On the Trail of Beauty – My Year in Pictures

Bridalveil Falls (hwy 50)

Bridalveil Falls (hwy 50)

December 31, 2013

Another year ends, my oversized Christmas tree is already on the curb, and I’ll soon be ramping up my training for the John Muir Trail, Mt. Whitney and other adventures that await. And like the ‘end of the year’ shows and articles that offer retrospectives on the year, I admit that I am no different.

The 15 photos I share in this blog entry might not necessarily be what a photo editor might pick or what gets the most likes or views on my Facebook posts or my website. Rather, they are my personal favorites, like some of the less played Dylan tracks from ‘Blonde on Blonde’ or ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. They also might not even be the most creative or exhibit the best technique, but when I see them, I’m taken back to the moment when I snapped the shutter and I can revisit emotion or circumstance.

I felt deep sadness while viewing the damage from the Yosemite Rim Fire. After I got rained out on Mt. Whitney, as I drove back to Lone Pine and looked at the summit wreathed in cloud, I was wistful and felt unfulfilled. But for the most part, while I’m on a trail, crouching, sometimes crawling on my stomach, to get the right angle of a mushroom or poppy, I feel a giddy happiness and profound sense of gratitude for this life and the talents I’ve been given.

Happy New Year to everyone and Happy Trails.

I’ve constructed this blog entry as both a gallery (with captions), and a longer form with expanded info about the various images. A mini-confession: This was supposed to be a top 10, not top 15, but I couldn’t bring myself to drag more images to the reject folder. Next year I’ll hire an editor or throw darts.

 

Black Oak, Yosemite Rim Fire

Black Oak, Yosemite Rim Fire

I start my narrative with this image (above) from my Yosemite visit the week before Thanksgiving. Other images I took conveyed more vast scenes of damage, but I prefer this small detail of charred Black oak leaves still on the branches. It was an emotional drive into Yosemite for me, but less than two hours later, I was hiking up the Mist Trail after a storm and stopping for lunch on the John Muir Trail above Nevada and Vernal Falls.

John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail

This photo of the John Muir Trail sign was kind of a bonus image to this post since it is not artful and not necessarily pretty. I stopped for lunch on my Mist Trail hike just a stones throw from this sign. It fired my imagination and since then I’ve been planning and training for an attempt in early August.

Clouds gathering over Yosemite

Clouds gathering over Yosemite

The day after my Mist Trail hike, I climbed to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls in a wind storm. These gathering clouds look more ominous than they turned out to be. I’ve been caught in mountain storms before, so I’m always wary. Thankfully, I was on my way down the trail. As always, Yosemite trips are fantastic. After a woefully dry Northern California December, I realize how fortunate I was to hike with the waterfalls flowing. Think Rain! Think Snow!

Bridalveil Falls (hwy 50)

Bridalveil Falls (hwy 50)

Back up the time machine to my mid-January ski trip. Even for January, it was cold. This is a less famous Bridalveil (unlike the Yosemite Valley version) east of Placerville on highway 50. Elevation here is around than 4,000′ so the accumulation of frost, ice and rime isn’t common.

Ghost near Carson Pass

Ghosts near Carson Pass

In late February, I went on a three-day snowshoe trip near Tahoe. I did spend my evenings in the warmth of motel rooms. I’m not a winter camper! My longest hike was near Carson Pass along the general path of the Meiss Meadow Trail. The nice thing about snowshoeing is that you just pick out landmarks, try to gauge navigable terrain and start walking. A good topo map and sense of direction also helps. I took the above image close to where I stopped for lunch. I found a bare patch of duff and granite outcroppings to sit and enjoy the view. I thought the clouds looked like spirits which is why I call them ‘ghosts’.

Lost Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

Lost Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

A quintessential Mt. Tamalpais trail image. Lots of trees, ferns, and a blanket of leaves and pine needles on the ground. Lost Trail in Muir Woods is a short spur, but it’s incredibly beautiful and lightly traveled. It is aptly named.

View from Hogback Fire Trail, Mt. Tam

View from Hogback Fire Trail, Mt. Tam

In early April I was hiking up the Hogback Fire Trail toward Fern Creek and a climb to the East Peak summit. As I stopped for a drink of water and to catch my breath, I turned around and nearly lost my footing when I saw this view back toward the south. This one was definitely one of my best images of the year. I shot it in color, but decided that it worked better as a black and white image. Over the years, fog has been an important component in a lot of my favorite images not only on Mt. Tamalpais, but from other Bay Area locales.

Mt. Diablo

Mt. Diablo

Another image brought to you by fog. This was as I drove into Mt. Diablo State Park early on an October morning. I was planning on a relatively easy hike from Junction to the summit on the Summit Trail. The drive on Mt. Diablo Road was a treat as low lying fog was starting to break and the rising sun was cresting the hills. I was able to get a lot of nice photos, but this one captured a lot of elements, hill, sun, oak trees, fog, blue sky, shadow and light.

