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Camping After The Bobcat Fire – Photographing Mt Pacifico – By Justin Aguirre

December 13, 2020

In late October of 2020, the last vestiges of the devastating Bobcat Fire are winding down. In its wake, 180 square miles of the Angeles National Forest were burned, making it the second largest fire in Los Angeles County history after the 2009 Station Fire. Large sections of the forest are formally closed to the public until mid 2022.

I was fixated on watching every piece of information about the Bobcat I could find. Night after night the acreage kept going up, yet the containment lines stayed the same. West Fork, Bear Canyon, Chantry, Devil’s Punchbowl, names of places familiar to every hiker in Southern California falling like dominos to the flames. I’ve been hiking, camping, and photographing those mountains for years and watching it all burn up was like saying goodbye to your best friend.

This is why I believe it’s important to photograph your life as you live it. If 2020 has taught me anything is that time is precious and none of us know how much time anything fully has until it’s gone. Documenting these moments is what drives my images. The story within each frame is so important and years from now I want to be able to look back at my life and remember all the memories and emotions of those days. And it is my hope when others look at them, it will make them feel something too.

So when the flames finally subsided and the forest started to reopen, I was eager in figuring out not only which areas survived but were also legally open to enter. This is where Mt Pacifico came in, a beautiful little peak sitting at the 7100’ level. I’ve been up there before and admired the peace and beauty the place holds. There is a small campground at the summit that’s free to use and is accessible by the world famous PCT trail or by a short high clearance spur-road off of forest road 3N17.

Our campsite.

The timing couldn’t have been better. My girlfriend and I both had a gap in our schedules and this was before a longer photo project was about to begin in Death Valley. We decided to trek up the mountain for a quick overnight getaway and final gear shakedown for our bigger trip.

The colors dance at dawn on Mt Pacifico.

Just after sunrise but before the rays can reach the depths of the canyons below.

Upon arriving we had the entire campground to ourselves and after a quick scout we picked a beautiful site that had a panoramic view of the mountains and the city of Palmdale below us. I positioned my truck next to our tent to act as a wind block and set up dinner as the sun slowly set.

For this trip I decided to bring with me my trusty Olympus OM-G with two primes, a Zuiko 24mm f2.8 and the 50mm f1.8. A single roll of Kodak Gold 400 was my film of choice.

Peace and quiet on Mt Pacifico.

After sunrise, the forest still silent on Mt Pacifico.

By the time we finished up dinner, the twilight hour was nearly finished. I only shot a few frames before we turned in for the night. My favorite is this image of an old burned tree, left over from the 2009 Station Fire. It was right near our campsite and I remember the feeling of serenity I got from looking at it against the purple sky.

Twilight light against an old burnt tree.

The next morning we awoke just before sunrise. It was quiet and unzipping the tent we were greeted by the silence of the forest. Hiking around our camp as the sun came up, I developed a cinema-verite mindset as I photographed what I saw before me. It was very freeing. Being able to stay in the moment with the one you love and the compositions you compose aren’t really heavily structured. A quick glance through the viewfinder and adjustment to make sure the exposure will be in the ballpark and snap.

Halo of fire as the light peaks through the trees.

Kissed by sunrise.

Pre-dawn hours, waiting for the sun.

The colors and grain blew me away when I first saw the scans. The purples and blues combined with the grain created an emotion of what I hoped this little camping trip would be. A comforting body of work, when viewed makes me want to grab a jacket and a thermos and venture back there. Back to the wilderness and my escape from my day-to-day.

I’m looking to expand this series. Maybe even combine it with a video element. I’m a cinematographer by trade and adventures like these allow me to have a creative break and really try new things.

Justin Aguirre

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  • Reply
    December 13, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    Great set of pics Justin! Not what I had expected (usual sunny images of the mountains etc).

    • Reply
      Justin Aguirre
      December 14, 2020 at 4:58 am

      Thank you! I really wanted to go for a different look and the tree cover in the early AM really provided some great contrast to play with.

  • Reply
    Nader Bishara
    December 19, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    Nice set of pictures Justin. The images and colors gave me the impression that you were using Velvia 50 until I read the rest of the article. Nothing like enjoying nature with someone you love!

    • Reply
      Justin Aguirre
      December 21, 2020 at 9:44 am

      Thank you! And to be honest, I was a bit surprised at how the colors came out as well haha. And completely agree, witnessing nature’s beauty with that special someone makes those memories all the more sweeter.

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