Seeing the Pacific Crest Trail four feet at a time

Peeler Lake

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The start of the trip

When a friend asked if I wanted to go on a multi-day hiking trip along the PCT up to Seavey Pass, my first thought was no. I'm not the type of person who usually likes camping. I'm allergic to just about everything with fur, and I hate being cold.

Just as I was about to beg off, the photographer in me took over. "What kind of photos could I get, I need practice with my landscape photography!" Before I knew it, I had agreed to the trip.  Over the course of a few months, the trip morphed from a mule-train supported hike into a mule-train supported ride. I had never been on a horse in my life, and I had no idea what was in store.

Dan the Michael Jordan of mules

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On the trail

Once we got everything squared away as far as the pack train and our dunnage was concerned, we met our lead-wrangler and were assigned our animal.  I had a significant amount of trepidation, as I had never ridden before and definitely hadn't split decision-making about where to go with my vehicle.

I was the second person put onto my animal and as it turns out, I was assigned to a mule named Dan. Over the course of the trip, I would learn to respect and adore him. We hit it off quickly as I trusted him entirely. While we were riding, I learned how to get him to trot, gallop, how to water him when no streams were available, and how to brave some of the craziest broken granite trails around.

Example of a good trail

Easy St

One of the more interesting details about pack riding through Yosemite and the Hoover Wilderness is that it truly seems that in many places the park is trying to kill packers, the trails are very iffy in some areas, and we needed to lead our mules and horses to keep from falling off into the valley. Some of the "improvements" to the trail just make it more likely that mules and horses will get their feet stuck, slip, or fall.  Fortunately, on our trip, we all made it through OK with only a few bumps and bruises.

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The lakes and streams here were beyond comparison, every one was perfectly clear and cold. In some cases, even in August, there was still snow on the hills surrounding the lake. It was wonderful to leave work behind, do a few hours of riding through fairly challenging terrain with a capable mule, then just relax and let the pack company do its thing.


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When considering whether to bring my Fujifilm XPro-3, the Canon AE-1, My Canon 60D, or my Leica Q2, it was a no-brainer. I love the Fujifilm's simulation modes and the X-Trans sensor adds lovely grain, the film camera is just always fantastic, the Canon 60D is a tank, and the Leica is, well, a Leica.

In the end I decided that the 42-year-old Canon AE-1 was not likely to survive 8 days in a horn bag, and the film would likely be subjected to temperature extremes that would cause it to degrade in some way and I couldn't stand the thought of losing any of my shots, and I especially didn't want to lose my restored AE-1.

The Fujifilm would have been likely to survive the trip as far as its ruggedness was concerned, but only with my f2.0 23mm WR lens which at a 35mm equivalent 35mm is wide, but likely not wide enough for landscapes.

I have a wonderful lens for my Canon 60D in the EF 16mm to 35mm USM, and it is durable as all get-out and would have survived the trip, but that combo is very heavy and would not have fit in the horn bag.

The Leica Q2 ended up winning by virtue of its quality, durability, the IP52 weather sealing, and its compact size. It performed incredibly well, I brought a second battery, a solar charger, and the Nitecore Q2 USB charger, but I only needed to use it once on the first battery, never needing to touch the second. It was so compact, and with its auto settings, I was able to keep it in the horn bag and get some shots from Dan's back, one handed.

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In all, I think that the trip was perfect, I ended up with the perfect companions in Dan and my Leica, I would never have gone on the trip if the photographer in me hadn't wanted to get a few great landscape shots, and if I hadn't listened to that craving of adventure and another great shot, I would never have learned that I love riding mules!

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