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2013 Photo Contest Winners!

After receiving some stunning photos, our judges have chosen the best. Grab a seat and relive the experience.

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by BPL Staff | 2013-12-10 00:00:00-07

Each year we offer this contest, the more difficult it becomes to judge the entries. An increase in the performance:weight ratio of light, compact cameras means that more and more lightweight backpackers are carrying them - and taking exceptional shots with them. This year was no exception.

We'd like to acknowledge Ron Koeberer ( and Ryan Jordan for photo jury duty. Photos were assessed according to the four categories described in Part 1. Relevance was weighted the highest (given a weighting factor of 3), while Technical and Color were given weighting factors of 1. Originality and Aesthetic were given a weighting factor of 2. Scores were then normalized on a 100 point scale. Both judges scored all entries, so final scores represented the averages from the two judges. The photos you see below ranged in scoring from 79.6 (12th place) to 92.6 (1st place).

Thank you for submitting photos to this years' contest! Please consider supporting BPL by purchasing a calendar - they're large format, wire-bound, full bleed, and really beautiful. They'd make a great gift, too.

Winners: Please contact Eric at, and let us know if you'd like an MLIFE subscription added to your account, or designated to another user account (please provide the username, or if you are gifting it to a new user, have them sign up for a free BPL account and let us know their username). For those of you that won WTS scholarships, we'll be releasing our school calendar by December 31, so once you enroll (or designate your scholarship to another user who will be attending, please let us know so we can credit your purchase.

- BPL Staff

Purchase a 2014 Calendar

Winners are featured in our 2014 Calendar -- click on the image below to purchase one or more!

Congratulations to the winners!!!

  • 1st Place ($500 scholarship applicable for any Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School program in 2014) - Brendan Swihart
  • 2nd Place ($250 scholarship applicable for any Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School program in 2014) - Edward Mjelde 
  • 3rd Place ($100 scholarship applicable for any Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School program in 2014) - Mike Freeman

First Place - Brendan Swihart 

 - 1
Robber's Roost Country, Utah.


Fujifilm X100


Autumn makes the final approach to the Dirty Devil River on a spring backpacking and packrafting trip.


Brendan Swihart lives with his wife Autumn in Fruita, Colorado.  Most of his time away from working at an environmental consulting company is spent out in the canyons of eastern and southern Utah.  

Judge's Comments

"Packrafting, backpacking, a desert canyon - I love that the color was removed and the spectacular contrast between Cuben Fiber and slot shadows."

"While not an ‘original’ composition (it’s a commonly taken photograph) it is technically strong and well composed."

Second Place - Edward Mjelde

 - 2
Surrounded by a storm on the Round Knob, tallest point on the Knobstone Trail.


Droid Razer (Cell Phone)


I was on the Round Knob the tallest point on the Indianan’s famous Knobstone Trail, when I saw the storm billowing from the west. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I set up my camera on my trekking poles to capture the moment. Working my way down the escarpment my eyes were stuck on the beauty of the lightening as the storm quickly approached.

In life it’s easy to confuse intense emotions for fear, but this is what I came for, in this moment life gripped me. I was nothing but smiles.

That night I set up my lightweight tent under a down widow maker, as I peeked out with apprehension and excitement to watch old trees lose their roots to the wind and down pouring rain.


My name is Edward Mjelde, I am 24 years old currently attempting to hike the American Discovery Trail coast-to-coast. From March 2013 to October 2013 I have walked nearly 2,300 miles from Delaware to Kansas. I am a recent 2012 graduate from California State University with a degree in Business Administration. After college I realized that I had an overabundance of energy that couldn’t be satisfied by a life at home, so I sold and gave away nearly all my possessions and hit the road to live a life of risk and adventure.

Currently, I am settled down for the winter in Missouri and planning to continue my walk next spring from Kansas to California. Till then my eyes will be constantly scanning the MYOG threads and articles with the intention of creating and sharing with the community my own ultralight gear for next season.

Check out more of my story at

Judge's Comments

"A cell phone - awesome. The facial expression says it all, but the storm sass creates the exact amount of tension so as to completely confuse and confound the viewer. I can't stop looking at this photo."

"A very dramatic and emotional image."

