Ghosts of Hikers Past

Ghosts of Hikers Past

Yosemite is one of those places you just can’t stop going back to. It sucks me in just like it sucked in John Muir, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and so many others. Recently I wrote about my latest trip to Yosemite and also about photographing my first “Moonbow” there (OK, actually my only Moonbow), but now I want to revisit my first trip to Yosemite as an adult.

I enjoyed my first trip so much that right after returning I immediately started planning my next trip. I still had a pile of library books about Yosemite, so I began researching the areas of the park at higher elevations. I was planning to return in August, and believe me, you do not want to be down in the valley in August. It’s hot, and it’s packed with tourists. Not that there’s anything wrong with tourists. Well, what I mean is, oh, forget it. Anyway, I opened, among others, “100 Hikes in Yosemite National Park” from Mountaineers Press, and turned to the section about Tioga Road, a part of the park at higher elevations that I had not yet been to, and I saw something very odd.

"Tioga Road: Tamarack Creek East To Tenaya Lake", from "100 Hikes in Yosemite National Park", Mountaineers Press

“Tioga Road: Tamarack Creek East To Tenaya Lake”, from “100 Hikes in Yosemite National Park”, Mountaineers Press

The opening photo for that section, identified as some creek high up off the Tioga Road, looked very familiar. So I grabbed my photos from my recent trip, all of which were taken in Yosemite Valley, and sure enough, I had an image that looked like almost exactly the same scene as in the book! You know, the one taken in a place I had never been. Bridalveil Creek at Dusk, Yosemite National Park, CaliforniaSo I started comparing rocks and trees, and although theirs was older and things had changed a bit, it was obviously taken from the same spot as mine. And mine was taken in Bridalveil Creek. I guess the author thought no one would ever notice. Well, guess what? You’re busted!

That afternoon’s shoot was actually a guided workshop through YExplore Yosemite Adventures led by Phil Schermeister, a photographer with some pretty impressive credentials. It was a cloudy, drizzly day without much interesting light, so Phil challenged us to imagine that we were on assignment for National Geographic and only had today to shoot. How would we take the lemons we had been dealt and turn them into lemonade? One of the tricks he taught us that’s useful in situations such as this was to set the camera for a long exposure, say one second, and, shooting handheld (without a tripod), pan the camera up or down during the exposure. Abstract of Tree and Waterfall, Yosemite National Park, CaliforniaThe image will be blurred in the direction of the camera’s movement, and as with most tricks like this, the results can vary widely. I had tried it on Yosemite Falls without much luck, but when we got to the area near where the Bridalveil Creek shot was taken, I decided to try it again on a tree just in front of Bridalveil Fall. Because I panned vertically and both the tree and the fall were vertically oriented, those are the elements that are visible in the image, while everything else is blurred beyond recognition. I personally think the image works for that reason. What do you think?

I had noticed a location on the John Muir Trail that I wanted to try to shoot, but I wanted to get it as a sunset image. That made it interesting, because it would take me several hours to return to the trail-head from this spot. Well, so be it. This was to be my first solo hike out of a National Park trail in the dark with a headlamp, and it would be in unfamiliar territory. First I hiked up the Mist Trail around mid-afternoon, passing Vernal Fall on the way. You may remember Vernal Fall as the place where three hikers were swept to their deaths in 2011. I then continued up past Nevada Fall. You may remember Nevada Fall as the place where, you guessed it, a man was swept to his death, oh, about a week ago. Anyway, I eventually got to my intended spot and took a couple of test shots. LIberty Cap and Nevada Fall, Yosemite National Park, CaliforniaI didn’t realize that these would be my best images, since the clouds to the west denied me of the “magic hour” light I was anticipating. But that’s OK. I got to meet a lot of interesting folks as they passed my location and asked what I was doing. One was an older gentleman (much older, actually), and we had a nice chat. Hours later, on my way out just as it was getting really dark, I caught up with him again. He had no headlamp on, and we were still miles from the trail-head. Noting this, I asked him if he would be able to get off the trail OK, or if he needed me to hike out with him. He said, “Son, when you get to be my age, and you hike at my speed, you end up hiking out in the dark by yourself an awful lot. You go on ahead, I do this all the time.”. I never thought about it until now, but darned if he didn’t look an awful lot like John Muir. And it was the John Muir Trail, after all. You don’t suppose…

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2 Responses to “Ghosts of Hikers Past”

  1. Ed:

    I particularly like the “blurred tree” image.

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