This blog features 19 of my favorite images from 2019 adventures. They included a 343 mile hike through the Washington Cascades on the Pacific Crest Trail, two remote multi day backpack trips to the Grand Canyon, an overnight Rim to Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Hike, a Dolores River Trip, and numerous day hikes, ski trips and white water paddling trips.
Crossing the Esplanade on the Thunder River Trail, Grand Canyon National Park. Lauri, Taoseño friend, Anne, and PCT friend, Renee, on a 5 day, fall backpack trip to Thunder River and Deer Creek Falls off the North Rim. I love hiking open country (if it’s not too hot) and my favorite places to camp and photograph in the Canyon for sweeping landscapes are on the Esplanade toward the edge of the Redwall, and on the Tonto toward the edge of the inner gorge and away from where the Tonto Trail crosses the head of a drainage.
Powerline Falls can be a monster at 4000cfs. This is from my first run on the Taos Lower Box, a 15-mile class III and IV canyon run with Will Blackstock and Far Flung Adventures. This rapid is where I had my longest whitewater swim ever in a previous year but at much lower water. I basically swam the whole rapid, flipping my inflatable kayak near the top. For this shot, I kept one camera body with a 70-200 lens to pull the action in for more impact.
Adventure and photography ignites my soul, keeps connected to the natural world and sparks my creativity. There is solid science behind walking and physical activity increasing your creativity. Walking into any situation, from summer to winter, water to mountains, our goal is to find a way to visualize our love for the outdoors. We chose to have a life outside the ordinary with no regrets or compromises.
Trail runner Denali Strabel ridge running above the South Fork of Eagle River above Hunter Pass, Chugach State Park, Alaska. Denali is the real deal and a champion Mt. Marathon runner. I just love the Chugach, especially in the fall and when I have a great subject to work with. We headed up high above Hunter Pass on a nice September evening to capture the feel of running this scenic ridge route. Looking down Ship Creek drainage, Anchorage and Cook Inlet can be seen well below in the background. This was another essential light and mobile shoot with only my Sony A6300, Zeiss 16-70F/4 and natural light.
What is adventure anyway? It is not always about long expeditions to remote corners of the earth that involve perpetual exhausting physical effort, near death experiences, constant danger, misery and suffering. Those types make for better movies and books but they don’t reflect the kind of adventures I seek. It can be as simple as an afternoon hike or ski to an inspirational location that awakens your spirit.
Saving the best for last. For most PCT hikers, the Goat Rocks Wilderness is their favorite section in Washington. Having done it twice, I am in that camp! The first time, I blazed through this 66 mile section in 3 days. This time we took 5 to slow down and shoot more. The highest point on the Washington PCT at 7500′ is only 2 miles from where Lauri is pictured here. We cut our mileage that day to only 17 miles so we could camp a few hundred yards from here to capture last light in a field of lupine and a view of Mt. Rainier to the north. From the Knife Edge and surrounding area, the wildflowers are phenomenal and there are sweeping views of Washington’s two highest peaks, Rainier to the north and Mt. Adams to the south.
Another gourmet meal on the PCT, high in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, Washington. Camped at a high meadow around 6000′ Lauri prepares another dehydrated mashed potato with dehydrated chicken with olive oil and some spices. The 2-ounce headnet, essential equipment for the Cascades in July, is worth its weight in gold. After 12-14 hours on the trail, the routine is dinner, hunt for a few evening landscape photos and retreat to the sanctuary of the tent. The next morning it began raining shortly after the 6am alarm. It didn’t stop for another 30 hours.
Sure, some of our adventures involve a physical and mental challenge that puts us beyond our comfort zone. A little healthy fear is a good thing and some suffering at the hands of the weather is part of the experience, but for the prepared, the rewards and enlightenment of the journey far outweigh the punishment endured.
