“Wilderness itself is the basis of all our civilization. I wonder if we have enough reverence for life to concede to wilderness the right to live on?”
– Margaret Murie, the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement”
Back to the Elks! This time with the hope of summiting Maroon Peak, the highest of the two famous peaks you see from Maroon Lake (although set farther back and to the left, it actually appears lower than its northern sister).
This time we came as a small group–my wife and her good friend from Basque Country, Spain, Maider L., and me.
The plan: a leisurely drive to Aspen from Boulder on Saturday, then my wife would hang out in Aspen on Sunday while Maider and I would hopefully climb the peak.
For Maider, it would be her first “difficult” route and her fourth or fifth Colorado 14er. With her long-distance running and gym climbing background, I was pretty certain she should have no issues with the Class 3 choss that we would have to negotiate, despite her slight nervousness about the whole affair.
The biggest doubt was the weather. All week long, the weather forecast kept getting worse. At one point it was up to 70% chance of thunderstorms and rain. Normally, that’s when you decide to pick another day or another destination, but our plans were fixed. We figured we would start early and make a final go/no-go decision once we gained the south ridge of Maroon Peak.
I figured we had a 50/50 chance of getting to the top…it would depend a lot on the vagaries of Tlaloc and Thor.
Well, a full report and a pile of pretty pictures follow…
Changing weather and changing color throughout the morning on a darkness-to-sunrise climb of Bear Peak this morning with good friend and fellow photographer, Jim D, visiting from “yeah-but-it’s-a-dry-heat Arizona”.
Two very different examples…
The subtle light and color at sunrise:
And…an alternate way to capture the more dramatic color and the essence of “the burn” that occurred in 2012 just below the summit. (It was called the Flagstaff Fire but, IMHO, should have been called the Bear Mountain Fire.) I used a 1/10 second shutter speed and shifted the camera vertically during the exposure, experimenting with various rates of movement:
The snow has largely disappeared from the alpine high country, save a few stray-grey patches here and there, or the odd “glacier” that is no longer truly a glacier (alas). The green of the tundra and the forest is fading. Brown and gold, the colors of autumn, are slowly creeping in to the grasses and will soon climb into the aspen. I even heard the bugle call of a bull elk yesterday. There will still be some hot summer days to come, but fall is nigh. The cycle continues.
I generally prefer the fall, winter and spring for high country photography as the weather conditions and the sky are often in turmoil and this makes for more interesting pictures–and experiences.
What can a photographer do, then, with a barren alpine landscape and a dirty old snowfield that still lingers on a cool north slope?
Well, how about turning it into something approaching an abstract…
It always amazes me that we have managed to construct a system that can be so easily and heavily influenced by fear, expectations, rumors, and so on. Something big on the other side of the world (like China) stutters, trips, falls, or fails and it affects us directly and immediately. A big bank fails in the U.S. and millions lose their jobs. Constant cycles of boom and bust that hit the lower, middle and working classes hard, but leave the upper classes largely unaffected (and some of whom in this class are the causes). An economy is growing–but not as fast as projections, so paranoia sets in and the markets go jittery…etc., etc., etc.
It seems normal to us that things would work this way and there are many economists who could explain exactly why these things happen. It’s just they way things are.
But, if we could think outside the box a bit, isn’t there a better way?
Why do we have so many entities that are “too big to fail”–like countries with huge GDPs, and companies with huge piles of assets (and/or debts)? And, why isn’t the economy more compartmentalized, for example?
It is as if we are all on a big submarine with no watertight compartment doors anywhere on board. It’s sort of Titanic-like in a way, no?
From the Second Flatiron, there was just a short moment when there was a perfect profile alignment with a climber on the Third Flatiron as he or she finished leading the last pitch to the summit. Three other climbers can be seen on the belay ledge below.
This image was processed in Silver Efex Pro starting with the “Silhouette” preset. There is actually detail in the cloudy sky as well as in the rock, so I do have a more standard version of this picture–but this is the one I prefer.
