High Uintas Wilderness: Red Castle Lakes

Red Castle Lake, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Red Castle Lake, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Last Stand, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Last Stand, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Mega Fauna, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Mega Fauna, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

The Classic, Lower Red Castle Lake, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

The Classic, Lower Red Castle Lake, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

The first week of July, I finally made it to Red Castle Lakes in Utah's High Uintas Wilderness. This place had been on my radar for at least a decade, but for whatever reason (maybe because the trailhead is two and a half to three hours from Salt Lake City) it wasn't a priority until a couple of weeks ago.

I decided to take the Bald Mountain route from the Cache trailhead. This is the most direct route into the upper Smiths Fork River drainage; only ten miles to Red Castle Lake. The Bald Mountain Trail boasts spectacular views as you skirt the east side of Bald Mountain and walk the broad ridge towards Squaw peak. The price: an immediate and steep climb and the knowledge that you'll have to climb back up to Bald Mountain after dropping into upper Smiths Fork.

The Cache trailhead start saves a mile of walking from the East Fork Blacks Fork trailhead, where there is a bridge, by fording the river. It was an inauspicious start to the trip when the first thing I did after missing the trail was fall in the river. On the bright side, I was passed the deep part when I slipped and was able to hold my shoes and socks mostly above the water as I fell.

I was impressed that my old Kelty backpack didn't let much water in and my new Kelty Ignite Dri Down bag stayed dry, as promised. Unbiased plug for Kelty brand outdoor gear. Kelty, if you're reading this, I'd be happy to review any gear you'd like to send me. ;-)

At first I didn't even realize I was off the trail. I just started following a dirt road towards the river, from the trail crossing sign on the East Fork Blacks Fork road. I didn't even see the nondescript trail cutting east just past a well used campsite maybe a hundred yards from the main road. I wasted a little bit of time and energy making my way over and around fallen timber as I cut across the mountainside, before intersecting the trail on a long steep switchback.

The rest of my hike was less eventful. Mostly just contending with jaw dropping views and infinite mosquitoes; and trying to create some images that could express some fraction of the beauty I was experiencing.  Next time I backpack in to Red Castle Lakes, I'm going in September and/or I'm taking a mosquito head net. Seriously, the mosquitoes were relentless.

 

Red Castle, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Red Castle, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Pfeifferhorn Sunrise

Pfeifferhorn Sunrise, Lone Peak Wilderness, Utah

This image accompanied my third blog post ever, back on February 1st, 2009. It was also my second most visited post at the time I switched to the new website. Sadly I’ve lost the original text and the comments. The image is from July 2006. It’s another view from another summer, from the summit of the Pfeifferhorn, this time at sunrise.

The original text described the situation: I had come to the alpine ridge prepared to spend the night in hopes of taking advantage of two golden hour photo sessions. My intent was to spend the night on the unnamed peak just west of the Pfeifferhorn and photograph the imposing west face of the Pfeifferhorn at sunset. After about five hours of hiking with a full pack, I realized I hadn’t given myself enough time to reach that unnamed summit, and decided to stay put on top of the Pfeifferhorn to photograph the sunset.

A bit later I decided to stay put for the night.  Not a great place to camp, barely enough room for one body to lie flat without being jabbed by rocks, but I didn’t want to pick my way off the summit cone by headlamp, and I did want to be able to just roll out of my one-man shelter to photograph the sunrise. It was a lousy night sleep as the wind howled and I worried about the flashes of lightning I’d seen to the west, over the Oquirrhs, before turning in.

As it turned out, the night’s weather blew in a lot of clouds which made the sunrise much more colorful than the previous night’s sunset. I was glad I had made the effort to treat myself to two edge of day photo sessions, high in the Lone Peak Wilderness. My original post had a great closing line. I wish I could remember it, something about finding unique photographic perspectives on mountain summits. The effort always seems to be rewarded.

