Solstice 2016

The new year holiday is meaningless to me, based on nothing but someone’s idea of a chronological date indicating an arbitrary division of time developed centuries ago. However, the Winter Solstice is real, something significant in the alignment of stars, planets, the sun and the earth. It is a mark in time that has a profound effect on my life as I squeak out a life here in the mountains of Colorado. It is the day when the hours of light stop becoming shorter, a day when I can count on more time under the beautiful light of the sun even if it is only a few seconds more than the day before. There is something psychological about knowing that the next day will be longer, perhaps warmer and without a doubt a bit lighter. It is also a day we can count on, a day that we can say without a doubt will be a division in time, the day that identifies an exact moment in time where something changes for the better.

Summit-HikerFor me, in two days it will be the new year… a time to reflect on the previous year and look with hope towards a new one. It is also a time to review whether the previous year will be a year in which I will receive the only thing that really matters, the words of the Almighty, “Well done good and faithful servant.”. I could not bear to hear the words in my mind… “Of him will I be ashamed… ”, speaking of those who were ashamed to speak His Name.

2016 was supposed to be simple, beginning with a trip to REI, my happy place, to invest my yearly dividend on some new bike riding gloves. A year when I was going to prosper, to enjoy life after years of caring for my wife of 25 years as cancer ravaged and eventually destroyed her body. A year that was going to be free from conflict and strife, pain and struggle. A year that began with a great victory, a winter climb to Colorado’s highest peak…

But it was not meant to be so… The war rages on, if not in my life in the lives of others. Early in the year I prayed to the Almighty, let the struggle be over let me just enjoy life now. Fortunately He did not listen to my prayer… the war is not over and neither is my part in it. As I look back it is hard to comprehend that the events in less than 365 days could be confined to just one year. You would have to go back and read all my blogs to gather it all in, but the short story is without my participation it is very possible that two lives and two souls may have been lost. I don’t know for sure, but I hope that as a result of my efforts some suffering may have been averted, a few lives made better and for some there will be new hope and a new chance for a future.

SummitIn spite of the struggles of life, the year also found me in two more of my greatest moments, summiting the three highest peaks in Colorado, counting the winter climb to Mount Elbert my buddies and I also summited Massive and Harvard in the summertime. The west face of Pikes Peak in wintertime has continued to elude us, but also resulted in an experience of a lifetime. Buddy Ralph and I were literally blown over by the strongest wind I have ever experienced… followed by a quick and desperate struggle for survival that will be fuel for stories for years to come! I wish we had some pictures of our frozen faces and beards but the sprint to lower elevations didn’t allow for time for that. However, now when we see the snow blowing a thousand feet in the air over the top of the Peak we can look at each other knowingly… well aware of what life is like on the Peak when that happens!

mariah-steve-summitThe year also yielded another first… my first drive to the summit of Pikes Peak on the Pikes Peak Highway. Barely squeaked that one in on a work day with my friend and co-worker Mariah. A beautiful day down at the base of the Peak was followed by a very cold and windy visit to the summit, but for sure it was a day I will never forget!

But the end of this year finds me tired, injured, and in doubt for my own future. For the next year I must depend on the blessed words of scripture, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”. I have to know that my efforts this year on behalf of others will not go unrewarded, and that “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”. I have to know that He is watching over me and that there are plans for my life that I am not yet aware of. This year saw the demise of the news company I was writing for as well as any hope for a future with my main photo agency iStock / Getty. I have begun anew with a fledgling portfolio at a newer agency hosted by well known media giant Adobe, but it is only hope at this point. At this time I am out of pictures to upload, out of ideas for new ones and left praying for ideas.

For the new year, I am devoid of ideas for my own plans… spiritually drained and wondering how to start over yet again, but I am confident that the Author of the Future is not taken by surprise, not discouraged and not deterred. I go into the new year knowing that the Blessed Hope has plans I don’t know about and that my best days are before me and not behind… Knowing in my spirit that the next year will be a better year than the last.

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items

Creative Cloud

Just bought a new laptop, kind of a low end Lenovo but it’s pretty fast, easy to set up and runs Photoshop very well.  Was too lazy to look for my old Photoshop CS2 disk and have been meaning to try out Lightroom and Photoshop CC for Photographers so I decided this was as good a time as any. I downloaded the trial version and was a bit disappointed that it was only a 7 day trial. I really could have used a month but it didn’t take long to see the advantage of the upgrade. The whites, blacks, clarity and vibrance sliders in the Bridge corrections are worth the $9.99 per month investment alone. The clarity and vibrance sliders do in easy steps what I have previously had to do manually or with clumsy action scripts to create a colorful image that really pops. It has been a bit of a challenge to find everything on a UI that has been changing for ten years without my notice, but I am very pleased with the new functionality and will be licensing a copy in the next couple of days. Fiddled a bit with Lightroom… I like the obvious capability that it presents, but it is going to take some time to get proficient enough to comment on it and seven days is just not enough. Right now I will content to use the new controls available in Bridge, particularly some interesting chromatic aberration correction tools.