It’s not always nice out there. Crossing the Glacier Peak Wilderness, Washington, on the Pacific Crest Trail. This was part of our 343 mile section hike. Starting southbound from Stehekin, picking up the trail where we were stopped by massive wildfires in 2018, the hardest crossing comes first. Glacier Peak Wilderness is 108 miles to the next resupply point at Stevens Pass and this section has the most vertical change in all of Washington’s PCT. In the 2 times I’ve hiked this section, it also has the worst weather. You have to be prepared and know how to deal with it. We had one nice day of 7. The rest sucked and looked like this.
For photographers, today’s decreasing size and increasing capability of image making tools, makes it even easier to lighten your load without sacrificing photographic impact or professional results. This is quite liberating and the lighter gear I carry has made adventure photography more enjoyable and productive. While I’m not a true “ultra-light” adventurer, I carry significantly less than I did 10 years ago.
Whenever I can, I photograph from a participant’s point of view instead of from the outside looking in. I think you get more interesting and intimate images that way. I am shooting from the bow of the raft, with my body shielding my camera and ultra wide angle lens from the spray of the constant waves in the Taos Box, an epic 15 mile canyon run of class III and IV rapids. I don’t mind taking risks with cameras to get more interesting shots. When the really big stuff came, I quickly put my camera back into its waterproof bag and hung on. Only once that day did I come dangerously close to bouncing out of the raft with camera in hand.
Trail runner Wendy Sailors striding it on the fall tundra above the glacial Eagle Lake on the South Fork Eagle River Trail, Chugach State Park. We are not trail runners, just long distance hikers but we are out there for similar reasons and I love photographing mountain running. This is when being light and mobile is a blessing. To keep up with Wendy and other athletes we work with I keep my gear light. I take one body, lens and one speed light with a gel and grid, leaving the tripod behind. This location is 6 miles back from the trailhead. These are my old stomping grounds and we owned our first home 7 miles down the valley from the trailhead. Unbelievable that we had such rugged and accessible mountain beauty in our backyard. The South Fork has become a popular running trail and I really wanted to get up there with peak fall colors on the first week of September.
All of the imagery seen in this collection were made where I carry one camera body and lens, and sometimes a speedlight with a lightweight gel and grid attached. I often leave the tripod behind, or take a really light carbon fiber rig that weighs 1 pound. I carry my outfit in a waterproof fanny pack (for rafting and water sports) or a chest pack for hiking and skiing. Having a small rig easily accessible definitely facilitates shooting more and increasing chances of capturing candid raw moments, fleeting light, and peak or decisive moments. My current adventure set up is: Sony A6300 camera, Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens, Zeiss Touit 12mmF/2.8, Adorama Flashpoint Speedlight and Flashpoint R2 transmitter for wireless TTL lighting.
Virga and rain showers on a cool cloudy day on the western Tonto Trail a few miles east of Copper Canyon. This was from our 3rd Royal Arch Loop trip last April. Of 13 multi-day backpack trips in the Grand Canyon since 2006, this is the only trip were we had a long, wetting rain. Visually, the stormy weather with the fresh green of spring was a delight photographically.
After 2.5 days of trail dust, we took a quick plunge into Elves Chasm, which marks the bottom of the Royal Arch Creek. Very few backpackers see this place. It is mostly visited by river rafting parties. To get here requires long water hauls, route finding, steep pour overs, some insanely exposed descents, and a 20′ rappel. This was from our third trip. Yes, the water is cold as it is shaded most of the day. It’s about 8 feet deep where Lauri is diving into. It is one of the most beautiful sights in the Grand Canyon as far as I’m concerned.
Dean under the Royal Arch, the largest arch in Grand Canyon National Park. Getting here is tough hiking and backpacking, and reaching this spot is a 2-day hike with exposure, down climbing and lowering packs. This is from my 3rd trip on the Royal Arch Loop considered to be the toughest of established routes from the South Rim. It is one of the most remote parts of the park. The backcountry office asks a lot of questions before giving a permit for this route. There are long water carries and a thousand ways to get hurt, but it’s well worth the effort to see this hidden gem far away from the masses that flood the Grand Canyon.
Antarctic explorer and legendary Alaskan Iditarod musher, Norman Vaughn, (who I had the pleasure of meeting once) said if you have a rocking chair get rid of it. He also said: “dream big and dare to fail.”
