Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tripyramids revisited

In 2005 I hiked up Tripyramids with Matt, John, Angelika and their son, Parker.

The hike was up the North Peak along the Livermore trail which takes you up this impressive scree slope.

The scree eventually becomes a massive slide of huge slabs which you have to scramble up - apparently treacherous when wet. I took some photographs of the hike at the time which you can see in a slideshow here.

This week I hiked up again, this time with John and Bruce.  We following a different route which went up to a col (saddle) from where we were able to walk along the ridge to take in the Middle, South and North peaks.  John sent a GPS map of the trail we took.

We met early and stopped at the Sabbaday Falls parking lot on the Kancamangus Highway.  We saw some of the early activity of the Highland Games which is held at Loon Mountain over this weekend as we drove past.

The Sabbaway Falls are on the left of the trail, only 0.3mi from the parking lot.  I didn't have my tripod, but there was a good wooden railing with a lookout over the falls so I was able to take a long exposure of the water cascading  down.

The Kancamangus Highway was opened again this past weekend after being closed for flooding that washed out sections of the highway from hurricane Irene.  Our choice to hike up the stream bed past Sabbaday Falls took us through broken and washed out sections of the trail.  At several places along the stream we have to search for the trail, sometimes at places where it had been washed away just before a crossing.  The water was low enough for us to cross fairly easily, though.

The total hike was 12mi (19 km) from an elevation of around 1000 ft to over 4000 ft.

It was amazing to me how different the character of the hike was from this trail.  The large slabs are a very scary prospect and, considering that it was raining lightly when we drove out there (and snowed lightly a few times during the hike) we were glad that we didn't go up that way.  The few rocky slabs that we did have to go up were just wet enough to be dangerous and we had to move carefully up them.

Of the three summits, only North and Middle count for the 48  4000ft high peaks but once you are on the ridge it is an easy hike to reach all three.  Middle has a good view of the valley and we stopped twice there - once when we reached it from the col and then again when we came back from South peak and stopped for lunch.

Another hiker was there with his Jack Russel - a sweet dog who thought we were all going to feed him and came forward eagerly when I bent down to take a picture of him.

The walk out was longer than I expected it to be and the mile along the road back to the parking lot was a little painful - my joints were complaining by then.  We took 7 and a half hours to do the 12 miles which isn't a bad rate (1.6mi/h) for hiking in these mountains.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Epic hikes: Angel's Landing

I was stuck in Las Vegas for a week and quickly realized that the attractions of the city, while photographically interesting, didn't hold much appeal.  I started looking for something outside of Vegas that might be worth visiting.

I first called a friend of mine who did an RV circuit of America over a number of months to ask for suggestions for something within easy reach of Las Vegas.  He unhesitatingly suggested the Grand Canyon and this was echoed by at least 3 other people who said that if there was one place I went to in that area it should be the Grand Canyon.  It turned out that this was about a 5 hour drive from Vegas.

Other options (just so you know) are the Hoover Dam (about 1-2 hours drive away), Death Valley (probably about 4hours North and West), Zion National Park (3 hours North and East) and Antelope Canyon (5 hours).

I called one of my Flickr contacts (Farkled) thinking that he might have a good sense of distances and value for money "photographically" and we settled on Zion as the best option all round.

John, my hiking friend, had thought the Grand Canyon was closer but when he heard that I was heading for Zion he suggested that if I only did one hike it should be Angel's Landing.  I confess that I had fixated on the prospect of photographing beautiful luminous slot canyons but only realized much later in the day that these are famously photographed in Antelope Canyon and will have to be the subject of a later trip.

I set an alarm for 2:30 am and after being (very disappointingly) turned away at the door to conference party featuring The Killers (exhibitors not permitted) I went to bed early and woke up with a start at 5:19am to discover that setting and activating an alarm are two separate actions on my iPhone.  10 minutes later I was on highway 15N heading to Arizona and then Utah through towns with evocative names like Mesquite, Hurricane and Virgin.

I took a couple of photographs with my iPhone on the highway as it wound through these huge sandstone features and stopped at one point to photograph a barn.  When I turned around to look behind me I saw a large 9ft (3m) snake on the road near me.  I know that the snakes out in the desert are not all friendly, but I had to get closer for a photograph anyway.  This it turns out is a very common Californian King snake.

