Tag Archives: ridge

Photographer Scot Miller, Yosemite Backcountry

Photographer Scot Miller, Yosemite Backcountry
Photographer Scot Miller at work on a ridge in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park

Photographer Scot Miller, Yosemite Backcountry. Yosemite National Park, California. September 14, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Photographer Scot Miller at work on a ridge in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park

I have been fortunate to get to know photographer Scot Miller over the past few years. I write “photographer,” but a more complete accounting would include videographer, author, and much more. I met Scot through my association with a group of photographers who have been photographing in the Yosemite backcountry for the past 15 years or so — sometimes referred to as the “First Light” photographers in recognition of their beautiful book, First Light: Five Photographers Explore Yosemite’s Wilderness(The others are Charles Cramer, Karl Kroeber, Mike Osborne, and Keith Walklet.)

This past September three of us (Scot, Charlie, and myself) spent a bit more than a week base-camped at a backcountry Yosemite National Park lake making photographs. By staying in one location for so long we become acquainted with the location in ways that would not be possible in the normal backpacking mode, in which one tends to move from place to place daily. Instead we have the opportunity to let the character of the place sink in, to wander slowly, to return to spots we saw earlier, and to experience a range of conditions — which on this trip included everything from Sierra sun, though wildfire smoke, to a couple of days of rain. One morning, without planning to do so, Scot and I ran into one another high on this ridge above our 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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Eastern Escarpment, Clearing Autumn Storm

Eastern Escarpment, Clearing Autumn Storm
An early season autumn leaves a dusting of snow atop Wheeler Ridge, Eastern Sierra Nevada

Eastern Escarpment, Clearing Autumn Storm. Eastern Sierra Nevada, California. October 4, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An early season autumn leaves a dusting of snow atop Wheeler Ridge, Eastern Sierra Nevada

This long ridge in the Eastern Sierra just north of the town of Bishop has long fascinated me, though for the most part I’ve only looked at it from a distance. (Or from the other side, as there is access via along valley to the west, but that’s a story for another post.) At first I was mostly aware of this steep section of the eastern escarpment of the range when it served as a spectacular backdrop for views of the pastureland and cottonwood trees of Round Valley. But with increased familiarity with the area and opportunities to view if from many directions and distances, I began to note what a tremendously rugged and daunting bit of terrain it is. In many ways, if you ignore the scant vegetation on its slopes, it looks more like the mountains of the desert, even reminding me a bit of places in Death Valley, though with more granite-like rock. Unlike many other Eastern Sierra locations, there is little (no?) evidence of glaciation, but plentiful evidence of erosion from water, including the classic alluvial fan spreading from the steep valley between the low hills in the foreground.

Despite the lack of glacial evidence, the scene presents many other classic components of the eastern face of the range in Autumn. Although it is small against the tremendous landscape, there is an aspen grove and a bit of summer-brown grass near the lower left. The main rocks seem to be the granite that we expect to see in the Sierra. The rocks are lit by filtered sunlight from the southeast. And the cloud drifting in front of the rugged face is the remnant of a passing storm that has dusted the highest peaks with a bit of early season snow, promising that winter cannot be far off.


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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Ridgetop Trees, Cloudy Sky

Ridgetop Trees, Cloudy Sky
A momentary break in a September storm lights ridgetop trees against a cloudy sky

Ridgetop Trees, Cloudy Sky. Yosemite National Park, California. September 15, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A momentary break in a September storm lights ridgetop trees against a cloudy sky

In a way, I sneaked up on this stand of trees over a period of several days. A small group of us camped at a backcountry Sierra lake for about a week back in September. The experience of photographing in one limited area for this long is quite different from photographing while actively backpacking or while moving around by vehicle. Each morning one wakes up in the same place, and each morning one heads out into the same landscape, looking for new views of it or for subjects and locations that were not immediately apparent. We also have the opportunity to return to subjects more than once as the conditions change — different times of day, different atmospheric conditions, and so forth.

These trees stand atop a glacially carved ridge above “out” lake and between it and another similar lake below. The rocky terrain limits the growth of trees and they tend to stand apart from one another, often revealing more clearly the shapes of individual trees. I first saw this area and it trees very early on during our visit, and I climbed the low ridge a number of times. Near the end of our stay a storm swept in and we had on and off rain for a couple of day. I went out on this somewhat soggy day, alternately walking around the landscape and using that very landscape to hide from the intermittent showers that passed through. I hiked up the hill in the rain, using a thicker bit of forest for cover, and I emerged into the open as the clouds thinned a bit and the rain momentarily diminished, and the landscape lightened as weak sunlight shone. This clump of trees stands resolutely near the very top of the ridge.


