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Going Home. October 9, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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So the rain never stopped, the pall never lifted, and I spent the better part of Sunday limping home with wrinkled finger tips, chillblained knuckles and two pair of soggy boots.

Along the way I kept pulling over for Yet Another Try, with a roll of paper towels tucked into my raincoat to keep my dripping hands from swamping my precious camera gear.  As often as not I got the works in place only to see that the desired results were not to be forthcoming, packed it all back up and pulled back out into the home-bound traffic.

C’est la guerre, n’est ce pas?

But I did manage to get a few images.  “Perseverance perseveres,” as I like to say.  And here they are.

Along the Kankamagus Highway, the Swift river rages from days of rain:

Tributaries swell their banks, flushing tannic acid from the decomposing forest duff:

The colors were pretty good here:

And with the mountains still obscured by clouds, I got yet more river shots:

With everything I had with me saturated to the point of near-uselessness, I wandered up over Kankamagus Pass, stopping only to photograph this freshet erupting from a roadcut:

Then I packed it in and headed for home.

There are a couple more weekends of color left in the season, and hence a chance that I’ll get another shot at capturing it.  But for now, that’s what there is.

Crawford Notch. October 7, 2011

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The rest of Saturday was spent scoping out venues for if/when the rain might stop, knowing full well that it probably wouldn’t (due to the miracle of radio weather reports) and meeting back up with my friend Lizz for dinner at The Moat, a smokehouse-microbrewery in North Conway where everything is recommendable.  I had a huge plate of nachos with smoked-meat chili and ate every last bite, though that determined effort resulted in an ungainly waddle back to my car.

Afterward I noodled my way back up Crawford Notch toward Bretton Woods, where I’d last seen the headwaters of the Ammonoosuc.  I noted a few nice scenes along the way as prospective shoots for the morning, keeping my eye peeled for places where I might sleep without being told to “Move along” by official types (this section of the White Mountain National Forest has lots of campgrounds and expects people to use them, but I’d rather spend my limited bucks on quality glass.)  I settled on the AMC Lodge at the top of the notch, parking directly beneath a sign declaring “For Lodge Guests Only,” cracked the windows to allow my vapors to escape rather than fogging my windows (that’s how they getcha!) and snuggled into my sleeping bag for a comfy night out.

At first light I zipped back down the Notch to a view of Mount Willard which I hoped would capture some of the dawn’s drama:

That’s a flank of Willard on the right, where both Lizz and I have passed many a winter’s day plastered to exhilarating ice climbs, though never together.  It’s funny how we met much later and now have this completely different relationship.

A bit farther down the road I stopped at Silver Cascade, hoping to beat the crowds I’d seen lining the roadside the evening before, and succeeded in snagging this shot despite the continuing wind and rain:

Again, the rainy skies sucked, but the scene was compelling enough to get me to do the bungied-umbrella-thing, and I liked what I was getting.

Then a moose wandered up the road, and with a quick change of lenses (to Gizmo, dontcha know) I got this furry portrait:

I also took one with a bit of panning, generating this sort-of impressionistic rendering of Said Moose:

…and all without paint under my fingernails!  😆

A ways farther down the Notch, Lizz had shared a spot with me with some nice foreground details, though the dramatic background was now lost in the drizzle:

This was how the day went, with foregrounds dancing in the wind and backgrounds obscured by rain and clouds.  The great spruce-clad wall of Mount Webster should have risen from this scene, but only its foothills framed these New England asters:

Each of these shots required a laborious construction against the elements, and none of them really approached their potential – the conditions were just too poor, the atmosphere too full of crap to deliver the images I’d come this far for.

Well, you don’t know if you don’t go, so I went, and I got what I got.

Next up, the ride home.


Along The Ammonoosuc. October 6, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Well, a trip to the Whites conjures images in my mind of lofty peaks, this time of year draped in unlikely colors.

But this time up, the rain had different ideas – there would be no expansive views, no tableaus of mountains and rivers and intricate foregrounds.  Anything at a distance would be obscured by clouds or diffused by the intervening rain,  with the foreground details inopportunely shaken by the incessant wind.

Oh well.  I’d come this far with the knowledge that I had a 70% chance of getting nothing worth sharing, but that if I turned around and went home, the chances went to 100%.

So up the Ammonoosuc river I went, climbing toward its headwaters on Mount Washington.  A couple of nights in the sweat-lodge of my Toyota was a small price to pay for a chance to try.