Hiking buddies on Mount Massive ColoradoMeanwhile I haven’t been doing a lot of shooting.. I have recently added Adobe Stock to my list of agencies that I sell from and have been very encouraged with the results. So much so that I decided to go back through my backup disks and upload the best of my old RF stuff. I started with my oldest images, the ones taken with my original Canon EOS 1D, and worked forward. Today I just uploaded the last of 2016… at least the ones that I had already prepared for other agencies. When I get my new Photoshop subscription, I may choose to go back and process additional images, along with shooting new ones.

By next week though, I should be starting to shoot anew… with a good seed of probably about a thousand images in my Adobe Stock port once they are all inspected. Not a day goes by that I regret turning in my Exclusive Crown at iStock… There is just way too much enjoyment to be had by having the freedom to submit content elsewhere and especially to be able to make phone posts to my Facebook without having to worry about whether I am violating a contract. The future is looking great again 🙂

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items

Back Button Focus



It was in the autumn in the high alpine regions of the Colorado Rockies when Mount Evans Road finally opened last year and I was able to make the drive to the summit. I had high hopes of seeing abundant wildlife, based on the reports of my competitors who had made the trip in previous years.

bighorn-sheepI had gotten an early start and made the first toll gate around sunrise, but I was a bit surprised at how long it took me to get up to Summit Lake. I had seen quite a few cars go past while I was paying my fee and I feared that the summit parking lot was going to be full. So I pulled into Summit Lake parking lot and spotted a ranger. I asked him how long it would take me to hike from there to the summit, and whether or not I would see any wildlife. He advised me to just drive the last few miles, that the hike would take hours and rain was coming in. He also told me the bighorns and the mountain goats would be on the summit.

So I jumped back in my truck and headed for the summit, where I parked and gathered up my gear. I looked for the trailhead and was glad to see only 1/4 of a mile to the summit. I looked diligently as I neared the summit for the animals only to be disappointed, nothing in sight. As I rounded a turn in the trail the summit facilities came into view below and much to my surprise, it was surrounded by animals just walking around the parking lot area, right along with the people. Well, there was no way I was going to have come that far without touching the summit plaque, so I just walked a bit further and made sure that m feet were planted on the summit of a 14er. Of course it didn’t count as a climb from only a 1/4 mile away, but I got the feel of 14k feet plus just the same.

Went back down to the facilities where I took about one million pictures of the goats and marmots standing around … the only problem there was making sure there were no people in the background to give away the ridiculous proximity of people and animals. Clouds rolled in and I really wasn’t too keen about driving down the highway in heavy rain, so I packed up and headed back down.

On my way back down I noticed a gathering of vehicles on the side of the road so I looked and saw a huge herd of both bighorns and mountain goats on both sides of the road. They were a bit far off for my 200mm lens, but I thought I’d get a few shots anyway… when again, much to my surprise, a baby bighorn started running towards me. I pushed down the shutter button and held it, getting probably 20 images before the little guy turned aside.

This is where the point of the story comes in… Of course the camera focused the first time I pushed the button and every image after that was out of focus 😦 I wasn’t expecting such action, so I had my Canon 70D on one shot mode. It was after experiencing the disappointment of so many failed images that I got to thinking maybe I should learn back button focus. I had heard that it was the best way to photograph unpredictable sports and wildlife subjects.

So naturally I have managed to procrastinate and delay implementing it for another six months… but for some reason, last night was the night to take the plunge. So I got on the internet and looked up how to do that with m 70D. I found a number of tutorials describing how to accomplish the camera settings and buttons, but nothing about what to actually do when shooting and when to use it!

The first thing I learned is that you have to go into the most obscure custom functions and set the shutter button for exposure only. Having the shutter button focus turned on conflicts with the operation of the back focus button, so you will need to consult your camera manual to determine how to do that.

Once that is done, look for the back focus button. On the newer Canon DSLR’s, it is called AF-On. To operate in back button mode, it is advantageous to put the focus mode in continuous mode, or AI Servo on Canon cameras. With a still subject you then depress the back button to focus and let go of the button. The camera will stay focused at that distance until you click the back button again. You can recompose as many times as you like before  focusing again.

