The Eyes Have It

Aspen Eye. RMNP, Colorado, 2014
Aspen Eye. RMNP, Colorado, 2014

I’ll be watching you…The Eye of Horus, the Egyptian symbol of healing and protection.

I’m agog to learn that the Egyptian sphere of influence once extended as far as the aspen colonies of what is now and temporarily (in the geologic sense) known as Rocky Mountain National Park.

And your quote o’ the day:

“As I progressed further with my project, it became obvious that it was really unimportant where I chose to photograph. The particular place simply provided an excuse to produce work…you can only see what you are ready to see–what mirrors your mind at that particular time.”

George Tice

Colorado Blue Columbine, the Colorado State Flower

That would be aquilegia caerulea to your friendly botanist.

How many photos have been snapped of this sensuous little creature? A billion? Ten billion? How many images have you personally made of it? It is hard to resist aiming your philandering phallic photo sensor its direction, isn’t it?

So, the question is…How do you make an image of such an iconic flower that is different from the rest? Answer: Follow your gut! Your gut is the intestinal gateway to your personal photographic style.

Take this version for instance. It obviously is not my style, but it does faithfully reflect the vision of the artist who made it:

Liladrama. Colorado, 2014 (Published with permission of Maria Rosa Fuste)
Liladrama. Colorado, 2014 (Published with permission of María Rosa Fusté )

Taking an altogether different path through the same forest, my version reflects my personal way of using B&W to hone in on the subject in sort of an abstract way:

Soft Columbine. Colorado, 2014
Soft Columbine. Colorado, 2014

Which is best? Neither, of course. You may prefer one over the other, but each is different because each image flowed from the unique bacteria-laden gut of its respective author. (Personally, I like the first image best…I’m not much of a flower guy just yet. Still learning.)

By the way, the flowers are starting to come into form up in the high mountains…time to skedaddle on up them thar hills, pardner!

Mt. Sherman in Monochrome

I just went back through my files from the Mt. Sherman trip with an eye for what might work in monochrome.

Here is a reprise from yesterday’s post (with mostly different images), this time in B&W…

The view south, Mt Sherman Summit. Colorado, 2014
The view south, Mt Sherman Summit. Colorado, 2014
Sunrise on Mt. Massive & the Sawatch Range. Colorado, 2014
Sunrise on Mt. Elbert & the Sawatch Range. Colorado, 2014 (Note shadows in the Arkansas River Valley from Sheridan and Sherman)
Power at High Altitude. Mt. Sherman, Colorado, 2014
Power at High Altitude. Mt. Sherman, Colorado, 2014
Pikes Peak on the Horizon #1. Mt. Sherman, Colorado, 2014
Pikes Peak on the Horizon #1. Mt. Sherman, Colorado, 2014
Pikes Peak on the Horizon #2. Mt. Sherman, Colorado, 2014
Pikes Peak on the Horizon #2. Mt. Sherman, Colorado, 2014
Hilltop Mine Ruins #2. Mt Sherman, Colorado, 2014
Hilltop Mine Ruins #2. Mt Sherman, Colorado, 2014
Hilltop Mine Ruins #3. Mt Sherman, Colorado, 2014
Hilltop Mine Ruins #3.  Mt Sherman, Colorado, 2014

14er Report #4: Mt. Sherman (Early Summer, from Fourmile Creek)

The view northeast, Mt Sherman Summit. Colorado, 2014
The view northeast, Mt. Sherman summit just after sunrise. Colorado, 2014

 

This one has the reputation of being one of the quickest and easiest of Colorado’s 14ers. They say a Cessna 310 crash-landed on the long, ridge-like top in January of 1967 and all survived–sounds pretty scary to me (see THIS LINK and scroll down to page 3).

