Adventure Journal Main Menu: Esper E-letter #22, Nov. 2008 - May 2009

Wildernesscapes Photography w/ Johnathan Esper eLetter #22, Winter/Spring 2008-2009
Topics: Launch of brand new website & completing the USA 50 state highpoints in Hawaii

Photographer Johnathan Esper is pleased to announce the re-launch of with a brand new graphical design and layout that allows for easier browsing, and updating and adding of new content and photos. Additionally, Johnathan Esper has adopted the business name of Wildernesscapes Photography. The third and final in a series of designs starting from 2004, the new incorporates Wildernesscapes Photography’s new name and better portrays Johnathan’s photography with a professional look and feel and content.   In addition to Johnathan’s New Zealand , Patagonia, and mountaineering galleries, there are new Adirondack Park and Hawaii galleries, a menu of exciting adventure journal stories, and even photo notecards for sale.
        In my last eLetter in the fall of 2008, I talked about the frustrations and excitement of my photography as a career, as I was busy photographing an Adirondack portfolio to market locally. A lot has happened since. I have been living at home with my mom and brothers to reduce my living costs and because the Adirondacks are a great area to photograph in which I have roots. The fall and winter mostly saw me photographing in the Adirondacks, editing photos and stitching panoramas sitting at my computer, and applying to photo shows, and traveling. It’s amazing how fast time goes by, and older people tell me it goes by even faster. I feel I haven’t done as much as I had hoped living at home, and I can’t imagine how anyone is ever bored. I still haven't gotten the time or willpower to learn video editing skills edit my Patagonia video tapes into an adventure travel video, or start uploading stock videos onto micro-stock sites for sale, things I had hoped would be done by now. (If you can edit HD video, I am looking to hire someone to make a 2 HD videos from ~12 Patagonia mini DV tapes; please contact me for details).
        The fall foliage was exceptionally vibrant this autumn in the Adirondacks, so I really enjoyed my fall photography trips. Mostly I did shorter day walks, because it was extremely rainy during the whole peak foliage week except for one day. A week after peak, my 4 younger brothers, Mom, and I went on a 3 day canoe trip to Lows Lake. Even though it's a popular canoeing wilderness lake just 20 minutes from our house, we had never been there before. Photographing in the Adirondacks has definitely encouraged me to discover new places close by my hometown, like Lows Lake, that are beautiful and unique, but that I've driven by countless times over the years. It's amazing how one goes around the world in search of beautiful places and bypasses ones closer to home. I also went on a couple winter hikes in the High Peaks region, finally bringing a camera up these very familiar mountains from years past. In the spring, I had a solo gallery showing of my photography at the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts in Little Falls, NY. My first gallery showing went very well, thanks to generous efforts by volunteer staff hanging all my large pieces. I invested a fair amount of money in inventory to get so many pieces for display, and I know photographers that keep no inventory and only take internet orders, but I think it's important for people to see the quality of my work hanging on a wall, because there's nothing like seeing a physical piece. (And I like to see an actual piece once in a while too, after studying it's every detail on my computer monitor for so hours editing it.) The Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts in Blue Mountain is hosting another gallery showing of my Adirondack photography November 1- December 20, 2009, so if you're in the area, be sure to stop by!
        I flew to Colorado for a 2 week trip in February. I hiked quite a bit in the Bear Lake area of Rocky Mountain National Park, a popular area that I'd never been too, and spent several days enjoying the famous Colorado powder on my board. I also did some backcountry skiing on my splitboard with Colorado photographers Scott Borger and Jack Brauer, both of whom ending up helping me with the design of my new website, so the connections I made were great. I seem to know quite a few people in Colorado, and managed to meet up with several more friends as well, including 2 former climbing partners on Denali.
