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Waterfalls of South Siskiyou County

Waterfalls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Siskiyou County, with its abundant lakes, rivers, and creeks, is home to a number of outstanding waterfalls. Many of these are easily accessible, while others require more effort. With a little planning and an early start, you can visit several of the area’s spectacular waterfalls in a one-day tour.

Mossbrae Falls and Hedge Creek Falls, in the vicinity of Dunsmuir, are two beautiful and varied examples of the south county’s many waterfalls. Mossbrae Falls percolates out of a broad expanse of verdant cliffside, before joining a shallow stretch of the Sacramento River. The setting feels almost tropical, with its rich abundance of ferns, grasses, and other water-loving flora. Unfortunately, the trail to Mossbrae Falls is closed at this time, while a new and safer access trail is being considered. Near Dunsmuir’s northern city limit, Hedge Creek Falls lies nestled in the coolness of a deeply shaded basalt gorge. The falls cascade for twenty feet through some of the area’s outstanding columnar basalt before resuming the journey to the Sacramento River. Spring is an especially good time to visit, as the creek’s flow is full and diminishes later in the season. Bring your camera and tripod.

waterfalls_hedge creek_webFive miles east of the town of McCloud are the Lower, Middle, and Upper McCloud Falls. These three unique falls lie within a two-mile stretch of the beautiful and scenic McCloud River. The Lower Falls plunge ten feet through a distinct cleft in the rock before joining a large pool below. The Middle Falls is the largest and perhaps most impressive of the three falls. At 35 feet high and 70 feet wide, it provides a wonderful photo opportunity. For the more adventurous, Winter is an especially photogenic time to visit the falls. The relatively short ski or snowshoe in is well worth the effort and can yield striking results. The Upper Falls lie at the terminus of a long, beautifully sculpted basalt channel, then plunge some twenty feet to the emerald pool below.

Faery Falls, in the Castle Lake drainage, is one of the Mount Shasta area’s lesser known waterfalls. Located upstream from the once-famous Ney Springs Resort, Faery Falls rollercoasters some sixty feet over a granite cliff face, to join the Sacramento River below Box Canyon. A word of caution. While standing at the top of the falls a few years back, a friend and myself were unknowingly standing within six feet of a coiled Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. With the noise of the crashing falls, the dappled sunlight, and the animal’s excellent camouflage, we were completely oblivious to the snake’s presence until I turned and perceived a rattling tail out of the corner of my eye. Please be snake smart. Step cautiously over rocks and logs. All animals require water and tend to gather near these life-sustaining sources–including rattlesnakes.

Waterfalls

Mount Shasta is home to Siskiyou County’s most dramatic waterfalls. Mud Creek Falls, Ash Creek Falls, and Whitney Falls comprise this area’s highest and most dramatic waterfalls. This being said, they are also the most difficult to access and require modest route-finding skills. Mud Creek Canyon, on Mount Shasta’s east side, poses the greatest obstacle in circumnavigating the mountain. A truly imposing feature, this canyon cuts a dizzying 2000 feet through the soft, easily eroding volcanic strata. The 150-foot falls are dwarfed in the immensity of this chasm and not easily approached due to the steep and unstable strata. Ash Creek Falls is accessed via the Brewer Creek Trail on the mountain’s northeast side. At 290 feet tall, Ash Creek Falls is the tallest waterfall on Mount Shasta. The two-and-a half mile round-trip hike requires some route-finding and bushwacking. Whitney Falls is another of the mountain’s spectacular features, plunging some 200 feet, before resuming its course through narrow, v-shaped Whitney Canyon. The creek’s flow is seasonal and greatest in the hot Summer months. As Whitney Creek is glacier-fed, fluctuations can vary significantly with the time of day. Depending on conditions, the creek may not flow until afternoon. The trail to Whitney Falls is more obscure and seeing less use since the Bolam Creek debris flow buried the trailhead in 1997. Since that event, the U.S. Forest Service is no longer maintaining the trail. As with all the mountain’s waterfalls, viewing is a challenge and requires off-trail experience, so please use caution and travel prepared. Approximately one mile to the southeast of Whitney Falls lies Coquette Falls. While I have never visited these falls, accessing them appears to be roughly similar to the other three–be prepared for a cross-country scramble. In the Summer months, temperatures can climb into the 90s, even at elevation, so carry plenty of drinking water and/or a filter or purifier.

Two great resources for hiking the Mount Shasta area are 75 Hikes in California’s Mount Shasta & Lassen Volcanic National Park Regions, by John R. Soares, and The Mount Shasta Book, by Andy Selters and Michael Zanger. Both offer detailed hiking information to several of the destinations mentioned above.

