My husband and I took a quick three-day trip to the Grand Lake, Colorado area last weekend.  We drove around the area a little on Friday and ventured into Rocky Mountain National Park as far as we could go on the west side, which was at the Colorado River Trailhead. Beyond that, Highway 34 was closed for the winter.  We hiked maybe a mile and half on the trail and only saw one other brave soul, a nice gentleman on cross country skis.  The snow was coming down in earnest while we were on the trail, and continued overnight.

Saturday morning we awoke to approximately 4-6 inches of new powder at Grand Lake!  We strapped on our snowshoes and headed out for the East Inlet Trail which is within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park and begins on the east side of Grand Lake.  We hiked this trail several years ago in the summer, and made it all the way up to Lake Verna – a 13 mile round trip.  Our objective this time was to reach Adams Falls and go somewhere beyond.

This was our first time snowshoeing and I found it to be a lot of fun, although hard work.  We encountered an unexpected fork in the trail only about a hundred yards from the trailhead, and my husband thought we should go to the right as he thought the trail veered off to hit the falls and hooked back up with it later.  Obviously others had gone this direction before as evidenced by the fresh snowshoe tracks.  We did finally find the falls (frozen of course) but we were below them rather than above.  Unfortunately, after I fired off three shots, my camera stopped working.  I was receiving an “Error 99” message, something I’d never seen.  I replaced the battery with a fully charged one; still got the message.  I took it out and placed it back in several times, to no avail.   I was extremely disappointed in the camera failure as the forest was absolutely magical and I hoped to capture some wonderful scenes that morning.  But, the morning was beautiful and it was difficult not to be entranced and awed at the beauty, even if I couldn’t make images.

East Inlet Creek below Adams Falls

Several other snowshoers were at the falls and pointed us in the right direction to find the main trail.  We had to climb a long, rather steep hill in fresh powder, which turned into quite an ordeal for me.  I kept thrashing around and couldn’t get my footing or make any headway.  Let me tell you, it’s a little difficult to climb a steep snowy hill when you keep falling to your knees with snowshoes strapped to your feet!  Finally, with a lot of determination and my husband’s helping hand, I made it up. We found the main trail and continued on.  We stopped at a viewpoint where the creek meandered through a large open meadow, and the beautiful snow-capped peak of Mt. Craig was trying to peek out of the clouds.  I decided to break the camera out to see if by chance it might work.  I fired off one shot, handheld – it worked! I quickly set up my tripod, and composed my shot – only to see “Error 99” AGAIN!!  Gggrr!!  I took the battery out, put it back in. It worked this time.  I fired off a couple more shots, then the message appeared once more. How frustrating!  We continued on the trail for a short way past the viewpoint then turned around and headed back to our motel so we could get back in time for the KU/Missouri basketball game (gotta have our priorities in the right place, after all).

Mt. Craig from East Inlet Trail

Mt. Craig and frosted trees

We ended up going back out to the same trail later in the afternoon and discovered the trail was so packed by this time, that we didn’t even need the snowshoes.  My husband took off for a trail run, and I headed back up to the meadow viewpoint for more thoughtful shots, albeit in not-as-good light.  That’s ok, they can be converted to black & white to somewhat hide that!

Mt. Craig a/k/a Baldy

I decided that as beautiful as the mountains are in summer, they take on an absolutely magical appearance when covered in a mantle of white.  It was so gorgeous on this morning, it literally took my breath away.  Or maybe it’s just because I was snowshoeing through fresh powder at 8,000+ feet!  I would not hesitate to spend much more time out in the snow if surrounded by this type of scenery.  My winter shooting tips might need some re-tooling, though. The temps were not terribly cold (probably somewhere in the 10-20 degree range), and I wore my ski pants, thermal shirt, flannel shirt and coat.  About 20 minutes into our trek, I thought I was going to die because I was so hot! I have since read in several places that rather than layers, jackets and pants equipped with zippered compartments are a great way to dress in the cold. The zippered areas can be opened to vent heat and easily closed, whereas clothing layers are a little more troublesome. I really might need to check into that if I do some serious hiking/snowshoeing with my camera.

Snowy Lines

It has been a busy week for me, dealing with three family birthdays, working my full-time job (and the almost full-time job of running a household), Valentine’s Day, getting some images ready to submit for consideration in the Kansas! Magazine 2011 calendar, and preparing my 12 entries for the Kansas Garden Show Photo Contest (which is next weekend, but the entry deadline was this week).  Whew!  Tuesday I was very excited to learn that I won an Editor’s Weekly Pick Award for the Weekly Challenge Gallery on NPN!  The Weekly Challenge theme last week was “Leading Lines.” 