        We went on a 5 week family trip to Hawaii in March. It started out because I wanted to hike Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in Hawaii, and my 50th and last USA state highpoint. And then it turned into a family trip in which my 4 brothers and mom came also. I didn’t want to wait years to finish this last mountain that was holding me back from a long-time major goal in my life. (This Mauna Kea adventure story is at the end of this email, and also separately on my website under the adventure journal section.) We spent our time in Hawaii divided among the Big Island of Hawaii and Kauai, both known for their natural beauty and less populated than Oahu. My family traveled our usual way - renting a minivan and camping for free as we traveled around – when we first arrive at an island, we have no idea where to camp that night, but by the end of our time on each island we have several ideal camping locations scattered around the island where the police or anyone else won’t bother us, ranging from dirt pullovers to beautiful sandy beaches lined with trees for wind protection. Our vacation was mixed – we did a lot of day hikes and saw the entire island in much more detail than most travelers, yet there also seemed to be an awful lot of complaining on the trip (I won’t say by whom), and we all discovered to our dismay that Brecken doesn't like hiking or getting dirty in the outdoors anymore, so he ended up reading some unabridged complete Sherlock Holmes volumes instead.
        On the island of Hawaii, we swam and body-surfed at many beaches (my favorite the green sand beach on the southern tip of the Big Island), snorkeled with tropical fish and endangered green sea turtles (my favorite the Kapoho Tide Pools on the Puna Peninsula), swam to the base of 1600ft waterfalls, hiked into vallies such as the Waipio Valley, hiked at 3am illegally across fresh lava benches to get up close to red lava flowing into the ocean, and biked from sea to summit on Mauna Kea. On Kauai, my brother Josiah and I did a 3 day backpacking trip on the Kalalau Trail along the famous Na Pali coastline, endured a miserable muddy and overgrown trail to get to and go through an abandoned 1 mile long irrigation tunnel through a mountain, touched the flipper of a sleeping monk seal on the beach, went on a helicopter flight over the Na Pali coastline on which even I got sick (I never get sick), hiked down eroded narrow ridelines to witness amazing coastal views (my favorite being the Honopu Ridge trail), and slept out under the stars on a beach and woke up with sand flea bites all over our faces that looked like chicken pox. Hawaii photos are now on my website in their own gallery should you wish to look.
        Currently I am writing this in Rekjavik, Iceland, in a hostel at midnight waiting until 1am or so before a group of us from England, Israel, and Germany go out. I've been 'stuck' waiting in the capital city and surrounds for 2 weeks until I can receive my car arriving in a container ship in the port, after which I’ll really start exploring and photographing. Iceland is one of those areas of the world known for it’s natural beauty and wilderness, that’s talked about by hikers and photographers, along with places like Patagonia, New Zealand, and Tasmania. Iceland is also known to be one of the most expensive countries in the world….until recently when the value of real estate and other investments plummeted, sending the country’s banks into bankruptcy, as people defaulted on their loans. Today Icelanders don’t know what lies ahead for their country, whether their economy will worsen still, whether they’ll be forced to adopt the Euro currency, or if it will get better from here. So while actual prices in Icelandic Kroner (ISK) have stayed the same or even increased, foreigners can exchange their currency for twice as many Kroners as before, which is why I decided I should travel now to a country long on my life’s list of wildernesscapes to explore. I am here for four months, to hike, backpack, explore, and photograph Iceland. Prices are still expensive even by our foreign standards, which is why I ended up buying a brand new Jeep 4wd in December for $14,000, down from nearly $24,000 with all the incentives and deals from our own slowing economy, and shipped it out from Boston to Reykjavik, instead of renting a vehicle here (which costs ~$150/day for a 4x4, totaling $12,000-14,000 USD for 4 months). The plan was to hopefully make a small profit by selling it here, unlike my previous foreign car purchases in New Zealand and Chile. Internet prices for a smaller used 4x4 vehicle were 2.5 to 5 million Kronurs ($20,000 - $40,000USD) when I checked a few months ago and arranged shipment, so I didn't want to outlay that much money to buy a car locally, even if I would get most of that back at the end, so that's why I went with this idea. However, I've had some unexpected complications here in Reykjavik. I don't like to plan ahead too much, so I know many of my problems were avoidable, but that's just how I do things. I didn't want to keep the United States car insurance on my vehicle while it was in Iceland, and