Summer’s End

I’m writing this from my hotel room in Fresno, Calfornia, and i’ll be flying back to the West Yellowstone jump base tomorrow.  It’s been a great two weeks out here, and included my favorite fire jump of the season, the 100 acre Irene Fire at 8000 feet in the high sierra and within view of the plume from the massive King Fire.  It was a pretty slow year for most jumpers, myself included, but I’ve had a great time at West Yellowstone exploring the park and doing things people do in the summer like canoeing, fishing, and of course photography.  By Tuesday I should be on the road on my way home to Virginia, where i’ll be until next May.

For most of the summer I was having trouble with this blog and was unable to post anything, so i’ve got a good number of photos to share today, though i’d say it was a pretty slow year for photography as well.




Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/100 sec at f/11, ISO 400

The last time Erin visited by herself, we did a 20 mile round-trip hike up to the Hilgard Basin, a really amazing glacial bowl surrounded by jagged peaks and dotted by little alpine lakes.  While we were there these flowers, called White Mule’s Ears, were growing in and around the shallower lakes, so I came up with an idea for this portrait, holding the wide-angle lens as close as possible so the flowers would take up more of the scene.


2Canon 5d Mark iii, 70-200mm f/4 lens, 1/15 sec at f/32, ISO 400

One evening I was at Hebgen Lake at sunset, searching around for something to shoot, when I noticed these wind-blown ripples and their interesting effect on the reflections of some trees on a small island in the lake.  It’s not quite as neat as watching it in real time, but it’s close.


3Canon 5d Mark iii, 100mm macro lens, 1/500 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100, handheld

Recently I took my first day off in a month, and Brett and I decided to climb the Sphinx, a mountain about an hour’s drive from the base that we’ve flown around many times on the way to fires.  Brett thought it was 7 miles round trip, but it was actually 14 and took us most of the day to climb the 5000 feet to the summit.  The view was incredible of course, and my favorite thing was that when we got high enough, maybe with 500 feet of the top, there wasn’t even grass on the ground anymore, just a succulent-like ground cover that was soft to walk on.  On the way down I spied this crab spider on a Prairie Crocus seed head, and spent a little while shooting it with my macro lens, which I haven’t used in a good while.


5Olympus OM-D EM-5, 9-18mm lens, 1/100 sec at f/8, ISO 200

It sometimes amazes me how much gear and junk we end up with when we jump a fire, as this photo illustrates.  It was sunrise the morning after we jumped, and the sun slipped through a gap in the clouds and lit up the far hills.


4Olympus OM-D EM-5, 9-18mm lens, 1/60 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

I took this from the plane as we flew to Redmond, Oregon on a boost awhile back.  They had just been hit by a powerful series of dry thunderstorms, and I counted over 15 fires on the way to the base.


6Olympus OM-D EM-5, 9-18mm lens, 1/100 sec at f/8, ISO 400

These two images are from a fire that a couple 20 year jumpers have said was the most amazing they’ve ever seen.  It was a fairly small smoke at the base of a 500 foot waterfall, and a trail led up the steep cliff face to an amazing glacial lake.  It was absolutely incredible to see from the air, unfortunately I was number 7 on the plane and they only threw 4, so I didn’t get to jump it.  After spending a few days putting it out, they were unable to get a helicopter to fly their gear out and they were getting dumped on, so their pack out bags weighed between 130 and 150 pounds each on the 8 mile hike out, so in a way they paid for the experience.


7Olympus OM-D EM-5, 9-18mm, 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 400
11Olympus OM-D EM-5, 9-18mm lens, 1/350 sec at f/4, ISO 100

Our first view of the Irene Fire, after flying through the huge plume of the King.  Normally the fires we jump don’t look like this, because what are 8 guys really going to be able to do.  As it happened there was already a twenty person type 2 crew down there working one edge, and after getting our asses handed to us the next day we ordered two more loads of jumpers and two hotshot crews.  Still, the first two days were tough, sawing all day through thick oak and manzanita brush in really steep terrain, though it mellowed out after that.



Olympus OM-D EM-5, 9-18mm lens, 1/60 sec at f/4, ISO 400

We jumped the Irene pretty late in the evening, so after getting our gear in order and heading out to scout the fire, dusk was coming on.  I took this photo when we stopped at a granite outcropping to get the lay of the land, and to take in the scene: the smoke from the fire illuminated by the light from the setting sun.


8Olympus OM-D EM-5, 9-18mm lens, 1/500 sec at f/4, ISO 100

Helicopters were absolutely vital to us those first two days, as the low humidities and dry fuels combined to create extreme heat in the down trees, so much so that we couldn’t get near them without having a bucket drop on them first.


9Olympus OM-D EM-5, 45mm f/1.8 lens, 1/200 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

Damien holds an unidentified feather he found that he was planning on giving his girlfriend when we got home.  It’s funny, but I always use to bring home gifts from fires to Erin, and still do sometimes, I suppose to make up for being away and to reassure her that she was important to me.  Being married makes the practice seem less important, but it’s still fun sometimes.


12Olympus OM-D EM-5, 9-18mm lens, 1/100 sec at f/11, ISO 200

I took this when we first got to the fire the morning after we jumped, of smoke filtering through a group of huge dead snags that all ended up being cut down because they had fire in them and were throwing embers.






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