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gnarlynickolas gnarlynickolas

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Nick Smith  Livin life over the edge in Yosemite National Park 🏞


Dewey point it about the halfway mark on the pohono trail. The most fun way to hike the trail is to start at Taft point at sunset and then hike to Dewey at night. You have a campfire there and then wake up for sunrise. Sunrise at Dewey point is magical. The whole cathedral range gets backlit and looks like a massive leaf. From Dewey point you hike another 8 miles or so past other amazing viewpoints, down to tunnel view and hitch a ride back to your car at Taft. It's one of the best backpacking trips in the valley. Not because it's difficult (it's super easy), just because it's beautiful.

I was standing with @bfritzz, @nickdeclimbs and @lovealwayspriscilla after dinner in the parking lot where I live when I looked up. The fires burning around California have once again filled Yosemite Valley with smoke and the last days of light filtered through a blood red. There's no color correction or altering done in this photo. I don't know that I've ever been drawn away from a conversation so quickly. I stared in awe for maybe 2 minutes and it was over. It was a pretty cool thing to witness, and I was in a parking lot.

Ive been writing the stories behind each of my photos for a while now and I really enjoy it, but sometimes there really isn't much of a story. This was taken on my way back from tuolumne. I had just shot the milky way up there and figured I'd give it another go at Olmsted point. This tree is practically in the parking lot, so there's no crazy adventure accompanied to it. It was however where I met @surfnsnowboard, and that meeting led to some awesome things. It's crazy to think that had I not decided at the last minute to shoot photos here a year ago, I'd never have gone to see the eclipse this year. It's cool how small moments can have huge effects in the future.

I'm walking back to my tent when I see @earth_to_madeleine (Mad Dog) and @em_outside and head over to talk for a bit. Mad dog wanted to do a route called Snake Dike that goes to the top of Half Dome, so we were talking logistics. It's about 15 miles of hiking 10,000 feet of elevation change with 800 feet of climbing. I'd done Snake Dike twice already and another route just slightly to its right, so I said that there were only two ways that I'd climb it again. The first being that I free solo it, the second being that I do the entire thing naked. For most people those aren't agreeable conditions, but not mad dog, she was pretty stoked on it. A week and a half later and @lovealwayspriscilla had joined in on our plan. We headed out pretty late at 8am and it took us 4 hours to reach the base of the route. There was a small line of climbers getting ready to climb, so out of respect, we waited an hour and a half for everyone to get a few hundred feet up the route before we undressed. I tied into my rope and Priscilla and Mad Dog tied into two sections of the second end so they could follow me at the same time as I belayed them up. We climbed pretty fast, linking pitches until we were at the base of the 1000 foot slab to the top. Climbing naked is awesome. Honestly makes climbing with clothes on feel kinda lame. We hiked to the top and made it there about 10 minutes before sunset. The timing was pretty unbelievable. So here's a photo of @earth_to_madeleine full nude and majestic, post ascent of the route we renamed Snaked Dick.

I was walking on a knife edge ridgeline. The ground fell from beneath me hundreds of feet as I balanced along. The sun was low in the sky casting a red glow on the rock and surrounding mountains. Far below me sunlight flashed up at me and caught me in the eye. I looked down and saw an alpine blue pool of water cradled in snow. It looked cool, but It wasn't on the trail I set for myself so I wrote it off. As the sunset I set up my tent and crashed. I woke up 30 minutes before the sunrise and caught it on a cliff edge. Far in the distance was my destination for the day. I checked my food and realized quickly that I didn't have it. Plans had to change. I made the decision to drop to the base of the ridge line I was walking and skirt the base in the snow until I made it to a trail. I downclimbed a gulley and started walking the way I came. About an hour later and I once again saw the blue pool of water. As I would later find out, it's called the fountain of youth. Apparently it's a secret location that people skimboard on by sending the snow slope into the water on a snowboard.

I've taken photos from this exact location twice, but my experiences weren't similar at all. This is taken from rappel about 25 feet below the highline anchor at Taft point. On my first shoot there lots of things went wrong. I arrived really late, rushed to set up the anchor, forgot my camera, the highliner wasn't able to send the line, I was with people I barely knew, I was generally kinda scared the entire time and I ended up borrowing someone's camera which wasn't set to shoot raw photos so I had to edit a poorly exposed jpg image. This time round I was about 40 min early. I set up my anchor with care and rappeled with no fear at all. @kweaver_ was walking back and forth on the line with no troubles at all as the sun inched down the sky. A thick layer of smoke filtered the sunlight and the world was a deep red. This time I had my camera and knew exactly how to take the photo. I only took a couple photos before I ascended up my rope so I could hang out with a solid group of friends. On the whole I think what made it so much better was just the fact I wasn't rushing and I felt really comfortable with the people around me. It's just strange how I can do the exact same thing twice and come out with two completely different experiences.

