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.
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 #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.
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.
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!
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Big 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 sight 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 to the Grand Teton Range, albeit on a smaller scale.
But most visitors are unaware of the quiet yet spectacular wilderness just a stone’s 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.
Big Boulder Lakes Trail Sign #68891
Backpacking to Walker Lake
Last summer I made my first trip to 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 fewer 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 #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 #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, there 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.
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.
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 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 Cirque Lake was a grand scene it was set in a stark rocky alpine basin. Only on one section of the 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 Cirque Lake.
Neck 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 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.
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 than that of other backpackers. Others may enjoy covering many miles, being on the move from sun up to sundown. 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 to 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 #68887
One of the great perks of hiking in central Idaho is 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 #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!
David o’ Lee Peak White Clouds Wilderness #68929 Purchase
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 are needed
The Livingston Mill Trailhead is located about 58 miles from Stanley Idaho. Take U.S. 75 37 miles 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 Northwestfor 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 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!
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
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Stormy Sunset from foothills of Wind River Range #69049 Purchase
I’m happy to announce that the first group of new images from my recent summer trip is now online! This group represents the first half of the trip which includes locations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. Also included in the gallery are some floral photos, along with images from the recent Oregon Coast Trip.
Aside from the photos from the Palouse Region of Washington all of the new image are from locations I’ve never visited or photographed in before. Although I’ve been to the Wind River Range of Wyoming many times this was my first trip to Upper Middle Fork Basin.
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.
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.
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 #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.
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.
Rocky 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.
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
Baron Lake Sawtooth Wilderness Idaho #66032 Purchase
Today I’m wrapping up the Sawtooth Mountains segment of my summer photo tour. Eleven days and nearly 50 miles of backpacking into some gorgeous areas yielded plenty of new images. All the effort of hauling heavy camera gear into the backcountry certainly paid off. Tomorrow I’m heading to the Wind River Range of Wyoming. Meanwhile I’ll be checking out a few local hot springs!
Locations Photographed in Sawtooth Mountains :
Alice Lake/Toxaway Lake Loop
*The photos appearing on this post are quick on the road edits, literally I’m on the roadside working to publish this post. However they will be reprocessed and made available for sale when I return to the office.
Sawtooth Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness Idaho #65960 Purchase
Sawtooth Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness Idaho #65880 Purchase
Please note, any print orders that are placed while I’m away on this trip will not be shipped until I return to the office.
Little Redfish Lake Sawtooth Mountains Idaho #56176 Purchase
Summer Photography Tour 2019 is about to begin! This year’s trip is very exciting as I’ll be photographing some of my favorite destinations in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Beginning in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho I’ll be backpacking in to some of the most dramatic mountain wilderness areas in the lower 48 states and Canada.*
Many of these locations have been on my schedule for several years. However, due to several summers where wildfire smoke hampered photography I had to put them on the back burner. The Wind River Range in particular suffered greatly from these fires. My past two trips to the Winds were frustrated by smoke filled skies, and I came back with only a few photos.
This year, however, is turning out to be mostly free of major wildfires. So I’m going to fully take advantage of the opportunity and hit as many locations as I can. Of course fire smoke is only one obstacle to good landscape photography. I’ll also need good light and some interesting clouds at the right time and place. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
*Please note, any print orders that are placed while I’m away on this trip will not be processed until I return to the office.
The Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho will be a very exciting segment for me. In the past I’ve photographed these mountains from various viewpoints looking into the range. This will be my first foray on trails into the interior. While the exact destinations are not set, at this point I’m planning two separate backpacking excursions, of three to four days each. And of course I’ll also be taking full advantage of the numerous natural hot springs while in the area!
Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range #49203 Purchase
The Wind River Range of Wyoming will be the central focus of this trip. This spectacular section of the Rockies contains 40 peaks over 13,000 feet, the largest glacier in the American Rockies, and over 1300 named lakes, all spread over three designated wilderness areas. While a few areas can get downright crowded with hikers and climbers, there are numerous trails that rarely sees any boot traffic.
If all goes well I will be making three backpacking trips in the Winds, keeping me busy for around 10-14 days. Destinations on my agenda include the Hailey Pass Washakie Pass Loop, Deep Lake, the ever popular popular Cirque of the Towers. Titcomb Basin will be next, and lastly the Green River Lakes area.
After a brief visit to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks my next destination on the schedule is the spectacular Beartooth Highway. One of the highest roads in North America it tops out at 10,497′ on the Wyoming Montana border. Although I don’t have any specifics spots in mind yet, I plan to spend several days exploring and photographing.
North of the Beartooth Highway I’ll make my way through the Missouri River Beaks country. Most people associate Montana with soaring mountains, cool forests and crystal clear lakes and streams. However the eastern half of the state is open grasslands, badlands, cattle ranches and wheat farms. This is Big Sky country, a region where the antelope truly play! Although I love mountains, this wide sprawling country captures my imagination, and I’m always excited to return.
Moving westward the next stops are Glacier and Wateron National Parks. Glacier was the second national park I visited, while in my youth on a family vacation. It is also the location of my first true backpacking adventure, accompanied by two high school classmates just after graduation. Unfortunately that was the last time I did a backpacking trip in the park. All my return visits have been road and day-hike based trips.
Glacier is one of the more heavily visited national parks in the country. Parts of the park, such as Logan Pass, can get so crowded during the summer months that parking lots can be overflowing by 8:00 in the morning. I’m hoping that by the time I get to Glacier it will be after Labor Day weekend , and the crowds will have thinned considerably.
Although I’ve visited and photographed in Glacier several times over the years, I’ve visited adjacent Wateron only once. Wateron is much smaller than Glacier, has similar terrain, and represents the southernmost section of the Canadian Rockies. Geologically speaking, however, the Canadian Rockies actually extend to the southern border of Glacier National Park, along U.S. Highway 2.
This will certainly be a good opportunity for me to make up for not visiting Waterton.
The Canadian Rockies
Limestone Lakes Height of the Rockies Provincial Park #461098 Purchase
Finally, after photographing in Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks, I have one last location to visit. I’m optimistically adding Limestone Lakes in Height of the Rockies Provincial Park British Columbia at the last minute. This is one of the more demanding backpacking trips I’ve ever done. However after more than a hundred miles of hiking I should be in good enough shape to tackle it again.
Limestone Lakes is in a very remote and seldom visited corner of the famous Canadian Rockies. It’s about a 17 mile hike into the lakes area, with more than half of that distance on rugged cross-country terrain. Even the trail on the first part is mostly a faint path. The last time I was there I didn’t see anyone else for five days. Hopefully when I get to this last segment of the trip the weather will cooperate.
By this time, If I make it this far, fall color in the higher elevations should be taking hold. Hmm, maybe I can add on a few more weeks and destinations…
Height of the Rockies backcountry camp #46205
List of Locations
Below is a tentative list of locations included on this lengthy trip. If you have any locations you’d like me to include, or if you’re in any of these areas and would like to meet up, just drop me an email!
Sawtooth Mountains and hot springs Wind River Range Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park Yellowstone National Park Beartooth Highway Missouri River Breaks Montana Glacier National Park Waterton Lakes National Park
Height of the Rockies Provincial Park