Ever climb onto a rocky alpine plateau and wonder how so many flowers survive, even flourish, in such a stark environment? If you love wandering around such high-elevation garden spots, take a look at Sky Islands, the latest installment in the splendid short-film series Yosemite Nature Notes.
While the peaks and plateaus displayed in Sky Islands are already starting to load up with new snow this fall, park videographer Steven Bumgardner made some fair-weather visits to 12,147-foot Parsons Peak and other lofty locales earlier this year to capture images of rockbound alpine buckwheat and sky pilot for his latest production. The man who tweets to the world as Yosemite Steve shared some recollections about the project with The REI Blog:
Q: What stoked your interest in these high-elevation flower gardens?
A: I've always been a wildflower enthusiast, and in August and September, while the foothills are brown and wilted, things are just starting to bloom up high.
Q: Have you previously visited any of the peaks mentioned in the video (Excelsior, Kuna, Parsons)?
A: I'd never been to any of those particular peaks, but I've been to other "sky islands" in the Sierra. The highest point in the lower 48, Sequoia's Mount Whitney, is a high plateau at over 14,000 feet (14,497, according to the climbing site summitpost.org). Anyone who spends time above 12,000 feet in the Sierra will realize that there are some pretty cool plants up there.
Q: Which peak or peaks did you visit to shoot your footage? Were you able to walk trails or did you have to scramble to the sites? How tough was it to haul camera to high-elevation locations?
A: Most of this episode was shot on Parsons Peak, with some Dana Plateau thrown in as well. It was all off-trail hiking to get to the plants, but up above treeline, the going is pretty easy. There are steep approaches if you like, but there's also almost always an easy way up.
Q: Climbing that high while toting camera gear had to be a challenge.
A: We had about 60 pounds of camera gear, and with it spread between me and [fellow videographer] Josh Helling, it wasn't so bad. The biggest thing was my KesslerCrane Cineslider, which is basically a portable 5-foot camera dolly. That how I got all my moving shots.
Q: Did you spend any nights up high? If so, what were your overnight temps?
A: We shot this at the hottest time of the year, so nights weren't too bad, maybe down to the upper 30s.
Q: What impressed you most about the flowers you found so high in the sky?
A: It's just cool to be up so high, surrounded by cliffs and rocks and snowfields, and see all this life. Even though the plants are tiny, some of them have lived up here for nearly 300 years.
Fun fact to know and tell: According to a list published at summitpost.org, Yosemite contains 18 named peaks that exceed 12,000 feet and 3 higher than 13,000 feet.