Now here’s the really good part. If the subject goes into motion, you can just click the back button and hold it down while continuing to track the subject with the camera. As long as you hold the button down the camera will operate in continuous mode, refocusing constantly while you concentrate on composition and getting the pictures! So with one simple and easy to use button, you can quickly operate the camera in all the focusing modes that you might need. Separating focus and exposure also allows you to get more accurate exposure metering than having both done at the same time with the shutter button. Using the shutter button half push to lock focus and exposure only works if you don’t drastically recompose. With the back button focus, the shutter button activates the exposure on the new composition.

So, as you can see if I had been using the back button for the baby sheep I could have pressed and held while the animal was approaching and I would have had many sharply focused images instead of just one.

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items

 

A Time to Shoot

Unquestionably, the most enjoyable part of being a stock photographer is the shooting. For a photographer there is nothing quite like planning a shoot, looking at the maps, researching the wildlife and getting the equipment ready. Sometimes a special event will bring me out, like a bike race, music festival or a big storm in the mountains. But sometimes it is not the time to shoot and this is one of those times. This isn’t a very pretty time of year in the southern Colorado Rockies. There isn’t much snow on the high peaks, the leaves are all gone and the landscape kind of just looks like a lot of dirt.

stormy-peakThe election is over and the hopeless business climate caused by the previous administration will soon be history. Sales are finally starting to pick up again after the long  dry spell and there is once again some reason for hope. By last winter the business climate for photography was so bad that it didn’t even seem worth uploading the pictures I was capturing. Getty Images was busy running the once vibrant iStock agency into the ground and I was off to my worst year of sales since I started this business many years ago.

Finally last spring I decided to give up my exclusive contract with iStock / Getty and branch out. A few months later, I am quite happy that I did that as iStock continues to flounder and new announcements of commission cuts and lower prices seem to be coming out every month. I am now hearing of subscription sales for non-exclusives with commissions as low as nine cents. It was just a couple of blog posts ago that I was starting to think that iStock was going to recover, but the new announcement coupled with a a previous announcement that uploads cannot be deleted from iStock without permission from the admins has made it very difficult to find a reason to continue uploading there. So for my clients who wish to find my new work, don’t bother looking on iStock. You will find my new stuff on my Pixels.com and Alamy agency portfolios.

deerWell anyway, back to what was saying. With business just picking up and funds low from years of a terrible business climate in this country, I find this is not the time to shoot. Instead I have been looking back through last winter and I was amazed to find this shoot of a mountain blizzard almost untouched. I had uploaded maybe two or three and then given up, considering the pointlessness of uploading to iStock at the time. So it would appear, now is the time for uploading like a madman… Pictures don’t put themselves up for sale! It is the hard part of the business, the editing, photoshopping and the uploading. It is the part of the business that is work. But, hopefully it is also the part of the business that pays the bills 🙂

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items

 

Excellent Adventure

Well it appears that I am back in business after a couple of months without my favorite lens, my Canon 70-200 zoom. It finally came back from the Canon repair shop with a broken roller replaced.. whatever that is, and some lubrication, cleaning and refocusing.

mariah-steve-summitI’ve had it back for a little while, but too busy to really test it out on a sustained photo trip. But finally this week I got a chance on an excellent adventure on the Pikes Peak Highway with Miss Mariah. She had never seen the peak and I had never driven the highway, so it was fun for both of us. Well anyway, we wanted to beat the weather so we planned to leave fairly early, about 9:00 a.m. It was clear and chilly in Cascade, so I knew it was going to be frigid on the summit!

It wasn’t long before we had passed the tollgate and were on our way up the curvy and steep heavily forested area at the beginning. We decided to bypass all the points of interest on the way up to just make sure we reached the summit before any weather would have a chance of rolling in, and indeed the peak did look a bit moody. Clouds or fog were streaming over the top at a high rate of speed, so I knew there was going to be a tremendous wind blowing up there!

We passed beautiful Crystal Reservoir and continued onward to tree line. Some of the turns are very tight up there and I found myself shifting into first gear a number of times to just get going again. We made most of the trip in second gear, so you can imagine it’s pretty steep up there! Then near the top we had a moment of concern, frost or snow on the road. I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than starting to slip up there with no guard rails and thousands of feet straight down to regret ever having been on that road in the first place!

