The Hype Is Real

The hype surrounding the total solar eclipse of 2017 was hard to believe.

Almost every media outlet was claiming this would be the most amazing natural phenomenon you’ll ever see. Better than a meteor shower, better than the Northern Lights, better than any sunset you can think of. This cannot be missed they said.

News stations warned that towns the path of totality would be completely gridlocked from Wyoming to Oregon with people coming from all over North America. For a week leading up to the event, it seemed like all anyone would talk about. Where will you be for the eclipse???

Needless to say, I was skeptical it would be THAT interesting. But, I’d never seen a total solar eclipse, and the odds of ever catching one this easily logistically are slim. So, I bought into the hype and decided I better hatch a plan.Being in Salt Lake, it seemed that most people were driving North, possibly to Jackson, or Driggs or Stanley. There was no shortage of amazing spots to watch it from, especially if the weather cooperated.

I was more interested in finding something deep in the wilds, away from the crowds. And also somewhere I could get a unique photo without making a composite. This was easier said than done, because the eclipse was happening at almost high noon. It seemed like the only real solution would be from the base of a very large mountain, looking almost straight up.

I pulled out a few maps and quickly plotted the path of totality. It would pass directly through the center of the Wind River Range.


North Face of Mount Bonneville

After doing a little research on sun angle, I started looking for peaks with really steep tall north faces, preferably ones with super distinct forms that would photograph well. There is no shortage of big peaks in the Winds, but one in particular seemed most impressive – Mt Bonneville. The summit block of Mt. Bonneville are jagged spires and towers that would make for a rugged skyline, and the key feature is that it rises almost 2000 feet straight up from a lake at it’s base, meaning an unobstructed view pointed almost straight up in the air.

I had spent a couple of days backpacking around Mt Bonneville as part of the Wind River High Route a few years previously, and I consider that zone one of the most photogenic in the entire range. The only problem, it wasn’t dead center in the path of totality, instead of two and a half minutes of total eclipse, Bonneville would see about 45 or 50 seconds worth. The bonus, of course, is even in the absence of a solar eclipse, it’s a helluva place to chill for a few days.

The only other drawback – it’s a solid 15 mile hike from the nearest trailhead. That’s a fair chunk of distance with a couple of cameras, but one that would almost guarantee we’d have some solitude.

The view I imagined when I schemed up this trip originally. The north face of Mt Bonneville is almost 2000 vertical feet over my head, yet the sun was even higher than I anticipated.


Crossed only a handful of folks on our way up the basin.

I hiked up to the upper lake a good hour or two before the eclipse would start, hoping to find a solid composition. Turns out, when your camera is pointed straight up in the air, there isn’t really such a thing as composition. Just toss a wide angle lens on, and go for it. I set up two cameras, one with a telephoto to shoot details, and a wide angle for the landscape.

About 45 minutes before totality, I am just blissing out with two remotes firing off exposures every few minutes, when a solo hiker comes wandering into the basin. This is a fairly remote zone and off-trail, so you don’t just wander in here by accident. I shouted a greeting, and totally startled the guy. He looked at my funny glasses and multiple tripods and immediately wondered what the hell I was doing up here.

I asked him the same thing. “Don’t you know there is a total eclipse happening?”

“Oh yeah, I’m from Jackson. So many damn people there for it, I decided to leave town and go for a walk.”

I just laughed. “Dude, you are walking right into the path of totality and have no idea what’s going on? Drop your pack and chill, take a look in these glasses.”

The sun was already about 50 percent covered by the moon, and all my new friend could say was “HOLY SHIT!”

He dropped his pack and took off his shirt and shoes to kick back and watch the show. We had amazing blue skies, super warm for almost 11,000 feet.

What happened next was insane. Darkness slowly crept over the landscape, but not like it does at night, where it wipes laterally across the sky. This was different, where the darkness encompasses you from all directions. And it happens really fast.

And then the temperature drops 20 or 30 degrees, almost in an instant. My friend scrambled to find a shirt and layer up, where we were sunbathing just a few minutes before.

And then an eerie light diffuses over everything, It feels like sunset but the horizon is still light, and it’s surprisingly dark. In a disoriented stupor, I stared up in the air and almost forgot to keep taking pictures.

And then it was over. As long as it took for it to build to totality, it only stayed dark for 45 or 50 seconds. As soon as the first hint of sun slips back from around the moon, the landscape lights up all over again. And then I realized why people try so hard to get dead center in the path of totality – every moment of totality is such a bizarre and awesome experience, to unnecessarily shorten it dilutes some of the intensity and… weirdness?

My new buddy and I laughed about how insane it was to meet and experience this so randomly, gave each other a high five, and went our separate ways. I really don’t know how else to describe it. It was wild. Weird. Intense. And awesome.

The composite view of totality from the telephoto lens. I wish I had more than 45 seconds to take a moment and look around without worrying about snapping a photo!

Better than Advertised

Back at camp, the show wasn’t finished. As golden hour approached, a massive hatch of insects started to come off the lake. Soon a whole school of brook trout was stacked at the outlet of the lake feasting on the insect explosion. I’ve never seen fish so active in such a compact area in my life. The fish were feeding so aggressively and so frequently I could literally just hold my camera up and wait for them to break the surface and fire away. Sometimes as many as 4 or 5 fish would surface in the same field of view within moments of each other.

Unlike totality, this was no fleeting show. We sat and watched the fish for close to an hour, completely blown away by the show. Definitely one of the wildest days I’ve ever had in the mountains.

I was skeptical this eclipse business could possibly be as cool as everyone says. I can now sayd definitively the hype is real. It was hands down one of the most amazing things I’ve seen – up there with the Aurora Borealis in Alaska. Just so bizarre and awesome, it’s hard to even explain what it was. I can say this – if you ever have a chance to experience totality, just freaking do it. You’ll thank me later.

I've never seen a bad sunrise at Bonneville. Incredible spot.