Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Engineer Mountain - a matter of perspective

First off, I hope everyone had a fun and safe 4th of July holiday weekend!

Ours was great, and got off to a great start yesterday morning with a hike up the trail at Coal Bank Pass on Hwy 550 to the local favorite mountain:  Engineer.   I've painted it, and photographed it on numerous occasions, and hiked it back in July '06.   I'll never get sick of it.

And, as such, I thought I'd combine the different perspectives I have of this mountain, via painting and photos, and as an artist and a hiker.

First, is the plein air piece I did on Friday, during our trip to Andrews Lake.  Actually, I had Wayne drop me off at Andrews specifically so I could paint Engineer, while he drove up the road to fish in Molas lake.

Engineer Mountain from Andrews Lake
16x8 inches
pastel on board with black-toned Golden pumice ground

The painting isn't anything to write home about; I struggled to get the right shades of green for the various slopes, and to try and effectively balance detail vs. abstract shape and eliminate poor compositional elements (namely, a bunch of spruce trees in the foreground).  It didn't help that some hiker went out of his way to come over and chat with me and ask me about the "chalks" I was using.  Well-meaning, but when he showed up, that was the end of the painting session.  

Despite the painting's shortcomings, I still found the process valuable, and I'll keep painting Engineer both from photos and on location.  

Now on to the photos from the hike yesterday.  The neat thing about this perspective of Engineer is that it shows the approach for summiting it (a non-technical climb).  See the lines of snow?  They show the east-facing slope the trail goes up.  

Along the forested trail
This photo is for fellow pastelist and blogger Dan;
go have a look at his blog to see why

A snowbank holds interesting shadows from surrounding trees, and casts its reflection in a small alpine pond by the trail, about 1 1/4 miles from the trailhead

Striking patches of Parry's Primrose were blooming at alpine and sub-alpine zones.  This is one of the earliest bloomers, along with the marsh marigolds seen in the background, at 10,000'+ elevations.

Base of Engineer pano
4-part landscape-oriented image shot at 18mm (so a wide angle of a wide angle view)
This is where we sat and hand lunch.  Click on photo to see larger image.
The snow to the left?  It's one of the thin lines of pastel in the painting.  

Approach to Engineer
click on the photo to see a larger picture; there is a peep coming down the trail on the snowbank just to the left of the middle evergreen...to give a sense of scale and how steep the trail is

Engineer Slope pano
3-part @18mm 
After this, it was time to put the camera away for the climb (we accidentally took the dicey route, very steep and lots of loose rock and dirt)

Scree Slope
The whitish-gray rock that forms the vertically-jointed cliffs is a Tertiary-age igneous sill (volcanic rock that has formed intrusions in older sedimentary rock).  It sounds like broken pottery as you walk across it.  This is not a hike to do if you cannot handle exposure.

Engineer Bench pano
2-part @18mm
View is to the northwest, showing Grizzly Peak to the left, along with several other smaller ranges within the San Juans.  The pile of rocks in the lower right-hand corner were stacked to form a small semi-circle on the leading edge of this ridge.
Note how many more clouds there are than in the earlier photos

Sky Pilot (Polemonium viscosum) eking out a living in a crack in the rock at 12,600'+

Due to rapid build-up of monsoon clouds over the mountains, along with sudden wind gusts and distal thunder, we opted not to go for the summit on this hike.  An earlier start on a day when no rain is forecast is on the agenda for the future.

Looking Back

Fourth of July wouldn't be complete without fireworks, and we had the best view in town right from our deck.  First time shooting them, and I was finally starting to get the hang of it by the time the show ended:

How do you photograph fireworks, you ask?  
Two absolute requirements:
1) a DSLR camera with capacity for manual exposure (BULB setting, with cable or electronic shutter device)
2) a tripod
All these were shot at f/5.6, ISO 200 equivalent, both manual and automatic focus.  Exposure length variable.  Open the shutter when the firework goes off, and close it when the streamers fade away - 2-4 sec.


  1. Great post - and I am thrilled by your painting of Engineer Mountain.

  2. Love the Sky Pilot photo and your incredible shots of fireworks.


  3. Thanks, Casey - I know you're a climber, so I thought you might enjoy it. I'm glad you like the painting, too; it fell short of my expectations, and when I look at it, all I see is what I don't like. You know how that goes.

    Thanks, LeAnn - I was pleased with how well those firework photos turned out :).

  4. Wow - I can see why you are fascinated with Engineer - looks like an amazing place.

    The firework shots are very cool! I had fun trying to shoot them myself, but mine weren't nearly as successful as yours ;-)

  5. Thanks, Debbie! Engineer is one of those places that I'd send visitors to go hike (even if they only hiked to the base), just because it is really so beautiful. Mountain has a unique shape and geologic composition, and above timberline in the summer, the area is exploding with wildflowers and the panoramic views.

    Only problem is...if you live near sea level, the altitude will knock even fit people for a loop.

    Re the firework photos: I honestly think it's probably impossible to get good ones without the requirements I listed. Otherwise, it was surprisingly straightforward ;).

  6. Looks to me like you've got some nice shapes and patterns working in your painting.
    Thank you very much for the photo, I could see myself standing there and painting that. Of course, I would love to try any of those views and could easily spend the whole summer there.

  7. Thanks, Dan. Yeah, those are some okay things about the painting; the three ridges are quite different in terms of shape, color and whatnot. Still, it was a bit of a grind - some of the pastels refused to adhere to the surface, which always drives me nuts.

    I've always loved those dappled views along forested trails, and have shot many a photo of them. Of course, when I saw this view, I thought: "this has Dan's name written all over it!" ;) Inspired by your work, I might even attempt to paint it.

  8. Please do. Tell you what, I'll do something similar, and then we trade -- could be big fun. But, I need a couple of weeks because we're going to the beach next week. You game?

  9. Oh, you are ON! That is awesome, Dan! I love doing trades, and honestly, it's about the only way I can afford to own other artist's work (sad but true).

    I'll work on a couple of pieces you could choose from, and whenever you have one finished (no rush), email me, and we'll make it happen!

    Have fun at the beach - think you'll have time to paint there?

  10. I knew you couldn't resist a challenge!

  11. Such great shots! I love it when photos are included for comparisons and seeing where it all took place! Got to get back down there soon!

  12. Dan - ha! This will be a lot of fun :).

    Hi Pam - I'm glad you enjoyed the photos! Yes, seeing that your son lives here, you always have an excuse to head down to our corner of the state...and don't forget to bring your plein air gear!

  13. Your fireworks pics turned out GREAT!!!!! I'm happy to say that most of your Engineer and Crater Lake pics are places I have been, too.

  14. Thanks, Sarah - glad you liked 'em :)! It's a great thing that so many of the scenic trails in our area are doable by horses, isn't it? I am sure we'll hike Crater Lake again this summer or fall.


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