I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Spring Arrives to Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring has officially arrived to the Mount Shasta area. With an unusually dry and warm Winter, the landscape is looking more reminiscent of May than early April. After receiving above-average precipitation in December, California experienced its driest January-February on record. Aside from the series of snowstorms in December, we never saw much of a Winter. High temperatures remained in the 50s and 60s throughout most of the season. A below-average snowpack and continued warm conditions equate to an earlier-than-normal start to the hiking season. Backcountry access is a month or so ahead of schedule.

Mount Shasta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Castle Crags provides some the area’s finest early season hiking. Some snow still lingers on the Crags’ northerly aspects, but otherwise the trails are clear. This is a wonderful time of year to hike and climb Castle Crags, as crowds are minimal and temperatures pleasant. Creeks are flowing abundantly and Spring’s renewal is evident. With a base elevation of 2000 feet, the Crags can get quite hot in the Summer and are home to a variety of snakes–including the Pacific Northwest Rattler–so caution is always advised in the warmer months. Black Butte is another favorite early season hike. Its summit offers spectacular views of Mount Shasta and the Eddys. Some snow can still be found on the trail, though it isn’t much of an obstacle at this point. Waterproof footwear is recommended. Black Butte, like the Crags, is known for rattlesnakes, so please be aware and step carefully over rocks and logs.

Mount Shasta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backcountry skiing and snowshoeing on Mount Shasta’s south side continue to be good and should remain so into May, dependent on weather. The Old Ski Bowl (7600 feet) is reporting a snow depth of 104 inches as of April 1. Access to the mountain’s north aspects should open up a month or so earlier than usual–figure late-May to June. Skiing and climbing on the backside of Mount Shasta typically remain good through June. I have skied Brewer Creek as late as July 4th and found conditions to be relatively good, in spite of the sun cupping. Rafting and kayaking has seen an early start and short season on many of Siskiyou County’s rivers. The current flow (March 22) on the Upper Sacramento River at Box Canyon Dam is approximately 450 cfs (cubic feet per second)–too low for rafting. The minimum flow for hardshells and inflatable kayaks on the Upper Sac is 400 cfs.

Siskiyou County is rich with wildflowers and a few species are beginning to make an appearance, so pack your camera. This is an especially beautiful time in the northstate and photographic opportunities abound. I am offering photo tours to Castle Crags State Park and Mossbrae Falls, as well as other select destinations throughout the Mount Shasta area. For more information, or to book a photo tour, please contact me.

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

 

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Photo Tip #1: Determining Exposure

Determining Exposure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTO TIP #1: Turn off the Automatic Mode.

This is the first step in taking control of your image-making. Don’t let the camera make critical exposure decisions for you. In this easy lesson, you will gain an overview of light, the camera’s metering system, and accurately determining exposure. This is photography’s most basic precept and with a little practice it will quickly become second nature.

Let’s start with what is commonly referred to as the exposure triangle–which consists of your ISO (light sensitivity), aperture (lens opening), and shutter speed. There is an interrelationship between these three components and when you change one setting, it directly affects the other two. A camera’s ISO settings range from 50 (the least sensitive), 100, 200, 400, 800, etc…up to as high as 25,600, for extremely low-light situations. Changing your ISO setting from 100 to 200, increases the exposure by 1 stop. Reducing your ISO setting from, say, 400 to 200, decreases exposure by 1 stop. The general rule is to use as low an ISO setting as conditions allow to reduce unwanted noise in the image. Aperture refers to the size of the lens opening (f-stop). Your f-stop determines the amount of light reaching the sensor or film plane. Full stops range from f/1.8 (wide open), 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, up to f/22 or f/32 (smallest opening). Stopping down from f/8 (larger) to f/16 (smaller) results in a 2-stop decrease in exposure, and so you must reduce your shutter speed and/or increase the ISO setting a total of 2 stops.  Shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter is open and allowing light to hit the sensor. Settings on a digital SLR generally range from 30 seconds up to 1/8000 second. A slow shutter speed requires a smaller aperture to compensate for a longer exposure time. A fast shutter speed requires a larger lens opening to allow for a decreased exposure time. For example, if you are shooting a sporting event at an ISO of 100 with a lens opening of f/11 at 1/125 second and you want to increase your shutter speed to 1/500 second to freeze the action, you have reduced the amount of light you are letting in by 2 stops. Increasing your shutter speed from 1/125 to 1/250 second reduces your exposure 1 stop, and increasing it to 1/500 second reduces the exposure by another stop, for a total of 2 stops. To adjust for the decrease, it is necessary to open the lens and/or increase the ISO setting 2 stops. In this case, I would choose to open the lens 1 stop, from f/11 to f/8, and increase the ISO setting 1 stop, from ISO 100 to ISO 200. This allows me to maintain a relatively small aperture for increased depth-of-field and sharp focus with minimum noise.

