STEVEN HAGEL photography | Precipice Lake

Precipice Lake

September 18, 2013  •  2 Comments

Precipice lake had been on my list of must-do trips for quite a while. I had read accounts of folks saying it was the most beautiful lake in the Sierra, and of course Ansel Adams has a famous image that he made there. Since nearly all of my ventures into the this great range have been from the east side, I decided this summer to make the drive around to the west and visit that side of the Sequoia wilderness. I was not disappointed.

The hike begins in gentle forested hills inside of the Sequoia National Park. Close by is the General Sherman tree which is the largest living organism on the planet.  While the east side of the Sierras has an abrupt elevation change often climbing thousands of feet in just a few miles, the west approaches follow a more gentle path up. The initial long section of forested trail reminded me of hiking in the cascades up in Oregon. 

After employing my usual tactic of driving most of the night before the trip, I park just outside the entrance and get a few hours of sleep in the back of my truck. I pick up my permit and drive to the trailhead while ominous clouds move in from the west. I was excited to be in the Sierra with stormy weather since most of my latest trips have had hardly a cloud. If I've learned one thing in landscape photography, it's that stormy conditions make for the most dramatic images. Even when you think its socked in and all grey, you would be surprised to see how interesting the images look in these conditions.

As the terrain steepened and the trees thinned, I set up the tripod and shot some telephoto images as the clouds and rain come through and the thunder boomed.

I travel 16 miles on the first day and camp below Hamilton Lake. The last four miles of trail cut through some amazing geography and in some places the trail has been blasted through the rock. The rain continues to fall and conditions are poor to try to photograph Hamilton Creek falls with the dramatic Angels Wings formation in the background. I will leave time to have one more attempt here on the way out. Day two - I follow the increasingly steep switchbacks above Hamilton Lake and arrive at Precipice around 11AM. There are still plenty of clouds as I set up camp.

The lovely Precipice Lake The lake is a marvel. Streaked vertical granite dives directly into the azure lake creating and amazingly photogenic environment. The compositions are limitless and I feel compelled to go shoot even though I had planned to spent the night here and photograph in the morning as well. Several parties move through and two stop to camp. This is part of the High Sierra Trail which travels over 70 miles to reach Mount Whitney and complete a west to east crossing of the Sierra. So, you won't be alone up here, but you likely will be the only photographer there. It is a 42 mile round trip backpack after all.

As the sun began to fade, I made some nice images of the lake and it's surroundings. 

Clouds shroud Boy Scout Peak directly above the lake

Looking back the way I came

The next morning was clear and I spent hours working the shoreline to find the composition that I had envisioned. The sun had to rise high enough to bring out the colors, but once it did, I was ready. Since I wanted a very high resolution image, I had packed panoramic equipment which allows me to take multiple images to stitch together back at home. Out of dozens of images, this was the composition that I most admired. The lines, colors, and tones really convey the beauty of this place.

After lunch on day three, I hike back down below Hamilton lake and find the conditions in late afternoon perfect for the hamilton falls image that I had tried unsuccessfully to capture on the way up. It is an amazing location. I rested here for a couple of hours just enjoying this incredible view and watching the clouds roll overhead.

Here is the view from my campsite on the last night. Soft evening light filters through the overcast skies to illuminate the granite landscape. I cannot ask for anything more than that. I think one of the most powerful elements of photography is to relive the experience years later from viewing the images. They take you right back there and you once again experience the excitement and wonder of these extraordinary places. Peace.


Great images, composed and executed very well. Obviously you've been at it for a while. Going there this upcoming June with my wife. We'll be tackling lion rock and Tripple Divide peak as well. Thanks for the inspiration.
Some really excellent photographs here and it sounds like you had a great time out there. Keep up the great work!
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