Marin Headlands

Marin Headlands

For all my Marin County hiking, I’d never been to the Marin Headlands until this summer. And of course, as we know in the Bay Area, summer (mid-August) along the coast means ‘dress warm’ and carry layers. Near the information center, it was foggy, cold, and misty. The elements made for two of my favorite images of the year. This first one was of this water droplet laden angelica. It was only after I got home and saw the photo on my laptop that I noticed the airborne drops.

Rock Spring Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

Rock Spring Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

And again, this one from late June on Mt. Tamalpais was a popular one on my FBook page. The plant is a type of wild grass and the water beaded up on the dried spines of the seed head. There was a light rain falling during the early part of my hike. Had it really been raining, instead of misting, I don’t think the droplets would’ve been so intact. It almost looks like a glass sculpture. At this point in the year, I was just weeks away from my Mt. Whitney attempt so I was on one of my longer treks of the year, Bootjack Picnic Area to Alpine Lake.

Troop 80 Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

Troop 80 Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

I do love my wildflowers. What makes this image special (so special that it’s the cover of my book, Mountain Soul), is that I was on my final training hike the week before my Mt. Whitney trip. I was exhausted and on a blistering pace heading back to my starting point at Mountain Home Inn. I didn’t take many photos that day, but as I covered the final stretch on Troop 80 Trail near Van Wyck Meadow, the way the sunlight fell on this Blue-eyed grass bloom through an opening in the tree canopy made me stop in my tracks and take a few quick photos.

Matt Davis Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

Matt Davis Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

October isn’t a month that I usually expect to see many wildflowers, but I did find this late blooming California Poppy along the Matt Davis Trail. I love Autumn hiking for so many reasons. The weather is cooler, and since I’m in my post-Whitney mode, I’m not so intense about covering distance. I still like to exert myself, but this is tempered by taking the time to slow down and pay close attention to details. To get this angle of the bottom of the bloom against the blue of the northern sky, I pretty much had to contort myself, get low to the ground and sprawl across the trail. Of course, I did this right as two other hikers happened by to witness my performance (the only two people I saw that day). But it was worth it.

Thistle, Bootjack Trail

Thistle, Bootjack Trail

A late summer bloom of thistle below Mountain Theater on Mt. Tamalpais. The soft, diffuse light and the brilliant purple makes it look like a fiber optic flower. It’s almost like the bloom has an internal light source.

Rock Spring Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

Rock Spring Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

More mid-Autumn fun. More crawling on my stomach to get a photo. Again, it’s all about the light. A shaft of sunlight hitting the mushroom crown, and getting low enough to the ground to see the gills. When I posted this image on Twitter and Facebook, one commenter said it was the best mushroom photo he’d ever seen. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do love this one.

Mt. Whitney at sunset

Mt. Whitney at sunset

I spent the first half of the year training hard for my Mt. Whitney day hike (21.4 miles, 6,200′ of elevation gain). The one thing out of my control is the weather. As I slept in my tent the night before my attempt (and 1:30 am wake up for a 2:30 start), I woke at 11:00 to the sound of rain against my tent. It wasn’t a hard rain, but I know that if there’s rain at 8,000′, the elevation at my camp, conditions aren’t going to be better at 14,500′. It rained all night and into the wee hours of morning. At 3:00 am, I finally decided to sleep in and not chance an attempt. I was disappointed, but since I’d summited twice before and had been on the mountain many others, I knew I was making the right choice. Later in the day, some friends of mine reported that it was snowing on the summit. I’ll try again in 2014 from a different direction. The above image was how Mt. Whitney looked from my motel on highway 395. It took all day, but the clouds finally cleared (almost) at sunset.

As intimated, I plan on reaching Mt. Whitney from the JMT in 2014. The final two miles will be the same as in past attempts, but I’m planning on doing the full trail (220 miles) from Happy Isles in Yosemite to the Mt. Whitney summit. In the coming year, I’ll be filing updates about my training and preparation.

Again Happy New Year! Now get out there and hike!

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About victorvolta

I am a freelance photographer/writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in the very suburban city of Santa Clara. Education: San Jose State University (class of '84) BA degree in Journalism with concentrations in Photojournalism and English. Favorite Foods: Ribeye steaks and Stan's Doughnuts (separate plates, usually). Favorite Drinks: Strong gourmet coffee and Trader Joe's Blood Orange Italian Soda (separate cups).
Gallery | This entry was posted in John Muir Trail, Local Hikes, Mountain Soul, Mt. Diablo, Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Whitney, Muir Woods, Yosemite and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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