Tag Archives: ridge

Basin and Range

Basin and Range
A long distance view across Death Valley and to distant mountains beyond

Basin and Range. Death Valley National Park, California. March 28, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A long distance view across Death Valley and to distant mountains beyond

The landscape of Death Valley National Park is immense. The fact that it is the largest national park in the lower 48 states begins to penetrate my awareness the more time I spend there. A number of years ago I spent some time on a very long cycling trip in Alaska and the Yukon, and this desert landscape comes closer than any other I have experienced to evoking the same sense of huge distances and deep stillness and quiet. This landscape extends even further beyond the boundaries of the park, from the Sierra Nevada to the west to distant peaks of the basin and range country to the east.

This high elevation location opens to such a huge swath of terrain that it is difficult to get your mind around the scale of what you are seeing. For example, there is a road out there in the large valley. To get there from the place where my tripod was set up would take me hours of driving — and that would take me perhaps less than half way toward the most distant peaks. Enhancing the other-worldly quality of this morning was the unusual atmosphere. The clouds of a weather front were breaking up over the mountains and valleys, and their shadows were moving across the landscape. Meanwhile, in another valley far behind me, dust storm conditions (which would envelope this entire scene by the end of the day) were beginning to pick up, and already the atmosphere was getting that milky, hazy quality that precedes such weather. At the bottom of the scene is an immense gravel fan that has carried material down from these mountains, filling the valley in places to thousands of feet of depth.


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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The Kaweahs

The Kaweahs
Ridge and Waterfall in the Kaweah Range near Kaweah Gap

The Kaweahs. Sequoia National Park, California. August 6, 2008. © Copyright 2008 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Ridge and Waterfall in the Kaweah Range near Kaweah Gap

This photograph comes from the High Sierra Trail, an east-west route across the Sierra between the west slopes of Sequoia National Park and Mount Whitney on the eastern Sierra crest. (Although it is technically not part of the route, I regard the final ascent to Whitney on a lateral trail and the descent from the crest to Whitney Portal to be part of the route.) While the north-south John Muir Trail has rightfully become relatively well-known, the High Sierra Trail is not as popular — though in many ways it is the same league. It covers an extraordinary route, climbing from the forested and gradually rising west side slopes up the immense canyon of the Kaweah River, crossing Kaweah Gap in spectacular fashion, descending Big Arroyo to the grand canyon of the Kern River, which if follows north to Junction Meadow before ascending once again to join the John Muir Trail heading south and then finally climb to Whitney Trail crest.

The trail up into the Kaweahs is stunning, with remarkably rugged and alpine scenery on the ascent from the west. It is, frankly, as impressive as anything else in the range. This section climbs the cirque above a popular lake destination, rising on a trail that follows an improbably route high into the mountains in the photograph before turning to cross Kaweah Gap after passing through a garden of small meadows and rocky tarns.


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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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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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.