Birthday in the Sand Dunes

Melissa had always told me how much she wanted to go to a hot springs and Great Sand Dunes National Park. Labor day was her birthday, so we took off to southern Colorado to climb and explore. We climbed for a day in Shelf Road, then made our way to the San Luis Valley. We found an awesome open camping spot on BLM land, then soaked in Joyful Journeys Hotsprings.







Sunday, we moved our campsite to Zapata Falls. We stopped in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to take some photos, then I missed the road to the falls and found these awesome wildish horses and a buffalo…

The road to Zapata Falls is 3.5 miles up a mountain gravel road that is in desperate need of grating. Even in Melissa’s jeep, it was a jarring road that we had to drive four times. “Oh, my poor car!” But the camping up there is great, and even on Labor Day weekend, we found a great spot.


The falls was incredibly crowded but worth going to see. We happened to be there for the 20 minutes or so that the sunlight streams down through the canyon, highlighting the falls’ mist.


Also, as expected, the Sand Dunes were overrun with tourists, so we drove down the 4WD road to a small parking lot. Luckily we got to right as someone was leaving, so we secured a spot. We took a nap under some trees, being rudely interrupted by a family of deer that came stomping through right next to us and loudly chewing leaves off the bushes all around us.

It was my 5th time at the dunes, but it never disappoints. Actually, with the smoke from the western forest fires, the light was absolutely incredible.








I’ve never seen the dunes with this much vegetation! It must have been a very wet August.










A couple came through, setting up camp and getting a front row seat to nature’s fireworks.




My friend, Dan Lehman, created these awesome La Croix seltzer water inspired tights that say “La Crushin It”. They’re sweet!

I couldn’t stop taking photos, the light was too good!




Right place at the right time!

Another couple joined us on our vantage point.




If you get the chance, it’s definitely worth while to watch the sunset from the interior of the sand dunes. I give it an A+.

After a lazy morning cleaning up at Zapata Falls Campground, we made our way down the mountain. We stopped at San Luis State Park to see if there was anything interesting. It was pretty barren accept for these sweet sun shades that litter the park.





The San Luis Valley, and everything east got smokier and smokier as we drove home. We went through the South Platte to avoid traffic, and it was almost impossible to see the climbing areas from the road. I couldn’t take it anymore and stopped on 93 to capture the epic sun, and of course my favorite tree. I love that you can see the sun spots on the sun!


This was a fun weekend for me shooting a ton of landscapes, I hope Melissa had fun for her birthday!

In Totality at Carhenge

I was pretty unsure of how I wanted to see the eclipse. I first had plans to pick a random field northeast of Cheyenne, WY to watch in relative solitude, with only my buddy, Scott Homan, but reports that the area might be cloudy deterred us from making the trek. Saturday we decided this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we should take the time to go into totality. I had been thinking that since the eclipse was at noon, the eclipse would not photograph well in most landscapes. I thought photographing people looking at the phenomenon would be more interesting, so we picked a spot where we thought there would be at least some other people watching, Alliance, Nebraska.

We took Sunday afternoon to slowly make our way up into Nebraska, driving through Pawnee National Grasslands. I’m not sure how it’s a national public land because it’s filled with oil rigs, grazing cattle, and wind turbines, but it does have its own kind of beauty.



The sky is huge out there in comparison to Boulder where the mountains block the view of much of the sky. We were ok with leaving the confusing grasslands when got off the maze of gravel roads onto highway 71.


This sign off of HW71 caught my attention. I had to turn around to take the shot

We drove into Scottsbluff, amazed with the bluffs that surround the town in Nebraska (not a place you think of having a variety of landscapes). Two Scotts ate dinner in Scottsbluff. On the drive, Scott Homan found that Carhenge was only a few miles north of Alliance, and I thought, there’s no other place for us to go! We drove in the dark from Scottsbluff on more dirt roads towards Alliance, found a field with a downed gate, pulled the car in and set up camp for the night.

We woke up to an amazingly wet and foggy morning.




The sleepy town of Alliance was very alive with Eclipse travelers, the activity looking quite out of place. There were several locals looking to make some cash from this one time opportunity, hosting viewing parties in their yards. But it was obvious the only place for the Scotts was Carhenge.


