Noa Ginella - Stand Up Paddle Boarder

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to get a job going to Hawaii with Michael Williams of Imagista to film the Hurley Surfing team for the Triple Crown of Surfing.  While Noa Ginella was not competing in these events, he presented a very compelling personal story as a young stand-up paddleboarder and artist.  Here is the short film that we created.

Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills

Just about three hours North of Los Angeles is one of my favorite towns on the planet: Lone Pine.

It’s an unassuming little town; a few blocks of residences straddling California Hwy 395, which doubles as its Main Street.  If you blink, you might miss it as you drive from LA to Mammoth Lakes.  A scattering of hotels, restaurants, and gear shops attend to the needs of tourists, or those just using it as a convenient resting point on an otherwise fairly barren stretch of highway.

There are a few things that bring attention to Lone Pine though, the largest of which is Mount Whitney. 

Mount Whitney as seen from Lone Pine

While you may not recognize the name “Lone Pine,” I think you’d be hard pressed to find an outdoor recreation enthusiast who hasn’t heard of Mt Whitney.  Reaching an elevation of 14,508 feet, Mt. Whitney is highest peak in the continental United States.  This fact alone compels over 30,000 people each year to attempt to reach its summit.  Lone Pine is by far the closest town, and the easiest Portal to the Whitney Zone.  During the typical climbing season, late spring to early autumn, it’s crowded with enthusiastic hikers and climbers.

But none of that is what makes me love Lone Pine.  My love is derived from an area that thousands of hikers and climbers drive through without notice, on their way to Mt Whitney: The Alabama Hills - Specifically in winter.

During the winter months, Lone Pine is almost empty.  While Mt Whitney is still technically climbable, it is a much longer, difficult, dangerous, and less popular trip.  The few people you will see tend to be just passing through, on their way to either Mammoth, or Bishop.  And the glorious Alabama Hills are essentially deserted.

For me, a perfect quick and easy weekend trip goes something like this:

Friday Evening we drive the short 3 hours from Los Angeles to Lone Pine and check-in at the Dow Villa Motel.  Right in the center of town, it's probably the most convenient lodging around.  While the pool isn't open in the winter, it's usually too cold at night to bother me much.  A room with a comfy king sized bed is welcoming after the drive, and a great place to let my fussy child decompress after the car ride.

For Dinner friday, and lets be honest, Saturday too, we'll walk to the nearby Merry-Go-Round Restaurant. While the also have American options, the Merry-Go-Round makes the best Chinese food I’ve had in California.  Orange Chicken for me, Roasted Duck for Blair.  We might be a little obsessed.  While I've been told that Season's is also good, I just haven't had the heart to cheat on our favorite yet. 



The Alabama Hills Cafe

The Alabama Hills Cafe

Saturday Morning always starts with breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe.  Breakfast burritos with bacon or chorizo.  Cinnamon Swirled French Toast with strawberries and whipped cream.  Fried Eggs and Bacon.  All great options for starting a day of hiking or climbing.  It might have an unassuming exterior, but your taste buds will thank you.




A true hikers breakfast

A true hikers breakfast


We might start our morning off with a quick hike to warm up, and one of our favorites takes us on a short loop through bizarre granite formations to "Mobius Arch."  You can pick up a list of other arches in the area, but Mobius is the real draw, and provides a great place for a photo op.

Mobius Arch is a great spot for a family photo


One of my favorite things about the Alabama Hills, and Lone Pine is how CONVENIENT it is.  After a morning hiking and working up an appetite, you can continue in the vein of the lazy adventurer, and take the short 10 minute drive back to town for lunch.  Something light perhaps?  After a hefty breakfast, and looking forward to more orange chicken, I like to stop in at the Lone Star Bistro for a quick and fresh sandwich.  Turkey, tomato, sour dough bread, alfalfa sprouts and avocado pair nicely with a Death Valley Root Beer. Sufficiently fed, it's time to meet up with some friends and go Rock climbing.