First auroras of the season along a nameless lake off the Denali Highway, interior Alaska. Late August to late September has now become my favorite time to be in Southcentral Alaska. I’m over the midnight sun thing. At this time of year, the fall colors are fantastic, the bugs are largely gone, crowds thin out and it gets dark enough for aurora viewing. Up until the autumnal equinox around September 20-21, the days are still longer up north than points further south but I like sleeping in the dark again after the endless light of June and July.
It’s never too late and you are never too old for adventure. Even if your life is traditional most days, adventure can waken your spirit and ignite your creativity. For photography adventures, reduce your burden! Carry Less, Journey Further, Shoot More! Get off the beaten path. You are only two feet away from your next adventure.
After our fall Grand Canyon backpack trip we had the pleasure of showing a very special place to friends who are seeing the magic light of Buckskin Canyon in the Paria Wilderness for the first time. I’ve been here a dozen times over the years and never get tired of it. Last year at this exact time, this area was under waist deep pools of water. This fall was much drier than last year’s fall.
Packrafting the Virgin River through Zion Canyon with the Great White Throne in the background. High water on the Virgin is common in the spring and on this cold, wet May day we ran this class II, 5-mile float at around 400cfs. With packrafts we were able to hike above the Temple of Sinewava for a little extra river mileage. We’ve been coming here since the mid 90’s and we know this river well. I knew exactly which rock to climb on river right to get this type of view of the pack rafting experience in Zion National Park.
Happy PCT hiker, Hopper, at camp in the Mt. Adams Wilderness in Washington. Well known and famous trail angel, Joe Anderson, told me the only adults who sit in the dirt or on the ground are hiker trash (thru hikers). He was right! When taking candids you have to recognize when everything comes together and not waste time fumbling with your camera. Most of my candid photos of hikers I meet on the trail fail, in my opinion, but everything seemed to work as I caught Renee in a truly organic, raw, and candid moment. She was joking with Lauri and was able to quickly compose and shoot before she became aware that I was photographing her. I think that’s what made it work. I get jazzed when I can make someone look as good as she does in dirt, filth, sweat, and grime that comes along with long distance backpacking. Hopper did the entire trail the previous year and was hiking southbound with us through Washington. We ended up hiking the Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams Wildernesses together.
Backpacking Lost Lake Trail, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. The 15 mile Lost Lake Trail is a perennial favorite. If it were anywhere in the lower 48 it would be a national park. Taking advantage of an incoming system off the Gulf of Alaska, we did an alpine style overnight backpack/photoshoot. After a fabulous sunrise shooting landscapes we leave camp as stratus clouds off Resurrection Bay begin invading the tundra. It was an exceptionally mild mid-September being almost 70F the afternoon before near tree line.
Hiking to Double O Arch, Arches National Park, Utah with fresh snow. We ended our 2019 adventures with a trip to Moab, Utah. The idea was to take a break from skiing and the holiday crowds at Taos. So we went somewhere else with lots of holiday crowds and snow. But snow here is a blessing and the area received a well above average dump the day after we arrived. It made for some better than expected photography. The weather and park road closures limited our hiking options. To separate from the holiday crowds at Devil’s Garden we donned our Yaktrak Diamond Grips (the best traction device for snow on slickrock hiking) and pushed beyond on the steeper and longer primitive trails.
Fall family mountain biking, Snowbasin Utah. It’s such a pleasure to watch young people learn, grow and appreciate muscle powered adventure sports. These guys are my favorite adventure family and we’ve done mountain biking, backpacking, bouldering and rock climbing together. The oldest, Mason, in the middle of this trio, is already mountain biking competitively. We look forward to many more years of adventures with them.
Camp 1 on the Esplanade, off trail from Thunder River Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, North Rim. Most backpackers to the Grand Canyon (thankfully) stick to the Corridor Trails and designated campsites. I always prefer to camp at large, up high and out in the open. Sure you risk more exposure but if you’re a photographer you go for where the best earliest and latest light is. Lauri, Anne and Renee take in the last moments of sunlight for the day.