Stanley is a small little town smack dab in the middle of Idaho. It's a popular area for hot springs, river rafting, hiking and just about every other outdoor activity you can think of. But out of all of that, it's the Sawtooth Mountains that bring people in. Stanley was on my list of destinations along my three week road trip and I must say it was a definite highlight of the trip. With so many outdoor activities to choose from I decided to take on a 2 night, 3 day backpack on the popular Alice lake loop. The stats that I recorded for the trip are as follows:
Fitness Level: Intermediate
Photography Awesomeness: Highly recommend, 4 out of 5 star
This was a perfect difficulty level for me as it was roughly 6 miles each day. It has a decent amount of elevation gain and loss, but since it was only 6 miles a day it wasn't so bad. Here is a list of the photography gear I hauled along this trip.
Camera: 5D Mark IV
Lens: Canon 24-70 2.8 L series
Tripod: Peak Designs Carbon Fiber
Extra Batteries: 3
Filters: One 10stop ND and one polarizer
I would say that if you added all that up it would be roughly 10lbs of extra weight. Now that might not seem much, but add everything else you need to survive for a few days in the wilderness, and that backpack gets heavy fast. I would say I clocked in at about 35-40lbs. It's a good thing that you can literally eat your weight away for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Ok enough specifications on the gear and trail. If you want more information you can find a ton online. Check out my friends at TheOutbound for more information https://www.theoutbound.com/idaho/backpacking/backpack-the-alice-toxaway-loop
The Photography! If you like big jagged granite peaks, camping along alpine lakes, and incredible viewpoints, then this will be your happy place. I was blown away by the scenery! You'll end up hiking past 5 beautiful lakes along the loop, but you'll spend most of your time at Alice Lake and Toxaway Lake. Alice Lake is definitely the main draw for most people and you'll get a lot of day hikers, but once it starts getting later in the day the crowds leave and you'll have the place to yourself. If you happen to start on the weekend be sure to start early so that you can find a nice camp spot. You'll be able to tell where the camping is located along the lake, most campers didn't do this but do try to follow Leave no trace rules and set up camp at least 150ft from the water.
What I loved photographing?
Reflections: This is a great place to photograph those alpine lakes with the incredible jagged peaks in the background. If you are lucky to have no wind and a still lake, you'll get mirror like reflections of those mountains. Pro Tip: get up about 30-40 mins before sunrise, you'll have some beautiful soft warm light as the sun comes up but most importantly you'll get those sun kissed peaks on the mountains which reflect beautifully onto the lake.
Sunset/Sunrise: You'll get that same sun kissed light on the tips of the mountains with sunset but I had much better luck with Sunrise. Pro tip: For sunset I found a spot high above Alice Lake that gave a grand overview of the lake. I recommend getting high because as the sun was setting behind the camera it was producing great shadows that were casting over part of the lake, it made the scene much more dramatic and gave more dimension in the picture. Also be sure to shoot on a tripod, I did this to take different exposures of the scene. This is especially useful in post-production to bring back highlights in the sky and detail in the shadows in the foreground. I then layer mask the exposures to produce a perfectly lit scene.
The Stars: Now I'll have to be honest, I didn't take many star shots while on this trip. I think it was 10pm (WTF it's still light outside!), and 5:30am get out of bed to get sunrise shots that led me to choose sleep rather than doing astrophotography. Looking back, I do regret this because I later learned that this area was part of Idaho's dark sky reserve. Basically, it's an Astrophotographers dream!! Pro Tip: Make sure to scout out a good location in advance- you want to find a nice foreground that will compliment the stars. Have a sturdy tripod. Once you figure out your exposures, use a 2 second timer when you click your shot- this will ensure no camera shake. Another tip is once you have your focus dialed in, be sure to set your lens into “Manual Focus.” There's nothing more annoying than setting everything up and forgetting to set your lens to manual, because you know what happens don't you?!?! ;)
Those were probably my favorite things to photograph on this trip. Next time, I might actually spend an extra night just so I can do some astrophotography. But, that's backpacking in a nutshell, some days you're just tired AF, sometimes you have thoughts of leaving all your gear on the side of the trail just to lighten the load on your back. And sometimes you just have real shit conditions and the mosquitoes are literally draining all your blood. But if it was easy, everyone would do it! That's what makes these types of photography trips so special- you earn those images!