Nighttime along the John Muir Trail
In 2015, we set out to capture the nighttime sky along the 211 mile John Muir Trail (JMT) in California’s Sierra Nevada. We’d end up experiencing some of the darkest skies we’ve seen yet at the high elevations and remote locations of the High Sierra — dubbed “The Range of Light” by John Muir himself for it’s incredible displays of colors and reflections amongst its peaks and valleys.
While hiking this strenuous trail, the norm is to go to sleep early and get up early as hikers try to accomplish 10-20 miles per day, and one is usually too tired after that trek to stay up much past dinner. We had to stick with a different approach — still getting in those 10-20 miles per day, but staying up late, with some nights hiking nearly all night long to get to a shot while it was still dark. The Milky Way was always bright and vivid which kept us going, and we seemed to strike gold every night when it came to clear skies. Even as we approached the “Rough Fire,” which was burning near the southern portion of the trail, we lucked out when we experienced the only rain we’d see along the way, and that rain cleared out the entire sky just in time for us to move onto that portion of the trail. Even better — the day the rain hit, we were taking a zero day with beer in hand at Vermillion Valley Resort. Talk about timing!!
The rugged, colorful, ever-changing alpine landscapes along the JMT made for a challenging but rewarding journey as our southbound route passed through Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks before terminating atop the highest peak in the contiguous U.S. — 14,505 ft. Mt. Whitney.
The collection of images captured were compiled into a coffee table book titled, The Range of Light: Night & Day on the John Muir Trail. We published 130 copies of the book, and still have a few copies remaining on our website DarkSkyPhotography.com.
A signed copy of this book can also be obtained by contributing to our latest project — the Eastern Sierra Observatory. In Spring 2019, we are opening a stargazing B&B camp/glampground! Observing and capturing the night with a 14” Meade LX850 telescope, hot tubbing under the stars, and accommodations in an amazing SHIFTPOD — if you love stargazing then come join us on this next stargazing adventure!
Scott Lange holds a degree in Astrophysics from the University of California Santa Cruz, and has been capturing the cosmos for over 10 years. He spends his nights as part of Dark Sky Photography and operator of the Eastern Sierra Observatory.