Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best Photos of 2011

So I figured it would be fun to post what I consider my best shots of the year (and one taken of me). It was hard to narrow them down, as I had many photos which I liked for a multitude of reasons, everything from composition to ones that brought back memories or just made me laugh. In the end I tried to narrow it down to just 10, but could only get down to the following 12 -- hey, one for each month, right?!

One a side note please feel free to comment or criticize, it's all in good fun and will hopefully make me a better shooter. Also, if you saw a photo in one of my posts that you thought should have made the list, let me know. Okay, without further ado, and in no particular order:

#1 - Chris Arnold on Punchbowl Falls (Eagle Creek, OR):
This photo was produced using three different shots and stitched with (free program, here) during post-processing. Since I didn't use a tripod, the process took much longer than it needed to. Also making this shot difficult was the fact that I had just gotten the wind knocked out of me from running the same drop a few minutes earlier. The impact actually blew my skirt and ripped the paddle from my hands, which can be witnessed toward the end of the video, here.

1/250 sec @ f/8, ISO 800 (@55mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: 18-55mm kit lens

#2 - Shawn Haggin running Snakebite (Christy Creek, OR) :
After a 6 hour, bushwhacking scout mission the week before, we ventured into Christy Creek to enjoy the fruits of our labor. This creek had been run multiple times some years back, but after reports of wood in one of the best, and essentially mandatory drops (Balls Falls), it was all but forgotten. A trip report of our run down can be found here, as well as the scouting mission here.

1/800 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 1600 (@53mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: 18-55mm kit lens

#3 - Nate Pfeifer (me) on a lap down Sweet Creek, OR :
Sweet Creek is one of my favorite local runs (people seem to love it or hate it). It's only an hour from my house, runs often in the winter, and serves up a healthy dose of adrenaline. The run is only ~1/4 mile long, but has 8 drops packed into it. It also has a hiking path that runs along river right which can be used for running multiple laps. For my write-up on the AW site, go here. One of my favorite things about this photo is the moss covered wall, through the mist.

1/320 sec @ f/6.3, ISO 800 (@51mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: 18-55mm kit lens
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

#4 - Andy Carmicheal running Big Kahuna (Canyon Creek, WA) :
Canyon Creek Washington is one of the most popular creeks in the PNW, and so is this angle for shooting Big Kahuna. However, I'd been wanting to take this shot with a wide-angle lens, which works well when shooting down on someone going over a drop -- it does a good job of making it look nice and big. For this shot I used my 16mm with a .75 wide angle converter, making it a 12mm. My write-up of the run can be found here.

1/800 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 400 (@12mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-5N
Lens: 16mm (E-Mount) + VCL-ECU1

#5 - Shawn Haggin buried in Laura's Thighs (Brice Creek, OR) :
A run down Lower Brice Creek never feels complete without a trip through Laura's Thighs. This drop was actually a waterfall some years back, but a flood event blew out a massive rock that was wedged in the crack (right where Shawn is currently at) giving it its current form. This picture captures a pretty common scene at this location, all your buddies rubbernecking while you roll the dice going through the slot. My write-up of the run can be found here.

1/1600 sec @ f/8, ISO 3200 (@18mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: 18-55mm kit lens

#6 - Eric finishing up Technical Difficulties (Quartzville Creek, OR)
Quartzville Creek might just be the best class IV/IV+ creek in Oregon, with quality whitewater from start to finish. The problem is that it's hard to get on since it's snowed in for most of the winter boating season. That said, when springtime comes and the snow starts to melt, it's on the top of my list. In this shot, the sun was behind me and beaming on Eric as he boofed the bottom ledge of Technical Difficulties, basically optimal lighting for whitewater photography. Having this lighting in Oregon is rare, so take advantage if it's given to you. My write-up of the run can be found here.

1/4000 sec @ f/10, ISO 800 (@18mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: 18-55mm kit lens

#7 - Cowboy TV (Deer Creek, CA)
Probably my favorite type of kayaking is multi-day self-support. One of my favorite parts of that is sitting around the fire at night talking about the day's events and what we have to look forward to the following day. This is one of those shots that brings back the memories of a great adventure with my buddies. This shot is also a fairly difficult one due to lighting -- luckily, the Sony Nex series of cameras have a anti-motion blur setting that quickly snaps 3 photos and combines them into one, which is how this one was produced. My write-up of the run can be found here.

.5 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 1600 (@18mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: 18-55mm kit lens

#8 - Chris Arnold airing out Big Brother (White Salmon, WA):
Probably my single favorite drop in the PNW is Big Brother, on the Green Truss section of the White Salmon. I still, vividly, remember my first trip over this 25'er, which I probably shouldn't have been running at the time. I have dropped off it many times since and it still retains its ability to excite, especially if you boof it out in proper form, as Chris does here. For my trip report of the run, go here.

