My daughter invited me on an overnight hike to Sahale Arm. She and her friend were planning to climb Sahale Peak. I’m not a fan of alpine climbing so I decided go but bring paints instead of climbing gear. Even without a sleeping bag, water filter, stove or tent my pack weighed 47 pounds.
I had my 12 x 16 wet painting carrier box with 3 boards, plus my easel, paints, thinner and brushes. For camping gear I had a foam pad, Sue’s winter puffy, long johns and a 5 ounce space blanket. I used the detachable brain from my pack for a pillow. Lisa and D. gave me their raincoats for insulation over my legs, which I stuck in my backpack. I was warm enough…no shivering, but it wasn’t toasty by any means. Mostly I missed a soft pad. I may be getting too old for thin foam backpacking pads.
The bivvy sack is open on top so I was a little worried about rats running across my hands and face. I’ve had them do that when sleeping under the stars in the past. We got up early. They roped up and started up the glacier while I set up my easel.
The mountain goats hung around hoping for some salt, but after a while they lay down 30 feet away and I got down to the business of painting. And then the flies arrived. They were in all sizes but the biggest ones were huge green eyed beasts the size of pinto beans. They were fat and slow with insatiable curiosity…and they wanted to bite. I put on my long sleeved shirt and pants, plus my mosquito head net. Then they started landing on my fingers…the only skin still exposed. It was very frustrating. I’ve since picked up some white gloves in order to be completely covered.
The painting went well, but I kept turning around to worry about my daughters progress up the climb. I knew they’d run into trouble. but they were just tiny dots a couple miles away and I wasn’t sure whether they needed help or were just moving carefully. Finally they got off the rock and onto the glacier moving normally roped together. By then I had packed up and was ready to either head up to help, or hike out to the car. I wished I’d at least brought a light ice ax. There is no cell coverage up there and I wished we’d brought radios. My ham radios reach out to 50 miles.
When I got the painting home I didn’t like it. I’d done it as a grey monotone and it needed color. Since I was already cheating (working from a photo), I decided to bring the photo into Photoshop and build a color chart of swatches. I have found that having square swatches of color on the reference photo helps me to see the color relationships. The swatches are easier to look at than the colors on the mountain.
I start the process of building swatches by choosing the Photoshop shape tool. I put on a 2 point thick stroke of black and drag out a little square. Then I use the move tool (V) to alt+drag out a bunch of duplicates across the photo, aligning the bottom left hand corner with the problem area on the photo.
I set the move tool preferences to: auto select – layer. I touch a swatch to select that layer, choose the shape tool (U), press the fill color picker on the shape tool options bar, press the rainbow color picker, then eye drop (sample) the photo just below the bottom left corner of the swatch.
This puts that color on the swatch. I go to the next swatch and repeat. Here is what that looks like when it’s done in Photoshop. Note the row of recently sampled swatches.
I’m fairly happy with the finished painting. In retrospect though, I don’t need to carry a 50 pound pack 14 miles to create a nice painting. What was I thinking?
We finally got around to revisiting Toleak Point, but this time with my painting gear. We’d been there 6 years earlier, but all I had was my camera and I’d regretted not bringing paints. Photos from our previous hike 6 years ago.
When we arrived at the trailhead Saturday night there was no possibility of parking. Cars were parked in every square inch of the lot. Cars were double and triple parked behind other cars, blocking the early arrivals in place. We’d planned to sleep at the trailhead and hike out in the morning. Instead we drove a couple miles West and slept in a pullout. I was glad to have the pickup bed to sleep in. In the morning there was a couple bad parking spots open and we were able to jockey our way into a very tight parallel parking slot.
Toleak is getting far too popular. Do not go on the weekend. We talked to a guy who arrived Friday at noon and only two spots were open even that early in the weekend. It’s weird because the place isn’t really that pretty. I mean it’s very nice, but Shi Shi and Rialto or Ruby are just as pretty. Maybe it’s the remoteness that draws the crowd. When we hiked out on Tuesday there were 40 open spots…if you don’t mind double parking along the road, with cars backing out toward you broadside.
Weather was perfect Sunday as we hiked South but I arrived too tired to paint. Hiking 7 miles with a heavy pack is not something we do regularly. We woke up to fog but I could see this 100 foot high tower capped by a nesting bald eagle so that was what got painted.
We took a siesta, dipping into our meager food supplies, and then I walked South, hoping the fog over the main rocks would lift. It didn’t, so I painted this little twenty foot tall tower right at the tip of Toleak Point. After dinner I tried to paint the Giants Graveyard 4 miles distant but that proved to be too difficult and I erased it. It would have been my third painting of the day anyway.
My homemade backpack isn’t happy carrying 50 pounds, though really 50 pounds won’t feel good with any backpack. I felt like a mule with a Grand Canyon tourist on my back. I had skipped the sleeping bag to save weight. I slept in my thin puffy ($40 on sale at Big 5) and my Feathered friends down vest. I also had on thin nylon pants over long johns.
