So Dreadfully Behind, It’s Still Winter!

I have no idea where 2018 has gotten to.  As I write, it’s mid-August and I just came across pictures from back in February that I hadn’t processed!  Clearly life got a little busy and – quite honestly – saying goodbye to our little girl Sydney back in June threw me for quite a loop.  Pictures were definitely the last thing on my mind as we went through that.  (I’m sure at some point I’ll write a post about that – I’ll be sure to hydrate myself before I write since it’s bound to be a teary one.)

So here we are late-summer, looking back at snowshoe pictures I took in February during the one and only time we got out on the trails this winter.  We trekked up the winter trail to one of our favorite places – Loch Vale (a.k.a. The Loch).  The winter trail is pretty easy until the last quarter-mile or so when it gets pretty steep.  It’s worth the trip though!

As usual, it was really blustery when we reached The Loch itself.  We had to find some shelter out of the wind just to eat our lunch.  Luckily for me, we plopped ourselves down for a nosh right near a really interesting curl of snow on a rock.  I think that’s the one thing that I took the most pictures of during our hike!  Though it was tricky to avoid over-exposing the picture using my phone, I did snag a few shots that I was fond of…

The Loch is a good hike any time of year, though winter is probably our favorite because it’s not nearly as crowded as it is other times of year.  Naturally, that comes with trade-offs that you have to prepare for… like bundling up and leaning into powerful winds to get up there in the first place!  Totally worth it though…

 

– JC

Marmot Peek-a-Boo

A few weeks ago we headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park for a hike up to Lawn Lake.  It’s a trail we haven’t done in a few years, even though we really enjoyed the trip the one and only time we’d gone up there.  The hike isn’t steep, but it is very long – we clocked nearly 14 miles by the time our day was done!

This time around, I was crazy enough to take the big camera with me for the entire trek, only adding weight to the pack I had to carry.  No worries though because it meant more calories burned (which translates into less guilt over celebratory food & beverages afterward!) and I was rewarded with some fun with a marmot.

The hike up was uneventful.  Gorgeous, but uneventful.  Not a ton of wildlife, but plenty of scenery and wildflowers in bloom…

…some shadows out to play along the Rolling River…

Shadows & Rocks

…and some downed trees that made for an abstract that I can’t help but think looks like a rhino or a triceratops tilting its angry head.

Creatures in Wood

Lawn Lake is spectacular on an average day.  Add the fabulous weather we had and it was simply scrumptious!

Approaching Lawn Lake

While we were plopped down on the lake shore for a spot of lunch, I got inspired.  The rocks on the opposite side of the lake – for some reason – every time I looked at them, I kept thinking they looked painted.  That gave me a post-processing idea… once I got home, I tossed the Photoshop oil paint filter on it and voila!  Not quite what I pictured in my mind, but it still came out funky, especially with what it did to the grasses and pines along the shore:

Oil Painted Rocks

If it seems like I’m glossing over the hike, I sorta am, but for good reason.  Not only can I say “it’s so gorgeous up there” so many times and bore even myself, but also we had more fun on the way down the trail after lunch thanks to a new marmot friend we made during a lengthy game of peek-a-boo!

I saw the little guy scoot across the trail about 25 yards ahead of us and park himself in a set of boulders on the side of the trail.  Knowing that marmots tend to graze in and around rocks scrounging for little bits of lichen and mosses, I knew he’d be back out, so I started to get into position for when he did.

Bingo!  Oh, hello there…

Why, Hello...

Clearly I’d been spotted, but he didn’t run away.  Knowing that they can be skittish and don’t move nearly as fast as say, a chipmunk, I bided my time.  Each time he popped back into his little hiding spot, I slowly crept up another step or two to get closer to him.  (I always keep a healthy and respectable distance away from critters, balancing not spooking them with where I need to be for grabbing a shot.)

Every time after I’d step forward, I’d see a little nose pop out and check out the situation:

Still There?

After about 15 minutes of this dance, I think he decided to “smile” (unlikely) or was simply annoyed with my presence and my taking so many shots of him:

Smiling

And with that, we bid each other adieu and everyone went about their day:

Bye Now

Another successful day on the trails in the books!

