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Rowing Kachemak Bay




The text of my book, Moved By A Mountain, describes me finding my land above Alaska’s Kachemak Bay and building my cabin with a view of the majestic Throneroom. It does not mention the fact that I built the cabin to have a small living space on the first floor (more space above), and that most of the footprint of the timber frame was a woodworking shop. The shop was 20′ long and 16′ wide; big enough for me to build a 16′ two-man rowing dory.

As mentioned below in the post titled “Big Water,” I was an oarsman. I began rowing as a kid when I was a mascot to the lifeguards on the beach of my small home town on the southern tip of Absecon Island in Southern New Jersey. Later I joined the rowing crew and rowed for 4 years at Holy Spirit High School, winning several championships in 8-man shells, and culminating in an undefeated senior year (1974) that brought us the National Championship as well as the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in England.


At the age of 16 I began working as a lifeguard in the summers, and began competing in rowing races. My rowing partner was the Virginia state wrestling champion who’s parents had a summer house in my town; Kevin McFadden. We had a few years as our town’s champs, which earned us the right to represent the town (Longport) in the big inter-city races. Kevin became an exceptional oarsman and we loved our daily evening workouts on the ocean. He was such a fine person, that it was pure joy to be in his company, and we became like brothers. Rowing was at the core of our brotherhood, and I associated rowing with a feeling of being vibrantly alive.


So, when I was first looking at beautiful Kachemak Bay, I had a yearning to row on it, which was the reason for the large workshop. I built a dory to resemble the South Jersey surf boat, but with a flat bottom and hard-chines. It would not need to go through surf, just be seaworthy in rough water. It was built for two oarsmen, but I rarely had someone in the stern, as most people have no rowing experience, and think of it is what you have to do when your outboard breaks down. The boat was not easy to to row because it has a narrow bottom, and traditional thole pins instead of oarlocks. There are no collars on the oars, so the oarsman has to maintain balance with feet and center, not with hands. The dory was named “Itality” which was a play on the Jamaican Patois word “Ital” — “vital”, so Itality meant Vitality–what you needed to row this boat on Kachemak Bay.

Itality was launched from the tip of the Homer Spit one late spring afternoon in the mid 80’s, after a bottle of stout was poured over the bow. I rowed it solo across the bay and up Sadie Cove, a fjord, to another boat launching celebration (about 10 miles). A boatbuilder in the fjord had just finished the hull of a wooden fishing boat, and was going to let it slide down greased rails into the water, so it was a good way for me to celebrate my wooden boat’s launch. On the way up the fjord I was followed by a curious bull orca and three cows; an experience I will never forget.


I rowed around Kachemak Bay to camp on the beaches and continued to have several wonderful experiences for a few years, then the boat got stored in my pole shed and hung there for decades until it was recently splashed. The occasion: Kevin McFadden, still a great athlete at the age of 60, came to row it on the bay with me. We spent 4 days rowing around Kachemak Bay (about 25 miles total distance) and camping on beaches, cooking on campfires and drinking beer. The weather was less than fair, but the bay was calm and the rowing good. We did get to negotiate the choppy shoals outside of Peterson Bay, but once past that, we were riding a small swell entering the bay from the gulf of Alaska, speeding by otters floating on their backs and sitting up to see a rowing dory for the first time in their lives.

It was an event that made the building of a 2-man rowing dory worthwhile, or “vale la pena” as they say in Spanish–worth the trouble. Its only now that I realize that I built that boat for Kevin and I to row, so the trip was the boat’s coming to fruition. The trip was a landmark event for us, and deeply satisfying.





the runoff of ’17

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Now that I work in San Francisco, I’ve been taking 3 trips into the Sierras every summer; adding a day to the 3 day weekends. The memorial day trip has to be in the valleys or low mountains because the snow is still deep in the high passes. This year there are drifts up to 50′ deep in places. But if you can find a steep-walled glacial valley, the falls and cascades that are fed by the spring runoff can be quite dramatic, and even awesome (as most of you know, I only use that word when appropriate).


This year’s trip was the first that was entirely on trails that I have hiked in the past, up King’s Canyon, past Mist Falls to Paradise Valley and then back down to ascend Bubbs Creek valley. The entire 30 miles was in old growth forest below steep granite walls. There is the luxury of an evening campfire at low elevations (camps were below 8,000′) but the most amazing aspect of the hike was the violence of the snowmelt making it’s way towards the sea.