The first night I put my legs in my backpack for warmth. That was not warm enough and it wasn’t a great night sleep. The second night (Monday) I opened up the 3 ounce space blanket I’ve been carrying around for a decade and it was amazing. I felt as warm as if I’d been sleeping in a summer weight bag. I have to bring the two puffies anyway for standing around and painting in the ocean breezes, so it was awesome to sleep warm with just the mylar space blanket.
Bivying without proper sleeping gear is something I’ve been doing since my alpine climbing days. Mountain climbers have the same problem painters have: the gear is so heavy you have to cut corners on the normal gear that keeps backpackers comfortable.
Things I could leave behind:
All of my colors except Transparent Oxide Brown and Red (TOB & TOR).
12 x 16 boards. I worked on 9 x 12’s, which seemed big enough
Large brushes…work on small boards, need small brushes
Grizzly bear spray…didn’t see anything larger than a bald eagle
Two headlamps, one light per party would be enough
extra water bottle…plenty of streams
Things we should have brought:
More food! We were hungry all the time. An extra dehydrated dinner would have been awesome
Windscreen for MSR stove, slower cooking time wasn’t worth the savings in weight
Bigger bear box for more food…and or add in the white bear proof bag
Trail mix-granola. It would be lighter than the packaging for all the expensive energy bars we brought.
Shoulder strap spreader pads…or I need to sew better pack straps
The hiking books advise you to stop at the ranger station in Port Angeles to get permits. We were shocked to read that it’s $8 per person per night to camp out there. What they don’t tell you is that you can also pick up a permit at the trailhead, fill it out, and mail it in with your check. And as it happened, we saw no rangers Sunday through Tuesday checking peoples tents or backpacks for permits.
It’s sad that our parks have to charge so much for simply allowing us to enjoy the beauty. I know they have to maintain the trails, signs, ropes outhouses and parking lots, and that’s expensive. But for cash strapped people trying to have some cheap fun by walking the coast…it’s a shock. A party of two pays $16 a night…for backpacking!
Here is the pit toilet at Toleak…not a lot of money went into this 4 star facility:
I’m looking out the window of our cozy little house, thinking about the last two weeks. Neither Sue nor I had ever been to the Grand Canyon, Zion, or Bryce so we were excited to get out of town. We drove to Boise first to stay a night with my niece Pam. She is in her second year of residency as a GP, but she’s also one of my climbing partners.
She was able to get a half day off and we climbed at the Black Canyon just outside of Boise. It is a cheesy little cliff similar to Vantage but the climbing was real, and we both got a little gripped.
The drive down to Zion was not fun at all…simply something you have to grin and bare. I love to listen to free talking books from the library while I put the miles behind me. We pulled into our first of several free campspots thanks to this cool website. I don’t have any classes this summer, or income, so avoiding unnecessary expenses is a priority. I’m thinking I may apply for unemployment…heck I might even find a job. I have no desire to have the summer off, though the weather is good for painting.
We had to get on a shuttle to get in to Zion. Cars are not allowed in peak season. It’s $20 a person to walk into Zion from the shuttle. We were thankful to have our $10 lifetime senior passes. After a 60 minute wait we got on a shuttle and then got off at the first pretty viewpoint. I hiked off trail up to a quiet spot and started the first of many bad paintings this trip. It was simply too hot to stand in the sun and paint…not too mention the jet-lag from the long drive. My new oil based gesso grounds allows me to easily wipe back down to clear white “canvas” (board). I packed up, found Sue and hit the road for the Grand Canyon…glad to put over hot, over crowded Zion in the rear window.
We pulled into our free Grand Canyon campsite at 4AM dead tired. In the morning we drove into the park and man was it confusing. There are looping roads circling everywhere when you get close to the South rim by Grand Canyon village. They gave us a map but it was so confusing I had to use my phones GPS to get anywhere. We stumbled on free parking near one of the trails and used that for the next week.
I did another bad painting out over the canyon that morning: Rim Trail, pictured above. I had a young guy from Kansas tell me I was the best artist he’d ever seen. Clearly they don’t have many painters in Kansas. It looked ok after the first morning and I should have left it alone. But alas, I worked on it a second day and ruined it. And there went another painting wiped down to white.
My track record was not looking good so we decided to combine a hike with the painting. Oxygen often makes me paint better. We did a dawn start and joined the hoards hiking down the Bright Angel trail. Two miles down I found a wide spot in the switchbacks where I could set up and be clear of the stream of hikers and tourists on mule trains.
Tourists pay $800 for a two night round trip ride on a mule down the canyon. I guess if you are rich it might be worth it. My daughter did the 16 mile hike on foot in a day a few years ago, but that was in the Spring, not early July. I was tempted to try the hike myself, but Sue wasn’t buying it. We would have had to bivy, and hike back up at night to avoid the heat.
The painting I did on the Bright Angel trail is rough, but it has potential for refinement in the studio. It was fun to feel it start to breath on it’s own. Lots of people liked it, commenting on it’s beauty, and that is usually a good sign. Those tourists are not dumb.