The drive into the park is spectacular.  You are surrounded by massive orange and white vertical cliffs.  The park requires that visitors park their cars and use the shuttle bus to drive the length of the scenic drive inside the park.  If you continue on Rt9E through the park you eventually get to a long tunnel hewn through the rock and low enough that RVs and large vehicles have to get escorted through at an extra charge.  It is through this tunnel that you get to the town of Page where Antelope Canyon is.

I pulled into the Visitor's Center parking lot and onto the next shuttle.  The window of the shuttle bus could open enough for me to get my camera out to get some shots of the cliffs on the left side of the valley as it drove about 4 stops along the scenic route.  I got out at the stop called The Grotto where the trail-head for Angel's Landing is.  I had left a message for John asking about narrow slot canyons on this trail - still hopeful that I'd get a shot of some of the narrow curved rocks that I'd imagined were here, but by then I was far out of cell phone range and knew that regardless of features, John's judgement on both epic and visual quality are faultless so I was going to do the hike anyway.

I took a photograph soon after crossing the footbridge across the river that meanders through the valley.  It is hard to imagine that this river course is responsible for carving these sheer cliffs as the plateau was lifted over time.

You can see the trail off to the left and the huge monolith that is Angel's Landing.  Within 90 minutes I would be standing at the very top right edge of that vertical cliff.

The hike is described in the trail guide as steep and strenuous and is also rated as fairly dangerous because of the narrow sections near the top.  After some of the hikes in the White Mountains of the North East, I found the mostly paved path less than strenuous, but the heat of the day and steep incline did have me walking at a slowish pace to keep my breathing steady.

I had two small bottled water bottles and a bladder filled from the Las Vegas hotel bathroom and was disappointed when the bottled water ran out near the top and I had to start sipping the over-chlorinated tap water from Vegas.

I took a few photographs as I hiked higher.   On the left of the huge cliff is a saddle which is where the hike goes over into a gorge that takes you to the back of the Angel's Landing and then doubles back to the top.

Walking in the sun is draining and it was a relief to get over the saddle and walk in the shade up the  paved path above it.  I was astonished to see the tracks of some machines that had been driven up the path to make some repairs.  Some trail maintenance on the trail was underway and the machines to mix cement had been driven up the path!

Zion is a very busy destination.   I met several groups on the way up to the summit.  There are approximately 3 million visitors a year to this park so this was not surprising.  Angel's Landing is not a hike that most visitors would attempt though, so the human traffic was not claustrophobic.

Once you have managed to hike to the top of the paved path you look out over the back shoulder of the peak.   A sign warns that the path ahead is narrow and dangerous and an obviously altered "6" counts the number of hikers who have fallen to their death on this hike since 2004.

At the foot of the first narrow section, which has chains hanging from the rock to help stabilize you as you walk, sit a few people who have tried and failed to navigate the next section, waiting for their hiking partners to come back from the summit.

There is an interesting psychology to a narrow, dangerous hike like this.  To be clear nothing could be worse than tripping or turning an ankle on these sections and high winds, rain or ice would make it treacherous (even if you clung to the chains).

The ground is wide enough and the rock abrasive enough for you to walk upright for most of the areas with chains but the presence of the chains makes people contort and contrive to somehow cling to them as they lean as far away from the edge as they can while they navigate forward.

I tried to strike a balance.  There were sections that were wide and flat enough to avoid holding the chains - indeed the chains would have forced me to bend over into an unnatural crouch and there were other sections where you wouldn't have persuaded me to pry my hand from the chain with a gun.

I stopped often to take pictures both of the sheer cliffs and of the narrow ledge that we were walking on.  At one point I waited for a party to come down a section that was single file and one of the people was saying that she had to go down in a fashion that felt natural to her, no matter how inelegant it looked.  When she got to me and apologized for holding me up I told here that she had shown impeccable technique - a comment that she enjoyed with good humor.

I was thinking about it afterwards.  It is very impressive that someone who is so afraid of the narrow trail that they walk bowed over and awkward still make their way up and then down again despite this fear.

Each corner of the narrow trail yielded more and more spectacular views and when eventually I reached the top rounded slab I was very satisfied.

I lay flat on the ground and took a photograph over the edge at the valley below.  At this point the drop (like most of the summit) is absolutely vertical.

