Half Dome by moonlight! With Canon 17-40L (pics)

Started Oct 4, 2011 | Discussions thread
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MichaelSpotts Regular Member • Posts: 184
Half Dome by moonlight! With Canon 17-40L (pics)

I finally got around tonight to editing photos from July 2010, when I made my first solo-trip up Half Dome, in Yosemite, California. This was a spur-of-the-moment affair; I was not even fully recovered from a 1,500-mile Pacific cycling trip I'd taken that spring. But how can one resist Muir's cathedral? I threw together my gear and drove all night to snag an early site in the legendary Camp 4.

Not wanting to have my wilderness experience spoiled by swarms of tourists, I decided to take advantage of a full moon and crest the summit well before sunrise. This turned out to be the best possible idea; it allowed me to hike in the cool of the night and to get a rare view of the peak. So beginning in the morning, I covered the first five miles up thousands of stairs and past two famous falls, Vernal and Nevada. At Little Yosemite valley I pitched a tent, swam, and napped until midnight.

Admittedly, it was a bit eerie walking the last three miles to the top in darkness. I kept thinking about bears but only saw a couple of scorpions, of all things, basking on the white granite steps near the base of the dome. Having ascended the tree line, my view in all directions was incredible. The depths of the valley below, the awesome High Sierras standing silently like sentinels over the backcountry. The dome itself was breathtaking under the moon.

I had the Sub-Dome to myself for half an hour. The next person to come along was a young man who has since attained proverbial status in my mind. Starting at sunset, this miserable fellow had trucked more than forty pounds of gear and photo equipment for eight hours up countless slippery steps to the base of the dome—8 miles and 3000' of vertical gain, through darkness by himself—only to give up and turn back at the cables! All that effort and expense for nothing. He was just minutes from the summit. I think fear got the best of him. He lost his nerve and wouldn't ascend the cables.

He told me that he wanted to be a professional photographer. It was interesting to note that he boasted of having purchased or rented all of the best lenses and a full-frame camera for the occasion, as well as a sturdy tripod. On the other hand, I carried just a lower-end camera, one lens, and made use of rocks and stumps to stabilize images. Perhaps he thought I was limiting myself this way, but really I was free to climb, while all the L-glass in the world couldn't put him on top for the shot. Gear is no replacement for location, light, and timing.

The climb up the ladder was imposing but not so daunting as I had supposed. I shared a gorgeous sunrise on the dome until 7AM, and already the stream of hikers was thickening. On my way down the ladder I met a woman on her final day of soloing the Muir Trail, more than 28 days in the wilderness. What a dream! But it killed even to think of that kind of distance with my knees and and ankles in their current state. By the end of the eight miles back down my achilles tendons were a total mess and I had to break every fifty yards for the pain. I had basically undone whatever healing occurred in the two months since I had come home. Still, I had the deep satisfaction of seeing what relatively few on earth see, one of God's greatest granite jewels under the glow of starlight.

You can see more photos from the trip here:

Comments and questions welcome, thanks!



















19 - Some strangers I arranged.

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Happy to share what I know. I learned a lot of it here. — Michael:.

Photoblog: http://www.michaelspotts.com/tagged/self_photos
Creative writing and art: http://www.michaelspotts.com

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