With my boss’s blessing, I took last Friday afternoon off from work after we received a beautiful snowfall, and went out to Lake Shawnee to see what I could find to shoot.  At one cove near the Ensley Gardens (the only cove at the entire lake which wasn’t frozen over), there were hundreds of ducks and geese hanging out.  While I was watching some geese splash down gracefully in the icy water, I saw the “leading lines” created by the dead grasses/reeds and the snowy shoreline so set up and took a couple shots knowing if they turned out, I would have another submission for the challenge.  Because the skies were gray and there wasn’t any color in the scene anyway, I converted to black & white using Photoshop and tweaked it until I liked the tones and contrasts.  What I like about this shot, besides the composition, is the fact I nailed the exposure and was able to retain detail in the snow which shows up quite well on the left side.

This is my second WP. I received my first in October in the Earth, Sea & Sky Gallery for my image of Onondaga Cave.

As I’ve mentioned in my posts before, joining NPN has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my photography.  I’m very grateful to all those who view and comment on my images and so willingly share their knowledge with me. I’ve grown by leaps and bounds as a photographer since joining in 2007.

When I was a kid, I loved snow. I had a blast building snowmen and pummeling my parents with snowballs. Then I got a little older and had to learn to drive in the stuff. Suddenly, snow wasn’t my friend anymore – until last winter. We had very little snow last winter, but after seeing all the great frosty shots posted on Nature Photographer’s Network, I thought I might be missing out on something. So, when we finally did get some of the white stuff, I bundled up, headed out, and rediscovered a little love for winter and snow.

This year, we’ve had around 6 inches more snow than is typical in an entire winter season, and I’ve made an effort to get out and enjoy it, camera in hand. Here are a few tips that you might find helpful should you decide to resurrect your inner Frosty:

Inner layers need to keep you warm, but not too warm.  You really need to think how to dress for the cold, especially if you plan to be out for any length of time. Layers are the way to go, but if you put on too many layers, you’ll overheat and get sweaty, which isn’t good because you’ll end up chilled and in danger of hypothermia. My cold-weather dress has consisted of thermals (top and bottom), a flannel shirt or sweatshirt, and waterproof ski pants. Yes, ski pants. They are waterproof, they have elastic around the ankles to keep snow out, and they’re insulated. When I kneel down to compose a shot, they cushion the ground a bit and keep me dry. Which brings me to my next point.

Outer layers need to keep you dry.  If you’re dry, it’s likely you’ll feel warmer.  My outside layer consists of my waterproof Goretex hiking boots, winter coat with detachable hood (which unfortunately isn’t waterproof), a scarf, a fleece headband with ear flaps, and top it off with a light pair of liner gloves over which I wear mittens.  When I get ready to shoot, I yank off the mittens and the thin liner gloves keep my fingers from totally freezing while allowing me flexibility to operate the camera controls.  If your coat doesn’t have a hood, definitely wear a stocking cap or something on your head because that is where you lose the most body heat.

This configuration of layers hasn’t been tested below 10 degrees, and might need adjustments if you are going to be outside for a very long time. Also, adjustments would need to be made if you plan to do some heavy-duty hiking in between shoots. While hiking, your body heats up but then when you stop to shoot, it cools off. Experiment and find what works best for you and your particular situation.

Buy covers for your tripod legs.  There’s nothing worse than grabbing an icy cold metal tripod when it’s freezing outside!  Some tripod manufacturers actually make padded coverings for tripod legs, but I’ve got a cheapo alternative. Buy some foam pipe insulation (it comes in long round tubes) at the hardware store.  The inside diameter should be big enough to fit around your tripod legs but small enough not to fall off.  Cut it to length, cut a slit down the length, place it over the tripod legs, and secure with duct tape. This also provides some cushion if you haul your tripod slung over your shoulder.  I have yet to do this, but plan to before I go shooting in the cold again.  I keep having visions of that little boy in “Christmas Story” who gets his tongue stuck to the flagpole – I sure don’t want that to happen to my hands while handling my tripod 😉

Bring extra batteries.  The cold totally sucks the life out of batteries, so bring extras and keep them as close to your body as possible. If you are carrying a GPS, bring extra batteries for it as well.

Bring tissues!   Inevitably, when I’m outside in the winter, my nose starts running and dripping.  Don’t be a guy and wipe it on your sleeve! Besides being totally gross, eventually all that moisture will make your arm wet, and you’ll get cold. Bring some tissues and use for those nasal drips.

Bring a lens cloth and protection for your camera.  If you’re shooting while it’s snowing, you definitely need to bring a lens cloth to wipe moisture off your lenses while shooting. There’s nothing more annoying than to discover that great shot you took is practically useless because of the big water drop right in the middle!  If the white stuff is coming down really hard, you’ll need to cover your camera.  Again, there are expensive camera covers available. I find that a small plastic grocery bag works well.

Use your creativity.  Winter presents us with some spectacular photographic opportunities that just aren’t possible any other time of year.  See and think creatively!  Go beyond the pretty tree covered in snow, and look for intimate shots or abstracts of details.  Icicles, snow drifts, sparkling snowflakes and textures in the ice are all wonderful subjects to shoot.  Also, since in the gloom of winter, there may not be a lot of color to be found, think about converting your shots to black & white and focusing on the tones and gradations of shadows and light.

I’ve had a lot of fun this year playing in the snow.  I hope you get out and take advantage of the cold weather, too!