The Alabama Hills with Mt Whitney in the background

Imagine taking the fantastic, bizarre rock formations from Joshua Tree National Park and setting them off against the majestic, snow capped, jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and you’ll have an idea of what the Alabama Hills look like.  Being composed of the same weathered and cracked monzogranite as the Joshua Tree formations, you’re presented with hundreds of rock-climbing routes of the same style. For your viewing pleasure, I present the "Sharks Fin."  A monolithic granite boulder with a variety of bolted sport climbing routes, it provides climbers with easy to moderately difficult climbs and epic views.

Dominick Cole Starting up the Sharks Fin

Lance Ranzer climbing "Coral Sea Adventure" 5.10+ on the Sharks Fin

Coming down

To make it even better, since lots of the climbs have minimal approach hikes, you can bring the whole family.  And Snacks.  And camera gear....  Needless to say, even the youngest adventurers are welcomed.


She's only 4 months old, and already you can see the focus and determination of a true climber.

Crash Pads make a great spot for a nap

Happily exhausted from full day, it's time to head back into town.  With a long cold winter's night ahead of you and muscles sore from hiking and climbing, beers, food, and beds await.  Sunday's activities can be planned over dinner.

Are you starting to understand why I love Lone Pine, and the Alabama Hills so much?  So much adventure within such easy striking distance of such comfort and convenience.  With minimal planning a wonderful weekend of climbing, hiking and exploration can be had.

While everyone else has been fighting over camping spaces in Joshua Tree, or waiting in line to climb the classic routes, my friends and I have enjoyed entire weekends without seeing a single other climber.  And at the end of a fun, but exhausting day on the rocks, I can sleep away the long cold winter nights in a comfy bed with a stomach full of delicious orange chicken.


Hmmmmm…. Come to think of it… why am I giving away my secrets?

Early Mornings

You'll hear it over and over again: The best light, especially for landscapes, is right around sunrise, or sunset.  But unless you have a client paying you to do so, or you have a very specific shot in mind, it can be very difficult to motivate yourself to get out of your warm comfy bed before the sun is up.  Sometimes though I find that it's worth doing so, just to remind yourself that you can. Just so that it comes natural when you do  have that very specific shot in mind.  It's our extra effort that sets us apart from the crowds.  

Here are the results of my deciding to make the effort to wake up extra early on a Sunday morning just to play with my camera.  I wasn't disappointed.  

Mount Baldy Revisited

Sometimes all it takes to rediscover an old friend is to see her under a new light.

I've been hiking Mount Baldy for years now. Mostly I've used the hike as a decent local training hike, to work with some fairly steep terrain and to get a little bit of altitude acclimatization before heading off to higher, tougher mountains in the Sierras. This weekend however reminded me of the value of climbing Baldy for it's own sake.

I joined a group of friends Saturday afternoon for an easy overnight backpacking trip on the summit. While they were training to hit the four peaks of the Palisades next weekend, I was just enjoying the company. We hit the summit just in time to watch the sun set and set up camp before dark. Hunkering down to take shelter in one of the several wind breaks, we toughed out the cold continual high winds to trade stories and pass around snacks, a couple of beers and a flask until it was time to head to our sleeping bags.

Sunrise was stunning. While I've hiked Baldy at least 10 times before, I've always gone late morning to mid day, just out of convenience, and it has never struck me as a particularly pretty mountain. Under the warm glow of a clear sunrise though, the true beauty of the San Gabriel Mountains is revealed. It starts with the soft blues and purples appearing in the sky. Then as the sun peaks its face over the far ridges, the sky blazes orange, while the shaded mountains in the distance take their turn at the royal colors. As the sun streaks through the valley mists, ethereal gradients and shapes present themselves, fleetingly, before they are lost to the heat. Even as the sun rose higher into the sky, on the morning hike back to the trailhead, the ridges created shadows that highlighted the trail back.