A brief word on depth-of-field. The term depth-of-field refers to the area within the picture that is in sharp focus. In general, the smaller the lens opening (f/22 or f/32), the greater the depth-of-field. The larger the lens opening (f/1.4 or f/1.8), the shallower the depth-of-field. When you focus directly on your subject, the depth-of-field begins 1/3 in front of your subject and ends 2/3 behind it–that is, if you’ve determined your depth-of-field to be 9 feet, that area of sharp focus begins 3 feet in front of the subject and ends 6 feet behind it. I will talk more about depth-of-field in a future Photo Tips post.

The Gray Card and Determining Exposure

The average scene you encounter is calculated to have a light reflectivity of 18%, and so the camera’s light meter is calibrated to this 18% reflectivity. This is well and good, but the majority of scenes are not average, and if you rely on the Automatic setting, you will likely get average results, and most of the time. Have you ever taken a photo of a snow-covered landscape, to find that the snow is rendered a dingy gray tone? In the days of film, this was always a horrific discovery. Of course, with digital technology the results are instantaneous and so you can view the image and adjust accordingly. The camera’s meter is not able to determine when a particular scene deviates from this 18% reflectivity, such as sunlit snow, which may have an 80 or 90% reflectivity–or a dark object, which may have little-to-no reflection at all. The meter is always going to assign these things a tonal value of 18%.

An 18% Gray Card allows you to accurately determine exposure in any lighting condition. They are available at B & H PhotoVideo, or any camera supplier. To use the Gray Card, you simply point your camera in the direction of your intended subject. You then place the card in front of the camera lens until it just fills your viewfinder. It is imperative that your subject and gray card receive the same illumination. If your subject is in full sun, the gray card must also be reflecting full sun. Take your reading. You may choose to fine-tune your exposure by bracketing 1/2 to 1 stop.

A little trick I use while skiing is to meter directly off the snow. In bright light conditions, I will take my reading in the same direction and light as my intended subject, and then open the lens 2 stops and bracket. On overcast days, I will meter off the snow and open 1 to 1-1/2 stops, depending on the intensity of the light. You can also meter off the palm of your hand and open 1 stop. I have a lens cleaning cloth that doubles as a Gray Card. It’s very compact and extremely lightweight. For minimalists such as myself, it’s the perfect solution. Eventually, through using the gray card repeatedly, you will learn to recognize objects with an approximate 18% tonal value, allowing you to meter on the fly.

Please feel free to contact me with any comments, questions or suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Mount Shasta–A Place Called Home

Mount Shasta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I arrived in Mount Shasta in April of 1981. I came here with a deep love of nature and wild places, but more I came as a photographer. Though Mount Shasta lies just east of Interstate 5–the main artery of the west–it is surprising how many people have no idea where it is located. We are situated 60 miles south of the Oregon border and, along with Lassen Peak, form the southern extremity of the Cascade Range. With its volcanic origins and incredible diversity, the photographic opportunities here are limitless. Mount Shasta, at 14,179 feet, dominates the landscape for hundreds of miles in every direction. Lassen Volcanic National Park, which erupted violently in 1915, is a reminder that the Cascades are very much alive and active. Castle Crags, a few miles south of Mount Shasta City, offers a little piece of Yosemite-like grandeur, while the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges to the northeast see the migration of millions of birds every Spring and Fall.

Siskiyou (pronounced Sis-Q) County, in which Mount Shasta resides, boasts 7 wilderness areas–including the Mount Shasta, Castle Crags, Trinity-Alps, and Marble Mountain Wilderness Areas. Towering peaks, pure, rushing streams, and a California climate make living here ideal. We recently celebrated Fourth of July all across America, and in the interest of celebrating our nation’s independence several years back, I spent three days skiing solo on Mount Shasta’s northeast side. Aside from the backcountry ranger who skied up to my tent to say hello, I didn’t speak to another human being for three days–and this, on the busiest holiday of the season. It’s that kind of place–relatively uncrowded and wide open.

All the seasons offer their reasons to visit the Mount Shasta area. As a skier and photographer, Winter is my personal favorite. Few things in life are more beautiful than the natural world freshly cloaked in snow. And that Winter light! But it’s Summer now and the livin’ is easy. The meadows are lush and vibrant with wildflowers, and the backcountry lakes are accessible.

I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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