I woke up early in the morning to meet up with a crew of climbers. The plan was to leave the lodge cafeteria at 8:30am to set up the porch swing on top of El Capitan. I hopped on a shuttle bus and arrived a little late. I pushed through a small crowd and scanned the cafeteria for a scruffy looking group of puffy jacket clad dirtbags. I was the only one there. That was pretty typical. It's hard to get a large group of people ready. Soon @ryansheridan showed up, and over the next 3 hours we rallied up everyone else and set off on our hike. We hiked through a bay leaf forest until we reached the east ledges of el Capitan. There are fixed ropes on the side of the mountain which we ascended to the top. From there it was a steep but short hike to the top of the dawn wall where the porch swing gets rigged. When we arrived, @justinreedolsen broke out some wine glasses and poured margaritas. To his left we started a fire to warm ourselves by in the coolest fire pit I've ever seen. All of us had a job when we arrived at the top so the swing was rigged quickly and we got to swinging right away. One end of a rope is attached to a rock which juts out from the lip of the cliff and the other end is attached to your harness. Then you walk about 50 feet away from the anchors to another rope which you rappel down about 30 feet until the rope ends and you fall off of it. The end result is a free fall into a large swing with 3,000 feet of air under you. When I went off it was dark, and as I flew through the air I saw the headlamp lights of tens of climbers scattered all about the cliff below me. Some of them shouted up at me and I responded with the typical monkey call. I would try to explain the feeling of the swing, but it's really impossible. It's like your heart stops during the second of free fall and then catches up with you along with a rush of euphoria as soon as the rope tightens. I was only able to do the swing once, but hopefully I'll be able to return to do it again. It's not the sort of thing you can do once.

My eyes flickered open slowly and the world was a little blurry. My phone was buzzing and doing it's repetitive wake up call at 6am. I sat up grogely in my cars passenger seat and looked out into the trees. I was in the mono meadow parking lot at the beginning of the trail which would lead me closest to cascade cliffs. I packed up quietly and hit the down hill trail with a new energy. It started off in a grove which soon faded into an open meadow. Granite domes lay perched on steep, forested hills on the horizon. Mount Starr King was the largest and my first landmark. I hiked along my trail straight toward the mountain until the path jutted off to the right. There I paused... I opened my map to make sure I was making a good decision and stepped off the trail. I walked into the bushes. The bushes turned to trees and then, as I approached the shoulder of Starr King, into thorns. I raked through a thousand feet of the accursed things until I emerged from the other side of the thorns atop a large hill, bruised and bleeding. Then I saw Half Dome. From there I knew I was on the right path and I followed some deer trails back into a wooded area. The trees thickened and I lost my landmarks, and with them my sense of direction. I just kept pushing forward, my music keeping things light hearted. Then I was at a creek. Cascade creek. It must've been. I crossed it and maneuvered slightly left towards where I hoped the cliffs would be. After a bit longer than I had expected, I saw white granite slabs which led upwards through the trees. I exited the forest and hiked to the hills summit. What lay before me was better than I could ever have hoped for. The ground cut sharply away and the sky opened up before me. A cool breeze picked up my hair as I peered over the edge, 2000 feet down into Little Yosemite Valley. To the left where the sun set was Glacier Point, slightly right was the top of El Cap followed by the back of Half Dome. Far below me the Merced river snaked though a thin burned forest. To my right were Clouds Rest, Brunnel Point and the dramatic peaks of the Yosemite high country. Y'all get your asses out to Cascade Cliffs. That shit's doooope!!