1/640 sec @ f/6.3, ISO 400 (@18mm; cropped)
Camera: Sony NEX-5N
Lens: 18-55mm kit lens

#9 - Emily and Mount Currie (Pemberton, BC)
With all the kayaking photos you'd think I'd never have time to mountain bike, which Emily (my wife) might agree with. However, one trip I probably look forward to more than any other is our yearly anniversary trip up to BC for 9 days of MTB. This year happened to be our 10th anniversary, and was the best BC trip yet. We'd always concentrated our riding in the Squamish/Whistler areas, but this time we ventured out, including Pemberton where this next photo was taken. As I reached this granite pitch my eye caught the perfectly framed sight with Emily taking in the view of Mt Currie. For a my ride report, go here.

1/1250 sec @ f/7.1, ISO 400 (@16mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: 16mm (E-Mount)

#10 - Shasta Boyz at Skyscraper (South Silver, CA)
Almost as soon as I started kayaking I dreamed of one day visiting the granite playground that is the California High Sierras, and South Silver was near the top of the list. It's hard to imagine anything on earth being more perfectly sculpted for class V boating than this. This year my dream would be realized as I finally made the solo trip from Oregon, meeting up with friends from Cali. This photo was taken during our scout prior to putting on, where the Shasta Boyz show the proper way to setup and run Skyscraper, the single largest drop of the 1.5 mile run. If you look closely you can see that the safety crew are actually anchored into the granite slab. For my trip report of the run, go here.

1/800 sec @ f/8, ISO 400 (@55mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: 18-55mm kit lens

#11 - Somewhere on Fordyce with Bill and Brian (Fordyce Creek, CA)
On the same trip I made for South Silver I also got on Fordyce, another High Sierra run that was on the top of the list. This one ended up being quite the adventure. We drove to the put-in and found out the road was blocked with a 6' wall of snow, and we still had 4 miles to go. Not to be deterred, we continued on foot, realizing that there was a good chance that we'd be camping out (without camping gear) since daylight was probably going to be an issue. Even with this setback, as well as a broken boat, we made it to the lake at around 9pm, where the lights went out. We still had some miles to paddle across the lake, but with the moon and stars it just added to the overall experience that I won't soon forget. For my trip report of the run, go here.

1/400 sec @ f/8, ISO 800 (@18mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: 18-55mm kit lens

#12 - Sahalie Falls during an Upper Upper Mac scouting mission (McKenzie River, OR)
Just a couple of weeks ago I was up scouting the headwaters of the McKenzie River, which has been run plenty of times before, but not by me or the crew I paddle with. By no means was I planning to run this beast or Koosah (another ~80'er just downstream), but was interested in seeing what the in-between stuff looked like. Basically I came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth the effort, but did come away with quite a few photos of the area. The lighting was pretty bad and so were the unprocessed photos. I decided, what the heck, let's see what we can do for them in Lightroom and Color Efex (e.g. tonal contrast, saturation, etc.). The following is one of the better outputs, where I feel a highly processed photo actually worked.

1/500 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 800 (@18mm)
Camera: Sony NEX-5N
Lens: 18-200mm (E-Mount)

Well, there ya have it, and now the best POV footage from 2011:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Neils - Mckenzie River, OR (11.24.11 & 11.26.11)

As any of my boating buddies will tell you, I by no means consider myself a playboater; however, I do like to hit the local play spots from time to time to work on boat control and roll practice. My skills basically consist of front surfing, back surfing, flat spinning, and some crude cartwheels --even so, I seem to always have a good time regardless and typically paddle away feeling pretty pooped.

One of the best play spots close to Eugene (less than an hour away) is a wave on the McKenzie River known as “Neils”. This wave is in at a good level for many days during the winter season and is hardly ever crowded, which is pretty typical based on the relatively small boating community in the area. On this Thanksgiving weekend we had really good flows of between 3’ and 2.8’ on the Vida guage. It can be surfed as low as 2’ on the gauge, but it gets really shallow and isn’t that great. Much above 3’ it starts to gets pretty flushy and you really have to be on your stick to stay on while doing any tricks. That said, most agree that the optimal level is somewhere between 2.8’ and 2.6’.

The gauge used for Neils (found here)
(this report is from the 24th and 26th, 3' and 2.8' respectively)

To get to the wave we either put in at “Mom’s Pies” (an old, now vacant, pie stand) or at the bridge a ¼ mile downstream. For the takeout we usually use the Silver Creek boat ramp, located about 2 miles downstream of Mom’s. The wave itself is located about halfway down against the river-left bank and across from Eagle Rock Lodge, it should be pretty obvious when you get there.