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This is difficult to capture in still photos, so I will upload videos to the Granite Avatars of Patagonia Facebook page. Go to:   The Granite Avatars of Patagonia


Alberta Falls


Alberta Falls,    10×20″ canvas, signed

Spring is upon us and the waterfalls of the sierras will be raging soon. Such spectacular falls have inspired American artists for over 2 centuries.

Do an internet search for “Hudson River School, waterfall” and you will see many fine paintings of the cascades of North America. These painters of early America recognized the intense and sublime beauty of the North American Wilderness. This was a pivotal stage in the evolution in the development of Human aesthetics, which, up to that time, considered wilderness to be a hap-hazard tangle of disorder. Men like Asher Durand, Thomas Moran, and Albert Beirstadt saw beauty in that hap-hazardness, and I have always distilled this aesthetic appreciation down to the leaning tree, the downed tree, and the dead log. This is the element that places the North American Romantics at a distance from the Europeans that taught them. In a word, it was “wild,” not kept, tended, or groomed. Hap-hazardness had beauty just as it was. This was revolutionary.

Still, one had to find that sweet spot–a best location to view the scene. It fascinates me that this is so–that we have to hunt for the right composition. It raises so many questions about beauty and Nature.

Thomas Cole didn’t bother. He just created compositions of wild scenes that were influenced by what he had seen in his travels. Photographers do not have that luxury. We have to hunt, and I enjoy the hunt.

This image is 90% Hudson River school, 10% Ansel Adams, whose years in Yosemite yielded many photographs of waterfalls, often with dead logs strewn below them.

My image was taken in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is of a small yet quite exquisite wild fall. This is printed on canvas to refer back to the Hudson River School. It is part of a series of prints that have a 2:1 ratio. This one is 10 x20”. Normally it is priced at $250, now you can use your tax return to get it at half-price for $125 (until tax deadline, 4/15/17))


big water



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2010. fellow boatman Chris on a wild ride through Hermit

I just finished reading The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko.  Fedarko did a good job of describing the big whitewater of the Colorado River flowing through the Grand Canyon and the navigation of it. The reading made me realize that all of my writing of canyon river trips focused on the beauty of the rocks and my love of river travel, but rarely did I go into detail about the rapids and the waves in them. So I thought I’d revisit the canyon with some photos of boats, oars, and waves, and a quick story.


After 6 years as an ocean lifeguard, and 3 years representing my home town in the big lifeguard surfboat rowing races as bow man in a doubles crew with my partner (who is still an excellent athlete), rough water rowing was easy for me. I became a guide after my first day on the river with Sierra Whitewater Expeditions in 1980. That summer I learned to read whitewater as I worked on the American River and rowed private trips on the Stanislaus and Tuolumne before they were dammed. The next summer I was hired as the sole whitewater guide for Alaskan Rivers Touring Company, based in Anchorage. Before the weather was warm enough and the glacial melt was high enough for whitewater trips, I worked as a salmon fishing guide on the remote Deshka River and as a freight runner on the Susitna River System. The Susitna drains the glaciers of the Alaska Range near Denali, and takes the water down to the north end of Cook Inlet. On the Susitna I ran a big pontoon boat similar to the ones used in the Grand Canyon, but this river had only small class I and II rapids. The challenge was that we ran under the power of outboard engines with propellers in a shallow river full of hidden gravel bars. If you hit a gravel bar your prop would be worn to nothing in a few seconds, so you had to read water well. And you had to read it constantly. Glacial rivers are not clear. They carry glacial silt and are typically the color of concrete. The beds of the river are silt, sand and gravel, so the river channel is constantly changing in a never-ending process of erosion and deposition. Even if you are on the river every day, you never run the same river twice. We had large plywood decks on the rafts on which we hauled building materials to remote wilderness cabin-building projects. We would launch from the single highway that crosses the river and run as much as 40 miles downstream before turning up some tributary and fighting the current to deliver the load. Then we would make the trip back up the Susitna in the empty, now over-powered rafts, gunning it open throttle right up the chutes of the rapids. Reading the water could get tricky, especially in the midnight twighlight, or when wind and rain made it hard to see the subtle ripples that indicated shallows. One time I tried to take a shortcut in a bend and hit a gravel bar, disintegrating my prop. We carried several spares.