I got into a routine where I would do morning and afternoon paintings. After about 3 days of that, where the morning painting would go well, and the afternoon painting would turn into a ‘wipe off’, I realized I could do one or the other, but not both. It was simply too hot to work all day in the blazing sun. Temperatures ranged from 90 to over 100.
The evening light was supremely pretty out across the canyon, but after 4 failures I realized I could not paint it. I could draw the shapes, but I couldn’t figure out the color of the grass. Anything that isn’t vertical in the Grand Canyon is covered in grass. It looks like a hillside in Eastern Washington. It’s a boring yellow green that fades to gray in the distance, and turns slightly blue depending on the time of day.
The shadows of the red cliffs were also troubling, and don’t even get me started on tree covered slopes of grass. My trees look like pasted on cucumbers.
I had some moderate success on the South Kaibab Trail, which we hiked down for a mile, loosing 1000 feet of elevation. The viewpoint where I stood was a 4th class ledge, and I wished I’d brought some cams with which to anchor myself. This didn’t stop the crazy instagram tourists from jumping up and down on the edge of the 300 foot cliff next to my easel. “Do it again, and try to click your heels together!” And they wonder why I wear headphones.
Our last hike was the Deception Trail. It is an unmaintained trail, which means it’s too hard and dangerous for mules. They can’t make money on the trail, so they abandon it. People can pick their way down it, if you don’t mind crumbling wooden bridges over 70 foot drops. I don’t have a picture of that painting yet. I had switched over to monotone painting by then.
The impossibly hard color of the canyon had simply wore me down. I figured I’d get the values right, and figure out color at home from my imagination. On a rest day we saw some paintings for sale by Serena Supplee which gave me some great ideas.
There is quite a cast of characters driving the Grand Canyon shuttle buses. One guy went on and on about how he’d hit and dragged a traffic cone for 10 minutes before it rolled out from under his bus. It was the highlight of his day. The buses drive East and West along the South Rim, sometimes only twenty feet from a 2000 foot drop, with no guardrail. One driver was calmly explaining to us that only certain stops allowed you to catch rides both East and West. “And if you have a driver tell you he is going North, get off the bus, immediately!”
After our rest day following our 3 canyon hikes I finally took the bus all the way out to Hermit’s Rest (8 miles) and set up to paint the afternoon light. As I was framing my view in my little aluminum viewfinder I noticed a really cool twisted tree that looked more fun than the canyon.
The reason trees were even on my radar was that Sue had started sketching too, and she had been working on trees. I decided that it was a good candidate for a monotone and set to work.
I do these by rubbing the board down with Transparent Oxide Brown and Genuine Rectified Turpentine. This gives the ‘canvas’ a lovely brown tone that is quite malleable. Then I lift out the highlights with a brush wetted with Gamsol (Odorless Mineral Spirits). I push and pull cool and warm colors by using Transparent Oxide Brown and Red. Richard Schmid calls them TOB and TOR. For the darkest colors I used just a touch of Cobalt or Ultramarine Blue.
Something clicked that day with the twisted pine tree. I have no idea why, but suddenly I was able to see, and paint exactly what I saw. I actually turned to Sue who was napping nearby and said: “Who is this guy, and what has he done with Mark?” I don’t think I’ve ever painted that well in my entire life. Sadly, I came back the next day to work on it again in the same light and may have ruined it. I have yet to take it out of the wet painting carrier box since adding the upper branches and leaves.
After 10 days we’d had enough of the heat and headed North. We were thinking the North Rim, but halfway there I got tired of driving and saw a sign that read: “30 miles to Bryce Canyon”. We found a great free camping spot right outside the entrance and crashed at dawn.
After a few hours of sleep we drove to Bryce Point and hiked down a mile to a nice view where I did a another monotone. I thought I’d be too tired to paint but once again something clicked. A lot of hikers liked it, so it might be good. I did another one the next day, but it wasn’t as successful. I swear the shadows on those hoodoo towers move as fast as breaking waves at the ocean.
Hiking up to the rim at Bryce’s Sunset Point I finally hit the wall, spent, exhausted and done. My 45 pound pack felt like it weighed 200 pounds. I may have under hydrated. I had plenty of water, but forgot to drink it. Once we got to the car I had to nap all afternoon and went to bed without dinner. I think it was a touch of heat exhaustion.
Whenever I was painting Sue would sit in the shade…while I baked in the 100 degree sunshine at my easel. She has always been the smarter hiker in the family.
We left after that and drove north to the City of Rocks for some climbing. On the second day Pam joined us, she had the 4th off and the City is only 3 hours from Boise. Sue tries to take it easy climbing, but with Pam there we could hit the hard stuff. We did Wheat Thin, Columbia Crack, Intruding Dyke and Mystery Achievement at the Breadloaves.
Sue was burned out on living for 16 days out of a little mountaineering tent and talked me into driving home. I was just getting warmed up at climbing and didn’t want to leave, however, the tent zipper was blown, bugs were getting inside, and I have 8 plein air paintings waiting for some TLC. Climbing feels like playing hooky when I’m actually trying to get serious about learning to paint.