Lone Peak from the Pfeifferhorn

Lone Peak from the Pfeifferhorn, Lone Peak Wilderness, Utah

Fractured granite on the Pfeifferhorn summit frames the scene to the west, towards South Thunder Mountain and Lone Peak.  From this vantage point the Wasatch looks more like the Sierra Nevada, with the high headwall of Hogum Fork blocking any view of civilization a mere eight miles west. Beams of light through broken clouds add to the drama on a mid-August afternoon atop the third highest summit in Salt Lake County.

This image was originally captured on 35mm Fujichrome Velvia in 1998. Wow, I can’t believe it was that long ago!? I’ve always liked the content of this image, but the weak color of this color transparency kept me from doing anything with it, back in the day when I had cibachrome prints made from my slides at the lab, and I was still years away from publishing anything on the internet.

With the advent of the digital dark room I can give new life to images like this, images that have a certain something that keeps them out of the trash bin, but not enough interest to make it into a portfolio, often by conversion to black and white.  The lack of any bright colors and the high contrast light (tamed at capture with a Singh Ray grad ND filter) made black and white conversion the obvious choice.  After the initial black and white conversion I used Photoshop layer masks to lighten the foreground rock and darken the sky to give this image some oomph.  

Scanning 35mm Film

Stone Watercourse, Wind River Range, Wyoming

As I’ve been working on the new website, I realized that some of my older film scans were not migrated to newer hard drives. When I first started scanning my film, I made the mistake of scanning a lot of images at smaller sizes because I was trying to save hard drive space, and I didn’t want to clutter up my drives with full size images (100+MB) that weren’t ultimately going to be printed large.

Today, my hard drives are full of images that will never even be proofed - because they’re not good enough. With digital storage costing less than ever, it only makes sense to scan film at the highest possible resolution, creating a master image file that is sized down for proofing, instead of scanning a proof size file and rescanning if a larger file is desired, which is what I used to do.

So, rather than trying to retrieve the digital versions, I’ve been rescanning some of my 35mm slides. Images from my previous website galleries; praiseworthy images that slipped through the cracks because they're not core portfolio images.  I’ve also been scanning some images that had never been transferred to digital. This has made me realize a few things.

Mistake Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming

 First, I need to be more diligent with the organization and updating of my digital image library. Not migrating digital content to new media or new technology could have catastrophic consequences when there’s no hard copy original to fall back on.

Second, I have a huge collection of images on film that have rarely if ever been seen. Images that were once projected in slide shows, but have never existed in digital form, yet still deserve some attention. I need to resume scanning my best chromes, something I stopped doing once I became firmly established in my digital workflow.

 Third, I should offer my services to people who want to give new life to images on film. I could put my Nikon Coolscan to work. So, if you have precious images on 35mm film (slide or negative) that you’d like to convert to jpeg and tiff, contact me to find out how.

Lizard Head, Wind River Range

Lizard Head (Center), Popo Agie Wilderness, Wyoming

With any image I present here, there are a wide variety of topics I could potentially explore. Sometimes I find it overwhelming to pick an angle to write about, and usually what I do write is not necessarily what I had initially intended to write. I’m guessing that writing is a lot like photography in that masterpieces are produced in the context of practice and dedication, not purely inspiration.

Ultimately, it’s what you do with that inspiration that matters. I know with photography, practice makes it possible to express yourself more clearly and more powerfully. I’m sure that’s true with writing as well. So, it probably doesn’t matter what I write about so long as I keep writing.

When I was thinking about what to write about this image my first instinct was to explain how a color version of this image was on my old website, in my Western Wilderness Gallery, and how I cut it from my new Mountain Landscapes Gallery, but then once I converted it to black and white, I thought it was even more striking and definitely belonged on the new website. And then, I thought about writing about how I used Photoshop Image>Calculations to convert the color image to black and white and the technique I used to dodge and burn the final image to deliver more impact…boring.

What would probably be a more interesting topic is how it felt to be in this spot. After two days of hiking, to be taking in this view, at more than 12,000 feet high, deep in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, felt amazing. Staring down a knife edge ridge towards Lizard Head Peak, in the Popo Agie Wilderness, with the Cirque of the Towers over my right shoulder, a great friend and hiking companion nearby, clouds swirling around us and the light changing by the minute, this was definitely a moment to savor.

WINTER LANDSCAPE GALLERY