After meeting at the Albertson’s on Hwy 126 at the edge of Springfield, we headed out for a quick session prior to our Thanksgiving Day plans. On this trip up we had Aaron Loft, Kristin Alligood, and me. When we got to the put-in bridge, we unloaded our boats and started to change into our gear. No sooner than dropping trou, a truck pulled up with a couple boaters who asked if we’d be interested in sharing a shuttle. The two boaters ended up being Macy and Amanda Burnham, both former Eugene residents who are now living in Reno. Apparently they were in town to be with family for the Thanksgiving weekend, and were itchin’ to visit some old boating haunts.

After gearing up we headed down to the wave. One we got there I got out to take some photos and setup for some video, and while doing this the others quickly settled into a groove. Before long I slid into the water and joined in on the fun. The level on this day was 3’, and it took some work to get on the wave, as well as stay on it. The real key is to paddle like hell and drive toward the pocket on surfer’s left, from which you can use to setup your next move. The far left shoulder is formed well enough to keep you on the wave, so long as you don’t edge hard against it. The main obstacle on the wave is the soft spot, located smack dab in the center -- this is where you will get blown off 90% of the time. You can work that area, but don’t hangout too long or you’ll be shown the door and sent to the back of the line.

As previously stated, I don’t have a large quiver of moves to pull out on the wave, so I basically just work on carving and flat spins, as well as chattin’ it up in the eddy while waiting my turn. I had never met Macy or Amanda before this day, so it was good to talk about the old boating community, as well as the current one. Eugene used to have a much more vibrant scene, and Macy was part of it and one of the top (pro) boaters at the time. This became very apparent from watching him on the wave, throwing blunts and backstabs with ease like it was still his backyard play spot. Here are some pics from all of us having a good time on the wave:

Macy prepares to drop in while Lofty looks on

Amanda digs in for the blunt

Aaron high on the pile

Macy works his way toward the pocket

Kristin sets up from the surfer's left shoulder

Macy sets up for a blunt

The author, mid flat spin
(photo by Aaron Loft)

Bobby (who showed up later) waits his turn

Bobby gettin' some wave time

After a couple of hours we all started to get pretty tired and needed to head out to prepare for our Thanksgiving dinner plans. After exchanging goodbyes with the Burnhams we headed our separate ways, but not before discussing the possibility of meeting up in the future for some more boating.

The following Saturday, Loft and I headed back along with Andy Carmichael, another Eugene local. This time the level was between 2.9’ and 2.8’. This small drop in flow made the wave a little stickier, which helped out quite a bit for staying on the wave. The soft spot was still there, but as long as you didn’t get too complacent it wasn’t too bad. Once again we spent a couple of hours on the wave and tired ourselves out pretty good. Here are some pictures of the wave at the slightly lower level:

Andy enters the wave

workin' the right side

Lofty driving hard

Andy takes the soft spot head on

Aaron digs in a rudder

Andy watches Loft from the staging eddy

Neils is good for back-surfing too!

If you enjoy playboating and you’re in the area when it’s at a good level, it’s well worth your while, and in my opinion, one of the best playspots in the state.

Here is a short video covering both days of boating:

Monday, September 26, 2011

O'Leary Trail (9.17.11)

Update - July 2016:
For a newer ride report, which includes trail improvements and also includes the Ollalie Trail, go here

The O’Leary/King Castle Loop is a fantastic adventure ride that will kick your butt and reward you all at the same time. The variation that we chose equated to ~28 miles and ~5,700’ of climbing -- since our ascent was on a mix of paved and gravel roads it wasn't all that bad. When I say adventure, what I mean is that the trail is definitely overgrown and rough in spots, but this actually adds a bit to the charm, like some of the sections on Bunchgrass/Heckletooth, which it actually reminds me of quite a bit. One of best things about the trail is that it ends on King Castle, one of my favorite descents in Oregon and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

The tracks from our ride, which can be
downloaded from Garmin Connect, here.

This was actually the second time I had ridden this trail. The first was last year, around the same time, with my wife Emily and our good friend Brad. I wanted to put together a ride report back then but I just got too busy and it slipped off my radar. This time around Emily and I didn’t have any other takers, but we were still committed and decided to just do it as a duo. On a side note, many of these pictures were from the first trip since I didn’t take too many pictures on this years' ride.