For us unwinged humans, the climb is about 2000-feet vertical and a round trip of under five miles (all assuming you can park at the gate just below the mine ruins). As a sightseeing bonus, you have the aforementioned old mine structures along your route–Dauntless, Last Chance, and Hilltop Mines. (Don’t go inside of what remains of these sites–you’ll fall down a hidden shaft never to be heard from by your mother ever, ever, ever again!)

With no Moon scheduled by the Universe, my plan was to leave early enough to allow time for some Milky Way shots, possibly “light painting” one of the mine ruins in the foreground. I was especially focused (sic) on the tall building at the Hilltop Mine–the Milky Way should be right above it if I were to get there early enough. I had even memorized exactly where to put my lens to get exact infinity focus…

Ah, the best hatched plans.

It was a dark night. Not stormy, but really dark. My entire world was the 50-foot radius of my headlamp. I had anticipated this a bit and had studied the route several times on 14er.com–had it memorized, basically. But…I didn’t anticipate all the other, distracting, criss-crossing roads and trails in the main mine area. Even with the light out and eyes adjusted to low light, the mountain ahead was just a dark, shapeless mass…so my aiming reference was not very exact and based mainly on manly intuition (and we know how that works).

So, I climbed up what seemed like a good trail, thinking I was headed for the saddle between Mt. Sheridan ( a 13er to the southwest) and Mt. Sherman itself. Up…up…up…and instead of a saddle, I popped up onto a smallish, rounded summit with an immediate view of the lights of Leadville way below. Apparently, I had veered a bit too far to the left on the way up and I had managed to climb, unintentionally, 13,748-foot Mt. Sheridan. Hmmm…

In the dark (even the starlight was blocked by some cloudiness), I could see a shadow of what was probably Mt. Sherman to the north, but I couldn’t see for sure the best route down the Mt. Sheridan scree to the main saddle. So, I settled down in the Sheridan summit wind shelter for 40 minutes until the approaching dawn illuminated the options sufficiently.

It’s amazing how a little daylight can clear things up. Once again, that famous quote by either Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett (or was it CCCarl?) comes to mind: “I ain’t never been lost, but I was bewildered for three days once…”

The lesson here is that even the easiest 14er can cause you problems. Imagine, instead of darkness, a whiteout, heavy rain, or fog. It would be quite easy to climb or descend into the incorrect drainage and find yourself cliffed out, cold, hungry and lost. Bad weather and an easy mistake could turn your little high altitude romp into an epic. (Hmmm…maybe a little hand-held GPS wouldn’t be a bad idea…)

Luckily, this particular day ended just as fine as a frog’s hair. (Which is pretty fine, actually.) So, on to the trip report and a few images. Click here to continue on!

The Amazing Aspen Colonies

The Scuba Diver, Aspen Detail #1. RMNP, Colorado
The Scuba Diver, Aspen Detail #1. RMNP, Colorado

I have always loved the aspen colonies (yes, they are colonies…more on this in a jiff). Climbing up into the aspen forests meant you were finally up at cooler altitudes, usually approaching 9,000 feet in my familiar Arizona and Colorado haunts…a thinner, clearer, purer atmosphere tinged with the comforting (for me) moist scent of pine and fir.

In Arizona, in years past, the annual fall trek with a group of friends to the golden aspen groves on the San Francisco Peaks was a tradition I loved. Here in Colorado, our aspen groves tend to be even bigger and grander–Independence Pass in autumn is the classic example.

Unfortunately, many folks over the years have taken their knives to the thin aspen bark, simply to record their visit or, more often perhaps, to record their current love life status.

With time, though, as these trees grow and expand, these old marks eventually heal themselves and take on a scarred, abstract look. Thus, today’s images.

Now, as to the colony thing. Aspen trees grow up from a connected root system (called “clonal colonies”) that spreads below the earth from a parent tree. The trees (clones!) themselves may only live 80-150 years, but this underground root system can live on for thousands of years, surviving even major forest fires. You can sometimes see which groups of aspen belong to which colony as they will tend to leaf out or turn color together (although temperature will affect this, too).