I had left at about 9:15am and most of the valley was in shadow.  Going down at around noon I was able to photograph some of the red rock features in sunlight - some of them glowing in the afternoon sun.

When I got down to the trailhead I saw a sign that said 1 mile to the Emerald Ponds.  I had intended to make that a second stop in the shuttle, but decided to walk instead.  Unfortunately this was in direct sunlight and in the valley so it didn't take too long before I regretted the decision as the midday heat pounded me relentlessly.

The destination made it worth it, though.  The pools (top and bottom) are very pretty and when I got to the top pool - unfortunately it is too small for them to allow swimming - I filled my hat with water and poured it over myself to cool down.

The lower pool is just below this little kettle-spout waterfall which was very pretty in the sunlight and I found myself back at the shuttle stop at the Zion Lodge in time for some food and a soda at about 2:30pm.

If I had thought about it a little more carefully I would have taken the shuttle bus deeper into the canyon for some more photographs of the cliffs further along, but I still had a notion that I could make it to Page where some hikers had told me I would find the luminous slot canyons I had expected to find here.  I realized as the bus was taking me out of the park that I would not make it to Page in time and so decided to take a drive back to Las Vegas stopping a couple of times to take some pictures from the roadside of the distant mountains.

What a great diversion!

You can see a slideshow of all of the photographs from Zion here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Red Rock Canyon

I would probably have preferred to visit this in the Winter.  The Red Rock Canyon is accessible via a scenic drive probably 20min West of Las Vegas and I was astonished to see people cycling the entire loop of the scenic drive in the mid-day sun.

The daily highs at this time of year are regularly above 100F (37C) and although the adage that a dry heat is more bearable is certainly true, there is a head-thumping sensation that goes with walking for long in this heat - even with a hat and plenty of water.

Bruce took me on a drive to Red Rock and then on to Mnt Charleston which is a ski area near Vegas (probably about a 40min drive away).

We started with a short side-trip to some homesteads/ranches on the Eastern side of the canyon.  These tracks of land were priced around $1 million in recent years.  The recession and housing crash has probably reduced these prices somewhat, but they are still on prime land.

A big billowing white cloud formed part of the backdrop for most of the day.  I was surprised to see thunderclouds like this, but the point of a desert isn't the absence of clouds, nor the occasional thunderstorm, just the rarity of it being widespread.

The scenic drive circles the valley surrounded by prominent rock features with bold lines of red and white rock. Along the drive are a number of parking lot pull-offs that give you access to around 19 different hikes into the mountains. The scenic drive is often referred to as the canyon, but the Red Rock Canyon itself is located in one of the hiking trails.

The first stop-off is alongside a prominent set of oval and egg-shaped rocks. They are deceptively large. Without the people in these pictures the rocks give the impression of being a lot smaller than they actually are. From the top looking down you will see a group of people standing on one of the rounded boulders just off to the right of center.

Looking back up from the bottom a round boulder split like an egg with some people standing before it.

At the second stop a beautiful outcrop of rock, again the scale is deceptive. There is a person standing on the slanted shelf on the right of the picture. He scrambled up there to photograph one of the plants.

The highest point of the scenic drive offers an outlook over the entire valley. Bruce told me that a developer had the rights to develop a large complex of houses along the slopes of the mountains directly across from this. I think those who love to ride and walk here are hoping that the recession discourages this development.

We stopped at a dry gulch. The infrequent rain brings flash floods that race into the valley through these dry riverbeds. I took a 15 image panorama of this scene to try to capture the spread of mountains and canyons that you can hike into.

Some of the cliffs inside this canyon rival Yosemite's great heights - some as high as 3000ft (over 900meters).

After the gulch we came across a family of the wild burros that live in the valley. The male was quite close to the road and didn't seem to be bothered by us.

As I crouched down to photograph him he put his ears back which warned me not to get any closer. Further off and slightly up a hill in the shade of a Joshua Tree stood the female and her foal.

After leaving the park we drove up into Mnt Charleston which was an amazing 20 degrees cooler than down in Las Vegas. This area features a few hikes and picnic areas as well as a ski resort that is a popular destination in the winter.

The drive offered some beautiful scenes of wooden lodges and churches and we stopped at a restaurant at near the top for a great American Barbecue lunch of corn, baked beans, chicken and ribs.

This side trip was a great way to escape the bustle of Las Vegas. I'd love to go back in winter with my climbing gear and a couple of climbing friends.