Our ride started out from the small parking area at the bottom of the King Castle trail. From there we rode east on King Rd, a nice paved warm-up with good views of the Three Sisters. After about four miles we tee’d into Horse Creek Road, where we headed southeast a short distance to NF 1993 where we began our climb to the start of the O’Leary trail. Luckily, NF 1993 is mostly paved (with some sections of gravel), which made the long sustained climb at bit more bearable. I know some people actually climb Olallie trail instead, which to me seems masochistic, but I guess it depends on how good of shape you’re in. Basically I just fired-up my iPod and took it slow and steady. At around the 12.5 mile mark we turned right on a gated gravel road that headed straight up the side of the mountain. Eventually it flattened out where we looked for our first opportunity to do a short bushwhack over to the Olallie/O’Leary trail intersection and the start of the singletrack -- a GPS is really helpful for this.

The spin on King Road

Starting the climb up NF 1993

Emily takes a quick break on the climb
to take in a view of Mount Washington

Climbing the last bit on the spur road off NF 1993

Even with a majority of the climbing out of the way, the hard part had just begun. The next 4.5 miles would consist of riding west along the ridge on a trail that has all but gone extinct, at least in some sections. It does open up in parts but never really gets “flowy”. Once again, this is what gives the trail its adventurous feel, and the wildflower and overall mountain scenery make it well worth the effort. That said, if more people would begin riding this trail (which they should), I don’t think it would take that long to clear a better path, making it much more rideable.

At the trailhead of the O'Leary Trail

There must be a trail through here somewhere...

Bearded trees on the O'Leary Trail

Lots of clover on this one

The brutal hike-a-bike climb to the top of McLennan (or Macduff?)

Bear grass too

The last bit of this tough part is straight up some pretty steep switchbacks, making it essentially a hike-a-bike section. We finally topped out at around 5,000' at the best overlook of the ride, Macduff or McLennen , depending on who you ask. Technically McLennen is correct, but a historical plaque for Nelson Macduff is located there, creating lots of confusion as well as some controversy. I'll let you decide what you want to call it, and if you're interested, here is an old newspaper article which goes into greater detail:

The scoop

Regardless of what it's called, it offers a great view for all your hard work. At this point we were both pretty hungry so we also used it as our lunch spot. With the high clouds hiding the sun, the temps were a little cool to stay for too long.

A quick climb to the overlook

Emily enjoys the best view of the ride

The misplaced plaque

From this point on the trail becomes much easier, with a nice clear path that contrasts with the first half of the ride. Furthermore, it's almost all downhill from here, excluding a couple of short ups. It should be noted that at one point you'll come out onto a road which you'll need to ride for a ways before you jump back onto the trail -- just keep your eyes open for where it drops off to the left. A couple sections of the descent are actually pretty steep with tight switchbacks and pitches that will have you sitting on your back tire. The last major pitch reminds me quite a bit of the ones on Eula, and is probably my favorite part of the O'Leary trail. Soon we could see Cougar Reservoir through the trees, signaling that we were almost to the Castle Rock intersection.

Starting our descent after a quick lunch break

Emily checks out the rock work by the CCC

More great mountain atmosphere

Some steep switchbacks on the descent

This section is a lot steeper than
this photo would have you think

A view of Cougar Reservoir through the trees

More descending...

...and great scenery

Once we reached the intersection we made a hard right onto the Castle Rock Trail. This is actually a 3-way intersection which is signed incorrectly, just make sure you head northeast. This trail was in great shape, and much better than last year, thanks to some young trailwork volunteers. It does climb gradually over its 2.5 mile length, but it's almost unnoticeable.

The Castle Rock trail intersection.
Don't let the signs lead you astray.

Somewhere on the Castle Rock trail

Soon we reached the road that climbs up toward Castle Rock and is used as an access road for the King Castle Trail, and as stated before, one of the best descents in the state. The only thing that stood between us and this beautiful piece of singletrack was "The Demoralizer", a name I've given to this steep section of the road which seems to beat me down a bit every time I ride it. I was pretty glad that we weren't planning to do the top section, which would have added another 800' or so of climbing. Don't get me wrong, it's worth it if you're not already too beat-down.

One last climb up The Demoralizer

The ride down King Castle only took us about 10 to 15 minutes -- in comparison to the earlier day's riding it felt like a sidewalk, with a buffed surface and banked corners to rail. You can build up some scary speed on this one, but it's fairly wide open so there is little risk of scaring hikers in most places; however, there are some blind corners to be aware of. By the time we reached the car we had been out for almost 6 1/2 hours and built up quite an appetite. We quickly loaded up and headed back to Eugene for some good ol' Thai food.

This trail needs to be ridden more often to break it in. If not for the first part being so rugged it would be one of the more classic rides in the area. Even so, it's still a great trail, with some interesting history, amazing rock work by the CCC, and excellent scenery. Go check it out for yourself and be ready for a workout!

Tracks from our ride:

And, our tracks from the full Olallie / O'Leary Epic, recorded on a latter ride: