I just returned from a photography trip to the Eastern Sierras (above Bishop) with a side-trip to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest nearby in the White Mountains. This was something of an experiment, as I had no previous experience in nature photography. I had rented a tripod and a 20mm/f2.8 lens for my Nikon F6.
Here are some lessons I learned from this trip:
- Don’t forget the quick-release plate for the tripod when packing. Without it, a tripod is useless.
- The tripod wouldn’t have been much use anyway, as the terrain was so rough that it would have been dificult or impossible to set it up.
- Carrying a whole bunch of camera equipment in a backpack is unnecessary (and really heavy). For next time I’m going to look for someplace that sells pouches that I can put on my web gear to hold my F6 (with a small lens mounted) and one additional lens, and maybe some film.
- The F6 with its vertical grip removed is a perfect size for carrying through rough terrain. Just don’t forget to remove the quick-release plate for your tripod from the vertical grip if you do this.
- The Cobber works really well.
- Don’t assume that, because you’ve never had altitude sickness before, you don’t have to worry about it now–especially if you haven’t actually been at such high altitudes for fifteen years.
- If told to expect “a lot of mosquitos,” be sure you know what the person who tells you means by that. While a desert person might think “two or three,” the actual number might be closer to “millions.”
- Two army surplus canteens were a good idea. If I’d only had one it wouldn’t have been enough.
- It might have been better (if not as comfortable) to camp in the mountains instead of getting a hotel room in Bishop. Even leaving Santa Monica at 2 PM, there was still time to set up camp before it got dark, and probably would have eliminated problems with altitude sickness.
- The topographical maps I got of all the areas we might be going were quite useful.
I went on two hikes during the trip. The first was Saturday morning from North Lake. I’d spotted a waterfall on a mountainside above the lake, and wanted to get closer to it if I could to photograph it. My topographical map showed a trail going up the mountain next to the waterfall (which was the North Fork of Bishop Creek), so I decided to head up.
The trail was quite steep, and not marked except for a sign that looked like a big yellow exclamation mark. I gather this is supposed to signify a trail difficulty, perhaps something along the lines of “turn back, you fool.” I only went to the top and back down again, but it continues on past Grass Lake to meet up with the Lamarck Lakes trail (which is a much easier climb).
The rest of the day I was wiped out by altitude sickness, but on the way back on Sunday I took the trail through the Methuselah Grove which contains bristlecone pines over 4,000 years old. This time I took only two cameras and a pocket full of film, and left the heavy backpack behind. I had no trouble with altitude sickness, thanks to the acclimation time the day before and the lighter load.
I won’t know how the pictures came out until I get them back from the lab later this week, but I used five rolls, and hopefully some of them will come out well.