Squaretop Mountain Wind River Range Wyoming

Rocky Mountains Photography Tour

Rocky Mountains Photography Tour

Backpacker on Titcomb Basin Trail Wind River Range Rocky Mountains WyomingBackpacking Wind River Range #66803  Purchase

Update 8/162021: Due to wildfires and heavy smoke and haze, this trip has been delayed.

This summer’s Rocky Mountains Photography Tour will start on July 9. I was once again hoping to head north to Alaska and the Yukon Territory. But since it looks like the border won’t be open in time, it is on to Plan B. So this year I’ll be revisiting some locations from 2019 and 2020.

These locations will mainly the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness in Idaho, and the Wind River Range of Wyoming. I’m also planning a lengthy backpacking trip to the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. That location was on my itinerary last year but I swapped it out for Glacier National Park instead.

White Clouds Wilderness Rocky Mountains IdahoBoulder White-Clouds Wilderness  #68945  Purchase

Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness Idaho

On last summer’s visit to the White-Clouds I was only able to visit the north section. This year I’ll be backpacking in to the south half to photograph the Boulder Chain Lakes Basin and the some of the highest peaks in the wilderness. This area is also part of the popular White Clouds Wilderness Loop. For my purposes though I will be doing an out and back trip instead of the loop. I’ll also have plenty of time budgeted for layovers at the best locations along the route.

Squaretop Mountain Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain Wind River Range #66997 Purchase

Wind River Range Wyoming

Ah, what can I say about the Winds? This will be my seventh trip there and I still can’t get enough of this spectacular mountain range. It’s a backpackers’ dream. Thousands of lakes, 40 peaks over 13,000′, miles and miles of trails in the subalpine along the Continental Divide, plus easy cross country travel to boot!

This year my plans will include parts of the Hailey Pass-Washakie Pass Loop, Desolation Valley, and Baptiste Lake. Also on the itinerary will be a return to Cirque of the Towers and Deep Lake. I’ll also be returning to the Green Lakes area for more new photos of the Green River and Squaretop Mountain.

Castle Reef Mountain Sun Canyon Rocky Mountains MontanaCastle Reef Mountain Montana  #68136  Purchase

Bob Marshall Wilderness Montana

Known among locals and avid backpackers as “The Bob”, this wilderness destination in the northern Rocky Mountains has been on my must photograph list for decades. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is a huge swath of land straddling both sides of the Continental Divide. An important part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem it is home to the largest intact population of Grizzlies in the lower 48.

Last year It was on my itinerary but I took a pass due to an unusual opportunity to obtain backcountry permits in Glacier National Park. The destination on this trip will be a multi-day backpack to the famous Chinese Wall. This is arguably the signature feature of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a 12 mile long 1000′ high limestone escarpment on the Continental Divide.

U.S. Highway 93 Lost River Range IdahoU.S. 93 Idaho #68984  Purchase

A Flexible Itinerary

For an ambitious trip like this several caveats need to be mentioned. First of all if it becomes clear the Canada border will open before the end of July it will be back to Plan A, as in A for Alaska.

Secondly, as with all of my trips that include multiple long backpacking excursions, some locations may be modified due to weather or time constraints. There are already indications of a major wildfire season in the making, so smoky conditions or closed off areas may change my plans.

Finally, if you are in any of these areas in July or August and would like to meet up in the wilderness, or in town for a coffee or beer, feel free to contact me!

If you enjoyed reading Rocky Mountains Photography Tour please share it with your friends, colleagues and family.

Photos appearing in Rocky Mountains Photography Tour are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Rocky Mountains Photography Tour

Meadows of Broadleaf Arnica (Arnica latifolia) at Boulder Pass, Glacier National Park Montana

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 2

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 2

Meadows of Broadleaf Arnica (Arnica latifolia) at Boulder PassBoulder Pass Glacier National Park #69880  Purchase

Read: Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 1 here

Glacier National Park is truly one of the great gems in the national park system. It has many attributes which sets it apart from other parks. In addition to being a national park it is also a biosphere reserve, world heritage site, and international peace park.  It is the home of one of the last strongholds of grizzly bears in the lower 48. And although it contains two dozen named glaciers, the parks name reflects the sculpting of its terrain by ice age glaciation.

All of this and more attracts visitors from around the world, to the tune of 3,000,000 visitors a year, on average. The reasons visitors flock to the park are as diverse as the parks features. Some come to marvel at the beauty of the mountains. Some hope to see wildlife close up. Others come solely to escape the crushing pressures of modern day society. Unfortunately the later have little chance of doing so when touring the park by car.

Others like me come to the park to photograph the dramatic landscape of the northern Rocky Mountains. As I mention in my previous post, I’ve been to Glacier many times over the years, and photographed it in all seasons. Nearly all of those trips were to iconic front country locations. But last summer I took the opportunity to visit a remote and special corner of Glacier National Park, Kintla Lake and Boulder Pass.

First Day Along Kintla Lake

The remoteness of Kintla Lake and Boulder Pass in the northeast corner of the park looked appealing to me. It was a long hike in and passed through areas with lots of photographic potential. But first I needed a wilderness permit, and it took me a couple tries to obtain one. Even though it was August the park service just opened campsites at the pass the day before. So I was one of the first to stay there that season.

Kinnerly Peak Kintla Lake. Glacier National Park MontanaKinnerly Peak Kintla Lake  #69825  Purchase

The hike begins at Kintla Lake and reaches Boulder Pass 17.5 miles later, with about 3200′ of elevation gain along the way. Some hardcore long distance hikers can make the trip in one day, but nearly everyone splits it in two. It’s also possible to continue down Boulder Pas, down to Waterton Lake and exit the eastern side of the park. A popular loop trip would begin at Kintla Lake and exit at Bowman Lake, or vice versa. My plan was to simply do an out and back on the same route.

The first day was a pretty easy hike along Kintla Lake to Kintla Head camp. It’s a pleasant hike mostly through forest with a few views of the lake along the way. The first day or two on a long hike is sometimes the hardest since your pack is full up with food and fuel. At camp it was a pleasant to sit around the food prep area with other hikers and swap stories and backgrounds. I usually travel solo so chatting it up with others is a welcome treat.

Kintla and Kinnerly Peaks Glacier National Park MontanaKintla Peak Glacier National Park #70050  Purchase

Kintla Lake to Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

The hard work would come the next day. It was another 11 miles to Boulder Pass camp, with nearly all of the 3200′ of elevation coming in the last miles. I got an early start to beat the heat and travel at a leisurely pace. Just past the head of Upper Kintla Lake the work began. The trail wasn’t too steep or difficult, just a long constant uphill slog. At one point the trail passes through about a mile of thick shoulder high brush. Often it was so thick it was hard to see the trail or rocks and roots.

It seems to take forever to reach the point where signs of the subalpine begin. And although the view across the valley to Kintla Glacier are rewarding it’s difficult to tell where the trail tops out at the pass. It was when I was just below the pass that I saw my first grizzly in the backcountry.

I’ve been backpacking for 40 years and this is my first bear encounter, go figure. The bear was a sow with two cubs about 25 yards uphill of the trail. Since I was following the book and making plenty of noise she saw me and slowly moved away. But proceeding further would have brought me closer on the next switchback. So I waited and continued to talk loudly. The bear eventually moved on and I continued up to the pass. A couple passing hikers, who apparently felt close bear encounters weren’t anything to worry about, lightheartedly kidded me for talking so loudly to ward off the bear.

Wildflower meadows at sunset. Boulder Pass, Glacier National Park MontanaBoulder Pass Wildfowers  #69886  Purchase

At Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Finally the trail reached the pass with all its glorious views. At this point an oddity struck me. Everywhere you go in Glacier Park you’re passing by or walking over colorful layers of sedimentary rock. However at Boulder Pass I was walking over a vast expanse of ancient lava.

Afterwards I did some geology research and found out that it was Purcell Lava.  Long ago when the area was still beneath an ancient sea molten rock squeezed up from below and flowed onto the sediment forming rocks. It was also interesting to see that this lava exposed at the pass was smooth and bore striations from past glacial activity.

Meadows of Broadleaf Arnica (Arnica latifolia) at Boulder PassThunderbird Mountain from Boulder Pass   #69907  Purchase

The Boulder Pass camp has three tent sites, a food prep area with hanging poles, an outhouse, and one very aggressive marmot. I’v never come across a marmot that was so intent on obtaining food or salt from sweaty backpack straps. You have to be on guard since marmots can easily chew through straps, shoelaces and other important items in search of nutrients and food. This guy had the appearance of having seen quite a few winters and fortunately eventually gave up on his pursuits.

I had three days to explore and photograph the area, and after a bite to eat I was eager to get to work. It turns out that Boulder Pass is a pretty big area with a few adjacent benches and basins below Boulder Peak. There was everything from lush meadows, streams and tarns, to glacial moraines and debris. Plenty of subject matter to keep me busy.

Meadows of red paintbrush wildflowers at Boulder Pass. Glacier National ParkWildflowers at Boulder Pass  #69947  Purchase

Hello Bear

After some exploring it was getting towards golden hour in the evening. The best option was to go back to the meadows teeming with wildflowers. The compositions I wanted meant shooting very low to the ground with an ultra wide angle lens.  With the setting sun shining through the trees and colors glowing all the elements were coming together. I was absorbed in photographing the moment.

It was then I heard a noise and looked up from the camera to see a large grizzly bear. It was just rounding a corner and coming up the trail about 50′ away. We both saw each other at the same time and the bear jumped back a bit in surprise. Very slowly I stood up while at the same time reaching for my bear spray. At this point I remembered the sow and cubs from earlier in the day. I carefully looked behind me to see if I was in the unfortunate position of being in between a mother and her cubs. There was no sign of them so perhaps this was a different bear.