Third Place - Mike Freeman

 - 3
Pipestone Pass, Banff National Park (Drummond Glacier in background).


Sony HX50V


Took this photo on day 3 of a 4-day remote backcountry trip in the Clearwater/Pipestone area north of Lake Louise in Banff National Park.

We hadn't seen another human in more than 2 days and had just endured a 2 hour downpour coming over Pipestone Pass. The clouds were starting to lift and Drummond Glacier was stunning as the light hit it. We were running to warm ourselves up and I let Leslie run ahead so I could make use of the big zoom on my new Sony HX50V. The only manipulation to the original is a slight straightening and lightening of some of the foreground shadow, otherwise it's pretty much as taken without any cropping.

On the one hand I wish the foreground were a little better focused but on the other hand I quite like the way it shows the subject as a temporary visitor to the permanent landscape.

Anyway, it was an amazing trip and I got to utilize a lot of things I had learned through BPL.


Avid trailrunner/hiker/backpacker. Over the years I've evolved from day-trip trail runs into multi day fastpacking, sometimes running and sometimes hiking. Looking to try winter ski/camping as a next step. 

Judge's Comments

"Tiny pack, massive glacier. I don't know what else to say."

"Great use of depth of field and isolation."

Fourth Place - Tom Pfiffner

 - 4
The Alps.


Panasonic DMC TZ22


Taken during my Via Alpina trek using selftimer. View is towards Kandertal and it was one of many valleys I had to cross.


I grew up in the east part of Switzerland. Twenty minutes outside of a little town surrounded by many 9000ft peaks. As a child I went dayhiking with my parents and as I got older we extended our hikes to overnighters and slept mostly in alpine huts. As a teenager I discovered mountainbiking and roadcycling as my favorite sport and spent most of my freetime in a saddle. In 2008, I went to Canada to work for 8 months as a volunteer. This was also the time I discovered hiking and backpacking again. I did a couple overnighters and also did some canoe trips. Back in Switzerland I went out into the woods almost every weekend. During the week cycling was still my sport to go. In 2012, I went back to Canada with two friends to do some trails including:

  • West Coast Trail, BC, Canada
  • Chilkoot Trail, BC, Canada
  • Skyline Trail, BC, Canada
  • Brazeau Loop/Jonas Shoulder, BC, Canada
  • Kesugi Ridge, Alaska
  • Kanthisna Hills, Denali, Alaska

In 2013, I did the Via Alpina green trail solo in just under 10days. This was definitely a eye opener and I'm hungry for a longer, remoter and even more challenging trek. I work on a ski resort in Switzerland as a mechanic which means I spent most of my days out in the snowy, windy but beautiful mountains.

Judge's Comments

"I like that the mountains are the main thing, but that the hiker has a relationship with them, and that his pack isn't so huge, considering the scale of the peaks!"

"Embodies all the backpacking light qualities in a beautiful setting."

Fifth Place - Joseph Hawkins

 - 5
The Muir Hut.


Canon 7D


Half way of our trip starting at North Lake Trail Head in the eastern Sierra near Bishop we climbed over Lamark Col cross country through the Darwin Lakes Basin connection with the John Muir Trail just north of Evolution Valley. From Evolution south on the JMT one climbs Muir Pass to find Muir Hut, a stone hut built in 1930 by the Sierra Club in cooperation with the Sierra National Forest dedicated to the memory of John Muir. It is meant to be used as a temporary shelter for hikers caught in storms on the exposed section of the trail. My close friend and hiking buddy sits in resting at the Muir pass summit with the hut blocking the wind of the coming storm. Shortly after this photo we had an opportunity to use the shelter for its intended use, a brief hail storm passed by. 


I am Joseph Hawkins, resident of Fresno California. I am a practicing physician and lifelong hiker and backpacker. Since college over 35 years ago I have always carried a camera with me everywhere I travel.  Of note, my backpacking light days began 12 years ago when a long slog from Yosemite Valley to Devils Post pile with a traditional gear complements weighting nearly 60 lbs got me researching a better way. Eventually my research led me to the Backing Light web site. Thanks to the wonderful and active online community I have been able to reduce my base weight to 16 lbs including camera gear with tripod and bear can!

