After the dramatic clouds of my first night at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, I awoke to the more mundane clear, blue skies. I plodded around the meadow at sunrise, hoping for something spectacular to present itself, but no such luck. A little overconfident in my adaptation to the altitude (8600 at Tuolumne Meadows) I gathered my fly fishing implements as well as my camera, lenses and tripod and headed up to Saddlebag Lake (10,000 ft) for a day trip to the 20 Lakes Loop, a pretty jaunt into the High Sierra back country accessible by water taxi from the far end of Saddlebag.
I should know by now that trying to choose between fishing and photography usually brings good results from neither. The 20 Lakes Loop spans about eight miles and connects a bunch of small high country lakes, holding mostly small brookies and rainbows and a few goldens. It is dotted with wildflowers this time of year, but the midday glare and windy conditions weren’t conducive to much besides a nice walk. The altitude began to kick in before too long as well. Several times I tossed off my photo daypack and reclined to sea level, pondering where to set up my tripod for that wonderful Indian paintbrush-by-the-creek shot. Each time, the small voice inside my head whispered, “Take A Nap.”
Far be it from me to protest.
So my main accomplishment was acclimatization to the altitude, though I did manage to hook a golden trout at Odell Lake toward the end of the loop. I got it close enough to discern the pretty oval spots on its flank, then let it shake off the fly by the lake’s edge.
I’d never climbed Mt. Dana (13,000 ft) before, though I had ascended its lower portion, an area known as the Hanging Gardens, which can be full of lupine and larkspur delphinium and fireweed, among other flowers, if you hit it right.
It is a steep climb in itself, and once you get above treeline, it becomes mostly scree and then a jumble of boulders, with the payoff being a mind-bending 360 degree view when you reach its peak.
The last section can be deceiving – the trail flattens out temporarily, then steepens considerably for the last 1500 foot gain. The final ascent is not so much a trail as a route, marked by cairns and small blue flags, which might be misinterpreted as prayer flags once the altitude really kicks in.
Once we gained the peak, the payoff was the aforementioned 360 degree panorama. The pride of ascent was diminished somewhat when a twenty-something kid popped up behind us in tee-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. And pulled out a cell phone. “Hey Mom! I’m on top of Mt. Dana – it’s 13,000 feet – Awesome!”
The good news was, by the time we actually made the peak, the light had softened a little, allowing for some nice images looking eastward over the Mono Lake Basin.
A nice backdrop for portraits, too. I think I could really do well up there, if I could manage to get myself and any potential subjects up to the peak.
Meanwhile, we took the scenic route down, caught a bit of evening light on the Hanging Gardens but were too tired to do much about it. The next morning I awoke at dawn again hoping for some cloud cover, but didn’t see much, though I had some fun with a nice reflection on the Tuolumne.
All in all, a nice workout with the new Canon, good company, a few trout.