Over the past year you’ve seen images of the Giant Sequoias in spring, summer, and fall, so it’s only natural that I go there in the winter as well. A fresh white powder blanket over the Giants gives the forest contrasts similar to the heavenly white flowers of the dogwoods. The trouble is, the magic is really only at its peak for hours (maybe a day) after the seasons first snowfall, and the snow needs to come in large fluffy wet crystals. That way it sticks to everything, and everything gets covered in the white fairy dust. Not long after it has fallen the snow starts to compact and slide off the trees, denting the perfect carpet. Trees shed needles, animals run through the woods, and before long, the pristine white ground is no longer so pure.

So, when the weather service was forecasting that on the night of Sunday December 14th there would be significant snowfall (the first of the year), I made it a priority to be there. I wanted to shoot in my favorite grove, but the access was a bit tough – particularly with major roads closed due to the incoming storm. Fortunately I was able to take a long and windy dirt road up to the trailhead, and I arrived that night just as the snow started to fall. I immediately put on chains on each of my wheels, as I was expecting to get somewhere between 6-10 inches over night (and didn’t want to deal with it then). Then I crawled in the back of the car and curled up in my comforter and sleeping bag for the night. I awoke the following morning an hour before sunrise to no less than a foot of fresh powder! While I was incredibly excited for the forest, I was a little worried about how I would actually get out… as it wouldn’t have been much fun to shovel my way out for 10 miles.

My car, snowed in after a single night of constant snowing! There was hardly anything on the ground when I arrived.

Well, I decided that I was going to have to get out somehow, and I might as well think about that after I got my photos. So I immediately got out, put on my boots and snowshoes, and started the 3-mile trek out to my grove. The whole forest was magic, the kind of magic I’m not sure I will ever experience again. The light slowly started to increase, and I found my way along the trail, still just barely visible by the slight indentation in the snow and lack of small saplings poking through. Everything, absolutely everything, was covered in perfect fresh white snow, and the day before there was hardly a sprinkling at all! At last I arrived, and immediately took the photo I had set out to capture: an abstract collection of young Giants, with a few saplings scattered throughout (I had scouted out the scene over a year ago in the summer, you can find those images here for comparison: http://florisvanbreugel.smugmug.com/gallery/6060702_zKbJd#225319201_hCVyu).

“Winter Wonder-Woods” ~ King’s Canyon National Park, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 24-105mm f/4 L IS @ 58mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 0.4 sec

Having captured my image, I began to slowly work my way back, this time looking for other forest scenes. If you look carefully you’ll notice that the snow sticks to the Sequoias in all sorts of places. I was curious as to what exactly it was sticking to, and upon close inspection I found that not only is it the soft, hairy bark that captures the powder, but these trees are covered in tiny spider webs which catch the snowflakes like little baskets. I’m guessing that after the first few snowfall cycles these spider webs will fall off, and the snow won’t stick quite so nicely.

“Winter Giants” ~ King’s Canyon National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 24-105mm f/4 L IS @ 40mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 0.3 sec

As you may have noticed, it seems that many of the Sequoia photos I’ve captured (not just these two, but from other seasons as well) seem 2-dimensional, or at most having 2-3 separate image planes. There are a number of reasons for that, one being that with such giant trees it’s hard to get very many of them in one picture and still have space between them to give a sense of depth. Also, any other time of year (ie. without a perfect blanket of snow), you can’t really include the forest floor as it is much too distracting. So one of the images I really hoped to find was one where I could convey a sense of depth, the feeling of what it is actually like to wander between these giant trees. Well, I feel this one gets as close as I could get:

“Realm of Giants” ~ King’s Canyon National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 24-105mm f/4 L IS @ 45mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/22, 0.8 sec

There are of course more than just Sequoias, and I thought this scene with the snow covered Manzanitas in the foreground and a perfect Christmas Tree on the side was a rather pleasing one.

“Winter’s Blanket” ~ King’s Canyon National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 24-105mm f/4 L IS @ 40mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/8th sec

And yet one more, of a slightly more open section of the woods…

“Winter’s Majesty” ~ King’s Canyon National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm f/4 L @ 21mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/6th sec

Well, having spent about 6 hours romping through the snow, I decided it would be a good idea to try to get myself out of there before it snowed any more (it had stopped for my trek out, but started up again as soon as I got to the car). After compressing the snow in front of the tires a bit with my snow shoes and scraping off mounds of snow from the windshield, I put her in low range, and much to my surprise, I didn’t have any problems getting out at all.. though I’m sure another 2-3 inches would have made quite a big difference!

Lastly, for those of you who might have missed some of the earlier seasons, I wanted to share a little series. It may be cliché, but few places exhibit such a diversity in beauty throughout the seasons. Most places have one, perhaps two, seasons when they are best visited, or they just don’t show much of a change between each season. The Sequoias are magnificent in a different and special way any time of year. For this one you really need to click on it to get the full image to see what’s going on!

You’d be hard pressed to find better Christmas Trees than those found here – the red bark, green needles, and white decorations are the perfect mix! So consider these images to be my wishes for you to have a Merry Christmas, happy holiday, or whatever it is you might celebrate. Personally, I celebrate the fact that I get time off in this wonderful time of year to go exploring, and I’ve already gotten some early presents as you can see!

3 Comments to “The Winter Wonder-Woods”

  1. Raghu says:

    Hey — decided to take a break from work and check out your latest output. The quadtych (?) from the latest post is ace. Have a good break and good luck with those quals!

  2. Brad M says:

    Your images and entry of your winter visit to King’s Canyon National Park are a pleasure to view and read Floris. Your talent and love for nature is very strong and shows in your work. You have a wonderful 2009.

  3. […] one of the more beautiful Christmas trees I’ve ever found – from a snowy adventure last year! Be sure and save some time this holiday season for a peaceful wintery walk in the outdoors, I […]