Judge's Comments

"An iconic place viewed through a lens that's a cross between a James Dean movie and an Idaho renaissance fair. Great framing and interesting post processing elevate this one to art."

"Well composed and technically strong."

Sixth Place - Kelly Fox

 - 6
Sunset on the Selway River


Sony NEX3


This is a picture of the Selway River Trail in the Bitterroot Wilderness in central Idaho at sundown through the haze of a nearby forest fire.


I am an avid adventurer and fly fishermen.  I spend my days in the lumber business and my weekends with my girls exploring just about any trail or outdoor pursuit we can dream up in the Pacific Northwest. 

Judge's Comments

"Trail, pine, sun, river. This photo takes me to a place of sincere tranquility and peace."

"Beautiful and reminds me of a Bierstadt painting which could be improved by adding a person in the photo."

Seventh Place - Brendan Mulholland

 - 7
A hazy daybreak start at the foot of the Mendenhall Glacier (Juneau, AK), during my wife Helene (pictured) and my adventure down the Alaskan coastline. 


Canon S90 


Wild camping, backpacking, hitch hiking and boating, we made our way from Whittier, AK to Bellingham, WA over six weeks late last summer. The first morning sun ignited our anticipation for the day’s glacier exploration as we watched the morning haze burn over the lake.


Lightweight backpacking and lightweight living have become synonymous in my wife and my lives over the past five years of travel.  We have lived and traveled ten months a year out of our little backpacks/homes.  The lightweight mentality enables us to travel and live freely - backpacking for us can as easily mean a ten mile exploration through the backstreets of Bangkok as a week rounding the Torres Del Paine range.  We love that living light doesn't necessitate sacrificing adventure and we thank you all for the work and research which has helped enable us to live the way we do.  

Judge's Comments

"Love the wide angle. Sometime we forget about the foliage. But the silhouette and fog sealed the deal on this one."

"Perfect placement of backpacker in beautiful outdoor setting."

Eight Place - Corbin McFarlane

 - 8
Overland Lake, Ruby Mountains Wilderness, Nevada.


Olympus E-M5


Though it is one of the more popular stops along the Ruby Crest Trail, it receives so little traffic that I hadn't seen anyone for three days. I took the picture passing through on a 75-mile hike including 30 miles off trail. My first attempt at this image failed a few years earlier when I chickened out of my first night alone in the wild. It was photographed from this vantage nearly 150 years ago by Timothy O'Sullivan, and a few paintings were also created by Gilbert Munger.


Photography taught me to see the world as more colorful than a spreadsheet. This caused me to travel the world for a couple years. I then realized that exotic locations aren't necessary for adventure, after all, every location is exotic to someone else. It all depends on how you see it.

Judge's Comments

"Nevada? Are you kidding me?! Man, this is a long ways from the Strip. I like this place a lot better."

"This image makes me want to be there."

Ninth Place - Tie - Nick Bobroff & Jon Leibowitz

Nick Bobroff

 - 9
A remote cove, Channel Islands National Park, California.


Sony Nex 5n


After hiking nearly 15 miles in an afternoon, getting chased off from several promising beach camps by surly marine mammals, bushwhacking through countless gullies to get back to a trail and each of us stopping to filter and tank up on a gallon plus of fresh water in preparation for an almost certain dry camp, we stumbled into an old favorite cove a little after dark feeling tired and cranky.  A trip that started off on the wrong foot quickly redeemed itself the next day with a classic fall morning all to ourselves on a remote, windswept beach.  


I appreciate any time spent outside away from the hustle and bustle of city life.  The area I live in along the central coast of California affords me lots of opportunities to escape to an empty beach or a remote backcountry canyon. Each trip, even to an old favorite, always has a couple of surprises in store.  I make an effort to always have a camera with me to capture the moments that pop up along the way.

Judge's Comments

"It takes awhile to see that there's a camp here, because of the dominance of the sun, but knowing what a West Coast beach camp is like at sunset, I was inspired by the textures of not only water and beach, but the bluff grasses as well."

"Tighter composition would have improved this otherwise lovely image."

Jon Leibowitz

 - 10
Stormy Castle.