And don’tcha know, Mother (Nature) provided, like she always has.  The high country around Twin Mountain was beginning its transformation, and though well before “peak,” the nascent colors framed the river in glory:

There should have been an impressive view of Mount Washington’s western flanks in the background, but conditions were such that there was  no background; a dense rain saw to that.

Shooting in these conditions necessitated a good deal of extra work which doesn’t show up in the photographs, but rather makes them possible – I had to construct a wooden tripod, lash an umbrella to it, and anchor it against the wind so that it freed me to hand-hold graduated filters in front of my lens to deal wit the low light conditions.  A typical set-up looked something like this one above the Lower Falls of the Ammonoosuc:

In this case the mainstay of the wooden tripod is pounded into a drill-hole in the granite ledge, probably an anchor for an earlier structure.  The drill-hole was a fortunate find, allowing me to take photos such as these:


If you follow this blog with an eye toward what I’m doing to produce it, you might have discerned the hand of Elliot in those last two shots.  I was getting a little bit desperate to find compelling foreground elements with backdrops worthy of the tilt-shift paradigm; these two photos were about as close as I got to realizing my vision….all taken in a steady rain and a pernicious wind.

More shots to follow, though sadly, nothing as grand as the White Mountains venue is capable of delivering.

A Poorly Timed Road Trip. October 5, 2011

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This past weekend I had plans to get to the high country of New Hampshire with my friend and photographic mentor Lizz.  We expected to meet early on Saturday somewhere in the Mount Washington area of the White Mountains for a foliage shoot.

But my Friday night drive northward was “blessed” with torrential rains, such that I was going 40mph on the Interstate, and Lizz wisely put off her departure from Arlington until the morning.

I got as far as White River Junction before the stress of driving with white knuckles and bulging eyeballs took its toll, and I slept in a park-and-ride.

Come daylight (and a lessening of the deluge) I forged onward, because you know, if you go out in these conditions you stand a 70% chance of getting skunked, but if you turn and run, the chances of a rout go right up to 100%.

I was going there for the colors, and as the Good Ol’ Boys say, “These colors don’t run.”

Along Route 302 I stopped in the town of Bath looking for a bush (damned coffee) and ran across the Bath Bridge, one of the three remaining covered bridges in this town, spanning the Ammonoosuc river at an impressive length of 374-1/2 feet:

There’s a Great Blue Heron perched on a rock to the right, who periodically braved the steady rain to fish in the pools below the falls.

This bridge is in its fifth incarnation, having previously been destroyed by both flood and fire.  It’s first incarnation cost We The People exactly $366.66 in 1794.

These days it’s an impressive piece of work, and replacing its intricate truss-work would cost in the tens of millions of dollars:

The orange patch in the middle is me in an orange shirt, trying for an effect which totally didn’t work out.  But hey, with a thirty-second exposure, there’s time to kill, and I managed to kill it.

With a rendez-vous in the works, I continued eastward on Route 302 toward the colors of the high country, hoping there would be a break in the rain.

Though I chose not to know it just yet, there wouldn’t.

Road Trip, Part III – The Road Home. June 26, 2011

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So after we both had stupendous omelets at a breakfast place in North Conway, Lizz went off to scout Autumn foliage shoots for some friends who would be coming by in October, and I set about noodling my way home.

Being in North Conway, and having frittered away the better part of my youth rock climbing there, I was drawn to the two big ledges looming over town.  I started with Cathedral Ledge:

…four hundred feet of splitter cracks and corners, providing some of the most satisfying climbing in the East.  There were plenty of Young Bucks (and Does, presumably) engaged in The Frittering this day, including a party on The Prow, a steep line up the tallest feature on the cliff:

I did this route too many years ago to recall much besides the weight of the load in my pants and the exhilaration of flowing upwards with the trees below looking like moss.  The top-out was a mixture of relief and disappointment, with the last step signalling both safety and the end of the adventure:

But on this day I was only an observer.  I took the photo and moved on, driving to the top with clean shorts and a diminished appreciation for life.

A short hike took me to a view of White Horse Ledge, another of my old haunts.  It’s totally different in character, slabby rather than steep, but lacking anything like positive holds and requiring delicate balance and precise footwork:

I’ve found the climbing here to be much more Zen-like, with the finality of a misstep mitigated by the focused flow of upward motion.  No thoughts about the terminal road-rash of 800 feet of Dynamic Retreat are allowed as one balances upward on unseen bits of friction.

