The Historic Storm in the High Sierra

Mammoth Mountain had a record 202 inches, 17 feet) of snow in ten days! There were three huge storms in the "Atmospheric River" from Hawaii.

Later in the storm cycle, I was resting here in our home in Mammoth, feeling a bit under the weather, tired from a long art show, and from all the stress of all the Holiday activities. And wondering, just where can I make some images when the storm begins to clear? As you can see below, we only had our 1989 Toyota 4WD pickup still driving in the mess here in town. This is an incredible snow car, it has been in the family for 27 years, and we took it to Bishop when Dylan was born! I needed a close by location where we could drive, and be safe in the truck. Convict Lake was the obvious choice. I know that the Convict makes some lists as a "landscape photographers' dream" as a must see location. But I have not done all that well at Convict over the years. There are problems with lighting in the winter, and more subtle nuances get in the way later in the year. So now after the biggest storm of my lifetime, it seemed like the best choice.

My daughter, Sabrina was home from Yale, and we chose the first afternoon of clearing clouds and showers. When we arrived the sky was clear, and I was disappointed. The conditions were prime for a "once-in-a- lifetime" image, but the sun was out, there were few clouds to soften the bright contrast of the afternoon. After mulling over the possibilities for a bit, we realized the sun would set in a perfect location over Laurel Mountain and I had only minutes to prepare the capture. I was NOT "mindfully rested and quiet" after the Holidays, and I had last used the camera for real on my last trip to San Francisco. The shot presented itself as a panoramic, and it needed a three-stop split ND filter. Even with my Canon 5DSR the contrast was still too much, as shown by a glance at the histogram. Exposure needed to be planed in advance for a pano, and just that instant I discovered that I would have one chance to capture the setting sun with a classic starburst. Did I have the correct lens to include any possible composition, was the lens set to a small aperture, would the split filter be in the correct position as I exposed several captures to stitch together later? All seemed to be good when I reviewed the sequence. But minutes later I noticed that the camera was in Aperture Priority mode. A No-No for panoramas. And the moment was lost. Fortunately all works out later in Lightroom. But I will always remember this instant when teaching workshops. Margaret and I always try arrange a "Piece de Resistance" photograph for our students, now I understand again how most students might feel at these tense moments. I will be a more effective teacher, helping each to obtain their personal vision.

Another capture from that amazing afternoon.


Here is an IPhone image of me at Convict just after the "moment" of truth, and another of our cars in Mammoth after storm number two.

We wish you all the best in the New Year.

Vern and Margaret