framed and displayed.

UPDATE: They purchased 4 prints and they have been framed and are now displayed in multiple areas within the Department.

Here are links to the prints that were purchased and now on display:

Aspens – Pebble Creek – Lamar Valley – “Colors of Yellowstone” Gallery

Leaves – Going to the Sun Road – Glacier National Park Gallery

Moonrise – Lower Pauness Lake – Canoe Country Gallery

Skalkaho Falls – Montana Gallery

Legally Green, Party for the Planet

August 4th, 2010

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy celebrated their 35th anniversary with a Gala Event at the William Mitchell School of Law on Saturday night, July 31.

Several of my photographs were in the silent auction. The largest print of Kawishiwi Lake in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness sold quickly, or so I’m told.

Successful Bidders

Lake Kawishiwi Photograph Finds New Home

2010 PSIA National Academy Slideshow

April 23rd, 2010

2010 PosterIndividual images from the slideshow (plus a few extras that I didn’t use) are available here.

The slideshow is on-line here.

Thanks for a great week!!!