I couldn't find an insurance policy to cover me abroad, so I canceled my insurance, but in order to do that, I had to surrender my license plates. But over here in Iceland, the customs office said I can't temporarily bring a vehicle into Iceland without foreign license plates, so my other option is to get Icelandic plates, but that will mean I am importing the vehicle into Iceland and will need to pay huge tarrifs and import duties equal to 90% of the value of my car (~13,000 USD !) I knew I had to pay some taxes if I imported the car, but I certainly didn't expect to have to pay that much! And I didn't know I should have kept my US plates on. I don't want to sink another $13000 into the vehicle, even though I perhaps could get it back ($27,000) by selling it here, because the economic outlook is very uncertain. Perhaps the exchange rate will drop back to 90 ISK : 1 USD, from 130 ISK : 1 USD currently, which will mean I probably could break even after exchanging the vehicle proceeds back into dollars, or maybe the exchange rate will increase even more, or the economy will slow further and depress car prices more, in which cases I'd never have a hope of breaking even. So, I convinced the customs official to let me get my old license plates mailed to me from my mom (who signed my name and got my plates back from Dept. of Motor Vehicles), and once I receive them here in Iceland, ask an Eimskip shipping employee to find my car in the shipyard and put the plates back on, before it goes through customs. This sounds simple, but technically this is interfering with goods prior to clearing customs, yet it can't clear customs without the plates (unless I pay the taxes). So hopefully it will work out. Getting insurance was also difficult, and a couple companies said I couldn't do it with foreign plates, but thankfully I found one who would give me the mandatory Iceland insurance, after I registered with the National Registry of Iceland for an identification number. If you're lost by all these prices now, I'm not surprised - the lesson is to keep your plates on, because nothing's certain, even what your US embassy in Iceland tells you.
        So, in the coming months, be expecting some unforgettable Icelandic imagery, and in the meantime, I hope you enjoy browsing my new website!
                    A little history of
In 2004 durring college, I took a basic programming class, and instead of making up useless pages, I started creating basic tables containing some of my photos, photos that I really liked then, but that I’m more critical of now. At first the site was on my college’s web server, then in 2005 I started paying for hosting at a real company. I was very fortunate to find the domain of available and register it. Then when I went to New Zealand for nearly a year, I devoted myself more seriously to making quality photos, self-teaching myself, so when I came back from that trip, I knew I needed to move beyond the ‘buy now’ paypal buttons by every photo, and have a real photography gallery and website, if I wanted to make any money off my photography. So I contracted with a local programming firm in Spokane, WA in 2006 to build me a custom database-driven website. Probably because they weren’t too familiar with what functionality a photography website should have, and me being very picky in what I wanted, it was a frustrating experience that ended up costing several more thousand dollars than it should have. I promised I’d not change my site anymore until I made back my money through the site. But two years later, it became evident I needed to make major changes to my site, it wasn’t simple enough for me to change, and it was too expensive to hire done. I needed to update the too-busy homepage and graphic design, change basically all the other content pages to help them look more professional and better represent my photography today, optimize the site for better searchability, enable the site to host stock photo albums, add news and adventure journal pages, and allow me to be able to more easily modify and add content in the future.
        My new site was built by Jack Brauer, a mountain photographer who also designed and sells a very robust photography gallery and admin website to allow easy updating and changing of one’s site, and as a photographer, he knows what functionality a photography website should have. My finances, as well as the marketing of my photography as a business, would be well ahead of where they are now if I had used Jack Brauer’s services earlier, but on the positive side, I get a site built by him with many more features and flexibility than it had 2 years ago. I feel really fortunate to now finally have the site I do, but with it comes the monumental task of starting from a blank site and re-uploading all photos, galleries, content, etc, because they can’t just transfer over. And it’s still a work in progress.
Hawaii Highpointing Adventure Story
I am pleased to announce that I have finished all 50 USA state highpoints, finishing on Mauna Kea on March 12, 2009. To complete the 50th, my brother Josiah Esper, 14, successfully completed a Sea to Summit back to Sea by human power.
