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Road Trip, Part II. June 25, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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So where were we…

…oh yeah, coming down Mount Washington in thick clouds and high winds.

We got down below the swirling cloud cap and the worst of the winds and started seeing some Alpine flowers, not the sub-arctic rarities we had hoped for, but hey, we’d come this far for photos, so we stopped to get what we could.

Along the road we found Bunchberry:

Lapland Rosebay:

Labrador Tea:

Mounntain cranberries:

…and Diapensia:

These are showing their little red buds, but haven’t quite blossomed yet.

In an ideal world, these would have been captured as tilt-shift photographs with expansive mountain views, but given the still-high winds, that was not to be.

This time.  I’ll be back.

By now Lizz and I were ready for breakfast, so down to town we went.

Stay tuned for Part Three.  🙂

Mount Washington. February 9, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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I spent this past weekend in New Hampshire, ostensibly to enjoy the Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival, but truth be told, I’m not much of a climber these days.

I mean, I still dabble in it, but not much I’m going to do will compare with the stuff I did in my younger days.  Time hasn’t ravaged me as it might have, but neither has its effect been inconsequential; my shoulders are shot, my right ankle is a mess and my waist is no longer 26″.

But perhaps the most telling sign of my aging is what I appreciate about climbing.  I love the movement, and have all but given up roped climbing, preferring instead to climb easy terrain smoothly and steadily, unencumbered  by the technicalities of rope work and building anchors; I love the views, preferring to climb somewhere beautiful rather than somewhere famously difficult.

And I’m not into risk for glory’s sake.  The weekend sported two nights of slide shows and videos of Famous Climbers doing the nearly-impossible in the most unforgiving of styles, treading the razor’s edge between Cover Shot Immortality and  a page three obituary.  It left me more sad than excited, more moved to introspection than motivated to raise the bar on my own accomplishments.

And it left me thankful that I have another avenue of expression besides creating dicey new routes, which I’ve had the privilege of doing in Days Past.  I have my camera, and a few people who seem to enjoy looking at my photographs, giving me the perfect excuse to blow off the climbing and just cruise around taking pictures.  🙂

I’m also blessed with the company of my friend Lizz, my housemate and another climber/photographer of similar vintage, who has no problem letting go of the Glory Days in favor of a day behind the lens.

So Saturday was spent driving and hiking and snapping photos of Beautiful New Hampshire, not the coastal version with the lighthouses, but the higher and drier White Mountains.  We got up before sunrise to catch that event below the flanks of Mt. Chocorua, and though the skies were unspectacular and it was an easy ten below, we did manage to snap one or two off.

Mt. Chocorua at sunrise:

…followed by a hasty retreat to the heat of our vehicles and a yummy breakfast back in town.  We wavered about where to go next, then settled on a trip up Crawford Notch to the higher climes of Fabyan Station and Bretton Woods and views of Mount Washington.

We got up there mid-morning, and despite the increase in altitude the hours had worked their magic and the temperature was much more manageable.  I got this shot of Mount Washington from the south going up Crawford Notch:

…and this one from farther west, up by Bretton Woods:

Mount Washington is on the right, with Mount Adams (my personal favorite) on the left.  I was jazzed about the lenticular clouds forming over both peaks and being driven off eastward by the winds at higher altitudes, as lenticulars are wont to do.  Also in that last photo is the Mount Washington Hotel, a gorgeous place to drop a few pence and the place where the Bretton Woods Accords came to be in 1945, establishing both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  I have mixed feelings about both, but the Hotel is historic and beautiful and available, albeit at a price.

Mt. Washington’s summit was in and out of the clouds, with its buildings and structures coated in wind-driven rime ice:

…courtesy of Gizmo, by the way.  This piece of terrain embodies both Heaven and Hell, depending on conditions, and I have to say I’ve been there to experience both.

Now, neither Lizz nor I are Born Lookers, and roadside vistas don’t really satiate us.  So we headed back to the Mount Clinton road, found the Crawford Path trailhead, and ‘shoed up for the hike up toward the Mizpah Springs hut.  It was by now mid-day, but we determined that we’d go as far as time allowed.

The hike was steep, the snow was deep and the whole situation was magical:

Given our time constraints we didn’t quite make it up to treeline, but rather caught gimpses of the northern horizon through the trees:

It was a day well spent, even if the photos were less than spectacular.