Once the whitewater season got going, I ran the Matanuska River which charged out of the melting glacier of the same name. This river flowed through a rocky gorge above and eventually spilled out into a typical glacial flood of braided channels across an outwash plain of cobbles. In the gorge there was one big rapid that featured a giant hole with a big wave below it. All other guides of the other rafting companies avoided it, but I’d usually run right through it. I had a big Campways Havasu raft which featured 30” diameter tubes (an extra 6”) and for some reason this gave me confidence.

It was this summer that the rain began in late July and never stopped, which is when my book Moved By A Mountain begins, and it is exactly for that reason–that I moved myself to build a cabin by that Alaska mountain–that I never guided again. I was disillusioned with guiding because I was fascinated with the rivers, and their hydraulics, and how they acted as a geomorphological agent, and I had a good grasp of the ecology, and I wanted to share my knowledge with the customers, but the customers just wanted a roller-coaster ride and a party.

Coming from a wooden boat rowing tradition, I had an attraction to the dories of the Grand Canyon and had been considering applying for work there in 1981, which would have put me on the scene as the Emerald Mile raced down the Colorado during the flood of ’83. But I didn’t know who Martin Litton was, and at the time the company was billed as “Martin Litton’s Grand Canyon Dories,” which sounded kind of like a knife scraping a plate to me after my experience with rafting company owners and their egos that could eclipse the sun. I also declined to work for SOBEK International rafting company because they wanted me to work for free until I was approved to be a guide. I would have had to pay my own fair to fly to New Guinea to run tropical whitewater without pay and I declined. The decision to quit and enjoy the wilds of Alaska (I found work as a freelance instrument man with various surveying companies who had wilderness projects) was one that changed my life more than most decisions I have made. I might have remained a river guide for life, working the grand canyon in the summer and in the tropics during the winter.

This would have but me right in the years that the book describes. As a former world champion oarsman working for Grand Canyon Dories, who knows how that would have changed the crew on The Emerald Mile in 1983.

The Emerald Mile’s author had done some guiding in the Canyon, and though there are a few mistakes, he writes well about the river, the water, the rapids and how to run them. Reading the book made me miss the life of a river guide, or, more so, life on the river while rowing on a private trip.

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2009. life on the river: for 18 days every morning there is the necessary ritual of loading the boats and securing the cargo.

What I have never written about is the excitement of the whitewater. The nervousness while scouting a big rapid, that stillness above the rapid when you are 100% committed but still sitting in calm water that is about to drop, the chaos when big water has its way with you as you struggle to make the boat go where you intend, and the alarm when something goes wrong–you bounce off a rock and spin, or miss a crucial eddy. This book covers it all.

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2009. the calm water approach to a rapid

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2010. scouting a rapid is a team effort. here I am giving my read of the dynamics and how I plan to navigate the torrent (I may change my mind after hearing the next boatman’s plan)

In later years I was lucky to be invited to row many different rivers in The West, many of them desert canyon rivers, and I had the good fortune to row the Canyon 3 times. First in 1990 in my own little 13’ tub-floor boat, solo–the boat would fill to the brim on some big rapids and I’d have to row the ton of water into an eddy below and bail the boat out with a 5 gallon bucket.


1990. I’d occasionally roll a cigarette after lunch–something I’ve only ever done in the wilderness.



Fedarko writes at length about Crystal rapid, which ate all boats in 1983. in 1990 the water was not quite as big. my strategy here was to row stern first for the power to break through the lateral wave. failure to do so would mean getting drawn into the hole you see beyond me–certain catastrophe.

Second time was in a rented 16’ self bailer, and third in another rental, this time an 18’ raft that was the kitchen boat of a 12 person trip. I hauled all the steel and cast iron and propane tanks and tables. The boat weighed about 1800 lbs. I’d launch from the beach in the morning after singing a line from the B-52s’ Love Shack to my passengers: “Hop in my Chrysler, it’s as big as a whale and she’s about to set sail!”.