        The story of why I decided to visit each of the 50 state highpoints starts with my unique upbringing in the mountains of New York State. I hiked extensivly in the Adirondack Mountains, starting at the age of 7, and in the process gaining several regional records for climbing the Adirondack 46 High Peaks during the winter season. After completeing 5 rounds of this group of 46 mountains (of which 4 rounds total were in the winter), I grew a bit too familiar with these mountains, and decided to move on and climb other peaks. So, my dad and I climbed all 116 mountains above 4,000ft. in elevation in New England and New York (the New England 116)in the winter, finishing in New Hampshire in January 2001. After this, I decided again it was time to move on, and set myself the next logical goal of climbing/visiting all 50 state highpoints. My family has always done a lot of traveling themselves, so going on a few summer roadtrips together made sense, and Mom, Dad, and my brothers have done over 40 of the state highpoints with me. After completing the 48 lower states, Denali was next on a private expedition in May 2007. I had written a journal while on Denali of the day-to-day on a solar-powered PDA, but I didn't back it up, and this was stolen in Mendoza, Argentina, after getting off Aconcagua and successful private summit expedition there in January 2008. So by default Hawaii was left for last, and finally the timing came together for a 5 week family trip to Hawaii this year.
        After thinking about how easy Mauna Kea is for most people who just drive up, I originally had planned to simply hike up almost 5000 ft from the visitor center, because we are, after all, hikers. But then sometime before our trip, I came up with the idea to go from sea to summit on human power, and this seemed fitting especially because Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world from base (below sea level) to summit, even a greater rise than Everest. I am not one to plan from afar, so I just figured once we got to Hawaii and saw the mountain we'd get a feel of the best route to take. Once in Hawaii, we realized that there is not a good trail from sea to summit, mostly because of all the private property surrounding the flanks of the mountain. There is supposedly a trail from the NE coast, which is the shortest distance from coast to peak, but once you reach the Mana 4WD ring road, the trail ends, and to be legal you'd have to travel ~20 miles on the Mana Road around Mauna Kea to join the summit road everyone takes. So, we decided on biking from the west coast along roads up to the visitor center at 9,000ft, and hiking the rest of the way to the summit. But once we realized all the effort we'd put into peddling up 9000+ ft, we thought we might as well enjoy the downhill fruits of our labor, and coast all the way out to the ocean again for a true Sea-Summit-Sea completion of the highpoint. So my brother Josiah and I (Mom and my 3 other younger brothers didn't want to or couldn't have done it, so they supported us by car), rented mountain bikes from the C&S Outfitters bike and hunting shop in Waimea for 3 days. We started in the mid morning from Anaeho'omalu Bay on the west coast, dipping our feet into the ocean, rode up the Waikolo Rd, ran out of water and got dehydrated in the hot sun, and then finally up the cooler Saddle Rd. The Saddle Rd. is very scenic with the green pastures, so in our opinion we liked that route better than the shorter but non-scenic route up to the saddle from Hilo. We chose to bicycle because it was the best way to cover the long distance we had to go, and the best route was following roads, but we're not hardcore bikers - neither of us had done any training for this besides being in our everyday good physical condition that being an outdoor-lover entails. We camped in tents at Mauna Kea State Park the first night, with the rest of the family, and continued the next day up to the visitor center, walking our bikes for about a mile on the steepest sections of the road. A nice woman offered to take anything of ours to the top after hearing we were planning on hiking up that same day, so she probably got more than she bargained for when we suddenly saw an opportunity to do some real mountain biking on a decent from the summit down the hiking trail, and so we put our bikes on top of her Jeep's rooftop rack, and told her to just leave them up there by an observatory building. My whole family (Cheryl Esper mom, Brecken 14, Josiah 14, Galen 10, Hansel 7, and I) took all afternoon on the second day to reach the summit crater area, reaching the telescopes by sunset. It took us a lot longer than expected due to snowy conditions starting at around 12,000ft, and as sunset came, the winds started to pick up even more to ~40mph. So, just as we got to the top of the road, with the true highpoint only 5 minutes away, a summit ranger was clearing the summit of any remaining visitors to elimate any light pollution for the telescopes from car lights or headlamps. And the younger boys were starting to get chilled in the wind, as the temp. was dropping. So, with the ranger saying he had to drive us down and couldn't leave us up there, and we had to descend now, Josiah and I immediately took off running for the true summit, because we'd ruin our Sea-toSummit-to-Sea effort if we were so close, but were forced to decend before tagging the top. The ranger knew our