Category Archives: Photographs: Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada Trees And Granite

Sierra Nevada Trees And Granite
Trees grow at the base of a granite face, Yosemite National Park

Sierra Nevada Trees And Granite. Yosemite National Park, California. July 14, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Trees grow at the base of a granite face, Yosemite National Park

I originally worked up this photograph for an article on the relationship between supposed realism in photographs and post-processing. (“Photographs And Reality: A Complicated Relationship”) I selected it because the scene posted a particular common challenge, namely a dynamic range that was wider than the typical dynamic range of presentation media, and because capturing the full scene required me to make some exposure decisions that intentionally produce an original “straight out of camera” image that wasn’t lovely, but which protected the scene data I would need to work with the photograph in post.

The subject is a group of large-trunk trees growing on granite slabs at the base of a Yosemite high country granite dome. This landscape — more or less the landscape of much of Yosemite — is interesting in so many ways. Here the trees seem to somehow grow out of little more than cracks in solid granite, and shortly beyond where they stand the rock becomes too steep and too solid to support more large trees. While such scenes can be found throughout the park and in many more inaccessible areas, this one is right alongside Tioga Pass Road!


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Sierra Shoreline

Sierra Shoreline
Forest and granite boulders at the water’s edge, subalpine Sierra Nevada lake

Sierra Shoreline. Yosemite National Park, California. September 9, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Forest and granite boulders at the water’s edge, subalpine Sierra Nevada lake

I’m looking backwards and forwards with this photograph. Backwards to a visit of more than a week to a Yosemite backcountry lake with a couple of photographer friends near the end of last year’s summer season — a season that brought another year of drought and tremendous wildfires. All of that aside — but, boy, did we deal with wildfire smoke! — we had a beautiful period of late season light on many days, and a few days of rain from an early season storm near the end.

And I’m looking forward… to getting back into the summer Sierra before too much longer. Spring has been quite busy since our last big adventure, a visit to Death Valley back at the end of March, and aside from bird photography and a few odd trips here and there, well, it is really time to get back into the field for a more extensive period. Tioga Pass Road has now been open for a couple of weeks, and the High Sierra awaits. I hope to be back there soon, and back at places like this one and it this high country light.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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First Light, Trees, Lake, and Ridge

First Light, Trees, Lake, and Ridge
Trees along a rock strewn lake as first morning light strikes a southern Sierra Nevada backcountry ridge

First Light, Trees, Lake, and Ridge. Sequoia National Park, California. August 8, 2008. © Copyright 2008 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Trees along a rock strewn lake as first morning light strikes a southern Sierra Nevada backcountry ridge

This was the scene on the morning of this fifth day or a trip of over a week across the High Sierra Trail, a trip that would eventually summit Mount Whitney before descending the east side of the Sierra. To me, this route feels like it is composed of several distinct sections. The first couple of days are the approach, reaching the first high country from a west side trailhead. The next few of days are the crossing of the Kaweahs and the descent to the ridges above Big Arroyo, a portion of the trip that has the distinct feeling of remoteness and of dropping down to much lower country. Then there is the march up the Kern and the ascent to meet the JMT, followed by the lateral over to a base camp below Whitney, with the finale being the ascent of this ridge and then the long descent to Whitney Portal.

This morning was in that post-Kaweah phase, at our second camp after crossing the Gap. This lake, a bit off the “official” route, is a quiet and forested place with a gentle feeling that contrasts the rough edges of the higher country. We awoke this morning and I was out before dawn, photographing the first light on this high ridge beyond the trees and across the lake.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Alpine Lake, Wind, Dusk

Alpine Lake, Wind, Dusk
Evening wind on the surface of an alpine lake at dusk

Alpine Lake, Wind, Dusk. Sequoia National Park, California. August 10, 2008 © Copyright 2008 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Evening wind on the surface of an alpine lake at dusk

When we reached this lake we were approaching the end of a long trans-Sierra hike on the High Sierra Trail. We had crossed the Kaweahs, descending into the Kern River canyon, ascending to the John Muir Trail and headed south, with the eventual goal being the summit of Mount Whitney and the end of our trip at Whitney Portal at the eastern base of the Sierra.

