By Scott Sady
We just finished the second annual July 4th backpacking trip in the High Sierra. For me, I prefer to celebrate America by spending time out in her wilds as opposed to watching things blow up. Monique and I and various friends have made it a point to hit the trail for 5-7 days at least once each year, but recently we have settled into the July 4 week with the same group and have had a great time. This year’s trip took us up and over Bishop Pass, with the first night at Saddlerock lake just below Bishop Pass. Mosquitoes were worse this year than I have ever seen them and were really the only downside to an otherwise awesome trip. Our second day was a little longer and took us up over 11,900 foot Bishop Pass, across Dusy Basin and over 11,600 ft Knapsack pass and down to the middle of the Barrett lakes in Palisade Basin. We liked this spot so well we stayed two days. Big rocks for jumping off, an awesome lakeside campsite and no people pretty much epitomized what we look for in the backcountry. Most of this area is off trail now, with the main trail heading down from Bishop Pass to join the John Muir Trail in Le Conte Canyon. From here we did a day hike up and over Thunderbolt Pass and looked at some of the routes up Thunderbolt and North Palisade peaks. The route up Thunderbolt pass is straight up the drainage from the large lake directly below it. There is a decent use trail from there right up the middle. A difficult scramble down a scree field awaits on the other side, but it’s fairly short. Ultimately the group decided to head back over Knapsack pass to lake 11,393 in Dusy Basin where we stayed our final night and got caught in a light thunderstorm before hiking back over Bishop Pass in a drizzle and down to the car on day 5. This area is comparable to Humphrey’s Basin, but a bit more scenic in my opinion. Our trip report from the Sawtooth Range is here.
For this trip, my main goal was to do some night photography. The moon was going from just past 1/4 to nearly 1/2 full, waxing, during our trip. A waxing moon is key because it is still in the sky and setting just after dark while the Milky Way is low in the sky. The Milky Way in summer starts out low, hugging the mountains in a southerly aspect as soon as it gets dark. It progresses to rise full overhead and is pretty much directly overhead, and mostly useless for photos, by about 2 am. So I would set my alarm each night to get up in time to catch the moon set, which looks just like a sunset on the mountain peaks, only with stars, and stay up until after the moon had set and the sky was full of stars as only the light-less high sierras can provide.
I used a Nikon D800e for all of these shots, except the obvious iphone ones. I lugged the fantastic, and fantastically heavy nikon 14-24 f2.8 lens up specifically because I was focusing on night photography this trip and wanted that wide angel to really capture the expansive sky. Almost all night exposures are at 30 seconds at f2.8 and ISO 3200. These photos and many more are available for purchase or license from my online archive.