Scott acquired a pair of solar glasses and we watched the moon creep into the circumference of the sun.


The interesting spectacle of Carhenge! Definitely glad we wound up here!











In planning to focus on shooting the people watching the eclipse, and the eclipse being at around noon, I brought my Flashpoint Streaklight 360 Barebulb Flash to overpower the mid-day sun. Well, less over power and more fill in all the obvious shadows. It’s a style I had wanted to try for a while. I’ve mentioned it before, I think, but this is definitely one of my favorite strobes and works flawlessly in the Flashpoint R2 wireless system.





























The inevitable crystal worshipers



The Aliens, of course








For the 15 minutes or so before the totality, the light turned this very eery grey, and my insides starting tingling like the feeling right before a huge storm hits.


The moment the sky turned dark, the crowd gasped, and the photojournalists clicked away


There was a 360º sunset, definitely one of the things I was not expecting.

Then the moment everyone had been waiting for, some for the majority of their lives!




The light came back to a dull grey, people hugged each other and talked excitedly, expressing the magical experience they just had that words didn’t really do justice for.









Alright, this…this. I wish I had a video of this. A short, fat, middle aged man with a shoulder satchel pulled these unicorns out of his bag and lovingly placed each of the figures onto the bumper of the car, took out a nice camera, and shot the unicorns. Just as gingerly as he placed them, he picked them up, returned them to his satchel, and walked off into the crowd. He did it with the nonchalance of taking a tourist photo with his wife and children. I looked around to see if anyone else saw this happen, and no one else seemed to notice.


I’m definitely happy that Scott and I finally decided to make the trek to Nebraska to see Totality. Incredible experience. I’m psyched we went to a place with people and found Carhenge. Now, I need to come up with an amazing idea for shooting the next one in 2024!

Yosemite: an Introduction

Last month I took a job rigging ropes for a video shoot in Yosemite. I took the job knowing nothing about the details of the shoot, other than I would be rigging for another video guy (unnamed at the time, ending up being Andrew Peterson). The video we were shooting for followed a Danish TV investigative reporter, Morten Spiegelhauer, along a year long journey into rock climbing, seeing how dealing with fear on the rock changed his decision making process in everyday life. Morten had come to Yosemite a year ago to start the journey with Hans Florine, who holds the speed record for climbing the Nose of El Capitan (31 pitches in 2 hours and 23 minutes). Through mental and physical training, Morten culminated the experience by leading several trad pitches on El Capitan. It was awesome seeing his cool headed approach to leading, with only 4 trad leads under his belt previously.

I flew into Salt Lake City at 1am, arriving late because a woman with a carry-on dog refused to make her dog sit under the seat in front of her. After taxiing to the runway, we had to return to the gate so she could be escorted off the plane, screaming profanities, and the other passengers clapped once she was gone.

Andrew met me outside the airport with his Diesel Jeep Liberty, having slept for 3 hours in preparation for our 12 hour all night haul to The Valley. We made it somewhere into Nevada, but even with switching off driving we had to stop and sleep. Google was telling me we’d arrive 3 hours before we had to be there, so I reasoned we could sleep for two hours. We pulled off onto some gravel country road and made a quick bivvy.


photo by Andrew Peterson

After a mandatory In-n-Out stop outside of Sacramento, we started the drive back east towards Yosemite. We knew we were in a hurry (unnecessarily so, we beat the rest of the crew), but we stopped to take photos.











This being both of our first times in Yosemite, driving in was pretty magical. There are 3,000 foot cliffs towering over you with waterfalls dumping huge amounts of water on every side. The sun filters through the thick trees as slowly drive the one way road. Around every corner you catch sight of the sites you’ve heard of before: Horestail Falls, Bridalveil falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.


El Capitan towering over Southside Drive


Yosemite Falls, taken through the sunroof

We met up with Hans Florine and the Danish crew in the meadow below El Capitan, discussing our plans for the shoot. Morten, the subject of the video, wanted a warmup climb to get used to the rock, so Hans took us to climb Pine Line (thin 5.7) and the first pitch of Salathe (5.10c, dual crack fingers!!). We had limited time, so I top roped Salathe, with Hans telling me I only had 8 minutes to climb the 120′ route. It was a fun exercise in speed crack climbing, with Hans yelling, “30 seconds!”, “10, 9, 8…”

We reconvened with the rest of the crew, who were scouting locations and doing timelapses, and jet off to Hans’s Basecamp. We ate well for the week, having grilled steaks and pork pretty much every night (except on the wall).



