Day 2 of our 3-day Memorial Weekend trip had us traveling north up the 395. The area is very scenic and instead of passing through as I’ve habitually done in the past while en route to Yosemite my group and I decided to stick around and check out Lee Vining. Lee Vining is the last town before you enter the eastern side of Yosemite and surprise! It’s still covered in snow!
At this time of the year I was expecting a light Spring snow. The kind of snow that lies a couple inches off the ground and melts beneath your shoes as you walk on top of it. However, instead we had thick, slushy, post holing snow. Had I known that we’d encounter this type of snow I would have brought my snowshoes.
Luckily I had my pair of Kahtoola Microspikes to help keep me from sliding around. They’re a pair of spikes that wrap over any athletic shoe and literally give you more traction to stick into the ground. But then…
One of my friends in the group, also unprepared for the snow covered hills, kept slipping and uncomfortably falling left and right in a pair of Nike Frees. Since my Salomon 4D GTX boots(there’s a guy version too!) innately have better grip compared to JP’s Nikes I ended up slipping them over his shoes, so that he wouldn’t plummet to his near death.
We continued to hike around the beautifully blue, frozen lake. My friends and I were all in awe of its color. The entire lake was frozen over and had that mixture of bright glacier-like blue and deep, navy blue. Those colors juxtaposed against a monochromatic, mountainous horizon line and cloud speckled sky will make anyone stop and appreciate the moment.
Be warned, do not attempt to walk on the ice. Yes, it might make for a cool selfie –don’t do it. Trust me if the ice were to break under you, you’d get a chilling dip and then be stuck with walking out in cold, soggy clothes. You’d also have a high chance of getting hypothermia. During our hike we joked about walking across the lake and I decided to test the surface. I went to the edge and proceeded to stomp my foot against the ice (usually you’d use a trekking pole.) The ice was still intact after the first and second stomp. On the third try the ice broke and bottom of my shoe met the water. I immediately scampered back to solid ground. Again, don’t walk on the ice.
When we finished hiking around the lake we headed back to our campsite back in Lower Lee Vining. There we made a campfire, dinner, and patiently waited for our soggy shoes and socks to dry off. Amazingly (for me, poor urban footwear friends) only the outside leather of my boot and ankle top of my sock were wet. –Of course, this was due to user error. Again, don’t walk on top of frozen lakes. Shame on me, but my actions proved that gortex works! We had plenty of time to wait for our shoes in the evening I had plans to take everyone star hunting.
Photography Notes:The sky was in near perfect conditions. Since the storm rolled through on the night before in Alabama Hills, Lee Vining instead welcomed us with the clearest skies. The moon was also in the progress of waning, which meant that its light would not overpower the stars. We walked out about half mile from our campsite towards the 120 to get a clear vantage point of the sky. Experiencing a sky sprinkled with twinkling specks is one the top things to see when camping out.
We walked out toward the highway because it’s a wide open area that would allow us to photograph the neighboring mountains, trees, and glowing campsites. With tons of experience and practicing, finding the Milky Way’s core becomes significantly easier. The challenging part is finding ways to photograph the stream of stars in a style that doesn’t become repetitive. I love seeing stars, but I can quickly become bored from seeing the image over and over. Because of this I’m constantly searching for a subject to use as a foreground element to juxtapose next to the sky. During this night the 30 second exposure of the orange campfire was spectacular.
During day I sported the Sony 24-70mm/2.8 GM on my Sony A7r II. If you can put up with its weight the 24-70/2.8 is proving to be a very useful all around lens. To capture the night skies I locked off the camera on my reliable MeFOTO tripod and rotated between the 28mm/2 and the Rokinon 14mm/2.8. The wider 14mm lens is a very particular lens. I wouldn’t include it as part of my everyday kit, but if you want to engulf the entire sky into a frame go wide!
So far this Memorial Weekend trip has taken my friends and I through desert, snow, and a sea of stars. The following day we would be making our way back to Los Angeles and conclude the trip with ancient 4,000 year old trees.
This is Part 2 of a 3 part blog series for Memorial Weekend. Check out Part 1 (Alabama Hills) and stay tuned for Part 3 (Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.)
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