What is it that makes us do things like this? Why do a handstand on the overhanging rock at glacier point? The late first ascentionist of El Capitan Warren Harding would have answered, "Because we're insane, can't be any other reason". Back in the day that very well may have been correct, and maybe it still is. Though I think with the dawn of digital photography and Instagram arose another, less pure reason. It's called Kodak courage: the urge to do something that you wouldn't ordinarily do for a photo opportunity. I've been on the receiving end of Kodak courage, and I've been the photographer who's dealt it. Early on in my photography I would encourage people to do things they were uncomfortable with so that I could get my shot. I regret that. There is no reason to risk your life for a picture. With a couple exceptions, now I'll only take a photo of someone doing something if I know for a fact that they would do the same thing if no one was filming. I think the "do it for the gram" culture is a little out of hand. Photos shouldn't be our main motivation for going out and doing things. We should do things to experience life for ourselves, not to convince other people that we're interesting. So go out there and get shit done. Go on a hike sometime and take candid photos for the memories without the intent of sharing them. Let's stop posing our lives. Let's stop "doing it for the gram".

While I lived in wyoming, cooped up in my room, all I could think about was returning to Yosemite Valley. I drove home near sacramento in February and moved back in with my parents. It wasn't something I was too keen on, but it meant I was close to friends and close to The Valley. I quickly began taking bi-monthly trips to Yosemite to ski, climb and hang out with my friends there. It was an interesting period of time where I felt torn between two friend groups: those at home in Loomis and those in Yosemite. In late February, or maybe it was early March, I invited my best friend @masonbeseler1105 to come with me for a weekend in Yosemite to ski at Badger pass and meet my other friends. It was a really cool time. For a moment I didn't feel torn at all. Everything was in one place. On our last day, @britainandrew, @jazziroque, @masonbeseler1105 and I all headed out to Old Big Oak Flat Road. It's a stunning location with one of the best views of El Capitan in Yosemite. As the golden light of sunset rose on the walls I had Mason running back and forth on the wide trail wearing my yellow jacket. He would walk the run way once for my shots, dab, and come back with my jacket in hand only for me to make him do it again 5 minutes later. I think I said, "seriously, you only have to do this one more time" like 10 times that evening. Mason must've walked an extra mile during that sunset. It's amazing my friends put up with me and my antics. The trip ended when the sun went down, and mason and I said good by to the people of yosemite. As we drove home we FaceTimed our friend Kaarl who lives in San Diego. He's another friend, in another far away place. When I was in school, everyone was in the same place and it was easy to make plans to hang out with everyone you cared about. At first when I moved to Yosemite and was split between groups of people, I didn't like it. Now after a year, my views have changed. Time away from friends brings new energy into relationships when you reconnect. I no longer feel torn. I just feel fortunate that I can have friends in so many different places, and I look forward to seeing everyone again when my life takes me in their direction.

Google earth has long been a source of inspiration and information to me. Early in the season last year I had never been to tuolumne meadows and I wanted to take a photo trip up there. I had very limited time because I'd have to drive up after work at 5pm and sunset was around 7:30. On my lunch break I pulled out my laptop and opened Google earth. I scrolled over miles of land searching for something which might be an speaking foreground for a milky way photo. Eventually I came across the small winding rivers which snake through the meadow. A couple of the bends pointed directly southwest, so those were my target. I drove to tuolumne and arrived about 40 min before sunset. Tuolumne was more beautiful than I could've imagined. As the sun fell below the mountains I pulled out my tripod and set it in line with the river. I snapped off some foreground photos during blue hour and waited. I waited 4 hours for the milky way to come into alignment and the photo came out just as I had hoped.

Jose and I met, @brianxplores, @samsendsit and their dad Scotti at a small restaraunt outside Zion national park. Scotti bought us the first decent food we had had in weeks and for that we were pretty grateful. He suggested that we drive to bryce national park with them, so after our meal we all headed out. Bryce was really neat and we missed snow by hours. After Bryce he told us he had a hotel room outside of the town Escalante and that we were more than welcome to join. So we did, and for Jose and I the plan for the next day soon turned into hiking coyote gulch. We woke up around 5, dropped our car off at the trail end and caught a ride to the start of the trail so we could hike straight through instead of doubling back to the trailhead. This quickly became my favorite hike. We dropped into a canyon on a steep rocky trail down to a river. At first we tried our best to keep our feet dry, but as the trail followed the river nearly the entire time, we gave up. We took our shoes off and started hiking barefoot (except Brian). Coyote gulch is crazy. You're surrounded by massive sandstone cliffs, walking in a river that winds throughh a bamboo forest. It's the most magical place I've ever been. (Sorry yosemite). The photo I took here doesn't do this arch justice. It had to be 70-100 feet thick. I'm honestly struggling to come up with words to describe it. It was just impressive. If you ever get the chance to do this hike, do it. It's cooler than anything you'll see in the national parks in Utah.

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