Meadows of purple aster wildflowers at Boulder Pass. Glacier National ParkWildflowers at Boulder Pass  #69970  Purchase

After a few seconds, which seemed much longer, the bear slowly moved away down slope while watching me. Then it turned its head and bolted away. This was about as close as I ever would want to get to a grizzly. I can’t say I was terrified, but I was nervous and very conscious about keeping my wits and not making a wrong move. After a while I went back to photographing my composition.

I’ve since told this story many times and have always gotten the same question. Did you get a picture of the bear? No, I didn’t, at the time photographing the bear was the last thing on my mind.

Exposed section of trail between Brown Pass and Hole in the Wall. Glacier National Park MontanaHole In The Wall Trail  #69893 

Hole In The Wall Boulder Peak

At the east end of Boulder Pass the trail descends into the large horseshoe basin of Hole In The Wall. From there is continues to Browns Pass and Waterton Lake, or Bowman Lake. Day hiking on Hole In The Wall looked inviting but there was still a lot to investigate at Boulder Pass.

One area in particular was a series of benches on the west side of Boulder Peak. The views from there looking down to Pocket Lake and out to Kintla and Kinnerly Peaks were fabulous. In addition some wispy clouds were moving in which could make for a great sunset. Since this was my last day at the pass, and it was mostly blue sky days while there, this seemed like the best chance to get some good photos.

Rainbow Peak Glacier National ParkRainbow Mountain from Boulder Pass  #69907  Purchase

Another thing that I noticed just below the west side of Boulder Pass was the presence of Subalpine Larches. These are a special type of conifer which in the fall their needles turn brilliant gold and fall off. In all my years of looking at photos of Glacier Park I never saw any pictures of these trees in fall. So it was surprising to see them. Of course this means that a trip to Boulder Pass in late September would be well worth it.

The next day I hiked back down to the Camp at Upper Kintla Lake. The lake was pleasant and scenic but nothing like the dramatic scenery up at the pass. The following day was the long hike out to complete the trip. It was a sweet feeling to have finally made such a wonderful trip to a new section of the park. It was also a bit sad when reflecting on when or if I’ll ever return.

Upper Kintla Lake Glacier National Park MontanaUpper Kintla Lake  #70062  Purchase

 

If You Go to Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Distance from Kintla Lake Trailhead to Boulder Pass:  17.5 miles
Elevation Gain:  ~3200
Difficulty:  Moderate
Red Tape:  National Park Entrance Fee, Backcountry Wilderness Permits

The Kintla Lake Trailhead is located about 40 miles north of the West Entrance on the North Fork Road. The last 10 or so miles is on a gravel road which can be very dusty and bumpy. There is a hikers parking area 1/4 from the lake. There is also a small campground at the lake.

The  West Entrance and Apgar area has many services including gas, groceries, dining, and a very large campground. If you have time it’s a great place to stay for a day or two before or after your hike.

Food bags hanging for bear safety at food prep area of Kintla Lake Campsite Glacier National Park MontanaKintla Head camp food prep area #69827

Bear Safety in Glacier National Park

All backpackers are required to carry bear spray. Bear canisters are not required as of this writing, as all backcountry camp areas have food prep areas with poles for hanging food. Make sure to bring about 50′ of parachute cord or similar to hang your food. When getting your permit you’ll also need to watch a short video on bear safety. Don’t take this lightly, as you’ve seen in this post there is a good chance of seeing bears on the trail or near campsites.

Sunset over Kinnerly and Long Knife Peaks seen from Boulder Peak. Glacier National Park MontanaSunset Boulder Pass Glacier National Park  #70041  Purchase

Leave No Trace

Please Please Please!  Don’t plan a trip to this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata) Glacier National ParkMarmot at Boulder Pass Glacier National Park  #69980

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

If you enjoyed reading Boulder pass Glacier National Park please share it with your friends and family. And make sure you check out Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 1

Photos appearing in Boulder Pass Glacier National Park  are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Sunrise at Lake McDonald Glacier National Park Montana

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 1

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Sunrise at Lake McDonald Glacier National Park MontanaLake McDonald Glacier National Park #69738  Purchase

Glacier National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country. It averages around 3,000,000 million visitors a year. That’s a lot of people, and you would be correct in thinking the park has an overwhelming amount of visitors. However, like most popular national parks, nearly all of those visitors only experience the park along front country roads and their iconic attractions. In Glacier the vast majority of visitors only travel along Going-to-the-Sun Road, and stay only for a day. If they get out of their car to experience the park it is most likely at Logan Pass.

Indeed, on any given summer day the line of traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road begins well before dawn. The parking lot at Logan Pass usually fills to capacity by 9am. Soon after that there is traffic congestion similar to that in any big city, and most scenic pullouts have no open parking spaces left. Those that want a more in depth experience often choose day hikes beginning from Going-to-the-Sun Road. And a smaller percentage explore trails in other sections of the park. The smallest percentage of visitors choose overnight backpacks to more well known backcountry destinations.

It would seem that there is no corner of Glacier National Park free from crowds. This would be true if the park service didn’t have a strict permit system in place that limits backcountry campsites. This system is necessary to preserve the wilderness experience, and also to protect fragile environments and wildlife. The visitor wanting to spend a night or two in the backcountry must negotiate the online permit reservation system. This can be very frustrating as nearly all sites fill up many months in advance. Some sites can even be closed and reservations cancelled at the last minute due to bear activity.

Wilderness Permit Line Glacier National ParkWilderness permit line Glacier National Park

Obtaining a Permit for Boulder Pass

All this changed last summer. Because of the COVID pandemic Glacier was operating the permit system on an in person first come basis only. So I saw this as a chance to improve my odds of doing a multi-day backpacking and photography trip into one of the most beautiful and remote areas of the park. Nearly all photographers gravitate to several well known places in the park, such as Logan Pass, Lake McDonald. But my plan was to photograph in the Kintla Lake and Boulder Pass, a relatively unknown area for photographers.

So with time on my side I set about obtaining a permit for a six day trip. Accommodations in Glacier during the summer months are difficult to come by in a normal year. But last summer I had to work even harder to find a place, resorting to some obscure places I’ve found over the years. Fortunately I found a place outside the park only minutes away from the wilderness permit office.

It still wasn’t easy to get my permits though. The line for permits was long and people began arriving well before dawn. On my first attempt I got there around 6am and there were already at least 40 people in front of me. After waiting a couple hours I heard that my chosen sites were already filled. So the next day I set my alarm for 1:30am. Upon arriving at the office I was relieved to see there were only four others already in line. With a camp chair and my sleeping bag I got comfortable until the office opened at 9. The waiting paid off and I left with a permit for my desired sites and dates in hand.

Couple on dock at Sunrise at Lake McDonald Glacier National Park MontanaSunrise proposal on Lake McDonald Glacier National Park #69805

Extra Time in Glacier Park

After obtaining my permit for Boulder Pass I still had a couple of days to wait to start my trip. With time to kill there was no lack of ways to use it. Every morning and evening since arriving I set up to photograph at Lake McDonald. During my stay there were several very nice instances of light, making the efforts worthwhile.

One morning after arriving at the lake before dawn there was a couple on the nearby boat dock. I didn’t pay much attention to them until I saw the man drop to one knee. It was then apparent he was proposing marriage. He certainly chose the right day and time since the sky was ablaze with color at dawn.

On another occasion I was sitting on the beach in the evening. A couple showed up that apparently were just married since the woman was wearing here wedding gown. They were there for some post wedding portrait photographs. I wonder how many such events take place here during the year?

During this free time there was also the opportunity to get in a day hike or two. After a quick look at the park map one hike in particular rose above the rest, Sperry Chalet and Comeau Pass.

Sperry Chalet, Glacier National ParkSperry Chalet Glacier National Park  #69749

Sperry Chalet

A few years back the historic Sperry Chalet burned in the Sprague Fire. It was since rebuilt and this summer it was again open for business. Further up the trail from the chalet is Comeau Pass with an overlook of the Sperry Glacier. Together they offered a chance for me to see a new area of the park while getting a good workout.

The hike begins at the trailhead across the road from Lake McDonald Lodge. There is a huge parking area and it too overflows with cars by noon, so I got there early in the morning. The hike to Comeau Pass and back is around 17 miles with a nearly 5000′ in elevation gain. This is definitely a full day leg burner, unless you’re a trail runner who does this kind of thing before breakfast.

Sperry Chalet cookhouse entrance during Covid 19 Pandemic, Glacier National ParkSperry Chalet Dining Hall  #69752

If you make it all the way you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views at an elevation 1500′ higher than those at Logan Pass. Most hikers on this trail however are happy to get as far as Sperry Chalet, about 12 miles round trip with 3600′ elevation gain. The chalet sits right at tree line, and the views down the valley are great, but the best scenery lies further up.

The chalet can be described as rustic elegance. Although during the pandemic only registered guests were allowed inside I was able to peak in the windows. There was a classic western lodge or cabin look to the rooms. The chalet has no electricity but there were oil lamps in the rooms, adding to the charm. There is a separate building for dining, looking in the door the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls was wafting out. Sadly again only guests could enter this summer.

View from Comeau Pass, Glacier National Park MontanaComeau Pass Glacier National Park #69770

Comeau Pass

From the Chalet the trail passes numerous waterfalls, wildflowers, interesting rock layers, and two alpine lakes. Finally as you get closer to the pass it appears the trail dead ends at the base of a cliff. However when you get there a steep narrow stairway cut into the cliff awaits you. Something any fan of Lord of the Rings will enjoy. It’s kind of a short tame version of the Stair of Cirith Ungol, but there aren’t any giant spiders or Dark Tower on the other side. There are cables to assist in ascending and descending. On my hike the stairs acted like a wind tunnel gone nuts, it would have been difficult to get down safely without them.

