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.

I’m excited to announce that another one of my photographs has been published!  My photo of a wintery leaf was published in the Winter 2009 edition of “Kansas!” magazine and is located on page 31. I shot this photo last winter at one of my favorite local haunts, MacLennan Park, on the grounds of Cedar Crest (the Governor’s residence).  We didn’t get much snow last winter, but I did get out to shoot the few times we did. This was taken just a couple days after Christmas. The day after Christmas we had almost record-high temps and thunderstorms (yes, thunderstorms in December) followed by an immediate blast of cold air which froze everything quickly, followed by a light dusting of snow. It turned the wooded area at the park into a winder wonderland.

Two other of my photography friends also have photos in this issue.  Wayne Rhodus snagged the front cover with a beautiful pink wintry sunset shot, and Scott Bean has a great image from Tuttle Creek on the back cover as well as a half-page photo inside.  Yet another NPN member, Brad Mangas, has a full-page photo inside showcasing the Flint Hills in a wintery setting.

The “Kansas!” web site is found at:  www.kansmag.com.

Frozen Leaf

After waiting for 19 days with no precip, we finally got another dusting (1″) of snow on the 16th! Because the temperatures overnight didn’t stay that cold and were predicted to rise into the lower 40’s the next day, I knew I had to work fast before the snow melted and the trails turned to a total mud pit, so went back out to MacLennan Park at sunrise on the 17th. I finally got to play a little with my new Canon 10-22 mm lens. At 10 mm there is some distortion, but sometimes that’s a good thing. It lends an interesting effect to tall trees.

Last weekend, I started my lens testing procedure and finished all test shots for the 10-22. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to review all the images but after looking at a few, it was no surprise that the sharpest apertures were in the mid-range and not at the largest or smallest settings.

With this shot, for example, I wanted to capture the starburst so used the smallest aperture at 10mm (F22). When comparing this shot with another shot at F14, it was very evident the sharpness of the lens fell way off. I hope to finish my lens testing the next few weeks and be able to label my lenses with which apertures are the sharpest. I also purchased a hyperfocal chart and hope to use this to improve the sharpness of my images. Through trial and error, I’ve been using different sharpening techniques for images I post to the web. So far, the technique that Marc Adamus (member of Nature Photographers Network) uses seems to work fairly well. I’ll keep working on it! Since I’m a self-taught photographer, I’m used to the trial and error method of learning. There are certainly a lot of resources at my disposal, and membership in NPN has been one of the best things I’ve done to improve my photography skills. NPN has many talented folks who never seem to mind sharing their opinions and techniques. Just viewing the images of these talented photographers has made me look at my own work much more critically and see flaws that I wouldn’t have noticed a couple of years ago, and makes me want to improve my techniques.
This scene is found on the Blue Trail. The stream was totally frozen, creating a great photo opportunity with a nice bend in the stream, the warm sunlight on the right, and the small falls frozen in time. As I was shooting, I noticed the sun coming up and creating a nice starburst. I got off about 4 shots before it moved behind more trees and the starburst was gone. I showed my husband this photo and he knew right where it was at and said “Yeah, I remember it. I had a bad bike wreck there!” Guess he and I will have different feelings about this location 😉
After getting the big scene, I got some more intimate shots of the falls with my 70-300 lens. I’ve never been a big fan of winter, but now that I’ve been out a few times with my camera, I’m starting to develop a different attitude. The snow makes everything look fresh, pure and beautiful. The air is clean and crisp. There is a peacefulness and serenity not present during other seasons. I really enjoyed my 4 mile hike, and I’m hoping for yet more snow SOON! MacLennan Park certainly has some beautiful places to explore.