Whitney Portal and the Alabama Hills

Photography from a recent trip up to the Alabama Hills and Mount Whitney Portal.

I’ve been working long 6-day weeks on Spider-Man and that seventh day (Sunday) is usually very precious time to relax and reset. I realized a few weeks ago that I needed to get out into nature at least one more time before the end of the show. The plan was to leave immediately after work on Saturday evening with some friends, drive up to Death Valley to shoot star trails and spend the night, shoot all day Sunday through sunset and then drive back Sunday night. It was going to be a very rigorous trip, especially after working long days the week leading up, but I figured it would be worth it to get out of the city. Christian (friend and coworker) and Nate (friend) joined me for the trip

As it got closer to the weekend, we started checking the weather and realized that Death Valley was going to swell up to 110 degrees just for the weekend we had been eyeing. Every other weekend this month was in the 80′s and 90′s but we were thrown a 110 degree weekend. The decision was made to change destinations and we ended up deciding on the Alabama Hills below Mt. Whitney which was predicted to be in the 90′s instead. Taking Nate’s brand new BMW X5 (that he had picked up from the dealership earlier that day), we got up to the Alabama hills in style around 11:00 at night. We found a wonderful campsite, set up camp, and set out to do some night star trails photography.

Night time photography takes much longer than you’d think. Even though I stayed up to about 4:30am shooting, I only did about five setups even though my longest exposure was 25 minutes. The big thing that I wanted to try was throwing the stars out of focus, both for static shots as well as long star trails. I think my first few tests came out nicely, but this shoot gave me some ideas to try out on future shoots. All I need is more time!

The next morning we awoke to a very warm day with a completely clear sky. Feeling a bit exhausted from being up all night, we went into Lone Pine for breakfast and to discuss options. Since the valley was still going to be hot, we decided to hit up the mountains and explore the Whitney Portal area. At the Whitney visitor center, we got a chance to see friend and coworker Kurt Lawson’s epic photo of Mt Whitney’s 97 switchbacks illuminated at night. It really is a great photo and is well deserving of its place of honor at behind the desk at the visitor’s center.

We made the decision to, and got the permit to, head up to Lower Boy Scout Lake via the mountaineerss route from the Whitney Portal. None of us in our group had been up to the Portal, so this was going to be a first close look at Whitney for all of us. The mountaineer’s route starts off on the standard trail to Whitney Summit, but turns off after a little ways up the north fork of Lone Pine Creek. Once off the main trail, the route gets hard to follow at times with multiple options winding through the canyon, not all of them as efficient at the other. The most difficult section of the route has you switchbacking across basically a sheer rock face with just a few feet of ledge and large steps to climb up. We made it through without incident, but I’m sure it would have been more tough with all the gear needed for a winter summit attempt.

Two miles and 2200 feet later we got to Lower Boy Scout Lake. Quite a beautiful lake and we spent an hour or so relaxing and shooting. By this point though I had started to get altitude sickness so I didn’t do much shooting and spent most of my time relaxing. I guess going from sea level to over 10k feet with a lot of excursion isn’t the best idea. I still tried to enjoy myself and get some shots.

What a difference a thousand or two feet make. I was feeling pretty bad by the point I decided to head down, but after I dropped just a thousand feet I was pretty much back to 100%. The best way to cure altitude sickness is, well, drop in altitude. I was rewarded with some beautiful clouds at the very end of the hike towering over the mountains. Quite a nice way to end this excursion away from busy schedules and tight deadlines. Whitney, I will return for you!