The last light bouncing off of El Capitan


Dusk scene from Tunnel View

The next morning we do another warmup climb, with the full crew out taking video. I take Andrew up some variation of After Six so he can shoot down on Morten and Hans.


At the top of Manure Pile Buttress, waiting for Morten to finish the climb


Hans Florine in his natural environment

After we got down, Andrew and I went into full tourist mode. We drove around the loop, 1 mile, taking us an hour and half (mostly because of construction). We stopped at Yosemite Falls to get a closer look. There’s really not a great viewpoint of the falls that doesn’t include being sprayed with ice cold water and high winds, so we left the path and found some cool boulders.




These rocks are constantly wet with the spray from Yosemite Falls. It amazes me that it doesn’t look even more rainforesty


This couple has the right idea





We then drive the 45 minutes up to Glacier Point, overlooking Half Dome. It’s pretty incredible. Click on the image to see bigger

Andrew wanted to get a timelapse of the last light on El Capitan and climbers’ headlamps from Tunnel View. I wandered off, following random trails on the side of the mountain over the Tunnel chasing the sun.


I never got to the point where I could see around the other side of the mountain, but looking back, I found these amazing wild flowers with the entire Yosemite Valley behind them. To get this photo, I was precariously perched on loose soil, holding onto a tree above a couple hundred foot cliff. I wished I had had my climbing equipment.



I made my way back to Tunnel View, where Andrew was still working on his timelapses. These guys were too cute not to get a photo of.


Looking up at the El Capitan headwall from pitch 4 anchors

This was my first time in Yosemite. This was my first time on a big wall. The most pitches I’ve done in one push is eleven, I think. I’ve never ascended (climbed a rope fixed to anchors rather than climbing the rock) more than one pitch (100-ish feet) at a time. I typically do not have problems with heights or fear while climbing.

This time I was legitimately terrified, more so than I can remember in recent history. Climbing someone else’s old climbing rope they retired and donated as a fixed rope that has been hanging for an unknown amount of time in unknown weather conditions and is in an unknown state of health, attached to unknown anchors did not inspire confidence in me. I was attached with two Petzl ascenders that lock in one direction, which allows me to move up but will not slide down the rope unless I remove them from the rope. Both ends of the ropes were attached to anchors, but if for some reason the rope above me snapped, my ascenders would fly off the loose end instead of allowing me to stay attached to the anchor below. All of this is pretty irrational fear as these ropes are used quite often by climbers descending from Freeblast or by Jimmy Chin and other filmmakers to get to different vantage points.

Also, adding to my fear was the 50lb haul bag riding below my feet. Every step that I took into my stirrup attached to my ascender pulling on the frayed rope, I was adding 50 more pounds. I think if it had just been my weight, the fear would have been a lot less.

Every time I attached myself to an anchor, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Every time I had pulled out all the stretch in the old dynamic ropes and I had to transfer all of my hopes and dreams onto that rope, I had to overpower my fear…”F*$& F*$& F*$& F*$&”…”Guh, just go, the only way out of this is up!”. Six pitches up, I reach the Heart Ledge, and I finally am able to breathe normal again. There was a fixed line on the 5.10 up to the Mammoth Terraces, which I was happy I wouldn’t have to lead on the one static line we brought up.


Andrew jugging up the fixed line to the Pitch 4 Anchors


Andrew topping out pitch 5

After a final struggle to get my haul bag unstuck in the corner roof of the 5.10 I made it to the Mammoth Terraces and traverse the wide ledge to the anchors above Pitch 10 of Freeblast. Hans, Eric (Han’s employee), and Morten are just starting into pitch 6. I quickly rigged our static line to the anchor so Andrew could rappel down and shoot them on the exposed face before they were hidden by the Ear of Pitch 8 (or Half-Dollar). Andrew rappelled down to pitch 9, to shoot Hans coming over the edge of the “Half Dollar”.


