251/365: Muir Milky Way. (click to view larger)

That night, after crossing over Muir Pass and camping at a small pond overlooking Helen Lake, the stars were the brightest I had seen yet. The moon was rising later and later, so it allowed the stars to glow in their own brilliance without the moon's light to numb the sky's contrast. This was the highest elevation we had camped at so far, still in the alpine zone, no vegetation save a few scrubby rock-clinging wildflowers. Based on Helen Lake's elevation, I'd guess we were sleeping at 11,700.

Well, I wasn't exactly sleeping. Because we liked to rise early and hike in the coolness of the morning (like wake up at O-FIVE-THIRTY), I would normally be snoring at 8:30 pm, but with stars like this, you have to wait till almost 10 pm to really get the dark sky in full effect, without any residual sunlight in the west. So I was taking short naps as the camera shot timelapses outside, a chemical handwarmer taped around the battery compartment in an attempt to keep the battery lasting in the sub-freezing temperatures. After two or three hours, I'd get up to bring in the camera, then see another shot that I just HAD to have, shoot it in RAW for a bit to get a good still, then switch the camera to shoot a JPEG timelapse, crawl back in the tent and set my watch again. When I set up the posted shot above, it was almost 2 am, and still dark, DARK. I shot the still and noticed something I couldn't see with my naked eye: the glow on Mt. Solomons in the background, a faint hint of the rising moon to the east. I figured this would be another amazing timelapse, so I set her to shoot AGAIN, and took another nap. Shortly after I laid back down, we all woke up as we heard a sudden noise that we didn't recognize, getting louder and louder, very quickly, seeming to come right for us, a herd of bighorn sheep come to trample us? As quick as it started, it began to die and fade, crumpling pepples scattering in the dust as it finally stopped. I heard Brad call out from the next tent, "Did you guys hear that?" Uh, yeah, I'm halfway out of my sleeping bag with my knife cocked and ready to get trampled...or run like the wind. I heard it. The verdict? Rockslide. Luckily, we were nowhere near the cliffs themselves. To quote Ranger Shelton Johnson, from an upcoming documentary on the JMT that my friend Peter Bell is producing with my company, "It was a John Muir moment!" Yowsa!