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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Boulder 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 set 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 park’s 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 park’s 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 latter 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 mentioned 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 and passed through areas with lots of photographic potential. But first I needed a wilderness permit, and it took me a couple of 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.
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 the 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 of food and fuel. At camp, it was a pleasure 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.
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 is 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 to 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 of 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.
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.
Afterward, 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.
Thunderbird 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’ve 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.
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 between a mother and her cubs. There was no sign of them so perhaps this was a different bear.
After a few seconds, which seemed much longer, the bear slowly moved away downslope 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.
At the east end of Boulder Pass, the trail descends into the large horseshoe basin of Hole In The Wall. From there it 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 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.
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 are on a gravel road which can be very dusty and bumpy. There is a hiker’s 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 the time it’s a great place to stay for a day or two before or after your hike.
Kintla 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 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!
Marmot at Boulder Pass Glacier National Park #69980 Purchase
Photo Gear Used On This Trip
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
Boulder Pass Glacier National Park #69886 Purchase
I’m happy to announce that the next group of new images from my recent summer trip is now online! This group represents the second half of the trip which includes some of the most scenic locations in Montana, and Wyoming.
Especially noteworthy are backcountry photos of Boulder Pass made during my visit to Glacier National Park. This was my first visit to this remote area, and it was also my first backpacking trip in Glacier in many years. This was certainly one of the highlights of the entire summer trip. Also, after many years I was finally able to return to Beartooth Pass and the Missouri River Breaks for new images.
Lake McDonald Glacier National Park #69745 Purchase
Final On The Road Update 8/19/2020:
This brief addition will be my final on the road update of the summer photo tour. I’m still in Glacier National Park and since my last post I’ve witnessed a sunrise marriage proposal on Lake McDonald, completed a 40 mile 6 day backpacking photo shoot, and seen seven grizzly bears in the backcountry, on one occasion only about 25′ away from me. So yes, it’s been a busy adventurous visit!
By this time next week I should be back home in the office. For many weeks to come I’ll be there catching up on business and processing all the new images. During that time I’ll be posting groups of new images to the website and updates on the blog.
Sitting right now just outside of Glacier National Park it seems time to post another Summer Photo Tour 2020 Update. Since my last post I’ve visited and photographed lots of new and old locations. And once again although Grand Teton and Yellowstone weren’t on my list, necessity had me briefly drive through both parks. And once again I’m glad I did, because I added several wonderful new images to my files from them!
Pronghorn Peak Wind River Range Wyoming #69202 Purchase
There was one major change to the Summer Photo Tour 2020 itinerary. This was a decision to take a pass on the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. Instead I’m opting to spend the remainder of the trip backpacking in Glacier National Park. Although I’ve visited and photographed in Glacier many times over the years this will be my first major backpacking trip there since I was a teenager.
Appearing in this post are some of the photo highlights. 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.
Upper Missouri River Breaks Montana #69672 Purchase
Upper Missouri River Breaks Montana #69684 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.
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
Oxbow Bend Sunrise Grand Teton National Park #67700 Purchase
The final group of new images is now online and ready to view. This group represents close the second half of my Rocky Mountains photo tour, and includes three national parks.
After a full month of backpacking in the Sawtooths and Winds I was originally planning only a brief stop in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The next major destinations were to be the Beartooth Highway and eastern Montana. However, weather forecasts and other circumstances presented opportunities in these parks that I could not pass up.
Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park #68021 Purchase
Therefore, in the end I spent nearly two weeks in Grand Teton, and about a week in Yellowstone. After leaving Yellowstone it became apparent that deteriorating weather patterns would bing the trip to an early close. Consequently there was only enough time to make a quick drive to Glacier National Park before storms set in. Although during my short stay in Glacier I was presented with several more great photo opportunities.
As mentioned in previous posts, I’ll soon be writing more detailed posts on all aspects of the trip.
Grand Teton National Park:Mormon Row Barns, Schwabacher Landing, Oxbow Bend Yellowstone National Park: Geothermal features of Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Falls and Canyon, Mammoth Hot Springs Montana: Rocky Mountain Front Range near Augusta and Choteau, Sun River Canyon Glacier National Park: Saint Mary Lake, Saint Mary and Virgina Falls
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
Medicine Rocks State Park, Montana #58398 Purchase
I’m thrilled to announce the first group of new images from my recent photo tour is now complete. To view the entire edit all of the newly added images, go to our Stock Images page and click on the location you’d like to see.
The second half of all the new images should be ready for viewing in the next week or two. That group of new images will include Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Pennsylvania, with the main subject matter being fall color. Check back here soon or sign up for email updates to be notified of promotions or image news. I’ll also be adding regular in-depth posts here about specific locations and subjects covered on this trip.
The following locations are represented in this first portfolio: