Travels and Stories

The Southern Alps

Sunrise at a glacial lake, New Zealand

Sunrise at a glacial lake, New Zealand. It was a treat to photograph this glacial lake, complete with icebergs – something I don’t get to do in California! And with fresh snow to boot.

New Zealand’s South Island is remarkably diverse. It’s an area about the size of Colorado, yet contains temperate rain forests, dry grasslands, enormous natural lakes, and lots of beautiful coastline, including its renowned fiords.

And to top if off (literally), there’s also a range of high, snowy mountains – the Southern Alps. These mountains aren’t terribly high compared to some other ranges. The tallest peak, Aoraki / Mt. Cook, is “only” 12,218 feet (3,724 meters) above sea level. Compare that to Mt. Whitney, in my home mountains, the Sierra Nevada, at 14,505 feet (4,421 meters) – the tallest peak in the contiguous United States (the “lower 48”).


Southern Light

Aoraki/Mt. Cook at sunrise, New Zealand

Aoraki/Mt. Cook at sunrise, New Zealand. This is the highest mountain in New Zealand. It’s covered in snow and ice year-round, but an antarctic cold front gave even the lower mountains a fresh coat of snow. I took this photo a good 40 minutes before sunrise as the predawn glow turned the mountains and clouds a vivid shade of pink.

I’m in the deep south. So far south that I’m down under – on New Zealand’s South Island.

Things can be disorienting here. I’m sure everything seems perfectly normal to New Zealanders, or to anyone who lives in the Southern Hemisphere, but to Northern Hemisphere residents like me everything is a bit upside down.


Yellowstone Aurora

Aurora borealis reflected in a thermal pool, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Aurora borealis reflected in a thermal pool, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. 20mm, 10 seconds at f/1.8, ISO 6400. I would typically use a little longer shutter speed for night photos like this, but the aurora was moving and changing quite quickly, so a longer exposure would have caused the pillars to blur and smear together.

Claudia and I are back in Yellowstone. We had such a great time here last year we had to return.

And we’re glad we did. We’ve experienced many memorable moments so far, but the clear highlight was seeing and photographing the aurora borealis (aka Northern Lights) early Sunday morning.

We surely wouldn’t have done this if it weren’t for our friends David Kingham and Jennifer Renwick. Jennifer and David are both wonderful photographers, and know Yellowstone inside out. Before Claudia and I arrived in Yellowstone they saw and photographed an aurora one night. It wasn’t the most intense aurora, but it was something.


Into the High Sierra: A Memorable Morning

Morning rainbow over a high-country lake, Sierra Nevada, CA, USA

Morning rainbow over a high-country lake, Sierra Nevada, California. A stitched panorama captured the brief rainstorm and rainbow that appeared at this spectacular lake. (Unfortunately panoramas look rather small here on the blog, but you can click on the image to see it larger.)

A few days after the big deluge on our trip into the Sierra high country, the creek near our camp settled down enough to allow us to cross it, which opened up some new terrain to explore.

Claudia, Franka Gabler and I decided to get up early one morning and hike to a nearby lake for sunrise. The distance wasn’t far, but involved two creek crossings, plus a steep ascent. Sunrise would be just after 6:00 a.m., but we left at 4:30 to give ourselves plenty of time.


Into the High Sierra: After the Storm

Rocky tarn at sunrise, Sierra Nevada, CA, USA

Rocky tarn at sunrise, Sierra Nevada, California

After all the rain and flooding on the first two days of our pack trip into the high Sierra, the third day brought clear skies and sunshine – and an opportunity to dry our wet clothes, sleeping bags, and anything else that had gotten damp.

It threatened to rain almost every afternoon thereafter, but never did. All we got was a brief shower one morning (more about that in a later post). But we did see lots of interesting clouds. And the deluge on our first day filled all the creeks, cascades, and tarns. Everything seemed lush and vibrant – more like June, or early July, than August.


Into the High Sierra

Mist, peaks, and creek at sunset, Sierra Nevada, CA, USA

Mist, peaks, and creek at sunset, Sierra Nevada, California. I made this photograph on our second evening in camp, as the rain finally stopped, and we were treated to a wonderful sunset (see the last two photos below).

Long before the Oak Fire, Claudia and I had planned to go on a trip into the Sierra backcountry with some photographer friends. We would be using mules to transport our gear into a remote campsite, staying for six nights, and making day hikes to nearby photo locations.

The fire threatened to disrupt those plans, but once we were able to return home, and our power was restored, it seemed possible that we could make the trip. It meant we had to pack rather hurriedly, but it was doable, and seemed like the perfect getaway.

It turned out to be quite an adventure. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the mountains on our first day, and soon after we set up camp that afternoon an intense thunderstorm developed overhead. We all huddled in our tents, pummeled by torrential rain and hail, while lightning struck all around us.