Eric Griffith leading pitch 9, Hans Florine belaying, and Andrew Peterson jugging the static line

While Andrew was shooting them below where I could have a decent shot from the top, I took the opportunity to change. But I couldn’t resist getting naked and taking photos from ~ halfway up El Capitan.

Morten led the final pitch, and I captured video of him topping out. Andrew and I continued shooting video with the little remaining light before setting up our bivvies on the ledges. I took some opportunity to take photos in the fading light.





The weather on the ledges was perfect, good temps and very little wind. The stars came out in full force. I balanced my camera on the ledge to get this long exposure.


#thisishowiwokeup


My sleeping quarters for the night

While on the ledges, we tried to stay connected to the rope via ferrata setup by Hans from the bolts on Mammoth Terraces. While sleeping, I remained attached to the via ferrata and clipped my sleeping bag to the fixed line to Heart Ledge, since it was conveniently located. I did not consider that someone might be climbing up from Heart Ledge early in the morning. I woke up to my sleeping bag getting tugged towards the ledge and a very sweaty Jimmy Chin, National Geographic photographer and film maker, popped up onto the ledge. “Oh, hey Jimmy,” I said super casually. “Go back to sleep! Go back to sleep,” he said as he stepped over me. It was like a weird Santa Claus moment.

We saw Alex Honnold climbing up pitch 6 on Freeblast (Freerider), and figured Jimmy was filming him on some unknown project. Little did we know that Alex was training for his now famous free solo a week and half later.





On the ground again, looking back up at where we spent the night


The majesty of El Capitan. Alex Honnold and crew are the little specs in the shaded area

Andrew really wanted to get his timelapse from Tunnel view and was electing to stay up all night working on it. I went with him, getting a few shots I really wanted.




El Cap and Half Dome from the other side of the Tunnel


Moving the tripod, happy little accidents



Sunrise over the Dome


Andrew getting one last shot before we left Yosemite

Yosemite was amazing! I definitely want to go back and climb more, though I haven’t made up my mind whether I want to do big walls or not. There is tons of climbing away from the crowds to be done. We had bluebird weather all week, which is amazing for climbing, but not ideal for photography. I wished that we’d had a bit of inclimate weather to give the valley a bit more drama.

Till next time…

Carson City Off-Road

After a great week exploring Yosemite, I stopped in Reno for a few days to spend time with my sister. I had been wanting to shoot a new truck in an off-road scenario for a while, and my sister’s friend, Chris, had a 2016 GMC Canyon that was perfect. We went to the Washoe Boulders above Carson City just before sunset and got exactly what I was looking for.














The Stars from Escalante

Colorado has some incredible and unique landscapes. Many are slammed with tourists, but there are some that are much less known. Escalante Canyon is one of those. Similar rock to the Westgate Sandstone Cracks of Indian Creek, this canyon attracts trad climbers, hikers, and ATV-ers.



I didn’t shoot any climbing because I was too busy climbing! Can’t wait to get back there!

Mono Lake, California

This last February I went to Reno to help my sister move across town, and she took her boys and me to Mono Lake, California. The salt water lake is famous for its limestone tufa towers that seem to grow out of nothing. Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area.



Click on the photo to see larger.




Sebastian taking flight.




Sarah has gotten used to being my stand in model.











After the sun went down, the grass was glowing pretty spectacularly.


Sarah and my nephews moved into a cute little one room house that I’m kind of jealous of. I wish we had these kind of rental options in Boulder (affordable too)!

Sebastian is psyched he has a place to ride his bike now.




Glad I got to help out my sister and explore a bit.

Skiing in Red Mountain Pass

I was asked to join Paradox Sports for their ice climbing trip in Ouray, CO. It was impressive seeing the adaptive climbing on things most people would never dream of getting up. On Sunday, I was able to break away with Maury Birdwell and Lucas Onan to get some back country turns in at Red Mountain Pass. Great terrain that’s pretty easy to access made for a good morning.




A stitched panorama made from some 27 images that create an image that’s 5.6 feet x 3.12 feet at it’s native resolution!

I love driving US 285. It’s a beautiful drive that takes your past the Black Canyon of Gunnison and the Monarch Pass. I had to stop and take advantage of the light.