– JC

Late April Snow Day

We got one of our typical mid-spring snowstorms yesterday in Colorado.  It was an instant reminder that I still had snowshoeing pictures to share now that my computer has been back up and running for almost 2 months.  (Whoops!  Life away from the computer got busy during that span, so as usual, I’m a little behind on my posts.)

There’s still snow up in the mountains, but it’s doubtful I’ll get out to snowshoe again before next season.  That means I only got out twice this season.  But, twice is better than none!

As it turned out, all of the snowshoeing I got to do happened in January.  Our first snowshoe outing was on New Year’s Day where we celebrated the start of 2017 by cruising along the Flattop Mountain trail for as long as we felt like going.  (It’s a very long and somewhat difficult trail for snowshoeing that I’m just not up to handling yet.)

The day started out with nice weather, but as it seems to always happen in the winter, another storm was on its way into the area as the day progressed.  We had to cut our day a little short just to be on the safe side.  On the left, you can see the storm starting to blow down and into the park over Hallett Peak at the start of our hike.  On the right, the storm settled in and the snow began.  We were only on the trail for maybe 2 hours, so the change in weather didn’t take too long.

Along the way I did get a couple of fun shots, including a shot of my “big winter feet” just for yucks.  Even though we had to cut our day short, it was a fun hike for our first trek of the season.

The only other time I got out snowshoeing was at the end of January.  (My husband got to sneak in another trip or two without me later in the season – lucky!)  That day we shot up the trail to Emerald Lake, also in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The weather was a little nicer than our previous hike earlier in the month, but the wind was utterly brutal by the time we got to Emerald Lake.

Winter Mountainside

After being blasted by wind and cold at Emerald Lake, we came back down into the shelter of the trees and strolled across Bear Lake for yucks before going back to our car.  Luckily for me we came across something interesting – some inverse footprints that were caused by the mixing of melting, new snowfall, and wind over the winter on the lake.

Reverse Footprints in the Snow

This winter was very much feast or famine in terms of snow in the mountains of Colorado.  In the end though, we were fortunate to get enough snow to build the snowpack to an almost normal level which will be very good for our summer because we’ll have water thanks to the snowmelt running off the mountain and down into the plains.  That’s the important part I try to keep in mind even if those random storms and changes in weather put a kibosh on our winter hiking plans during the season.

– JC

 

 

Fall on the Solstice

Fall is officially over today and now we’re in my favorite season – winter!  Unfortunately, I’m still in clean-up mode with my pictures, so mentally there’s still a chunk of my mind stuck back in fall.

The job the last few days has been clearing the backlog of pictures log-jammed on my phone.  In today’s quick post, the taste of fall is brought to us courtesy of some shots at Rocky Mountain National Park that I snagged while visiting with my sister’s family on their vacation in early October.

Enjoy!

– JC

Procrastination Didn’t Pay

This post has actually been a long time in the making only because it involved 2 separate hikes.  Desperate to get away from the already-record crowds in Rocky on 4th of July weekend, we made a little diversion to a lesser known area for a quiet hike.  No only did we hardly see any people, the views were amazing!!  Full kudos to my husband for scouting out and correctly guessing that St. Vrain Mountain was the place to be!!

The St. Vrain Mountain trail runs mostly in Indian Peaks Wilderness, but towards the end veers in and out of Rocky Mountain National Park.  The trail head is a bit off of the beaten path, so that helps keep crowds down.  Add to that the 4 or so miles of moderately difficult hiking just to get to the base of St. Vrain Mountain before going up a mile’s worth of boulders to the summit, and you’ve got the perfect mix of “crowd suppression” we so often seek when hiking.

Summer hiking, especially above treeline, means early mornings.  That’s probably the toughest part some days – just getting going.  For the first hike, I only toted my phone because we weren’t sure what we’d find or how hard the boulder field would be to traverse on the way to the summit, so I made it easy on myself.  The sun was just starting to come up as we set out on the trail through a forest of aspen trees, then along a stream where wildflowers were just opening to greet the day.  We even came across a tree felled by a beaver near the stream!

Good start to the day noted, we kept trudging up the hill.  The aspen forest seemed to go on forever, but eventually it gave way to pines.  The purple and yellow and red wildflowers combined with the early sun of the day and a crispness in the air was simply fantastic.  We even lucked out and found some picturesque columbines peeking out along the side of the trail.