Olympus OMD 


We we heading over Storm Pass in the heart of the West Elk Wilderness and some very dark low clouds started approaching.  The herd of Elk we were watching knew better; they took off into the basin to the west.  We were up high and very exposed.  Chris (in the photo) said, it's only time to start worrying when we hear thunder.  Literally, one second later the loudest thunder I've ever heard explodes right over our heads, followed by hail, and lightning, and a massive drop in temperature.  We were too close to the top to turn around so we decide to book it to the top of the pass and over the backside.  It was a hellish run - and running we were.  When we got to the top we couldn't see a thing.  However, as we dropped down a little more the clouds broke and the famous Castles came into view.  Still raining, I was happy to have my waterproof OMD which allowed me to capture this shot of Chris staring in awe out towards the Castles and the valley which would take up the rest of our day.  


I live in rural Montezuma County in Southwest Colorado.  I work for the Montezuma Land Conservancy as the Conservation Director.  I'm hoping to hike the BSI (Big Seki Loop) this summer!  My base weight is 9.8 pounds.  My big three: HMG WindRider, Zpacks 20 degree bag, SMD Gatewood Cape.  Since this photo was taken, I've since switched to a Fuji XE-1, which I carry on my chest with a Zpacks MultiPack.

Judge's Comments

"So vast. SO vast! Distant, dramatic peaks and lush, wide open meadows. These are the landscapes that define the inspiration that we glean from walking long distances through complex terrain."

"Again, a tighter composition would have improved this otherwise nice image."

Eleventh PLace - Adam Bussan

 - 11
Shadow Lakes in Idaho's Lost River Range .


Sony Nex-6


The attached photo was taken with a Sony Nex-6 fitted with a 16-50mm SELP-1650 E-mount Power Zoom Lens. It was taken above the Shadow Lakes in Idaho's Lost River Range on June 22, 2013, on an extended weekend trip traveling along the eastern edge of the range. Shortly after reaching the rocks at the edge of the plateau in the foreground of the picture, I watched a bighorn ram climb over the same pass.


I live in Boise, Idaho where I work as an environmental engineer reviewing water reuse projects. I moved from the Midwest to fulfill my childhood dreams of living in the mountains out West as soon as I graduated from college.

Judge's Comments

"I'm a sucker for Idaho, I'm sorry. This is so far away from the potato fields, dude. And it's awesome. There aren't many better ways to capture Idaho mountainscapes that a hiker with a little pack walking smack towards a massive peak."

"The person seems lost in this panoramic image."

Twelfth Place - Brad Rogers

 - 12
Titcomb Basin in Wind River Range Wyoming.


Canon S90


This photo was taken in Titcomb Basin in Wind River Range Wyoming on night 3 of a 6 night trip. Out of all the nights I have spent in the backcountry, this campsite had to be the most surreal of them all. Later that evening we had the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen. You just couldn't ask for a more beautiful campsite. The next day we ventured over Knapsack Col.


I started backpacking in 2003 carrying 55 pounds for a overnight trip, I discovered backpacking light in 2006 and begin to lighten my load. By 2008 I was able to do week long trips with under 20 pounds total pack weight. I have done most of my backpacking in the southeastern US, mostly in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, completing 800 miles of the Appalachian Trial, the 300 mile Benton McKaye Trail, and having hiked over 650 miles of Great Smoky Mountain National Park Trails. In 2011 I took my first trip backpacking out west to the JMT and I have been hooked ever since. Since that time I have done week-long trips to Wind River Range in 2012, and to Rocky Mountain National Park, and SEKI in 2013.

Judge's Comments

"At some point, you have to give in to the beauty of silnylon in a high place. Why not make it the Wind Rivers, and why not have it reflect well the iconic GoLite shelters that many of us use and love?"

"Well composed and executed but the tent detracts from this iconic setting."

Thank you to all of our participants!!!


"2013 Photo Contest Winners!," by BPL Staff. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2013-12-10 00:00:00-07.


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2013 Photo Contest Winners!
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
2013 Photo Contest Winners! on 12/10/2013 20:54:49 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

2013 Photo Contest Winners!

Hoot Filsinger
(filsinger) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: 2013 Photo Contest Winners! on 12/10/2013 22:23:00 MST Print View


Your photo was a stand out for me. Lighting, composition, and mood that speaks for wild places.