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pushing the Chrysler into a rapid

It was hard to get it moving, but once it was moving it was hard to stop, and that helped me bust through a lot of big waves. It was on this trip that the damnedest thing happened in Lava Falls:

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’09. Fellow boatman Sandy entering Lava Falls

There’s a giant hole in Lava with two waves below it breaking in a V. I was hoping to get to the left edge of the thing, but the river sucks everything into that hole, nobody ever gets around it, and I hit it about a quarter of the way in from the left. A 10’ wall of water slammed us and knocked us into the center of the hole. The flow took us back into the wave and roared over the entire boat and blew one of my passengers right overboard. All I saw was his red life jacket flying by me as I myself almost went out from the same impact of water. While the entire boat disappeared below a curtain of white, the splash lifted me from my seat and was carrying me overboard when my elbow got pinned on my oarlock–the only part of my body touching the boat for a second–my elbow pressed on my ribs, and that resistance held me in. I got back in my seat. We were still in the hole! Again we surged forward, and with all my strength I pushed and we passed through the giant wall. The next move is to avoid “cheese-grater rock” (not mentioned in the book) and after that I was searching for my lost passenger. I saw him and rowed to the same line in the river so he would come to the boat,  I bent over to grab the rescue throw-line and turned around to see where he was–gone. I stood on my seat (another thing never mentioned in the book). I love to stand on my seat to get a good view over waves and over the horizon at the top of a rapid. I stood high to see where he was–gone. I looked all around in all directions–gone. He disappeared, and his girlfriend was still in my boat, worrying. Imagine what was going on in my mind. For a few seconds that seemed like minutes I was trying to make sense of my reality. Meanwhile he was doing the same, but he was underwater. The turbulence of the river after Lava Falls is tremendous. Imagine a man floating in a lifejacket in green rolling waves when two masses of water collide and so the water just decides to go down. He got sucked straight down and held in the cold green depths for about 10 seconds. And then he popped up right before my eyes. What a relief! I threw him the line and got him on board quickly. Soon we were at Tequila Beach–at the eddy below the rapid, passing the traditional bottle around to celebrate the success and to end the nervousness and anxiety and tension and chaos of Lava Falls, the last major rapid of the river. The tension builds for days as you approach this gauntlet. It was about 11:30 in the morning on a hot sunny day, and the crew were not drinkers, but the bottle of tequila was emptied.



1990 running the little tub through Lava Falls. thats my head at top left. you can see a bit of my blue boat being to bulge out of the muddy water. at this point the boat is overflowing with water and I have little control–about the best you can do in this rapid.


The Minarets

About 20 years ago I backpacked in to the sierras for the first time. I went with two friends. We made a base camp and climbed a few mountains in the area of the Ansel Adams wilderness between Lake Thomas Edison and Mammoth Mountain. From the top of Silver Peak  (8,878’) I saw the distant Ritter Range in the Northeast.


me and a buddy on top of Silver peak, about 20 years ago

There, Mount Ritter is accompanied by The Minarets–spires of metamorphic rock; sediments that were baked by the granitic intrusion that the Sierras are famous for. These pinnacles remained in my memory, and I finally had a chance to get close to them 13 years ago, but I had just begun the course of events that would intensify to cause a ruptured disc  in my spine, and at the time I was backpacking to the feet of The Minarets with my girlfriend, I had to rely on her to tie my boots because I couldn’t bend that far. Suffice it to say that trip was not a long one. We only got a taste of The Minarets, and I’ve always wanted to go back. I decided to do so a few weeks before the Labor Day Holiday, but by then almost all back-country permits were gone. I did find one opening that would allow me to hike south from Lake Mary to Duck Lake, and then do whatever I wanted. So a created a round-about tour: heading south from Mammoth Lakes, over a 10,787’ pass to high Duck lake, and westward to the Pacific crest trail which would take me north to the country I wanted to explore. There would be two difficult days of hiking just to get to the beginning of the string of lakes at the feet of The Minarets that I wanted to visit.

My Hiking partner of the past 6 years, Lauren, was learning of my plans by text message, and on the night before I left, she couldn’t stand to miss this hike, so she found a cheap flight and flew to Reno the next day from her Vermont farm. She didn’t know what she was getting into.

Crossing a 10,787’ pass on your first day in the mountains is not a wise move, and it was made worse by the need to make miles so that day two would be less grueling. For a guy from sea level, Darth Vader breathing sets in at about 8,700’, and we needed to stop frequently to oxygenate, But we crossed the pass to spectacular Duck Lake (not a great name for a high mountain lake surrounded by tall granite walls) and dropped out of its west end spillway through old growth pine forest to the Pacific Crest trail.