On Sunday we hit the cliffs for a bit of climbing; film at eleven.  😉

A Weekend In The Whites, Part II: The Alpine Garden. July 6, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, macro photos.
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So up from the truck we went, through varying degrees of blowing clouds and sunshine.  The scene changed from moment to moment, with the sky alternating between a flat white:

…and bright blue as the clouds blew by :

Those are Mountain Avens blooming in the grass surrounding a cairn.  They’re really pretty little flowers:

The changing conditions made the day’s photography an organic process:

…with periods of wind dictating a quest for larger images like this krummholz below a high shoulder of the main summit, and fogs necessitating a more ethereal perspective:

That’s the Mother of All Cairns, a ten-footer at the head of the homicidally steep Huntington’s Ravine trail.

…And occasional clearings showing blooms of Mountain Phacelia:

…and other assorted flora, like these patches of gone-by dwarf azaleas drifting in and out of the clouds:

Up close, they were fascinating:

We shot for hours, Lizz at home among the clouds rising to engulf her, absorbed in her work as a phalanx of mountains retreated into atmospheric obscurity:

…me turtling over my macro lens, trying with limited success to capture the intricate beauty beneath my feet:

Those are cranberries set among staghorn lichen.

And Earth Tongues:

…and the delicate, denuded roots of the ubiquitous krummholz, graced by Pixie Cup lichens:

…these last several having been taken from a couple of inches’ distance.

All in all, a beautiful morning spent in New England’s high peaks:

…with a dear friend who taught me most of what I know about photography:

A Weekend In The Whites, Part I: Road To The Sky. July 5, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Lizz (Frau B.) and I went to the White Mountains of New Hampshire the last weekend of June, with hopes of finding Mount Washington’s Alpine Garden in bloom.

I love the Whites, which sport many peaks around four thousand feet high:

…and a bunch of wild rivers cascading over beds of granite:

The mountains are rugged enough to attract technical climbers from around the world, with magnificent sweeps of granite like the thousand-foot East Face of Canon Mountain, which Lizz and I have each climbed countless times in both summer and winter:

…though sadly, never in each other’s company.

Perhaps one day soon we’ll right that wrong.

And while Westerners might scoff at the Whites’ paltry elevations, the confluence of several major storm tracks over this particular patch of real estate makes for some of the most extreme conditions on Earth.  Mount Washington, for instance, held the record for land-based wind speed measurements for many years, the Big Number being 231mph, at which point the anemometer blew away.

That’s windy.

Anyway, the prospect of finding arctic flora blooming on the wind-swept upper expanses of Mount Washington prompted us to put our prides aside and take the (expensive) Mount Washington Auto Road to a high point and commence hiking from there, something which we had both previously eschewed in favor of the long hike up, but at this point (and age,) it seemed like a better use of our time.

We drove up Saturday afternoon to scope out the parking, as we expected to be photographing in the wee hours of Sunday morning and didn’t want to have to nail the logistics in the dark.  I drove, and didn’t get very far before disappearing into dense clouds, windshield-wiper clouds, as the road wound steeply upward.  There wasn’t a guard rail in sight, not the whole way, just a sickening void to my right, no pavement markings (and for a ways higher up, no pavement) to differentiate the road to the summit from the road to hell, and each time a pair of dim downward-bound headlights appeared through twenty feet of atmospheric pea soup I pulled closer to the edge of this precarious lane-and-a half, recalling a time out West when such an encounter had removed both my and their side-view mirrors.

With the exposure to my right growing to three thousand feet, I didn’t relish a repeat performance, and I white-knuckled it to the summit and back down, with a break at the top to regain my composure and do a bit of wiping up.

These shots, taken on the way down on Sunday (when the weather was better,) give a little sense of what the drive was like.

A professional van bombs nonchalantly up an accomodating section of road, where widely spaced boulders would either keep one on the road or accompany you on your last tumble:

…with the requisite clouds rising up from The Great Gulf which separates Mount Washington from Mounts Jefferson and Adams.

And then, of course, there are sections where nothing but nerves divide you from eternity:

This was tons of fun with the visibility down to a couple of yards.  I didn’t envy Lizz’s powerless position as passenger, though our roles were reversed on Sunday when these shots were taken.

