It’s been a while since I posted about an actual photography expedition, but I’ve done a couple of long hikes in the last month or so, so here’s the most recent; on Tuesday I went hiking in the Sierra Nevada, taking in Loma Pua, Pico Sabinar & Rio Veleta with a group of friends and my Ricoh GR III X.
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I bought this camera specifically for its lightness and to use for street photography. I didn’t think for a minute about using it for landscapes. With a fixed 40mm focal length, it’s not the first camera I’d pick up for landscape photography, I’m more comfortable at 24mm or wider and 150mm or longer. So it has taken a bit of getting used to.
That said, the camera is very light, easily managed with one hand, and equipped with a ferociously good APS-C Sensor. On the downside, it’s fragile, easy to drop if you don’t use the wristband and obviously 40mm is not going to allow you to pick detail or distant features out of the landscape.
Ski Lifts in Summer
At a cost of €17 per person, the cable car runs from July 15 to August 27 from the ski area and that was the first step of our journey. We would ascend to around 3000 ft after taking the chair lift from the end of the cable car route.
After that we walked, scrambled and climbed another half mile to get to where the wild things are. No roads, people or any trace of civilisation. Just valley after valley of untouched wilderness.
A Lunar Landscape
I didn’t suspect it at this early stage but we were to walk and climb about eight miles, most of it uphill! Easily the most demanding hike I’ve ever done, driven ever onwards by the prospect of beer at the bottom and an overnight stay on the rocks in the event of exhaustion!
Misgivings about shooting in the midday sun are well founded, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much information the Ricoh recorded in the shadows as I exposed for the highlights, on the basis that I had no tripod with me, so bracketing was a non starter and information is more easily retrieved from shadows than it is from blown out highlights.
Top Tip: If shooting in the midday sun, expose for the highlights and get your detail out of the shadows later. You won’t be able to retrieve anything from blown out highlights.
We descended slowly into one of the valleys, skidding about on the rocks, finding at the bottom a much more friendly environment, almost an alpine meadow, albeit strewn with boulders, complete with streams, butterflies and a variety of flowers and orchids.
The Long Climb Back
It took us around three and a half hours to get down to the floor of this valley and of course what goes down must go up, so after a short break we sprang to our feet and headed off up the valley side. Some of us sprang. I struggled to stand up!
The climb back took around another three hours. We took a more direct route, paused by a lake for a little while and then straight up the valley side.
This was one those hikes where if I’d known what was ahead, I probably would have opted to wait until I’d regained a bit more fitness, but as it was I’m very glad to have made the effort and if it didn’t kill me, it made me stronger! The Sierra Nevada is jaw-droppingly spectacular and despite the valleys running roughly north/south, I think well worth camping out to get sunset and sunrise photographs. Obviously this is also a prime site for astrophotography, it is twenty kilometres from Granada and there is literally nothing to the east except the odd hiker for another hundred kilometres or so.
I’m not a wildlife photographer and only had a 40mm camera with me, but next time I may take the full kit. We saw plenty of Ibex (pictured above), a wild Spanish goat with an extraordinary ability to climb the most unwelcoming slopes, eagles and buzzards. In terms of plants, there are several species of rare orchid up there, thankfully tiny, but some that are carnivorous and at least one of which is poisonous to the touch. So beware, these plants are for looking at and admiring, not for taking home!
Unless you are very fit, this is not a hike to carry bags of kit and tripods. I learned to come to terms with 40mm as a landscape lens and also that the Ricoh GR III X records a lot of detail that can easily be retrieved from shadows.
Photographing with a wide lens requires something in the foreground to draw the viewer into the frame. Rocks, Grasses, whatever it takes to avoid the bottom third of the image being empty.
Next time, I’m going to take the Canon 5Ds, a wide lens and a long lens. A light Fiesol tripod with an Acratech panoramic head. That’s probably as much as I can carry on a full days hike at the moment. I’ll be using my smallest and lightest bag, the f-stop Guru
Hiking in the Sierra Nevada Tips
- Take an experienced guide – once you’re out of site of the ski area, its alarmingly easy to get lost. We have Richard Hartley from Spanish Highs to keep us out of trouble.
- Take a compass in case the guide gets taken ill!
- Mobile Phones rarely work out in the wilderness so consider a satellite enabled gps tracker to text for help if you have an accident. Richard favours the Motorola Defy as an affordable, reliable solution.
- Take proper hiking boots. The rocks will rip anything else to shreds.
- Take plenty of water. I drank 1.5 litres during the walk and I was thirsty again by the end.
- Take an extra layer of clothing just in case you do get lost. Nights are cooler up there.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, I’ve written up some of my other trails in the Alpujarras and Lecrin Valley. These are mainly short (less than five miles) walks ideal for photography.
Barranco de la Luna – Salares, Lecrin Valley
Ruta Camino de los Pinos – Conchar, Villamena
Ruta de las Fuentes y Atalaya de Conchar – Conchar, Villamena
Overnight on Mulhacen – Sierra Nevada National Park
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