Corbin McFarlane
(raven15) - MLife
Why Thank You on 12/10/2013 23:59:11 MST Print View

There are a lot of great pictures here, I don't envy the judges (though I suppose the weighting system makes it easier for them to shoulder the burden of handing out places).

For better or worse, mine was/is still a bit of a work in progress, right now I'm leaning more towards this interpretation, though it may have lost some of the grit I liked.
Sunrise Over Old Lake Marian

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
2013 photo contest on 12/11/2013 07:02:19 MST Print View

Congratulations folks. Much stronger pool of entry than in previous years.

Jon Leibowitz
(jleeb) - F - MLife

Locale: 4Corners
Awesome on 12/11/2013 10:46:15 MST Print View

I'm so excited to be in the calendar. Thank you judges and all of the other photographers. What a great collection of back country images!

Brendan Mulholland
(dools009) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Calendar Discount on 12/11/2013 12:50:33 MST Print View

If anyone's looking to buy the calendar I found a 20% off discount coupon for (the company that BPL links you to when you buy the calendar through them). You can sign up for a 30 day trial of their free shipping program with an easy opt-out and the calendar comes to just under $24 shipped.

Disc: Not affiliated with Zazzle just wanted to get the discount out there if people were interested.

I'll post this in the gear deals as well (forum boss's feel free to zap me if that doesn't work).


Edited by dools009 on 12/11/2013 12:55:32 MST.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: 2013 Photo Contest Winners! on 12/11/2013 12:53:52 MST Print View

Brendan Swihart always bringing the goods. Congratulations to you sir.

Brendan S
(brendans) - MLife

Locale: Fruita CO
Re: Re: 2013 Photo Contest Winners! on 12/11/2013 14:18:13 MST Print View

Gracias. Good stuff everyone.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Re: Re: 2013 Photo Contest Winners! on 12/11/2013 19:11:45 MST Print View

Great job Brendan, I remember loving that photo when it was first put up on your blog. I'm always excited to see you put something new up.

There are some great photos in there everyone.

Now if I can just work on getting Nick B. to share the location of that secret Channel Islands cove…..

Kat ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Beautiful on 12/11/2013 19:16:31 MST Print View

Some exceptional shots here. Nice to be able to read a bit about the pictures as well. I am impressed!

Brendan Mulholland
(dools009) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Powerful work on 12/11/2013 23:36:29 MST Print View


Found your take on the Muir Hut really powerful. You did a great job bringing out the texture in the rock that ties the Hut to the mountains. Definitely a stand out.


Edited by dools009 on 12/11/2013 23:37:57 MST.

Jon Leibowitz
(jleeb) - F - MLife

Locale: 4Corners
Re: Powerful work on 12/12/2013 14:02:32 MST Print View

I echo Brendan's statement. Stunning image.

Corbin McFarlane
(raven15) - MLife
Showing faces on 12/12/2013 22:22:30 MST Print View

Along those lines...I would like to congratulate both photographers who showed faces. It is easy for the person behind the camera to get shy, or for backpackers to fall behind while fiddling with the camera. It takes extra effort to be bold enough and/or dedicated enough to show a person facing you.

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: Re: 2013 Photo Contest Winners! on 12/13/2013 00:42:01 MST Print View

Corbin and Joseph +1

joseph hawkins
(hawkjody) - MLife

Locale: Central California
Honored to be selected on 12/17/2013 14:52:03 MST Print View

I am honored to have had my photo selected for the calender. IT is fair to criticize the fact i lugged a canon 7d for 50 miles along the JMT, not a common item in a light weight backpacking kit.

However one of the great joys i get out of backpacking is the ability to share my experienced with others, who may not be able to get out into the back-country. For those of you who are interested you can seem more of my work at my blog site: , i also have an active presence on Google+ as +Joseph Hawkins publishing mostly in the #landscape Photography community.

Happy Trails


joseph hawkins
(hawkjody) - MLife

Locale: Central California
Re: Powerful work on 12/17/2013 15:18:03 MST Print View

Thanks for comments Brendan, to answer your question this photo is a hand held HDR composite of three exposures, then extra detail brought out using NIK Filter: Tonal Contrast