Stairs cut in rock at final segment to Comeau Pass trail Glacier National ParkComeau Pass Stairway Glacier National Park #69777

Wildlife is another perk of this hike. On the way up to the pass a herd of mountain goats blocked my way. They took a while to move on so I played wildlife photographer for a few minutes. On the way down a passing hiker alerted me to a grizzly sow and two cubs not far from the trail. I saw them from a good distance and was happy they weren’t closer.

Mountain Goats (Oreamnos americanus) on Comeau Pass Trail, Glacier National Park MontanaMountain Goats Comeau Pass Trail  #69757

Even though I was already on several lengthy backpacking trips in the past month the last few miles back from this one were slow and tiring. It was nice to get back to camp relax and recoup before starting my six day trip to Boulder Pass.

Click here to read part two of Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Canoeist paddling on Lake McDonald at sunrise. Glacier National Park MontanaLake McDonald Glacier National Park #69818 Purchase

If you enjoyed reading Boulder Pass Glacier National Park please share it with your friends and family. Next up Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 2!

Photos appearing in Boulder Pass Glacier National Park  are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Pronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks reflected in pond near Lee Lake, Bridger Wilderness. Wind River Range, Wyoming

Central Wind River Range Backpacking

Central Wind River Range Backpacking

Pronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks reflected in pond near Lee Lake, Bridger Wilderness. Wind River Range, WyomingPronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks Central Wind River Range  #69141  Purchase

The Wind River Range of Wyoming is a spectacular section of the Rocky Mountains. It contains 40 peaks over 13,000 feet, the largest glacier in the American Rockies, and over 1300 named lakes. All spread over three wilderness areas.  While not as well known as other destinations such as Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks, the range nonetheless attracts an increasing amount of backpackers, climbers, hunters, and fishermen.

While popular destinations in the Winds like Cirque of the Towers, Island Lake,  and Titcomb Basin see the bulk of the crowds, much of the Winds remain nearly deserted. An extensive network of trails gives access to nearly every corner of the range, and off trail travel is relatively straightforward. All of this offers outdoor enthusiasts a lifetime of wilderness adventures.

Island Lake and Fremont Peak, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingIsland Lake Wind River Range #66386  Purchase

My first visit to the Winds was in 2002, and I’ve been coming back for more ever since. Being a landscape photography I was naturally drawn to Titcomb Basin and Cirque of the Towers on initial trips. But over time I became aware of other hidden gems in the range. Soon my list of destinations grew long with several spots rising to the top.

Last summer I returned to the Winds to check out a new area, Lee Lake and Pronghorn Peak. Both are located in the upper valley of the Middle Fork of Boulder Creek. This location, in the Central Wind Rivers, was on my list the previous summer but was nixed in favor of another location. When doing location research over the years one peak’s stunning profile stood out. This was Pronghorn Peak. Rising to 12,388′ it and the surrounding terrain has a look similar to mountains in Patagonia, or Canada’s Baffin Island.

Mount Bonneville and Raid Peak seen from Scab Creek Trail Central Wind River Range  #69072  Purchase

Backpacking into the Central Wind River Range

The Middle Fork Lake Valley is about 20 miles from the nearest trailhead at Scab Creek. This together with the variety of photographic subject matter necessitated a longer multi day trip. To allow enough time at key locations I had a budget of 9 nine days. This would give enough flexibility to stay longer in promising spots.

Stormy Sunset Wind River Range  #69049  Purchase

Arriving at the Scab Creek Trailhead the afternoon before starting I sorted through and packed all my gear. Towards evening some brief showers passed through making me think there may be some great evening light in the making. So I drove a short way back down the road to a viewpoint to scout a good spot. It didn’t take long to see my instincts were right. Several storms cells were in the area with plenty of room in between them for the setting sun to break through. The resulting light show kept me on my toes for quite some time.

The next morning my trip began early with the destination for the day 10 miles away at Dream Lake. To access the high peaks along the Continental Divide in Central Wind requires a long approach. A high rolling landscape with numerous lakes characterizes this area, and it’s usually on the second day before the high peaks are reached. So the first day was a long uneventful march with a cool dip in Dream Lake awaiting at the end.

Nylon Peak and Pronghorn Peak reflected in pond near Lee Lake Nylon and Pronghorn Peaks Wind River Range  #69083  Purchase

Middle Fork Lake/ Lee Lake Central Wind River Range

On day two the trail begins to approach the real mountains. After a gradual climb and skirting a few more lakes the trail ends at a small pass overlooking the Middle Fork Valley. This is where I finally had my first tantalizing view Lee Lake and the surrounding granite spires. From here on it was all trail-less cross country travel over wide open terrain. This is the kind of travel most backpackers dream of.

After making my way down from the pass I began to look for a good campsite close to good photo compositions. Just short of Lee Lake were some small photogenic ponds, with a decent campsite close by. With these in the foreground the imposing summits of Nylon Peak, Pronghorn Peak, and Dragons Head made for a dramatic scene. All I needed was some good light.

Pronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks reflected in pond near Lee Lake, Bridger Wilderness. Wind River Range, WyomingPronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks Central Wind River Range  #691371  Purchase

The Winds are notorious for afternoon thunderstorms followed by evening clearing, which I experienced first hand. There were rain showers that afternoon and several hours of constant hail and thunder the next day. During the three days I spent at that camp there were a few instances of decent light, but not as dramatic as I was hoping for.

Pronghorn Peak and Lake Donna. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingPronghorn Peak and Lake Donna #69194  Purchase

Pronghorn Peak Central Wind River Range

Moving up to a higher camp directly across from Pronghorn entailed some tiring bushwhacking through thick brush. From a campsite at 11,000′ directly below Nylon Peak I was able to spend a day exploring and scouting out photo compositions. From one pass I was able to gaze out to Bonneville Peak and down into Bonneville Lakes, which was one of my destinations from the previous summer.

Lake Donna Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingLake Donna Wind River Range  #69193  Purchase

Following a moraine down from the pass to Lake Donna I found the compositions I was looking for. The dramatic vertical split spires of Pronghorn Peak began right at the shore of the lake. A large boulder field at the outlet framed the scene perfectly. Again, good light would be the key to great photos. And since you never know if you’ll get another chance I made several photos on the spot.

My plan was to return before dawn the next morning but the sky was empty of the dawn clouds I was hoping for. Although I was ready and waiting the light never came. Nylon Peak cast a predictable harsh shadow across Pronghorn instead. All I could do was watch that shadow slowing move down at the sun rose higher against an empty blue sky.

Pronghorn Peak and Lake Donna. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingPronghorn Peak and Lake Donna #69198  Purchase

My few photos from the evening before were the best opportunities for that particular composition. It was disappointing, but thinking positively there was another future excuse to return to this stunning location.

Nylon Peak Noel Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingNylon Peak Wind River Range  #69254  Purchase

Noel Lake and the Continental Divide

By now I’ve already been in the area for four days with only one more day left before needing to head out. The last destination to visit was Noel Lake, a lonely body of water sitting right on the Continental Divide below the eastern face of Nylon Peak.

If you are in the area or passing through on the Wind River High Route it would be a shame to not check it out. For me it was a short hike, only about one mile further and 500′ higher. Despite the close proximity it was slow going. Most of the route is across a seemingly endless boulder field. Once at the lake, which is 11’500′ up on the Divide, the goal is to find a campsite. The entire vicinity around the lake is more boulders. The few places big enough for a tent are on an inconvenient slope. However, a bit of scouting came up with possibly the only suitable open and level spot.

Nylon Peak Noel Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingNylon Peak and Noel Lake Wind River Range  #69254  Purchase

Several yards from camp is the actual Divide, with a tiny pass bearing the name Col De St. Michaels. The view southeast to Lander Peak and its glaciers is spectacular, as is the view northeast to Roberts Mountain and moraine lake far below. Rock cliffs and water in every direction.

At Noel Lake I was facing the usual prospect of have some great photos lined up, only to wait and hope for good light. Unfortunately, except for some mid-day clouds my envisioned photos of Noel Lake and Nylon Peak didn’t appear. However, there was some very nice light at sunset looking down and over the Middle Fork Valley.

Sunset over Middle Fork Basin seen from Noel Lake on the continental Divide. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSunset from Noel Lake Wind River Range #69259  Purchase

Hiking out of the Central Wind River Range

From the Middle Fork Valley there are some outstanding alternative return routes. Some of them involve negotiating passes in other valleys, while others take little used trails across the benchland. I chose to return on the same trails I came in on, with one last camp again at Dream Lake.

Aside from the first few miles on the first day I came across very few other parties. So if you’re looking for backcountry solitude this is a good place to find it. I came across quite a few parties starting out in last five miles, about half of them were horse packing. The easy way to explore in the Winds.

I should also mention that of all the people I encountered I was probably the only one without a fishing pole. Most of those 1300 lakes have fish in them, and many rarely see a line dropped in. I’m not a fisherman but I can imagine there are some trophy fish out there just waiting to give an angler a thrill.

Boulder River Bridger Wilderness Wind River Range Wyoming Central Wind River RangeBoulder River Central Wind River Range #69349  Purchase

If You Go to Middle Fork and Lee Lake

Distance from Scab Creek Trailhead to Lee Lake:  15 miles
Elevation:  ~3200 gain from trailhead to Lee Lake
add another 1000′ and 3 miles for Lake Donna and Noel Lake
Difficulty:  Moderate-Difficult
Red Tape:  As of 2020, no permits needed

Totals for my nine day trip including side trips and photo scouting
Distance: ~38 miles
Elevation: ~4200″ not including numerous elevation gains and losses

The Scab Creek Trailhead is located 28 miles south of Pinedale. The last six miles are on a good gravel road. Adjacent to the trailhead there is a small campground. Like most trailheads in the Winds parking can be at a premium, get an early start.

Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in early August. Also be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. Summer thunder and lightening storms are very common along the Continental Divide. Because of this stay off high ridges and summits during this time of day.

The town of Pinedale makes a great base for multiple trips into the Winds. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to one of my favorite outdoor recreation stores, the Great Outdoor Shop. It’s stocked with everything needed for a successful trip, including a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Don’t visit Pinedale without dropping in! Right next door to the great Outdoor Shop is the best place to got for a post-trip meal, the Wind River Brewing Company. They have excellent burgers and great brews!

Stormy sunset from Scab Creek Trailhead. Bridger-Teton National Forest Sublette County, WyomingStormy Sunset Wind River Range  #69042  Purchase

Leave No Trace

Please Please Please!  Don’t plan a trip to this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

Backcountry camp below Pronghorn Peak. Bridger Wilderness. Wind River Range, Wyoming Central Wind River RangePronghorn Peak Camp Wind River Range  #69170  Purchase

If you enjoyed reading Central Wind River Range Backpacking please share it with your friends and family. And make sure you check back soon for Titcomb Basin Island Lake Part 3!

All photos appearing in Central Wind River Range Backpacking are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Central Wind River Range Backpacking

Big Boulder Lakes Basin, White Clouds Wilderness Idaho

White Clouds Wilderness Idaho

White Clouds Wilderness Idaho

Big Boulder Lakes Basin, White Clouds Wilderness IdahoBig Boulder Lakes White Clouds Wilderness #68936  Purchase

In central Idaho there lies a wilderness area that is seemingly hidden in plain sight. Established by Congress in 2015 the Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness is one of the youngest in the nation. The reason I say that it is hiding in plain site is the fact the nearby Sawtooth Wilderness grabs all the attention. Visitors flock to the Sawtooths to hike, climb, and fish among their jagged spires. And for good reason, the Sawtooths are visually akin the Grand Teton Range, albeit on a smaller scale.

But most visitors are unaware of the quiet yet spectacular wilderness just a stones throw away. To the east across the valley cut by the Salmon River are the White Clouds. If you climb high in the Sawtooths and look east you’ll get a distant glimpse of them. A small range of high peaks consisting of light colored rock looking like clouds on the horizon.

There are 63 named lakes in the range and several peaks over 11,000′ in elevation. Additionally, bordering the Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness is the Hemingway-Boulder Wilderness, and the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness areas. But for our purposes we’ll concentrate on the White Clouds.

Trail sign, White Cloud Wilderness IdahoBig Boulder Lakes Trail Sign  #68891 

Backpacking to Walker Lake

Last summer I made my first trip in the White Clouds. The core area of the range most popular with hikers has two sections. In the south is the Boulder Chain Lakes area, which sees more visitors. In the north is the Big Boulder Lakes Basin, my destination for this trip. Both areas can be combined into one long multi-day trip. However, there are a few difficult cross country sections with steep climbs, exposure, and difficult route finding. This makes a loop route more than the average backpacker is willing to attempt.

One reason Big Boulder Basin sees less visitors is the access to the trailhead at the Livingston Mill. From Stanley this entails a long drive along the Salmon River and then up a narrow and dusty gravel road. There is at least one nice perk to accessing the White Clouds from here, read on to the end to find out what it is.

White Clouds Wilderness IdahoWhite Clouds Wilderness #68980

The last mile or two is pretty narrow with a steep drop off. Keep a sharp eye out for oncoming vehicles since backing up to the nearest pullout would not be pleasant. There is a large parking area at the road end near Livingston Mill, elevation 7200′.

My destination on the first day was Walker Lake. It’s about 7 miles with 2200′ of elevation gain on a good trail. After the first two multi-use miles the trail splits, the left continues to Boulder Chain Lakes and the right climbs to Walker and Big Boulder Lakes. It is possible to continue in one day to the scenic subalpine basin above Walker Lake, however the remaining two miles is just a faint route over and through swamps and boulders. Walker Lake was good enough for me, even though it had limited views and camping spots.

Sheep Lake Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness IdahoSheep Lake #68893

Wrong turn to Sheep Lake

The next day I started up to what I thought would be my destination at Sapphire Lake. At first here was no trail to follow over the rocky terrain. I finally picked up a faint trail, but unknowingly the very steep path was leading me to Sheep Lake in the adjacent basin.  After finally arriving at walled in Sheep Lake it was apparent I made a route finding mistake. But that was ok since it was a picturesque location with a decent campsite, and I had plenty of time.

Later a short scramble brought me to a ridge top with a commanding view of the surrounding peaks and Walker Lake far below. I was also able to discern from this view the correct route to Sapphire Lake and where I went wrong earlier in the day. From Sheep Lake there was a cross country route around the lake, over an easy pass, and down to Sapphire and the other upper basin lakes. But although I was carrying a good map that route wasn’t obvious from my camp.

White Clouds Wilderness IdahoView of Walker Lake  #68901

The next day I retraced my steps down the same path to where I made my mistake. Since the correct route split off in a swampy meadow it was certainly easy to get off track. I finally came across a faint path leading in the right direction, but quickly lost it again. By this time my thought was to just plow straight up, with the assumption I would inevitably get to the top or intersect with the trail again. I did come across the trail again, by now a well worn path, just two short switchbacks from the top.

Sapphire Lake White Clouds Wilderness IdahoBig Boulder Lakes #68917  Purchase

Sapphire Lake and the Upper Basin

Finally in the right basin all traces of paths vanished. However by now I was in the subalpine and the terrain was open with easy route finding. After a leisurely walk over granite slabs and past several lakes Sapphire Lake finally spread in front of me. Locating a prime spot with a view I set up camp and took it all in.

There are six lakes in the basin and multiple ponds and tarns, all with their own special character. Cirque, Sapphire, and Cove Lake are the biggest, and in my opinion Sapphire is the most scenic. Of course since I was here for photography so scouting out all of them was essential.

David O. Lee Peak, Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness IdahoDavid o’ Lee Peak White Clouds Wilderness  #68945  Purchase

After Sapphire, Cirque Lake appeared to offer great photographic potential. At about 10,500′ Cirque Lake was a gem sitting at the feet of 11,342′ David O. Lee Peak. In contrast to the surrounding granite David O. Lee is composed of limestone, the rock that gives the White Clouds their name.

Indeed, although the Cirque Lake was a grand scene it was set in a stark rocky alpine basin. Only on one section of shoreline there were some nice mosses and carpets of wildflowers. The landscape did have photographic potential, but only in the right light. There are a couple of great other options for exploring from Cirque Lake.

O'Calkens Peak Slide Lake, Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness IdahoNeck Lake O’Caulkens Peak #68904 

One would be to hike up the easy moraine on the southeast side of the lake. At the top you’ll be in a truly alpine environment of rock and snow. Tucked away at below the wall of the cirque are The Kettles, a small group of tarns, and classic examples of past glacial activity. Along the way up the moraine you’ll also get great views down to the basin and other lakes.

Another option would be to ascend the slope on the north side of the lake to a small pass. From the pass you could look across to O’Caulkens peak at 11,487′ and down to Neck Lake in the upper valley I accidentally ended up on the second day. Or you could keep going higher to another pass looking down the west side of the White Clouds. For the truly ambitious a climb to the summit of David O. Lee Peak is possible.

Big Boulder Lakes Basin, White Clouds Wilderness IdahoBig Boulder Lakes #68955

A White Clouds Wilderness Post Trip Treat

After exploring and photographing Big Boulder Lakes Basin it was time to head out. Indications of changing weather and approaching storms put an end to my first visit to the White Clouds Wilderness. I was toying with the idea of moving south to check out Boulder Chain Lakes Basin, but the change in weather ruled it out. Hopefully next summer I’ll be able to return and explore and photograph that section.

I should note here since my main goal on backpacking trips is photography my trips are a bit different then that of other backpackers. Others may enjoy covering many miles, being on the move from sun up to sun down. On the other hand I usually have a goal of allotting a generous amount of time in one area for photography. So in this instance moving on the Boulder Chain Lakes would allow only one brief day for photography. From all indications at least two to four days would be needed.

West Pass hot springs, East Fork Salmon River IdahoWest Pass Hot Springs  #68887

One of the great perks of hiking in central Idaho if the abundance of natural hot springs. There is a huge variety available for the avid soaker, from roadside pools to remote backcountry springs. In this instance my trusty guidebook, Hot Springs in the Pacific Northwest, pointed to West Pass Hot Springs, not far away on the same access road.

West Pass hot springs, East Fork Salmon River IdahoWest Pass Hot Springs  #68886 

West Pass is about as remote as you can get by vehicle, about 25 miles down a forest service road. The springs flow from a hillside just above the East Fork Salmon River. Hot water is diverted into three strategically placed bathtubs. You can also try soaking in a few riverside pools. At any rate having a good hot soak at the end of a multi day backpack is a treat that can’t be passed up!

Cirque Lake, David O. Lee Peak, Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness IdahoDavid o’ Lee Peak White Clouds Wilderness  #68929  

If You Visit Big Boulder Lakes, White Clouds Wilderness

Distance from trailhead to Sapphire Lake:  about 9 miles
Elevation Gain:  about 3600′
Difficulty:  Moderate-Difficult
Red Tape:  No permits needed

The Livingston Mill Trailhead is located about 58 miles from Stanley Idaho. Take U.S. 75 37 mile northeast from Stanley to East Fork Road. Go another 17 miles to Big Boulder Creek Road, and finally another 4.3 miles to Livingston Mill. West Pass Hot Springs is another 18 miles further on East Fork Road. Check out Hot Springs in the Pacific Northwest for a detailed description.