Mariah at Pikes PeakBut soon the road made another twist and the short frosty episode was behind us. A few more twists and turns and we were on the summit. I took a chance and shut old faithful off… I have never had my old Dodge pickup above 14,000 feet and wasn’t exactly positive that it was going to start again 😦 I was thinking my two layers of heavy shirts would be enough to stay warm up there, but 28 degrees with a 40 mph wind with fog and clouds convinced me to think otherwise! We snapped a few pictures and another visitor convinced us to climb the frozen peak sign for a picture of the two of us together. I’m glad we took the time, I really like the picture 🙂

The summit house was open so we decided to go inside to have a look. I wish we would have had more time to sit down and eat some of the famous donuts, but the trip was planned at the last minute and I had to be back at work at 2:00 so we just took time to look at some gifts. Much to Mariah’s surprise, the summit of Pikes Peak is apparently the only place on earth where you can buy a bracelet with the name Mariah spelled correctly 🙂

Then back out for a few more pictures… the sun had come out a bit and it didn’t seem nearly as cold as it was at first so we snapped a few more pictures and looked around a bit before getting back in the truck for the trip down. I was pleasantly surprised when the old Dodge fired right up… Now on the way down we would take the time to stop at the overlooks and sight see. I have to say, some of the views of rugged canyons and distant mountains are amazing from there!

Bighorns.jpgBefore we hit tree line we noticed some people parking off to the side and getting out of their cars. Closer examination revealed a small group of animals near the road. Bighorns I surmised… and as we got closer we could tell that it was definitely a small herd of bighorn sheep. Unfortunately as we neared they had started heading away from us, but I got a couple of shots of bighorn butt with my zoom. They disappeared over the embankment, so we got back in the truck and continued on. But much to our surprise, the road made a twist just then and we emerged right in front of the sheep who were headed directly for us. Soon the magnificent animals were only feet from us and I could not believe our good fortune. I was so happy that Mariah got to see some of the wildlife before having to move away from this beautiful place. I told her it would probably take a month for me to wipe the smile off my face… but she accurately predicted that it would probably only last until I got back to work 😦 That turned out to be a pretty much true, but now that I am writing this the smile is back 🙂

Mariah at Pikes PeakOn the way down we visited Crystal Res, and the gift shop there, plus another gift shop at that mine thing that I have never stopped at before. All the gift shops are pretty much the same, so three visits in one day was more than sufficient. The beautiful blue water of the reservoir was amazing as usual and we took quite a few more pictures there before heading back to Woodland for some lunch.

Now that I have the pictures processed I can say that I am very pleased with the performance of my 70-200. I can tell that it is focusing more sharply than it was. After ten years and thousands of captures it was apparently overdue for some fine tuning. It was a beautiful day and now a beautiful memory… I’m sure I’ll never forget our excellent adventure on the Pikes Peak Highway.

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items

The Good, the Bad and the New

I remember reading with dread a couple years ago that Adobe was entering the stock image business with it’s own collection that would be accessible directly from Lightroom. Dang I thought, that is really going to take a bite out of iStock’s business. At the time I was an exclusive artist there with no possibility of getting any images into Adobe’s collection. In retrospect, I should have dropped exclusivity then and moved on… but I didn’t and now is now and I’m no longer exclusive at iStock / Getty. I have expanded my collections at Alamy and Pixels but those agencies are not really in the same market so I they are not a replacement for the struggling iStock collection.

Mountain Goats

In the meantime I have been reading the stock forums to stay on top of the business and try to find out what if anything is going on at iStock, when I read a comment by a trusted contributor saying the Adobe collection is doing well. That’s all it took for me to sign up and submit some images! So far I have only done 20 and they have not yet been reviewed, but it is a start, a new start I hope. I don’t think I’ll go way back and submit all 4,500 images that are at iStock to Adobe, maybe just back to when I got my Canon 70D, plus a few favorites from my 40D. Don’t think I’ll bother with many of the 4.5 megapixel images I submitted with my 1D so many years ago.

In the meantime, I am totally bummed… I noticed that some of my images have been turning out blurry these days so I did some testing yesterday. Sure enough, my favorite and best lens, my Canon F4L 70-200 is broken. Shooting blurry and I can hear something rattling around inside 😦 Oh well, it has served me well for almost a decade and isn’t really the right lens for the subjects I want to photograph now. I got it for photographing sporting events, which I’m now sick of. Now my interest is mainly wildlife which I’m finding are frequently too distant for a 200mm lens. And ever since I bought the F4L I was a bit bummed that I didn’t hold out for a 300 or a 400mm.