family story from earlier, so he trusted me with my prior mountain experiences enough to leave us at the summit and ride our bikes down in the dark, and drove the rest of the family down in his vehicle. The winds became ferousiously strong and cold at ~70mph on the final little ridge up the summit, and by the time we topped out, it was howling wind, pitch dark, and getting cold, so we didn't even take a photo. Riding down the top section of the road on our bikes was extremely difficult in the wind, and our brakes started burning quickly. Once we descended to near snowline, Josiah and I cut across the firmed-up thin snow layer over to the trial, because we really wanted to ride some challenging singletrack, even though the ranger most certainly expected us to ride the road down, and so didnt even think to tell us we couldn't ride the trail down. We actually aren't sure if bikes are allowed on the trail at all, but ignorance is bliss. We descended the rest of the trail in a little over an hour, which involved extremely technical and challenging steep loose scree and pumice descents, with the back tire locked a lot of the time, with very dim headlamps. That night the rangers allowed all of us to 'star-gaze' in our sleeping bags in the parking lot, because they knew the summit to sea section wouldn't count if we rode down that night to lower elevations and came back up the next day. The third day Josiah and I made our decent much more difficult than it had to be by deciding to also complete a circumnavigation around Mauna Kea that enabled us to ride the 40 mile Mana Rd, which is a classic mt. bike ride in it's own right. We started out on the R1 rd, a higher 4wd road also countouring around the mountain, but since we didn't have a good map, it was difficult knowing if any of the spur tracks decended down to the Mana Rd. And we didn't want to take a spur down a couple miles for it only to peter out. We finally settled on one road, the R5 I think, solely because from the other direction, if you were coming up this road, there was a little sign that said "Mauna Kea Preserve" and I figured if we were already coming from withing the reserve, there'd be no point to have this sign here, so people must be comeing from outside the reserve (ie. lower down the flanks of Mauna Kea, where the Mana Road circles). At the private land boundary, the road petered out, so we road down rocky cattle pastures, just trying to lose elevation and get to the Mana Rd. We eventually came out to it, after riding through a maze of fence lines, spiny gorse patches, and bulldozed tracks through burnt bush vegetation, guided only by intuition and subtle clues, like, "which direction do you think this bulldozer came from?" (By the way, bulldozer track treads aren't directional like car or bike tires.) We had no idea how far along the 40 miles we had come out to, but as what usually happens, we eventually passed signs for a forest park that the map 'said' was way behind us. I don't ever have knee pain, but if felt like I was getting inflamation in my knees from overuse, so it was too painful for me to peddle up hills anymore, so I slowed us down quite a bit. And it rained (even though came from above the clouds in the morning), which somehow had the effect of stiffening our (probably defective) front shocks on our bikes to complete rigidity within a matter of 20 minutes. So we walked the uphills, and tried to coast down the eroded and rocky downhills without holding onto the handlebars so the extreme vibrations wouldn't transfer so much through our bodies. Eventually, late that afternoon on the 3rd day, we made it around the mountain and ou to Waimea. But we still had another 10 miles downhill back to the west coast, which was dissapointingly not so fast since we let out some air in our bike tires earlier to reduce the vibrations, and as a result rolling friction increased. Our mom had earlier scouted the possible beaches we could end at with the most direct descent to the ocean, so we coasted into Spencer Beach Park after sunset, ditched the bikes and dashed into the surprisingly warm ocean water. I want to thank my family for their support on this, and many other previous, highpoints, and of course God, whose given us the strength and health for our adventures.
        We were on the Big Island of Hawaii another 10 days, so after watching the weather every day, a week later our whole family returned to Mauna Kea, so that the rest of the family could step on the highpoint (and so that we could get a photo of us on the highpoint). We already hiked the mountain, so this time we hitchhiked right out in front of the visitor center, and quickly caught a ride in the back of a pickup truck up to the top. Gee, the ascent goes by much faster when you're in a vehicle! So, we spent a perfect afternoon again enjoying the summit area, taking photos, getting yelled at for accidently standing on the coconut religious offerings on the summit cairn when trying to get a bit higher in elevation, etc. The following day the whole family minus Brecken hiked up Mauna Loa, which is the most massive (volume-wise) mountain in the world, from the Mauna Loa Observatory Road. It was an uneventful day, though tiring and long, and it seems we failed to learn our lesson from before when we were stumbling down the lava flows in the dark again with a headlamp that was almost worse than the tiny sliver of moonlight on the black rock.