Duck Lake

Once on the PCT we headed back North until Lauren had to stop because of elevation sickness making her nauseous. We bivouced at just over 10,000’ on a little flat terrace looking directly across the upper reaches of the deep valley of Fish Creek towards Silver peak. Despite beginning our hike at 1 pm, we manage to put twelve miles behind us in the day, leaving us with only sixteen miles for the next day, but it would not be an easy sixteen miles.

In the morning we broke a frosted camp, and hiked four miles to the first stream (September is the driest month in the sierras) where we had a good breakfast, and moved on, continuing northward, dropping 3000’ to cross the headwaters of the San Joaquin River, passing through Devils Postpile National Monument, crossing over a 500’ ridge and back down to the point where we began the 1,200’ climb in the last four miles of the day to Fern Lake. Long day. And Fern Lake is only at 8,720’. It is the beginning of the string of lakes I wanted to see, but it is the least of them. The next day we had it easy, with a three-mile hike up to the next valley’s lakes, choosing  a granite platform above Holcomb Lake at 9,478’ for camp. We had the whole afternoon off to enjoy the clear green water and the sun. We rested, ate and drank a lot to recover from our trek. The next day would be another long day.


Holcomb Lake

After breakfast we made our way out of the valley, eastward, which involved a climb to a high bench before plunging almost a thousand feet back down to the to the San Joaquin so we could hike a mile north to the next valley, and back up to more high lakes. These would be the gems of the trip and I was excited. Lauren, on the other hand, was not aware of the magnificence ahead, and was suffering from several blisters on her feet. I took some of her weight and she shed her boots for crocks, and she did fine with the 2,000’ climb in the second six miles of the day. She’s a remarkably good hiker.

We arrived at Minaret Lake–quite possibly the most beautiful lake in the Sierras. Odd that I would say that because the minarets are not made of the famous Sierra Nevada granite that makes these mountains so special. The metamorphic process left these dark Jurassic sediments more durable and resistant to erosion than the granite, so the Minarets stand tall and jagged over the lake.

The sierras are known as “The Range of Light” (a name created by John Muir and made famous by Ansel Adams and other landscape photographers) because of the dramatic lighting that comes from the passing of many mountain-made clouds. But on this trip we would be in the wilderness for six days without seeing a single cloud. And due to the east-facing orientation (just as the Granite Avatars of Patagonia), the only dramatic light would be at dawn.


Minaret Lake at dawn

In the Sierras I am always captivated by the reflections of mountains in the lakes, and on this trip I was especially so, given the lack of clouds to soften the stark rock and blue sky scenery.


Early morning reflections of the Minarets

Dinner was enjoyed in a nook of a solid rock dome, high above the lake, followed by the traditional cigar and nip of whiskey, having made the destination. All of these nights we were getting a minimum of 10 hours of sleep (often with strange dreams), punctuated by a midnight pee that we looked forward to so that we could behold the depth of the galaxy in the high, dry, clear air. Lauren’s farm was recently visited by alien craft, so I wondered which star the astronauts come from.


The craft hovering over Lauren’s farm

This fifth day was our stroll in god’s country–the highlight of the trip–three miles on a difficult cross-country route from Minaret Lake up over a pass to 10,239’ Cecile Lake for a long lunch, down to Iceberg Lake, lolly-gaging there, and eventually dropping down to Ediza–the lake I visited 13 years ago. There’s nothing like being in the high lakes of the Easter Sierras and these lakes are among the best, because of the Minarets.


Cecile Lake



Iceberg Lake

At Ediza we found a bench up on a ridge above the lake to make camp away from the other backpackers. Ediza is a popular destination because of relatively easy access from the road and the spectacular view of the Ritter Range. Ritter stands above the lake at 13,143’.


looking out over Ediza at dawn



The rising sun lights the flanks of Lake Ediza

Our hike out of this wonderland was an easy seven miles, five of them downhill, to a road where the ranger had told us we can get a shuttle bus, but she was not paying attention to the dates, and the bus service ended for the season the day before we exited, so we got lucky hitchhiking back to my truck, then celebrated with an ale and a steak at the Mammoth Brewery. Visits to a couple of primitive hot springs eased the stiffness the next day.


The Minarets from the spillway of Ediza

A quick 53 mile sojourn in the Eastern Sierras is food for the soul. It took a few days of good food to recover from, but a week after we came out of the wilds I achieved a goal that had intimidated me for several months: to row eight 30-second sprints and cover 160 meters in each, with 90 seconds of rest between. I am currently 3rd of all 59-year-old heavyweight men in the world who compete on the Concept 2 rowing machine 2000 meter event (and I am the lightest of them, so on the water I would be #1) and I take great joy in this as I approach the milestone of my sixtieth birthday.

