High Sierra Trip Report; NEW Tour Announcement

Mt. Goode in morning light

Mt. Goode in morning light

I returned home from the High Sierra earlier this week after concluding a private photography tour for my client, Balaji, who hails from California’s Bay Area. This tour was initially slated to include a few of Balaji’s friends, but illness and schedule conflicts left Balaji alone with me to endure the incredible light and beauty that only the Range of Light can offer. Due to snowpack this year that


was 143% of normal, bountiful snow still lingered at moderate elevations and the mosquitoes were like I’ve never seen them before in the Eastern Sierra. We were surrounded at times by virtual clouds of them!

Long Lake and Saddlerock Lake

Long Lake and Saddlerock Lake

Our tour began on the Eastside at South Lake and would take us over Bishop Pass and into the Dusy and Palisade Basins of King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Park. “Would” being the key word, as Balaji contracted Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) on our second day out, which forced us to move to a lower elevation and ultimately off the mountain sooner than planned. Without medication (Acetazolamide) or proper acclimatization (a slower and more gradual ascent to altitude), Balaji would be unable to continue climbing higher without suffering further ill effects of AMS.

Balaji photographs the Sierra

Balaji photographs the Sierra

A number of photo tour and workshop leaders have written recently about the importance of choosing a tour/workshop guide who is properly insured and carrying proper permits, yet many of these articles omit what to me should be an even more serious concern: is your guide first-aid and CPR trained and certified? Do they have the experience and awareness to spot something like AMS? Is your guide an experienced mountaineer and navigator who can guide you confidently and safely through the most difficult situations? Had I not been able to correctly diagnose and know how to treat Balaji’s condition, I could have ushered him to even higher altitudes and might have seriously endangered him (AMS can elevate to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema [HAPE]). Before you hire a photography guide to lead you into remote locations, make sure that they can provide a YES answer to these questions! When remote, help is often a long way away and cell phones may not be operable; you need to be able to trust your guide to make the right decisions on your behalf and to do so while under pressure.

Water and Granite

Water and Granite

After diagnosing Balaji’s condition, we descended back to our first night’s camp on the shore of beautiful Long Lake. Although he was not yet out of the woods, Balaji’s AMS-induced fatigue prevented him from making it all the way back to the car that evening. We spent a restful night at Long Lake, and although Balaji reported feeling great in the morning, it was evident to me on the walk out that Balaji was still afflicted with AMS. Medication will likely be his only solution to again returning to higher elevations. A rigorous acclimatization process can help (“climb high, sleep low”, and with slower ascents to altitude), but rarely fits well with ambitious plans and a restrictive number of annual vacation days (damn you, American employers! :)).

Evening clouds over the Sierra

Evening clouds over the Sierra

After most of Balaji’s group had signed off the trip, I offered a couple of openings to interested parties, although it was too short of notice to have any takers. Many persons wrote me expressing great interest in this outing, so I am again offering this High Sierra photo tour on August 25-29, 2010 (Wednesday through Sunday). Eligible participants must be in very good to excellent physical condition; must have previous backpacking experience; and must have experience at high altitude (12,000′ will be our
Mt. Agassiz, 13,891'

Mt. Agassiz, 13,891'

maximum, with an option to climb higher during downtime). This tour is open to only three participants; register now! I look forward to sharing the beauty and wonder of the Range of Light with you!

Many THANKS to Balaji for another great outing to the High Sierra! I look forward to getting you back into this region in 2011!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.


5 thoughts on “High Sierra Trip Report; NEW Tour Announcement

  1. Wow, quite an adventure. Glad it all came out okay. I am not necessarily surprised but sad that you did not have more takers. I would love to do such an outing if I had fewer obligations right now, but I have to keep my head down and plowing ahead. As most photographers know, people who have jobs with a few weeks vacation a year are fortunate. Those of us in this business often choose, which is the operative word, not to take any time off, not even a weekend, except once in a while. Fortunately most working photographers get into the field and spectacular locations to make up for it. Me, I just stay in the salt mines for the most part, for now, with an occasional beautiful trip to San Francisco to cool off, which is great. Happy trekking.

  2. Well it looks like I just missed the swarm of skeeters!
    Glad you had a good time even with the medical issues.

  3. THANKS for commenting, guys!

    Mr. Okner: I suspect that the mosquitoes are going to be bad in the Sierra throughout the summer. The highest elevations are just now being uncovered from the snow.

    Mr. Hyde: you need to take more time off! I probably spend way too much time myself in front of the computer working and marketing, but it must be balanced with adventures into the great out of doors: For my sanity, for my health, for serious reality checks.

    Take a few days off!

  4. Mike,

    There is a Long Lake a few miles down the Little Lakes trail just up the road from Tom’s Place. I’m guessing this isn’t the same as the Lake you mentioned. Rebecca and I were on that trail – which starts at a bit over 10K ft – four weeks ago and didn’t run into mosquito swarms but did see more than normal. The hike to Ruby Lake which I believe is at a bit over 11K ft was as high as we climbed and, at the time, the lake was still ice/snow covered. I’m guessing you are very familiar with this “family friendly” trail. It may be an option for photo tours that aren’t as athletically challenging as a back pack trip. Plus there are a half dozen small campgrounds on Rock Creek with easy access to the trailhead. I’ve got several shots from the area on my flickr site

    2Hearts Photo - TC - 14.jpg
  5. Hi Ernie! THANKS for your comments. NO, it is not the same Long Lake. Indeed, I’m very familiar with Mosquito Flats and Little Lakes Valley, and have hiked and backpacked throughout the region, including having climbed a number of the peaks (including Bear Creek Spire, which you have in your Flickr set).

    THANKS for sharing and commenting, Ernie! I hope everything is great with you!

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