Q: How much riding experience do I need?
A: Prior horseback riding experience is helpful, however, this is no “Sunday trail ride at the county fair”. Be advised:
• Riding horses/mules and wilderness travel are inherently risky activities that include the possibility of serious injury or even death. By registering for this trip, you explicitly accept and assume all such risks.
• We move at walking pace, but the mountain trails we travel on can be rocky, dusty, steep and less than perfectly maintained in places. Even very experienced riders are typically amazed by the terrain our animals routinely cover.
• We are traveling in the wilderness where there is no cell phone reception and medical assistance may not be immediately available – Lesley carries a Satellite phone for emergency situations.
• Those with an extreme fear of heights probably should not join this trip.
• We spend a fair amount of time in the saddle. The rides on Days 1 & 9 last approximately 6 hours (including lunch and breaks). There will also be shorter day rides from our base camp to explore the surrounding territory.
Having said all that, we have had many novice riders complete this trip with nothing worse than stiff legs or a sore bum. The horses are gentle and surefooted and the RCPS crew are experts at matching your mount to your riding abilities. Helmets will be provided to all participants for your protection.
If you any questions about whether this trip is right for you, please call email Lesley email@example.com to discuss your concerns.
Q: What should I pack?
A: See the next question for photo gear recommendations. For everything else, check out Rock Creek’s detailed Packing List and Important Information. Below are a few additions & clarifications to the RCPS list:
• ‘Pint’ water bottle – anything up to a standard 1-liter Nalgene bottle is fine.
• Coffee Mug – doesn’t have to all plastic, an insulated travel mug is ideal.
• Raingear – truly waterproof (not water resistant) tops AND bottoms are ESSENTIAL.
• Body wipes – like baby wipes, but bigger. You will thank me.
• Mosquito head net – optional but handy near water
• Power bank – to recharge your phone & small electronics
Q: What photo gear should I bring?
A: A digital SLR or mirrorless body with 2 or 3 lenses and a lightweight but sturdy tripod should be the core of your photo equipment kit. As far as focal lengths, 24mm or wider on the wide end and 100–200mm on the long side will serve you well. A mid-range zoom is also especially handy. All of the focal lengths mentioned are “35mm equivalent”. Other things to consider are a polarizing filter, graduated neutral density filter(s), macro lens or extension tubes and a remote release/timer can be helpful but are not absolutely necessary. Don’t feel like you need everything mentioned here…gear is great but learning to See is better! Limitations actually help you be more creative and having too much gear can often be a hindrance. Finally, don’t forget extra memory cards, batteries, your tripod plate and a lens cloth/brush.
Also, definitely bring your smartphone – it’s a great tool for developing your Photographer’s Eye and we will be using it extensively.
Q: How should I pack?
A: A medium duffel bag (e.g. large gym bag) or stuff sack(s) are ideal for your clothing & personal items. Sleeping bags & pads should be in their own bags. A compact camera bag or backpack (no giant photo backpacks!) for your camera and lenses will complete your kit.
Q: How much stuff can I bring?
A: There is a strictly enforced 35 lb weight limit per person. This includes all photo gear, luggage, sleeping bag & pad. Items that will be on your person during the rides (raingear, water bottle, etc.) are not part of your weight budget. Note: The RCPS website says that the weight limit for pack trips is 30lbs but our group is allowed an extra 5 lbs.
Q: What kind of photo opportunities can I expect?
A: World class alpine landscapes are definitely the star of the show in this part of the John Muir Wilderness. Watching Sierra granite reflected in the still waters of an alpine lake magically transform from grey to orange and crimson at sunset or sunrise is a sublime experience. But mountain landscapes are just one of many subjects that may attract your attention. Other types of photography that you can explore here include: Wildflowers/Macro – we’ll encounter a variety of mountain wildflowers, especially near water and in shaded areas. Typical species include Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, Shooting Stars & Leopard Lilies. Night Photography – Milky Way, Star Trails and Moonscapes are all possibilities for those that are willing to sacrifice some shut eye. Ken will cover the basics of night photography in one of our group sessions. Don’t forget your tripod! Black & White – Contrast is one of the keys for great black and whites so when the sun gets too high and harsh for good color images, it’s often perfect for black and whites. This is Ansel Adams country after all so why not give it a try? Equine & Cowboys/Cowgirls– our horses and the wranglers who take care of them make great subjects for western/mountain ‘lifestyle’ photos and you can’t beat the backgrounds.
Wildlife – critters tend to be very shy, especially around groups as large as ours. We may get lucky, but this is not a wildlife photo trip.
Q: Will I be able to charge batteries?
A: Yes, we will have a power station (i.e. giant power bank) to charge batteries, but the ‘juice’ supply is limited and once gone, it’s gone. Bring (at least) several extra fully charged batteries. Don’t forget your battery charger & cables!
Q: Can I take photos while riding?
A: No, for safety reasons, we cannot allow large cameras (i.e. any interchangeable lens camera), backpacks or anything with a neck strap to be on your body while riding. If you want to take a quick snapshot with your phone or small point & shoot during a ride, wait until we are stopped. Both hands should be on your reins at all times while we are moving.
Q: Can I bring my own camping gear?
A: Some people prefer to bring their own tent, which is fine. If you choose to bring your tent, it will not be counted against your weight allowance.
Q: What is the bathroom situation like?
A: Picture a pop-up port-a-potty with a wooden toilet inside.
Q: What will the weather be like? What kind of clothing is appropriate?
A: Average daytime temps are usually in the 60’s with typical overnight lows in the 40’s but it will feel a lot hotter in the sun and much colder when standing around doing night photography. Also, these are the mountains, anything is possible – we’ve seen hale/snow on more than one occasion and thunderstorms (usually brief) are not uncommon. Be prepared. Here is a link to the most accurate weather forecast available for the area but all mountain forecasts should be taken with a large grain of salt.
I always dress myself mentally in layers when packing for a mountain trip. Next to your skin should be your base layer (long underwear), then maybe a t shirt or long sleeve shirt and pants. Good mid layers include wool sweaters, thin down jackets/vest or a fleece/soft shell jacket. For your outer layer, a waterproof jacket & pants are a must! It can be quite chilly at night and early mornings so if you get cold easily, you may want to add an extra layer. Don’t forget accessories like sunglasses, hat/beanie and gloves. A bathing suit is also recommended for those who want to freshen up in a stream or lake. That’s the basic kit as far as clothing.
Q: Will we be in one place or move around?
A: We will have one base camp in Pioneer Basin for this trip but we will ride out from there on horseback most days to explore and photograph the surrounding area.
Q: How many people will be on this trip?
A: The maximum number of guests we can bring on this trip is 10.
Q: Where is Rock Creek Pack Station?
A: RCPS is located on Rock Creek Rd off of Hwy 395 between the towns of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes. If you are familiar with the area, this is the Tom’s Place exit. A map and more detailed directions are available here
Q: Will there be any cell phone reception during the trip?
A: No. None. Zero.
Q: How bad are the bugs?
A: Depending on the year, the mosquitos can range from just annoying to vicious, especially near the water around sunrise and sunset. In addition to bug spray, you may want to bring a head net. We’ve also found Thermacell devices to be pretty effective
Q: Can we fish?
A: Yes, the lakes in our area are filled with hungry trout, mostly pan-sized. However, a CA fishing license must be purchased in advance. Licenses are not available at the pack station or in the wilderness.
Q: Is there much hiking required?
A: We have one or two planned hikes. We move slowly with lots of breaks, but it will feel a lot longer than the actual 3.5 miles (500 ft elevation gain).