Life’s pleasures, for me, are often connected to my physical abilities, so aging is not welcome. I am studying the maps to plan next summer’s eastern sierra trip. Gotta get out there while I can.

Prints from this trip are half-price for blog readers until my birthday–11/01.


As Falls Yosemite, So Falls Yosemite Falls



Yosemite in Spring

As a teenager I watched clouds to be able to predict changes in the wind so I knew when to expect good surf conditions. In college I studied climatology among other earth sciences to earn my degree in geography. After college I embarked on many wilderness adventures, always keeping an eye on the clouds. As a sailor, the clouds let me know what weather was coming. I’m no expert, but I know clouds and weather better than most people. And now I see strange linear clouds blowing in off the Pacific that are not natural.

All my life I have seen jets leaving a condensation trail behind them, which never lasted more than a minute or two. About six years ago I was shocked one evening in New Mexico when I saw the western sky cris-crossed with linear clouds lit golden by the setting sun. I was stunned. Something was wrong with that picture. It was only a few days later that I was birdwatching with friends in the marshes of Lake Tahoe when a jet flew over and left a trail that continued to widen for an hour until it was over a mile wide.

Since then, I’ve continued to watch these “chemtrails” being laid overhead, and they are getting more and more common and more dense. Finally, many credible sources are agreeing that there is a “geoengineering” program underway, conducted without public knowledge, relying on the fact that people don’t look up much, don’t know what clouds look like, and don’t have time to think about it. I have seen several “art” photos (iPhone billboards, calendar photos, fine art photos in an online gallery) with chemtrails in them, and neither the photographer nor the viewers even notice.

One scientist explained it well by telling an audience that if they believe that chemtrails are water vapor, they must then also agree that when one walks down a snowy trail in the woods on a completely still, frozen day, one can stop and turn around and see the trail left by their breath hovering over the trail and growing. Its the same.

Search the internet and you will find more disinformation than fact. At this point, my best guess is that they are spraying coal fly ash, the waste from coal burning power plants. This guess comes from reading that the chemical profile of rainwater tests match that of coal fly ash.

The assumption is that the ash is being used to limit incoming solar radiation in an attempt to cool the planet. But in the process, high levels of aluminum, barium and strontium are raining down on us, our soils and our waters.

As I mentioned, the internet is full of disinformation on the subject, so researching takes a very keen and nonreactive mind. Welcome to the modern world. Here are some credible sites:

The modern Yosemite is also subject to the spray, and this is how we began a recent trip through little Yosemite valley–with planes spraying overhead, just as we did last fall, the last time I was in the park.


Chemtrails over Half Dome

So the first few miles were not as joyous as usual when setting off into the wilds for a few days. The global predicament was hard to forget with the sky so adulterated.

But there was good news. I chose an obscure an remote trailhead that no one uses, so we had the trail and our first camp completely to ourselves, which is surprising for spring in Yosemite. We passed right under a bear high in a dead tree which was a treat. I don’t know if we scared him up there or if he climbed on his own.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe back side of Hale Dome

The next morning we descended into Little Yosemite valley from the south (Illouette River), passing by the back side of Half Dome, and proceeding up the valley through the intense burn area from the big fire 2 years ago. I have been in many burn areas before, but this one is the most intense ever–it was completely scorched. Not a single plant survived for several miles. I doubt any rodent or reptile did either. But the river, the Merced, was full and flowing hard.


the Merced River

Yosemite is famous for its spring runoff. Traditionally, the heavy snows in the Sierras melt in spring providing spectacular displays of falling water as rivers flow over granite domes or fly off the edges of truncated valleys–where one glacier carved a deeper valley across another valley. The classic glaciated valley is U-shaped. The sides are steep, and waterfalls are common.


Nevada Falls

But up Little Yosemite Valley there are few truncated valleys. There are, however, several granite domes. I was calling it “Domeland.” it was like walking between giant monolithic haystacks. Even the valley floor has this dome characteristic, which causes the Merced River to rage down one cascade after the next. The charred landscape keeps hikers away, so we camped in solitude beside a huge cascade on our second and third nights, with day 3 being a 20-mile day hike way up past Merced lake to Washburn Lake. It was on this day hike that we were treated to a granite landscape ribboned with tumbling waters.


