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Until she can afford a digital camera that enables her to print oversize images, Steinbacher plans to stick with Fuji's Velvia slide film for her photos (above, Sproul Hall), because "it brings out great colors."

Kim Steinbacher's picture-perfect vacations
And when she just can't get away, she and her gear greet the sunrise here

| 03 August 2005

If Kim Steinbacher could be anywhere right now, she would be camped out in some scenic locale, waiting for the perfect light to fall on her surroundings.

Way south of the border: Kim Steinbacher on the road during her recent photo trip to South America. (Cindy Nguyen photo)
Steinbacher, a technical manager in the Division of Undergraduate Education (and a Cal grad with a degree in English literature), has structured her life around travel and photography. She currently participates in the START (Staff and Academic Reduction in Time) program to free up her Fridays so that she can take frequent three-day photo trips. Doing so enables her to save up vacation time for big adventures, the most recent of which took her to South America early in 2004.

Steinbacher had been dreaming about that trip for seven years, since first seeing a Galen Rowell photograph of a lake in southern Chile's Torres del Paine National Park. Over the course of seven weeks, she journeyed through Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, and took a cruise around Cape Horn.

"My South America trip turned out to be the most photographically rewarding trip I've ever taken," she recalls. "The scenery was simply stunning . . . much more diverse than I expected. I went from glaciers, sculpted mountains, and penguin colonies in Patagonia to high-altitude deserts, volcanoes, and flamingos in the Andes. And I topped off the trip with a visit to Iguazu Falls, one of the most extraordinary waterfalls in the world."

A selection of Steinbacher's South American photos, along with others she's taken in locales as diverse as the Canadian Rockies and the Berkeley campus, is online at www.kimsteinbacher.com.

Early riser eats dinner late

Whether her destination is in California or on another continent, Steinbacher prefers to go it alone simply because her style of travel is at odds with most people's idea of a vacation. "In the morning I'm almost always out before sunrise," says Steinbacher, who usually wakes between 4:30 and 6 a.m. to set up and wait for optimal light. "Other people tend to want to eat dinner in the early evening, and I'd rather be out shooting."

Her itineraries are intentionally open-ended as well. Typically, Steinbacher books her plane ticket, reserves a hotel for the first night, then allows the rest of the trip to be unstructured. "I follow the weather, see where the lighting's good and what I want to add to the trip, and change it on the spot," she says.

She usually stays in youth hostels, in many of which she's met quite a few other single adventurers who "completely understand the travel bug." Fellow travelers feel more comfortable about approaching others who are going solo, says Steinbacher. "When you travel by yourself, you never feel alone."

The hefty equipment Steinbacher travels with guarantees she doesn't go unnoticed. "You could have followed in my wake in South America and asked people, 'Did you see the American girl with the big lens?' and they would have known exactly who I was." Besides her Nikon camera and lenses and Gitzo Mountaineer tripod, Steinbacher lugs around a daunting number of film canisters on long trips. On her South American journey, she carried 100 rolls of the slow-speed (ISO 50) Fuji Velvia slide film she prefers.

Another (hack wheeze cough) beautful sunset

When she was an eighth-grader in Los Angeles, Steinbacher purchased her first single-lens-reflex camera "to shoot some clouds." The air quality down there, she notes, is famously "not so good — but it does make for some really nice sunsets."

By the time she interviewed for an administrative assistant position in the Division of Undergraduate Education, following her graduation from Berkeley, she made it known that she was saving her money to take five to six weeks off to backpack in Australia. "I'm completely lucky to work where I do," she says. "My office is filled with travelers who are willing to cover for each other."

After six years, she'd accrued enough vacation time and funds to realize her Down Under dream. "I hadn't even had a passport before that, or been away for so long or even backpacked — I'd only car-camped — but it turned out to be a piece of cake. That country is completely set up for travelers. Australians are the friendliest people on the planet. You meet somebody there and within five minutes they've given you their home address to come visit later on."

On her next trip Steinbacher will return to the Southern Hemisphere, this time to New Zealand. Until that happens, she'll console herself with California scenery, which, she says, compares favorably with any she's seen around the world.

In the Golden State, after all, "it's possible to go from glaciers on one mountain down to deserts, forests, or beaches within the same day. I think there's every kind of landscape you can possibly imagine right here, so I can go on weekend trips and continue my photography without having to take a massive trip every time I want to see something new, different, or beautiful."