You can see a slide show of all the photographs from this outing here.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A trip to Vegas

South Africa has a couple of casino towns, Sun City being the most well known.  I had been there and to a couple of other of these towns back in the day.  The last one I visited was where the University of the North was located in Bophuthatswana.

It was a sad sight, seeing small, dirty children in threadbare clothing asleep on the stairs at the entrance to the casino while their parents played the slots and after losing some money of my own I had a pretty strong aversion to gambling.

This sets the stage for my recent trip to Vegas for a conference where I was to be available to assist in the booth for product demos.  I knew that I'd use the casino at least a little but wanted to also see what else there was on offer there.

Friends of mine moved to Vegas a few years ago.  I met one of them (Bruce) in 1979 when he spent a year studying in South Africa and we have kept in touch.  I met Gary, his partner, after I arrived in the USA in 2001.

I planned to leave for Vegas a couple of days early to spend a day with him seeing some of the natural attractions near the city.  It was lucky that I did because hurricane Irene wrecked havoc with travel on the East Coast on the day I should have left and would probably have prevented my trip.

I arrived in the afternoon and Bruce kindly agreed to drive me around in the evening in search of a good location to shoot the Strip as the sun set.  The Strip is a section of Las Vegas with tall beautifully lit buildings and is the main attraction for entertainment - certainly for tourists.  It turns out that there are casinos and attractions that the locals prefer out in the suburbs because the casinos in the Strip are a lot more expensive than these.

The city is spread over a pretty wide area in a large flat valley and it is hot!  We drove with the air conditioner on full blast and visited raised roads and some parking lots around the South West and West of the city before driving right into the strip.

I managed to get a few photographs but none of them were especially appealing.

Bruce had agreed to take a day trip with me on the next day leaving early (5:30am) to hike up some hills west of the city where there are some caves dug into the mountain (most likely from mining activity).  The dawn was beautiful and I got much better images of the Strip from there.  These caves are pretty big, but from a little googling it appears that there are larger caves that you can explore near Las Vegas in the Red Rock Canyon and elsewhere.

After the morning hike we went for a drive to Red Rock Canyon (more on this later) with a slight detour to look at some farmsteads on the eastern side of the canyon and then on a scenic drive through the canyon, stopping at several of the lookout points to take short walks and to photograph the amazing rock formations.

From there it was into the city to my hotel and an opportunity to visit some of the opulent hotels in the Las Vegas Strip.  Bruce and Gary both recommended the Belagio and Paris as two hotels worth visiting and they are both really close to the hotel I stayed in so after a shower I headed out to see them.

The hotels are something else.  They are massive!  Each of these hotels easily takes up the space of a large shopping mall in any big city and you have to look out when you walk through them because if you take a wrong turn down one of the corridors of shops you could end up with a mile long detour to get back to the main street of the Strip.

The first thing that I saw in the Belagio (I came in along one of the passages that is lined with designer shops) was the ceiling, festooned with inverted umbrellas of various colors and sizes.  The decor and attention to detail in the decoration is breathtaking and you can see that millions of dollars is spent on these amazing building architectures.  I have to say that having seen movies which feature these hotels, I was not prepared for the size or level of detail that I saw - I expected it to be more pre-fabricated, rather than brick and mortar and life-sized (in some cases larger than life) statues and decorations.

The Belagio is also famous for the fountains that are set to music and perform every 15minutes to the rapt attention of the people lined up along the road for the spectacle.

The Paris was similarly impressive with the large Eiffel tower structure straddling over the hotel.  I was very surprised to see how it came right into the building and I couldn't help snapping a shot of it as I came into the casino floor.

Out on the street, my amazement turned to dismay as I came across the grubby vendors with "Girls, girls" emblazoned on their Tee shirts handing out pamphlets advertizing the rent boys and college girls dying to come to my room (yeah, right!)  They slap the cards against their hand to get your attention and then shove them at you as you walk past.  A middle-aged single guy was of particular interest to them and after seeing what they were handing out I found myself shaking my head at them all the way down the street.

On the walkways between the buildings (did I mention that it is HOT - even at night) were a few dotted buskers who also seemed particularly sad to me - they, having not made it into the entertainment of the city shows, were sitting on the sidewalk trying to perform for money or simply begging with humorous signs that were somehow not amusing "I can't lie, I need a beer" and "Smile if you touch yourself".  One particularly poignant sign for me was "Too proud to prostitute" next to a young girl playing a keyboard.

