Monthly Archives: November 2012

Skiing Lassen Peak

Skiing Lassen Peak

Lassen Peak offers some of Northern California’s finest backcountry skiing. Located at the southern extremity of the spectacular Cascade Range, Lassen Peak is notorious for heavy snowfall. Its proximity, combined with a relatively high elevation, equates to a long season and great Spring skiing. As the Lassen Loop Road is not plowed in Winter, the approach this time of year is a long one and may warrant a multi-day trip. In the Spring, the National Park Service begins to plow the road, with the intention of having it completely opened by Memorial Week-End. With the enormity of the task, the clearing process happens incrementally, over a period of weeks, and is dependent on weather. The Park Service starts at the Manzanita Lake Entrance Station and plows south to the Devastated Area (9.3 miles). Then they move their equipment to the Southwest Entrance and work north, over the pass (8500 feet), to the Devastated Area.

Once the Summit Trail parking area is accessible, you have a number of options for skiing Lassen Peak. You can climb the 2.3 mile trail to the summit and ski the Southeast Face back to the parking lot, or you can arrange to leave a shuttle vehicle at the Devastated Area and ski the Northeast Face for a 4000 foot descent–this, after just a 2000 foot climb! This run requires additional commitment and higher level of ability, as the top 1000 feet is rated Advanced (Black Diamond). Below an elevation of 9000 feet, the skiing is rated Intermediate. Diehards can easily do laps, though a second run requires the additional logistics of placing still another vehicle at the Devastated Area parking lot, or arranging a ride with new-found friends.

The Spring corn on Lassen Peak is legendary. For me, Spring skiing is the proverbial icing on the cake. One should always be prepared. That includes expecting the unexpected. Bluebird days do not preclude the possibility of avalanches. As temperatures warm and the snow becomes saturated with water, weak layers can release wet slides. Climb early and descend early. Check weather conditions and assess the snow. If snow stability is suspect, turn around or choose a safe alternative route. Carry a beacon, probe, and shovel, and know how to use your gear. At times, an ice axe and crampons may be required. On a mid-May ascent of Lassen Peak via the Summit Trail, a friend and myself encountered a 100-foot wide patch of glazed ice on a steep, shaded hillside. As we were skinning up on tele-gear, we dug our edges into the ice and prayed. It was one step at a time–one ski placed safely in front of the other. To fall here would have meant an uncontrolled 300-foot slide with potentially serious consequences. Recounting the incident years later, my friend described the experience as “…f*cking scary.”
















Being prepared includes a level of physical fitness. While the Summit Trail is only 2.3 miles, it maintains a fairly consistent 15 percent grade. With skis and the necessary accompanying gear, this moderate hike requires extra exertion. Also, physical fitness allows for more laps, faster laps, which means more skiing.

Bring your camera, as the summit plateau offers striking aesthetics, and the panoramic view from the top is one of the finest anywhere. Lassen Volcanic National Park provides an abundance of opportunity to ski world-class terrain. Brokeoff Mountain, at the south end of the Park, is accessible year-round. Chaos Crags is a relatively short hike from the Manzanita Lake Entrance Station at the north end, and guarantees exhilarating skiing in a spectacular setting. Many excellent guide books offer trip information to several destinations within Lassen Park. Check out 50 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Summits in California, by Paul Richins, Jr. (The Mountaineers, Seattle). This guide also includes four very worthwhile trips on Mount Shasta.

For more information on Lassen Peak and current conditions, visit the Lassen Volcanic National Park website.

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions.

Safe skiing!! Until next time, happy image-making…


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Photo Tip #8: Winter Photography–Shooting in Inclement Weather

Winter Photography

Winter is an especially photogenic time of year. The quality of light, long shadows, and starkness of the season lend themselves to dramatic image-making. What better time to be out and embracing nature? For me, Winter is the season to be shooting, but conditions can be cold, windy, and wet. With the proper gear, some preparation, and a willingness to embrace the elements, you will come away with extraordinary shots–it is inevitable. Be adventurous! I love backcountry skiing and that affords me unlimited photographic opportunity.

PRECEPT #1: Keep yourself warm and dry.

The single most important aspect of winter photography is your comfort. If you’re miserable, you won’t be hanging out waiting for the clouds to part and reveal that sunlit peak. Layer up. Dress in multiple layers, starting with a capilene or polypropylene base layer top and bottom. I prefer two pairs of socks–a light liner sock and a mid- to heavyweight wool sock. Two socks reduce the occurrence of blisters and keep the feet toasty when worn in conjunction with an insulated Gore-Tex boot. In my case, I am wearing a (Scarpa T2) plastic telemark ski boot. Next, I recommend an insulated wind or snow pant, depending on the situation. If conditions are particularly cold or windy, I might add a wool pant between my base layer and my ski pants. I am usually able to stay adequately warm with a fleece pullover and breathable, waterproof ski jacket. I may add a sweater if things get extreme or I anticipate periods of inactivity. Headware is a must. 80% of a person’s heat loss is through the top of the head. Include a pair of Goretex gloves, as well as a light fleece liner glove. Keep a balaclava in your pack to keep face and neck warm.

Please note: absolutely no cotton! This is a recipe for disaster. Cotton soaks up moisture, including sweat, and offers no insulating value.

Remember your sunglasses and sunscreen.


Winter Photography

Because the environment is cold, and often windy and wet, I minimize my photographic gear to the very basics. A camera body and extra batteries, a 24mm superwide-angle lens, a 35-105 zoom, and a polarizing filter for both lenses. Occasionally I include a small, lightweight tripod if I know the shooting situation warrants it– i.e., I’m camping and want to shoot a sunset or sunrise. Be prepared. Be sure all batteries are freshly charged. Keep spares in an inside jacket pocket so they stay warm. Two spare batteries provide additional insurance. Bring a couple of extra 8 or 16 GB memory cards (empty and formatted). Starting out with an empty card in the camera assures a minimum of fiddling around in the wind, rain, and snow.

PRECEPT #2: Keep your camera dry.

Next to staying warm and dry yourself, protecting your camera is paramount. DSLRs are a maze of electronic circuits and connections which are especially vulnerable to moisture. Some high-end pro cameras, like the Canon 1Ds Mark III, claim to be ‘weather-resistant.’ Regardless, you don’t want to test anyone’s claims. Water’s just a bad idea! A small, heavy-duty plastic bag can provide waterproof protection both in transport and while not shooting. Because they are small and lightweight, pack a couple of extras.

While the new digital cameras are much more reliant on electronics, this reduces the number of moving parts. The result is a camera that is more dependable in extremely cold conditions. What usually fails in cold weather is the camera’s battery, so keep all spare batteries warm. Carry a soft lens cloth for drying the lens element and viewfinder. Keep your camera clean. Check to see that lens mounts are clean and free of dust, as well as any contact points. Be sure that all optics are clean prior to leaving home. This includes filters, lens elements (front and back), viewfinder, and LCD screen. A clean lens element and viewfinder are less likely to fog up.


Winter Photography















PRECEPT #3: Get out and shoot.

The more time one spends with camera in hand, the more likely one is going to capture that all-too-rare jaw-dropping shot. If you live in snow country, as I do, Winter can last up to six months of the year. I can’t afford to sit around waiting for the Spring thaw. As always, the time is now–so get out and shoot!

Best wishes for a healthy and enjoyable Winter season. Please contact me with any questions, comments, or suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…


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