The small scenic town of Stanley Idaho makes a great base for trips into the Sawtooths. Lodging, groceries, restaurants, outdoor gear stores, and a great bakery are in town. There are also many campgrounds in the vicinity.

David O. Lee Peak, Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness IdahoDavid o’ Lee Peak White Clouds Wilderness  #68943  Purchase

Leave No Trace

And now for a short lecture. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

If you enjoyed reading White Clouds Wilderness please share it with your friends and family. And make sure you check out my previous post on the Eagle Cap Wilderness Oregon

Some photos appearing in White Clouds Wilderness Idaho are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on the image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

 

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness Orergon

Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains

Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap reflected in Mirror Lake  #68776  Purchase

As part of the Summer 2020 Photography Tour my first destination was the Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeast Oregon. Over the years I’ve repeatedly passed over this rugged wilderness while on my way to other destinations further east. Every time I would drive by on Interstate 80 I’d glance at them and promise to visit them next time. This went on for over twenty years! However, on this trip the stars aligned and I finally worked it into the schedule.

The Eagle Cap Wilderness sprawls out over most of the Wallowa Mountains. At over 360,000 acres it is the largest wilderness area in Oregon. That’s quite a lot of territory for such a small mountain range. A couple of other things also sets the Eagle Cap apart from other Oregon wilderness areas. First is it’s geology. Nearly every other mountain wilderness is Oregon is made up of various forms of volcanic rock. In contrast the Wallowas contains mostly granitic rock. Secondly, the Wallowas are a higher range. Many of the peaks are  1000′ – 2000′ higher than those in the Cascade Range to the west. And of course due to its eastern location the climate is drier, although the peaks still receive copious amounts of winter snow.

Eagle Cap, Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap #68862  Purchase

Backpacking In The Eagle Cap Wilderness

Since this was my first trip, and I wasn’t sure how long it would be before a return visit, I wanted to photograph in the most scenic locations. After poring over maps, online trip reports, and searching for photos of specific areas I settled on two destinations.

For nearly everyone the central Lakes Basin is the prime spot for day hikes and  overnight trips. This area is where the highest peaks and most of the alpine lakes are situated. Consequently it is also the area that receives the most visitors. I chose two areas for this trip, and due to practicalities divided them into separate trips. The first would be an extended stay at Mirror Lake and several adjacent lakes, by way of taking the East Lostine River Trail. The second trip was to be a shorter one to Ice Lake via the West Fork Wallowa River Trail. Both trips would ensure excellent photo opportunities. The one uncertainty was the fact that despite it being nearly mid-July there still appeared to be a good deal of snow pack left in the alpine.

Since this was my first trip, and I wasn’t sure how long it would be before a return visit, I wanted to photograph in the most scenic locations. After poring over maps, online trip reports, and searching for photos of specific areas I settled on two destinations.

For nearly everyone the central Lakes Basin is the prime spot for day hikes and  overnight trips. This area is where the highest peaks and most of the alpine lakes are situated. Consequently it is also the area that receives the most visitors. I chose two areas for this trip, and due to practicalities divided them into separate trips. The first would be an extended stay at Mirror Lake and several adjacent lakes, by way of taking the East Lostine River Trail. The second trip was to be a shorter one to Ice Lake via the West Fork Wallowa River Trail. Both trips would ensure excellent photo opportunities. The one uncertainty was the fact that despite it being nearly mid-July there still appeared to be a good deal of snow pack left in the alpine.

Lostine River Trail, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowa Mountains OregonEast Lostine River Trail  #68765  Purchase

Hiking In To Mirror Lake

This trip was also to be my introduction into the realities of traveling during the COVID 10 Pandemic. Driving up the long, bumpy, and dusty Lostine River Road, where I was to spend the first night car camping,  I found nearly every campsite was occupied. At the time I thought it was due to being the weekend. Later on I would find out that the where or when didn’t matter, crowds were everywhere. After finding a decent spot I sorted through and prepared all my gear for an early start in the morning.

The next day I hit the trail bright and early and brimming with excitement about the views and pictures awaiting me. The first half of the East Lostine River Trail is fairly uneventful and typical of a forest approach hike. The second half, however, is very pleasant and scenic. This is due to the fact it enters a very long nearly flat sub-alpine valley with wide open views for over a mile. During this section the trail skirts along open meadows, ponds, and the lazily flowing Lostine River. At the head of the valley looms 9572′ Eagle Cap Peak. This is where I first worried about the timing and feasibility of my two trips.

Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap Wilderness Cairn  #68822  Purchase

There were still numerous spots of avalanche snow left melting on the trail, and Eagle Cap, and the pass to Mirror Lake was nearly covered in snow. This left me thinking about the chances successful photography, and of being able to visit all the lakes on my itinerary. The last mile or so to the pass was mostly over deep snow, although it was firm and post-holing was at a minimum. It was a pleasant surprise to find more open ground at the pass. Conditions at Mirror Lake was my main concern though.

Backcountry camp Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonMirror Lake Camp Eagle Cap Wilderness  #68804  Purchase

Mirror Lake Camping And Photography

On approaching Mirror Lake at 7595′ I saw that its surfaces till had about 75% ice on. Most of the open water was along the shoreline, which was good news for me. Also, the majority of designated campsites were still under snow. However one especially attractive site near the lake was completely snow free.

There probably wasn’t a better spot in miles. The view across the lake to Eagle Cap was outstanding, and if the light cooperated I was sure to come away with some great photos. As usual I spent the rest of the afternoon scouting the area in advance for photo compositions. And while I found a few good ones the one near my camp was clearly the best, at least until all the snow melted.

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonAlpenglow over Eagle Cap  #68793  Purchase

Up until that time my plan was to move on the next day over another pass to Glacier Lake. But it was obvious the way would be entirely over snow, and since Glacier Lake was even higher up it was certain to be nearly frozen over. Because of this I reluctantly made the decision not to go, and spend more time in the immediate area instead.

During the course of the afternoon the sky had clouded over,  and I thought I would be out of luck for a photo session with good evening light. But towards sunset it became apparent that the clouds were starting to clear in the west. Soon sun rays began to stream through and illuminate the lake area and Eagle Cap.

Backcountry camp Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonMoccasin Lake Camp  #68814  Purchase

Moccasin Lake And Out

Since Glacier Lake was now out of the picture I went scouting higher up on the open slopes behind the camp and on the way to the other lakes in the basin. There was still too much snow to make the other lakes worthwhile so I went down to nearby Moccasin Lake. Even though it was only a few hundred feet lower there was considerably less snow. But unfortunately I found only one established campsite. It was on a rock shelf above the lake with a great view, but it was also sorely overused. This must be the only site in the area since there was enough bare dusty ground for several parties.

I wasn’t as fortunate here with the light and compositions so I took advantage of clear skies to do some night sky Milky Way photography. The next day my decision was to move back down the trail to the open meadows along the Lostine River. On my way in I saw some great photo opportunities in this area so I made this my final destination on this hike. After finding a hidden out of the way campsite I was able to make several more evening photos.

Milky Way over Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonMilky Way Over Eagle Cap  #68819   Purchase

The next day I headed out with mixed feelings. On the one hand I was able to spend some time in one of the best locations in the Wallowas, and make some wonderful images to boot. On the other hand the lingering snow pack prevented me from photographing at some other great areas.

Afterwards I drove into Joseph Oregon to have a good meal. I also had to decide if it would be worth doing the second trip Ice Lake. After agonizing over the decision it was apparent that it was still too early in the season to make it worthwhile for the photographs I had in mind.

So the next morning I began the drive to the second major destination of the summer photo tour, the Cecil D. Andus-White Clouds Wilderness of Idaho. Check back to read a post on that incredible area!

Eagle Cap, Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap Reflection  #68866 Purchase

If You Go:

Round trip to Mirror Lake from Lostine River Two Pan Trailhead:  14 miles
Elevation Gain:  about 2200′
Difficulty:  Moderate
Red Tape:  Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass required
Map: Green Trails Wallowa Mountains Eagle Cap Wilderness Map

The Two Pan Lostine River Trailhead is located about 18 miles south of Lostine Oregon, on Forest Road #8210. The last 10 miles are unpaved and can be rough in several places. Along Forest Road #8210 there are numerous small campgrounds and a few opportunities for primitive dispersed camping.

Note that Mirror Lake is only one of many backcountry destinations from this trailhead. Mirror Lake can be the only destination or be part of extended backpacking trips into the Wallowas. Check out the map in the link above for all the exciting possibilities.

The town of Joseph Oregon at the head of the very scenic Wallowa Valley makes a great base for trips into the Wallowas. It’s also a great jumping off town for adventures in the Hells Canyon Recreation Area. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to brew pubs, a distillery, and outdoor recreation stores. There are also numerous local artists displaying their work in Joseph’s galleries. Make sure to check out the Josephy Center For Arts & Culture while you’re there.

Eagle Cap reflected in Mirror LakeEagle Cap Mirror Lake  #68801  Purchase

Leave No Trace

And now for a short lecture. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Eagle Cap and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to tread lightly and help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

If you enjoyed reading Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains please share it with your friends and family.

All photos appearing in Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Eagle Cap reflected in Mirror Lake, Eagle Cap Wilderness Oregon

2020 Summer Photography Tour Update

2020 Summer Photography Tour Update:

Eagle Cap Wilderness Oregon 2020 Summer Photography TourEagle Cap Wilderness Oregon

With over two weeks into the 2020 Summer Photography Tour it’s time to post a brief update. So far my travels have taken me to the Palouse Region of Washington State, the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon, and the White Clouds Wilderness of Idaho. Next up is the Wind River Range of Wyoming. Although last year’s trip also took me to the Winds, this year I’ll hit some new locations.

