Piute Pass – Loads Of Snow, Swollen Creeks, And Busted Boot

Mt Goethe and surrounding peaks provide a panoramic view just over Piute Pass, Inyo National Forest, CA.

In August my friend Steve and I attempted a quick four day loop through parts of Inyo National Forest. Our plan was to ascend Piute Pass, head down the other side to Evolution Valley, and loop back up Darwin Canyon through Lamarck Col to complete the loop at North Lake. Sounded pretty simple, and going through some beautiful country. What we hadn’t planned on when creating the trip was how much snow was still in the mountains from the heavy winter. Even though it was August, snow still covered much of our trail.

As our trip date approached, we saw that not only would we have lots of snow to contend with, but also some very wet weather. Monsoonal moisture was pushing up from the east side of the Sierra, looking to drench our trip. After some deliberation, we decided to push forward, hoping for at least one clear evening or morning in Evolution Valley. I’d certainly put up with four days of rain for one beautiful landscape shot to add to my portfolio.

Snowmelt feeds waterfalls on the climb up to Piute Pass, Inyo National Forest, CA.
Snowmelt feeds waterfalls on the climb up to Piute Pass, Inyo National Forest, CA.

The climb up to Piute Pass was uneventful, passing a series of lakes on the way to the day’s high point. Glaciers clung to the northern slopes of the mountains, feeding small waterfalls. We did encounter several groups of happy campers who had spent the previous night at some of these lakes. I spoke briefly to a man named John and his son Clay who looked like they braved the nighttime rains in good spirits.

As we got closer to the top, I started seeing small fields of wildflowers. It was the right time of year for this elevation, but given how much snow was still in the mountains, I hadn’t been thinking of wildflowers at all.

Wildflowers adorn the meadows below Piute Pass, Inyo National Forest, CA
Wildflowers adorn the meadows below Piute Pass, Inyo National Forest, CA

As soon as we were over the pass, we were treated to panoramic views of the mountains to the south. We had a short respite of flat ground, before the trail steepened and we descended into forest. As the rain started to fall, I donned my lightweight rain jacket and began to wonder if I was really prepared for potentially four days of rain. Soon we came across our first water crossing. The typical rock hop had swollen to a deep, fast flow, requiring the removal of my boots and a careful crossing. While the water was only up to my mid thigh, I began to worry about the crossings to come, knowing that some were much deeper.

Some days on the trail, the terrain wins the day. This was certainly one of those days. By the time we got to our campsite area, I was absolutely beat, and soaking wet from the five hours of downpour. Steve and I slogged around the area looking for a fire ring. Every spot that looked like it could work was under water. Between the rainfall and melting snow, there was so much water in the area that large pools formed in just about every flat space available. After about 45 minutes of searching, we finally found a place. I set up on a very wet slab of granite, hoping most of the water would run around my tent rather than under it. We heroically got a smoldering fire going, and tucked in for an early night.

The next morning, we woke to clear skies. However, everything I owned seemed to be soaked. Even my down sleeping back was wet on the outside, worrying me about warmth for the next cold night if it soaked through. We sat for a few minutes debating whether to push on, or just abandon and head back to the car. I was tired, wet, and worried about the difficult water crossings ahead. What finally swayed me was the discovery that my right boot was completely separating from the sole. This did not bode well for three more days of rough travel, much of it cross country. Time to head back to the car.

Wildflowers adorn the meadows below Piute Pass, Inyo National Forest, CA
Wildflowers adorn the meadows below Piute Pass, Inyo National Forest, CA

Thus, with heavy hearts we repeated the terrain of day one. I tied some twine around my boot to hold it together and we climbed back up to Piute Pass from the west. Given that we had extra time to get back to the car, we stopped and took in a few beautiful wildflower displays on the western side of the pass.

Wildflowers adorn the meadows below Piute Pass, Inyo National Forest, CA
Wildflowers adorn the meadows below Piute Pass, Inyo National Forest, CA

While we didn’t get to see the glory of Evolution Valley, it was beautiful country nonetheless. Even though it is always difficult when you don’t reach your goals, we still enjoyed a night out in the wilderness, 22 miles of challenging hiking, and some high elevation August wildflowers. Failed trip? Maybe. But it is hard to bemoan getting some solitude out in the natural world. It does much to replenish my soul, even when the going is tough.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

2016 Round-up – Top 100 Photos Of The Year

In years past, I’ve curated a list of my best 40 photos of the past year. However, with trips in 2016 to India and Africa, I couldn’t whittle down the set to just 40. So here is the best 100 photos of 2016, many of which are previously unpublished. As always, there is a mixture of bird, wildlife and landscape, but this year includes much more wildlife than usual.

Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

The endangered african wild dog has a hunting success rate of 80% due to its pack hunting and ability to chase large prey to exhaustion, reaching speeds of over 40 miles per hour for 5 – 10 minutes.

To view the gallery, click here to see individual photos.


If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 lists.

2014 Round-up – Top 40 Photos Of The Year

After a bit of thought, I have compiled my top 40 picks from the last 12 months. I selected from a variety of outings and types of photography, ranging from landscape, to wildlife, to pet photography. Unfortunately, 2014 was not the year I caught up on my backlog of photos waiting to be processed, so this list was not selected from all of my 2014 photographs (you’ll have to wait till next year’s round-up for those!)

This year included a fantastic fall color photo trip to the San Juan mountains in Colorado, as well as visits to the Sierra Nevada and of course many bird photographs, including some previously unpublished.

Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

Gem lies on the floor, fast asleep
Gem lies on the floor, fast asleep

Or, just enjoy the gallery here on the page. To view larger photos in the embedded gallery below, click here to enter full screen mode.


If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 lists.

Shooting the Ends of the Day

Stillness envelops the landscape of Mono Lake just after sunset
Stillness envelops the landscape of Mono Lake just after sunset

One of my favorite times of day to shoot is either just before sunrise or just after sunset. The sky casts the entire scene in deep blues and purple hues, and the light becomes very soft. It is actually a great time to shoot because all harsh contrast is removed, and the photo captures all the details in the shadows.

The photo above was taken about 45 minutes after sunset, just after the typical “magic hour” light had left the sky. For post-sunset photography, it helps to scout your intended shots earlier in the day, as it can quickly get quite dark, and it is harder to compose the photograph. There is only about half an hour with this type of light before it becomes night photography.

Additional benefits include lack of crowds (even most photographers leave after the sunset light goes away), and (usually) any wind will die down, allowing for reflections and keeping grass and plants from moving in those long exposures. Here it is helpful to have an intervalometer to help time really long exposures, as most cameras stop their auto exposure shutter timings at 30 seconds. A stopwatch can also work in a pinch, but that can become more fiddly, especially in the waning light.

Moments before the sun rises, Hot Creek reflects the cool glow of snow covered peaks
Moments before the sun rises, Hot Creek reflects the cool glow of snow covered peaks

This photo was taken at the other end of the day, about a half hour before sunrise. Again, there is little contrast difference between the foreground and the distant mountains due to the soft, even light. I had been to this location before, and had pre-visualized this shot in this kind of light. This helped me greatly in knowing where to go and how I wanted to compose this shot, so that I didn’t have to wander around in the dark (and cold!) of the early morning. I find it also helps with my early morning motivation to know exactly what I want to accomplish. Without a clear plan, it is far too easy to glance out the window and then roll over and go back to sleep!