Eventually – and what seemed like took forever – the pine trees disappeared and we were above treeline.  That’s when things got really spectacular!  Not long after leaving the forest, we were up on the saddle between hills just to the south of RMNP.  We looked to the north and our jaws just dropped.  We were staring at the south faces of Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, Mount Lady Washington, and the whole gaggle of peaks that make up that southern section of the park.  Add to that some fluffy clouds throwing dramatic shadows on the jagged mountains and the brilliant yellows of wildflowers in the meadows and it was something to behold (even if the camera on my phone couldn’t quite do it justice).

On the Border - Panorama

I think at this moment, we looked at each other and knew immediately that we’d be doing this hike again, and soon.  The “big gun” camera and its accoutrements must make it to at least the saddle to really capture what we were seeing before us.

Putting that thought aside, we still had time and the weather was cooperating, so we decided to go on and summit St. Vrain Mountain.  From the saddle, it didn’t look so bad… (St. Vrain Mountain is the hill on the right closer to the foreground.)  Looks are very deceiving in the mountains.

Some Context - St. Vrain Mountain

So we whip around the hill a little more and start to go up.  Then kept going up.  That last mile up the hill was a slog of boulder hopping and figuring out how best to navigate to the top sans trail.

Plotting the Course

The climb was tough, but the bonus was when you stopped to rest.  That’s when you could look to the north and see the peaks in RMNP and then to the south and see Indian Peaks.  Not bad scene to catch your breath.

Longs South Side

After what seemed like one of the slowest climbs ever – including stopping because we came upon 2 ptarmigans near the top!! – we made it to the summit.  The view was simply sublime and made it worth the extra effort to reach the top.

St. Vrain Mountain - Summit Panorama

Once we grabbed a bite to eat, we headed back down before those cute clouds potentially turned into storms that would be a bad thing to be caught in above treeline.  All the while we were already planning our trip back.

Park Hopping

Successful maiden hike over, we headed home and plotted to come back in a couple of weeks with my big camera and really get into shooting in the saddle.  (There’s no way I’d try to summit at this point with all of my gear.  My conditioning is much better than it was years ago, but climbing a boulder field that long with the extra 20 or so pounds of equipment isn’t happening any time soon.)

Cut to the end of July – time to go back!  I was super excited to go with the “big gun” and take some time shooting the streams, the wildflowers, and especially up in the saddle.  Unfortunately, in the few weeks between trips, things changed a lot up there.  Summer is a fickle and fleeting thing in the high country and by the time we returned, the wildflowers in the saddle were done.  On top of that, it was a cloudless sky that was flat and off-color because smoke and other particles from wildfires to the north in Colorado and even from way down south in New Mexico were blowing in creating a nasty haze that not even my polarizer could cut through.  Talk about disappointment!

Just Over the Hill

I was so bummed about the conditions that when I offloaded my images for post-processing, I just let them sit for a few weeks.  I felt a general malaise about what I captured that day.  I hoped some had potential to be “rescued” and turned into something good, but I didn’t have much luck with that.  I ended up keeping only 3 images from the entire day!  That’s the thing with shooting in nature – some days you get incredibly lucky, but other days are simply an icky washout.

In the end, delaying our return trip and postponing my post-processing led to a massive delay in finally getting this post done.  Procrastination didn’t pay off in terms of pictures in this instance, but I think I learned a lot of good things about timing and the weather in this location just on these 2 trips alone so come next summer I can really try to nail the beauty of this area when things are at their peak.

 

– JC

My Birthday with My Dad & Rocky

The last full day of my parents’ visit with us just happened to be my birthday, so I ended up spending my birthday with my dad back up at Rocky Mountain National Park playing with our cameras.  My dad already had thousands of shots at this point of their trip – both from Rocky and from their “side trip” to Yellowstone.  While his shots of the wildlife were phenomenal, the legwork was starting to catch up to him and he wanted something different to shoot, so I suggested we do some easy hiking around Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake so he could get some stream and waterfall shots.  He loved that idea because then he could play with a new graduated density filter he got before the trip but hadn’t been able to use yet.  So off we went (and at the usual, absurdly early hour too)…

Before I get to the shooting day, there is a bit of a back story to share from about 9 years ago.  That’s when I got my first DSLR setup – the swank new Nikon D300.  Around that time, my dad was also ready to upgrade his gear, and he ended up with the same camera!  So now, not only had photography become a new language that my dad and I could share, but now we could talk camera-specific tech details (and I could serve as tech support from time to time).  After most of my life not knowing what the hell he was talking about or understanding what he was shooting (on film too!), this was a really cool development.