So yesterday I was at Remax asking about buying a property to get out of this tin can before winter and they told me I need to get a credit card and buy something and make some payments… Apparently I have no credit rating at all, I’m a ghost 🙂 The reason being of course, I despise credit cards… but I need a lens and I need a place to live, so perhaps I’ll get a card and journey down to Mike’s and take a look at some Tamron and Sigma 400mm lenses… Don’t think I’ll be able to swing a 400mm Canon L series, although that’s what I would like 😦

I probably don’t need to do a whole lot of shooting this fall anyway, with money on the table at Adobe Stock my time will probably be better spent uploading the thousands of images I have already captured. I have already started the process with 20 autumn images from Crystal Reservoir and a few from the summit of Mount Yale which I hiked last year. The golden tundra of the alpine peak and the shimmering water of Crystal Reservoir on Pikes Peak should make for a good start 🙂

The really good news is that sweet little Kitsune has been found and we will be going to retrieve her from dog jail. I hope the fine isn’t too much… Payday isn’t until tomorrow!

End of Summer 2016

The annual mass migration out of the mountains on Labor Day is in full swing… Thousands of cars, RV’s, and camper trailers streaming out of the mountains on their journey back to the cities. Can’t say I’m sorry to see them go. I know they are supposed to be good for business in the state but not many stop here in Woodland Park. They mostly just pass through and clog up the only route through town and it will be nice to have our quiet little laid back mountain town back again as the cool of autumn settles in and the aspen leaves begin their transformation into autumn gold, which by the way is my favorite time of year for picture taking.

_MG_0966-Team

Bill, Ralph & Steve on Mt. Massive

The summer is now but a blur and I can’t believe how fast it went by. I had planned to climb several 14ers this summer and collect tons of wildlife pictures… I guess it was not meant to be but I’m thankful for the wonderful memories of the two climbs we did accomplish, Colorado 14er mountains Massive and Harvard, which by accident turned out to be the number two and three highest peaks in the state, so when I include our winter climb of Mount Elbert last January I have knocked out the three highest peaks in one year 🙂

Summer started slowly enough with a new job, some new friends and a very laid back 4th of July celebration at Woodland Park’s Symphony Above the Clouds. Also got to climb the Crags for the first time in my life with my friend Debbie and hike the Dome Rock Wildlife area, both items to check off my to do list that I have been  wanting to accomplish  for many years!

Debbie Crags

Debbie & Steve at the Crags

The two climbs and the hikes were in July which now seems like a lifetime ago for some reason. Maybe it’s age, time is a funny thing when youth is behind you, days are slow, weeks are fast, and months are like a vapor… The physical demands of my new job ground me down to the point that the job was all I could do, and I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to do that… However after shedding 12 pounds and a lot of perseverance my strength seemed to bottom out around the end of August and about when I was thinking I was going to get fired for being too old and slow, I was offered full time, which may be just the blessing I need to get into some decent digs for the winter.

When I think back on the blur of chaos that was the summer of 2016 I see so many things undone, so many things lost in a harrowing outpouring of jealousy and evil that I would not have believed possible in America prior to this year. A family that I cared about was destroyed, a neighborhood ruined and several six year friendships thrown away in what was clearly a spiritual conflict that can be comprehended only by the strongest of believers. Also lost, thanks to my vindictive evil neighbors is sweet Kitsune, the little red terrier I was no longer allowed to leave in the safety of my air conditioned camper trailer while I was gone to work… Sonny the big guy came back, but little Kit is still lost. Even after three days we are still fervently hoping for someone to find her and reunite her with a very sad and lonely Sonny 😦 Perhaps I will write of all that sometime but I need to let it all bake for a bit while my mind tries to process it. Unrelated to all of that I am also saddened that my close friend Apryl is leaving Colorado on a one way journey to the east coast to start a new yet old life with a new job close to her family roots.

Biker-Chicks

New Friends 🙂

So I can look back at the summer of 2016 at what was lost or I can choose to celebrate what was not lost. I still have a solid employment situation, my health and my ability to scale the tall mountain peaks. I have not lost my place in the magnificent Colorado Rockies and I still have my climbing buddies. Most importantly of all, I have a new friend to hang with, laugh with and while away the hours of days when there isn’t much to do besides enjoy the rare company of a person that doesn’t mind the hours that are about nothing much, just time spent together.

Summer 2016 had two additional high points, my sister Alyson and nephew Brady whom I haven’t seen in about a decade made the journey to Colorado to see me in the early summer and my Cousin LeAnn and Danny came out as well. The years

Alyson & Steve Manitou Incline

Alyson & Steve at the Incline

LeAnn & Steve.jpg

LeAnn & Steve

since the ’08 crash have not been kind and reconnecting with family the last couple of years has been an amazing experience! Will also get to see my parents again this fall after the lost decade so I’m pretty happy about that too 🙂

Goat-PeekingAnd I am also looking forward to my favorite two months in Colorado, when the storms of August are over and the mountain air dries and cools. The aspen trees and the high mountain tundra turn to gold as the foliage and wildlife prepare for the long Rocky Mountain winter. The pleasant weather and beautiful colors make for the best hiking, climbing and photo opportunities of the year. And with the summer hordes back in their home states I also look forward to some much needed solitude high above the treeline with the marmots and the mountain goats 🙂

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography.

