Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Convict Lake Backpack - A Photographic Journey

Title: Lake Mildred Sunrise / © Greg Clure
A bad day on the trail is better than your best day at the office. I try to go backpacking 3 or 4 times a year and this trip is number three for 2010. The Eastern Sierras is a favorite location and I go with a group of seasoned backpackers self-named "The Old Goats". This time we hiked from Convict Lake, located just south of the Mammoth area, up Convict Creek to a campsite at Lake Mildred. A medium sized alpine lake with a large alpine meadow and meandering stream behind the lake. Mid-August finds the wildflowers in full bloom at 9,000-11,000 foot elevation level in the Sierras. Typical of a three day weekend trip, we drive-up on a Thursday afternoon, camp at a location near the trail head, then head-up the trail Friday morning. We make camp, do some local exploration and rest. On Saturday, we day-hike further and higher, generally to more alpine lakes and streams. Sunday morning finds us packing up and heading back down the mountain and driving back home. We camped at the Convict Lake campground Thursday night. At sunrise we were visited by the local deer. A group of three came right up to our campsite in their efforts to munch on some flowering shrubs for breakfast. I don't generally take my 100-400mm telephoto lens with me on these backpacks due to its 4 pound weight. Although nice to have for wildlife, it was not missed as the deer came within 5 or 6 feet of my camera and my 24-105mm lens was perfect for a couple of up close and personal deer portraits.
Lake Mildred is about 4.25 miles up the mountain from the trail head at Convict Lake. The trail mostly parallels Convict Creek to Lake Mildred with a 2,000 foot elevation gain, this trail is up hill all the way. There is one creek crossing that requires water shoes where a bridge once stood that was washed out years ago. The issue with crossing a fast flowing creek is the slippery rocks. While no more than knee deep water where I crossed, it was slow going requiring careful foot placement to maintain balance and prevent a slip into 50 degree water with a 42 pound pack on my back. After crossing the creek, we had a little over a mile to our base camp and the effect of the higher altitude could definitely now be felt as each step forward seemed to be twice as hard. There were only a few one or two man campsites at the lakes edge so the size of our group dictated we camp in a larger site down a small hill from the lake's edge which turned out to be a good thing as both nights were extremely windy and the depression provided some protection from the 60-70 mile an hour wind gusts. Friday afternoon, after eating a late lunch and setting up camp, I wondered around the lake taking some shots of both the lake and the streams coming in and out of the lake and was able to get one keeper at sundown as the sun had dropped to the mountain's edge creating a mountain silhouette, a sun star burst effect and blue sky. A simple yet pleasing image considering the harshness of the late afternoon light. The temperature was great, with cool nights and mild day temps, most of Saturday was overcast which made for excellent hiking conditions. The wind rarely stopped blowing most of the weekend which made photographing the area very difficult. I like to shoot moving water at slower shutter speeds to render that velvety motion feeling of flowing water, but the wind blowing the vegetation around required a higher shutter speed to freeze it from blurring and negate the wind's effects. So, I had to compromise, with a little faster shutter than I would have liked and I needed to wait for a lull in the wind to snap the shutter each time. At sunrise on Saturday morning, I was able to get a few good images from the shore of Lake Mildred with the sunlight hitting the top of Red Slate Mountain with warm, golden alpine light for the background with some wildflowers in the foreground and the lake in the mid-ground. In another shot, I used some drift wood protruding from the lake as my foreground. After breakfast, we dawned our day packs and headed up a 700 foot climb to Lake Dorothy, a very large alpine lake ringed by step cliffs and backed by three high mountain peaks. I was able bag a few more shots here, one from the end of the lake looking down the length the of the lake to the three mountain peaks but angled upward emphasizing the approaching storm clouds. The other photo was taken from the shore at a low angle emphasizing the blue shades of the lake's water. Another 500 foot climb found us at Lake Genevieve, another good sized lake highlighted by the densest wildflower covered creek inlet I had ever seen to date. Tall flowers, two to six feet high tightly packed along the creeks edges at peak bloom. The dominate flowers being the yellow Five-Finger Cinquefoil and the white flowering California Corn Lilly were punctuated with a smattering of bright red Indian Paintbrush and deep blue-purple Larkspur. With loads of green leaves and the rushing creek water I was able to capture a number of good images here in between wind gusts. You will find four example of these wildflowers in my Eastern Sierra Gallery along with all the the other photos mentioned above. Oh, by the way, since most of the group fishes, we had plenty of fresh trout to eat Saturday night after returning from our day hike, mostly 8-10 inch Golden Trout and one large 14 inch Rainbow Trout. The Rainbow was caught from Lake Dorothy and the Goldens were mostly from Lake Edith, which is located just above Lake Geneieve and a few from Lake Mildred. Fresh fish does not get any better than this! Sunday morning, I took a few more shots around Lake Mildred at sunrise before packing up and heading back down the trail. A good trip, it could have been better without the wind, but you have to take what your given when it comes to nature. Please visit my website gallery for all the fine art images taken on this trip at,

1 comment:

  1. Hello, very much enjoyed your blog about Convict and Mildred lakes. I first attempted my first hike on that trail to mildred when i was 6 years old. Didn't get very far but through the years every summer vacation. I would go with my dad and older brother. I went a total of 13 times up that trail and made it 8 of those 13 attempts. We would camp in that meadow my first 3 or 4 years. Then eventually we were able to make it the 4 miles to lake mildred. My dad used to say that it was four miles as the crow flies but a lot longer climbing those steep trails. Nothing felt better then when you could see the small camp ground as you approach Mildred. I tumble down the steep mountain about 30 yards before my cousin saved me from rolling all the way down to the river. My brother hyper-ventalated once because he ran back to get his knife he had left behind during a short rest. We saw a moutain lion once on the oppisite side of the river. Just a great experience making that hike. Thanks for your blog it brought back fond memories of my father who passed a few years ago. The best thing I experienced was on the first time we had made it to lake mildred,it was getting dark when I laid down to sleep. I woke up a couple of hours later when it was dark outside my tent. My dad was standing outside and was smoking his tabacco pipe like always. He motioned for me to come out of my pup tent. I crawled out and asked what? He pointed towards the night sky and i finnally looked up and saw the stars. I was blown away because the stars were so much closer to us at that elevation you could almost touch them. amazing. Anyways sorry for going on for so long, thanks again. LoL i could never make that hike again I'm 47 now and in 28 years I've put on 150 pounds since the last time i made that hike. But i have the memories and the pictures thanks to you.