The next destination after my stay in the Winds is still to be determined. However, a drive along the Beartooth Highway may be possible before heading into Montana.

Appearing in this post are some of the photo highlights so far. These photos are quick on the road edit and processing with the final image to come later when I’m back in the office. Image licensing and fine art prints are available for all of them, but print orders may be delayed several weeks.

Eagle Cap Wilderness Oregon 2020 Summer Photography TourEagle Cap Wilderness Oregon

Palouse Washington 2020 Summer Photography TourPalouse Washington

Palouse WashingtonPalouse Washington

White Clouds Wilderness Idaho 2020 Summer Photography TourWhite Clouds Wilderness Idaho

White Clouds Wilderness IdahoBoulder Lakes White Clouds Wilderness Idaho

White Clouds Wilderness IdahoWhite Clouds Wilderness Idaho

Snake River Plains Wheat Fields near Swan Valley, IdahoSnake River Plains Wheat Fields Idaho

All photos appearing in 2020 Photography Tour Update are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints*.

*Print orders may be delayed several weeks until I return to the office.

Want to learn more about Landscape & Nature Photography? Take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

Castle Reef Mountain Sun Canyon Montana

Photography Tour Summer 2020

Photography Tour Summer 2020

Castle Reef Mountain Sun Canyon Montana Photography Tour Summer 2020Castle Reef Mountain Montana #68136  Purchase

Photography Tour Summer 2020 begins on July 7! For obvious reasons it has been extremely difficult this year to plan photo shoots, and I’m incredibly excited to get back to work on the road and trail. Many locations I was hoping to photograph remain closed, or have difficult travel restrictions in place. With this in mind I decided to once again make this year’s photography tour based on wilderness backpacking. Not only is it a method of photography I thoroughly enjoy, but in the current climate it is also safer.

Like the 2019 photography tour this year will include some new destinations I haven’t yet photographed, along with old favorites where I need more in depth coverage. In some ways this trip will be a continuation of last year’s. Most locations will be in the Northern Rocky Mountains, and will include some that I couldn’t get to last year.

Red Barn Wallowa Valley Oregon Photography Tour Summer 2020Wallowa Valley, Oregon #61145  Purchase

Eagle Cap Wilderness Oregon

The first stop will be  the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. This is a destination that has been on my see and photograph list for many years, but for various reasons I’ve passed them up. On this trip I hope to photograph many of the alpine lakes in the core loop of the range.

The Wallowas, located in the northeast corner of the state, is a unique range in Oregon. While most mountains in Oregon are made of volcanic rocks the Wallowas are mainly granitic in nature and have a more rugged appearance. The Eagle Cap Wilderness is the largest wilderness in Oregon and is host to many alpine lakes and some of the highest peaks in the state.

Little Redfish Lake Sawtooth Mountains Idaho Photography Tour Summer 2020Little Redfish Lake, Sawtooth Mountains Idaho #66235  Purchase

White Cloud Wilderness Idaho

Last year while backpacking and photographing in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho I saw another range of high mountains to the East. After some research I found out that they were peaks of the White Cloud Wilderness, part of the newly created Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness. With the other units being the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness, and the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness. Together they protect 275,000 acres of spectacular mountain wilderness in Central Idaho.

Rising just across the valley from the more famous and popular Sawtooth Mountains, the White Clouds also have many peaks over 10,000′ with numerous alpine lakes. However, since it is less well known I’m expecting a greater degree of solitude. On this initial visit I hope to visit and photograph many of the peaks and lakes in the core area.

Mount Bonneville Wind River Range WyomingBonneville Lake Wind River Range #66285  Purchase

Wind River Range Wyoming

Last year I spent a considerable amount of time photographing in the “Winds”.  However it is a big range with enough destinations to fill a lifetime of exploration. This year I plan to visit a few new spots and return to a couple classics. One possible backpack is Desolation Valley/Hailey Pass-Washakie Pass Loop. Another is Middle Fork Lake and Pronghorn Peak in the central part of the range. Finally a return trip to Cirque of the Towers and Deep Lake is also on the table.

Castle Reef Mountain Sun Canyon MontanaRocky Mountain Front Range Montana #68145  Purchase

Bob Marshall Wilderness Montana

Affectionately known among locals and avid backpackers as “The Bob”, this is another wilderness destination that has been on my must see list for decades. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is a huge swath of land straddling both sides of the Continental Divide. An important part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem it is home to the largest intact population of Grizzlies in the lower 48.

The Bob was one of the first areas I wanted to see when I started backpacking in my late teens. Unfortunately it was passed over and forgotten many times over the years in favor of other destinations. This year I hope to remedy that oversight. The sole destination on this trip will be a multi-day backpack to the famous Chinese Wall and the meadows along its base. This is arguably the signature feature of the complex, a 12 mile long 1000′ high limestone escarpment on the Continental Divide.

Bighorn Canyon National Monument MontanaBighorn Canyon Montana #52263  Purchase

Other Montana Destinations

Last year due to limited time and weather factors I had to skip a few destinations in Montana. Hopefully this year I’ll get to photograph them. While it’s not certain at this writing, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Beartooth Highway, and the Upper Missouri River Breaks are back on the list. Then of Course there are also several backcountry destinations in Glacier National Park I’d like to photograph, but that’s probably going to be a stretch.

Backpacker on Titcomb Basin Trail Wind River Range WyomingWind River Range Backpacking #66780  Purchase

List of Locations:

Below is the list of the Summer 2020 Photography Tour locations in the order of start to finish. I would love to hit all of them but of course time and weather will dictate my itinerary. If you’re planning on traveling to any of them let me know. I’d love to meet up if possible!

Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon
White Cloud Wilderness, Idaho
Wind River Range ,Wyoming
Beartooth Highway, Wyoming/Montana
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana
Upper Missouri River Breaks, Montana
Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana
Glacier National Park, Montana
*Locations subject to change due to weather and travel restrictions

All photos appearing in Photography Tour Summer 2020 are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints

Want to learn more about Landscape & Nature Photography? Take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

Photography Tour Summer 2020

Hannegan Peak backcountry camp North Cascades

Backpacking Photography Tips

Backpacking Photography Tips

Hannegan Peak backcountry camp North Cascades Backpacking Photography TipsMount Baker Wilderness North Cascades #54316r  Purchase

Photography has always been an essential element of vacations. Since the first portable roll film camera was introduced people have been taking pictures of their travels. And backpacking trips into wilderness areas are certainly no exception. In this post I’ll be offering some backpacking photography tips to help make your trip a success.

My previous post, Backpacking Photography Gear Tips, went into some of the details of choosing the proper photography and backpacking equipment. This time I’ll give tips on photography while backpacking on the trail.

For the purpose of this article I’ll focus on some basic tips for working in the field which can help to free your creativity.

Mount Robson Canadian Rockies Backpacking Photography TipsMount Robson British Columbia  #54646  Purchase

Set a Goal

Setting a goal for yourself can vastly help in making better photographs. These goals can vary depending on a number of factors, such as:

  • Location
  • Season
  • Weather
  • Subject matter
  • Time available
  • Physical condition

On a backpacking trip you may need to place a limit on and be flexible with your goals. For example, if your goal is action/adventure photography your opportunities for landscape or nature photography will be limited. Or if your goal is to photograph dramatic landscapes but the weather is consistently gray,  consider changing your goal to nature details and or abstracts.

Backpacker Wind River Range, Wyoming Backpacking Photography TipsBackpacking in the Wind River Range #66330  Purchase

Know Your Limits

Remember that your pack will most likely be fairly heavy, and will determine how far and fast you can travel. Don’t push yourself beyond your limit. Take it easy and break your hiking distances into manageable lengths. If you arrive at camp physically exhausted you won’t have much energy left for making good photographs. Unless the perfect image is right in front of your tent you’ll need to be on the move until after sunset.

Carefully research your trip in advance. Check out trip reports and maps, and pay particular attention to elevation differences from point to point. You may think that you can easily hike 15 miles in a day. However, that distance will be considerably less when throw in 3000′-4000′ elevation gain while carrying a full pack.

Also know your location. Backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range is vastly different from backpacking in the North Cascades. In the Winds you gain elevation gradually with many ups and downs. In the North Cascades large amounts of elevation is gained either by endless switchbacks or straight up endurance tests.

Glacier Peak Image Lake North CascadesGlacier Peak and Image Lake North Cascades #58239  Purchase

Know Your Subject Matter

This may be the most important tip I have to offer.

The best portrait photographers will always tell you this. Being keenly aware of, and bringing out the nuances in someones personality is the key to great portrait photography. This is also true for other subject matter, including landscape and nature.

One of the best ways of accomplishing this is to just sit and observe, be meditative. Consider the current catchphrase Light And Fast. Going light is good, but why fast, what’s the rush? Isn’t wilderness something to be savored? Aside from photography aren’t you also here to get away from the rush and complexities of daily living?

Slow down and think creatively, you’ll enjoy your trip more and make better images.

It’s easy to backpack into a beautiful area, set up camp, grab your camera and snap your brains out. However, when you get back home you most likely will have only snapshot quality photos.

While on the trail be observant of your surroundings. Take frequent breaks and enjoy the scent of the forest, and the sounds of the birds and streams. After setting up camp use this time to relax and restore your physical and mental energy.

Be particularly aware of how the light changes. The position of the sun and type of light can make the difference between a good and great photo.

See and photograph with your own eyes. Don’t set out armed with GPS coordinates just so you can replicate the other guy’s photo.