Hiking Mount Harvard Colorado

Wasn’t quite physically ready to climb another 14er just one week after Mount Massive, but I didn’t get the days off I wanted and that’s the way the chips fell. I didn’t want to wait until the 20th to climb another one, so I called Ralph to see if he was ready to give another one a go. It doesn’t take a lot of talking to psyche Ralph up for a climb and a few minutes later the plans for a 14,420 foot Mount Harvard summit were in the works 🙂

WildernessAccording to 14ers.com, the Harvard route we wanted is 12.5 miles long so an early start was in order. We decided on a 3:30 rendezvous in Divide at the usual place, so I set my alarm for 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, July 30th. By 3:35 a.m. we were drinking coffee and on the road for Buena Vista. Sunrise came a few minutes later than on our last adventure, so it was still pitch black when we got to BV and we decided on a pit stop at Loaf and Jug for more coffee and power food.. some donuts 🙂 By the time we hit the trail head at about 5:30 there was a hint of light in the eastern sky which illuminated a packed parking lot! We did find a spot however and decided to start the long hike before sunrise.

It wasn’t too long before we were greeted by a beautiful clear Colorado sunrise, and a confused looking guy near a Y in the trail, apparently camping. Friendly fellow though, wanted to know where we were headed. Harvard we responded… and with a slow southern drawl he commented, “Oh, I wasn’t smart enough to get in there.”. As it sank it what he said and occurred to me that he wasn’t joking, I commented to Ralph, “I’m not sure he knows where he’s going?”. Ralph replied, “I’m not sure he knows where he is!”. Well anyway, he wasn’t there on the return trip so he must have figured something out 🙂

As the beautiful morning light began to illuminate the peaks a particularly large monolith came into view on our right. We wondered if that was our summit and after we got tired of discussing it and wondering, Ralph checked the GPS and we determined that one was probably Columbia, which would make it sort of on the way back from Harvard and a candidate for a second 14er in one day, adding only two or three miles to the return trip. Our destination had not yet come into view.

The trail had climbed to about 10,000 feet by the time it was getting light enough for pictures and we found ourselves along a beautiful stream in a high meadow surrounded by rugged peaks. The GPS indicated that Mount Harvard was directly ahead and there was indeed a series of high peaks in the distance, one of which was certainly our summit. We began to encounter other hikers at this point, all hoping to be on right trail to Harvard. We assured them we were hoping for the same 🙂

SummitingFinally the summit became obvious and we whiled away the next hour or so mapping out possible routes the trail might take to the summit. Perhaps up a ridge and around back. The face we were looking at looked way to steep and rocky and there was no discernible trail. But soon we could see a couple of hikers heading right towards the south face and Ralph says, “It looks like it goes right up through the rocks!”and I’m like… “Naaaaaa …”. Well as we got closer we could start to make out the trail, going right exactly where earlier I said, “There’s no way the trail goes through there!”.

And for the last two miles or so, up it went, one of the steepest trails I have been on yet! I couldn’t decide what was going to explode first… my knees or my lungs! But we just kept forging ahead walking when we could, resting when we had to. The boulder field was long, but the trail through it was well defined and relatively easy to follow. The difficulty there is the sheer steepness of it. Finally the summit party came into view so that we could see our exact destination. Up until that point there were several high points that were possibilities for a summit. Suddenly we were there, but the people who were writing the trail reviews that indicated a Class I trail all the way to the summit except for a few rocks at the top,  were apparently suffering from oxygen deprivation, the Class I trail disappeared into a steep wall of boulders with some cracks in it, and a pile of trekking poles at the bottom. Ralph abandoned his poles there, and I put my camera in my pack and strapped my monopod onto it’s holder on the back.