In the years since the D300 came out, my dad (who’s retired and primarily does bird photography) had continually asked me every few months if I had heard any new rumors of a D300 replacement.  Just like all D300 owners, we were frustrated with Nikon as the years went by and no DX-format, “pro-sumer” body replacement for the D300 was announced.

Then lo and behold this year – finally! – the D500!  My dad ordered his as soon as they started accepting pre-orders, but I had to wait a while before pulling the trigger on mine.  I have to admit – I was a little jealous when he got his, but about a month later mine finally showed up.  Fun thing is that I didn’t tell him I had ordered it, let alone it had arrived, and he still didn’t know I had it until they arrived and I pulled it out!  Needless to say, he was surprised and then came the litany of “have you found this?” or “how did you set this?” questions more or less immediately.  That’s ok though because I think both of us were still figuring it out together.

Now – back to our day at Rocky… It was very much a learning day for both of us.  We trekked up the trail from the Glacier Gorge trailhead with Alberta Falls being the goal.  I chose that hike because it wasn’t too steep, it was pretty short, and I knew there were a bunch of good shaded mountain streams along the way that would be running like crazy at the end of spring run-off as the snow finished melting.  I didn’t take a ton of shots that day since I didn’t take my full setup (and I’m still waiting for some tripod connection pieces to become available for the D500), but I got some good shots.  My dad hasn’t processed his shots from the trip yet, but I think it’s a safe bet he got the better shots that day since he had his full setup with him!

The first thing we shot was one of the streams I knew off of the side of the trail.  My dad had gotten creative with a grinder and one of his old tripod plates, so he was good to go in terms of a steady setup to do long exposures on the running stream.  My shots were “meh” since I was doing the best I could with a monopod, but I also have the advantage of living near Rocky and can go back pretty much whenever I want.  I did get one shot of the stream that I liked, and it’s from a goofy angle that I just tried for effect.

Sideways Flow

I think this was the only stream shot I had turn out all day.  No matter though, because as my dad was focusing on steams, I was going after ambiance and other little things catching my eye – like the aspen grove a little way up the trail from the trailhead.

When we did finally get to Alberta Falls, it was still early enough that it wasn’t crowded yet, so my dad could really fiddle with shots.  The snow was so bountiful again last winter (yay!) that the falls were really raging – to the point that there was a steady mist blowing at the camera and a long exposure shot wasn’t all that interesting from the main viewpoint.  That’s when I shifted into “location scout” mode, scampering up the trail and the rocks along the falls to see what shots might be available before having my dad trek up with his gear.

Just from looking in the display on his camera, my dad was pretty excited about the shots he bagged up at the highest point of the falls.  Me – on the other hand – I was content with taking some more ambient shots – including one of a little beggar face that kept circling as I ate a snack.

Once we finished up and got back to the trailhead, my dad was game for grabbing a couple of scenic shots at Bear Lake.  Since it’s summer in the park and the volume of visitors is already through the roof in June (Rocky saw a record 4 million visitors in 2015!), we hopped an already-packed shuttle bus to get to Bear Lake.

As usual for summer, Bear Lake was teeming with people.  We didn’t stay long, but my dad did get a couple of scenic shots of Hallett Peak from the lakeside, and I got some shadowy figures for my collection.

Lakeside Mood

Bear Lake was our last stop of the day in the park before we headed back down the hill and then grabbed some lunch at my favorite pizza place in our town.  When we got back to the house, I think both of us crashed for much-needed naps before heading out to dinner with the whole family that night.  What a fabulous way to spend my birthday!!

-JC

No Words – Just Some Winter Beauty

Ok, so maybe a few words.  New Year’s weekend 2016 involved another snowshoe adventure because when the conditions are good and you’re not stuck at the office, you’ve just got to go!  This day took us up to Lake Helene and the views along the way were simply stunning.

Here’s just a couple of shots from that day that I liked the most.  This is definitely a hike we’ll have to do again no matter the season!

-JC

Winter Trek
Winter Trek
Notchtop Mountain at Lake Helene - Winter
Notchtop Mountain at Lake Helene – Winter