Know your subject and photograph deliberately.

Mount Baker Wilderness campsite Backpacking Photography TipsBackcountry Camp Mount Baker Wilderness #53372  Purchase

Selecting A Campsite

Ideally you’ll need to select a campsite, or base camp on longer trips, that is in close proximity* to your subject matter. If your campsite is a mile or more from that perfect mountain view or field of wildflowers you’ll need to rush to get there in time set up.

This is especially important at sunrise. It’s incredibly easy to just sleep in if you need to make a long pre-dawn trek to that great composition. Especially if it’s several hundred feet higher up. In a perfect situation you should have a variety of compositions to photograph within a quarter mile of camp.

If you’re backpacking in a National Park or Wilderness Area with camping restrictions your options may be limited. National Parks deliberately, and for good reasons, limit camping proximity to pristine locations. Always do your research and check in advance. In these situations you may have to plan on some extra legwork.

*Whenever possible camp only on hardened established sites, bare ground, rock, or snow. This may not be an option in very remote or rarely visited areas. Scroll down to read about minimal impact and Leave No Trace Principles.

Backpacker Baker Lake Trail North CascadesBackpacker North Cascades #65027 Purchase

Location Scouting

Good location scouting begins at home while researching your trip. Trip reports and guidebooks usually include photo of the area. Poring over topographic maps can give clues to directions of light, and hidden features. Goggle searches of your trip area using different keywords can also reveal little known spots.

1.    If you planned carefully you should arrive at and set up camp early enough to have time to relax and do some scouting. Aside from obviously finding the best spots for compositions, scouting also gives you an opportunity to get to know  your subject better.

2.   Walk through the entire area, and look beyond the obvious. While the big snowcapped mountain may be the obvious dominant element, there may be other compositions more subtle yet just as inspiring. It’s easy to focus your attention on the main scene during golden hour and completely miss something even better in the opposite direction.

3.   Be aware of where the sun will rise and set in relation to the landscape. That perfect composition may be in shadow during morning and evening golden hours. This is particularly true in deep narrow valleys.

4.   Be observant of cloud and weather patterns. Some mountain ranges are prone to dramatic midday storms. However at sunset and sunrise the sky may be devoid of any clouds. Of course in some areas the opposite may be true. That gorgeous summit may be consistently shrouded in clouds at sunset.

5.   Look for key elements which can you can use in compositions. For a mountain scene, a foreground with a winding stream or a grouping of wildflowers can add movement and depth to the image. Objects such as boulders, a distant tent, or person can also add scale to the scene.

Limestone Lakes Basin Height-of-the-Rockies Provincial Park British ColumbiaLimestone Lakes British Columbia #46236  Purchase

Commit to Photographing

Face it, backpacking and the related chores of camping are a lot of work. But it’s only one half of the work you’ll face when you’re there to make excellent images. While other parties are sitting around camp enjoying the sunset, or sleeping late the next morning, you need to be on the move.

1.    Don’t be in a rush, plan in extra days. Good light and photography rarely happens on your schedule. An extra day or two in an area increases your chance of getting the light you want.

2.   Get accustomed to rising before dawn in the morning. How early you need to get up depends on how far you are from where you need to photograph. You can always get more sleep when you return to camp.

3.   Stick it out until it’s really over. Some photographers pack it up right after the sun sets or rises. Big mistake. I can’t tell you how many times it appeared like all the best light was gone, only for the sun to find a gap in the clouds and come back in full force. Sometimes you’ll be faced with a boring cloudless sunrise when a few minutes later glowing wisps or puffy clouds develop literally out of nowhere.

4.   Wait for the afterglow. Often, hidden beyond your view, there may be some atmospheric elements that create a beautiful long lasting afterglow.

5.   If the sky is clear of clouds and there is no afterglow it’s always worth waiting to photograph the Belt of Venus, and during the blue hour.

6.   Stay up late or wake up earlier for photographing the Milky Way.

7.   With the right conditions excellent images can be made throughout the day, not just during golden hours. Always keep you mind and eyes open to new creative opportunities.

8.   Wait out the weather. You’ve put a lot of time and energy into getting here. Stick it out if you can.

Glacier Peak backcountry camp North CascadesGlacier Peak Wilderness #58315  Purchase

Eat Well and Smart

Good nutrition is important to maintain the energy you need to sustain a high level of activity. There are endless books, articles, and opinions available to help guide you and confuse you on this topic. Everybody is an expert and will be happy to point out why their research is right and yours is wrong.

I’m not a nutrition expert but I have found out through experience what works for me and what doesn’t. Everybody is different. You’ll need to find a balance of taste, convenience, and nutrition that works for you, preferably in advance of a long trip.

1.    Whatever choice of foods make sure you bring enough. You’ll be burning a lot more calories per day than you normally would.

2.   Keep your menu as simple as possible, and look for dehydrated or freeze dried items to keep the weight down.

3.   For safety in bear country avoid foods with strong odors. Only prepare as much as you can eat, leftovers attract not only bears but also rodents.

4.   Try to bring items that can be prepared by just adding boiling water. The time you save can be spent photographing. You’ll also save weight on fuel.

5.   When on the trail stay well hydrated, and drink an electrolyte replacement instead of plain water. Over the years I’ve tried many, most taste horrible and are ridiculously expensive. I’ve gone back to Gatorade, it tastes better, is cheap, and it works for me.

6.   Bring enough energy bars (again, most taste horrible) or trail mix to last the duration of your trip. It’s also a good idea to pack a few special treats to break up the monotony.

7.   Supplements are optional and subjective. I always take a B Complex supplement daily. I find it helps in converting nutrients into energy, but that’s just my opinion.

Backcountry camp Coast Mountains British ColumbiaCoast Mountains British Columbia #61795  Purchase

Leave No Trace

I’ve recently started to add this extremely important topic to all of my hiking posts. Don’t even think about visiting backcountry areas unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT).

All national parks and wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire), better yet don’t build one in the first place, they are completely unnecessary
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Now that you have some basic understanding of working in the field, get out there and have some fun!

If you found reading Backpacking Photography Tips to be  enjoyable and informative please feel free to share it with friends and family

All photos appearing in Backpacking Photography Tips are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints

Want to learn more? Take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

Mount Robson British ColumbiaMount Robson British Columbia #54618  Purchase

Backpacking Photography Tips

Backpacker Bugaboo Provincial Park

Backpacking Photography Gear Tips

Backpacking Photography Gear Tips

Backpacker Bugaboo Provincial Park Backpacking Photography Gear TipsBugaboo Provincial Park British Columbia 

For most people bringing back photos from a backpacking trip is essential. Who doesn’t want to share their adventure with friends and family on the social media beast?

The big question is what is the end use for those photos, and what photo gear should you take to meet that end? Ask 100 photographers that question and you’ll get 100 different answers. And there really are no wrong answers here.

For the purpose of this article I’ll focus on backpacking photography gear tips for photographers that may be in the advanced amateur to aspiring pro levels.

Mount Baker Wilderness campsite North Cascades Washington Backpacking Photography Gear TipsMount Baker Wilderness North Cascades

It’s All About Weight

Get used to it, if you’re into serious photography while backpacking your pack will be heavy, period.

Only you can determine how much weight you can comfortably carry and for how far. There are endless variables which determine what you should or shouldn’t bring, such as photography goals, trip length, elevation gain, trail or off trail routes, and seasons, to name a few.

Basically though, carrying too much weight can turn your trip into a grueling muscle cramping ordeal. And at the end of the day you won’t have any energy left for photography. Believe me I know what I’m talking about here. For 20 years I lugged around a 4×5 film camera with four lenses, 18 film holders, a film changing tent, extra film, light meter, tripod, filters, etc. All this photo gear alone was well over 35 pounds.

So here are my gear tips for helping to make your backpacking photography trip more successful and enjoyable.

Disclaimer: The following tips are offered from my personal experience and preferences after many years of backpacking photography. What works for me may not work for you.

Backcountry camp North Cascades National ParkBackcountry camp North Cascades National Park

Photo Gear

There isn’t much you can do here for weight savings. You can’t shave off pieces of you camera or lens to cut down on weight. And this isn’t the category for scrimping on quality to save weight. My choice of photo gear may be on the heavy side, but it ensures high quality results.

  • Camera:

    One camera body. The best you can afford. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or film or, which brand, as long you can change lenses. Make sure it has a high quality sensor with enough megapixels sufficient for your end use. A 20 megapixel body may be good enough for social media sharing, but not probably for making large format fine art prints.

    Pro Tip:   Pro or Prosumer level cameras are much more rugged, and have better weather seals than consumer level cameras. Something to consider if you regularly visit dusty, and or rainy environments, or are hard on your gear.

My Gear:
Nikon D850 Yes, it’s heavy, but it’s well built with all the features I need and more. It’s 45.7 megapixel sensor is outstanding for night sky photography, and mural size prints.
Really Right Stuff L Plate Used for quick release in conjunction with Really Right Stuff Tripod Ballhead.

Alice Lake camp Sawtooth MountainsIlluminated tent, Sawtooth Mountains Idaho

  • Lenses:

    Wide or ultra wide to short telephoto lenses will cover most situations. Again, go with the highest quality you can afford. It wood be ideal to bring just one zoom lens with a focal length from 20-200mm. However the quality of such a lens may not be optimum.

    Many photographers will swear by the quality of prime lenses, but for our purpose bringing an arm load of them isn’t practical. One wide angle zoom lens, plus a normal to short telephoto zoom lens would be a good option.

    Pro Tip:  High quality lenses are always more important than the camera body. The most expensive camera or post-processing editing app can’t make up for an inferior quality lens.