Boulder ClimbingThis was my first summit where there were hikers standing around with ten feet left to climb, wondering if they were going to attempt the last ten feet, and some didn’t. Some were content to almost make summit. Ralph was already on his way up and I didn’t stop to look too long or to even think about it. There was no way I was going to come that far and let a couple of boulders stand in the way of making summit, so I just grabbed a hand hold and hoisted myself up. The route through the cracks was fairly obvious, but the hand and footholds not quite as obvious. My arms were tired, but still able to do the job. My new leather gloves I found at Walmart proved invaluable in the last few feet of this climb. The leather protected my hands from the usual beating and bloodying that the boulder fields offer and I noticed my grip was better too. A pair of Wells Lamont gloves with pigskin palms and some sort of breathable backing. $10 at Walmart, one of the best investments I’ve ever made 🙂

Steve at HarvardSoon we were both on the small summit area for the usual selfies and picture taking, lunch and coffee. We made summit in record time for that distance, 6.25 miles in six hours. Ralph has a “Jet Brew” or something like that he makes coffee with and got some water boiling for instant coffee. We also sent out the usual summit texts and calls, Facebook posts and ETA’s  for the arrival back at the bottom. I of course received back the usual encouraging words, like “Glad you are still breathing, lol!”. Ha, well breathing we were, but dark clouds were approaching from the west and a hoard of people from the south. We decided to have an abbreviated summit party and get back through the cracks before the weather and before the traffic jam.

Getting back down through the rocks wasn’t as hard or scary as I thought… There was one place where I couldn’t actually see if my foot was on a foothold, but the guy behind me said I nailed it. Ralph was like, “lol… good thing that guy wasn’t mad at me for some reason!”. Come to think of it, that is a lot of faith to put in someone you have never seen before in your life! Anyway, we were glad to be on our way back down to the trees when the hail hit… Most of it wasn’t too bad, but it was amusing to hear the occasional “ouch”, as nearby hikers were getting hit by a particularly big hailstone. Many were still headed for the summit, but few showed signs of giving up. We did come upon one party who had given up at the bottom of the approach, before any of the steep climbing. Don’t know where they were from, but they were talking about “sea level”. I can imagine 14,000 feet might be a bit rough for someone acclimated to sea level!

The remainder of the hike proceeded without incident and the storms that were threatening to form never really amounted to much. The “death march” to the bottom when you are worn out and all the rocks are jumping at your feet and bashing your toes was actually not as bad as sometimes, and we were back at the truck by 4 p.m., with plenty of time for me to get home and make it to little Charity’s two year birthday party 🙂 followed by the usual monthly Motown dance at the Crystola Bar and Grill with the band Sugar Bear.

I haven’t checked my work schedule yet, but I think I should have August 20th available for another climb with Ralph. We are thinking Columbia looks like a good 14er to climb next!

 

No Unfriendlies at 14,000 feet

I think I’ve discovered an axiom, there are no unfriendly people at 14,000 feet of elevation. I’ve never encountered one anyway! Perhaps it is because life’s problems can’t survive the thin air there, they melt away when the summit comes into view.

Summit-HikersWell anyway, I have summit fever again this week and am preparing for the next adventure. Ralph and I will be attempting to summit Mount Harvard this weekend. This one might be a bit tougher than last week’s Mount Massive hike, with four more miles to cover on the round trip. I think Massive was Class I all the way, but 14ers.com is showing Harvard as Class II part of the way. I assume that means there will be a boulder field to tackle near the summit and that could slow us down a bit.

So today is payday and I don’t have to work until 5 p.m. this evening. A good day to get out and purchase supplies for the journey. I also saw some leather gloves with mesh backs in the sporting goods section that have my name on them. Tired of bashing up my fingers on the rocks at the summit. These should do nicely!

Stay tuned… as always the camera will be making the trip with me!

Hiking Mount Massive

The 14,421 foot summit of Mount Massive Colorado was the latest peak to be checked off as done in Ralph’s quest to climb all the 14ers in the state of Colorado. I was glad to be able to participate, completing my sixth 14er on a beautiful Colorado day in the high country. Buddy Bill also joined our little expedition, completing his first 14er in many years. From the looks of his boots, he may have worn the same ones he wore the last time, I think he said 17 years ago 🙂

Untitled-1Well anyway our day started early, 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 23rd at the rendezvous point in Divide, Colorado. It was a warm night in Colorado, even for summertime and I walked out the door in just a short sleeved shirt. No coffee was needed, the adrenaline rush from waking up in the middle of the the night in anticipation of a new adventure is enough of a surge to get out the door! Fortunately though, Ralph brought along a thermos of coffee to keep my heart pumping once the monotony of the two hour road trip in the dark set in. A few minutes later we picked up Bill in Lake George and headed over Wilkerson and into Buena Vista and on to Highway 300 where we turned west to the Halfmoon Road entry into the Mount Elbert / Massive camping areas.Sunrise

Once past the two wheel drive area, the road became pretty rough. I would not recommend driving onto the four wheel drive area without some pretty beefy off road tires. At one point about a half mile from the four wheel drive trailhead we decided to just pull off and hike the remainder of the way to the trailhead on foot. However as morning began to descend upon the forest it became apparent that if we had just gotten over the small rough spot it would have been clear sailing to the parking area at the Half Moon Trailhead.

