Photo Journal, Issue 8, November 08, 2009

A Chuckle From the Summer Season

In the summer of 2009, I was headed to the Sierra Nevada East Side to do some hiking and photography. Before I hiked much above 14,000 feet elevation, I knew that it was prudent to do some altitude adjustment, so I camped in the White Mountains, just west of Nevada, for several days to accomplish this. Altitude adjustment is best done by
sleeping at moderately high elevation and getting some moderate exercise there or above. The big peak there is White Mountain Peak at about 14,250 feet high, and I had hiked up it before, so I figured that it was time to tackle it again. This peak does not require any climbing skills, only maybe tough feet and healthy lungs, since it had a rocky jeep road to the top. I presented myself at the locked starting gate early one morning armed with my camera with one 18-200mm lens. I would be hiking all day long at high elevation over a distance of more than 16 miles, so it was not prudent to carry along lots of glass.

Within a few miles, I was picking out the wildlife. Yellow-bellied marmots were all over the place. Baby marmots were particularly cute as they poked their furry noses from the rocky burrow, and Mom wasn’t far away. After a few more hours, I was hiking up the steeper section toward the summit, and I spotted animals on the east side of the peak.
Initially, I thought that they were moving rocks, but after a moment staring and perfecting the focus, I could see hooves and horns. These appeared to be sheep, but they were not domestic sheep. I was almost certain that they were female bighorn sheep. One animal appeared to have a red collar, and I suspected that it was a radio-tracking collar. That would make it a bighorn sheep, not a domestic sheep. I really needed 500mm or 600mm in the lens to get it, but 200mm was all that I had with me. However, I was still on my way to the summit, and there would be plenty of camera time later on the way back down.

I reached the summit, shot a few scenery panoramics, enjoyed the view, and then started back down. Other hikers that I met on the summit started down as well. When we got down to the bighorn overlook point, I snapped a few shots of the animals, and then asked another hiker if they had an appreciation for wildlife. The response was, “Yes, I used
to be a wildlife biologist.”

So, I pointed out the wooly animals in the distance and asked if they looked like domestic sheep or bighorn sheep. The response was, “They look like elk to me.” ( ! )

Geez, I couldn’t believe that. Elk are several times larger than any form of sheep, and they are shaped differently. Elk are dark brown, and bighorn sheep are off-white/gray/tan. Elk
would not be found above 13,000 feet on a bare and rocky mountain side.

At that point, my pace picked up. I may not be a wildlife biologist, but at least I know the difference between an elk and a sheep.


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