Upper Merced River

Northern California had a normal wet winter this year, so the rivers are at normal levels, but in recent years they have been low. The lack of rain and snowfall in recent years makes the forest dry and prone to fire, as well as bark beetles, which kill the trees. Trees normally defend themselves by using water to create “pitch”–sap that pitches the beetles out of the tree and entombs them in the gummy stuff (the source of amber), but when water is not present the trees can’t defend themselves. Yosemite’s majestic pines are being killed by beetles.

The planet is slowly dying, but humans are too busy to notice.

(11×14″ Giclee´Photographic prints available to blog readers at half price. just email me at




the grand canyon of the tuolumne

I first visited Yosemite National Park at the age of 18. It was such a Coney Island, I swore I’d never return.  It was only after working on THE GRANITE AVATARS OF PATAGONIA that I thought I should be photographing more of the granite in California, and visited Yosemite for the first time in almost 30 years. I had been avoiding National parks in general, spending my time in national forests, BLM ranges, and some of the larger state parks. But my capacity to tolerate crowds of humans has increased dramatically over the last few years, and now that I live in San Francisco, and my free time is limited, Yosemite is the easiest place for me to access the granite of The Sierras.

Over the years, I’ve flown over Yosemite several times, and what always caught my eye was the other Yosemite Valley, to the north. So over an extended 4th of July weekend I explored the upper reaches of the Tuolumne River through what is called “The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.”

Despite the glorious name, this is not a popular hike due to the 3,400’ abrupt elevation change at one end.

My hiking partner Lauren went to the park a day ahead and camped so she could grab a wilderness permit as the doors to the wilderness ranger’s office opened. She decided that 3,400 ft downhill sounded better than 3,400 ft uphill, so that’s the permit we got– the up-river route.

I arrived that night in thunderstorms. A break in the weather allowed some camp fire time and some beer drinking while staring at the flames. The next morning we were on the trail, a bit sluggish from the beer.

I’ve had several knee injuries over the years, but my knees are doing well these days, so I was surprised how hard the descent was on my knees. The temperature was over 90 degrees, I had a full pack, the trail was unyielding granite, and the beer had depleted my electrolyte stores. I haven’t dropped so far, so fast, since I hiked to the bottom of the grand canyon. It was a relentless decent.

By the time we got to the river in the late afternoon, Lauren had heat stroke. So we cooled off in the river and lounged for a while in the shadow of big ponderosa pines before beginning the journey upriver, which would demand a gradual 4,000 ft elevation gain over the next 26 miles. We soon ran into a pair of big bears foraging along the trail about 100 feet from us. They allowed us to watch them for several minutes. One was quite alarmed by us, but took time before escaping with a graceful gate.



In this part of the river valley we enjoyed old growth ponderosa pines and deep clear swimming holes that I think were a few degrees warmer than usual since the river has been fed by recent rains, and not so much by the usual snowmelt–little snow fell in the sierras over the drought-stricken winter.



The granite walls of the valley were fractured and laid back. A veteran of many sierra backpacking trips, I have become a connoisseur of granite walls, and I kept thinking of one of the main points of my book MOVED BY A MOUNTAIN–that the integrity of the rock and its vertical posture are what inspires us. It was three miles into our fourth day of hiking that we found ourselves surrounded by solid monoliths, with occasional shelves claimed but courageous pines. We decided to make an early camp to enjoy what we had come for–no sense rushing through this wonderland.





It was a lazy day of appreciating the views from various perches by the river, and exploring the various deep granite tanks–world class swimming holes. The majority of these photos come from that day–a day of soaking up the beauty of tall, steep and solid granite, plunging into the cool emerald pools, and sunning on granite slabs. At the same time this was an experience of soul recharge, and an experience of worship via deep appreciation.



As I told a spiritually-aware hiker we met on the trail, who claimed that all that surrounded us was God, “All matter is God, your hat, your watch, but it takes something as spectacular as this valley to get most of us to realize it.”





The plunging waters, the regal Ponderosa pines, the thunderclouds drifting over granite domes, and the song of a nuthatch, chickadee, or tanager—together a sensual symphony set in motion by The Source.

Not a bad day on the planet called Earth.





these prints available now. contact me by email.


July 2018
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