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Road Trip, Part I. June 23, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
Tags: , ,

Spent part of last weekend traveling up to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, intending to take advantage of one of three “Sunrise Opening” days on Mount Washington’s auto road, giving photographers and romantics a chance to see the sun come ’round the bend from atop one of the East’s most spectacular mountains.

This presupposes that the weather will cooperate, which is a totally daft thought to those of us who know the mountain well; we’ll get to that part soon enough.

At any rate, the ride North on Saturday afternoon started out splendidly, then devolved into periods of rain:

That’s approaching Franconia Notch, with Canon Mountain on the left and Mount Lafayette on the right.

The sun popped in and out all afternoon, illuminating splendid views of fields of lupines:


…and wild rivers, this one the Ammonoosuc:

The Whites hold countless places for swimming and trout fishing, and plenty of places to stay if you like.  The Mount Washington Hotel, anyone?

…complete with its namesake looming over it to the east.

The surrounding forests range from birches:

…to boreal:

By the time I connected with my friend Lizz, the clouds had moved back in to obscure the sunset:

We waited expectantly, but Jesus was a no-show.  It’s just as well, as we needed to be in line at the toll road gate by 3:30 the next morning.

And we were, along with a couple of dozen other crazy folks.  We’d checked the weather report for the summit and were dressed for high winds and temps in the upper thirties.  Not everyone on the road was, though – a little convertible sports car with a very fashionable couple in it passed us, hastening, as the say, the Darwinian Eventuality.

The light began to come up as we broke tree line, along with the wind, which howled mercilessly, buffeting Lizz’s truck alarmingly.  I thought grimly of the little convertible up ahead of us.

Lizz stopped at a small pull-out, and we braved the elements long enough to catch some views of Mt. Adams across the Great Gulf:

The lenticular cloud above it signaled high winds, and as advertised, it was brutal, freezing our fingers into clubs and tossing us around like puppets, negating the possibility of “keeper” photos.

We jumped back in and continued onward through thick cloud banks and sixty mile an hour winds, quickly losing the light and any semblance of a view as the appointed time of sunrise approached.  By the time we reached the summit parking area I had all but given up hope for a decent sunrise photo, when suddenly, through pea-soup clouds, an orange glow grew into a fiery blaze.  We dashed out for a hastily set up shot:

My tripod was splayed ridiculously low to elude the wind, but even so, I had to crank the ISO obscenely to counter camera shake in the tempest.  Without Image Stabilization lenses I wouldn’t have gotten even this!

Through thinning clouds the light came up, revealing the Lunar landscape of the high flanks of the mountain, a thousand feet above tree line:

We had hoped to photograph the wildflowers which bloom this time of year, tiny things found few other places below the Arctic circle, but were forced by the fierce wind to abandon that idea in favor of general scenic vistas.  Here’s a shot of Boot Spur across Tuckerman’s Ravine:

The weather observatory towers on the summit buildings, just out of view:

…and a self-portrait, me and Mount Washington writ large across the landscape:

Land form shadows like that aren’t something I see every day here in the East, so I spent a while hunkered down behind a boulder, just diggin’ it.

About the time we were thoroughly chilled through, the clouds rolled back in and we turned and headed back down the mountain, hoping to get below the wind before we got below the wildflowers:

We succeeded, but that will have to wait for Part II.





1. clairz - June 24, 2011

“Darwinian Eventuality…” Oh, my, what a start to my day. I long for the time when you write a book (or have you already?) so that I can keep your words and your pictures and your word pictures close at hand. You’ve got some beauties here.

I always marvel at the thought that a good many people here in New Mexico live at higher elevations than New England’s highest peak. And they don’t get blown away. Hardly ever.

2. clairz - June 24, 2011

*hardly, that should have been.
*…and now it is! 🙂 – TCR

3. Randal Graves - June 24, 2011

As always, most swanky, especially the upper altitude ones. That cloud in the Boot Spur shot seems almost alien.

4. susan - June 24, 2011

These are absolutely wonderful pictures and well worth waiting for. If I’d been up there I’d only have gotten outside the truck if the were pitons in place to tie myself to.

5. littlebangtheory - June 24, 2011

Clairz, thanks for being so appreciative of my efforts. I love images and words and their confluence, and am happy to share my take on reality. And no, I haven’t written a book, though I’m intrigued by the idea of getting some of my images onto paper and into a binding. Stay tuned.

Randal, yes, “alien” captures it well, though my time spent in the mountains renders it ordinary. Thanks for seeing it that way and getting me to revisit it through your eyes.

Susan, I’ve been up there many a winter’s day when the road wasn’t an option, but roped travel up steep ice was, and pitons were indeed part of that scene. Thanks for liking these less risky efforts.

6. noodleepoodlee - June 25, 2011

What an adventure … and well told. I too like the “Darwinian Eventuality.” Nice photos; like the shadows on rocks. Cubist in a weird way.

7. littlebangtheory - June 25, 2011

np, thanks. I like your “Cubist” observation, and agree – the triangular representation of the mountain and the added-on quality of the cottony clouds both contribute to that perception.

8. Bob - June 25, 2011

It’s funny (to me) to think of the treeline there, because Mt. Mitchell in NC is a (slightly) higher elevation, and there’s trees all the way to the top… stunted and dying trees, but that’s not because of the elevation.

I forget how much difference those few hundred miles of more north make. 🙂

Beautiful pics as always!

9. littlebangtheory - June 25, 2011

Bob, thanks. Clairz also mentioned how differently 6000′ of elevation feels in different places. Mount Washington sits at the confluence of three major storm tracks, can/does have blizzards in every month of the year, and for many years held the world record for terrestrially observed wind speeds (I think it was 231 mph when the anemometer blew away, which was recently surpassed somewhere.) I’ve spent many winter days and nights above tree line there, and “brutal” barely begins to describe the place.

“Beautiful” also fails to come close to the reality of it, hence my many visits. 😉

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