“This time-honored test piece is the standard route on North Maroon. The route is complicated, loose, exposed, dangerous, and has often rendered a fatal experience…Put on your cat feet for this one and climb with a light touch.”
–Gerry Roach, Colorado’s Fourteeners
Trepidation. Anxiety. In the end, though, it wasn’t that scary. And to that I credit the slow approach I have taken with these mountains–that is, start with the easy ones and gradually work into the harder ones. When you get to the harder ones, you’ll be ready.
Also, Pyramid Peak (last month) was a good introduction to the loose rock and the sometimes elusive nature of the route-finding that is typical of this area of the Elks Range. In some ways I even felt like Pyramid was a tad bit more challenging, perhaps because it was the first peak for me in the area…or, perhaps, because we didn’t always find the easiest way up while higher on that mountain.
On this trip, and once the sun rounded the Earth’s horizontal corner, the sky was uncharacteristically hazy for a Colorado summer day. The reason? Massive fires burning away the forests in California, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. Colorado seems to have escaped that fate so far this season (knock on woody surface), but the smoke from parts north and west had the state wrapped in a dull, grey, funky blanket. The flawless, high-resolution, ultra long-distance, blue-sky views you typically would see up at altitude just weren’t there.
But, the climb? The Peak? Spectacular and attention-getting! It was nice to come back to Mother Nature’s structures after two weeks in the Big Apple surrounded by the man and woman-made type.
A great place to visit–but I wouldn’t want to live there. Too many human beans piled atop one another and crammed into the streets. And too expensive. I’ll stay with the fresh air and the mountains, thank you.
Here is a visit summary, including some photography related points farther down, from my naturally very biased view…
Random, General Stuff
–We never felt unsafe anywhere. That hasn’t always been the case in NYC, so good on them.
–Some areas of the City were pretty filthy–the Theater District and Hell’s Kitchen, for example. With the summer heat, the garbage piled on the sidewalks for pickup certainly assailed the olfactory detectors quite negatively. So many people live there, though, I am sure garbage collection is one of those jobs that just barely keeps up with the flow (12,000 tons a day, they say).
–Speaking of garbage…I was not very impressed with the recycling efforts. An effort did exist, yes, but the amount of plastic that was being thrown in the trash (all those to-go containers) was appalling.
–Just the buildings and the architecture are worth a specific two-week self-researched, self-guided tour.
—Real estate is so insanely expensive it blows the mind into tiny, fragmented and scattered, fragments. Better a 50,000-acre ranch in Montana than a 6,000-square-foot penthouse luxury apartment, I say. But, I suppose those who can afford $70 million for the NY penthouse probably also have the other $50 million (stashed in the kitchen cookie jar) they would need for their Montana ranch summer “get-a-way”.
—The subway…well, at least they have one. And it’s one of the biggest, busiest, and oldest in the world–which explains a few of my complaints. It was very frustrating to use until we learned the difference between express and local trains, where they each stop and don’t stop, which stations have easy crossovers to the opposite track, weekend versus weekday runs, etc. Still, I was cussing it quite often for its confusing or badly placed signage, the many cars with little, no, or confusing route information inside, tickets that don’t tell you how much you have left unless you scan them in a machine, the same tickets that refuse to scan until the third try, underground line construction that will force you to go up one stop, cross, then back two stops to get the train you want, delays due to “switch problems” (euphemism for suicide?) or construction, etc.
If you know the system, I guess you can make it work for you, but they could sure take some cleanliness, simplicity, and efficiency lessons from the Barcelona Metro, or even the subway in Washington, D.C. The NYC system is a huge hodge-podge that has been growing like a blob over eons, so, like the garbage thing, I’m sure it’s a major mayoral task just to keep up with normal maintenance and keep the subway tunnels from flooding.
–The art museums were awesome. Definitely worth the trip to NYC to see. Most require multiple visits to really feast properly on everything. The Museum of Natural History, though, was good but seemed a bit past its prime. Denver could almost hold its own with their equivalent museum.
