“Above the Summit” released on Kindle

Some years ago, I had this grand idea to sell e-books instead of printed books. The fantasy was that I could sell an e-book far cheaper than a printed book, and it would herald in a new era where photography books are not the scorned, unprofitable bastard children of the publishing industry; rather, they would be literary beacons of progress and hopefully piles of cash for me. That was all well and good until I rammed headlong into Kindle’s 50MB book size limitation coupled with the inane practice of Amazon charging authors data fees based on book size. My economics manifesto, The Human Theory of Everything, costs 2 cents per book in data fees. A 50MB book would swallow the entirety of the book price.

Thus, I forgot about the whole thing and went the bastard child route: printed books. That was until I stumbled across a quiet update to Kindle’s practices: a new file limit of 650MB!

After months of wrangling with Kindle’s file format and Amazon’s very, very confused review folks, I finally got a Kindle version of “Above the Summit: An Antique Airplane Conquers Colorado’s Fourteeners” together. It is available on Amazon.com for $11. For subscribers of Kindle Unlimited, the e-book is free. The printed edition is still available at $28.

Small Cover - Above the Summit

Column: Observing winter weather from the air in Yellowstone

This column originally ran in West Yellowstone News, West Yellowstone MT.

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Flying around western topography affords the ability to see things that few people would bother to notice, and then to put the pieces together as to how these things relate to other factors. For example, the average visitor to Yellowstone probably just thinks the whole place gets a lot of snow, because the quantity far exceeds where he or she visited from, and fails to notice that things change in different areas of the park.

Other than the mountain ranges, snowfall is highest in the southwest over the Madison Plateau and lowest in the northern and northeastern low elevation sections where the Yellowstone River empties toward Montana. To find this information out the “normal” way, I had to do some digging on Google, settling on a State of Wyoming annual mean snowfall map. To find it out in reality, a flight into the park after a snowstorm says it all.

A few times, I ran into fog over the Lewis River Valley as I came in from Jackson, WY, finding that the fog settled into the intersection of the Lewis and Snake Rivers, and was bunched up against the Madison Plateau, Teton Range, and Red Mountains. Coupled with the fog, the snow seemed especially thick.

An added feature that occurs in high terrain is when the clouds descend to the terrain during snowfall. A phenomenon called “rime ice” develops, which is when super-cooled droplets of water in the clouds impact trees at temperatures below freezing, congealing to any terrain on impact. The ice is flaky, light, extremely white, and grows into the direction that the wind came from, encircling trees and their branches on all sides. This also happens on the western edge of the Red Mountains in southern Yellowstone, adding a resplendent white that is almost unbelievable from the air.

Not only is the ground covered in fresh white snow, every rock and tree is covered in a bright white coating that is brighter than any regular snowfall. The vista is cast against crystal blue skies, which, for some reason, seems to be common the morning after rime ice events. Instead of a sea of dry looking trees with intermixed beetle kill and historical wildfires, the entire thing erupts into delicious scenery clothed in white, with still calm air and utterly pleasant flying, other than for the total lack of heat in my airplane. Although I usually end up stiff as a board due to near hypothermia each time I fly in such weather, it is unequivocally worth it.

Garrett Fisher photographs from his 1949 Piper PA-11 aircraft, has published 9 books, and blogs extensively about his flying at www.garrettfisher.me. He is currently working on two books about Yellowstone from above, the Yellowstone River, glaciers of Wyoming, glaciers of Montana, Grand Teton National Park, and many other projects.

Flight: Germany: Canola Fields, Main River

I received an email from an airline captain from America who frequents Europe. His advice was to be on the lookout for rapeseed (canola) fields in full bloom in Germany in the beginning of May. Noticing that these fields were increasing in color on a few prior flights coupled with ground observations, I took off for the eastern Odenwald to photograph them.

Satellite imagery indicated that some of the best fields would be found near Berlin, to the west of Magdeburg. A sliver of Google Earth imagery showed fields in bloom, though it was a few square miles at best of imagery taken on that particular date. I had reason to suspect that, just because I could see a few fields on Google Earth, it didn’t necessarily mean that they were limited to that area.

One major monkey wrench was the expiration of the 30-day free trial on my iPad flight software. A full year subscription, to the whole of Europe, costs something to the tune of $350 (!!!!!), and I was hoping to push it to the next credit card billing cycle, because I am American and like to consume things before settling the bill. Therefore, I had a legally-adequate VFR chart and a trial of another piece of software. The problem with that trial was that it would kindly stop allowing GPS tracking for a period of time at various intervals to encourage actually, you know, purchasing the app.

Thus, I departed Egelsbach following the exacting pattern departure routing by memory and headed east for the Main River. Canola fields were in explosive bloom, and spring was finally getting started in the hills. Weaseling down the Main, I found some yellow fields, though I just wasn’t “feeling it” and decided to head southeast for the more open farmlands to the west of Wurzburg. That turned out to be a good choice.

It was as though I was in some sort of storybook land, a place where explosively yellow fields were everywhere. I even did something I haven’t really ever done with farm field photography: I climbed another thousand feet up to get a more panoramic view of yellow fields off into the horizon. It was really something else.

After a few glances on the map to confirm airports to avoid, I pointed the airplane in the general direction of home, and to my surprise, flew the entire way home without having to look at the map, or the iPad for that matter. Testing my skills, it was easy to triangulate position based on a giant smokestack on the horizon, a radio tower I had passed, and a peak in the Odenwald hills, along the Bergstrasse. Once in the vicinity of Darmstadt, the routings back home were familiar activities.

It is nice to prove that dead reckoning can be done with some ease without having lived somewhere for years. In effect, it’s a portable skill. Get enough bearings of the locale, and perspective on where I am isn’t that hard to figure out. It helps that I fly primarily on extremely nice weather days.

And thus it begins, hopping from yellow field to yellow field trying to figure out the best way to photograph the whole thing.

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Someone out taking a drive. It is in these moments that I snicker that I own an airplane.
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Poor village to live in with a canola allergy.
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Northern Odenwald hills. Sharp reduction in canola fields.
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Attractive contrast of the Main River, very hard to photograph to my liking. For all of you anglophiles out there, “Main” is pronounced “mine.”
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Main River with castle in the hill.
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The whole river thing isn’t doing it for me.
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And so the fields it is. 
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This is like a fairy tale world.
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Oh, the metaphors….
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Odenwald again. While it looks like a blissful little storybook place, Germans will yell at you in a rage if you try to take a country drive on one of the forbidden roads. Yep, we tried it and made a kind, laid back hill dweller start foaming at the mouth in a frothing, near murderous rampage.
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This juxtaposition looks better from the air than via the camera, yet I take hundreds of these photos over and over thinking they will look different.
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