As my hiking year winds down, I confess I have no new images to post. Instead I want to share some of my favorite images from the past few years. I don’t claim that they are the best in my portfolio, but they all elicit emotions. Some of the emotions spring from where they were taken, when in my life they were taken, or simply my personal ties to the place. Today I share these images and some of my thoughts.
This image (above) never ceases to bring a smile to my face. I shot it in the spring of 2008 as I drove home from a wedding photography conference in Las Vegas. I lived in Coral Gables, Florida for about 16 months (’06 – ’07) and I was overjoyed to be back in my beloved Northern California. Toward the end of my time in Florida, I became more homesick with each passing day and I’d get misty whenever I’d see mountains on TV. This particular road trip was, for me, a celebration of home and a chance to get reacquainted with its beauty. I took my time driving back to the Bay Area from Las Vegas and found myself on this stretch of highway 46 between the Central Valley and Paso Robles in the glorious light of late afternoon and early evening.
January 1, 2009
New Year’s Day, 2009 – I got up early on New Years Day to bring the new year in with a hike up the P.G & E. Trail at Rancho San Antonio in the Los Altos Hills. Again, as is the case with many of my trips, I looked on it as a celebration. In this case, it was a way to celebrate sobriety, and the fact that I now wake up each New Years Day with a mind unclouded by hangovers. Instead I have the privilege of seeing unparalleled beauty. It was an overcast and cloudy day until I was just below the top of the trail when I emerged above the fog and enjoyed my lunch drenched in sunshine. The mist lent an air of melancholy and mood to most of my images that day. This hike also served as a kick-off to that year’s training for Mt. Whitney.
What has become a much anticipated ritual each year, is my visit to Hope Valley, south of Lake Tahoe to witness the aspens changing colors. This particular image is of the aspens along highway 88. To the left of the trees lies the west fork of the Carson River. Around the bend of the road in the distance is Sorensen’s Resort. Since moving back to the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve come to appreciate just how special this area is that we live in. I have hiking trails almost in my back yard; I’m an hour from Mt. Tamalpais and Muir Woods, Half Moon Bay, 3.5 hours from Lake Tahoe and 4.5 from Yosemite. It is paradise. And no, neither the State of California nor any local governments have paid me any fees.
Speaking of Mount Tamalpais, from my first hike here in July of 2009, I understood why it inhabits such a special place in the the hearts of those who have visited. There is a palpable spirit on the trails and in the trees. This particular image is from my first hike along the appropriately named Steep Ravine Trail in April of 2010. I did this hike the day after an early spring storm and the creek was robust. It instantly became my favorite trail on the mountain. From the Pantoll Ranger Station I took the trail down to where it meets the Dipsea trail and then hiked the rest of the way to my 4Runner in Stinson Beach, where I started.
June 23, 2010
Inexplicably, before I visited Yosemite Valley last spring, it had been almost 12 years since my previous visit. In truth, I can explain it: I abhor the summer crowds that swell the park, and because of this, I avoid Yosemite Valley, especially the Village, opting instead for the less congested Tuolumne Meadows. It’s most crowded between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Last year, as I trained for my Mt. Whitney day hike, I decided to endure the mayhem. I’m glad I did. The waterfalls were spectacular after the previous winter’s snowpack was healthy for the first time in years. I started early enough to beat the crowd. By the time I finished, it was indeed crowded, but I’d had such a memorable day on the trail, that I didn’t care.
Early July, 2011
I like the simplicity of this image. Most successful images are simple, but initially I didn’t think I would like this image as much I do. As I do with most of my images these days, initially I shot it in color. As I worked with it on my computer, I liked the way it looked first desaturated (photoshop-speak for black & white) and then with a slight sepia tone.
July 27, 2010 – Another simple image, not quite a silhouette, but the lighting is wonderful. Unfortunately, what made the light so warm and soft was a forest fire that was raging in Sequoia National Park on the other side of the mountains. Those who know me, know that I’d long obsessed about getting to the top of Mt. Whitney. I’d tried and failed 5 times over the previous 12 years, mostly as a 22-mile one day hike. Last year, the day after I shot this image, six days after I turned 50 years old, and two days before I reached 15 years of sobriety, I proudly stood on top of Mt. Whitney (14,496′). My best friend, Mike Gibbons, who was there in 1998 during my first attempt, hiked with me and with an Iphone documented me reaching the top, arms raised to the sky in a long-awaited triumph.
One of my earliest spiritual touchstones is Loch Lomond Reservoir. It’s a gem, nestled among the pines and redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Near Scotts Valley and the town of Ben Lomond, I first went fishing here with my dad and my three uncles when I was about 8 years old. We rented a boat for the day and I caught my first trout. My dad taught me how to bait my hook and cast. I went a few more times as a child and when I was old enough to drive, I’d occasionally go alone to fish from the shore and enjoy the peace and solitude.
Years had passed since I visited the reservoir, but in 1993 I went back with my dad and my half-brother Phil, who was 14 years old at the time. Obviously, there was no way I could know at the time, this would be this last time I would fish with my dad. He was diagnosed with colon cancer late in the year and by the time they found it, it had already metastasized. Trying to extend his life, my dad underwent chemotherapy throughout the winter and early spring and it wreaked havoc on his body. I visited him on Holy Saturday and it nearly broke my heart to see my dad, wracked by pain. In my dad’s hospital room the next day, Easter Sunday 1994, the family gathered. We were all aware that this would be our last holiday with dad. I arrived to find my dad sitting up and smiling, enjoying the company of his family. He didn’t resemble the man I saw the day before.
We started reminiscing and Phil entertained us with the story of how we caught our one fish at Loch Lomond the year before.
Our lines had got caught in the propeller. I reached down into a square opening in the middle of the boat and with a knife started cutting fishing lines. Phil joked that ‘wouldn’t it be funny if there was a fish on the end of the line?’ I pulled hard on one strand and sure enough, a trout came flying out of the middle of the boat and started flopping around the boat. The three of us laughed so hard we were crying.
In my dad’s room that Easter, everyone found the story as entertaining as we found it that day and we all enjoyed a laugh. Burned into my memory, though, was the sight of my dad sitting there in bed, tubes in his arms, a smile on his face from ear to ear.
I’ve since returned to Loch Lomond several times with Phil, once by myself and another time with Phil and my sister, Monica. It remains a special place.