Higher up, at least on Sunday, we found ourselves above the clouds, with the gentler upper slopes belying the terminality of erring onto the non-existant shoulder:

That, my friends, would be a helluva role-over.

And across the way, rising above the early morning atmospherics, the insular Mount Adams poking at Heaven:

That last shot was taken from the trail; more on that to follow.

On Ice. February 10, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing, Love and Death.
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Last weekend was the Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival, a great excuse for ice climbers from throughout the Northeast to get together and socialize, attend slide shows by well traveled professionals (this year, Steve House who is, besides being very entertaining, a climber of extraordinary ability and admirable humility,) and perhaps even climb a bit.

This year also marked my return to some measure of climbing after a couple of years away from it, due to an absolutely total lack of rotator cuffs and a failed surgical attempt to remedy that situation.

My shoulders are, in fact, junk.  They say I’m lucky to be able to comb my non-existent hair, but you know, the dysfunctional combination of my passion for climbing and the fact that I’m a wicked slow learner found me strapping on crampons and ice axes along side the guides and students at Cathedral Ledge this past Saturday afternoon.

Our friend Chris lead up what should have been easy terrain for experienced climbers:

That’s close to thirty feet of what passes for vertical ice up at the top, and it was exciting watching Chris take it on, especially because he didn’t bother to place any ice screws ’till about where he is in this photo, and a fall at that point would have been disastrous.

But Chris is a strong young man and kept his cool, finishing the climb without incident:

Both Lizz and I worked our tails off in our attempts to follow.  I’ll admit to employing 35 years of experience to get up the thing in relatively good style, no thanks to my non-compliant shoulders.

This is a far cry from the “good ol’ days,” say ten years ago, when I climbed Repentance,  an area test-piece which is exceptionally thick in this photo taken Saturday:

That’s nearly 400′ of thin, vertical ice choking a crack system, with a couple of red-clad climbers visible about 300′ up.  In case you can’t see them in this little photo, here’s a telephoto shot, courtesy of my little Canon point-and-shoot:

This is considered to be exceptionally “thick” conditions, and therefore “easy,” compared to the shape it was in when I did it.

This weekend convinced me that I’m not done, not gone by, not ready for a rocking chair.  I’ve procured a gym membership and am working my way back.  I’m going to climb Repentance again, or perhaps Remission,  its more difficult twin a little to its right, which had been on my wish list for decades.

Yes, Remission will do.   It’s back on my list.

With or without my damned shoulders.

Last Weekend In The White Mountains. February 9, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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I spent last weekend in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, diggin’ the Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival, a yearly celebration of ice climbers and their craft.

I used to be part of that scene, back when I had rotator cuffs, and will post a little bit about that later.

But for now, here are some scenic shots from my trip.

Firstly, Mount Washington, as seen from the banks of the Saco River just outside of North Conway:

This is the highest point in the Northeast, and though it’s not much over 6,000 feet in elevation, it hosts some of the most extreme weather in the world, for many years holding the record for recorded wind speed at over 230 miles per hour.

That’s windy.  I spent three weeks on Alaska’s Denali, and despite the fact that we hunkered down in some of the worst weather they’d had in a decade, it didn’t hold a candle to what I’d endured on numerous winter Mount Washington trips.

Anyway, here’s a Gizmo (my 400mm L-series lens) shot of sunset on the summit:

Taken from the same place, at about the same time.

Gawd, I loves me some Gizmo!

I was there with my photographic mentor Lizz, who had scoped out this spot on the banks of the Saco River.  She was busy snagging images as I did the same:

There was plenty to see, from the grand scenic down to the details.  Here’s one of a stranded ice chunk and a waning crescent moon:

The day ended with bitter winds which drove us to the pub for burgers and nachos, but not before I stopped to snag a quickie of the developing sunset:

The next day was spent in a slow retreat southward, with a couple of stops along the way for photography.  Here’s a view eastward from Kankamagus Pass, of a snowstorm in the area I’d just left:

And another of a footbridge ove the Pemigewasset River:

All in all, it was a satisfactory trip, though I froze my butt off, did minimal climbing (more on that later,) and got only a few photos for my efforts.