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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Autumn Snow Storm, Eastern Sierra

Autumn Snow Storm, Eastern Sierra
An early autumn storm drops snow along the summit of Wheeler Ridge, Sierra Nevada

Autumn Snow Storm, Eastern Sierra. Round Valley, California. October 4, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An early autumn storm drops snow along the summit of Wheeler Ridge, Sierra Nevada

This is not a photograph of eastern Sierra Nevada autumn aspens, a subject that has been quite visible in my stream recently. However, it is as much a photograph of autumn in the Sierra as is another photograph of those trees. During October we often seen the beginning of the grand changing of the gears that moves us from summer to winter. At times it may seem like summer will stick around forever, especially on one of those beautiful, crystal clear autumn days when the light simply glows. But inevitably these days cannot last and soon the first Pacific weather fronts arrive. The first few may only leave a dusting of snow, but the message is unmistakable — winter is coming.

This was such a weekend in the eastern Sierra. On the first day it was sunny and warm, and there was barely any sign that a change was imminent. Yet that night the change most certainly arrived, and when I awoke early in the morning it was in the low thirty-degree range at my camp and snow pellets were falling. Looking outside, through the clouds I could see that the surrounding peaks were covered with a thin coat of snow. After a bit of early morning photography I began my long drive back home, heading up US 395 along the eastern escarpment of the Sierra. Conditions were very changeable, and this scene quickly went from being completely obscured by clouds and rain to clearing conditions with only a remnant of the precipitation along the summit of immense Wheeler Ridge above Long Valley.


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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Granite Ridge, Trees

Granite Ridge, Trees
Tall trees on top of a granite ridge, Yosemite National Park

Granite Ridge, Trees. Yosemite National Park, California. September 12, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Tall trees on top of a granite ridge, Yosemite National Park

This has been a period of unprecedented drought in California as a whole and particularly in the Sierra Nevada. In the fourth of this series of drought years the Sierra is showing the strain. Creeks have stopped flowing, lake levels are significantly low, trees are under stress and dying throughout the range. This summer the annual wildfire season began much earlier than usual, and many fires spread quickly and took longer to contain. We certainly saw all of these effects during our week-long photographic sojourn in the Yosemite backcountry. Until we had a couple of days of (welcome!) rain near the end of the trip, the smoke was a major factor. On many days we had smoke so thick that we were concerned about our health, and the pall often made photography somewhat challenging. Fortunately, even on the smokiest days there were times when it was clear, too.

However, it is possible to see how to make photographs even in smoky conditions. On the plus side, some smoke can soften the light a bit, and the haze can enhance the atmospheric recession effect, which can emphasize the distances between subjects in front of the camera. The haze in this photograph comes partially from wildfire smoke. Here it muted to sometimes-difficult highlights on the granite, and it softened and muted the distant forest across the valley.


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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Morning Light on Granite Ridge

Morning Light on Granite Ridge
Early morning light strikes trees on the ridge of a glaciated dome above Tenaya Canyon, Yosemite National Park

Morning Light on Granite Ridge. Yosemite National Park, California. July 15, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Early morning light strikes trees on the ridge of a glaciated dome above Tenaya Canyon, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is known for many things — the Valley, waterfalls, and other familiar sights — but above all it should probably be known simply for granite. (Apologies to geologists ,who know that “granite” is a simplification, but I’m going with it.) The cliffs and domes of Yosemite Valley are well known, but I’m especially thinking of the higher regions of the park, where one is hardly ever far from granite slabs, granite boulders moved about by ancient glaciers, granite stream beds, granite faces, granite ground into sand…

This is one of those locations where it is possible to look in the right direction and focus your attention on a particular area… and see almost nothing but granite. Here a glaciated granite ridge, topped by sunlit trees, is backed by a glaciated granite wall in shadow, with a glacial granite canyon lying between the two. The surfaces of such places are fascinating. A close look at the sunlit ridge reveals large granite boulders, with trees and small strips of meadow. Below that ridge is a large expanse of exfoliating granite slabs with trees eking out a living on little more than bare rock.


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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Trees, Glaciated Ridge

Trees, Glaciated Ridge
A small group of trees in morning light atop a glaciated Sierra Nevada ridge.

Trees, Glaciated Ridge. Yosemite National Park, California. July 15, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A small group of trees in morning light atop a glaciated Sierra Nevada ridge.

This photograph includes many of the things that say “Yosemite” to me: the broken granite ridge of glaciated granite, the bluish morning haze, the small group of trees with space between them, ridges receding into the distance. Other things say “Sierra Nevada” to me, but these seem closely connected to the high country of this particular part of the Sierra.

This is a location that I (and, no doubt, quite a few others) have photographed many times, in a variety of conditions of light, atmosphere, weather, and time of year. I almost always stop here when I cross the Sierra through the park. On this morning I wasn’t making a stop while in transit to another place — this area was my destination. I had several photographs in mind when I arrived, ranging from more distant landscape to intimate scenes of glacial erratics and granite slabs. I knew that if I walked a short distance up hill and climbed a small hill that I could get a higher vantage point and look back at these trees and across this ridge and the morning light illuminated them from behind.


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.