I am such a nervous Nellie when it comes to workshop weather. Especially when a particular weather event is in the title of the workshop! So you can imagine the nail-biting anxiety I was feeling when a week before our High Sierra Summer MONSOON Workshop the forecast was calling for nothing but clear skies, gulp!
But as the workshop drew closer day by day, the extended forecast kept changing, calling for more and more clouds. And by the time the day before the workshop had arrived, we were looking at a 100% chance of thunderstorms, rain, and big honking clouds. Oh yeah, now that’s what I like to see for a workshop! Jim and I were even treated to a sneak peek of the weather as we got hung up going over Tioga Pass through Yosemite thanks to 4 inches of snow (SNOW!) that dropped in a few hours.
The next day we kicked off the ‘shop with an afternoon visit to Mono Lake where the sky kept our mouths agape and our cameras clicking. In addition to a tapestry of colors at sunset we were also treated to one of the weirdest and coolest things I’ve ever seen in the Sierra: a thick layer of cloud dripping like a pad of slowly-melting butter down the flanks of Mt. Dana.
We spent the next morning at Convict Lake where after a brief burst of color, the thickening skies kept the sun from striking the landscape. So after working some intimate scenes, some long exposures, and throwing a few hundred pebbles into the lake we headed back to the hotel for breakfast. That afternoon we visited a little-known secret spot on the east-side, where fantastically-shaped granite boulders cavort in strange ways on a hillside overlooking Mono Lake. Then, after an early dinner of minorly-mixed-up meals, we made our way up into the mountains for our first true High Sierra experience: the 20 Lakes Basin.
Although quite accessible, 20 Lakes feels like a remote Sierra basin, with gorgeous meadows, wildflowers, towering mountains, and gurgling streams. Although we ran into a bit of drizzle on the way in typically thunderstorm behavior prevailed and the weather began to dissipate toward sunset, leaving behind planet-sized puffball clouds for us to photograph.
The next morning we took in the sunrise at dramatic Minaret Vista, where a panorama of some of the most well known and beautiful peaks in the Sierra can be seen. After a break and some image review we mounted up our trusty steeds (two Subarus and a Toyota) for the trip to a true High Sierra gem: the Little Lakes Valley. Pound for pound (or should I say step for step?) the LLV is quite possibly the best hike in the Sierra Nevada. I’m not sure there’s another place where you get so much beauty per trail mile.
Of course, the Little Lakes Valley is at 10,500 feet so you do have to earn the view a bit, and after some huffing and puffing (not to mention wondering if the rainstorm we’d driven through on the way to the trail was going to come back for revenge or not) we found ourselves at the idyllic Marsh Lake, which reflects the supremely aesthetic Bear Creak Spire in its shallow waters.
After some hours photographing there we moseyed off further into the valley, most of us ending up at Heart Lake, where numerous cascading streams and huge mountains make for eye-popping views in virtually ever direction. I think Lorenzo summed it up best when he said: “Good thing you took us here last, otherwise it would’ve ruined the rest of the locations.” And I have to admit, it’s hard to argue with him, especially when the summer monsoon gives you endless gorgeous clouds to complement the scene.
After sunset our hopes for night photography were dashed by the increasingly cloudy sky so we returned to the hotel for one last short night of sleep. On the final morning we spent sunrise at the fascinating Hot Creek, where natural boiling water pours out of the ground and into the creek. Once the light got too harsh we headed back to town for a well-earned breakfast of far too much delicious food at the Breakfast Club restaurant.
What a fantastic ‘shop this was with a great group of guys! Thank you so much to our excellent and fun group: Nirav, John, Gerard, Lorenzo, Mike, Bruce, and Dan. Great spending those three lovely days in the mountains with you!
All the best,
Josh and Jim