This little alpine lake is the traditional base camp for hikers heading to the summit of Mount Whitney from the west, a group that includes a number of people nearing the end of the southbound John Muir Trail hikes. It can be a crowded place, with many backpackers (sometimes too many) setting up marginal camps in tiny flat spots among the boulders. In the evening I left my group to wander and do a bit of photography, and as the light faded I lengthened my exposures and allowed the wind to blur the surface of the lake a bit.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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High Sierra Trail

High Sierra Trail
High Sierra Trail to Hamilton Lakes

High Sierra Trail. Sequoia National Park, California. August 5, 2008. © Copyright 2008 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

High Sierra Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Sometimes I backpack alone and sometimes I travel with friends — and both are great. While I treasure the freedom and solitude of solo backcountry travel, I have been fortunate enough to find friends who share my interest, some of whom have backpacked with me for decades. This trip marked the third time I had been across this section of trail. The first time was quite a few years ago, when Patty and I went on our first long backpack trip, spending two weeks along the High Sierra trail as we traversed it from west to east. The second time I was traveling solo. In fact, it was my first solo pack trip, a two-week journey that took me a ways out on this trail, after which I turned north, wandered up Bubbs Creek, over Glen Pass, and around the Rae Lakes before emerging at Kings Canyon.

This third visit was on another trip across the High Sierra trail. Although I had done it years earlier, it was a completely new trip to the rest of my group, a band of backpackers who have traveled the trails together for a long time, plus a couple of new additions. The first few days of the trip traveled up the Kaweah River drainage towards a ridge crossing at Kaweah Gap. The trail mostly stays high on the north side of the canyon, and here above Bearpaw Meadow the trail occasionally travels along granite domes an ledges, always with the spectacular high ridge of the Kaweahs looming ahead.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Alpine Pond, Evening

Alpine Pond, Evening
Evening reflections in a boulder-strewn alpine pond, Sequoia National Park

Alpine Pond, Evening. Sequoia National Park, California. August 6, 2007. © Copyright 2007 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Evening reflections in a boulder-strewn alpine pond, Sequoia National Park

This pack trip, now almost a decade behind me, was a different sort of trip in several ways. We began on the east side of the range in a high valley south of Mount Whitney. This was in an area that we had visited in the past, and on one occasions I spent several days going up and down an unmaintained pass until we finally all got together and climbed a nearby 14,000′ peak. On the trip where I made the photograph we started out at the same trailhead but then skirted a bit south to cross the crest on a more popular trail. A bit further along to the west we left the main trail to visit a nearby lake, found a cross-country route out of its cirque, walked up a long valley to another lake, and camped there. I made the photograph on the evening of our arrival, looking back at tall ridges lining the valley we had ascended to get here.

There rest of the trip was unusual and special, too. On the next morning we skirted the lake and then headed up to find an unmarked route over a steep pass, dropping down abruptly from its summit into a long granite valley with several lakes. A day later we arrived at the usual west side route towards Mount Whitney. We stopped for lunch and moved on, heading north on the John Muir Trail. Eventually we crossed one of my favorite high spots along this trail and then descended to the junction with the trail over Shepherds Pass. We hung out in this area for a few days, investigating some more remote areas of the Upper Kern drainage before returning to this spot and then heading out over Shepherd Pass.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake shoreline in evening, Sequoia National Park

Moraine Lake. Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, California. August 7, 2008. © Copyright 2008 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Moraine Lake shoreline in evening, Sequoia National Park

I have only been to this remote lake twice, but as I think back on it now it seems a special place. My two visits were separated by decades. The first was when I was in my twenties and one half of a young couple on our first very long Sierra pack trip, a trip that had us taking two weeks to cross the Sierra from west to east. When I think back to pack trips from so far back, I realize that I have forgotten many details but this lake remains. On the second visit I came here on a trip retracing that earlier trip, though this time with a larger group of friends who had not been here before. It takes me a solid four days of walking to get this place, and the route covers some spectacular country and takes me into and across some very high places.

That route, and the contrast between it and what I found at this lake may account for the special feelings I have for this place. Both times on this route, the first day was a hard one under a heavy, long distance backpack load. The second day is about the same length, but it ends with a moderate climb to a lake. Day three starts right out with a brutal climb up the walls of the cirque above the lake, then crosses a high pass, drops into timberline country, and descends mostly open terrain to a camp where the trees grow thicker. Then on the fourth day things ease up. Much of the trail is though Sierra high country forest, mixed with open views, and then it leaves the main trail and takes a lateral out through more forest to this lake. I recall an expansive area of open forest along the shoreline, a shallow and pretty lake with forest on the other size, and a few peaks in the distance to catch the morning and evening light. From the right spots I could catch my first views of the summit of Mount Whitney, where I would stand a week or more later. And from this second trip I recall a slow and quiet evening with my hiking partners, hanging out in camp and sitting lazily on shoreline logs.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.