Massive-SceneryFortunately I had thrown in a sweatshirt at the last minute, because the temp at the trailhead was reading 42 degrees. I always have a wool hat and a pair of gloves in my pack, but it wasn’t quite cold enough to need them. After a quick sign in at the wilderness checkpoint, we were off on the difficult journey to the summit. I initially took the lead, and after about a mile there was a fork in the trail. One way was down and across the creek, away from where we thought the summit should be. The other up over a small rock obstacle that required a short climb onto the main trail towards the summit. After a short debate, we decided on the rocks… going away from the mountain down to the stream didn’t seem right.

The trail soon became steep and rocky. Ralph thought he had read that there were two routes from Half Moon, one steep, the other not as steep but a bit longer. We decided if we were on the easy one we didn’t want to see the difficult one! Minutes turned into hours and the air became thin. Eventually we were getting pretty high, the GPS indicated aboutJoanne.jpg 12,500 feet and although the summit was not yet visible, some interesting features had come into view. There was a saddle on the false summit that looked like it might be the last obstacle to actually being able to see the summit. Below we spotted a young woman carrying two little dogs. We proclaimed that the “girl with the dogs was not going to pass us”. Unfortunately, youth won out and she eventually caught us and left us in the dust, Joanne I think was her name. We let some other youngsters pass as well, just to be polite of course. However that group passed us and promptly sat down on some boulders and we passed them back and never saw the again, at least on the ascent.

Summit.jpgAs we neared the summit, the trail became more crowded. Some people going up, some going down already. As we neared the summit and of course the inevitable onset of “summit fever”, we encountered one group carrying some sort of music device playing some inspiring tunes. Now Bill claims at this point I broke into some sort of thin air induced dance to the music, but there is no record of it on film so I retain plausible deniability 🙂 As we scaled the first hump resembling a summit, the real summit and summit party came into view. Ralph actually ran a few steps toward the summit at this point, but soon discovered that running at 14,400 feet is a poor idea and abandoned the idea of a sprint finish 🙂

_MG_0966-Team.jpgSoon the rocks became too treacherous for me to want to continue with my camera swinging around at my side so I stopped and packed it away along with my trekking pole so that I would have both hands free to scale the rocks. Eventually we all made summit and reconvened at the top. It was a magnificent day so we spent more than an hour at the summit taking pictures of the stunning scenery, eating and drinking, and Ralph even heated up some coffee with his portable burner.

Mountain-GoatEventually we had to start the trip back down the mountain so we packed up and began the painful steep descent. Five hours to the summit, so I estimated three hours back down. Some people still on their ascent mentioned that there were some mountain goats ahead, so I took off my pack and got my camera back out. Also decided at this point to attach my good zoom lens, an F4L 70-200 so as to get the highest quality captures of the elusive four footed climbers. The effort paid off as a small herd of the critters, including a couple of really cute mountain goat toddlers came into view and allowed us to hang with them for a while.Baby-Mountain-Goat.jpg

The descent was brutal… it was hot and there was no relief from the high elevation sun. I knew the trail was rocky from our experience on the ascent, but it seemed all the rockier on the way back down. I can’t tell how many times I stubbed my toe and rolled my ankles on loose rocks. Marmot sightings broke up the arduous journey however, and we even saw a rare white colored marmot who seemed quite curious about the camera. Most of the marmots scampered away when they heard the gyro motor stabilizer in the lens come on, but the white one was fearless and just struck a few poses for me 🙂

MarmotMy estimate of a three hour descent proved fairly accurate, so we were back at the truck by about 3:45 p.m., well ahead of any lightning storms that may have been forming behind the mountain. The Mount Massive summit is one of the most interesting peaks that I’ve seen, and well worth the effort to climb it.  For anyone wanting to bag this summit, I recommend first scoping it out on 14ers.com.

I  also recommend plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses, rain gear and some good boots! There were a couple of spots where snow runoff was available, so a filter pump could help reduce your liquids load. Bill doesn’t look too confident about wanting to do another 14er in the near future, but Ralph and I are thinking Mt. Harvard looks like a good possibility for my next Saturday off work in a couple of weeks. Someone once said about these adventures, “You gotta love the pain!”. Perhaps he was right and Bill doesn’t love the pain quite as much as some 🙂 Or maybe after a couple of days he will find he is addicted to the adventure of it all… Stay tuned!