Glacier Park Photographer

Glacier Park Photographer
Fall In Glacier National Park ©

Friday, February 11, 2011

Glacier National Park Winter Backcountry Adventure

Hello, from East Glacier Park, Montana! I had a winter landscape photography post ready to go but decided that this adventure was more fun, and just as timely. These photos are from a recent three day backcountry trip I and a friend made up the Two Medicine Valley in Glacier National Park, Montana - our take off point was just up the road from my house. The weather was a bit crazy by most people's standards - but not more so that expected for this time of year - wind, snow, more wind, and more snow, some sun, and lots of cold!  Temps ranged from minus 10 f to 15 above.  Winds were bearable at about 1-15mph with light snow most days on top of one to two feet of fresh powder.

Gear - Clothing
I want to talk a bit about my gear, since this is a subject that people often ask about. Everything I wear is synthetic polyester or wool, NO EXCEPTIONS - the ONLY thing that I carry that's not synthetic, is a single cotton handkerchief for my nose. Layers are critical for warmth and safety. Getting cold under these conditions can spell disaster. In order to keep warm it's important to layer your clothing starting with a good base layer that covers your entire body followed by a heavy outer layer and a thin shell.  You have to be willing to change it up as conditions change. Listen to your body.  If you're feeling chilled, fix it right away, don't wait!

Because I get hot and sweat easily, I start a trek with what I'm going to wear for most of the day - which means I'm going to be cold, initially.  I rely on my body's motion to warm me up.  Some people like to start out with lots of warm layers and strip down as needed.  I prefer to start chilled and keep moving to stay warm. I wear a thin base layer, a good pair of winter activity pants with a snow shell with build in gators over that, although on day one I worn only the base layer and pants, no shell.  For the top, I wore a medium to thick fleece pull over top and no shell. I did put a shell on when it got very windy, but 90% of the time I had only two layers on top, the base layer and the fleece top, even at -10 f.  As long as I was moving I was fine.

I also pack enough additional clothes - notice I did not say extra because I don't carry "extra" I carry what is required - so in the likely event that I needed to sit for a long period I would be warm. I don't like to classify backcountry gear as "extra" because then I might have a tendency to say, "well, if it's extra, maybe I can lighten my pack and leave it at home," bad idea!

In my pack I had a 750 fill power down coat, a fleece jacket, a wind stopper jacket and my breathable all weather shell along with a very think expedition weight pair of fleece pants with side zippers and two more thick under layers.  I end up using only the shell, but still nothing I took in was extra, it's all a critical to my backcountry clothing.  I also had four pairs of gloves all differing in weight and purpose. I used a medium light pair for travel, and had the other's, heavy pairs, with me for digging in the snow, gripping and just for warmth should I need them. Cold hands are worthless . . .  I also had a three fleece hats, differing weights, goggles, sun glasses, a face mask, and plenty of water, not to mention all the safety gear like first aid, headlamp, food, etc.

Now a note about cameras and camera gear.  I used one camera body and one lens.  I attached it to my chest with a great product made by my friends over at cotton carrier (CC). The CC allows me to attach the camera via a "stud" screwed into the 1/4 hole on the bottom of the camera, to the receiver on a chest plate. The system distributes the weight evenly across my back and chest allowing me free and complete movement. The camera is secure and available at all times. When I need it, I just grab it off my chest and shoot.

Gear - Camera
I shoot Nikon cameras and use the bodies that are weather sealed and accept the large capacity en-el4 type battery - forget the smaller enel3 it's good, but wont hold up in the cold - I've done extensive testing and they are not reliable enough to take on a winter backcountry trip like this.  One enel4 battery in sub zero conditions lasted me three days (over 800 shots) and it still had over 3/4 power when I returned home.  I did not have a single camera related issue the entire time.  I even buried the camera in snow two times (not on purpose of course) and just shook the snow off - never blow on a camera that's that's cold, you'll frost it in a Milli-second!

I attached 24-120 Nikon af-s vr lens. It's a perfect all around lens for this type of action/adventure shooting.  Sure I'd love to have had access to my 14-24 or 17-35, and the 70-200 2.8 vr, but changing lenses is often a challenge when it's snowing and weight is a major factor when spending three days on skis. I used a 32 gig transcend UDMA 400x card - it too worked without a single hitch!

So without further delay, lets look at a sample of some of ski adventure images. They are in order of the adventure, colors will be variable and reflect the weather and lighting conditions.  Following the slideshow of images is a short video to give you a more active experience . . .

Glacier Park Winter Back Country Ski Touring - Images by Tony Bynum

Video of our trip.

I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I did taking them.  If you have any thoughts or questions email me or just post a comment here and I'll get back to you!  And remember, if you're in Glacier National Park this summer, stop by and see us at the Glacier Impressions Gallery for some Glacier Park Art.

My next post will be more winter photography information from Glacier National Park!

Stay warm,


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