But then it was time to head out and begin the Southward trek.  I headed down past Conway, where the Swift River flows into the Saco:

…beneath a scenic covered bridge:

…where butterflies played on hawkweed:

…and dragonflies warmed their wings in the cool summer sun:

… then headed up the Kancamagus Highway through the Pemigewasset Wilderness toward home:

The trip was short but sweet, with good company, great memories and the rejuvenating essence of Nature all around.

Then it was back to the Real World of work and home.

And that’s OK too.  😉




Road Trip, Part I. June 23, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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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.




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

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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.

We Almost Missed It. January 18, 2010

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As part of a day trip up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Frau B. and I hoped to snag a few sunrise pictures at the shore in Portsmouth.  As we got off the highway and headed for the water, the sky grew red and roiling, and we savored what we weren’t set up to photograph.  By the time we parked at seaside the sun had just broken the horizon and the clouds had lost their light.  I grabbed Eliot but left the tripod in the truck – this was either going to happen in about the next minute, or it wasn’t going to happen.

My rule of thumb in quickly changing compositions is to fire off a shot, then fine-tune my settings, thanks to the instant replay capability of digital.  At least that way I have something from the moment.  So this first one is underexposed, but I liked what I saw, so I kept it:

I didn’t mess with that color, just cropped it.  I got lucky (well, made an educated guess) with the focus, which can be hard for me in low light, especially with the “tilt” requiring checking both near and far points of focus.

Lizz was set up to my left among some rocks, so I headed on over.  She tends to know what she’s doing, and  I’m happy to learn by following her around.

My goal for this outing was to use Eliot as much as possible and hopefully get quicker with it.  I’d found a website with tilt-tables for the common focal lengths of tilt-shift lenses, based on height above the plane of focus (the Hinge Rule,) and though I could only assume that the values would result in a horizontal POF, I’d memorized a few of the larger ones and had Eliot set accordingly.

This one was at a degree and a half, three feet off the plane of the water:

The increasing light made focusing easier, and it seemed that the table was working!

I was really pleased with the cloud reflections on that one.

With the sun breaking free of the horizon, the remaining color was in the other direction.  The rocks were ruddy with the dawn:

Low tide was good to us, despite being too late for the spectacular predawn show.

A Few More Shots… August 22, 2009

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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…from New Hampshire.

At Diana’s Bath, a series of cascades and pools coursing toward North Conway:

Diana's bath

A kid wading in the Ammonoosuc River, west of Mount Washington:


…and a White Mountains sunset, rode hard and put up wet:

Whites sunset

I may not have gotten what I wanted this past weekend, but I got what I needed.

Back. August 19, 2009

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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From New Hampshire’s White Mountains, on a beautiful summer weekend.

Here are a few shots from along the way.

Followed the Ammonoosuc River up valley:


…to its source, high up on the western flanks of Mount Washington, the loftiest peak in the Northeast:

MWV Hotel

That’s the Mount Washington Hotel, by the way.  I’ve only admired it from a distance; they say if you have to ask, “How much?” you can’t afford it.

I first became aware of this area at the age of ten, a little young for Boy Scouts, but my Dad was an Assistant Scout Master, so I got to go along for the summer fun.  I remember we swam in the Ammonoosuc River, at a roadside swimming hole which is now miles from the nearest pavement (think “road relocation.”)  It’s prettier without the cars, though it still draws plenty of visitors:

crowded pool

I had to work to get clean “nature” shots without my fellow tourists in them:

Ammonoosuc River

turbulent wall

Not that I minded the work.  🙂

Anyway, I was soon off to Cathedral Ledge, a 500′ monster overlooking North Conway:


Again with the tourists – sheesh!

Nearby Whitehorse Ledge is similarly scenic, though without a road to the top, it’s left to climbers and hikers:


I’ve climbed both of these faces more times than I can count (as has my buddy Frau B.,) but this trip was just for looking; perhaps in the future I’ll get back on the rock.

I love this area.  The White Mountains are somewhat of an anomaly for the Northeast, having relatively large areas above treeline and hosting remarkable swaths of sub-alpine eco-niches.

I expect to get back up there as autumn approaches; it should be spectacular if the wet weather continues into September.