Now, here is a final and most mind-expanding factoid: There is one aspen colony in Utah–the Pando colony–that is said to be one of the Earth’s oldest living organisms at some 80,000 years old!

Interesting stuff, eh?

Camouflage, Aspen Detail #5. RMNP, Colorado
Camouflage, Aspen Detail #5. RMNP, Colorado
Angie the Angelfish, Aspen Detail #6. RMNP, Colorado
Angie the Angelfish, Aspen Detail #6. RMNP, Colorado

Alluvial Fan

West Alluvial Fan Parking, RMNP. Colorado, 2014
West Alluvial Fan Parking, RMNP. Colorado, 2014

Up in Rocky Mountain National Park, there is an interesting new geologic attraction worth casting a gander upon.

Find your way to the “Alluvial Fan“. You’ll find it in the West Horseshoe Park area on the tourist map.

Once there, you’ll see that the road is currently closed toward Old Fall River Road. It is closed for good reason as the rains from last September’s big floods also took out asphalt access to this popular tourist drive–so the road is completely cut.

In fact, the creek coming down from the north into the alluvial fan area (Roaring River) has completely changed its course and it no longer flows under the original bridge. The Park Service will eventually have to rebuild the road crossing through the area and construct a new bridge a hundred yards farther west. The whole zone currently looks like a big stone and gravel quarry.

As a result, we have a new geologic phenomenon…and the signage has become a bit humorous as well.

Alluvial Fan #2. RMNP, Colorado, 2014
Alluvial Fan #2. RMNP, Colorado, 2014
Alluvial Fan #3. RMNP, Colorado, 2014
Alluvial Fan #3. RMNP, Colorado, 2014

Photography: An art of unlimited possibilities

Water Abstract #34. Wild Basin, RMNP, Colorado, 2014
Water Abstract #34. Wild Basin, RMNP, Colorado, 2014

“Photography is a system of visual editing. At bottom, it is a matter of surrounding with a frame a portion of one’s cone vision, while standing in the right place or the right time. Like chess or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilities, but in the case of photography the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite.”

John Szarkowski

14er Report #3: Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Bross, the Low Hanging Fruit Loop (Very Late Spring, from Kite Lake)

The Wrong Scree Descent, Mt. Bross. Colorado, 2014
The Wrong Scree Descent, Mt. Bross. Colorado, 2014

 

Low hanging fruit, you ask? Well, this loop really is a very quick way to summit up to five named points that measure above 14,000 feet above sea level. For someone looking for easy 14er climbs, these peaks count as “low hanging fruit”–there are many, many other summits which are not so accommodating.

Also, as it stands, it looks like I am on the “geometric progression program” for climbing the Colorado Fourteeners…That is, I climbed one on the first outing, two on the second, four on the third…Next time out I’ll need to climb eight summits, then 16, then 32..

So, just five outings to climb them all! (This is also known as the “Camp Counselor Carl Training Method“–he uses it to prepare for marathons and such.)

Well, no. And again, no. There are some key caveats:

1. This is one of the few loop trips that will allow you to take in multiple 14er summits. The rest of the peaks one does on this quest are usually climbed one at a time (although there are a few “pair” possibilities). So the “geometric progression plan” is right out.

2. Also, this loop actually only climbs three of the 53 ranked Colorado fourteeners. There are two other high points that, although named, don’t have sufficient separation from their parent to qualify as “ranked” (Cameron and South Bross).

3. Finally, one of these ranked summits–Mt. Bross–is on private property (mining activity up thar in them hills) and is currently closed to public access. South Bross is also closed for the same reason. For status updates on this and other projects in the works, search the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative website.

Remember, even though this is considered a relatively “easy” route for a 14er outing, it still requires you to be in pretty good physical condition. And, with bad weather, things can quickly turn very challenging, if not life threatening (lightning, hypothermia, etc.).

OK, so here is the trip report along with a sampling of images. Click here to continue on!