–This trip we concentrated on the sights and the museums, so no Broadway musicals, opera, theater, or symphony. (The opera and the symphony were on summer break anyway–off in Vail ironically!) If there is a next trip, we will concentrate on those things.
–Also, next time I would go in the spring or fall. We pushed our comfort limits with the August summer heat and humidity. Winter would just suck. Maybe. I think.
–Why do they crank the air conditioning down so low in the museums and stores that you need a jacket? Even in the United Nations building it was freezing. You’d think with our concern about burning too much carbon, that we would just set those thermostats three or four degrees higher. It would save literally tons of coal and the monthly electric bill for these places could be reduced tremendously. This isn’t just a NYC problem, it is a nationwide cultural problem.
–Gentrification continues…Harlem seems to be the current target. Brooklyn-Williamsburg is already pretty much done, it seems. NYC isn’t the only place where this happens, of course. Here in Colorado, think of all the big ski resort towns like Vail and Aspen…and even in the good ole Boulder Bubble it continues.
–We never seemed to go wrong wherever we ate pizza–awesome! You might avoid the $1 a slice places, though.
–There were six of us in a tiny, tenement-style, Airbnb apartment near 9th Avenue and 47th Street–the only way for your average middle-class tourist to afford being on the island.
–In our two weeks, we only scratched the first atoms of humidity on the coating on the metallic surface of things to do in NYC. You’d need a good year or two of full-time exploring to really get to know this place.
Some Photography Comments
–I brought my tripod but never used it. The only time I might have wanted one was on top of Rockefeller Center (The “Rock”). There, you could NOT use a big tripod, but a small tripod (say, six to ten-inch) for sunset and night shots from the top of the retaining wall would have been helpful. Large tripods are prohibited there and almost everywhere. To compensate for no tripod, I often shot my D800 at anything from ISO400 to ISO3200, depending on the situation, and tried to brace or lean on something whenever I could. There were times when I found myself changing the ISO almost as often as I changed the f-stop.
–During our day hikes around the City, I rarely carried the D800 and all three of my lenses due to the annoying weight. If using the D800, I tended to pick just one lens for the day (sometimes a second lens) and that was it. I carried everything in a daypack rather than in an obvious camera bag.
–The high tech audio-visual event that is the ascent to the One World Observatorywas most interesting for the time lapse video they show you on the elevator walls as you zoom up the 100 stories in 40 seconds or so. For photography, though, the viewpoint sucked. You are shooting through Plexiglas. To maximize the possibility of getting any decent images, at least try to get a ticket for a sunset visit–or during a raging storm. As an aside, I had a funny thought when I went: the visit is so audio-visually stimulating and over-the-top high tech, I almost had the impression that the view of the real NYC skyline was sort of an afterthought. A case of the artificial and the digital overwhelming tactile reality…
–Someone had told me that the Empire State Building wasn’t particularly good for photography due to the high retaining wall and the safety bars. Not so, at least for me. There are low points along the wall and the bars–the lens fit easily between them–actually could be used as an aid to hold the camera steady.
—Times Square at any hour is pretty good for candid tourist and people photography, as well as for shooting Las Vegas-meets-Madison Avenue-hurt-the-eyes-LSD-way-too-bright-LED signage. I am guessing there is always something going on at this epicenter, even when it isn’t December 31st.
–The major art museums allowed photography, with the exception of a few individual exhibits.
–In addition to the museums, before you go, Google “photography events NYC” to see what might be happening around town. Then don’t forget the elegant Aperture Gallery and the huge photo-toy store of B&H Photo.
–Anywhere in the City is great for street and people photography. Come with a goal or project in mind for street (I didn’t) and an unobtrusive camera–maybe just your iPhone. Or, hell, just come with your medium-format Yashica. No one seemed to care.
A big thanks to María Rosa, Jaume, Dolors, Roger, and Sara for making it a wonderful and memorable experience!
Adios, Adeu, and Chau, New York!
2016 Black & White Magazine, Spotlight Award Winner! (Issue: June, 2017, #121)
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