My Gear: 
Nikon 14-24mm 2.8 This lens is considered by many landscape photographers to be the gold standard of wide angle zooms. I can attest that it is extremely sharp, and has minimal distortion and chromatic aberration.
Nikon 24-70mm 2.8E ED VR  There are arguably smaller, lighter weight, and cheaper lenses in this focal length. But for me this lens has proven its worth many times over. It’s tack sharp, and the VR feature is outstanding for hand held work.
Nikon 70-200mm 2.8E FL ED VR  Again, it’s a heavy and expensive lens, but for me it’s high quality glass and features are worth every ounce.

  • Tripod:

    A tripod is an essential piece of photo gear. Night photography would be absolutely impossible without it. So would close-ups of flowers, long exposures of flowing water, and techniques such as focus stacking.

A tripod is also one item where you may be able to get away with choosing a lighter weight model. This is especially true if you camera body and lens combination is on the lighter side.

Many manufacturers offer tripods with three or four section legs. I prefer three, simpler, less parts that can fail. Also make sure your tripod is tall enough for your needs. Carbon fiber tripods are your best option, they’re slightly lighter than metal, and very durable. They also won’t freeze your hands in cold weather light metal does.

In recent years ball heads have become the standard, and I find them to be a vast improvement over older style handles and knobs.

Pro Tip:   Do not opt for an inexpensive poorly made tripod with plastic components! They are not stable and break very easily. I was once in desperate need of a replacement tripod while on location. All I could purchase was a cheap lightweight model. Even with everything locked down as much as possible it was like using a wet noodle to support my camera!

My Gear:
Gitzo GT 1532 Mountaineer Series 1
Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead with quick release plate.

Backcountry camp North CascadesMount Baker Wilderness North Cascades

  • Filters:

Polarizing Filter. Probably one of the most indispensable filters to bring along. Just be careful not to overdue the effect of darkening a sky. Also keep in mind their limited effect when using wide angle lenses.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters. I still find them extremely useful. But If you’re looking to save weight you could leave these at home, and produce their effect in post-processing. They are not always the best option in certain circumstances. However, when possible I will always prefer to use them to make the best exposure in the field, and not rely on post-processing techniques.

My Gear:
B+H Polarizing Filter
Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters: Four filters; 1 & 2 Stop soft and hard edge.
Lee SW150 Mark II Filter System, necessary to accommodate Nikon 14-24mm lens

  • Miscellaneous Gear

    Extra Batteries. I always take three fully charged batteries, one in the camera and two extras. On a recent 10 day backpack I still had about half power left on my last spare. Be aware that mirrorless cameras may consume more battery power.
    Extra Memory Cards. 
    Remote Shutter Release. Weighs next to nothing and helps in reducing camera shake.
    Micro Fiber Cleaning Cloth. Essential for cleaning lenses and filters
    Camera Chest Pack. I find this optional item to be extremely useful. Not only does it give me quick access to my camera while on the tail, it also has room for small items such as trail snacks and maps.
    My Gear:
    Lowepro Toploader Pro 75 AWII

Backpacker Glacier Peak Wilderness Backpacking Photography Gear TipsBackpacker Glacier Peak Widerness

Backpacking Gear

Here is where you’ll have the most opportunities for saving weight while on the trail. It’s also where you can spend or save lots of money. Once again how light you go depends on your destination, how long you will be out, and what season you’ll be backpacking in.

Going Ultralight is the catch word of the day, and gear manufacturers are cashing in on it big time. Just be aware that that ultra expensive ultralight gear may not be ultra durable, especially when the weather turns nasty, and after a few seasons of use.

Absolutely nothing is worse than sitting out wind, rain, and or snow for days at a time in a flimsy leaking tent.

Nearly every tent, backpack, or rain jacket on the market today will perform well in adverse conditions, at least for their first season. What gear reviewers won’t tell you is how well they hold up after a few seasons of use!

  • Backpack

    A high quality good fitting backpack is one of the most essential pieces of gear you’ll need for a successful and enjoyable backpacking trip.

    Pro Tip:   Forget that fancy expensive photo gear backpack. They are designed foremost to protect your camera and lenses while on the trial, everything else is secondary. You’ll quickly find that out when you’re several miles into a steep climb when that backpack has suddenly turned itself into a medieval torture device.

    Go with a pack specifically designed for backpacking. Use soft items in you pack, like clothes to protect your gear. Visit a reputable outdoor gear store and try on different packs. Speak with a knowledgable salesperson about what you need, a good one will help choose and fit the ideal pack. Keep in mind that to accommodate all your photo gear you may need a larger pack than you initially think.

    Pro Tip:   Do not buy a backpack from an online retailer until you have already physically checked it out and tried it on! Ideally borrow a friends for a short trip first to see if it works for you.

    My Gear: 
    Osprey Zenith 88 Osprey makes high quality packs for every type of adventurer. This is the most comfortable pack I’ve ever used.  Its suspension system is much more comfortable for carrying heavier loads than their popular Aether 85. Perfect size for trips over three or four days in length. Although it is a bit on the large size for a weekend trip.

North Cascades backcountry campBackcountry camp North Cascades

  • Shelter

    A good shelter is the next most important piece of backpacking gear.

    If you’re traveling light and fast, and are only concerned about making miles in gorgeous summer weather without any flying insects to bother you, then even a thin nylon tarp will do.

    But it’s a different story when you’re out for a week and the weather turns sour, with mosquitoes, flies, and gnats out in biblical proportions. Then you’ll wish for something a bit more substantial to protect you and camera gear.

Look for a lightweight tent with a silicone treated rain fly. I also like a tent with a vestibule large enough to protect items you don’t want inside the tent. Like boots and a dirty backpack.

My Gear:
Big Agnes Copper Spur 2. Super lightweight, easy to pitch, with two doors and large vestibules. This tent also comes in a one person size, but I like a little more elbow room.

  • Sleeping Bag and Pad

    For years I steered clear of down bags, mainly because  I felt they were a poor option in the rainy Pacific Northwest. However, now I’m an enthusiastic supporter of down. They’re like sleeping enveloped in a warm cloud. And they’re generally much lighter and more compressible than synthetic bags. A high quality down sleeping bag is not cheap so look at it as an investment. However, with proper care a well made bag will last for many years. Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering make some of the finest bags around.

    Sleeping pads are essential for keeping those roots from poking into your back while sleeping, or for insulation when camped on snow. Options here are either a foam pad or an inflatable. I’ve used Therm-a-Rest pads exclusively for many years. They are incredibly comfortable with adjustable firmness, are lightweight, and compress down very well.

    My Gear:
    Western Mountaineering Badger 
    Therm-a-rest Classic

Backcountry Camp North Cascades National Park Backpacking Photography Gear TipsNorth Cascades National Park

  • Stove

    Another essential item for any overnight trip. The days of preparing your meals over an open campfire are long gone. Campfires above timberline are banned just about everywhere, and for many good reasons. Besides, cooking over an open fire takes an awful long time and is messy and dangerous.

    The two options are liquid white gas (Coleman Fuel) and butane mix canisters. Canister stoves are all the rage right now and I have a strong opinion regarding them.

    In my experience canister stoves are great for warm weather summer trips. However, when it starts getting cold their performance drops significantly, especially with a partially filled canister. On one winter ski trip I went through 2 whole canisters trying to boil a quart of water. The heat output wasn’t much better than a candle. Thankfully my friend had a backup stove and saved the day.

    The empty canisters are also very wasteful. Some canisters can be recycled, but why even bother if there’s another better option.

    Liquid fuel stoves perform well at any temperature, and do so to the last drop of fuel. They weigh only slightly more than canister stoves, and there are no empty canisters to dispose of.

    My Gear:
    MSR XGK. Yes, I know, this model is loud. But it heats like a blowtorch in any weather. Plus it’s both incredibly dependable and well built. The one I have now has lasted over ten years and is still going strong!

Titcomb Basin backcountry campWind River Range

  • Footwear

    Proper footwear is only second to a good backpack for comfort on the trail. There is a strong debate on leather boots vs lightweight trail runners. For years I’ve sworn by stiff leather boots with lugged soles. But on recent trips I’ve gone with lighter weight boots, and will probably move more towards trail runners in the near future.

    Pro Tip:  Be aware that if you’re backpacking in the mountains early in the season lightweight shoes may not be the best option. Hiking in snow for only a few minutes will result in very wet cold feet. In steep snow slopes you also won’t get much traction, and step kicking will be very difficult.

  • Other Gear

    Here is a list of other necessary items. They’re all important, but I won’t go into detail about them since it would require a separate article.

    Weather appropriate clothing
    Cookware
    Water bottle or hydration bag
    Water filter or other purification method
    Food, including trail snacks
    Map
    Headlamp
    Ten Essentials

Limestone Lakes Basin Height of the Rockies Provincial Park British ColumbiaHeight of the Rockies Provincial Park

In Conclusion

This should provide you with enough gear tips to begin planning for your next backpacking photography trip. As I mention many times in this article, cutting down on weight is important. But so is your personal comfort level. This isn’t a contest to see who can have the lightest pack and hike the farthest. So what if you choose a slightly beefier tent, or need to bring another lens? It’s your trip and you can always make adjustments to your preferences in the future.

Now get out there and have fun!

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with you friends and colleagues! And make sure to check out my next post in this series: Backpacking Photography Tips

Backpacker on Titcomb Basin Trail Wind River Range Wyoming Backpacking Photography Gear TipsTitcomb Basin Wind River Range

If you found reading Backpacking Photography Gear Tips to be  enjoyable and informative please feel free to share it with friends and family

All photos appearing in Backpacking Photography Gear Tips are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints

Want to learn more? Take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

Backpacking Photography Gear Tips