A couple of these buskers also had animals with them.  One had a small kitten who looked pretty sick to me, lying in the music case of her violin and the other had a dog who looked pretty happy to be where we was.  His owner, when I asked if I could photograph offered to add interest to the shot with some actrobatics of his own.
I spent several days at the conference and took walks on my way back to the hotel each evening via some of the other hotels. You can see a slideshow of all the Vegas pictures here including some of the other hotels and street scenes and more pictures of the caves.

Monday, August 15, 2011

India Day 2011

I happened upon India Day in 2010 when a friend of mine mentioned that it was a free event at the Boston Hatch Shell on the Charles river.  Anne and I made our way into the city on the subway and spent a wonderful afternoon watching the colorful dancers and listing to the vibrant rhythms of the music from all over India.

Particularly enjoyable were the fusion sounds of traditional and modern Bollywood songs that had the crowds singing along.

This year I specifically looked out for the event on the Boston calendar.  The food, sounds and dance drawing me back for another feast.  We settled down with samosas and some curried chicken and, despite the intermittent rain, enjoyed the stories and songs of the event.

The atmosphere and general mood is so friendly and I love the movement and hand gestures of the dance.

Click on the link below for a slideshow.

India Day 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lowell Music Festival

Touted as the largest free folk festival in the United States, the Lowell Music Festival hosts folk music and a rich variety of street vendors selling multi-national food and crafts over the last weekend of July every year.

This was the 25th anniversary of the first festival and my third visit since we arrived in Massachusetts in 2001.

It is a great opportunity to experiment with performance photography.  There are 6 stages and street performances so if you can get near the front you can photograph to your heart's content.

This year, following a tip from a friend who has been attending for years, we arrive mid-morning and set up chairs in a shady spot on the Boarding House Park lawn.  From there you can take excursions to the street vendors for food, or walk around and look at street performers.

A selection of scenes from the Festival from tbouwer on Vimeo.

There is a chance as the crowds grow in the afternoon, that your space will be invaded.  People don't quite disassemble your chairs, but they will sit right in front of them until you get back and politely ask them to move.  An old couple sitting in front of us nearly had a stand-up fight with some people who took over their towel while they were off looking for food.

The city of Lowell was a powerhouse of the textile industry in the 19th Century and is referred to as the cradle of the industrial revolution in America because it was one of the first industrial towns in the USA.  Ironically, the textile industry's move to the South and the eventual decline of these towns in the North was made possible by the advent of steam powered motors which replaced the water-powered mill in the South where there were fewer rivers and cheaper labor.

Lowell has recovered somewhat from the steep decline over the loss of textiles in the early 20th Century and has a great feel with the large brick buildings that once supported the industry.

The center of the city, almost encircled by the canals that drove the mills, is where the festival takes place.

This year we spent most of our time at the Boarding House Park stage.  The main artists make a circuit of the stages and we watched several really impressive acts.

First up were the Birmingham 6-man Quartet.  A four part harmony gospel quartet from Birmingham.  They were incredibly energetic - led by their music director James Alex Taylor, with his brothers and one nephew, along with two other singers.  A few very versatile vocalists!

I took a break from the performance to walk around the streets and visit a trolley museum.  Lowell operates some restored trolleys on a 1.2mile track that has been electrified for tourism.

There are street vendors plying their crafts and selling their art along many of the streets along the canal and in the city.

I arrived back in time to see an Argentinian group called "Hector del Curto's Tango Quartet".  He plays an accordion instrument called a bandoneon and they had an enchanting cellist and energetic bass and piano accompaniment.  Two dancers also gave a very taught and energetic performance of the Tango on stage.

The show went live on public radio with the next performance, an Irish group called Dervish.  They sang and played beautiful  melodies.  Their lead singer, Cathy Jordan has a beautiful voice.

Another break from the performance while the Quebe Sisters were singing and a visit back to the street vendors.

We stopped to watch a street performance of Chinese dance

and then back to the show for Shemekia Copeland, a renowned Blues singer with a powerful voice and a big stage presence.  Her show was a great way to end the day.

The festival is over two days, starting at noon each day and going into the night.  We had friends to visit in the evening so left before the night performances.